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.
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
During the activity, students pick up a natural object, such as a leaf, and make “I notice…” statements out loud with a partner, then share some of their observations with the group. They do the same with “I wonder…” questions, and with “It reminds me of…” connections. Then, students practice using these tools while exploring whatever they find interesting. This simple routine can help students get beyond seeing nature as a “green blur,” and lead them to never be bored in nature again.
- Increase curiosity for and directly engage with aspects of the natural world.
- Make observations, ask questions, and relate findings to past experiences.
- Learn that descriptive observations are distinct from statements of opinion or identification.
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.
A project-based learning activity in which students assess their community's ability to respond to crises and develop ideas for making it more resilient. Students participate in project-based learning over several days as they assess their community's ability to respond to crises that threaten both natural and human systems. Then they develop ideas for redesigning their community to be more resilient.