SEPUP Ecology Unit Introduction

Essential Questions:

What are the relationships between an organism and its environment?

What effect do humans have on these relationships?

Unit Description:

This unit is part of a district pilot for implementing a new 7th grade curriculum.  A few of the science teachers in the district volunteered to participate in the piloting of the new curriculum, and my cooperating teacher and I decided to participate.  This unit is part of the Issues & Life Science curriculum put together by SEPUP.  It is a kit-based program, with student manuals that include activities with challenge questions, and materials kits that contain everything needed to complete the book.  We began this pilot in the middle of my student teaching quarter, and I will be leaving about half-way through the pilot.

The unit is designed to take anywhere from 5-7 weeks if all activities are completed.  The unit uses the concept of introduced species to tie all of the lessons together into a cohesive ecology unit.  Students begin by learning about the introduction of Nile perch into Lake Victoria, and are then assigned a long-term project researching and presenting a local introduced species.  They then learn about making observations of behaviors of living organisms, and move into classification of animals, and then specifically of vertebrates.  Students are presented with data about the introduction of zebra mussels to the United States and asked to interpret population data, and then dissect owl pellets to learn about the diets and place of an organism in a food web.  Students continue to learn about food webs by examining how an introduce species interrupts the energy flow of a food web, and then complete an investigation of the role of decomposers in food webs.  Next, students will conduct an experiment on the role of light in photosynthesis, and begin to exam the differences of plant and animals cells under a microscope.  Following this, students will move into learning about ecosystems and biomes, and attempt to determine the appropriate habitat for a blackworm by observing responses to various substrata.  Students will continue to learn about introduced species by playing a game to model the interaction of clams and zebra mussels, and read about the concept of carrying capacity still using the example of the zebra mussel.  Students will carry out a multi-day investigation of local ecosystems, taking a role of an ecologist, and will finally present their information about a local introduced species to the class.

All of these learning targets will be accomplished through the use of lab activities, readings, guided discovery, outdoor investigations, observations, and games.

Learning Goals for Unit:



What are the trade-offs of introducing a species into a new environment?

Students will provide a written response giving a decision about whether the introduction of a species was good or bad, cite a minimum of two pieces of evidence, and discuss a trade-off.

What effect can an introduced species have on an environment?  What, if anything, should be done to control introduced species?

Student completes introduced species worksheet on a local introduced species, and explains both positive and negative impacts on the environment.  They include a decision /recommendations about what should be done to control the species.

What can you discover about an organism in a laboratory investigation?

Student identifies which end of the worm is the head and describes how it moves.  Student writes a paragraph describing the organism based on observations made during the laboratory.  Student makes inferences about where it might live.

What are some similarities and differences among animals?

Students explain that animals can be grouped by characteristics such as circulatory respiratory, nervous, and digestive systems, tissue layers, and skeleton types.

What kinds of evidence can you use to classify vertebrates?

Students explain that there is not one type of evidence, but a combination that classifies vertebrates, such as how it reproduces, what kind of skin covering it has, how it gets oxygen, and whether it is “warm-blooded” or “cold-blooded”.

How do scientists study the size of a population and predict future population changes?

Students can explain that scientists collect data over a long period of time, and predict population change by graphing data and predicting future changes. 

What can an owl pellet tell you about an owl’s diet?  How can you use this information to develop part of a food web?

Students can explain that an owl pellet contains indigestible leftovers, which can be used to determine what the owl ate.  By learning what the owl ate, and figuring out what those animals eat, they develop part of a food web, showing how energy moves through an ecosystem.

How are the energy relationships among organisms in an ecosystem affected by the introduction of a new species?

Students can explain the effects that the Nile perch had on the Lake Victoria ecosystem, as well as how the Zebra Mussel affected the Great Lakes ecosystems.  Students explain that predators can outcompete other predators in the system and cause population reduction, or producers can provide more food and cause a population growth.

Where can you find some decomposers?  What do these decomposers look like?

Students explain that decomposers can be found in the soil and in water, and that they can take the form of mushrooms or worms.

How do scientists study the role of light in photosynthesis?

Students develop their own experiment to measure the outputs of photosynthesis by testing for gases or production of mass in the plants. 

How are the cells of producers such as pants different from the cells of consumers such as animals?  How do plan cell structures relate to their function as producers?

Students can draw both a pant and an animal cell.  Students explain that a plant cell has a cell wall and chloroplasts, whereas animal cells do not.  Students explain that chloroplasts help the plants with the process of photosynthesis.

What are some of the important non-living characteristics of a habitat?

Students can list and describe the importance of the following in an ecosystem:  water, light, temperature, air, substrata, shelter

How might the introduction of a competing species, such as zebra mussels, affect a population of native clams?

Students explain that the zebra mussels competed for the same food resource (plankton) as the clams, which can reduce the population of the native species.

What is carrying capacity?

Students define carrying capacity as the maximum number of a species that can successfully live in an area and be supported by the environment.

What do you observe when you conduct a field study?

Students can provide a food web for an area that they have observed, describe the species that live there, explain changes that occur, describe the abiotic factors.

What are the trade-offs of trying to control an introduced species?

Students write a paragraph about management options of the zebra mussels.  They include information about 2 different management options, along with the pros and cons of each option.

What, if anything, should be done about the introduction of a new species into an ecosystem?

In their final presentation, students provide evidence about the effects of their researched introduced species, along with a possible management plan.


Applicable State Standards:

6-8 SYSA

Any system may be thought of as containing subsystems and as being a subsystem of a larger system.

Given a system, identify subsystems and a larger encompassing system (e.g., the heart is a system made up of tissues and cells, and is part of the larger circulatory system).

6-8 SYSB

The boundaries of a system can be drawn differently depending on the features of the system being investigated, the size of the system, and the purpose of the investigation.

Explain how the boundaries of a system can be drawn to fit the purpose of the study (e.g., to study how insect populations change, a system might be a forest, a meadow in the forest, or a single tree).

6-8 SYSF

The natural and designed world is complex; it is too large and complicated to investigate and comprehend all at once. Scientists and students learn to define small portions for the convenience of investigation. The units of investigation can be referred to as ―systems.‖

Given a complex societal issue with strong science and technology components (e.g., overfishing, global warming), describe the issue from a systems point of view, highlighting how changes in one part of the system are likely to influence other parts of the system.

6-8 INQA


Scientific inquiry involves asking and answering questions and comparing the answer with what scientists already know about the world.

Generate a question that can be answered through scientific investigation. This may involve refining or refocusing a broad and ill-defined question.

6-8 INQB


Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations.

Plan and conduct a scientific investigation (e.g., field study, systematic observation, controlled experiment, model, or simulation) that is appropriate for the question being asked.


Propose a hypothesis, give a reason for the hypothesis, and explain how the planned investigation will test the hypothesis.


Work collaboratively with other students to carry out the investigations.

6-8 INQC


Collecting, analyzing, and displaying data are essential aspects of all investigations.

Communicate results using pictures, tables, charts, diagrams, graphic displays, and text that are clear, accurate, and informative. *a


Recognize and interpret patterns – as well as variations from previously learned or observed patterns – in data, diagrams, symbols, and words.*a


Use statistical procedures (e.g., median, mean, or mode) to analyze data and make inferences about relationships.

6-8 INQE


Models are used to represent objects, events, systems, and processes. Models can be used to test hypotheses and better understand phenomena, but they have limitations.

Create a model or simulation to represent the behavior of objects, events, systems, or processes. Use the model to explore the relationship between two variables and point out how the model or simulation is similar to or different from the actual phenomenon.

6-8 INQF


It is important to distinguish between the results of a particular investigation and general conclusions drawn from these results.

Generate a scientific conclusion from an investigation using inferential logic, and clearly distinguish between results (e.g., evidence) and conclusions (e.g., explanation).


Describe the differences between an objective summary of the findings and an inference made from the findings.*c

6-8 LS1A

All organisms are composed of cells, which carry on the many functions needed to sustain life.

Draw and describe observations made with a microscope showing that plants and animals are made of cells, and explain that cells are the fundamental unit of life.


Describe the functions performed by cells to sustain a living organism (e.g., division to produce more cells, taking in nutrients, releasing waste, using energy to do work, and producing materials the organism needs)

6-8 LS1D

Both plant and animal cells must carry on life functions, so they have parts in common, such as nuclei, cytoplasm, cell membranes, and mitochondria. But plants have specialized cell parts, such as chloroplasts and cell walls, because they are producers and do not move.

Use labeled diagrams or models to illustrate similarities and differences between plant and animal cell structures and describe their functions (e.g., both have nuclei, cytoplasm, cell membranes, and mitochondria, while only plants have chloroplasts and cell walls).

6-8 LS1E

In classifying organisms, scientists consider both internal and external structures and behaviors.

Use a classification key to identify organisms, noting use of both internal and external structures as well as behaviors.

6-8 LS2A

An ecosystem consists of all the populations living within a specific area and the nonliving factors they interact with. One geographical area may contain many ecosystems.

Explain that an ecosystem is a defined area that contains populations of organisms and nonliving factors.


Give examples of ecosystems (e.g., Olympic National Forest, Puget Sound, one square foot of lawn) and describe their boundaries and contents.

6-8 LS2B

Energy flows through an ecosystem from producers (plants) to consumers to decomposers. These relationships can be shown for specific populations in a food web.

Analyze the flow of energy in a local ecosystem, and draw a labeled food web showing the relationships among all of the ecosystem’s plant and animal populations.

6-8 LS2C

The major source of energy for ecosystems on Earth’s surface is sunlight. Producers transform the energy of sunlight into the chemical energy of food through photosynthesis. This food energy is used by plants, and all other organisms to carry on life processes. Nearly all organisms on the surface of Earth depend on this energy source.

Explain how energy from the Sun is transformed through photosynthesis to produce chemical energy in food.


Explain that plants are the only organisms that make their own food. Animals cannot survive without plants because animals get food by eating plants or other animals that eat plants.

6-8 LS2D

Ecosystems are continuously changing. Causes of these changes include nonliving factors such as the amount of light, range of temperatures, and availability of water, as well as living factors such as the disappearance of different species through disease, predation, habitat destruction and overuse of resources or the introduction of new species.

Predict what may happen to an ecosystem if nonliving factors change (e.g., the amount of light, range of temperatures, or availability of water or habitat), or if one or more populations are removed from or added to the ecosystem.

6-8 LS2E

Investigations of environmental issues should uncover factors causing the problem and relevant scientific concepts and findings that may inform an analysis of different ways to address the issue.

Investigate a local environmental issue by defining the problem, researching possible causative factors, understanding the underlying science, and evaluating the benefits and risks of alternative solutions.


Identify resource uses that reduce the capacity of ecosystems to support various populations (e.g., use of pesticides, construction).

6-8 LS3G

Evidence for evolution includes similarities among anatomical and cell structures, and patterns of development make it possible to infer degree of relatedness among organisms.

Infer the degree of relatedness of two species, given diagrams of anatomical features of the two species (e.g., chicken wing, whale flipper, human hand, bee leg).


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