Warm-up: Relationships in Ecosystems (10 minutes)
1. Begin this lesson by presenting the powerpoint, “Per Square Meter”.
2. After the presentation, ask students to think of animal relationships that correspond to each of the following types; Competition, Predation, Parasitism, and Mutualism
a. For example, two animals that compete for food are lions and cheetahs (they compete for zebras and antelopes)
3. Record the different types of relationships on the board.
Activity One: My Own Square Meter (30 minutes)
1. Have students go outside and pick a small area (about a square meter each) to explore. It is preferable that this area be grassy or ‘natural’. The school playground might be a good spot.
2. Each student should keep a list of both the living organisms and man-made products found in their area (i.e grass, birds, insects, flowers, sidewalk etc.) Students are allowed to collect a few specimens from this area to show to the class. If students do not have jars, they can draw their observations. *See Reproducible #1
Activity Two: Who lives in our playground? (10 minutes)
1. After listing, collecting, and drawing specimens, students should return to the classroom and present their findings.
a. Have the students sit in a circle. Each student should read his or her list of findings out loud. If they collected specimens or drew observations, have them present them to the class.
2. Make a list of these findings on the board. Only write repeated findings once (to avoid writing grass as many times as there are students). Keep one list of living organisms and one list of man-made products.
3. For now, focus on the list of living organisms. As a class, help students name possible relationships between the organisms. See if they can find one of each type of relationship. For example, a bee on a flower is an example of mutualism because the nectar from the flower nourishes the bee and in return, the bee pollinates the flower.
Activity Three: Humans and the Environment: Human Effect on one Square Meter (15 minutes)
1. Now that students have focused on the animal relationships of their square meter, it is time to examine the effect of humans on the natural environment. Focus on the human-made product list. Ask students to consider the possible relationships between the human-made products and the environment. Prompt a brief class discussion on the effects of man-made products on the environment. Use the following questions as guidelines.
a. What is the effect of an empty drink bottle (or any other piece of trash) in a grassy field? Will it decompose? Will it be used by an animal as a habitat or food?
Answer: Trash is an invasive man-made product. Most trash is non-bio degradable and is harmful to the environment and to eco-system relations.Therefore, it is a harmful addition to the square meter.
b. Who left the bottle there? Do you think they are still thinking about it? Did they leave it there on purpose? Why did they leave it there?
Answer: Most people litter thoughtlessly. They are not thinking about their actions and how they may effect the environment or eco-systems. It is important that people recognize that litter has a major effect on the environment.
c. What about a bench? Does a park bench have the same effect on the environment as a piece of trash?
Answer: A park bench can be considered as a positive human-made product. A park bench has little negative effect on the environment and even helps humans further appreciate eco-systems. The Park Bench may even provide shelter or a perch for the eco-systems living organisms.
d. Is there a difference between positive human-made products and negative ones? What are some examples of each?
Answer: Yes, there is a difference between positive and negative human-made products. Positive products have minimal effect on the functioning of eco systems whereas negative products have major effects on eco systems. An example of a positive human-made product would be a solar powered house. An example of a negative human-made product would be a car that produces a lot of pollution.
Wrap Up: Our Classroom Eco-Web (20-30 minutes)
1. Have students create classroom artwork by illustrating the relationships between their eco-systems.
2. Each student should draw at least two components of his or her square meter.
3. After everyone has finished their illustrations, create a web relating the illustrations. Draw arrows between illustrated components with written indications of the type of relationship exemplified.
4. Post the finished product in the classroom so that students can see the interconnectedness of the earth’s eco-systems.
Extension: Exploring Aquatic Eco-Systems (On-going Activity)
Students can explore another type of eco-system by creating a classroom aquarium or terrarium. The supplies for both of these mini eco-systems can be found at your local pet store. Students should help set up and maintain the aquarium or terrarium throughout the year. Periodically, students should observe how the mini-ecosystem is progressing, note changes, and assess the relationships between the organisms of the eco-system. This way, students are able to directly participate in the functioning of a natural system.
Another related activity might be to take your students on a field trip to a different eco-system from that of your school. If you live near a river, lake, or ocean take them there to explore different ecological relations. If you live in a city, examples of diverse eco-systems can be found at the local zoo or aquarium.