Scaffolded Lesson: Eco-Dome and Fishbowl Ecosystems
To introduce the study of ecology, I opened by asking students to design an "eco-dome" on Mars that humans could survive in. This worked as an effective hook, leading into a discussion about interactions and interdependence, and the definitions of ecology, niche, and habitat. I discussed using a model (goldfish) to explore such concepts, and students brainstormed things that a goldfish would need to survive. Groups of students then set up fishbowls according to what they had brainstormed. Over the course of a week, they diagrammed interactions inside their fishbowls, identifying them with concepts and vocabulary we were learning in class, such as food webs, biogeochemical cycles, and abiotic/biotic factors. We also practiced performing water quality tests as a way to regulate the health of an ecosystem.
This is a scaffolded lesson that would be a good framework for introducing ecological concepts to special ed or ELL students, because it tightly links new vocabulary and concepts with authentic hands-on exploration of the same concepts. Students practice using the vocabulary and diagramming the concepts using an "ecosystem" they have built themselves and can observe themselves. I provided handouts that led students through applying the concepts to the fishbowls (see some examples below).