OpenSciEd: 7.5 Ecosystem Dynamics and Biodiversity 5-Class Unit Kit


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Grades 6–8. In Unit 7.5 Ecosystem Dynamics and Biodiversity, Carolina Certified Version*, students work to answer the Unit Driving Question: "How does changing an ecosystem affect what lives there?"

This unit on ecosystem dynamics and biodiversity begins with students reading headlines that claim that the future of orangutans is in peril and that the purchasing of chocolate may be the cause. Students then examine the ingredients in popular chocolate candies and learn that one of these ingredients—palm oil—is grown on farms near the rainforest where orangutans live. This prompts students to develop initial models to explain how buying candy could impact orangutans.

Students spend the first lesson set better understanding the complexity of the problem, which cannot be solved with simple solutions. They will figure out that palm oil is derived from the oil palm trees that grow near the equator, and that these trees are both land-efficient and provide stable income for farmers—factors that make finding a solution to the palm oil problem more challenging. Students will establish the need for a better design for oil palm farms, which will support both orangutans and farmers. This design serves as a launching point as students investigate what orangutans need to survive. Students figure out that orangutans compete for resources and, when less forest space is available to them, those resources are more limited. Students then investigate how oil palm farming impacts other populations of animals and how rainforests and oil palm systems differ in terms of resources and their resilience to disruptions. The final set of lessons engages students in investigations of alternative approaches to growing food compared to large-scale monocrop farms. Students figure out that some of these alternative methods are less harmful for orangutans and other living things and provide farmers with the income and ecosystem services they rely upon but are only realistic for some stakeholders. Students apply these ideas to design an oil palm farm that simultaneously supports orangutan populations and the income of farmers and community members.

As part of the process of investigating the palm oil problem, students:

  • Plan and carry out simulated computer model investigations to examine what orangutans need to support healthy populations.
  • Engage in mathematical reasoning and computational thinking to determine the area of forest required by orangutans and how resource availability impacts orangutan populations.
  • Model competition for available resources within and between populations, and model other interactions (e.g., predation, mutually beneficial interactions, etc.) between populations.
  • Use models to predict and test how various disruptions would impact more- or less-biodiverse systems.
  • Construct arguments that more biodiverse plant communities support other living things, particularly when there is a disruption.
  • Obtain information about alternative farming approaches and ecosystem services in comparison to monocrop farming and apply these ideas to the design of an oil palm farm system that supports both orangutans and farmers.

This 5-Class Unit Kit includes basic teacher access to instructional materials on, plus the materials needed to teach 5 classes of 32 students per day (160 students).

Building Toward NGSS Performance Expectations

  • MS-LS2-1: Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
  • MS-LS2-2: Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.
  • MS-LS2-4: Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
  • MS-LS2-5: Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • MS-ESS3-3: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
  • MS-ETS1-1: Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

Focal Science and Engineering Practices

  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  • Mathematics and Computational Thinking
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

The following practices are also key to the sensemaking in the unit:

  • Developing and Using Models
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Scientific Information

Focal Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • LS2.A
  • LS2.C
  • LS4.D
  • ESS3.C
  • ETS1.A

Focal Crosscutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Systems and System Models
  • Stability and Change

The following crosscutting concept is also key to the sensemaking in the unit:

  • Patterns

*All enhancements to materials and instruction for this Carolina Certified Version of the unit are approved by OpenSciEd to preserve the integrity of the storyline and the instructional model.


What’s Included:
  •  Unit Technology Pack (basic digital access to teacher's guide and all instructional resources for the teacher)
  •  Bags, Resealable, Plastic, 4 x 6"
  •  Card Sets, Palm Oil Map
  •  Cards, Farmer's Almanac: Palm Oil Plant
  •  Pencil Sets, Assorted Colors
  •  Red and Yellow Counters Set
  •  Labels, Assorted, 1/4"
  •  Note Pad, Self-Adhesive, Large
  •  Note Pads, Self-Adhesive, Medium
  •  Note Pads Set, Self-Adhesive, Medium, Assorted Colors
  •  Tape, Transparent, 3/4", Roll
Needed But Not Included:
Return Policy:

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