Category Archives: Ecology

Ecological Challenges

Our biome work continues today with students investigating the “human caused ecological disasters” they identified yesterday for the three biomes they selected.  Student groups will present preliminary findings to the class tomorrow.  Students should create one Google Slide for each of the biomes (one disaster per biome) and the slide should include as much of the following information as possible:

  • Year(s) the human-caused ecological disaster occurred
  • Description of biome pre-disaster
  • Explanation of what humans did to cause the disaster
  • Description of biome post-disaster
  • Effect of disaster on the plants and animals (including humans!)
  • Remediation efforts (how humans have tried to “fix” the damage)

Example of slide layout:


A selection of resources are provided below:

SuperFund Sites in the USA

10 worst man-made environmental disasters

Ecology: Ecology

With an extended advisory scheduled to support the Pirate Pride work party, we used our 30 minutes of class time to sprint through the key learning about ecology.  Some of the content originated previously during the Harmful Algal Bloom portion of Unit 1 as well as during the energy and metabolism unit (Unit 2).  The notes below highlight the key learning about ecology that students should commit to memory prior to the Biology EOC Exam.


Cells & Homeostasis: Seahurst Park Field Trip

Today was the big Seahurst Park field trip.  Over 100 students and 12 adult chaperones traveled by bus down to the park where we met our hosts from the Environmental Science Center (ESC).  ESC staff guided groups of students through six stations, with students spending a half-hour per station.

Watersheds (with Joanna): Students used a physical model of a city to learn how buildings, vehicles, pets, and other sources all contribute to the accumulation of pollution in Puget Sound.  Students each shared one way they would personally help reduce their own impact on the environment.

IMG_0017Water Quality Testing (with Jennifer): Students first read a brief article highlighting why harmful algae blooms occur (below).  Students then measured a variety of factors related to water quality by sampling water sources from around the park.  Students worked in groups, with each rotation measuring one of the following: dissolved oxygen, phosphate, nitrate, pH, and turbitidy.  Students compiled the data into mini lab reports, sharing out their findings with each other and then analyzing it through graphing and writing a brief conclusion.

Plankton Tow (with Kelly): Students collected samples of Puget Sound plankton using a plankton tow.  Samples were collected into cups for analysis during the Plankton Lab.

IMG_0014IMG_0015Plankton Lab (with Jarett): Before using the microscopes to see the plankton in their Plankton Tow samples, students watched two brief videos to help them better understand the scale and consequences of harmful algae blooms (HABs).  The first video, “Toxic algae blooms contaminate U.S. drinking water,” explains the impact of HABs on marine life, the fishing industry, and consumers.  The second video, “Toxic Algae Bloom Causing Seizures in Sea Lions,” shows the neurotoxic effect of the algae toxin domoic acid on a sea lion found on the Washington coast.  Students then viewed their own plankton under a microscope.  Identification cards created by the Washington Sea Grant were used to identify species of plankton observed by students.  Specifically, the Marine Zooplankton of Puget Sound card and the Marine Phytoplankton of Puget Sound card (pictured below) were provided.

Recycling (with Megan): Students learned all about how various types of common household waste can be separated into recycling, food waste, and garbage.  The CleanScapes Recology community education program emphasized the importance of properly disposing of the various types of waste, with a focus on the types of waste often generated by teenagers.

Bioaccumulation Game (with Brendan): Poker chips, bags, arm bands, a few bright orange vests, and an energetic group of students was all it took to bring to life the concept of bioaccumulation.  The game began with more than half the students (representing small fish preyed upon by salmon) scrambling around for 30 seconds to fill bags with poker chips (plankton) that had been scattered around in the grass.  Next, the salmon were released, represented by students wearing bright green arm bands.  When a “salmon” touched a smaller fish, the smaller fish gave the salmon their poker chips, representing a transfer of energy.  After another 30 seconds, the orca entered the game (two students wearing bright orange vests) and devoured most of the salmon who then turned over their poker chips to the orca.  When the game ended, the two orca had most of the poker chips.  Students were then pushed to consider what might happen to the orca if a biotoxin were present in the environment and was being consumed by species lower toward the base of the food chain.

This was such a fantastic opportunity for students to visit a beautiful local park, interact with the talented and dedicated ESC staff, and spend the day bonding with peers and staff from our school, our district central office, and our community.  There are an enormous number of people to thank for making today a success, and my students will be recognizing all of the behind-the-scenes people in the coming days.

Looking ahead, we will use our experience today as the basis for the final part of our first unit.  As students make sense of what they learned and begin to take ownership of their own power to protect our local environment, they will be challenged to publicly share their learning.  Stay tuned!

Field Study: Fieldwork – Day 2

On Friday, students went back out to the front lawn to collect their second day of field study data, recording their data on the field study worksheet.  Even with the short period, many student groups were able to analyze their samples back in the classroom.  Students used a variety of lab techniques, including soil composition analysis, digital microscopy, and image histogram analysis.

Field Study: Field Study Basics

We began our Field Study unit learning about what a field study is and how scientists actually do field studies.  Students brainstormed ideas for field studies focusing on understanding the impact of various variables on the ecology of our school’s front lawn.  We marked a picture of the lawn off into sectors, and students went outside to identify sectors they will use for their field study.  For the remainder of the class period, students worked in pairs to write a procedure for their field study.  The slide deck is available here.

Cells and Homeostasis: Presentations

Great presentations today!  It was neat to watch students share their solutions to the Great Salt Lake causeway with each other.  Scientists often communicate information through presentations, and we will continue to develop presentation skills throughout the year.

Two quick reminders:

  • Students, please remember to bring your textbooks to class on Monday.
  • Over the weekend, gently place an egg in cup and cover it with vinegar.  Carefully observe the egg each day, recording observations.  Bring your observations with you to class on Monday.  If possible, leave the egg in vinegar until we can discuss the outcome of the experiment in class on Monday.

Cells and Homeostasis: Preparing Presentations

Today students worked in their groups to prepare the presentations they will deliver tomorrow to their classmates.  Instructions were as follows:

Presentations should last 3-5 minutes per group and all members must have at least one speaking part.

Presentations should include:

Project design (artistic representation)

Hypothesis (If…then…because…)

Manipulated variable (what you are changing)

Responding variable (the change you are measuring)

Risk & benefit to ecosystem

Risk & benefit to railroad

Data needed to complete project

Cells and Homeostasis: Evaluating Causeway Solutions

As part of our transition from the Great Salt Lake toward a study of cell membranes, students are continuing to engineer solutions to the ecological changes caused by the Great Salt Lake causeway.  Our work is supporting the Next Generation Science Standard HS-LS2-7 which requires that students: Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.  Yesterday, students worked hard in small groups to design one or more solutions.  Today, students spent the first part of class to work on their designs and then shared their designs with the class so all students could evaluate the risks and benefits of the design options.  Tomorrow, students will continue to work in their groups to refine their engineering solutions based on the feedback they received.  The deliverable tomorrow will be the preparation of a short presentation to be shared with the class on Friday.  Throughout the engineering process, students are also being pressed to think about how organisms in the Great Salt Lake would be affected by a change in salinity at the microscopic level (focusing specifically on activity at the cell membrane).  Concepts of osmosis, diffusion, and transport will be covered in depth next week.

Cells and Homeostasis: Causeway Solutions

I was at a district-wide high school biology teacher meeting this morning during periods 1-3.  Below is the lesson plan my substitute shared with the students:

Yesterday we learned about how the construction of a causeway across the Great Salt Lake dramatically affected the ecosystem of the Great Salt Lake.

Entry Task: In your lab notebook, describe how the causeway resulted in the north arm of the lake appearing purple compared with the blue south arm. You have 5 minutes.

Group work: Working with your extreme environment group, your job is to solve the problem of the GSL railroad causeway.  Your team must devise a solution to undo the ecological changes of the causeway on the ecosystem of the Great Salt Lake.  Your group’s report must include the following:

  • A model of how altering the causeway will affect the populations of each of the 8 GSL organisms.
  • Application of the concepts of osmosis, diffusion, and active transport in your model.
  • Initial ideas on how GSL organisms will be immediately affected by a change in the salinity of the GSL upon changing of the causeway.  You must include a discussion of water and/or salt moving across cell membranes for full credit.
  • Research!  Slides 15-20 from yesterday’s lesson (on the class website) may be a useful starting point.  Be sure to cite any references used when making claims about GSL salinity (before and after causeway changes) and any references used to learn which organisms can survive at the salinities found in the GSL after the causeway is removed.  Please use electronic resources appropriately.
  • Your analysis should include a written discussion of the risks and benefits of altering the causeway, both to the railroad and to the organisms that live in the Lake.

Exit Ticket: Turn in group work with names of all students who actively engaged in the work for the entire class period.

Ecology and Systems Biology: Unit Exam Review

Today we reviewed for the unit exam.  We began by connecting the learning from yesterday’s presentation of biospheres with the concepts of unintended consequences and non-native species.  As we look ahead to the biology end of course exam, students will have many opportunities to stretch their thinking in ways that will enable them to be successful on the EOC.  The concept of unintended consequences is part of the EOC and was previously introduced on a reading about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.  Today, students were asked to consider the unintended consequences of introducing non-native species into an ecosystem, and we followed that up with a short video.  The video (below) features images about the wolves and other organisms in Yellowstone, with George Monbiot narrating.  The narration is actually a segment from a longer TED talk by Mr. Monbiot.

After the video, students spent the remainder of the class period studying hard for the Unit 2 exam tomorrow.  The slide deck of study questions is attached.  Students were reminded that they are permitted to use their lab notebooks and work folders on the exam.  Cell phones, talking with other students, and cheating are not permitted and will result in a score of zero.  Students will be seated per the PSAT seating guidelines, with backpacks against the front wall and students seated as they enter.  I reserve the right to arrange seating as required to ensure all students have the opportunity to express their own thinking on the exam without disruption.