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.

Day 1: Guided Ecosystem Inquiries in the Schoolyard


Students participate in scientific inquiry in the schoolyard.

Lesson Overview

Students address the questions, So what?!? What do the different land cover types we‚Äôve discovered on our schoolyard have to do with things about our schoolyard ecosystem that we really care about?Lessons 2, 3, and 4 in this unit 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. If you are interested in looking at relationships among the different parameters, then you will have to make sure that data is collected for each parameter at the same spots. Say, for example, you want to ask these questions, 1. Are earthworm numbers different in the different kinds of lawn on our schoolyard? 2.Does percolation differ in the different kinds of lawn on our schoolyard?‚ and 3. Is there a relationship between earthworm numbers and percolation rate in lawns on our schoolyard? To collect data that will help you answer these questions, you will have to do percolation tests and worm studies in the same places.


See each lesson for these details. A separate Study Plan Worksheet will be needed for each group and each topic you investigate.



When using Lessons 2, 3, and 4, we suggest the following sequence of instruction.

  1. Discuss what the students already know and wonder about the topic (e.g., what do they know about earthworms, etc.).
  2. Think with the students about how the phenomena might vary in the different land cover types they identified in Unit One. If time permits, take a quick walk through the schoolyard to generate specific ideas (e.g., “I think there will be more earthworms here than there.”). If you go outside, demonstrate the field method(s) they will be using. Otherwise, review these inside.
  3. Give each research team the Schoolyard Ecosystem Inquiry Study Plan Worksheet and have them fill it out and submit it to you for review and planning purposes.
  4. Schedule adequate time for them to carry out a field investigation where at least two locations are compared.
  5. If appropriate, compile data across research teams.
  6. Have each team present their findings to the group, relating these back to the hypotheses and anticipated results they wrote on the Study Plan sheet.


Lesson Resources
NYS Standards
MST 1 - Mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering design
Benchmarks for Science Literacy
1B Scientific Inquiry
1C The scientific enterprise

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

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