7th Grade Students Creating and Observing Ecosystems


Seventh grade students are learning about ecosystems and how a variety of organisms interact with one another through their current “Backyard Biosphere” project in Science class.

The three seventh grade Science classes – taught by Mrs. Huetter and Mrs. Maxwell – are currently observing ecosystems that they built as a class. It’s all part of an ecosystem unit in Science. A lot of work went into preparing for the two-week observation of their ecosystems.

At the beginning of the unit, students learned all about what an ecosystem is. An ecosystem, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, is “the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.” Students are also learning many vocabulary words that relate to an ecosystem.

Schoolyard Discoveries

As part of the unit, students went out to the schoolyard to find organisms in the ecosystem. They had to distinguish between abiotic and biotic items that they found. 

Abiotic refers to non-living factors in an ecosystem, such as shelter, sunlight and temperature. These are all factors that are needed in an ecosystem to help sustain life.

Biotic refers to any living thing. These are living organisms that are needed in an ecosystem.

Backyard Organisms

Next, students brainstormed and made lists of items in an ecosystem. They were each asked to decide on a different item that they could bring from their own backyard to place into an aquarium for the class’s “Backyard Biosphere.” Students were asked to think through all of the things that are in an ecosystem when choosing their item. When students talked with classmates about what they would bring in, more discussions took place to consider all factors and make sure any living organisms were compatible. One student was able to bring in a lamp to serve as sunlight and temperature for the ecosystems.

When the students brought in their backyard items, the classes took their time to make sure they had everything they needed for each ecosystem. A student in one class brought in a tarantula, and a student in another class brought in a domesticated pet desert tortoise. This led to more discussions on what food was necessary to put in the aquariums to sustain these creatures. 

One of the filled aquariums in Mrs. Huetter’s room included the tarantula, a lizard and grass. The second aquarium included the desert tortoise (named Max), cacti and parsley. 

While the projects are called “Backyard Biospheres”, Mrs. Huetter’s class aquariums are now technically ecosystems. That’s because although students and teachers set out to create biospheres (in which the aquarium that the components are in would be sealed completely, with the exception of air holes, for two weeks in hopes everything inside could sustain itself), the fact that each aquarium held living creatures led the majority of students to deciding an ecosystem (in which students are able to feed the living organisms) would be the best idea. 

Time for a Debate

One seventh grade class had quite a debate regarding whether their aquarium would become a biosphere or an ecosystem.

The reason? The fact that a domesticated pet tortoise was to be part of the “Backyard Biosphere”.  Mrs. Huetter says it was a great debate, in which students had wonderful arguments for each side. The students were very passionate about their views.

In all, five students did want to seal their aquarium. Some cited the fact that they had set out to create a biosphere, and they thought they should follow through with their plans. They also discussed that if they noticed the tortoise was in any kind of distress, they could unseal the biosphere to help the animal.

Ten students did not want to seal the aquarium. Some argued that they would not “seal up” a dog for two weeks without feeding it, so it would not be appropriate to do that to a tortoise, which is also a pet.

Let’s Make Them Ecosystems

In the end, the classes decided to not seal up the aquarium, leaving it as an ecosystem. However, the class that had the debate on the topic will do the project again after they complete their current observations. Next time, they will not include a pet in the aquarium.

The only thing that the students are doing to the ecosystem is dropping in food for the tortoise and tarantula. Students are writing down what the critters are given for food. Each day, they are being true scientists as they make observations on how the living and nonliving organisms cohabit together. Students also record the date, time, temperature of the aquarium, and any changes or new discoveries taking place in the ecosystem.  Observations are generally kept personal; after the two weeks are over, students will discuss as a class what has been taking place in the ecosystem.

Unit Objective

The objective of this unit?

“For the students to be able to identify what an ecosystem is made up of, the different components of an ecosystem, and how all factors are important for the ecosystem to function properly,” explained Mrs. Huetter.

The seventh grade students have been observing their “Backyard Biospheres” since August 26th, and they will continue to observe them daily until September 9th. That’s when the components of the ecosystems will be returned to where they came from.

 Backyard Biosphere 1

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Backyard Biosphere 2

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