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.

Population Survey of Human Use of Schoolyard

2 class periods

Students will gain data indicating how frequently the different areas of the schoolyard are used.


  1. Divide students into pairs. Note: If there is an expansive area to the schoolyard you may need to divide it into a few parts and assign a pair to each smaller section. Be sure to add the tallies for the entire area before recording on the class data sheet.
  2. Explain activity to children. Tell them they will record a tally mark on their student data collection sheet each time a person enters their assigned schoolyard cover area during a 10 minute time period. They do not make any marks when the person leaves. Show them that when they make the fifth mark it goes diagonally across the other marks. Ask students why scientists do this (it makes it easier to count).
  3. To practice create a rough map illustrating different areas of the classroom. Assign a pair to each section of the classroom. The other half of the students are invited to wander for 30 seconds. Invite the student pairs to make a tally mark each time a student enters their area. Tell them to make no marks when somebody leaves. Switch and repeat the activity so that the other half of the class may try.
  4. Return to the classroom and compile human use data on the grid. Note: To make the data collection sheet easier to be seen by the entire class you may wish to recreate the grid on easel or butcher paper. Ask students questions regarding the data to be sure they can read the information from the grid. Ex. Which cover area had the most visitors? Which cover area had the fewest? How many people went to the tree cover area today? Invite students to compare this data to the worm and percolation data.

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