MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Ecosystem Study

Ecosystem Study

Jennifer Owens, Churchill Elementary School, Cloquet, MN
Jeff Lindstrom, Churchill Elementary School, Cloquet, MN
based on an original activity from the Ecology Discovery Activities Kit p. 207-209
Author Profile


In this ecology class, students investigate the health of an ecosystem and the effects of water, sunlight, nutrients or pollutants. They determine the change in the environment through observation, journaling and measuring growth of the plants and living creatures in their ecosystem. Students write a lab report describing the changes in their ecosystem, a sample report is provided. Students will attempt to return the system to a healthy state by making a change to one of previously mentioned variables based on other student's observations and discussions.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for students to predict outcomes, use observations to make changes and informed decisions while collecting data.
Students will present the results of their experiment to the classroom audience through the use of PowerPoint, charts, graphs, digital pictures, or their choice of presentation format.

Vocabulary words: variable, constant, ecosystem, hazardous-waste

Context for Use

The activities will take place in a 5th grade classroom. A class size around 30 will be expected, however a smaller class size would not effect the outcome of the lesson. The project will last several weeks to collect all relevant data and have conclusions established. Equipment necessary to complete the project are the materials to create the ecosystem (found in Ecology Discovery Activities Kit). Skills that would be helpful for students to successfully complete this would be observation, journaling, data collection.

Subject: Environmental Science:Ecosystems, Waste:Toxic and Hazardous Wastes, Geoscience
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:K12

Description and Teaching Materials

Students have a well established ecosystem to work with. We have already discussed and shown understanding of the needs of our ecosystem, ie sun, water, nutrients...this has been collected through observation and journaling as well as classroom discussion.

Introduction: Using guided discovery we will ask students what it takes for a healthy ecosystem(review of previous concept).
Option 1:
Brainstorm ways an ecosystem could be affected in a negative way. List items on chart paper, overhead or board.

Option 2:
Bring in several common household materials such as: distilled water, coffee, pop, pine-sol, other cleaners, biodegradable cleaners, disinfectants, oils, gasoline, paint, nail polish remover and other things that get washed down the drain to show how these things are polluting OUR ecosystem.

Using the list of items, collectively decide how they are used and what they are used for. How do we dispose of them? What do we do when we are done using them?

Materials Needed:
household items
measuring cups/spoons
ecosystems (made previously, approximately 1 month old)


1. Determine how you would like to disperse the items that you will add to your ecosystems how you wish. You may want to have at least 3 students conducting the experiment with the same materials to have results that can be compared and help to prove that it is a more scientific process and meet state standards in Nature of Science.
2. Students will journal their hypothesis on the effects of their variable to their ecosystem.
3. Students will create a plan of how they will use their materials during the next 3 weeks. For example I will add 1 teaspoon of 409 mixed with 1 cup of water 2 times a day each school day. Amounts and frequency can vary based on the students plan.
4. Student will follow their plan for the next 3 weeks, and observe, measure and journal using drawn pictures, photos and or written descriptions. Observations will be made and recorded on a daily basis.
5. Students will formalize their observations by making a chart, graph of the growth and summary of their journal entries.
6. Students will decide if their original hypothesis is true, false.
7. Students will create a presentation of their finding to the class using PowerPoint, charts, graphs, digital pictures, or choice of presentation format agreed upon with the teacher.
8. Students present to classmates, another class, or parents.
9. Students make posters to show which household items should not be washed down the drain and make a brochure that is sent home to all families.

Teaching Notes and Tips


Students will be required to complete and hand in a log book of what they observed during the experiment, they will also be graded on thier presentation.


Grade 5 IV. Life Science, Sub-strand E, benchmark 2
Grade 5 IV. Life Science, Sub-strand F, benchmark 1
Grade 5 Nature of Science world view and inquiry standards are met as well.

References and Resources