Ecosystems

Discovering Connections in the Natural World

Living things are connected to each other and to their environment in many fascinating ways. In a sunny field, grasses, clover, and goldenrod capture sunlight to make food by photosynthesis. Rabbits and grasshoppers feed on leaves and shoots, and foxes feed on rabbits and grasshoppers. The wind scatters grass pollen and milkweed seeds, rainfall brings water, and worms turn dead leaves into soil underfoot. These are examples of the many interactions between plants and animals, sunlight, water, and air that go on in a field. Every different environment – field or forest, pond or stream – functions as an ecological system, or “ecosystem.” An ecosystem consists of all the living and nonliving things in a particular place and the ways they are connected. All the organisms in an ecosystem depend on everything else – both living and nonliving – for food and other needs. Continue reading Ecosystems

Ecosystems Table of Contents

Ecosystems – Vocabulary for Children

active  Keeping a pattern of sleeping, eating, and moving about.

 adaptation  A special feature of a plant or animal’s body or behavior that helps it to survive.

algae  Small, usually green, plant-like organisms without flowers or seeds, found in or near water, free-floating or growing on rocks (and making them green and slippery).

antler  Branching extension of the skull, made of bone, on animals in the deer family, that is grown and shed each year (unlike horns, which are never shed). Continue reading Ecosystems – Vocabulary for Children

Signs of Leaf Eaters – Background

You don’t have to go far to see nature at work – bees visiting flowers, fireflies twinkling in a field, a hawk circling overhead. Less familiar, but right under our noses, are countless tiny animals busily feeding upon leaves or hiding in them from their predators. The signs of leaf-eaters, or leaf-hiders, are easy to find. Peer into any bush or tree and you are sure to see leaves that are chewed, rolled, folded, or sewn up with silk. Snails, aphids, and caterpillars feed upon this bountiful food supply, while spiders and hunting insects prowl amidst the leaves. Looking for signs of leaf-eaters gives us a glimpse of an ecosystem in action. Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Background

Signs of Leaf Eaters – Activities

FOCUS: By summer’s end, nearly every leaf bears some signs of feeding by plant-eaters small or large. Some make holes, some scallop the edges, some roll the leaves into tubes. Plants capture energy from the sun and, in turn, produce food for a variety of leaf-eaters. When we watch a leaf-eater feeding on a leaf – or being eaten by a predator – we are seeing the flow of energy from sun to plant to herbivore to carnivore. These interactions are evidence of food chains and webs, important components of every ecosystem.

INTRODUCTION
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about leaf-eaters.

Bring in or have children gather a variety of leaves that have bite marks, spots, or irregularities on them. In small groups, ask children to sort their leaves according to their observations.

Materials: a variety of leaves with bite marks, spots, or irregularities.

SORTING LEAF-EATER PATTERNS
Objective: To view examples of leaf-feeding, noticing patterns and grouping by shared characteristics.

Begin by giving each small group of children a set of photos of leaves showing damage by leaf-eaters. Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Activities

Signs of Leaf Eaters – Puppet Show

Leaf-eaters and their Foes

 

Characters: Benjy Bear, Leafcutter Caterpillar on leaf, Chickadee, Gertie Grass, Grady Grasshopper, Freddie Fox

Benjy Bear  Boy, my belly’s so full of berries, I need a nap. I’ll just lie down in the shade of this maple tree. (leaf enters) Why, look at that leaf. I wonder why it has those big holes in it?

Leafcutter  They don’t call me a leafcutter for nothing!

Bear  A leafcutter? You look like a caterpillar. Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Puppet Show

Signs of Leaf Eaters – Standards

SIGNS OF LEAF-EATERS ALIGNMENT WITH
NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS

The activities in this unit help children understand the basic concepts in the Disciplinary Core Ideas listed here. You can use the following list as a guide for lesson planning. These Disciplinary Core Ideas are taken from Grade Band Endpoints in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Additionally, our activities give children opportunities to engage in many of the Science and Engineering Practices and reflect on the Crosscutting Concepts as identified in the Next Generation Science Standards. Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Standards

Life in the Dirt – Background

Unless we are gardening, farming, or digging a hole, we don’t think much about the dirt beneath our feet. Yet it teams with life, and within it are complex food webs and a host of interesting creatures. Here nutrients that were once part of living plants or animals become part of the soil again, eaten and digested by a multitude of organisms. As they eat, grow, or tunnel through the earth, the many inhabitants of the soil have an important role in the making of soil and the ongoing life of terrestrial ecosystems, from the richest prairie to the rockiest northern forest.

Most people use the words “soil” and “dirt” interchangeably, meaning bits of earth we have to sweep up or wash off. But to a scientist, Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Background

Life in the Dirt – Activities

FOCUS: Life abounds in the soil, from plant roots to earthworms to moles and millipedes. All these organisms play important roles in the flow of energy and matter through an ecosystem. Many soil critters act as decomposers, breaking down plant and animal materials and returning them as nutrients to the soil where other living things may use them again. The soil is a rich ecosystem teeming with life in a complex food web.

INTRODUCTION
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about life in the dirt.

Give small groups of children worms to observe and draw, and ask what they notice about them.

Materials: earthworms, one for each pair of children (any kind of garden worm is fine; night-crawlers are less active but larger so the parts are easier to view; smaller worms are often more active and so more fun); water mister, paper plate and damp paper towel for each worm; magnifying lenses.

EARTHWORMS UP CLOSE
Objective: To view some special characteristics of earthworms and consider how these make them well suited to life in the soil.

Bring in a container of worms in soil. Have children work in pairs or small groups. Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Activities

Life in the Dirt – Puppet Show

Worm Wonderings

Characters: Woggle Worm, Wiggle Worm, Dandelion, Cicada, Mole

Woggle Worm Is that you, Wiggle?

Wiggle Worm  Hi, Woggle! It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other. What have you been up to?

Woggle  You mean down to. I’ve just been enjoying the dirt. And now that we’ve gotten some rain, it’s so easy to get around!

Wiggle  And easy to breathe. When you breathe through your skin, the way we worms do, you need to stay damp. Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Puppet Show

Life in the Dirt – Standards

LIFE IN THE DIRT ALIGNMENT WITH
NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS

The activities in this unit help children understand the basic concepts in the Disciplinary Core Ideas listed here. You can use the following list as a guide for lesson planning. These Disciplinary Core Ideas are taken from Grade Band Endpoints in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Additionally, our activities give children opportunities to engage in many of the Science and Engineering Practices and reflect on the Crosscutting Concepts as identified in the Next Generation Science Standards. Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Standards

Leaf Litter – Background

Under a leafy canopy, the shaded forest floor is a rich ecosystem teeming with life. Here in the leaf litter, millions of small organisms – fungi and bacteria, springtails and mites, spiders and centipedes – are all part of a rich food web. These busy creatures have an important role in the flow of energy through the forest, for many of them feed on dead plant and animal debris, releasing the nutrients so other living things can grow and thrive.

All the leaves, twigs, feathers, insect parts, and other debris that falls on the forest floor form the leaf litter, a very important part of the forest. Continue reading Leaf Litter – Background

Leaf Litter – Activities

FOCUS: Under a canopy of trees, the forest floor is a cool, damp, and protected environment. Here in the leaf litter millions of small organisms – fungi and bacteria, springtails and mites, spiders and centipedes and others – are all part of a rich food web. Many of these are decomposers, feeding on plant and animal remains and turning them back into soil.

INTRODUCTION
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about leaf litter.

Pour a garbage bag of full of freshly fallen leaves onto a sheet. Point out that these are just some of the leaves that fall from a single tree, each year. Ask children, “With so many leaves falling in a forest every year, why aren’t they piled up high in the forest?”

Materials: a garbage bag full of freshly fallen leaves, old sheet.

EFT’S EYE VIEW
Objective: To experience the world as it might seem to a small creature living on the forest floor.

Spread a tarpaulin or shower curtain on the forest floor and have children lie on it, facing upwards. Continue reading Leaf Litter – Activities

Leaf Litter – Puppet Show

Litter Critter Jig

Characters: Woodcock, Dead Leaf, Millipede, Fungus, Eft, Springtail.

 

Wanda Woodcock (dancing) Step to the right, give a little jiggle, step to the left, make the worms wiggle.

Dead Leaf  That’s a nice dance you’re doing, whoever you are.

Woodcock  I’m Wanda Woodcock, and I’m not dancing. I’m jiggling the ground to make the worms wiggle so I can catch ’em! Continue reading Leaf Litter – Puppet Show

Leaf Litter – Standards

LEAF LITTER ALIGNMENT WITH
NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS

The activities in this unit help children understand the basic concepts in the Disciplinary Core Ideas listed here. You can use the following list as a guide for lesson planning. These Disciplinary Core Ideas are taken from Grade Band Endpoints in A Framework for K-12 Science Education.
Additionally, our activities give children opportunities to engage in many of the Science and Engineering Practices and reflect on the Crosscutting Concepts as identified in the Next Generation Science Standards. Continue reading Leaf Litter – Standards

Snags and Rotting Logs – Background

Perched on the bare limb of a standing snag, an owl calls to its mate. Nearby, a mouse scampers along a fallen log and a spider spins its web on a rotting stump. From standing snags to lying logs, dead wood is essential in a forest, though its importance is often overlooked. At each stage of decay, snags and logs are hubs of activity, providing food, shelter, perches, travel corridors, and many other functions in the forest ecosystem.

Some trees die suddenly, caught in fires, hurricanes, or struck by lightning, but most trees die in stages, succumbing gradually to disease, drought, old age, or a combination of factors. Continue reading Snags and Rotting Logs – Background