Hemlock Hill: An Evolving Ecosystem

Hemlock Hill: An Evolving Ecosystem

Grades 4-6

Discovering decomposers

Discovering decomposers

Close observation of slugs.

Close observation of slugs.

Using digital scopes to observe producers.

Using digital scopes to observe producers.

This two hour program complements the Boston Public School fifth grade life science study of Ecosystems by transporting students to a local forest within the urban environment. Here students can explore the organisms that populate this forest, including diverse plants, animals, and fungi.  They learn the roles that organisms play in energy transfer and the cycling of matter, understand how abiotic components support life in the forest, and how changes in an ecosystem can affect individual organisms.

An Arboretum educator visits the classroom prior to the field study to review the components of an ecosystem, how organisms are classified, what organisms students might expect to find in a local forest, and introduces the students to two trees that dominate the forest they will study.

During the field study students start by looking for the diversity of plants on Hemlock Hill.  Later, using hand lenses, probes, and bug boxes, pairs of students search under logs and in leaf litter for soil-dwelling invertebrates to capture and observe.  During the program students make detailed drawings of the organisms they encounter, and classify them as producers, consumers, or decomposers.

Using a field journal style worksheet, students are encouraged to add notes describing the environment surrounding the organism, labels the body parts, and include either alternate perspectives or magnified views of the organism.  They also search for evidence of consumers and add their discoveries via a checklist. Guides facilitate study of the organisms by sharing digital microscopes and tablets, enabling deeper observation of  living things.

As a culminating activity, students display pictorial representations of the organisms discovered on a chart that illustrates the biodiversity of Hemlock Hill. This data is then used in a final science talk where students trace the movement of matter throughout the ecosystem by referring to another chart. Students have multiple opportunities throughout the field study to use new vocabulary, engage is scientific argumentation and support claims using evidence from their exploration.

If you are a Boston Public School teacher and would like to register for a program, email Nancy Sableski or call 617.384.5239.

MA Science Standards correlations:

  • 4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that animals and plants have internal and external structures that support their survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.
  • 5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among producers, consumers, decomposers, and the air, water, and soil in the environment to (a) show that plants produce sugars and plant materials, (b) show that animals can eat plants and/or other animals for food, and (c) show that some organisms, including fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms and recycle some materials back to the air and soil.