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.

A Schoolyard for Worms?

1 class period
classroom and schoolyard

Scientists make hypotheses at the beginning of any scientific study. A school site consists of both living and non-living things. School sites are designed for humans and human activities. School sites are habitat for creatures other than humans.


  1. Explain to your studetns that they will be participating in a study of their schoolyard, including what living and nonliving things exist on their schoolyard and how they might affect each other. Tell the students that they questions they will answer are “What is on your whole schoolyard?” and ”Why is this important?”
  2. Explain to the student that over the next few days they will be doing a series of activities to help them to form a scientific answer to their question. However, every scientist begins a project by making a hypothesis, as to what the outcome will be. Have them imagine that they are looking at their schoolyard from above, as if they were in a balloon. What would be the first thing they would see? What would be second? What would they be able to notice with binoculars? Allow the students to complete Question 1 on their own, and then use the blackboard to allow for a class brainstorm of what is on their school yard. Your list should end up including things such as playing field, buildings, parking lot, trees, etc.
  3. Using the student handout, ask the students to identify the top eight items which they think take up the most area on their school site, and to rank them in order beginning with the greatest. Have the students compare with their classmates. Where do they agree and disagree? Come up with a composite ranking for your class that can serve as the “class hypothesis.”
  4. Review with your students the rest of the sheet. You may wish to give examples. Allow the students to complete questions 3-5 the sheet before reviewing it as a class. Brainstorm the kinds of creatures that live on or spend time at your school (humans, birds, ants, etc.). Ask why they think each creature spends time there. Why these creatures and not others? If the school could be somehow changed to benefit one of these creatures, how might the schoolyard look
    different? Follow the same line of questioning for different activities that might take place at the school. How would the school look different if the focus was sports? (more fields and less buildings, etc) How would the school site be changed to improve safety? (No trees to climb, no cement, no jungle gym, padded walkways)
  5. Allow the students time to complete the rest of the worksheet (question 6), or for them to complete it as homework.
  6. Review with the students the importance of having a hypothesis. Ask them how it will be helpful to them at the end of the experiment. They will same these sheets, and look at them again at the conclusion of this project.

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