Why hands-on ecosystem investigations?
Ecosystems are highly complex systems; how can we support learners to grasp the affects on populations when one component of an ecosystem changes? Using a model ecosystem and model population in a hands-on investigation is an effective teaching strategy. In addition to making abstract ecosystem concepts more concrete, this investigation supports learning about systems and systems modeling in science–one of the Crosscutting concepts that bridge all science disciplines. Altogether, what we share in this post is a complete, Open Source investigation into ecosystem dynamics that can be adapted to any grade level. Those materials included here are primarily aimed at teaching upper elementary or middle school level students. However, versions of this investigation are used with undergraduate students at UW-Madison. In other words, this investigation lends itself well to adaptation and differentiated instruction to suit a wide range of teaching and learning contexts.
Ecosystem phenomena and components
Investigating ecosystem dynamics starts with identifying components that are key to the system. In that respect, we have an opportunity to use locally relevant ecosystem(s) as the phenomena that drives this investigation. For example, students in the southwest could brainstorm a list of environmental components that are characteristic in a desert biome or ecosystem, using a video or even a virtual tour as a conversation starter. In addition, students can compare two different ecosystems to emphasize how their components are characteristic, may differ, and have potential to change and affect populations (possibly introducing the terms abiotic and biotic with cultural sensitivity).
Designing and implementing the investigation
This entire investigation is available as an Open Source investigation in a Google doc that you may view and/or make a copy and edit as you wish for educational purposes. In addition, a webinar held on December 2nd, 2020 featured this investigation, including demonstration of conducting data analysis, using the new Wisconsin Fast Stats App. That webinar was recorded, and as soon as the recording is available, this post will be updated and links shared. Click here to access the Google Doc.