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Page history last edited by Bill 8 years, 3 months ago



In the sixth grade, students begin to study the key characteristics of ecosystems.  Specifically, they explore how species live and interact with one another, the factors that explain how ecosystems change over time, and the ways in which species adapt to their environments. 


In this unit, students will work to explain mutualism, commensalism and parasitism---the three main ways that species interact with one another.  They'll also study the role that carrying capacity, limiting factors and overpopulation have on changes in an ecosystem, and how changes in an ecosystem can force animals to adapt in order to survive.  Finally, students will look for similarities and differences in the carbon, hydrogen and water cycles----which are the three main ways that matter cycles through an ecosystem.


Below, you will find unit overview sheets, a common assessment that is given by all teachers, samples of student work, and materials for possible lessons to support this unit of instruction. 



County Unit Overview Sheet

County Overview - Ecosystems Unit


This document was created by the county as an overview of the content to be covered in the Ecosystems unit that can be shared with parents.  It presents essential content in parent friendly language, it includes a list of required vocabulary, and it highlights where the content that our kids are expected to master stands in the sequence of learning for students.  It can be useful as a guide for teachers -- both of sixth grade science and those who wish to integrate sixth grade science content into their curricula.  




I Can Statements

Ecosystems I Can Statements


This document includes a list of the objectives that students will be expected to master in their study of ecosystems.  It can be used as a checklist by teachers to guide their instruction and as a tracking sheet for parents and students to monitor progress towards mastery.  It was most recently revised in the Spring of 2013. 



Individual Teacher Planning Documents


Below are links to the individual planning documents being used by the teachers of our team to organize their content and to sequence their lessons for the ecosystems unit.  Consider clicking on these files to learn more about how your peers are teaching this unit.


Bill Ferriter's Ecosystem Unit Plans

Joyce Sugg's Ecosystem Unit Plans




Potential Lessons



Plants, Flowers & Photosynthesis



Plant Parts, Photosynthesis, Transpiration and Cellular Respiration Socrative Quiz

Share Code:  16290956


Plant Parts:  Identifying on Diagram



Socrative is an extension of Mastery Connect that allows users to give quick formative quizzes designed to gather instant feedback.  The share code above will take you to a 21 question Socrative quiz that covers the parts of flowering plants and the processes of photosynthesis, transpiration and cellular respiration.  There are also questions about tropism and dormancy.  The questions were generated using the question bank in Discovery Education.  Consider using this quiz for review before a test or for identifying gaps in what your students know about flowering plants.  




Plant Anatomy Handouts

Handout - Plant Anatomy

Handout - Our Flowering World Viewing Guide

Viewing Guide - Plant Structures


The key content to deliver during our plant anatomy lesson is that flowers are the reproductive organs of plants.  The structure and function of flowers is designed to attract pollinators -- nothing else.  While students may believe that flowers are beautiful for our sake, that's not true.  The sole goal of flowers is to reproduce, so everything about their structure and function is designed to encourage reproduction.  


There are several digital resources that we have for teaching plant anatomy.  One is a Brainpop video on pollination that has two nice viewing guides in the "activities" section of the video.  The second is a video in Discovery Ed called "Our Flowering World."  The handouts above are materials that can be used in conjunction with those resources.  


Consider having parents send tulips and lilies to explore during this lesson.  Tulips and lilies have very pronounced pistils and stamens -- so studying the key reproductive parts of plants is easy to do with those flowers.  Ask students to examine the structure of both plants and determine why the physical characteristics would encourage pollinators and facilitate pollination.  Encourage them to look at the size and the position of the stamens, the size and positioning of the pistils, the size and positioning of the petals, and the coloring and shape of the leaves.  Look for examples of natural contrast that would attract pollinators.  Point out places where the pistils and anthers are different sizes and shapes.  Ask students to clarify why those differences are still effective at encouraging pollination.  


Consider bringing up natural selection in this lesson.  Discuss the notion that nothing happens in nature by mistake.  Traits are developed over millions of years in living creatures that are useful.  Living creatures with traits that aren't useful die off.  That means everything that we see in the plants we are exploring is useful.  Why?  Consider having students redesign one of the plants to make it MORE useful.  What could they change about the structure and the function of the flower to make it a better pollinator?




Ted Ed Lesson on Photosynthesis



This Ted Ed lesson pairs an interesting video with a series of reflection questions, simple activities and discussion starters to lead students thorugh a study of photosynthesis.  It can serve as an introduction to the topic or as a review of the topic.  Teachers can also use it as a differentation station -- students who are in need of extra practice or who are ready for enrichment can use the lesson in a self-guided way to learn more about the topic.  




Flowering Plants and Photosynthesis Zaptions

Flowering Plants - http://zapt.io/t4k787pk   

Photosynthesis -   http://zapt.io/ty9v4c6n


Zaption is a tool that allows you to pair videos with embedded questions and content related to the videos.  These Zaptions are designed to give students a chance to review both the structure and function of flowering plants and the science behind photosynthesis.  The first includes a tutorial created by a middle school teacher that introduces students to the basic parts of plants and then to the steps taken during pollination and fertilization.  The second -- which is designed to introduce students to photosynthesis -- provides general background information about photosynthesis and a demonstration of photosynthesis in action.  If you create a Zaption account of your own, you can copy this Zaption and get a record of responses that your students give to each of the embedded questions.  




Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration Formulas

Image - Cellular Respiration

Image - Photosynthesis


One of our essential outcomes for this unit is to teach students the difference between cellular respiration and photosynthesis.  To teach this, consider introducing students to the formulas for both photosynthesis and cellular respiration.  Introducing the formula for photosynthesis is fun because it makes it clear to students that the reason plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen is because those two "ingredients" are necessary for turning sunlight into glucose.  Similarly, introducing the formula for cellular respiration is fun because it makes it clear to students that the reason humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide and water vapor is because those two "ingredients" are necessary for turning glucose back into energy.  Other things to note:  The total number of carbons, hydrogens and oxygens are equal on both sides of both equations.  Also, the number of carbon dioxide molecules that are the waste product of cellular respiration is equal to the number of carbon dioxide molecules necessary for photosynthesis.  These are truly partner processes.


The images linked above can help you to think through how to share the formulas with students.  You might also share the simplified formulas:


Photosynthesis:  Carbon Dioxide + Water + Light ----> Glucose + Oxygen + Water Vapor

Cellular Respiration:  Glucose + Oxygen -------> Carbon Dioxide + Water Vapor + Energy


Bill finishes this lesson by asking students to share ONE word that would summarize the processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration.  His goal is to lead them to the conclusion that MAKING is the best word for photosynthesis because plants are making food out of carbon dioxide, water and light.  He also wants to lead them to the conclusion that BREAKING is the best word for cellular respiration because cells are breaking food sources down into energy.  




Most Wanted Poster for Photosynthesis and Respiration


Very fun project/lab  for the kids. The create a most wanted poster for one component of photosynthesis/respiration.  You can put them in groups of 2 or 3 or just work individually. I recommend doing the following reading worksheets first so the students can get a better understanding of photosynthesis and respiration. Here are the reading worksheets:


Classroom reading Photosynthesis

Classroom worksheet Photosynthesis

Classroom reading Respiration

Classroom worksheet Respiration


Poster worksheet

Directions for the project.


Poster Rubric

How to grade the Lab.


Examples of the finish product:

Picture 1    Picture 2  Picture 3  Picture 4




Wings of Life Video

Handout - Wings of Life Viewing Guide

Handout - Wings of Life Viewing Guide 2



Disney Nature put out a movie in 2013 called Wings of Life that discusses the relationship between pollinators and the plants that they pollinate.  It is a great video for introducing concepts like pollination and plant structures.  It is also a great video for introducing the concept of natural selection -- the notion that plants and animals with favorable characteristics will survive, thrive, and reproduce, passing those unique characteristics down to their offspring and spreading those traits throughout a population.  The video features four pollinators -- bats, hummingbirds, monarch butterflies and Honeybees -- and shows how they are uniquely suited to pollinate the plants that they rely on.  


Bill has this video on DVD if you want to use it in class.  He has also used the two viewing guides above with the video in different years.  




Why the Honeybee Matters





One of the key lessons that comes out of the Wings of Life video is that pollinators are incredibly important because they help to sustain the overall health of plants -- which we depend on because they can convert light energy into food for our ecosystems.  In the video, honeybees are introduced as a primary pollinator.  The two videos and the article above reemphasize the importance of Honeybees as pollinators -- Honeybees pollinate 70+ of the 100 plants that provide us with the majority of our food -- and introduce students to Colony Collapse Disorder, a troubling trend towards bee colonies dying out unexpectedly.  


The videos and article can be used to reinforce the notion that we depend on pollinators for our survival.  They can also be used to introduce students to the concept of parasites simply because one of the reasons that Honeybee populations are dwindling is the existence of a crab-like parasite called the Varroa mite that attaches to bees and drains them of blood until they die.  




Doomsday Seed Vault Video



In Svalbard Norway -- 700 miles away from the North Pole -- scientists have created a vault in the ground that holds samples of seeds from every plant on the planet.  The process of collecting the seeds took over 70 years.  The intent of the vault is to provide protection and backup in case a disaster befalls the earth -- think asteroid impact or nuclear war.  The video would be a good share with students after talking about the important role that plants play the the survival of human beings.  We need to protect our seeds simply because if we lost plants, we'd lose the ability to convert sunlight into food and energy.  




Can Plants Think Video



This is a neat video that talks about a bunch of the unique steps that plants take to survive and defend themselves against natural threats.  One example is that corn releases a hormone when eaten by insects that literally signals predatory wasps, who then arrive to eat the insects that are eating the corn.  Another example is that trees trade water and nutrients with other trees nearby through their roots.  These actions and behaviors are all designed to help plants -- which can't move and are in a sense "defenseless" as a result of their immobility -- to survive, thrive and reproduce.  All of these themes are connected to the idea of natural selection -- a concept that we are required to teach.  




Save the Plankton Photosynthesis Introduction



One of the world's most important plants is a plant that most people have never heard of.  Called Prochlorococcus, it is a phytoplankton living in the ocean -- and it is so small that MILLIONS can live inside a single drop of waterWhat makes it so important is that through photosynthesis, it -- along with other phytoplankton -- is responsible for 70% of the oxygen on earth, including one out of every five breaths that human beings take.  It is also responsible for removing 10 Gigatons (10 Billion Tons) of carbon from the atmosphere every year. 


This lesson from National Geographic can be used to introduce students to the role that phytoplankton play in our environment -- which can serve as a nice introduction to just what photosynthesis is and why it is important.  And this video from NPR can be used to introduce students to Prochlorococcus. 



Photosynthesis Lesson

Lesson 4, Photosynthesis.doc



One of the key points that we need to make in this unit is that photosynthesis is an incredibly important process to the survival of everything.  The majority of the energy on earth starts out as light energy. That energy is useless to us unless we can convert it into a type of energy that we can use.  Photosynthesis makes that possible by converting light energy into simple sugars that are introduced to the food chain when they are consumed by smaller animals.


These notes---which come from the WCPSS CMAPP curriculum---introduce each of the essential elements in the process of photosynthesis.  A simple activity would be to divide your class into two groups and then ask those groups to act out the process of photosynthesis with their bodies.  They will use this set of notes to think through how to do that the best.



Transpiration Videos



Another key fact that students need to learn is that transpiration plays a vital role in photosynthesis by drawing water from the roots through the stem and to the leaves of plants.  Without water in the leaves, photosynthesis can't happen -- but water has to be drawn from the ground to the leaves.  That happens because of transpiration -- where plants take advantage of the adhesive and cohesive properties of water to pull water to the top of the plant.  What's interesting about transipration is that the VAST majority of water that a plant absorbs is "breathed out" through the stomata on the bottom of the leaves.  Only a small percentage is used in photosynthesis.  That's not "wasted water," though.  Every molecule that leaves a plant is pulling on the molecules behind it, drawing water in a chain up from the ground.  If water didn't leave the plant, that "pulling chain" would be broken and water wouldn't rise.  Also, transpiration becomes an important player in the water cycle.  Water that is trapped in the ground is released back into the sky by transpiration.


These two short videos can be used to introduce transpiration to students.  




Tropism Lesson


Lesson - Plant Behavior

Handout - Tropism Notes

Handout - Tropism Notes BLANK


Tropism is the tendency of a plant to respond to external stimuli like light, gravity and water.  To introduce students to this concept, show the YouTube video linked above.  The lesson plans and notes activities are optional, but can be used to structure student thinking or to take the study of tropism deeper. 



Pollination Project 


Pollination Project Directions, Data & Conclusions.docx

Pollination Project Observation Sheet.docx 


I created this as an alternative assessment.  It could also be used as an out of class enrichment, or extra credit activity.  Students make observations on four different flowers and use those observations to conclude what pollinators would be best suited to pollinate each specific flower. 




Solar Freakin' Roadways




One of our goals in this unit is to teach students about the carbon cycle.  As a part of that study, we inevitably end up talking about Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect.  That's because too much carbon as a gas in our environment leads to increased temperatures and all of the consequences that come as a result of that reality.  That also sets us up for conversations about alternative energy sources.  Any attempts to generate electricity without burning fossil fuels can reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.  During this conversation, consider introducing your students to solar freakin' roadways -- a project of two engineers in Idaho.  The plan is to replace roadways with solar panels.  Estimates show that if we replaced every road in the United States with solar roadways, we could generate 3 TIMES the amount of electricity that we need to power our country.  


Consider asking students to consider the following questions:  (1). How would solar roadways help to address the amount of carbon in our atmosphere?  (2). What steps has the Solar Roadways company taken to make its product appealing BEYOND just generating electricity and (3). What are the barriers to making solar roadways a reality?  If it is such a good plan, how come they haven't become common around the world?




Cell Processes









Food Chain/Food Web Video



One of the elements of the food web that students don't often think of is the role that decomposers and scavengers play in the process of moving energy through ecosystems and habitats.  That's what this Ted Ed video introduces.  Students learn that over 90% of the energy that is passed through a web starts with the work of decomposers who are constantly breaking down detritus.  It also introduces the term "Brown Food Web," which scientists use to describe the work done by decomposers in a food web.  It's interesting stuff and connected to the concepts we are required to teach.



Meat Eating Plants Video



After discussing plant parts and connecting it to natural selection -- the notion that useful traits develop over millions of years, helping plants and animals to survive, thrive and reproduce -- watch this video on meat eating plants.  Discuss the fact that meat-eating plants are unusual, but their unique trait -- eating insects and small animals -- HAS to be useful.  It HAS to have a purpose to help them survive, thrive and reproduce.  If it didn't, the trait -- and the plants possessing the trait -- would have died off.  


Ask the students to make predictions about WHY plants would eat meat?  Why would that be a useful trait?  Then have them find the answer in the video.  Meat eating plants tend to live in swamps and bogs -- areas where soil quality is poor.  That means they can't get the nutrients that they need from the soil.  If they were going to survive, they needed to come up with an adaptation that helped them to get nutrients.  That was eating insects and digesting them.  


Another natural selection connection in the video is that Venus Flytraps don't close completely when they first sense an insect in their jaws.  They only close partially.  This allows smaller insects to escape.  Ask students why letting a food source escape would actually HELP them to survive, thrive and reproduce.  The answer is smaller insects aren't worth the time and energy that it takes to digest them.  The nutrients returned by those insects doesn't match the amount of energy that it takes to digest them.




Biomes Lesson



During the course of this unit, students need to learn about biomes.  Specifically, they need to study the way that biotic and abiotic factors work together to create a habitat.  This lesson -- which is built around the World's Best - South America video found in Discovery Ed -- can be used to give students the chance to study the biomes found in South America.  It asks students to track both the biotic and abiotic factors in a habitat and then to create a travel brochure that encourages people to visit a particular biome. 



Symbiosis Lesson

Lesson 1 - Symbiosis


One of the main goals for this unit is to teach students about symbiosis---or the different ways that animals and plants live together within particular ecosystems.  This lesson---which incorporates literacy skills attached to our school improvement plan---introduces students to mutualism, parasitism and commensalism, the three different types of relationships between animals and plants in habitats. 


Symbiosis Lesson/Game:

Symbiosis Lesson/Game


This lesson provides information about the three types of symbiosis: Mutualism, Commensalism, and Parasitism.  It also provides cards with organism images and descriptions.  Students can find who needs to partner with them to represent one of the types of symbiosis.  In addition, the activity describes additional games that can be played with the cards to reinforce content understanding.   




Symbiosis Videos

General Introduction: https://youtu.be/zSmL2F1t81Q 

Mutualism: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/ant_caterpillarsymbiosis

Commensalism: http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/clownfish_amonganemones 

Parasitism: https://youtu.be/XBMK7C_HwI4 

Parasitism: https://youtu.be/Rsd2i-qFHK4 


One of the topics that really lends itself well to video content is the idea of symbiosis -- or how different species of plants and animals interact with one another in ecosystems and habitats.  These videos might be helpful when teaching about those different kinds of interactions.  The first is a nice general overview of the different terms involved in a study of symbiosis.  The remaining videos are good examples of each of the individual types of relationships.  Consider asking students to watch the first video to build background knowledge.  Then, have the students watch the remaining videos to see if they can identify which type of relationship that they are looking at.  


On a related note, this would be a good time to talk about natural selection -- the notion that plants and animals that are uniquely suited to survive and thrive will reproduce and pass useful characteristics on through populations and species.  Ask students to identify the specific social, behavioral or physical traits that allow each of the animals and plants spotlighted in the video to survive and thrive.  




Carrying Capacity and Overpopulation Lesson

Lesson 2 - Carrying Capacity and Overpopulation


Another key point that we're trying to teach students in this lesson is that the overall health of an ecosystem is dependent on its carrying capacity---or the number of animals and plants that it can effectively support.  Changes in population can have a direct impact on the carrying capacity of a habitat.  This lesson---which also incorporate literacy skills attached to our school improvement plan---introduces students to the concepts of carrying capacity and overpopulation.




Natural Selection Lesson

Lesson 3 - Natural Selection


We're also responsible for introducing students to the concept of natural selection.  Natural selection suggests that nature unintentionally chooses the animals that will thrive in a particular habitat based on their characteristics.  Over time, animals uniquely suited for a particular habitat will thrive and reproduce while those who are not well suited for a habitat will die out.  This lesson introduces those concepts to kids. 


(Note:  While the lesson refers to an ecogeeks movie that is posted in Blackboard, there is a video on the Marine Igunana in United Streaming which can be used to introduce natural selection as well.)



Section Assessment Questions

Lesson - Section Assessment Questions


This document contains three open-ended questions which can be used by teachers to assess student understanding of symbiosis, carrying capacity and natural selection after students work through each of those lessons listed above. 



Invasive Species Video



One of the most interesting topics during our study of ecosystems is the damage that is often done to habitats because of invasive species.  This video is a short clip from ESPN's Outside the Lines that introduces the Asian Silver Carp, an invasive species that is destroying habitats all along the Mississippi River. 


What makes the Silver Carp interesting---outside of the fact that it often jumps 10 feet out of the water every time that a boat passes---is that it was intentionally introduced by humans who believed that it could help to naturally clean waterways and replace chemical solutions to that process. 


The message I like to share with this video is that humans often think that we know best and start tinkering with our environment.  That tinkering can carry disastrous consequences. 









Brainpop Viewing Guides


Viewing Guide - Photosynthesis

Viewing Guide - Natural Selection

Viewing Guide - Land Biomes

Viewing Guide - Food Chains

Viewing Guide - Ecosystems

Viewing Guide - Carbon Cycle

Viewing Guide - Water Cycle


There are several different Brainpop videos that are connected to the key concepts in our ecosystems unit.  These viewing guides can be used to structure student thinking during each of these Brainpop videos. 





Remediation and Enrichment









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