Matter cycles. Matter for growth, maintenance and reproduction in all organisms cycles through the ecosystem and Earth processes. All life needs certain matter in order to stay alive. This includes nitrogen, phosphorus, and water; oxygen for many but not all animals; and carbon dioxide for plants, to name a few kinds of matter.
To understand, through guided visualization (part 1) and hands-on investigations (part 2), how matter cycles through an ecosystem. To gain an understanding of decomposition, a community of forest recyclers, and the critical role decomposers play in the food web and the cycling of matter.
Students investigate biodiversity of wildlife in their backyard (schoolyard) by selecting and mapping out areas they expect to be high in biodiversity in part one. Part two uses a larger area to make observations about the area by using “biodiversity clues.”
In this activity, students investigate the fascinating and complex process of decomposition and lay the foundation for deeper understanding of concepts related to matter and energy transfer in ecosystems. Through exploration and discussion, students go beyond simple definitions. Instead, students discover key characteristics of decomposition as they struggle with creating a sequence for decomposing wood and leaves. They learn the difference between physical decomposition and chemical decomposition and that many things contribute to decomposition, but certain organisms are classified as decomposers. They also search for and discuss evidence of decomposers, make model diagrams to further develop their ideas about the process of decomposition, and discuss decomposition and its role in the cycling of matter. Finally, students are challenged to recognize the evidence and impact of decomposition in the ecosystems they explore.
- Explore, observe, and compare samples of decomposing materials and use reasoning to determine the level of decomposition among them
- Search for and classify decomposers (or evidence of them) as fungi, bacteria or invertebrates
- Investigate and discuss decomposition as the process of breaking down dead organisms and their waste materials into smaller and simpler forms of matter
- Create a model diagram for the process of decomposition
- Discuss the role decomposers play in making matter available to living plants
Students explore a forest at designated stations, using their vision and, blindfolded, their other senses. By engaging with the forest in a personal, multisensory activity, students will become more sensitive to the components of a forest, and hopefully, treat our landscapes with increased respect.
Students use forest stores from their ecoprovince to examine and define the elements of food chains and food webs including abiotic and biotic interactions. Students as ‘food chain roles’ participate in an string webbing activity that demonstrates how roles are inter-connected and the resilience of food webs to adapt to stresses.
Students take a census of an outdoor site, and look for organisms that perform different “jobs” in the biotic community. A biotic (or natural) community is made up of the various organisms that live and interact with one another in a particular environment. As in a human community, its members have different roles and depend on each other for survival. In this activity, students examine a study area to find out what organisms live there and the ecological jobs or niches they fill.
This activity sets an exciting tone of exploration and discovery, encouraging an inquiry mindset in students that helps establish a community of curious, active learners. Students gain tools to explore the natural world—and are inspired to discover and attempt to explain the abundant nature mysteries that surround us. NSI works well at the start of a field experience, to get students excited about nature mysteries.