Urban Ecosystems

When people think of ecology, they usually imagine studies out in the country. The next thing they think of is studies involving the relationship of plants and animals to one another. They also imagine studies that show how organisms relate to the physical environment -- air, water, and soil. People and cities usually don't come to mind when ecology is mentioned.

Schoolyard Inquiries

Nature of Science

In this unit, students address the questions, “So what?!? What do the different land cover types we’ve discovered on our schoolyard have to do with things about our schoolyard ecosystem that we really care about?” Through their inquiries, students compare different areas and/or they relate different features within a given area to each other. They even can build up estimates for the whole schoolyard if they like. The first part of the lesson involves guided inquiry, where the teacher focuses student questioning by providing the methods and topic for their investigation. In the second part of the lesson, students can pursue topics and devise methods of their own, carrying out more open investigations of the schoolyard ecosystem.

The first set of lessons provide methods for students to carry out three guided investigations. Teachers can choose to do just one or two of these; to have different student teams do different investigations; or to coordinate their class to do all three investigations either simultaneously or in sequence. The investigations allow students 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.

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

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