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.

Candyland Elementary School Land Cover

1 class period

Aerial photographs can aid in determining land use types. Land cover types can be measured by using a grid overlay to aid in determining percent coverage. Students will learn how transition from gaining information from a 3-dimensional model to gaining information from an overhead 2-dimensional view.


  1. Using a digital camera, take an overhead photo of each model.  On the computer, crop each photograph to fit an 8.5 X 11 sheet of paper. Print the photos using a color printer.
  2. Students receive photos of their models and other materials. The following procedure should be modeled on the overhead: Using tape, overlay the grid transparency on the photo. For each square, the students determine the color that covers the majority of the square. A tally is kept to keep track of the number of each color of square. On the transparency sheet, squares should be marked with an “X” to show that they have been tallied.
  3. Students add up the total number of squares counted. To determine the percentage of each land use type, divide each type (ex: number of yellow squares) by the total number of squares.
  4. Students look to see which cover types accounted for the greatest and least percentage of their models, and compare with classmates. Tell them that their next task will be to do this again, but from a real aerial photograph taken of their school. What do they think will be different in the process? What will be the same?

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

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