Curriculum & Planning, Education, Lesson Plans, Middle School, Resources, Science

Science Unit: Introducing Ecology

Right now, my sixth grade students are working through a unit on ecology.  Our first topic is “Interactions in Ecosystems,” and we are looking at everything from the biotic/abiotic factors that are impacting each other to the various types of ecological relationships between organisms in ecosystems.

My school goes by standards set through the Catholic Diocese.  Some of the standards that this first topic addresses are:

S63.22 Define environment.S63.23 Explain characteristics of his/her environment.S63.1 Describe characteristics of living and non-living things.S63.2 Classify familiar objects as living or non-living.S63.3 State basic needs of living things.

S63.29 Construct food chains/food webs illustrating energy flow in an ecosystem.

S63.30 Define and correctly use the terms: producers, consumers, decomposers.

S63.31 Describe ways in which populations of plants and animals in a community interact with one another and their environment.

S63.24 Give examples of changes in environments.

Additionally, I have been trying to incorporate into my curriculum the Next Generation Science Standards.  The activities in this mini-unit begin to address NGSS MS-LS2  Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics.  According to NGSS, “Students who demonstrate understanding can analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem. MS-LS2-1”  Similarly, this unit’s focus on interactions in an ecosystem, such as competitive, predatory, and mutually beneficial, aligns with MS-LS2-2, “Students who demonstrate understanding can construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.” Finally, the MS-LS2-3 standard that addresses the flow of energy in ecosystems is considered in this unit.

I begin each class period with a “Warm Up” or “Bellringer.”  Sometimes my Warm Ups review information from the last class, while at other times they preview the information to come.  I also use these questions to assess prior knowledge.  The first Warm Up for this unit asked: What do you need to survive?

Huh, I don’t see a cell phone anywhere on there.

Water, shelter, air, and food – those are our basic needs.  We tied these needs to the idea of a habitat, or where an organism lives.  A habitat must provide these basic needs if we are to live there.

Branching off from this, we started discussing different types of habitats, and then took a closer look at  a few. Each group received a picture, like the ones below, and were asked to make a list of all aspects of the represented environment that interact in the image.



After students shared some of the things they listed, I asked them to sort their lists into living and nonliving things.  We then discussed the terms “biotic” and “abiotic” by first discussing the words “symmetrical” and “asymmetrical.”  Students easily put together that “a” in front of the word indicates it is NOT something, and with that knowledge, they were able to make the connection between biotic and abiotic. 

I followed up this discussion with a similar activity, in which students listed the biotic and abiotic elements of a fish tank.  For this activity, I gave them a drawing, although we also have a tropical aquarium in our classroom that they could use as a resource.  After identifying biotic and abiotic factors, students made predictions about the consequences of various actions.

For example:

  • If the water suddenly dried up, I predict…
  • If the temperature increased, I predict…
  • Without soil, I predict…
  • Without sunlight, I predict…

After this introduction to ecosystems and the elements within them, we moved on to the concept of populations and completed a hands-on population sampling activity to estimate population sizes.  Students enjoyed this very much, and it was a great way to tie in math as well. You can download the papers for the activity at my TeachersPayTeachers store – just click on the image below! Also, you can download the entire plan, for FREE, right here: Mini Unit: Community Interactions!

population sampling science learning activity
Population Sampling Activity



Curriculum & Planning, Education, Language Arts, Lesson Plans, Middle School, Science

Star Lab: A Myth Making Activity

This year, Star Lab visited our school.  Unfortunately, it came during the holiday season, and with everything else going on (and already being in the middle of another unit), I didn’t have the time to devote four or five classes to an introduction to astronomy.  Even so, I still wanted to utilize the resource and give my fifth graders the opportunity to see the “night sky” in school. I ended up creating the activity below as a fun way to end the week, while still giving the students a little dose of starry skies.

I started the lesson by asking my students to imagine they lived a long time ago.  Every night the sun disappeared, and millions of tiny sparkly dots filled the sky.  Not really understanding what these tiny dots were, they created myths to explain their presence.  That was what we were going to be doing today.

Students then picked a constellation at random from the pile.  I had printed the constellation picture, star information, and legend from the Star Lab website.  They provide curriculum for the different “layers” you can use (which is not limited to astronomy — they have shells for plate tectonics, the cell, and weather too!).  I cut the constellations into strips and folded them so that only the picture was visible.  I then stapled the folded paper shut, so no one would cheat during the activity.  After our activity, I encouraged them to pull out the staple and read the real myth associated with their constellation.


We then entered the Lab, and I asked students to take a few minutes to silently look at the stars, find their constellation, and construct a myth based on their impressions.  After a few minutes (they actually did a great job during this reflection time!), one by one, students shared the myths they had created.

Looking back, I wish I had recorded them.  While many students simply told stories about the star (it looks like a waiter at a coffee shop, it looks like a dog…), a few of my students really got the idea of this myth-making.  According to one boy, one constellation depicted an ax that had been taken away from the people by God after they had destroyed the environment by overharvesting their resources…. Another depicted a one-armed man (Lucky Lefty) who had lost his arm and life in a fight with Right Hand Rick, but instead of death, God placed him in the stars in honor of his bravery, or something along those lines… They not only had neat story lines, but they had a real knack for storytelling. I was impressed!

After we left the Lab, I listened to them telling each other the Greek myth associated with their constellation, as they finally unstapled their papers and found the information inside.  Even though it wasn’t particularly “sciencey,” the kids had a good time, and it had definitely piqued their interest in stars and myths.