Schoolyard Ecology

Thinking about the flow of matter and energy with students is one of the key ways of exploring ecosystems. In these lessons, students construct their own understanding of ecosystems through investigations in their schoolyard, developing ideas about ecological processes and functions.

Cycles: From Rot to Radishes

Grades: 
6-8
3-5
Topic(s): 
Nutrients & Energy

The central investigation of this unit helps students answer the question "Where does the stuff living things are made of go after those organisms die?"  Throughout the unit, students grapple with the notion that matter is neither created nor destroyed, but it takes different forms as it cycles - as part of a living thing at one point in time, then as part of the non-loving environment at another

  • Day 1: A Challenge from GROW

    Students observe soil samples, talk about where soil nutrients come from, receive a letter from a company that wants to know if dead plants can be used as fertilizer, then develop research question

  • Day 2: Plans and Peer Reviews

    Students work in groups to design a fair test that will yield information for GROW, then review each others plans and decide on a final design.

  • Day 3: Up and Running

    Students set up experiments to test the effects of compost tea on plant growth, learn about plant development, then monitor their experiments for 3-5 weeks.

  • Day 4: Exploring Plant and Soil Connection

    Students prepare for and do an outdoor investigation of soil in areas where plants and other landscape feature differ, then use their findings to think about plant and soil connections.

  • Day 5: Planting Preferences- Written Assessment

    Students work in groups to rank four sites according to their suitability for planting shrubs, then independently complete a diagram showing a nutrient cycle for the preferred site.

  • Day 6: Radish Results

    Students make and process final observations of their plants, graphs and discuss their data in groups, compile the whole class data, discuss conclusions, then write letters to GROW.

  • Day 7: GROW gets an answer

    Students complete their work for GROW by working in groups to create advertisements that teach the public about nutrient cycling, and GROW's research and products

  • Day 8: Hiring a Scientist

    Students recommend who GROW should hire as a scientist after reviewing three job applications.

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