Saving the World–One Ecosystem at a Time

Doing Good Science in Middle School Olaf Jorgenson, Rick Vanosdall, Vicki Massey, and Jackie Cleveland. NSTA Press
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Instructor Guide/Manual , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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.



Saving the World–One Ecosystem at a Time is Activity 8 from the NSTA Press book “Doing Good Science in Middle School.” In this activity, teams of students research and design a solution to maintain the health of their chosen ecosystem. The driving question, “What goes on in an ecosystem that makes it function?”, helps support students’ thinking about solutions to maintain the health of their chosen ecosystem. Teams will evaluate the merits and the constraints of each of the possible solutions from their research, rank those solutions, and present oral arguments defending their top solutions. By the end of this activity, students will have demonstrated the ability to research and then present an evidence-based argument proposing various solutions to maintain biodiversity and equilibrium in an ecosystem. The resource suggests that a hands-on approach could include micro-systems such as a  jar covered with plastic, bacteria in a petri dish, a terrarium, or local ecosystems. The teacher should be aware that these micro-systems are limiting for the Performance Expectation but could be used secondarily to a full-scale ecosystem.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-LS2-5 Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Clarification Statement: Examples of ecosystem services could include water purification, nutrient recycling, and prevention of soil erosion. Examples of design solution constraints could include scientific, economic, and social considerations.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Three-dimensional learning and engineering design practices, along with the 5E strategy, are utilized by students to evaluate design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. The “ Focus Questions” provided such as “Why is diversity important in an ecosystem?” and “How can ecosystem services be preserved?”, help to create talking points during class and group discussions to help students evaluate design solutions for their chosen ecosystem. The teacher will need to monitor these discussions to help the students reach criteria consensus. In the In the “Companion Activity”, students can create their own ecosystem, such as a terrarium, to add a hands-on component to their research. Although a model of an ecosystem can be valuable, it is best used to support the research, not as a stand-alone activity to understand the important benefits for human beings that arise from healthy, functioning ecosystems.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The Engage section provides minimal help for students to create criteria to evaluate biodiversity and ecosystem services in determining the health of an ecosystem. However, the Focus Questions do not fully address the criteria needed to determine the design solutions. The teacher could add a “Driving Question Board” where students can explore and create the criteria important for evaluation. Then, in the Explore section students will have tools to help complete a chart to prioritize solutions to maintain the health of their ecosystem. The Explain section gives students a forum to share their thinking with the class. This could be accomplished with a Socratic Seminar approach with different research articles that the students found or a Gallery Walk of their research to help students make sense of their thinking. This will naturally lead to evaluation, more discussions, and a teacher-lead argumentation session before students create their written evaluation.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The Engage and Explore sections help students to determine what makes a healthy ecosystem while using constraints and criteria to design a solution to an environmental problem. After research on one ecosystem, students use their determined criteria to identify solutions and place them in a chart by importance to the ecosystem’s health. After several points of discussion, students write an evaluation of the most promising solution to maintain health and ecosystem services.

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This lesson helps develop the students’ understanding of biodiversity and ecosystem services as measures of an ecosystem’s health. Students begin by exploring ecosystems and biodiversity, developing criteria to determine the health of an ecosystem, and evaluating the importance of each design solution. A student Gallery Walk can provide a means to survey several terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems as student help their peers in the evaluation process.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students look at an ecosystem in depth and at solutions to maintain a healthy ecosystem. The teacher needs to make the connection that an ecosystem is a system of abiotic and biotic components, that work together. This crosscutting concept should be an integral part of the Engage and Explore sections and can be added in the “Focus Question” section. Some examples of additional questions would be: “What are the components of an ecosystem?”, “How do these components work together?”, or “How are the different parts of an ecosystem integral for its health?”

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson “Saving the World–One Ecosystem at a Time” provides students with the opportunity to engage in three-dimensional learning as they explore various solutions to maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services in an ecosystem. The lesson provides students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the disciplinary core idea through student and teacher questioning, small and large group discussions, and written explanations. Students use class-determined criteria and research to evaluate solutions to maintain a healthy ecosystem. The crosscutting concept of stability and change links the sections of the lesson together as students use their knowledge of possible solutions when ecosystems change that can lead to an equilibrium in an ecosystem. Teachers may want to emphasize the crosscutting concept as it may be less obvious to students. In order to make this lesson explicit a step could be added where students identify problems that can or do affect the stability of an ecosystem. They are working on solutions and need to make the problems explicit. Teachers could have students identify at least one problem with ecosystem stability, state how these problem(s) occur, why they create a problem and then come up with solutions to these problems that can then prioritize.

  • Instructional Supports: “Saving the World–One Ecosystem at a Time” provides an opportunity to explore authentic and real-world ecosystems that engage students in the practices of ecologists. The lessons are scientifically accurate and each part of the 5E builds upon the other for student learning. Students are given multiple opportunities to express their ideas both orally and in a written analysis with discussions, whiteboard analysis, and in final research analysis. Teachers are provided with background information, misconceptions, student examples, and options for differentiation. There are no rubrics provided; however, the teacher is provided with questions and talking points for formative assessments.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Even though no rubrics are provided, the chart organizational tool, peer sharing, small and large group discussions, and written analysis provide a variety of methods to monitor student progress. There are well-thought-out questions at each point within the 5E’s that provide many opportunities for formative assessment. A written report of the process and solutions for ecosystem health provide methods for summative assessment. The section on differentiation gives other methods for teacher monitoring to check for understanding.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: N/A