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Virtual Field Trip

A series of virtual ecology video lessons modeled after our Ecology Field Program, designed for 5th graders.

Virtual Ecology Field Trip

The following ecology video lesson series provides a virtual alternative to our in-person Ecology Field Program, designed for New Mexico 5th graders and aligned to Next Generation Science Standards.

These lessons go in-depth on topics including the abiotic and biotic parts of an ecosystem, producers, consumers, & decomposers; scat, skulls, leaves, ecosystem change, decomposition, and soil. Each lesson ends with a hands-on activity for students to do at home or in the classroom. 

Watch the video lessons embedded below or on the YouTube playlist. Click the links below to access the teacher lesson plans for online viewing and download (all files are accessible).

Video Lessons & Lesson Plans

Lesson 1- Ecosystems: Biotic/Abiotic

Lesson 1 Video Transcript

Hey boys and girls. My name is Steven. Vince is behind the camera there. We're

from the Sandia Mountain National History Center. What we're gonna do today
is learn about ecosystems. So, if you have a paper already printed, or if you have
a blank piece of paper, what I'd like you to do is just write the title "Ecosystems"
up at the top. Eco-systems. I want you to look at that word for just a second
and figure out what the word inside that word is.
Did you think of systems? We're gonna focus just on that for a second- "system". We use systems all the time, and
we're part of a system- many systems, and there are many systems in nature as well.
Think for a couple seconds about other systems you either use at home, for
school, for fun, or systems that you know about already that's, uh, in nature.
That, if you have just eaten, you might be using one of those systems right now-
the digestive system. So, when you eat, what's the first thing you do?
Put the food in your mouth, and you chew. Are those teeth kind of helping out your
digestive system? Yeah, they're the first part. And then the juice in there, sal-..
saliva, kind of softens the food up, and when it's ready you swallow.
What's that food tube called? Your...
esophagus. As a travels down your
esophagus, obviously it's gonna go into your stomach, and you have more juices in
there. Acids that works on your digestion, travels through your intestines, and
obviously you're gonna poop it out sometime, right?
So, that system is not just one part. There's a whole bunch of parts in it. I
don't know how many off-hand, but there's more than one, right? So think about this.
What is shining on me right now?
The sun. Is there a system that the sun is part of? Yeah, the solar system.
No matter where you are in the universe or the galaxy,
there will always be at least one of those suns in the middle of it. Now, what
orbits the sun? Planets. And what can orbit a planet? A moon. And the pieces of
rock up there...
asteroids. What holds it all together?
Gravity. So, all those parts- the sun, or suns, the planets, the moons, the asteroids,
and the gravity, are all parts of that system. Those parts together work as a
whole. Last system. What am I doing? [typing sounds]
Typing, on a... keyboard. So what kind of system are we talking about?
Computer system. We look at a... screen. What's this? Mouse. And then, not every time, but lots of times, how's everything connected to each other?
Cords, or wires. Again, not just one part, but a.. whole bunch. There's a word I want you to
think about. It means more than one, not a few, not many, but it does start with "M".
Here's a symbol for the math function. Multiply, multiple. So there's multiple
parts. Every system has multiple parts. So what we're gonna do, since we're
talking about ecosystems, is first, on your paper, draw a big "T", just like that.
So what we have right now is a T-chart, or at least the beginning of a T-chart.
How many groups are we gonna have? Two. So, what we're gonna do is we're gonna
zoom back in a second so that you can see what's kind of around me and behind
me. Or you can go to a window and look out the window wherever you're at, and if
there's a natural area- trees or plants or something like that outside your
window, you can do that too. So if it's.. go ahead, zoom out so we can look at
everything. So you should be able to see all this stuff around me, maybe even some
stuff on the ground, and if you can like I said, go to a window too. You can check
things out that way as well. And what you're gonna do is look for anything
that's a natural thing. So, is a car out your window gonna count? Uh-uh. Is a sidewalk?
No, no we're not gonna count the sidewalk. Just the stuff like you might
see around here. The stuff on the ground, the stuff up here there's growing,
natural things. So for about 10 seconds or so I want you to do that.
Did you notice a few things? Alright. I did. So what we're gonna do... We are going
to list those things and make our two groups. And then after we have a few
things on each side, we're gonna figure out what we should call those things.
Maybe you can figure it out before I help you out, when you see a pattern
happening. So, right behind me. What is this thing?
It's a tree.
Now that tree has these things on there. Here's some short ones from one kind of
a tree. Here's some long ones from another one that's like that tree but a
little bit different. What are these?
Needles. What kind of tree did they come from?
Pine tree. On the right side here, I would like you to write "pine tree".
What else did we see?
The ground? Well, what's on the ground? Around here there's
a whole bunch of these rocks. This kind of rock has an orangish color to it. This
kind of rock is called sandstone. Sandstone is gonna go on the other side.
So let's write "sandstone".
Maybe wherever you are, you might have looked out a window and seen the green stuff on the ground. What's that?
Yeah, it's grass. What side do you think grass is gonna go on?
The rock side or the tree side? What's it most like?
Yeah, a tree. So let's go ahead and put grass with the pine tree.
I don't know if you can hear them. I hear some things up in the sky. [cawing in the distance]
We might see them down in town. They make like a "raw raw raw" sound.
They're black. And they fly. They're kind of big. Crows.
Now, crows are not like trees. They're not like grass.
They're definitely not like a rock, but what side are they most like? What do they have most in common with?
Plants or rocks?
I hope you said plants.
So, let's put "crows", since that's what we're listening to.
Alright, one last, not one last thing but almost. Take a breath in.
What did you breathe in?
Air. What do you think? Is air like trees and birds, or is
it like rock? It's kind of like none of those things, right? But it does have
something in common with one of these things. Because I said one thing, you
might look at the side that has just one thing. So yes. Air is gonna go on the side
with sandstone. Alright. Now, let me ask you... can rocks ever be alive?
No. Could air ever be alive?
No. Do living things need air?
Yeah, like we just did, we breathed, right? How about a pine tree? Can it be alive? Of course.
Grass? Yes.
Crows? Yes.
That is a big difference between these two sides, isn't it?
Now I'm gonna have you think of something. This, what is this thing?
A branch, right? Is it alive, or is it dead?
It's dead! Now, see if that'll stand up right there. Perfect.
What side is that dead branch gonna go on?
These things that have never been alive, or these things at are alive?
These things that are not alive right now? These things that are growing?
It's gonna go on the side with the trees and the bird.
So, lets write "dead branch".
Now, that branch is dead. Why did it go on the side with things that are
alive? This is why. There's only one way that this branch could have ever gotten
here on Earth, and that's by doing what at the very beginning?
Seed falls, it starts to...
grow. It grows big, turns into a tree, branch breaks off for some reason, the branch dies.
So, because that branch used to be alive,
that's why it's going on this side with the trees and the grass and the birds.
Now we have to figure out what to call these two things.
Things that are not alive, things that are alive but can also be dead.
I'm gonna write three letters right here: B I O.
That's not all of it yet, but that's the beginning of it.
What does "bio" mean? "Bio" is in a lot of words.
There's a scientist, certain kind of scientist, they're called biologists. Starts with B I O.
Do you know what they learn about, what they study?
Yeah, living things. Animals, plants, little tiny cells..
How about a biography? It's a story, but what's it about?
Is it true, or is it fiction? Is it fiction or nonfiction?
It's nonfiction, which means it's real life, and it's about
a person's life. So here we have biologists that study life, a biography is a story about a person's life.
These things are all alive, or they used to be.
So, in an ecosystem, things that are alive
or dead, like the trees growing or the dead branch, are called biotic.
These things here, the air and the sandstone, they can never ever be alive.
We're gonna call them almost the same, but with one letter difference- Abiotic.
That "A" in abiotic, it just means "not". Not biotic.
They can never be alive, or they can never be dead.
So, next thing. This is what you guys can do at home, or wherever
you are, on your own or with a grown-up. Keep this list that we've been making...
but I want you to-, I want to challenge you to get 10, at least 10 new
things, on your list. It doesn't matter if you have three more abiotic things, or
seven biotic things, or one and nine, you just need ten altogether. So with
your grown-up's permission, you're gonna go outside. Maybe you can go around
your house wherever you are, if, uh, there's too much traffic or something outside.
Look for as many biotic things as you can,
things that have been alive, maybe.
Go to your kitchen. I'm sure there's some things in there that you can find.
And then other things that are abiotic, things that can never be alive.
Alright, so, get those ten new things, and we'll see you next time for
an expanded new version of this.

Lesson Plan #1

Lesson 2- Ecosystems: Producers, Consumers, Decomposers

Lesson Plan #2

Lesson 3- Scat

Lesson Plan #3

Lesson 4- Skulls

Lesson Plan #4

Lesson 5- Leaves

Lesson Plan #5

Lesson 6- Change Over Time

Lesson Plan #6

Lesson 7- Decomposition & Soil, Part 1: Decomposition

Lesson Plan #7 & 8

Lesson 8- Decomposition & Soil, Part 2: Soil

Review & Final Project

Review and Final Project Lesson Plan

This page was last updated on: December 2, 2021.