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.

Schoolyard Inquiries

Nature of Science

The lessons in this unit provide methods for students to carry out three investigations to ask questions about differences in the land cover types for three important dimensions of the schoolyard ecosystem:

  • the biological community – earthworms
  • the physical environment – percolation of water into soil
  • the social dimension – people’s use of the schoolyard

The unit culminates in a final lesson where students have the opportunity to pursue topics they identify themselves. This can be set up simply as an open inquiry opportunity, or as a way of pursuing specific whole-schoolyard questions that might have surfaced during previous inquiries.

  • Worm Worlds

    Compare the number of earthworms living in different parts of a study area by forcing worms to the surface using a non-lethal irritant (hot mustard slurry!). Youngsters try to explain differences based on environmental conditions they can observe - soil conditions, ground cover and local physical conditions.

  • Percolation Protocol

    Students will know how soil compaction affects water infiltration and will be able to design and carry out a simple experiment to test their ideas.  

  • Population Survey of Human Use of Schoolyard

    Students will gain data indicating how frequently the different areas of the schoolyard are used.

  • Mapping a Daily Path Through the Schoolyard

    Students will know how their schoolyard is used by different people throughout the day, and will be able to create a map showing these patterns.  

  • Student-Directed Inquiry

    Students will learn how to design a good investigation and the concept of a fair test. They will learn how differences in land cover type may lead to difference in ecosystem (biological, physical and social) features, and how biological, physical and/or social features of an ecosystem can be inter-related.

  • Worms, Water, and People on the Schoolyard

    Students will learn how different elements of the schoolyard ecosystem are linked, how scientists compile data and search for patterns and relationships, and how these relationships can be described.

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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