Saving the World - One Ecosystem at a Time
Sample - Integration within a subject 5E learning cycle plan


Source modified from:
Doing Good Science in Middle School. Olaf Jorgenson, Rick Vanosdall, Vicki Massey, and Jackie Cleveland. NSTA press download Activity 8 at


Subject and Topic area - Biology: Ecosystems and Biological Diversity


Maintaining biodiversity within a healthy ecosystem is critical. What goes on in an ecosystem that makes it function? This activity, teams students for an opportunity to research an ecosystem and design a solution to maintain the health of ecosystem services that include four areas: 1. Production of food, clean water, wood, fibers, medicine... 2. Regulation of water purification, climate and disease, 3. Habitat: support of environmental factors necessary for the survival and well being or organisms, such as habitat, soil, nutrient cycles, biodiversity, gene pool, and crop pollination, and 4. Culture: provide for individual and community well being through aesthetic values of nature, spiritual and recreational benefits.) Teams will evaluate the merits and the constraints of each solution and present oral arguments defending their solutions.

Unpacked concepts, outcomes, and NGSS standards

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

Designing a solution to a scientific problem is very much an engineering activity. Students will use technology to find information to help them learn about the science of ecosystems and come up with a rank-order list of solutions.

Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. (MS-LS2-5)

Life science core

Biodiversity describes the variety of species found in Earth's terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems. The completeness or integrity of an ecosystem's biodiversity is often used as a measure of its health, (MS-LS2-5)

Biodiversity and Humans LS4.D
Changes in biodiversity can influence humans' resources, such as food, energy, and medicines, as well as ecosystem services that humans rely on for example, water purification and recycling. (Secondary to MS-LS2-5)

Developing Possible Solutions ETSl.B
There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. (Secondary to MS-LS2-5)

Crosscutting Concepts

Stability and Change: Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part. (MSLS2-4), (MS-LS2-5)

Planning information


By the end of this activity, students will have demonstrated the ability to research and then present an evidence-based argument proposing various solutions to maintaining biodiversity and equilibrium in an ecosystem
to preserve the ecosystem services,

Framing the Design Problem (Engineering Practice)

Students can pursue the following problem for this activity: "For each ecosystem targeted, design a solution to preserve the ecosystem services."

Teacher Background

Biodiversity is the connection of living things to one another. Plants and animals that exist together in a particular area are said to live in an ecosystem (short for ecological system). These plants and animals interact with one another and with the nonliving elements of the area, such as climate, water, and soil. Ecosystems can be as small as the space under a log or as vast as the entire forest. Ecosystems are generally described in terms of the "services" they provide. Visit the National Wildlife Federation's website ( for more background information regarding provisioning and regulating the cultural and supporting services of ecosystems. Suggest to search: ecosystems services. See description in the overview.

Instructional Procedure

5E Learning cycle instructional model


Invite students, seated in table groups, to watch images of different ecosystems. This is to be diagnostic, therefore, there should be no teacher instructional input. Show each image, let groups discuss their observations and think about similarities and differences.

After view all images ask the students to complete the following:

  1. Make a list of what they believe a healthy ecosystem looks like.
  2. Describe how they know it is healthy.
  3. Describe how to measure the health of an ecosystem.
  4. In what ways can humans have a positive effect on an ecosystem?

Use their answers to determine their prior knowledge regarding ecosystems. Consider their depth and detail of support for their ideas as evidence to infer their understanding for the objective and conceptualization of the concepts.


In a whole-group brainstorm, make a list of all ecosystems students can think of: forest, desert, grasslands,mountain, aquatic (and the many sub-ecosystems). Leave space between each ecosystem so that students can
sign up to investigate that ecosystem.

Let students sign up for a system they want to investigate. Students should record their ecosystems and group members' names in their notebooks.

Students get into groups and work with their group members.

  1. Brainstorm and research, at least four, ways their ecosystem maintains its health. Students should look at the rigor, organization, and resilience of their system as well as the ecosystem services.
  2. Make charts in their notebooks in preparation for their solutions. Students should chart their own ecosystem, identifying strengths, weaknesses, solutions, and so on for at least one idea related to each of the four ecosystem service areas.
  3. Fill in their charts as they research solutions.
  4. Discuss and then rank their solutions, with "1" being the most important solution to maintain the ecosystem services.
  5. Transfer their notebook work to a electronic device or other technology that can be displayed for the entire class to view while they discuss their plans orally with the full class.


Student groups present their ecosystems ideas and solutions, one at a time, to the rest of the class. The teacher invites other students to ask questions about the group's rankings.


Each group takes their top-ranked idea from their chart and draws a "to scale" diagram depicting their idea.


Students should write their explanation of the process they went through to rank-order their solutions.

Discussion and Argumentation

When students present their ecosystem ..., the class can ask questions and challenge their research findings and solutions, requiring the presenters to cite their evidence and sources.


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes