Trophic Cascades Modeling Task- Word Document

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Grade Levels
9th - 12th
Formats Included
  • Word Document File
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**I also sell this exact same product as a Google Doc, ready to go in Google Classroom.

I love this activity because it REALLY forces students dig into one of two really cool ecosystems--Yellowstone or Isle Royale. Prior to this activity, my Enviro Sci students spend some time learning about keystone species, invasive species, trophic cascades, food webs, top down/bottom up control, and the idea of interdependence. They apply their knowledge into this assessment, which wraps up my "Ecology and Biodiversity" unit of Environmental Science.

In this NGSS-style activity, students must create a model to explain how wolf reintroduction changed the Yellowstone ecosystem, OR to predict how climate change will influence population dynamics on Isle Royale. I don't let them make a PowerPoint or Slideshow; I want them to be creative (I get many flowcharts, food webs, and other neat items instead!).

Students must provide information about the food webs of their chosen ecosystem, explain what happened to the ecosystem in the past, what is happening now (either with wolf reintroduction or climate change), and explain if the ecosystem is controlled in a bottom-up or top-down manner/how they know. They also must provide reliable data in their model--such as a relevant, related graph or data table--to support their information.

I have included an NGSS-style 35 point rubric for grading. I require students to "conference" with me when done--they explain their model and I ask questions as needed to have them clarify concepts or to push their learning and understanding further. Students will learn VERY quickly that a task like this really requires them to know their stuff—they can’t just skate by on minimal knowledge or memorization and hope to ace it.

If students work in a group, I randomly ask students in the group questions about the model. I stress that everyone needs to understand the information EQUALLY, and if they don’t, the group grade will suffer. No moochers!

You will have some students absolutely blow you away with this project with how far above and beyond they go! It's a great activity for students of every level--I have some very high-level students, and some very, very low-level students in my class. It supports everyone and forces students to truly LEARN the information; they can't just spit them back at you in mindless rote memorization. Students will learn the information so deeply this way, and the ones who usually struggle on tests might really surprise you with what they can do!

This task is broken down into manageable chunks. It guides students through understanding the components of the task, followed by conducting research. Students will probably feel overwhelmed at first, but once they get their research done, the model tends to fall into place. Students may need reminders that models do NOT have to be 3D if this is their first time doing this.

Remember that if you print this out as a physical worksheet, you will want to supply your students with the research links somehow. They *can* type them out, but it will be time consuming.

Total Pages
Answer Key
Rubric only
Teaching Duration
1 Week
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to see state-specific standards (only available in the US).
Evaluate 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. 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.


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