Middle School Curriculum
Using Eco-simulations in the Science Classroom to Model Food Webs
For students to engage in scientific inquiry using an eco-simulation for investigation of interactions in a food web.
The students will use an eco-simulation of a food web in order to investigate interactions within an ecosystem.
National Standards: 5-8, 9-12
- Science as Inquiry: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry. Understanding about scientific inquiry.
- Life Science Standards: Populations and ecosystems. Diversity and adaptations of organisms. Interdependence of organisms.
- Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Populations, resources, and environments. Environmental quality.
West Virginia Sixth Grade Science Standards
- SC.O.6.1.05 cooperate and collaborate to ask questions, design and conduct investigations to find answers and solve problems.
- SC.O.6.1.06 formulate conclusions through close observations, logical reasoning, objectivity, perseverance and integrity in data collection.
- SC.O.6.2.08 predict changes in populations of organisms due to limiting environmental factors (e.g., food supply, predators, disease, or habitat).
- SC.O.6.3.01 explore the relationship between the parts of a system to the whole system.
- SC.O.6.3.03 compare and contrast changes that occur in an object or a system to its original state.
West Virginia Seventh Grade Science Standards
- SC.O.7.1.05 cooperate and collaborate to ask questions, design and conduct investigations to find answers and solve problems.
- SC.O.7.1.06 formulate conclusions through close observations, logical reasoning, objectivity, perseverance and integrity in data collection.
- SC.O.7.2.07 evaluate how the different adaptations and life cycles of plants and animals help them to survive in different niches and environments (e.g., inherited and acquired adaptations).
- SC.O.7.2.11 predict the trends of interdependent populations if one of the limiting factors is changed.
- SC.O.7.3.01 explore the relationship between the parts of a system to the whole system.
- SC.O.7.3.03 compare and contrast changes that occur in an object or a system to its original state.
West Virginia Eighth Grade Science Standards
- SC.O.8.1.04 conduct and/or design investigations that incorporate the skills and attitudes and/or values of scientific inquiry
- SC.O.8.1.06 use appropriate technology solutions within a problem solving setting to measure and collect data; interpret data; analyze and/or report data; interact with simulations; conduct research; and present and communicate conclusions.
- SC.O.8.1.07 design, conduct, evaluate and revise experiments (e.g., compose a question to be investigated, design a controlled investigation that produces numeric data, evaluate the data in the context of scientific laws and principles, construct a conclusion based on findings, propose revisions to investigations based on manipulation of variables and/or analysis of error, or communicate and defend the results and conclusions).
- SC.O.8.1.08 draw conclusions from a variety of data sources to analyze and interpret systems and models (e.g., use graphs and equations to measure and apply variables such as rate and scale, evaluate changes in trends and cycles, predict the influence of external variances such as potential sources of error, or interpret maps).
- SC.O.8.2.10 trace matter and energy flow in a food web as it flows from sunlight to producers and consumers, design an environment in which the chemical and energy needs for the growth, reproduction and development of plants are met (e.g., food pyramids, decomposition).
Computer (s), StarLogo software (free, open-source), projector
Phase 1: Encounter
Whether the activity is used as an introduction or review, discuss ecosystems and food chain/food web interactions in the environment. Discuss producers, consumers (primary and secondary), etc. What are herbivores, carnivores and omnivores? Use the whiteboard or chalkboard to diagram a simple food chain/food web and discuss what happens if producers are removed? What happens if the top carnivore is removed, etc?
After a basic introduction/review of ecosystems and food chains/food webs show the students the StarLogo food web simulation (any type of eco-simulation which can be manipulated may be used). Ask the students what they think will happen when the simulation is run given the initial numbers of producers and consumers. When satisfied that students have discussed the majority of the options run the simulation.
After viewing what has happened within the model because of the changes they have made discuss the outcome.
Phase 2: Reconcile
After running the food web simulation discuss the outcome with the students. Did the simulation behave as they expected it would? Were they surprised at any part of the outcome? Were their expectations met/not met? Students must understand that all of their reactions are acceptable and have validity. Discuss with the students why some of these factors caused them to be surprised or to notice different things within the model.
After viewing what has happened within the model because of the changes they have made discuss the outcome. Were there any more surprises? Did the model behave as they thought it would?
Phase 3: Imagine
After reconciling the behavior of the model to their expectations students will now begin to imagine what sorts of things they would like to change within the model. Discuss with the students what the various outcomes within the model might be (allow the students themselves to ascertain the outcomes with guidance). Discuss the possible repercussions of any of the changes they want to make to the model.
The students may want to change many things within the model at the same time. This is a good point at which to review scientific method and what the difficulties could be with examining their outcome if too many factors are changed at the same time.
Have the students discuss various ways to implement their hypothesis. Have the students imagine what could happen within the model considering any more changes they would like to make. Continue to make changes and review the outcomes.
Phase 4: Execute
After students have decided what they would like to change within the model run the model again. Discuss with the students if there might possibly be a way of completely balancing the food web model so that it runs forever (demonstrating a balanced ecosystem).
Note: Phase 2 and 3 are recursive. As students reconcile the model and imagine factors they may want to change and their outcomes, they will continue to test/revisit the model and continue to make changes and discuss the outcome. Using Phases 1-4 is an iterative process. It enables students to manipulate the model and test their expectations which are based on their knowledge of the content. They can test their various models repeatedly to observe the outcomes. The use of inquiry method is integral to the entire process.
This activity as written is for use with whole class instruction using one computer connected to a virtual whiteboard. The activity can be modified for use with individual computers with students working in pairs collaboratively manipulating the model. The activity could also be used in a full computer lab with the model running on each student's individual computer. When using small group instruction in the activity, social media such as a blog or wiki could be used by the students to record their process for manipulating the model. A microblog (ie. Twitter-type method) could also be used for students to have a continuous background discussion (back-channel) while manipulating their models either individually or in small groups.