Eco plot

With spring approaching now is the time for your students to set up an Ecology Plot outside! Simply mark off a meter square area with stakes and string (sticks will do), and have your K—12 students observe the plot weekly. What will they observe? Here are some ideas to get started:

  • What plants and animals are present? What birds to you see and hear? Have students create a map of the plants in the plot. How many are there? (count 1/10 of the area and multiply by 10) Have identification books or keys available to identify various grasses and weeds in the area. Your students may not see any animals on their plot, but collect soil samples to examine later with a hand lens or stereomicroscope for insects, earthworms, etc. Identify insects with guide books or keys.
  • Writing opportunity: have students write a description of their plot. Provide materials to measure soil temperature, air temperature, and soil moisture (if available). Is it in a field? Woods? An outdoor classroom? Is there evidence of animals? (discarded exoskeletons, tracks, holes, droppings) Is there evidence of human interactions? (trash, footprints, manmade changes to the area—cut down trees, bricks, and more). What is the climate like? Is the plot sunny or shady most of the day? Does it receive much rain or is it dry?
  • Does the plot change over time? Do the plants grow? How much? Do flowers bloom? Is there evidence of different animals present (feathers, droppings, exoskeletons, tracks, acorn shells, etc.)? Sketch or describe the changes.
  • What is the role of the observed plants and animals in this ecosystem? Are there any decomposers present? (Mushrooms or other fungi, etc.) Draw possible food chains for the plot.
  • Examine the soil. Does it contain much organic matter? Is it sandy? Clay? Rocky? Does water drain well, or does it remain on the surface?
  • How does one plot relate to another plot? Is there evidence that animals move around in this area? Are the plants in one plot the same or different in another plot? How are seeds transferred from one place to another?

The depth and detail of the observations depends on the age of the students. Check the area ahead of time for poisonous plants (poison ivy) or other hazards. Students may work individually or in groups.

Most of all enjoy being outside!

RESOURCES:

http://www.better-lawn-care.com/lawn-weed-identification.html#sthash.IoYftXZf.dpbs Scroll down for photos of many common lawn weeds

https://www.scotts.com/smg/gosite/Scotts-v2/grassTypeIdent Enter your zip code for the types of grasses that grow in your area. Click on pictures for larger images and more information.

http://whatbird.com/ Bird identification. Scroll down to “Click to Browse Birds by…”

http://www.enature.com/birding/audio.asp Great birding site! It has audio of the birds, photos, descriptions, habitat, and much more!!

http://beartrackersden.com/trackguide/trackguidecabrera.pdf Common animal track identification sheet. Printable.

http://www.bugfacts.net/insects.php Great insect (and non-insect) identification site.

http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/common-spiders-in-and-around-homes/#common Common spiders in and around the home.

https://www.corkyspest.com/snail-and-slug-id.html Snail and slug identification

http://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/gardens/animals-and-wildlife/a-guide-to-frogs-and-toads-pictures Guide to frogs and toads.

http://www.ncparc.org/pubs/Reptiles%20and%20Amphibians%20in%20Your%20Backyard_final.pdf Reptiles and amphibians identification and how to attract.

Check with your state’s conservation or game and fish department for their identification guides.

NGSS

3-LS4-4 Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals that live there may change.

Level 3-5

Grade 3

5-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

Level 3-5

Grade 5

MS-LS2-3 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.

Middle School (6-8)

MS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

Middle School (6-8)

MS-LS2-5 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Middle School (6-8)

HS-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Use mathematical and/or computational representations to support explanations of factors that affect carrying capacity of ecosystems at different scales.

High School (9-12)

HS-LS2-2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Use mathematical representations to support and revise explanations based on evidence about factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems of different scales.

High School (9-12)

HS-LS2-4 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem.

High School (9-12)

HS-LS2-6 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.

High School (9-12)