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 underfoot, worms turn dead leaves into soil. 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 the non-living things in a particular place and the ways they are connected. All the organisms in an ecosystem depend on all the other things – both living and non-living – for food and other needs. When we study ecosystems, we’ll consider how energy flows from sun to plants to animals, how plants and animals are linked in a food web, and how matter cycles through organisms and back into the soil.
In these workshops we’ll meet some animals and plants that are part of different ecosystems, and consider the interactions we observe as we explore the out of doors. In doing so, we’ll learn about various ecological concepts. Signs of Leaf-eaters introduces the idea of a food web and the energy flow from sun to plants to animals. In Leaf Litter and Life in the Dirt we’ll learn about decomposition, how nutrients are returned to the soil where they can be used again by other living things. Snags & Logs explores the many roles of dead or dying wood in a forest and the concept of ecological succession, how plant and animal communities change over time. Continue reading Ecosystems
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
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.
The place where a plant or an animal lives is its habitat, where it has what it needs to survive – sun and soil, food and water, shelter from the weather and Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Background
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: Hold up a leaf with leaf-eater damage of some kind. Ask the class, “What could have made these holes in this leaf?” Why is this important – what does it tell us about what’s happening outside?
PUPPET SHOW “Leaf-eaters and their Foes”
Objective: To meet some leaf-eaters and learn about the flow of energy through food chains in an ecosystem. Continue reading Signs of Leaf Eaters – Activities
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 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
Unless we are gardening, farming, or digging a hole, we don’t think much about the dirt beneath our feet. And 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, soil is much more than Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Background
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: (holding up a dish of soil) What do you think might live in this soil? What have you found when you’ve been digging in some dirt? Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Activities
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 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
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 are decomposers, organisms that 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. This blanket of dead organic matter provides homes and nesting material for many small mammals Continue reading Leaf Litter – Background
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: Bring in a garbage bag full of freshly fallen leaves. Pour them out onto a large sheet. Point out that these are just some of the leaves that fall from a single tree, each year. With so many leaves falling in a forest every year, why aren’t they piled up high in the forest? Continue reading Leaf Litter – Activities
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!
Leaf Good luck with that. At least you’re not trying to eat me. Everyone else on the forest floor wants to eat us dead leaves. Continue reading Leaf Litter – Puppet Show
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
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. As a tree decays, it provides a home for a parade of plants, animals, fungi and bacteria that further the process of decomposition. Continue reading Snags and Rotting Logs – Background