Let’s get wild! Ecosystems is one of my favorite topics to cover in my science classroom. Middle school ecosystem lesson ideas can be as unique and varied as the different ecosystems themselves. There are so many different ways to unpack this important environment science content. If you’re looking for some fun ways to deepen your students’ knowledge of ecosystems, here are some great middle school lesson ideas to get you started!
Introduction to Ecosystems
The term “ecosystem” refers to a community of different organisms living in different locations along with the non-living things in the environment. There are many different types of ecosystems that occur in the natural world (ex: aquatic ecosystems, tropical rainforest, etc.) Each has it’s own unique ecosystem dynamics, including nuances in its food chain, flow of energy, and natural environment. Even the human activities that impact ecosystem health and development vary from place to place.
When teaching students about ecosystems, I find it helpful to start with a lesson plan (or series of lessons) introducing the foundational science concepts found within this earth sciences unit. There are a variety of instructional methods and resources that can be used to introduce these important topics, such as:
- Interactive slides presentations (could use Google Slides or PowerPoint presentations)
- Guided reading and/or a good ecosystem worksheet
- Qualitative discussions
- Anchor chart
- Graphic organizers
Here are a few middle school ecosystem lesson ideas you should check out:
I like to cover this information before diving into any hands-on extension activities. I found that taking this time to introduce the unit concepts helps solidify a better understanding of these important concepts. In my free ecosystems unit guide, I offer additional lesson ideas, activities, pacing suggestions, key vocabulary terms, and alignment to science standards information. This unit can be used in any classroom, whether you teach in-person, virtually, or need a hybrid option.
Once the foundation is laid and students are beginning to understand the basics about living organisms and their natural environments, hands-on activities, labs, and demonstrations a great way to give your middle schoolers practice applying this knowledge.
The goal of these activities is twofold:
- Deepen student understanding.
- Assess current progress and identify areas that may require some reteaching.
When it comes to hands-on and experiential learning activities, here are a few of my favorite middle school ecosystem lesson ideas that will support your instruction and get your students truly interested in earth science.
The ecosystem unit is a perfect opportunity to break out the microscopes and give students the chance to practice using these important scientific instruments. There are all sorts of samples that can be collected and observed under a microscope. Things like:
- Pond water
Your students will be amazed at how many microorganisms can live in a single drop of pond water or a bit of soil. If you have the time, I’d recommend taking your students outside to collect their own samples! It adds an extra element of fun and excitement to the the science class. After all, who doesn’t LOVE when class goes outside?!
Ecology Scavenger Hunt
If you’re looking for additional activities that will get your students exploring the great outdoors (or at the very least, your school property) try an ecology scavenger hunt! For this activity, students will be asked to find a number of different types of living and non-living organisms. You can create the list, but it might look a little something like this:
Hunt & Find…
- Something abiotic
- Something biotic
- A single organism
- A community of organisms
- A population of organisms
Students will need to use their prior ecosystem knowledge to successfully complete this activity. This scavenger hunt works well when completed individually or in groups of 2-3 students.
Looking for an extension activity for your ecology unit? Do you need a hands-on way for students to extend their learning? If so, this Biome or Ecosystem Shoebox Project is the perfect resource for you! With this Biome or Ecosystem Shoebox resource, students will create a food web which represents all the biotic factors of their ecosystem as well as describing how physical and biological changes in the ecosystem will impact the populations.
Check it out:
Virtual Aquatic Ecosystems
Orb.Farm is an online simulation that challenges students to create their own balanced, aquatic ecosystem. They will begin with adding the basic elements of an ecosystem (ex. sand, water, etc.) before introducing living organisms. The goal of this activity is to create an environment that supports the growth and development of a stable community. I find this activity to be a great extension option when students have extra time or as a station activity if you utilize learning centers.
Be A Naturalist
For this activity, students will get to put their “naturalist” hats on and practice the skills of observation and data collection. I begin by showing students examples of naturalist notebook pages, so they have a good idea of the detail and descriptions used when naturalists observe a new ecosystem.
Then…we head outside! I take my students to a predetermined spot on our campus. The aim is to find somewhere that has a mixture of different types of plants (not just grass.)
Working in small groups (usually 3-4 students per group), each group will be given a hula hoop. One the count of three, each group will toss their hula hoop and then will be given 10-15 minutes to draw and take descriptive notes of whatever they see within their hula hoop. After the time is up, each group will share their findings with the whole class.
We always come to the conclusion that our school campus lacks biodiversity. The groups then write up an action plan and create a slide show for increasing biodiversity on our campus.
This lab allows students to observe how contaminants can build up within organisms in a particular organism. Using paper cutouts and M&M’s to simulate fish, osprey, and DDT, students will observe how the impact of DDT in an environment can multiply quickly.
Great Ecosystem Videos
Alright, these aren’t hands-on activities, but they ARE excellent video resources that dive more deeply into ecosystems. So, if you’re in need of a good movie to break things up in your ecology unit, give these three favorites a try:
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