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 in a Picture Frame

2 class periods

Students will draw what they see. Students will work to include locations of different features on a schoolyard as seen from a side view.


  1. Scout your schoolyard ahead of time to see which locations are most appropriate for sketching panoramic views of your schoolyard. An ideal location will allow students a clear, head-on view of at least part of a familiar school building, and perhaps include features such as trees, parking lot, or playground equipment. Try to avoid views that look at the school from an angle or that are blocked by trees or landscaping.
  2. Preview the activity inside, demonstrating what a view looks like through a picture frame. Then take the students out to a location where they can sketch a view of their school. Tell the students that this will be the first step in creating a model of their school, and they should focus on noting key elements of their schoolyard. Also tell them to note where things are in relation to each other, for example, “The large pine tree is on the right side of the building,” and “How wide is the parking lot in relation to the hedge row?”
  3.  Hand out the materials and have the students draw what they see through the picture frame.
  4. Try to sketch the school from at least 2-3 different views.
  5. Indoors, review with the students what they saw through their frames, and go over the student page giving one-two examples. Students then use their sketches to complete the student pages found in the Schoolyard in a Picture Frame Handout.
  6. Have the students label key features on their sketches, and review these with them. Ask them which things would be important to include when creating a model of their school. How can their drawings help them in making a model?

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