Modeling Ecosystems: Integrating Science, Literacy, and Art

The study of biomes and ecosystems lends itself to an integrated approach as students combine scientific understanding, literacy skills, and artistic abilities to understand the physical characteristics and plant and animal species of a region. Creating representations of a biome or ecosystem can be used during instruction to deepen understanding and engage multiple intelligences, or after instruction to demonstrate understanding.

We’ve suggested both two- and three-dimensional options for integrating art into a study of ecosystems: collage, brochures and books, dioramas and trioramas, and even life-sized models. Choose what will engage your students and will make the best use of your time and available resources. Have another idea for art integration? Share it with us by leaving a comment below!


TORN-PAPER BIOMES

In “Biome Is Where the Art Is,” an article from the NSTA journal Science and Children, Kelly Gooden describes an authentic assessment in which students demonstrate understanding of a particular biome by creating collages using only torn paper and glue. Gooden explains her course of study, and how students use the medium to show indigenous species as well as evidence of the climate and geography of a particular biome. A rubric and print and online resources are included.

Biome Is Where the Art Is
This Science and Children article (free for NSTA members, $0.99 for nonmembers) describes an integrated performance task that assesses students’ understanding of the biomes of the earth.


TRAVEL BROCHURES

Travel brochures provide an opportunity for informational writing, presentation of information, and creation of appropriate visuals (graphs, charts, and illustrations). Students can create these by hand, or use word-processing programs to type information and design the brochure’s layout.

Eeko Travelers: Exploring Diversity
In this lesson students will explore the diversity of five distinct ecosystems. They will use EekoWorld‘s interactive site (The Environment) as they learn about plants and wildlife, threats to different ecosystems, and ways that people have made positive changes in the environment. They will conduct Internet research, create a travel brochure that highlights what they have learned about ecosystems, and stage a class presentation.

All About Our Town: Using Brochures to Teach Informational Writing
Students create brochures using print and nonprint resources. Teachers can modify the lesson so that students are creating a travel brochure about an ecosystem (such as the tundra) instead of one about the local community.


ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN’S BOOKS

Creating children’s books can provide an age-appropriate, engaging, and authentic purpose for student writing. Students could create illustrated books (alphabet, rhyming, nonrhyming) after researching a biome and reading a variety of published books on the subject. They could share their work with a class of younger students learning about ecosystems, or add their books to the school library.

Making Books with Children
Ideas for creating a variety of books. Each page includes a printable pdf with illustrated directions.

A-Z: Learning About the Alphabet Book Genre
Students learn about the alphabet book genre and create class and individual alphabet books.

Q is for Duck: Using Alphabet Books with Struggling Writers
In this lesson, students investigate alphabet books, examine their different structures, and finally create their own alphabet books using a structure of their choice.


DIORAMAS/TRIORAMAS

Some students are more engaged with a three-dimensional project than with a two-dimensional drawing, brochure, or collage. Shoebox dioramas are a classic and popular option. Students can create their own plants and animals from clay or use pictures from magazines. Another option, the triorama, is created by folding, cutting, and gluing a piece of heavy paper (such as cardstock) to form a pyramid shape. Students can draw on the triorama, or create paper figures to illustrate plants and animals. Finally, students can create four trioramas and glue them back-to-back to create a 360-degree view of their selected biome.

Biome Discovery Expedition
Students take virtual expeditions to the world’s biomes and create a three-dimensional model of one of them. Includes the student-friendly site What’s It Like Where You Live?.

At Home in a Biome
Students create a poster with illustrations of six major biomes, then create a diorama of one biome. Includes directions and rubrics.

Triorama Directions
Illustrated directions on making a triorama by folding, cutting, and gluing or stapling heavy paper.


LIFE-SIZED MODELS

The most demanding of the projects in terms of time, space, and resources, life-sized models allow students to experience the model biome firsthand. Groups of students may research a biome and then create a large model in a corner of the classroom. Students (and parents) can walk through the biome and observe characteristic species. Alternatively, groups may create a booth or station that provides an experience or hands-on activity related to the biome. Each group serves as a “tour guide” of its biome, combining oral presentation skills with the artistic abilities needed for the building of the model. These types of projects are best accomplished in well-organized cooperative groups!

Biome Bazaar
This lesson simulates a field trip in which students visit various biomes and perform several sensory activities to learn about the world’s ecological communities. Originally written for middle school students but can be modified for upper elementary students.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright April 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under anĀ Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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