Exploring the Movement of Matter in Ecosystems (Day 2)

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SWBAT describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, and decomposers.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students learn about the 6 Essential Nutrients for proper growth in animals and explore even more ways that matter moves between organisms in a food chain. Then, students will add to their summaries from yesterday.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at Edudemic.com, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEMvery clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will first develop an understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors within ecosystems, the characteristics and classification of living organisms, and how plants and animals obtain and use energy to fulfill their needs. 

Then, students will delve deeper into the NGSS standards by examining the interdependent relationships within an ecosystem by studying movement of matter between producers, consumers, and decomposers by creating models of food chains and food webs.  

At the end of this unit, students will study ways that individual communities can use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.  

Summary of Lesson

Today, I will open the lesson by showing students a video on the six essential nutrients for proper growth in animals. Students will then explore even more ways that matter flows through an ecosystem. At the end of the lesson, students will reflect and apply their new understanding of the movement of matter by adding to their written summaries from yesterday.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-LS2-1.    Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.  

5-ESS3-1.  Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in the following Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 6: Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions 

Using observations and evidence, students construct an explanation to describe how matter moves amongst plants, animals, and decomposers. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 5: Energy and Matter

Students describe how matter flows and cycles through an ecosystem using the food chain as a model. Students also beginning learning about the conservation of matter and how the matter on Earth remains constant. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

PS3.D:  Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life

The energy released [from] food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter (from air and water). (5-PS3-1)

LS1.C:  Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms

Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion. (secondary to 5-PS3-1)

Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water. (5-LS1-1)

LS2.A:  Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

The food of almost any kind of animal can be §traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as “decomposers.” Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem. (5-LS2-1)

LS2.B:  Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


20 minutes

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I review the learning goal: I can describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, and decomposers.

Yesterday, we began studying how matter flows between the organisms in the food chain. Today, we are going to take a closer look at even more ways that matter is recycled in ecosystems and we're also going to take a closer look at the six essential nutrients for animals. At the end of today's lesson, you'll get the chance to add on to your paragraphs from yesterday!  

Vocabulary & Poster Review

I take a moment to review the Food Chain Vocabulary Poster. We discuss how food chains help demonstrate the movement of energy and matter in an ecosystem.

This leads us into a review of how matter moves through food chains by reviewing the blue cards on the poster from yesterday: Poster with Blue Cards.

Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space. We know that matter (such as nutrients, water, and air) can move between organisms in a food chain because when a rabbit eats grass, it is also eating nutrients and water. When a plant dies, the nutrients, water, and gases are recycled back to the soil by decomposers. There are many types of nutrients that flow through a food chain. There are non-mineral nutrients (such as hydrogen and oxygen, which can be found in the air or as water... H20). There are also mineral nutrients (such as nitrate and phosphate, which actually come from weathered rocks). Finally, there are food nutrients, such as proteins and fats. 

Adding On 

Today, I also want to point out how sometimes matter, such as water and air, flows through the environment to get to other organisms. 

Adding the following blue cards one-by-one we discuss the following key ideas. Throughout this time, I ask students to turn and teach the new concepts. This promotes active listening and higher engagement. 

  • Plants Take in Water & Plants Release OxygenWe've studied how plants take in water and carbon dioxide and they release oxygen into the air when they produce their own food during photosynthesis. Plants also release a little carbon dioxide, but the amount is very little when compared to how much carbon dioxide plants take in. Turn and teach: What do plants take in and release into the environment?
  • Animals Take in & ReleaseAnimals can then in the oxygen that plants release into the air. Animals use this oxygen for cellular respiration. This is where animal release energy from sugars. During this process, animals also release carbon dioxide into the air. This carbon dioxide will then be used by plants. Animals also take in water by eating and drinking. Turn and teach: What do animals take in and release into the environment?
  • Animals Release & Absorb: Animals also release urine into the environment. Urine is 95% water and it also contains sodium, potassium, and nitrogen. Animal waste is 75% water and it contains undigested food, bacteria, fat, and proteins. Animal urine and waste can be recycled back into the environment so that plants and animals are able to reuse the water and other nutrients. Eventually, these nutrients will be reused again by animals! You may be wondering how animals absorb nutrients. Well, we absorb nutrients in the intestines. Then these nutrients go into the bloodstream and are carried to cells throughout our bodies! Turn and teach: How do the nutrients in animal urine and waste move on to help other organisms in the environment? 


30 minutes

Nutrients Video 

To help make the movement of matter in ecosystems even more meaningful to students I show the following video on the 6 Essential Nutrients that were introduced yesterday (6 Essential Nutrients). I want students to explore why the movement of matter (such as nutrients) in food chains is so important. Before beginning, I pose the following questions: Why are the six essential nutrients so important to animals? How do you think they help humans? Turn and Talk! 

Student Notes

I ask students to take notes on the video in their science journals. Students make a two column t-chart with the nutrients listed on the left side and how the nutrients help animals on the right side. Here are a couple of finished examples: Student Notes Example 1 and Student Notes Example 2

Throughout the video, we pause and discuss the importance of each nutrient. With time, students begin to see the benefits of each nutrient and how the movement of matter within environments supports human life. 

Nutrients in Food

At this time, I pass out a variety of Food Boxes and ask students to look for food nutrients on the labels. I want students to actually see how matter moving in the food chain impacts their daily lives! Here, Students Explaining Nutrients in Food, I walk around the room as students share the food nutrients found in their boxes of food!

Teacher Note: Looking at the nutrients in boxes of food is a spontaneous addition to today's lesson. To build off of today's learning, we could discuss the healthiness of different types of food. In addition, I could ask students to analyze the food boxes and to make a list of research questions... such as, "How does iron help the human body?"

Reflect & Apply

20 minutes

Written Summaries

At the end of today's lesson, students continue writing their paragraphs from yesterday. The main idea sentence reads: Matter flows through plants, animals, and decomposers in an ecosystem. 

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with as many students as possible. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence.

  1. Do you agree that _?
  2. What do you think about _?
  3. What is most important?
  4. What would happen if_?
  5. What does this remind you of?
  6. Are you surprised by anything?
  7. How has this text changed your thinking? 
  8. What conclusion can you draw about ____?


Conference Findings

While conferencing with students, I found the following:

  • Student A: Focusing more on writing about the food chain than on the flow of matter (My response: What is the topic of this paragraph? (the flow of matter through food chains) What do you think your audience will want to hear more about? (the flow of matter)
  • Student B: Explaining matter as anything that has mass and takes up a lot of space. (My response: A pencil is made of matter. Does it take up a lot of space? So does matter have to take up a lot of space or does matter simply take up space?)
  • Student C: Describing a food chain as a series of animals eating other animals to survive. (My response: Is it just animals in a food chain?)


Student Work

Here are some examples of student paragraphs from today: