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Ecology and Biome Unit

Joyce Tomlinson

Type of entry:

  • Unit outline with project

Type of activity:

  • authentic assessment
  • group/cooperative learning
  • review/reinforcement

Target audience:

  • Biology

Background information:

  • The unit takes 3 to 4 weeks (if class periods are 55 minutes). The class time alternates between direct instruction conducted by the teacher and project time using self/selected cooperative groups.

  • In addition to the textbook, ecological reference books are needed in abundance. Online services are helpful.

  • The final assessment is a 4' by 5' free-standing biome project display assembled and graded using a rubric.

  • The ecology/biome unit is followed by one designed to extend, refine, and apply the information just learned. The Biology Class becomes a consulting firm hired to build a Zoo of North America in South Africa.

Abstract of Unit:

The study of ecology, biomes, and environmental disruption is required for all high school biology classes. Frequently, these topics are taught in isolation from each other following the textbook chapter order with little connection being made by the stu dent between the "big picture" (biomes), "little picture" (community interactions), and the "disaster" (man's influence).

This unit integrates biomes, communities, and human ecology in a way that produces a deeper understanding and better ability to apply the principles involved. During this unit, the teacher is often in the role of facilitator and the student is often in th e role of independent learner and responsible team member.


Day 1:
Pose the question: What determines the type of plants and animals that thrive in an area? Using laser disc pictures, discuss the tundra, taiga, temperate deciduous forest, grassland, and desert.

  • Discuss the final group assessment: a 4' by 5' free-standing display of biome information. Distribute the grading rubric.

  • Discuss the individual assessment: a paper written describing life in their biome through the 'eyes' of a common animal and plant found in their biome. No two students can research the same plant or animal.

  • Have students self select their work teams. Assign teams a biome. There must be at least 6 teams, one for each biome.

Day 2, 3:
Discuss abiotic factors. Students research the average monthly precipitation and temperature for their biome for one year. Plot the information in the form of a climatogram, (temperature with a line graph, precipitation with a bar graph). The charts and g raphs are checked by the teacher, but saved by the group to be part of the biome display.

Day 4, 5, 6:
Discuss food chains and food webs. Show a short filmstrip or video about the life in and around a pond. Have students list the organisms mentioned. Arrange the list in a food web.

Students research and list the common plants and animals found in their biome. Make a food web using this list. (After grading, save for the display).

Day 7:
Discuss soil profiles. Students work in groups to draw and label the type of soil profile found in their biome. (After grading, save for the display).

Day 8:
Discuss energy pyramids. Students draw an energy pyramid using the names of plants and animals found in their biome. (After grading, save for the display).

Day 9,10:
Discuss symbiotic relationships and competition. Students research specific examples of mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, and interspecific competition. (After grading, save for the display).

Day 11:
Quiz on the concepts. Start individual research time.

Day 12, 13:
Students research for the individual paper.

Day 14, 15:
Discussion of types of environmental damage found in communities. Self/paced group work on written description of biome, a map of North America with their biome highlighted, National Parks and Monuments found in their biome, types of environmental damage and solutions occurring in their biome, and optional items for their display.

Day 16, 17:
Assemble the display.

Day 18:
Presentation and grading of Project: discussion of individual papers.

Day 1-10?:
Extend, Refine, and Apply! Introduce the next unit. "Our Biology class has become a consulting company and is hired by an entertainment investment firm to build a Zoological and Botanical Gardens of North America in South Africa.

The class discusses their knowledge of company structure and develops a model to follow. Invite a parent to be a guest speaker. As a group, the class elects company officers, assigns division leaders, distributes responsibilities, creates a time line, and decides how the project will be "graded". They "hire" the Computer Assisted Drawing (CAD ) class to work up their sketches into architectural drawings.

The company divisions mirror the biome cooperative groups so that the company has a tundra division, a deciduous forest division, a desert division, and so forth. Each division uses the research and displays from the previous unit to design a building of the zoo (or area) which will house the plants and animals of their biome.

The company officers coordinate the divisions, enforce the time line, consult with the Chairperson of the Board (me), and have the power to fire or reassign division members. (The Chairperson of the Board also runs the unemployment office)!

The students need to research the host country using WWW. Other students should research local zoos and document their visit with video clips to share with the class.

This unit is very open-ended and can be changed from year to year. For example, zoos could be studied as future gene pools. Food services could be added which would require cultural and mathematical research.

Biome Project Grading Rubric

(Assign points in the blank according to your grading system).

____ Biome Name, in letters at least 1 inch tall.

____ A written description of the biome summarizing the biotic and abiotic factors. 
         Can be single or double spaced. Length to be between 1/2 and 1 page.

____ A chart of the average precipitation for one month, gathered for one year.

____ A chart of the average temperature for one month, gathered for one year.

____ A graph plotting temperature and precipitation on the same paper.

____ Food web, using the common names (not pictures) of the common plants
         and animals found in the biome.
___ animals
___ green plants
___ fungus (by name)
___ animals found near or in the ground 
___ bacteria (by name)
____ Construct a pyramid of energy for the biome using the names of 
         common plants and animals you have researched.

____ A labeled diagram of a typical soil profile of the biome.

____ A map of North America with the biome colored or highlighted.

____ List two organisms in that biome that illustrate mutualism.

____ List two organisms in the biome that illustrate commensalism.

____ List two organisms in the biome that illustrate parasitism.

____ List a common example of interspecific competition.

____ List National Parks and Monuments found in the biome. Tell the 
         location (state, province, or country if outside Canada or the U.S.)
 ____ points for each listing

____ Identify the main causes of environmental damage.

____ Identify solutions that are developed or being developed to correct 
         this environmental problem.

Optional Points:
____ Various pictures typical of your biome. May be photocopied and colored, 
          may be originals which come from magazines (your own, not the schools) 
          newspapers, and so forth, May be hand drawn or computer drawn.
____ each IF they add to the display

____ Items you think fit but were not mandatory.

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