This lesson plan is designed for kids ages 8 to 12 and aims to build awareness and enthusiasm of existing ecosystems from a tree or pond in their backyard to the most fascinating ecosystems that exist on our planet. The lesson plan can be used for schooling at home or in classroom sessions.
Protecting our environment is becoming an increasing priority worldwide and by creating interest about our ecosystems in young minds we hope to create new thinking and ideas for sustainable and healthy ecosystems. People tend to care only about those things in their immediate surroundings and by developing a love for something as simple as a local ecosystem from a young age we are able to build future generations that will want to take care of even the simplest ecosystem that exist in their neighbourhoods.
After completing this lesson students will be able to:
- Understand the complexity of an ecosystem and biomes
- Understand the energy cycle within ecosystems
- Unique facts about the biomes of our world
- Connect their learning to the balance required in ecosystems
The best approach to inspire children to protect nature is to take them to nature to experience it themselves. You can choose something as simple as a tree, pond or forest close to your home or next to the school. The objective is to open minds and encourage a discovery session in a familiar setting demonstrating the relationship between living and non-living things. Ideally cover the theoretical sections in a classroom and aim to take the individual or group of students to a real ecosystem to enforce their understanding with a practical exercise.
Some essential preparation work:
- Copy the lesson section on the following page and print a copy for each student.
- Ask students to bring along a set of coloured pencils for the exercises.
- Have Internet access to research and brainstorm ecosystem health.
What is an ecosystem and a biome?
An ecosystem is the complex relationship and interactions between a community of biotic (living organisms like plants, animals and microorganisms) and abiotic components (non-living sunlight, temperature, air, water and soil). Ecosystems vary greatly in size and can be as small as a single tree in your garden, a pond or a forest.
Major ecosystems that spread over larger parts of our world with similar climate, plants, animals or organisms are also known as biomes and can be classified into two groups:
- Terrestrial or land biomes – distinguished primarily by their principle vegetation, the rainfall and temperature for example the Temperate Deciduous Forest or Desert.
- Aquatic or water biomes – the common link among our world’s biomes are water and are covering nearly 75% of the Earth’s surface. The aquatic biomes are broken into two basic regions namely fresh water including lakes or marine like coral reefs.
Transformation of energy in an ecosystem
Every organism needs energy in order to grow and reproduce and are categorised into producers, consumers and decomposers.
Living organisms require energy to grow and reproduce. Plants, algae and some bacteria are producers and through the process of photosynthesis convert light energy from the sun into chemical energy. This process uses carbon dioxide and water to produce carbohydrates and oxygen.
Diagram 1: Photosynthesis
Herbivores are consumers that are not able to produce their own food, but feed on producers like plants and algae. These nutrients and energy are in turn passed onto carnivores or animals that eat other animals in the food chain.
Decomposers are living organisms like fungi and bacteria that get their energy from breaking down dead animals or plants. They are very important in the eco system providing essential nutrients back to plants or producers and making sure dead matter and waste doesn’t pile up.
Producers will always be more than consumers, keeping the ecosystem balanced. If any of these levels grow larger than the previous the ecosystem flows out of balance making it difficult for living organisms to grow or to reproduce.
Did you know?
Terrestrial Biomes / Zones
Diagram 2: Terrestrial Biomes of the World
Polar Icecaps – Nearly 90% of the world’s ice can be found in the polar icecaps and 70% of all fresh water in the world is locked in this ice.
Arctic Tundra – The ground in the Arctic Tundra is permanently frozen and the air is extreme making it the coldest desert on earth with temperatures no higher than 10 degrees Celsius in summer and as low as -40 degrees Celsius in winter.
Alpine Tundra – the Alpine Tundra appears in mountains worldwide and doesn’t contain any trees as it is located at too high an altitude.
Boreal Forests (Taiga) – The Tiaga of the world is characterized by coniferous trees mostly pines, spruces and larches.
Temperate Deciduous Forests – These forests are also known as temperate broad-leaf forests and are dominated by trees that lose their leaves every year. They are mostly found in the Northern hemisphere where you have mild winters and moist summers.
Tropical Rainforests – Half of the world’s tropical rainforests can be found in South America with the forests in Brazil and Peru covering nearly 6% of the Earth’s land surface. It is estimated that more than half of the world’s plant and animal species live in tropical rain forests.
Temperate Grasslands – Grasslands are large, rolling terrains of grasses, flowers and herbs. The location, soil and climate determine what kind of plants will grow in a particular grassland. Drought and fire prevent any large forests to develop in this biome.
Mediterranean climates – The majority of the world’s premium wine production is found in the Mediterranean biome.
Desert Scrub – This biome contains an abundance of wonderfully adapted plants and animals that have evolved to tolerate the extreme and arid landscape.
Desert – A desert is very dry with low rainfall, usually with very little plant coverage because all the water is lost due to instant evaporation. Plants need special adaptations to survive with this little water.Deserts receive less than 25 cm of rain per year and the largest desert in the world is the Sahara in North Africa.
Ocean Aquatic Biomes / Zones
Deep Sea – 90% of all the world’s oceans belong to the deep sea biome and is found below 200 meters. From 500 meters below sea level the light becomes too weak to support plant life and the water is normally around zero degrees.
Estuaries – Estuaries are the coastal body of brackish water with rivers or streams flowing into them and with a free connection to the open sea.
Intertidal – The intertidal zone is the seashores of the world, the areas above water at low tide and below water at high tide.
Pelagic – Any water in a sea or lake that is not close to the bottom or near the shore is called the pelagic zone.
Coastal Oceans – Coastal oceans are the 7% of ocean waters that lie above the continental shelfand where you find the most fish and coral reefs.
Freshwater Aquatic Biomes / Zones – Freshwater biomes are low-saline aquatic biomes includingstreams, rivers, lakes, ponds and puddles and covers a fifth of the earth’s surface.
Outdoor Exercise 1:
Draw a picture of the ecosystem you are exploring. Write the names of the biotic or abiotic components that comes to mind within this ecosystem and the ecological role each play within this environment. [Individual drawings should take no longer than 20 minutes. Once the drawings are completed let students share their stories in groups of two and encourage them to highlight the missing components in each drawing for 10 minutes]