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Bonnie Borowiec

Grade Level: 10th Grade

Course: Living Environment (Regents)

Duration of Unit: Approximately 4 weeks

Subtopics: Ecosystems, communities, energy cycles, world biomes, human impacts on the


  1. Unit Overview

  2. The New York State Standards for the Living Environment Core Curriculum place considerable emphasis on the student’s understanding of important scientific relationships, processes, and mechanisms, and the application of scientific concepts. The standards also stress the student’s ability to explain, analyze, and interpret these things rather than the ability to simply recall specific scientific facts. This unit on ecology has been structured in a manner that will facilitate student discussions about topics in ecology through teacher-posed problems and questions. These discussions, and the activities that have been integrated into the unit, will require students to analyze and explain concepts and phenomena rather than simply recall memorized scientific knowledge. In addition, to make the topics more meaningful and relevant to students, "real world" problems, events, and examples will be incorporated into the lessons as often as possible.

    Today our global environment is being stressed by many different factors, including habitat destruction, pollution, invasion of non-native species, global warming, and depletion of the ozone layer. The more students understand about the complex relationships that drive our natural ecosystems, and the degree to which humans depend upon these ecosystems for their very survival, the better prepared they will be to make environmentally sound decisions in their lifetimes. The content and activities included in this unit were carefully selected to help students develop the understandings and skills necessary to become an environmentally literate member of our society.

  3. Unit Goals
The main goals of this unit are for students to:
  1. Know the living and nonliving components that make up an ecosystem
  2. Understand how energy flows through an ecosystem
  3. Gain an understanding of how various nutrients are cycled through ecosystems
  4. Understand the difference between ecosystems and biological communities
  5. Learn about the factors that shape the nature of biological communities (e.g., climate and competition among organisms)
  6. Understand how the interactions among organisms within an ecosystem affect the stability of the ecosystem
  7. Gain an awareness of the major types of biomes that occur throughout the world
  8. Understand how human survival depends upon the resources and benefits provided by natural ecosystems
  9. Explore how human activities can negatively affect natural ecosystems
  10. Learn how humans can reduce their impacts upon the environment
This unit will be structured to meet the following key ideas, performance standards, and major understandings contained within Standard 4 of the Living Environment Core Curriculum (as prepared by the New York State Education Department):

Standard 4

Key Idea 1 – Living things are both similar to and different from each other and from

nonliving things.

Performance Indicator 1.1 – Explain how diversity of populations within ecosystems relates

to the stability of ecosystems.

Major Understandings - 1.1a, 1.1b, 1.1c, 1.1d, 1.1e, 1.1f

Key Idea 6 – Plants and animals depend on each other and their physical environment.

Performance Indicator 6.1 – Explain factors that limit growth of individuals and


Major Understandings – 6.1a, 6.1c, 6.1d, 6.1f, 6.1g

Performance Indicator 6.3 – Explain how the living and non-living environments change

over time and respond to disturbances.

Major Understandings – 6.3a, 6.3b, 6.3c

Key Idea 7 – Human decisions and activities have a profound impact on the physical and

living environment.

Performance Indicator 7.1 – Describe the interrelationships of humans with the living and

non-living environment.

Major Understandings – 7.1a, 7.1b, 7.1c

Performance Indicator 7.2 – Explain the impact of technological development and growth

in the human population on the living and non-living environment.

Major Understandings – 7.2a, 7.2b, 7.2c

  1. Objectives
Upon completion of this unit, students will be able to:

(Note: Terms in [ ] represent Stiggins’ achievement targets)

  1. Define the following terms: habitat, ecosystem, abiotic factors, biotic factors, pioneer species, succession, primary productivity, producers, consumers, decomposers, trophic level, autotroph, heterotroph, herbivore, omnivore, carnivore, food chain, food web, energy pyramid, energy cycle, biomass, limiting factors, conservation, extinction, stewardship, renewable resources, non-renewable resources, sustainable development. [Knowledge]
  2. Distinguish between an ecosystem and a community by listing the main components of each. [Reasoning]
  3. Explain how ecosystems change over time. [Reasoning]
  4. Identify producers, consumers, and decomposers, given a diagram of a food chain. [Reasoning]
  5. Compare and contrast the differences between a food web and a food chain by describing the energy flow through each. [Reasoning]
  6. Explain why the number of trophic levels in any given ecosystem is limited. [Reasoning]
  7. Draw a diagram of the water cycle, carbon cycle, and nitrogen cycle, showing the major steps in each cycle. [Product]
  8. Identify and describe three main roles played by bacteria in the nitrogen cycle. [Knowledge]
  9. Compare and contrast among the three types of symbiosis. [Reasoning]
  10. Describe how competition among organisms affects an ecosystem. [Reasoning]
  11. Summarize the key features of the earth’s seven major biomes. [Reasoning]
  12. Identify the two key factors that determine where biomes occur. [Knowledge]
  13. Compare and contrast between major freshwater and marine habitats by identifying the three major habitats (or zones) within each. [Reasoning]
  14. List three "greenhouse gases" and describe the role these gases play in global warming. [Knowledge & Reasoning]
  15. Explain how the burning of fossil fuels has changed the composition of the atmosphere. [Reasoning]
  16. Identify three non-replaceable natural resources. [Knowledge]
  17. Predict the potential consequences of uncontrolled population growth. [Reasoning]
  18. List five natural resources needed to support a growing population. [Knowledge]
  19. Explain how the environment, economy, and human population are interrelated and how humans are dependent upon the environment for survival. [Reasoning]
  20. Identify and describe 4 different ways human activities have adversely affected natural ecosystems. [Knowledge and Reasoning]
  1. Instructional Overview

  2. This unit will be structured in a manner that builds students’ understanding of ecosystem concepts in small segments. For example, the unit will start out describing and defining what the main components of an ecosystem are. Then the interrelationships between these components will be explored to show students that under the surface of what appears to be a relatively stable environment, there are many complex interactions between organisms taking place. Examples of the earth’s major biological communities will be provided to show students how climate influences the types of organisms that live in a particular place, and that similar types of ecosystems occur all over the world.

    Once the components and interrelationships within an ecosystem are covered, the third and last dimension will be introduced – human impacts upon the environment. In this part of the unit, students will explore how human activities can negatively impact the natural processes that occur within ecosystems on a local as well as global scale.

    The instructional strategies that I have chosen are intended to create a classroom climate where I am the facilitator of discussions, and not solely the conveyor of scientific facts. I envision a lot of back and forth interactions between myself and my students, where students learn about ecology by thinking about the different problems and questions that I pose and coming up with answers and solutions. The activities they will be engaged in will vary from individual work to group work to give them practice in figuring things out on their own and in working with others. I will try as much as possible to bring real world examples of what we are learning about into the classroom. The more I can make things relevant to my students’ lives, the more likely they will be interested in what they are learning. I also plan to integrate concepts from other disciplines into my unit (e.g., math, geology, and physics) to show students that science and the other subject areas they are learning about are not exclusive of each other.

    The following paragraphs describe the instructional strategies and activities that I have planned out for the entire 4-week unit on ecology. An instructional strategy not described below, but that will be standard practice throughout the unit, will be to succinctly summarize the topics learned the previous day at the beginning of each class. I will also bring each day’s lesson to closure by briefly summarizing or outlining the covered topics, and providing the students with a quick overview about what they will be learning the next day.

    The unit will be started with a class discussion about ecology and the work of ecologists. This will be done to activate students’ prior knowledge. I expect that a lot of students will remember the basics about ecology since it is one of the main themes taught in science from elementary school through middle school. There will be a lively pace back and forth with me asking questions, such as why should I even care about what goes on in the environment outside this classroom or outside my home, and students offering responses. This will spur a discussion of the important benefits that ecosystems provide us, such as purifying the air and water, providing medicines, and providing food. Once I have established the importance of learning about our natural surroundings, I will provide the class with a few definitions regarding ecosystems, such as habitat, community, biotic, and abiotic factors. I will use the ecosystem adjacent to the school grounds as an example and ask students to name the habitats, biotic and abiotic factors in that ecosystem.

    I will start off the next topic by posing a question to the students, are all ecosystems stable and unchanging? This will be used to start a discussion of ecological succession. I will use a video on either the Mount St. Helen’s volcano eruption or the 1998 wildfires in Yellowstone National Park to demonstrate secondary succession. Before I show the video, I plan to ask the class questions such as, what do you think the area looked like just after the event (volcanic eruption or fire), and what do you think it looks like now? The video will be used to provide a break from the direct instruction/class discussion format, and to spark students’ interest, since both videos are pretty dramatic examples of ecological succession in progress. The video will also be used to show students that what they are learning in the classroom does have application in the real world (relevance).

    The next topics we will go over involve energy flow through an ecosystem (unidirectional, among living organisms) and energy cycling within an ecosystem (between living organisms and non-living things). I will start off the lesson by telling students that we are going to begin by learning a few laws of physics, but that it should be easy because they’ve already had a whole year of physics (this should catch their attention because they haven’t had physics yet, and there is a general attitude that physics is hard). Then I will assure them that the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics that we will be learning about are pretty easy to understand and that it will put them way ahead of their classmates when they finally do take physics. However, before we learn the physics principles, we need to review a little about food chains and food webs. I will put a picture of a food chain on the overhead and label some of the vocabulary words as I ask students to identify the role of each organism in the food chain. Then I will ask for a volunteer to tell the class what he or she had for dinner or lunch the previous day. I will write it on the overhead and ask the class to place the items in a food chain and label each with its correct term (e.g., primary producer, herbivore, consumer, etc.). Again, this will be done to bring relevance to what the students are learning. I will then place a picture of a food web on the overhead (which contains the same organisms as the food chain we just studied) and ask students what the difference between the food chain and food web are. Then I will ask them what would happen if the primary producer was removed from the food web. We will finish up that exercise by completing a graphic organizer that shows the movement of energy through the different trophic levels. I will give the students the graphic organizer as a handout with blanks on it that they must fill in. Students will complete the graphic organizer independently at their seats, or as a homework assignment, depending on how much time is left in the class period.

    As we move from the structure (or components) of food webs to the energy flow within a food web, I will tell the students that now we are prepared for our physics lesson. I will ask, "is everybody ready for this?" Then I will write down the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics on the board and give students real world examples of each law. I will then ask them if their bodies store every calorie of energy from the food they eat (to relate the laws of thermodynamics to their bodies’ metabolism). This will lead into a discussion of how energy is lost as it moves through the food chain, and why there typically are not more than 3 (and occasionally 4) trophic levels in any food chain.

    To start off the lesson on energy cycling between living and nonliving things, I will ask the students if they ever wondered what the world would be like without fungi, bacteria, and animals like turkey vultures. The question will be asked to spark their attention (I’m sure most of them will think that it is a disgusting topic!), and also to lead into a discussion of how energy is recycled in the environment. This portion of the lesson involves learning about the water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous cycles, which can be difficult for some students. I will provide the students with a handout for each cycle. On the top of each handout will be a schematic diagram of a particular cycle (e.g., the water cycle) with arrows showing the paths of energy flow, and blank ovals where students will need to fill in the correct terms (e.g., transpiration, evaporation). On the bottom of each handout I will have the terms listed with space for students to write in the correct definitions as we go over them as a class.

    After this lesson students will conduct a lab where they create their own closed ecosystems (in a 2-liter soda bottle) from the materials and organisms I provide. Students will have to decide what materials to use for the abiotic factors in their ecosystem, and decide how many of each organism they will need to create a self-sustaining environment. The micro-ecosystems will be monitored over the course of the next two weeks.

    The next topics we will learn about are how organisms interact in communities and the major types of communities (biomes) found throughout the world. Both topics will be covered by going on a virtual tour of the world’s biomes using NASA’s Classroom of the Future web site. This web site contains excellent pictures and descriptions of the world’s major biomes. As we go through this tour, I will introduce vocabulary words and use the examples provided on the web site to demonstrate these words and related concepts. After the tour, I will give the students a handout on symbiosis that they will work on in pairs to complete. Then we will go over the handout as a class.

    To start the final topic within this unit (human impacts on the environment) I will use a graphic organizer to show students how the environment, economy, and human population are interrelated. First I will start with these three terms written in separate columns on the board. I will ask students to define each term, and then list some of the resources each provides or needs for survival. Then I will place a blank graphic organizer on the overhead. This will consist of three concentric circles, each overlapping the other a bit (like the Olympic rings). I will label each circle with the term environment, economy, or population and ask the students to place the items listed on the board in their appropriate place on the graphic organizer. The completed graphic organizer will show students how the human population and economy depend on the environment for the majority of their basic needs. This will lead into a discussion of non-renewable natural resources and the effects of the world’s ever-growing population on these limited resources. I will then give the students a handout of a table entitled "The Loss of Natural Resources". There will be three columns across the top labeled: loss of topsoil, extinction of species, and ground water pollution/depletion. Along the side will be three rows titled: causes, effects and possible solutions. Students will work in groups of 4 (mixed-ability groups that I have pre-selected) to complete the table. Then we will go over the table together as a class.

    The last topic in the unit will cover how human-induced environmental changes can have a negative effect on ecosystems world-wide. We will learn about acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer, and the greenhouse effect. I plan to invite a guest speaker from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry to discuss current research the college is conducting on acid rain in the Adirondack Mountains. As a follow up to this event, I will have the students write thank you notes to our speaker that include a paragraph about what the students learned from the presentation. To study about depletion of the ozone layer, I plan to use a series of articles the NY Times produced last spring on this topic. They show very colorful satellite views of the ozone hole over a series of consecutive years and describe how scientists actually measure the amount of ozone in the atmosphere. I will have students work in pairs to read the articles and then answer some questions that I have prepared on a handout. Since the articles are fairly recent, this will show students that as we are learning about these topics in the classroom, scientists out in the "real world" continue studying them to learn even more.

    To start off the global warming lesson, I will have students take out their handout on the carbon cycle (from a previous lesson) and ask them what would happen if our combustion of fossil fuels was increased. This will lead into a discussion of how energy cycling can be altered by human activities and how in this particular instance, global warming could result. We will review the causes of global warming and some of the predictions scientists have made about what may happen to the world’s ecosystems as a result. To study about the widespread flooding predicted by scientists, I will divide the class into groups of 4 (mixed-ability groups) to explore how the eastern coast of the U.S. may be affected by the rising sea level. Each group of students will be given a set of topographic maps of a particular area along the eastern coast (e.g., areas in the states of MA, NC, FL, and NJ where large cities are located near the coast). Students will use the scientists’ predictions of rising sea levels and the contour lines on the topographic maps to determine where the "new" sea level will be if these predictions come true. The students will color in these areas on the maps and present their maps to the class, describing which U.S. cities may be inundated by the rising sea level as a result of global warming. One of the benefits of this exercise is that it brings geography and map reading skills into the science classroom (interdisciplinary measure).

    The descriptions of the instructional methods to be used in this unit, provided above, are not meant to represent a rigid, prescribed structure that cannot be varied. This is simply how I view the unit to proceed from topic to topic at this point in time. During the actual unit, if students’ responses to my questions lead into something different than what I had planned, or if students bring up examples of issues or topics that I haven’t included in the lesson, I will definitely veer off the plotted course, as long as the new direction is relevant to what we are learning.

  3. Assessment Overview
To assess students’ understandings of the definitions, relationships, processes, and concepts taught in this unit on ecology, I will use a combination of formal and informal assessment practices. Since the entire unit is built around facilitated discussions between the students and me, I plan to informally assess students’ understandings every day by observing their behaviors. This will be done by keeping track of which students do not actively participate in the group discussions, do not volunteer answers, appear distracted, and/or have confused looks on their faces. These behaviors can be expected of any student at any time, but I will focus on those who consistently display these behavior patterns to determine who might be confused or have misconceptions about what we are learning. I will also use this method of informal assessment to determine if there are topics or concepts that I need to reteach. If the majority of the class seems confused or can’t answer a particular question I pose, I most likely need to back up a little and cover some of the material again, in a different manner than I used the first time, to see if that’s where the problem lies.

Other standard techniques that I will use in my assessment of students’ understanding include:

In addition to the techniques described above, the overall assessment approach that I plan to use throughout this unit is described in the paragraphs below.

After the class views the video on ecological succession, I will assign homework that will require them to read a few pages in their textbook and answer a few questions at the end of that section. These pages will be a review of the content learned in class to date. The students’ responses to the questions at the end of the section in the text will allow me to formally assess their level of understanding.

During the lesson on food chains, when students are providing their answers about how they would organize a particular student’s meal into a food chain, I will use informal assessment to check for students’ understanding of this concept. This will be done by listening to students’ reasoning why they constructed the food chain in the manner they described, and also monitoring the classroom for student behaviors that may indicate confusion, frustration, misunderstanding, etc. Shortly after this informal assessment, I will conduct another similar assessment as students complete the graphic organizer on the movement of energy through trophic levels. If there is time to complete the graphic organizer in the classroom, I will walk around the room and observe students’ progress to check their understanding. If they take it home as a homework assignment, I will collect it the next day and correct it, but not grade it. We will go over the correct answers together in class. The flow of energy through trophic levels is an important concept that forms the foundation of many other interactions within ecosystems. I have selected the use of informal assessments on this topic to give the students practice working with this concept before we move on to other topics, and before they are formally assessed on the concept.

After the graphic organizer exercise, I will assign homework that will require the students to read a few pages in their textbook and answer a few questions at the end of that section. These pages will provide a review of energy flow through trophic levels. The students’ responses to the questions in the text will allow me to formally assess their level of understanding before I move on to the next, more complex topic of energy cycling within ecosystems.

After we learn about energy cycling through ecosystems, students will conduct a lab experiment where they actually construct a mini-ecosystem in a 2-lite soda bottle using the material and organisms I supply (e.g., garden soil, potting soil, a variety of plant seeds, pill bugs, snails, etc.). After the students construct their closed ecosystems, they will be required to answer several questions about the lab (such as, the procedures they used to construct the ecosystem, the reasoning they used to determine which type of abiotic and biotic factors to include in the ecosystem, their predictions about what the ecosystem will look like in 2 weeks, which of the organisms they selected are primary producers, herbivores, and consumers, etc.). After two weeks of observing their closed ecosystems, the students will finish the lab by answering an essay question on whether or not the ecosystem looked like they predicted it would and which factors they believe led to the ecosystem’s success or failure. This lab is a formal assessment that will let me see how well the students were able to apply the concepts learned in class to a "real life" situation. The explanations they provide on the essay questions for the lab will also give me insight into their reasoning behind the application of these concepts.

The handout on symbiosis will be an informal assessment where I will walk around the classroom and use observation to check on the progress of student pairs. The information included on this handout has consistently appeared on past biology regents examinations and I want to make sure students understand how symbols can be used to represent different types of symbiotic relationships.

After the virtual tour of the world’s biomes I will give a short (maybe 10 question) quiz as a means of formal assessment. Up to this point in the unit, we will have covered a lot of material and I want to make sure students have a good understanding of the topics and concepts before we move on with the unit. The results of the quiz will let me know which topic may need revisiting.

Before we start the final topic of human impacts on the environment, I will assign the research paper and go over the rubric and guidelines (refer to section 7 for a more detailed description of this assessment). This will allow the students to be thinking about and working on their papers as we simultaneously study about this topic in class. There are a number of reasons why I selected a research paper as a performance assessment at this stage in the unit. One reason is because it incorporates all of the concepts we will have learned over the course of the unit. Another, and more important reason, I believe, is to involve the students in an activity that requires them to go out and gather data on a particular topic, analyze the data, and assemble it into a comprehensive report for others to read. This will be good practice for those students going on to college, especially in the field of science. It will also be good for those students who do not go on to college because it will teach them the skills they need to become well informed about a particular topic or issue, and how to convey their knowledge about a topic to others.

I included a "metacognitive reflection" as a component of the research paper because I believe that is it important for students to think about how they learn. By analyzing the methods they use to gather information, and their own personal thoughts about what they are learning, I believe that students will be more likely to internalize the knowledge they gain. If they just do the research paper for the sake of getting it done, and don’t take the time to think about what they did, then learning hasn’t really taken place. The self-reflection component of the paper will encourage them to pause for a moment and think about what it is they learned.

After we go over the graphic organizer on population, the economy, and the environment, I will use the "Loss of Natural Resources" handout to informally assess students’ understandings of three specific types of human induced ecosystem impacts. The students will be working together in groups of 4. My informal assessment will consist of walking around the room to monitor their discussions and the reasons they provide for their responses. I will also use observation to look for any signs of student confusion or misunderstanding, and provide these students with assistance.

Another form of informal assessment will be conducted as students work in pairs to read the articles on ozone depletion from past editions of the NY Times. Again, I will observe students’ behaviors and monitor their discussions to determine their level of understanding about the topic. I will continue this informal assessment as we go over students’ responses to the questions o the handout together as a class.

When the global warming article review activity is completed I will assign homework that will require the students to read a few pages in their textbook and answer a few questions at the end of that section. These pages will provide a review of the environmental issues of global concern that we learned about in the previous lessons. The students’ responses to the questions in the text will allow me to formally assess their level of understanding of these global issues.

The final informal assessment activity I have planned (using scientists’ predictions about global warming to project which areas along the eastern U.S. coast will be inundated), is intended to be a fun activity that will allow the students to rest their brains a little before the culminating unit exam, which follows. As the students work in groups of four, I will walk around the room and check on their progress, asking them questions along the way, like how did you figure that out, or simply, how’s it going.

The final formal assessment will take the form of a comprehensive unit test. This test will include several short answer and multiple choice questions, a couple of matching questions, a couple of graph interpretation exercises, and a couple of short essay questions. I will include on the test several questions that are structured similar to NYS regents exam questions, so that students get accustomed to working with questions in this format. By doing this throughout the year on all unit exams, I hope to prevent a mad rush at the end of the school year to teach students how to work with the structure of NYS regents questions.

  1. Table of Specifications

  2. (See next page)

    Ecology Unit – Table of Specifications

    Ecosystem Structure & Function
    Energy Flow through Ecosystems
    1 pa (1)
    10sr, 1pa, 1e
    Nutrient Cycling in Ecosystems
    1 pa (2)
    10sr, 1pa
    Organism Interactions Within Communities
    7sr, 1e
    Major Biological Communities of the World
    Human Impacts on Ecosystems 
    5sr, 2e, 1pa
    Solving Environmental Problems 


    3sr, 1e
    48 sr

    Notes: Key:

    (1) Food chain and food web diagrams sr = selected response

    (2) Lab on closed ecosystems e = essay

    (3) Graph interpretation pa = performance

    (4) Research paper on human induced ecosystem assessment


    (5) Individual actions to reduce environmental


  3. Assessment Instrument for Performance Assessment (Research Paper)
The rubric that will be used to assess the research paper on human induced ecosystem impacts is presented on the following pages. Students will be given a copy of both the rubric and the research paper guidelines at the time the paper is assigned. I will go over both of these sheets with the students so that they know what is expected of them. Class time will be provided for students to research the Internet, periodicals, journals, newspaper articles, etc.

I will model several of the steps involved in writing the paper to assist students in the preparation of their own research papers. I will do this by preparing my own paper on the Three Rivers Dam Project, which is currently being developed in China to provide water for the country’s growing population. Over the course of two weeks, I will use the first half-hour of class time to model the following steps:

Students will be given two weeks to complete their research papers. To assist me in grading the papers according to the rubric, I will place a copy of the rubric side by side with the paper I am assessing. While assessing each paper I will use the following procedures:
  1. Check the paper for a title then circle 2 pts or 0 pts on the rubric.
  2. Check the paper for a bibliography then circle 3 pts, 2 pts, or 0 pts on the rubric.
  3. Read the entire paper for content and check off each of the required content items on the rubric as I read.
  4. While reading the paper for content, I will also note on the paper any place where there is a break in the flow of the paper, or any place where ideas may be disconnected. Then when I go back through the paper to assess organization, I can easily scan the paper for the marks I made previously. After scanning the paper, I will circle the correct bulleted assessment criteria under "organization". Then I will go back through the paper to check for an introduction and a conclusion and circle the appropriate assessment criteria (e.g., "clear introduction", "foggy conclusion"). If the assessment requires points that fall between the points listed on the rubric, I will follow the same procedure described in item 3, above.
  5. After all of the students’ papers are assessed for title, organization, content, and bibliography, I will go back through each paper to assess the students’ metacognitive reflections. This is a related, but separate part of the paper that calls for a different mind set during assessment. I believe that assessing this component separate from the other components will increase my intra-rater reliability.
  6. After reading the student’s self-reflection I will write down the number of required questions that were answered and award points according to the assessment criteria.
  7. The student’s total score will be tallied up and written on the top of the rubric. The marked up rubric will be returned to the student with his or her research paper.
  8. I will encourage students with questions about their grade to see me after class.
Assessment Rubric
Ecology Unit – Research Paper on Human-Induced Ecosystem Impacts
Assessment Components
Assessment Criteria and Scoring
2 pt.


- title provided at top of 


0 pts.


- no title provided

10 pts


- clear introduction

- main ideas are

logically sequenced

- paper flows well; 

ideas are well- 


- clear conclusion

6 pts.
  • "foggy" introduction
  • main ideas are sometimes logically sequenced
  • flow of paper occasionally interrupted by disconnected ideas
  • "foggy" conclusion
2 pt.
  • no real introduction provided
  • connections between ideas are confusing or non-existent
  • no real conclusion provided
20 pts.


- paper includes a

discussion of all the

following required 

content items:

* summary of the 

problem or event

* causes of the problem 

or event

* how the ecosystem is 

being affected/altered

* biotic and abiotic 

factors affected

* measures being done 

to correct problem or

rectify event

* short & long-term 

ecological effects

* opposing viewpoints

on the problem/event

- all items above are 

clearly described and 

supported by 

scientific evidence

10 pts.


- paper includes a

discussion of at least

4 of the required 

content items

- all items are clearly 

described and

supported by

scientific evidence

4 pts.


- paper contains at least 

two of the required 

content items

3 pts.


- bibliography 

included at end of 

research paper

- bibliography lists at

least 4 references

2 pt.


- bibliography lists 3 or 

fewer references 

0 pts.


- no bibliography 


Assessment Rubric (Continued)

Ecology Unit – Research Paper on Human-Induced Ecosystem Impacts
Assessment Components
Assessment Criteria and Scoring
Metacognitive Reflection
5 pts.


- a written reflection on 

researching efforts

and student learning 

is provided at the end 

of the paper

- the written reflection 

addresses all of the

questions included on 

the research paper 

information sheet

2 pts.


- a written reflection on 

researching efforts

and student learning 

is provided at the end 

of the paper

- the written reflection 

addresses 3, or less than 

3, of the questions 

included on the research 

paper guidelines sheet

0 pts.


- a written reflection is 

not included at end of



Research Paper – Human Induced Ecosystems Impacts

Guidelines and Scoring Criteria


Healthy natural ecosystems provide us with many benefits, including cleansing our water and air (wetlands and forests), providing means for pollinating crops (insects and birds), and absorbing and breaking down pollutants (soil and plants). However, many human activities can adversely affect the natural processes that occur within ecosystems. These activities may lead to habitat loss, alterations in ecosystem composition, introduction of exotic (non-native species), over hunting, pollution, and global changes in climate.

To gain a better understanding of how ecosystems have been impacted by human activities, you will research one of the topics in the list below (or obtain teacher approval for a topic of your own) and write a short paper on the topic. You may work with a partner on the research portion of the paper (i.e., to find articles, books, or other printed material on which you will base your paper), but must write the paper on your own.

Potential Topics

  1. Reduced salmon populations in western U.S.
  2. Exxon Valdez oil spill
  3. Wild fires in mid-west
  4. Zebra mussel invasion of U.S. water bodies
  5. Increasing hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica
  6. Runoff from residential and agricultural fertilizer applications
  7. Student’s choice (with teacher approval)
The assessment criteria and scoring system for the research paper are provided on the attached page. The minimum length of the paper is three, double spaced, type written pages or six neatly hand written, double spaced pages. Papers are due on ___________, _____.

In addition to the research paper, you must prepare a paragraph that analyzes your researching techniques and your acquisition of knowledge about your topic. This "metacognitive reflection" must address the following questions:

8. Sample Test Items

Short Answer

  1. The physical components of a habitat are called __________ factors. (abiotic)
  2. The living organisms within a habitat are called __________ factors. (biotic)
  3. A symbiotic relationship whereby both species benefit is called _________. (mutualism)
  4. _________ must be present in a producer’s environment in order for it to carry out its life processes. (Sunlight)

Multiple choice – Circle the letter of the correct answer.

  1. How much energy would be available to organisms in the third trophic level of an energy pyramid if there were 1,000 kcal of energy available in the first level? (a)

  2. a. 10 kcal c. 100,000 kcal

    b. 1,000 kcal d. 3,000 kcal

  3. How do plants return water to the atmosphere? (b)

  4. a. condensation c. percolation

    b. transpiration d. assimilation

  5. Which of the following levels of organization is arranged in the correct sequence, from least inclusive to most inclusive? (c)
  1. community, ecosystem, individual, population
  2. ecosystem, community, population, individual
  3. individual, population, community, ecosystem
  4. individual, community, population, ecosystem
  1. An insect that has evolved to closely resemble a leaf will most likely be able to avoid which process? (c)
a. symbiosis c. predation

b. parasitism d. competition

True/False – Circle the T if the statement is true, or F if it is false.

1. Animals that feed only on plants are called omnivores. T F

2. Lichens growing on a bare rock would be classified as pioneer species. T F

  1. All organisms capable of fixing nitrogen belong to the Kingdom fungi. T F
4. Longitude is one of the main factors that determines where biomes occur in the world. T F


Match the terms in the right hand column with the correct phrase in the left hand column.

___ a byproduct of cellular respiration (c) a. nitrification

___ the production of nitrate from ammonia (a) b. assimilation

___ the movement of water, carbon & nitrogen c. carbon dioxide

from the nonliving environment to living

organisms (f) d. evaporation

___ nitrogen + hydrogen = ammonia (g) e. denitrification

___ the burning of fossil fuels (h) f. biogeochemical cycling

___ water is heated by the sun and re-enters g. nitrogen fixation

the atmosphere (d)

h. combustion

Match the biome in the right hand column with the correct biome characteristics described in the left hand column.

___ high primary productivity, infertile soil (c) a. tundra

___ typically receives less than 10 inches of b. savanna

precipitation per year (h)

c. tropical rain forest

___ dry grasslands, found in tropical areas (b)

d. temperate grassland

___ mild climate, plentiful precipitation, trees

shed leaves in fall (f) e. taiga

___ in the U.S., most of this biome has been f. temperate deciduous

converted to agricultural usage (d) forest

  ___ boggy biome containing permafrost (a) g. estuary

___ cold, wet climate dominated by coniferous h. desert

forest (e)

Essay Questions

  1. In the third presidential debate of 2000, presidential candidate Al Gore said that protecting the environment and working on a solution to stop global warming would be of high priority if he was elected president. Presidential candidate George W. Bush responded that he didn’t even think scientists were sure of the causes of the "greenhouse effect". You have been selected to fly down to Texas to teach George W. Bush about global warming and its effects on the environment. However, before you go, you must demonstrate your knowledge of this topic.

  2. In the space provided below, describe the main cause(s) of global warming, and the reason

    why global warming is called the "greenhouse effect". Include in your answer the names of

    the three common greenhouse gases, and describe at least three major environmental

    problems that may result from global warming.

  3. Describe why soil and ground water supplies throughout the world are dwindling even though these resources are replenished by natural processes. Include two human activities that cause the loss of both resources (2 for soil loss and 2 for water loss) and two ways to conserve both of these resources (2 for soil loss and 2 for water loss).
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