Plaid Pete Goes Aquatic!

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SWBAT identify the characteristics of marine and freshwater ecosystems.

Big Idea

What are the identifying characteristics of saltwater and freshwater ecosystems? Students work in "expert pairs" to determine importance in scientific text and then form "jigsaw" groups to teach their peers what they have learned.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students continue the work that will lead them to understand the Disciplinary Core Idea of Ecosystems:  Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics -  that 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 a relatively stable web of life.  Newly introduced species can damage the balance of the ecosystem. (5-LS2-1) and the Crosscutting Concept of Systems and System Models  - A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions (5-LS2-1).

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 5 is 890 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 10 minutes.

Materials Needed:

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 5

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems - Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Sheet Lesson 5

One set of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems Word Wall Cards - Lesson 5

One paper copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems Word Wall Cards - Lesson 5

One copy of the Science Team Evaluation for Each Student

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete is Perplexed - Lesson 5 Check-Up

Focus & Motivation

5 minutes

Introduce the Scenario

I tell my students, "It looks like we are going to be researching the first part of Plaid Pete's proposal today!"

I pass out the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 5 and my students get out their highlighters.  I tell them there are 3 reader's theater parts, Plaid Pete, a new classmate, Landen, and a narrator.  Students work in their teams to highlight the text and decide who will read the parts.

Students Read the Scenario in their Teams

As students read the scenario, I listen in and am now prompting my students to use characteristics of good fluency - "chunk" the words to make them sound the way people talk; attend to punctuation; use an appropriate rate, and use intonation that reflects an understanding of what is read.  This also means that expression is appropriate for the meaning of the text.  My students are really focusing on reading fluency and this is a great place for them to practice.  

I have my students quickly jot down their ideas about aquatic ecosystems on the back of the scenario sheet.  Then, I ask them to turn and talk in their teams and share what they know.  Activating their background knowledge in this way will assist them with the task ahead, and is also a good way for me to quickly pre-assess my students so that I can determine who might need higher levels of support.

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.I share the learning objective and success criteria:  

Learning Objective:  I can identify the characteristics of saltwater (marine) and freshwater ecosystems.

Language Objective:  I can participate in an oral and written exchange of information by asking and responding to questions.  [ELP.4-5.2]

Success Criteria:  I can correctly complete my lab sheet that identifies the characteristics of aquatic ecosystems.

Vocabulary Instruction

10 minutes

Consistent with the 5E Model for Science Instruction, I will usually provide a hands-on opportunity before introducing vocabulary.  However, in this particular instance students will need these words in order to adequately benefit from this lesson.

Introduce Vocabulary

I present the words from the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems Word Wall Cards - Lesson 5 using the following vocabulary instruction routine:

  1. Say the word to students.
  2. Ask students to repeat the word at least 5 times.  For example, I will say, "Say it to the window.  Say it to my hand.  Say it to the door.  Say it to the ceiling."
  3. I say the word in context.  For example, I will say, " The position the plants were placed in was one of the controlled variables in the video."  
  4. I will then randomly call on a student to use the word in a sentence, giving successive prompts to assist them, if needed.

Science Notebooks

I use the following routine to have students write these words into their Science Notebooks:

After introducing the words, I demonstrate for students how to make a three column table with rows for each of the eight vocabulary words.  I model for them in my own Science Notebook how to write the word in the first box, a non-linguistic (e.g. picture) representation of the word in the second box, and work with the class to generate an example sentence for the first word in the third box. Students cut out their copies of the cards and place in the envelope, which they glue on the page behind their table.  They will finish sentences for the remaining seven words either for homework, or for seat-work later.  A completed notebook will look like this Student Example.


15 minutes

Introduce the Task

The Common Core Standards specify that students must be able to read complex scientific informational text with "independence and confidence."  This is a difficult task for many students, particularly those with language deficits.  Providing opportunities for students to negotiate meaning through a socially mediated strategy, such as a "jigsaw" group, is one way to scaffold instruction so that all students can be successful.  When selecting "expert pairs" I assign the section on oceans to more capable readers, as it is a more difficult section.  I have constructed my "expert pairs" so that there is a more capable reader with a less capable reader.  In this way, all students are supported. 

My students have participated in "jigsaw" groups before, so they are familiar with them. However, we haven't done one in awhile, so I explain the procedure.  I hand out copies of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Sheet Lesson 5.  I explain to students that as Plaid Pete discovered, there are two types of aquatic ecosystems - freshwater ecosystems, and saltwater, or "marine" ecosystems.  I state that each of these regions are further divided into types.  I point out the types of the graphic organizer:

Freshwater Regions:  Ponds & Lakes; Streams & Rivers; Wetlands

Marine Regions: Oceans; Coral Reefs; Estuaries

I tell them that their job today will be to work with a partner and become an "expert" in the type that is assigned to them.  They will then move into one of 4 teams and teach the other members of the team about their specific type, while their "expert" teammates will also teach them about a specific type.  When they are done, their graphic organizer will be completely filled with bulleted notes, and they will have the "gist" or important ideas from a piece of text about ecosystems within the Aquatic Biome.

Determining Importance in Text

I ask my "expert pairs" to sit together for this next part of my lesson.  We have been working on determining importance in text, and this is still a difficult skill for some students.  I point out the 3 columns where they will be collecting bulleted notes:  Flora; Fauna; and Other Important Information.  We review again the two vocabulary terms, and easily decide what information will go in those columns.    

I explain to my students that although our article is about aquatic "biomes" which are a large community of plants and animals that occupy a distinct region, these biomes contain many different types of ecosystems.  I project the Levels of Organization in an Ecosystem chart from the eschool Today:  your cool facts and tips on ecosystems website.  This chart helps us understand the difference between ecosystems and biomes.

I project the article they will be using Aquatic Biomes from the University of California Museum of Paleontology.  I explain that the Aquatic Biome contains both freshwater and marine ecosystems.   

I read this first paragraph out loud, asking my students to follow along.  I tell my students, "Some of the ideas in this paragraph are important ideas - ones that we should remember.  There are other ideas that, while interesting - are not that important for us to remember."  

I tell them, "I want you to work with your partner and go back and highlight only the important ideas.  I circulate among the partners as they work.  I am noticing that there are a number of pairs who are highlighting everything.  

In this Video Clip, I ask one pair to share out, and we begin the oral process of sorting out what is the most important information - and how that is determined by a reader.

A few more students share out, including one pair who have highlighted the idea that aquatic areas tend to be more humid.  I ask the class to comment, "Is this an important idea that we need to remember?"  Several students remark that it isn't.  When I ask the pair of students why they thought it might be an important idea, they identify the word "humid."  This is an unknown word to them, so they thought it was important.  We use context to figure out the meaning of the word, and then they confirm that it isn't an important idea after all.  I finish by reminding students that if there is unknown vocabulary, then they need to either use context or look the word up before they can decide if it is an important idea.

I ask pairs to give me a thumbs-up if they feel comfortable diving into their section of text, or a thumbs-sideways if they want me to check in with them after a few minutes.  I jot down the names of the students who need a check-in fairly quickly.

Guided Exploration

15 minutes

"Expert" Pairs Read Text & Collect Notes

I send my expert pairs off to read and collect their notes.  I am actively working to get my students to better use technology, so I gave them the option of using the classroom laptops, however after looking at the complexity of the text; they wanted printed text so they could highlight and mark the text.  There are a few terms that I do need to define for a few of the groups so I go to the pairs that are researching the sections below and briefly define the following words for them (writing them on the whiteboard for a visual reference):

Ponds & Lakes:  Pleistocene glaciation - the ice age that occurred about 1.6 million years ago, resulting in the creation of large lakes

Oceans:  stratified - layered; as thermal stratification (layers of heat) can also refer to layers of light - the ocean gets darker as you go deeper.

Students may also need some assistance with the paragraph that describes the hydrothermal vents (an opening in the sea floor out of which mineral-rich water flows) that occur along mid-ocean ridges (an underwater mountain ridge), and the chemosynthetic bacteria (bacteria that get their nutrients from the mineral rich water that flows from the hydrothermal vents) that exist there.  

I then move to my "check-in" list and see how those pairs are doing with determining importance in text.  Most are on the right track, with a pair or two needing some redirection. My students are working hard to find what is important vs. what is interesting, and doing a great job!

Team Activity

20 minutes


When all of the pairs have finished collecting their information and have completed their graphic organizers, I reconfigure or "jigsaw" groups so that there is one student who has researched each of the types from each of the two regions.  This means I will have 4 groups with 6 students in each group.

For this activity, I tell my students, "We will follow this order in each group:

First - Freshwater Regions:  Ponds & Lakes; Streams & Rivers; Wetlands

Then - Marine Regions: Oceans; Coral Reefs; Estuaries

I then allow the "experts" to present their information to their teams so that they can collect their notes.  My students take this very seriously.  They know that the learning of their team depends on their ability to present the information and ensure that it is understood by everyone.  Even my students who are generally very quiet, speak up so that they are heard by all.  This is a particularly important strategy for my English Language Learners.  It gives them an opportunity to interact with the content, to practice vocabulary, and has social implications for the way in which they are perceived by their peers.  As you can see in this Video Clip, students are listening to the person who is teaching.

When students are finished in their expert groups, they will complete a Science Team Evaluation.  This holds all of the group members accountable for their participation.

Reflection & Closure

5 minutes

Class Discussion

I ask my students to gather in the meeting area with their graphic organizers.  I want them to pull together what they have learned, but also to be able to compare and contrast saltwater and freshwater ecosystems.  Although Venn Diagrams are often used for this, they can become difficult for students to construct on their own.  I find that T-Charts are another great option.  I construct a T-Chart on my classroom easel, and students begin sharing out what their peers have taught them.  They are excited and engaged in our discussion, and our Classroom Chart is posted on the wall as a record of what they have learned.

Lesson Check-Up

I want my students to have an understanding of the levels of organization in an ecosystem, so I will give the Plaid Pete is Perplexed - Lesson 5 Check-Up sometime after today's lesson. Knowing that this will be difficult for them, I will have them work on it in their teams and we will check it together using the Levels of Organization chart.