We have been shifting from chemistry and physics topics to our ecology unit plan since spring break and my kids are stoked.
I have science-minded kids because that is their natural tendency and we have created a science-rich environment. My kids went to work with me and got to see and participate in things that other kids wouldn’t get exposed to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t nurture your kids’ inner scientist (in the classroom or at home).
I developed this ecology unit plan with 5e lessons in mind. These ideas would be adaptable for both high school ecology curriculum or ecology projects for middle school.
Science Fair Projects
We started out our shift with science fair projects. The kids both chose topics that blend well with environmental science and ecology:
- wind turbines
- climate change/ greenhouse effect
They are still working on these long-term projects, but in the meantime, we are building up what they know to help create more exciting projects.
My kids have been recyclers and worried about the planet since the first time they heard about global warming. My older son announced at the age of 6 that he would solve climate change.
I don’t know if he is still that ambitious, but we try to think about conservation, waste, and just environmental impact before we purchase products. We aren’t perfect (by any stretch) but we are all thinking about it.
An important piece of conservation is minimizing the threat to other species. We briefly discussed what conservation biologists are doing to prevent extinction.
A discussion of conservation has to include African Elephants
African elephants are one of the many species that are threatened (mostly by human impact). We got to watch a film about African elephants and poachers. World Elelphant Day is April 16th.
I love teaching biomes to kids in middle school (or high school) because it’s typically something kids are familiar with so you are just adding information to the vault. Biome studies are a great way to show other ecology terms in actions.
Using biomes as an introductory ecology lesson in middle school and high school can go over the basic parts of an ecosystem and begin to add complexity by discussing human interactions, climate change, and population ecology terms.
My kids worked with me to develop a game as one of our biome project ideas, Surviving Threats: An Ecology Game highlighting some of the obstacles and threats that animal’s face in the African savanna.
After about 10 days of development, we tried out one of our biome games for students with the kids in our co-op to a resounding success.
This game allows students to take on the role of an animal in the African savanna. Each student randomly selects strengths and weaknesses before the game begins. There are resources, threats, and human interactions that impact the survival of each player.
This is a great game to get students excited about ecology topics like:
- carrying capacity
- resource management
- human interactions in the ecosystem
- trophic levels
We followed up our game with a discussion (follow up included with the game) to help kids begin to connect the dots to the vocabulary in both the game and movie to our current topics of study. Beginning to understand species interaction and interdependence.
We use the 5e model of instruction so after getting the kids engaged with this fun game we spent some time exploring and explaining. I used this presentation to help clarify any lingering misconceptions. You can grab a free copy of this African savanna presentation.
Population Ecology Activities
Our next topic of study will be to go into carrying capacity of an ecosystem and looking at both natural and man-made factors that might impact the population growth of a species. These types of activities lend themselves to exploring relationships like in a predator-prey lab.
We wrapped our ecology unit with a mock conference on African elephants and the threats to this species (and possible solutions). This was a fun activity that got the kids thinking about solving real-world science problems. Habitat fragmentation is a common threat to animals so it gave the kids a chance to brainstorm some ideas to help solve that problem.
Of course, you probably don’t live on the African savanna, but take time to go outside and have your kids do some observing of their environment and the wonderful species they can find there. Create a chance for hands-on ecosystem activities by exploring nature and the biome in which you live.
Putting it Together
I think that a good ecology unit plan includes ecology projects for middle school or high school students like these biome activities. Focus on adding information that is more challenging and unfamiliar like population ecology activities.