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These activites are aligned with the following National Science Education Standards:
Content Standard C: Life Science--Organisms and Their Environment
Content Standard C: Life Science--Populations adn Ecosystems

Elementary students work alongside resource professionals planting trees on public land in Idaho on Arbor DayElementary students work alongside resource professionals planting trees on public land in Idaho on Arbor Day
Elementary students work alongside resource professionals
planting trees on public lands in Idaho on Arbor Day.

The activities described below will demonstrate ecosystem management concepts to students. Additional classroom exercises can be found in Ecosystems in Your Backyard, in Your World.

  • To help students gain a better idea of their own environment, have them collect pictures of ecosystem types found locally, develop a field guide to all the trees (or other plants and animals) found in the neighborhood, and describe local environmental issues. You might also develop exchange programs to compare findings with students living in other environments
  • Have students list all the resources they use in a typical day and trace the resources back to their original niche in the ecosystem.
  • Have students display pictures on a bulletin board of all the living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem near the school. Visit the area often to discover other parts of the ecosystem and add these to the display. Find out about the animals and plants found there today and in the past. Predict how this ecosystem will look in the future.
  • Have students write about and illustrate their role in a food web. They should note everything they've eaten in a 24-hour period and find out whether those foods were producers, consumers, or decomposers. (Producers are living things that make food using light energy through the process of photosynthesis. Consumers, also living things, feed on producers or other consumers. Decomposers are living organisms that get their food by breaking down dead organisms into nutrients.) Have the children describe the foods' native habitats, and in the case of consumers, the source of their food. For example, students might analyze a meal consisting of a tunafish sandwich with lettuce, a cup of mushroom soup, a chocolate cookie, and a glass of apple juice as follows: tuna, harvested from the oceans is a consumer; the grains found in the bread, grown in fertile areas around the world, are producers; lettuce and apples, grown commercially, are producers; mushrooms, grown commercially and also occurring in the wild, are decomposers; and chocolate, made from cocoa seeds found in tropical environments, is also a producer.
  • Have students observe and describe succession (the series of changes that naturally take place in a community over time) by conducting the following experiment using soils, water, seeds, a plant, and a jar. First, place 5 cm of soil in a jar and fill with water to a depth of 7.5 cm. Place the uncovered jar on a windowsill, allowing the contents to settle overnight. Plant an aquatic plant in the jar. As time passes, do not replace water that evaporates from the jar. Once or twice a week, have students add three or four seeds (use mixed birdseed) to the jar. As long as water remains in the jar, the seeds should germinate and then die. Continue adding seeds even after the water evaporates; this evaporation is a metaphor for a warming, drying climate. As the water evaporates, the aquatic plant will die, but the birdseed may find the environment suitable for growth. Begin adding water to represent rainfall. Have students illustrate what they saw happen to their "pond." What did they learn about environmental change?
  • Research ways that ancient cultures used plants and animals. Do we use any of those same plants and animals today? Do modern-day people depend on plants and animals more, less, or the same amount? Why?
  • Design projects to promote biodiversity in the schoolyard. Research plants native to your area and how they provide habitats for local animal species. Enhance your schoolyard ecosystem by planting native species. Students digging to plant a small plant
  • Using square study plots scaled to suit your location and the time available, assign small groups of students to examine a series of different microhabitats such as a wooded area, a grassy lawn, or a well traveled area near the school building. They should record or describe all life-forms encountered there. Have groups compare results, trying to draw conclusions about what factors influenced the abundance or lack of biodiversity.
  • Discuss predator-prey relationships with the class. Consider the possible impacts on ecosystems of introducing a species that has no native predator (for example, rabbits were introduced into Australia at the turn of the century; in the absence of predators, they multiplied rapidly and displaced native species).
  • Limiting factors (which define an organism's tolerance of various conditions) exist for humans as well as other organisms. Suppose you were going on a trip to the North Pole. Make a list of the limiting factors you would encounter. What equipment would enable you to deal with these factors?
  • Have students describe the effects of acid rain on broad-leafed plants by comparing the effects of watering some plants with plain water and others with various concentrations (5 percent, 25 percent, 50 percent) of vinegar in water.
  • Have students make a model of an ecosystem in an aquarium with a screen lid, using small plants (ferns and vines), gravel, soil, water, crickets, oatmeal, charcoal, small stones, an anole (a small lizard), a warming light, and a water cup. Place the aquarium in a sunny area (but not in direct sunlight). Put gravel and charcoal in the bottom to a depth of 2.5 cm and cover it with a 3-4 cm layer of soil, then add the stones. Add the plants, spraying with water to keep moist, the anole, and a small water cup. Add four crickets twice a week and two flakes of oatmeal once a week. Add water as necessary. Turn on the warming light to provide warmth to the anole. Record daily happenings in the ecosystem. Identify the following aspects of ecosystems in your model: scale, connections, cycles and change, diversity, and balance. Continue to observe your ecosystem through the school year.
  • Observe soil erosion and compaction on or near school grounds; suggest possible solutions (placing signs, planting the area, making a permanent walkway made of sawdust or bark chips).
  • The Chesapeake Bay, located along the east-central coast of the United States, has been affected by runoff from DDT pesticide use, among other things, and nutrient overloading (decomposing algae uses up oxygen making it hard for fish and other organisms to survive) . On a map of your state, locate areas that face problems similar to those of the Chesapeake Bay. Why are these areas vulnerable, and what can be done to protect them?
  • Investigate pollution concerns in your community, such as agricultural runoff, solid-waste disposal, smoke from a manufacturing plant, and sewage. Have small groups of students research different types of pollution.
  • To illustrate the difficulty of cleaning up an oil spill, conduct the following experiment. Place a few small rocks in one end of a cake pan to represent the shoreline. Half fill the pan with colored water, then pour 10 mL. of salad oil. Gently slosh the water about, making sure the rocks get wet. Then, describe your efforts to clean up the oil using a variety of materials (for example, tongue depressors, cotton balls, detergent, paper towels, and feathers).

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