To help forth grade students better understand and appreciate the world around them, present the concept of an ecosystem -- a community of living and non-living things that all work together. They will learn how everything in the natural world is connected. Rather than just reading from a textbook, engage the students in some projects and activities that will help bring the notion of the ecosystem to life.
Charge the students with creating a shoebox diorama of an ecosystem of their choosing. Ideas include rainforests, deserts, ocean reefs, and arctic scenes. Students can utilize any materials they wish. Animals can be handmade cardboard cutouts or toy models.
The diorama should accurately depict the environment it is supposed to represent. For example, an arctic scene should not include both polar bears and penguins, as the former lives at the North Pole and the latter resides at the South Pole. The flora should be accurately depicted, as well. Students then present an oral report about their diorama, including information about the animals and their environment and how they interact and adapt.
Have students create an aquatic ecosystem in a two-liter soda bottles using water plants, snails and fish. Each group of students will need two bottles. Cut the top off of one where it tapers, and cut the base of the other and score it with holes, to serve as a top for the bottle aquarium. Place two inches of sand into the bottom of the base bottle. Slowly add water and then add some aquatic plants, such as elodea and duckweed. Let the aquaria stand overnight, then add two guppies and two snails to each. Over a four-week period, have the students make observations, such as about plant growth, water quality, and population changes, and then graph the data. They should thren develop some hypotheses based on what they've observed.
Turn playing outdoors into an educational experience. For this activity, students explore their neighborhood's woods, fields, ponds and streams. They should bring binoculars, a camera, and a notebook, and keep track of the wildlife and plants that they observe by talking photos and noting them in their journals. Remind them to never directly interact with the wildlife, but rather observe animals from a distance.
This project can be done throughout the changing seasons. Students should note how the wildlife changes throughout the year and create a final report with the photos and info from the journal. Include information such as the types of animals seen in spring versus the ones observed in autumn and winter.
Environment Adaptations: Sponge Experiment
The goal of this project is to teach about how animals adapt to a specific environment, such as a desert. Each student, or group of students, receives a sponge saturated with water. The sponge represents a desert animal with a limited amount of water. Students must help the "animal" conserve water over a 24-hour period.
At the start of the project, the sponges are weighed. Students then create strategies to conserve water and predict what they think will happen. The animal/sponge must remain in the open for at least four hours for "feeding time." Leave one sponge in the open for the entire 24 hours as a control. At the end of the project, students weigh their sponges again and then share their results and observations.
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