Modeling Ecosystem Effects of Termite Mound Patterns

Contributor
Bob Kuhn; HHMI BioInteractive
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Types
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Illustration , Instructor Guide/Manual , Data , Activity , Article , Assessment Item
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

 

Modeling Ecosystem Effects of Termite Mound Patterns is one of a series of Data Point resources from HHMI Biointeractive.  Data Points engage students in analyzing and interpreting data from primary literature in the biological sciences.  The resources are intended to provide authentic phenomena to spark student discussion and exploration, but they can also serve as three-dimensional assessment items.  In this example, students analyze a graphic model of the effects of increasing and decreasing rainfall on vegetation in the presence and absence of termite mounds in semi-arid and arid grassland ecosystems. The primary source for this Data Point may be found at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6222/651.full?keytype=ref&siteid=sci&ijkey=b.kQNPE32Vykw. (Membership to the journal Science is required for access to this link. The same article may also be accessed through this alternative link: http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Robert_Pringle/publication/271843757_Termite_mounds_can_increase_the_robustness_of_dryland_ecosystems_to_climatic_change/links/54d4543d0cf2970e4e630d73.pdf )

Intended Audience

Educator
Educational Level
  • High School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-6 Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.

Clarification Statement: Examples of changes in ecosystem conditions could include modest biological or physical changes, such as moderate hunting or a seasonal flood; and extreme changes, such as volcanic eruption or sea level rise.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This Data Point could serve as way to engage students at the beginning of teaching this performance expectation or as an assessment of the performance expectation. The resource is framed as a discussion starter in which students are asked to analyze a model represented by graphical data and to develop an explanation of that data. The Educator Guide provides extensive background for teachers and a set of discussion questions to guide students toward developing an explanation of how the presence or absence of termite mounds affects the stability of vegetation in a semi-arid or arid grassland ecosystem during varying amounts of rainfall.

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
The graphs provided in this Data Point are models to help predict outcomes by observing patterns of vegetation in areas with and without termite mounds in arid and semi-arid grassland ecosystems. Discussion questions such as “Explain how these models could be used by scientists to make predictions about the consequences of climate change in an arid or semi-arid of the world” will provide students with practice in using the model in an authentic way. To develop a deeper understanding of the graph as a model, teachers may want to provide the link to the original research article (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6222/651.full?keytype=ref&siteid=sci&ijkey=b.kQNPE32Vykw) to interested students.

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
The discussion questions provided in the Educator Guide help to extend students’ thinking about the cause of the phenomenon seen in the graphic model. Teachers may want to encourage students to be explicit in explaining why the termite mounds make such a difference to the vegetative process before and after times of severe drought in semi-arid and arid grassland ecosystems. Another topic to explore is how the plants themselves also make a difference in how a grassland ecosystem stores water.

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
The goal of the Data Points series is to engage students in analyzing and interpreting data from primary sources. To help students understand the main idea of the primary source associated with this Data Point, the student handout contains a graph and background information. However, there is more explicit information provided in the Educator Guide about how to interpret the graphs which teachers may want to share if the students are having difficulty understanding the graphic model. The Educator Guide suggests specific prompts to help the students explain what they understand about the graph. As students analyze and interpret the graph, they may find that they need to revise their thinking about the interrelationships among the termite mounds, rainfall, and vegetation. Discussion questions are provided in the Educator Guide to help students gain a broader understanding of the interrelationships within this type of ecosystem and how these interrelationships are affected by decreasing or increasing rainfall. The graphs are a type of model and a rich source of information. Prompting the students to spend time in thinking about what the components of the graphs represent will help them in developing a deeper understanding and a more accurate explanation of why these interrelationships are so important to the stability of the ecosystem.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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
This Data Point is an excellent resource to help students understand the disciplinary core idea. However, the teacher will most likely need to help students make sense of the phenomenon represented by the graphic model through wise use of the discussion questions. Facilitating students’ understanding of the use of the symbols (i) and (ii) in the graphic model to represent catastrophic loss of vegetation and dramatic recovery of vegetation, respectively, may help students to connect the graphic model to the real world. The discussion questions in the Educator Guide will help to deepen students’ understanding of the disciplinary core idea.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The focus of this Data Point is on how the presence of termite mounds in semi-arid and arid grasslands affects the stability of the ecosystem under varying amounts of rainfall. By answering the discussion questions, the students will be constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable within this type of ecosystem.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This Data Point provides an authentic phenomenon that could anchor a series of three-dimensional learning activities. In this case, an initial discussion would allow the teacher to expose students’ initial ideas before facilitating students in exploring the phenomenon through additional learning activities. (See comments below in monitoring student progress.) Alternatively, this resource could be used as an assessment item. In either case, the resource should be strengthened by combining it with other learning experiences.

  • Instructional Supports: By using authentic data from a primary source, this Data Point provides an excellent, scientifically accurate context in which students can engage in three-dimensional learning to make sense of a phenomenon. The background information and the discussion questions in the Educator Guide are excellent and provide guidance for teachers to support instruction. This resource is written as a discussion prompt, and a whole-class discussion would provide one venue for the teacher to hear student ideas and give feedback on those ideas. However, the resource is not a full lesson. As a result, it does not provide a full range of instructional supports, such as opportunities for students to build on feedback, guidance for differentiation, and scaffolds to support students in engaging in practices or applying crosscutting concepts. The teacher will need to incorporate these supports while building a full instructional sequence around this resource.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Whether it is used formatively or summatively, the Data Point, offers an excellent opportunity to gather evidence of students’ three-dimensional learning. One way to monitor student progress is to ask students some preliminary questions about what they think about the interrelationships among termite mounds, rainfall, and vegetation in arid and semi-arid grassland ecosystems. This preliminary assessment of prior knowledge may take place in a variety of ways. Students may share their thoughts in pairs, write down their thoughts in a science journal, use sticky notes on a whiteboard, or share as a class. After students have shared their thoughts, then the teacher may provide them with the handout and continue in a whole class discussion with the suggested discussion questions. A rubric is not provided, but the Educator Guide does provide the background information needed to assess and support student responses. The teacher may want to consider embedding formative assessments and developing associated rubrics when planning a full instructional sequence.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not an interactive, technology-based resource, although the link to the original research article does enhance the value of the resource.