Rationale for Ecology Unit

Final  Unit  Plan

The purpose of this unit plan was to create a hypothetical online unit on the topic of Ecology for a 10th grade Biology class. As a classroom science teacher, I strongly believe in an inquiry based approach to understanding scientific concepts. The online environment presents a special challenge to these types of activities, but is not insurmountable as Reuter (2009) suggests.  My goal for this unit was to have students design, observe and analyze an ecosystem model. I felt that this type of project would meet Fink’s (2013) criteria of “active learning.’ This project requires several weeks to complete and an in-depth background of the interrelationships between living and non-living components in the ecosystem. This summative assessment dictated the necessary length of this unit and the activities required for the unit and was designed with the Backward Design principles in mind (Wiggins and McTighe 2005) . The final lab report and presentation of findings from this activity constituted the unit summative assessment and meets the criteria for Standard I of the Utah State Core “Students will understand that living organisms interact with one another and their environment’ and the accompanying benchmark:

Ecosystems are shaped by interactions among living organisms and their physical environment.    Ecosystems change constantly, either staying in a state of dynamic balance or shifting to a new state of balance.  Matter cycles in ecosystems, and energy flows from outside sources through the system.  Humans are part of ecosystems and can deliberately or inadvertently alter an ecosystem.

I designed this course for at-risk students, in an alternative high school population. These students are transitioning between early adolescence to late adolescence and their levels of maturity and capacity for abstract thought are varied, but growing. Most of the students I have taught in this specific population, have been identified as visual or kinesthetic learners. I have experienced that students with these characteristics often benefit from clear expectations, meaningful hands on activities, scaffolding of material and interaction with peers. Each day in the unit is designed to meet some component of these needs. I tried to begin each day with the objectives and key words clearly defined. These are followed by activities that utilize several modalities. For scaffolding of the ecosystem model project, I have students engage in peer review of design and require daily posting of their observations. My hope with the daily blog posts of observations, was to encourage students to be self aware of their own learning and create feedback for each other.  I felt that it was also necessary to build in a lesson on the scientific method and how to offer constructive peer review.To build up the content knowledge required to produce a quality summative assessment it was necessary to address the following three learning objectives:

  • Objective 1: Students will be able to summarize how energy flows through an ecosystem.
  • Objective 2:  Students will be able to explain relationships between matter cycles and organisms and infer human impact on cycles.
  • Objective 3:  Students will be able to interpret interactions among biotic and abiotic factors within an ecosystem.

I designed activities and formative assessments to monitor the mastery of each of these objectives. For Objectives 1 and 3: activities included: watching videos and presentations, reading the text, listening to a podcast, taking a photo and identifying abiotic and biotic factors, and creating a food web using local organisms. The energetics lab, where students calculate their own energetic budget is meant to serve as an assessment to this objective.  There is also an Ecology unit test that is used to assess mastery of these two objectives. For Objective 2: activities included, watching videos, reading the text, creating a model of the water cycle using a bottle, and calculating their carbon and water footprints. There were two assessment projects for this objective:creating a diagram of one of the Biogeochemical cycles using Glogster.edu and a role play activity on global climate change. The footprint calculators and role play were used to add the “human dimension’ and encourage students to “care’ as outlined by Fink (2013) in his description of “Significant Learning.’ The final activity in the unit is an end of unit post that requires students to reflect on their learning during the course. I hoped this metacognitive activity would add an opportunity for students practice self awareness of their own learning and provide feedback to me as the teacher on which activities were effective.

Works Cited

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. SanUSOE. (2013).

Reuter, R. (2009). Online Versus in the Classroom: Student Success in a Hands-On Lab Class. American Journal of Distance Education, 23(3), 151—162. doi:10.1080/08923640903080620

Utah State Office of Education: Concurrent Enrollment. Retrieved from https://www.schools.utah.gov/CURR/earlycollege/Concurrent-Enrollment.aspx Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


43 thoughts on “Rationale for Ecology Unit

  1. Owen

    Hey Jenny,

    For lesson 1, students are posting to the blog I gather? Are they posting their answers where other students can see them? Are the students commenting on one another’s answers?

    I played the exercise in lesson 3 a few times. Finally got down to 16 seconds. Nice use of Quizlet. I also like the feedback and revision cycle between 3 and 4. Nice use of peer review and good job thinking to educate students about peer review within the unit.

    I like the hypothetical desert island exercise on energy flow. Engaging. Role playing exercise in Lesson 9 also. Great stuff.

    Nice final peer review and revision cycle of project. I like the final metacognitive summary. I wonder if your students will have the capacity to be effective at that task?

    Great unit! Obviously very large in scope and very ambitious. You cover a lot of concepts quickly, but I think effectively drive toward your objectives. I like your use of review and revision cycles (through peer assessment). I’d love to hear how this goes some day and what you’d change in the future.

    Very nicely done.


  2. Alda

    I also appreciated the lesson added on how to offer constructive peer review. Such a lesson is something my students could use at the college level as well. If peer review skills are practiced starting in high school, then students will be that much more prepared and socialized for higher learning experiences. I think that lesson will also help them take it more seriously. Nothing worse than getting peer review sheets back on student speeches that say “100% it was all great” because they are either too afraid to offer genuine critiques or figure they will get the points no matter what they say.

    For the third objective, how will students be assessed for their interpretive skills? Is there partial credit if they are following the right process but don’t interpret the interactions quite correctly? I’m thinking back to a stats class where we had to interpret results, and it was as much about being able to locate the right factors to base our decision on as it was coming to the same conclusion that a professional would.

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