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Exploring Ecosystems and Interdependence: What Do Different Organisms Need to


The childrens connection and interest in ecosystems began when we bought an EcoSphere for our classroom. The
EcoSphere is a small glass sphere which contains a working ecosystem. Inside this small enclosure are three tiny shrimp,
algae, lightweight gravel, and shells. The EcoSphere works on energy and is basically a biological battery, storing light
energy converted biochemically. Food and oxygen cannot be produced for the shrimp if the system is starved for light.
Light, together with carbon dioxide in water, enables the algae to produce oxygen. The shrimp breathe oxygen in the
water and nibble on the algae and bacteria. Bacteria break down the shrimps waste into the nutrients which the algae
again utilize. The shrimp and bacteria also give off carbon dioxide
that the algae use to produce oxygen. We had a feeling that it may
be difficult to introduce such a complex concept to the children, so
instead of explaining it to them right away we left the EcoSphere
out for them to observe for a few days. After the children had the
opportunity to become familiar with our new organisms we
brought their questions to our morning meeting. Some of their
questions included:
How do the shrimp breathe without an opening on top?
What do they eat?
What should we name them?
Whats the green stuff?(referring to the algae)
Their questions provoked deep conversations about how the shrimp continued to stay alive without our help. As the
children shared their ideas I simultaneously placed a large piece of sheet paper on the floor and began to ask more
questions. I asked Mia to draw a shrimp at the top of the paper for everyone to see. Then I asked the group what they

thought the shrimp needed in order to stay alive. They began to shout out their ideas as I wrote them down: food,
water, air, friends.
After we had their ideas on paper we
discussed each of them individually. How
do the shrimp get their food? I asked.
How do they breathe the air you said they
need? Do they need water for drinking or
for living in? The children had very puzzled
looks on their faces but eventually began
discussing these intriguing questions. Many
of them also had different ideas when
thinking about how to answer these
questions. Their self-regulated group
conversation was remarkable to watch and
also an indication of their interest in the
discussion. They did not come up with one
answer for each question, but instead
decided to agree that, the shrimp just
needed those things to stay alive.
Because different organisms have similar survival needs, I decided to have the children think of another organism to
compare the shrimp to. They chose a human, which led to a drawing of a person next to the shrimp on the sheet paper.
Once we had the human labeled on the paper I asked the children, What do humans need to survive? We began to see
a trend in their answers when comparing them to the shrimp. They said that humans needed water for drinking, air to
breathe, food to eat, houses (or shelter), and the sun for warmth. I pointed out some of these similarities to the children
and then asked them if they thought all living organisms had the same basic needs for survival. Many of them nodded in
agreement, while others seemed perplexed by this question. How could we answer this? Mia suggested that we explore
what other types of animals/insects need to stay alive and then compare them to the shrimp and humans needs. From
this suggestion our ecosystem projects blossomed.

Learning through Research

Hypothesizing: What do you THINK your
organism needs to Survive?
Once we had our first group together I
provided them with an ecosystem
thought log. On it they wrote down what
organism they choose to research and
then drew the things they thought it
needed in its ecosystem to stay alive.

This thought log served as a tool for them to use once they began designing their organisms ecosystem. Many of them
used it as a reference if they had forgotten what their initial ideas were. Theo decided it was helpful to cross out each
item on the thought log after he created it on his project.
Once they each filled in their thought log they continued to discuss their
thoughts about the organisms they had chosen. This dialogue around the
work allowed us to see that they were still very interested. They asked more
questions and posed more theories. I asked them what our next step should
be now that they had all of their ideas on paper. How could they share those
ideas with our home and school community? Also, how could we make
those ideas visible in our classroom? The children discussed their ideas
amongst one another and then made the decision to each create a project
that would represent their individual organism. Once the first few children
began creating their projects and sharing them with their peers, many of the
other children became intriguedalso wanting to research their own
The Power of Collaboration
We practice peer collaboration in our classroom on a daily basis. It serves as an opportunity for the children to reflect on
the possibilities of each others ideas and also allows them to challenge their own ideas and assumptions. The children
were able to ask one another questions about their organisms and learned that many of their friends had new
information about different animals and insects. Inak, Oliver, and Owen all
chose to research the ecosystem of a rattlesnake. When I told them that they
all chose the same organism they quickly decided it would be beneficial to
work togetherrealizing that they each would offer knowledge to the project.
As they began to work they
discovered that they each had
different ideas about the
necessity of water in a
rattlesnakes ecosystem. Oliver
thought that rattlesnakes did
not need water, especially
since they live in the desert

where water is uncommon. Owen thought that they definitely needed water, because they need to drink it in order to
stay alive. They took these questions home and came back with a new idea: that different types of snakes needed
different amounts of water. Together, they concluded that they would not put emphasis on water in their rattlesnakes
ecosystem. This collaboration allowed Owen and Oliver to not only listen to different ideas, but to reconsider and reflect
on their own thoughts. Their original theories were challenged and they were able to come up with the actual answer to
the question after bringing their questions home and listening to one another after they did their individual research.
Teacher Reflection
The purpose of asking the children what our shrimp needed to survive was not because we wanted them to produce an
answer. It served as a tool for them to think and hypothesize about the possibilities. Kellan recently told me that
scientists find answers to questions and that he would like to be a scientist one day. I responded to his statement by
asking him how scientists find the answers to questions. He smiled at me and waited for my response to my own
question. I explained that scientists are researchers and that they test theories and hypotheses. Arent we doing that
now with our ecosystem projects? I asked. Were we trying to find an answer to something? He shrugged and said, yah,
I guess we are. I explained to him that he then, was already a scientist! He grinned in agreement.