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.

Student-Directed Inquiry


Students will learn how to design a good investigation and the concept of a fair test. They will learn how differences in land cover type may lead to difference in ecosystem (biological, physical and social) features, and how biological, physical and/or social features of an ecosystem can be inter-related.


  1. Discuss what questions came up during the course of doing the guided inquiries in previous lessons. You may wish to have the students meet in small groups to form a list of questions.
  2. Discuss, as a group, which ones might be appropriate for further study? How would the class go about collecting data for the different questions?
  3. Have small groups prepare proposals, following your own format,or a modified version of the worksheet for Lesson 1 in this unit. Make sure the students describe, in detail, the data collection techniques they will use, adopting or modifying methods they used in previous lessons.
  4. You might want to discuss the elements of a good investigation, reviewing materials from the notebook or having the class generate their own list of criteria.
  5. Have the class choose one project to pursue further.
  6. Organize the research, and let the students take the lead on carrying it out.
  7. If you are going to do continue with further lessons, make sure students gather some initial data for their presentation.


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

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