Biodomes Engineering Design Project

Contributor
Teach Engineering Curriculum for k-12 Teachers Katherine Beggs, Christopher Valenti, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise Carlson Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Type Category
Instructional Materials Assessment Materials
Types
Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

This activity is a culmination of a 16 day unit of study where students explore the biosphere's environments and ecosystems. In this final activity, students apply what they learned about plants, animals, and decomposers to design and create a model biodome. Engaging in the engineering design process, students construct a closed (system) environment containing plants and animals existing in equilibrium. Provided with a variety of materials (constraints), teams of students will use their imagination and culminating knowledge to design a biodome structure following the criteria of the activity that models how plants, insects, and decomposers work together in a system. (The activity can be conducted as a structured or open-ended design. It is recommended to allow students the opportunity to be true engineers and follow the opened-ended design.)

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

3-5-ETS1-1 Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In this week long activity, students explore environments, ecosystems, energy flow and organism interactions by creating a scale model biodome following the steps of the engineering design process. Specific criteria for success includes: building the biodome for one type of environment (ex. local environment), limiting the size of the biodome to one sq meter or one sq foot and the constraints include using only the materials that are on hand (sand, soil, seeds, crickets etc). Students may benefit from studying the biotic and abiotic factors in their own outdoor environment before designing their prototype. Ex. what types of seeds they may want to use etc.

5-LS2-1 Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the idea that matter that is not food (air, water, decomposed materials in soil) is changed by plants into matter that is food. Examples of systems could include organisms, ecosystems, and the Earth.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include molecular explanations.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students create a biodome that includes plants, insects, and decomposers and observe and describe how each of the parts of the created ecosystem interact with each other. Observations should include quantitative as well as qualitative observational data. Although this activity includes insects and worms as part of the engineered ecosystem, emphasis with this PE should be on the idea that matter that is not food (air, water, decomposed materials in soil) is changed by plants into matter that is food. It is important that the students explain and diagram the flow of energy that will be in their biodome before creating them, considering the relationships of the food sources and consumers in their individual biodomes. As they plant their seeds (or seedlings) they should explain how these plants support the food chain to best meet the emphasis of this PE.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are building a model biodome to describe the movement of matter among the plants, insects and worms that they will place inside. The prior lessons in this unit on how ecosystems interact, and how decomposers (worms) help to break down animal and plant wastes should be incorporated into the students understanding of why each of these items are important to this particular ecosystem. The activity includes a biodome workbook where the students will diagram and record observations as each item (plants, insects, decomposers) are added to their biodome so students can describe the phenomena that will be observed.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Before each activity, the students are encouraged to sit with their engineering design team to discuss how they will proceed with each particular step. Example: discuss basic plant needs before beginning and discuss observations from previous day. Student teams work together to complete the questions in the workbook after they have finished each part of creating the biodome. In the activity scaling section of the activity, the student teams are encouraged to present their projects to the class as if they were a professional engineering firm. In a post activity (Re-Engineering), student teams brainstorm to come up with many ideas on how they could improve their biodomes. Have them sketch their re-designs and have them "test" the new designs to fully engage in the engineering design process.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
To fully address the entire DCI through this summative activity students need to incorporate each of the previous lessons core ideas to their biodome. For example, in day 9 of this unit, the students learn that decomposers are living organisms that breaks down other living and non-living things into smaller parts. To address the full DCI, it is important that the students understand why they are adding the worms into their biodomes. They need to be able to explain/understand that decomposers recycle dead plants and animals and help keep the flow of nutrients available in their biodome. This is a good opportunity to ask the students why scientists and engineers would develop and study life inside biodomes in our world today. Also students can investigate the effect of what would happen to the needs of the organisms if one organism died in the model ecosystem such as this one, or the effects of adding other organisms or even invasive organisms to see what happens to the stable web of life.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The students are building a biodome system that is composed of air, water, soil, decomposers, insects, and plants. Each day that the students observe their biodome, they should continually be assessing how each part of their system is working together. Are the seeds growing? Is the biodome placed in the sun? What happens when a cricket dies? What is the cricket eating to sustain life? If the biodome is sealed and has not been watered for 2 weeks, is there water droplets inside the biodome? Where did this water come from? Students can compare answers with their peers to further clarify how the parts of the system they have created is working together.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This biodome activity addresses the science Performance Expectations as well as the engineering Performance Expectations. Connections to the science practices and cross-cutting concepts are clearly embedded throughout the activity. Students will realize that a solid understanding of one's environment and the interdependence of an ecosystem can inform the choices we make and the way we engineer our own communities. This complete resource, if used as an entire unit will align to other Performance Expectations and Disciplinary Core Ideas across the 3-5 grade level. PS3.D Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life, LS1.C Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms, 5-LS1-1 Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems,3-LS3 Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits. 3-LS4 biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity. I

  • Instructional Supports: Step by step instructions are included with this activity as well as trouble shooting ideas, an assessment piece, extension activities and safety concerns. Two sample pictures are included to give teachers an idea of possible design solutions. Teachers will need to design a rubric to assess the student's final project. The activity as written can be conducted as a structured or open-ended design. It is recommended to allow students the opportunity to be true engineers (and better align with NGSS learning goals) that teachers facilitate this activity as a more opened-ended design challenge. To make this resource even stronger, be sure to have students document changes they make to their biodomes as they progress through the activity and detail the reasons for their changes.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Prior to creating and designing their biodome, the teams need to brainstorm, sketch, and build following the plan they devised. They will use the included Biodome Engineering Design Project Workbook as a guide. Included in the guide are specific questions on the progress and reasons for their design, as well as questions on how to make their design better for each part of the system to work. As mentioned in the Disciplinary Core Idea tips, have students sketch their re-designs and have them "test" the new designs to fully engage in the engineering design process. Teachers will need to design a rubric and review it with the students so they can monitor their own progress as they design their biodome. It is suggested to have the students brainstorm why scientists and engineers would develop and study life inside biodomes in the first place. Are there considerations which could make biodomes feasible as long-term habitats on the Moon or Mars?

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include technological interactivity.