Grade 5: Nature's Recyclers

Lessons at a Glance


Lesson 1: Wondering About Nature's Waste

Big Idea: Nature's waste and remains don't just pile up. They decompose.

In this introduction to the Nature's Recyclers Unit, students discuss what the term "waste" means and examine "mystery bags" that are filled with different examples of natural waste. They explore the concept of natural waste and share ideas about why the world is not covered in organic remains.

 

Lesson 2: Nature's Breakdown

Big Idea: Nature's waste and remains don't just pile up. They decompose.

This lesson offers pre-assessment of students' understanding about the sequence and process of decomposition. Students arrange illustrations showing the progressive decomposition of organisms (a tree and an animal) into the correct sequence. They speculate about why organisms decompose.

 

Lesson 3: Nature's Cleanup Crew

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers -- scavengers, fungi, and bacteria -- feed on dead organisms and waste. They carry out the process of decomposition.

Students begin this lesson by considering some of the animals that decompose and recycle nature's waste and remains. They study carrion beetles and dung beetles, and discuss what would happen if there weren't any scavengers.

 

Lesson 4: Looking at Worms

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers -- scavengers, fungi, and bacteria -- feed on dead organisms and waste. They carry out the process of decomposition.

This lesson introduces students to one type of scavenger, the earthworm. While there are many types of earthworms, students will have the opportunity to care for and examine live composting worms. Students develop their observational skills by drawings and writing about what they see. They also practice attentive handling and care of the worms and their environment.

 

Lesson 5: Feeding Worms

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers -- scavengers, fungi, and bacteria -- feed on dead organisms and waste. They carry out the process of decomposition.

Students investigate the effects that earthworms have on the process of decomposition. They prepare two decomposition cups to investigate and observe how composting worms break down plant remains. After about five days, they compare the changes in each cup.

This is a three-session lesson. Session 2 is an optional reading session.

 

Lesson 6: From Decomposers to Soil

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers -- scavengers, fungi, and bacteria -- feed on dead organisms and waste. They carry out the process of decomposition.

In Session 1 of this lesson, students examine a variety of inorganic and organic planting materials. They discuss the connections between the work of nature's recyclers, soil, and plant development. In Session 2, students continue investigating the connection by planting some seeds in potting soil and some in perlite. Over a few weeks, they observe and think about how each material may affect plant growth. They will graph their observations and discuss their conclusions in Lesson 12.

 

Lesson 7: How Fungi Feed

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers -- scavengers, fungi, and bacteria -- feed on dead organisms and waste. They carry out the process of decomposition.

Students are introduced to another of nature's recyclers, fungi. Students compare a bare wooden plug to a plug covered with fungal mycelium, and then set up an experiment with the plugs. After about a week, they observe how the mycelium grew into the coffee grounds. They discuss the process of how fungi obtain nutrients from organic materials.

 

Lesson 8: Investigating Bread Mold Growth

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers -- scavengers, fungi, and bacteria -- feed on dead organisms and waste. They carry out the process of decomposition.

Students begin investigations of mold by considering its function as a fungus and as a decomposer. In Session 1, they look at some examples of moldy food items, and think about the environmental conditions that might encourage or discourage mold growth. In Session 2, they choose one condition to vary for their own experiments with bread mold growth, learning about fair tests in the process. Session 3 is designed to teach students how to collect data during their experiment. They will graph their collected data in Lesson 11.

 

Lesson 9: Looking at Mushrooms

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers -- scavengers, fungi, and bacteria -- feed on dead organisms and waste. They carry out the process of decomposition.

Students continue their observations of fungi from Lesson 7 by examining those most familiar to them: mushrooms. They learn about the life cycle of a mushroom, identify the parts of a mushroom, and start to think about how a mushroom reproduces. Then they make spore prints of mushrooms so they can see evidence of the microscopic parts of a fungus that enable it to reproduce.

 

Lesson 10: Agents and Evidence of Decomposition

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers -- scavengers, fungi, and bacteria -- feed on dead organisms and waste. They carry out the process of decomposition.

Students take a field trip to search for evidence of decomposition and its agents. They observe and identify "FBI" (fungi, invertebrates, and bacteria) communities.

 

Lesson 11: Drawing Conclusions About Mold Growth

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers -- scavengers, fungi, and bacteria -- feed on dead organisms and waste. They carry out the process of decomposition.

Students draw a bar graph in Session 1 with the data they collected since Lesson 8 about their bread mold growth experiments. They compare how conditions affected mold growth and make conclusions from the results. They draw a line graph in Session 2, showing how the area of mold growth changed over time.

 

Lesson 12: Soil Nutrients for Plants

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers return nutrients to the soil (or water) to be used by plants and other organisms.

Students compare the results of the planting experiment from Lesson 6. In Session 1, they make their final observations of the plants grown in organic planting material -- potting soil -- and compare them to those grown in an inorganic material -- perlite. In Session 2, they analyze data and conclude about how the plants in each of the planting materials grew. They continue to expand on their understanding of the role decomposers play in plant development.

 

Lesson 13: Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers return nutrients to the soil (or water) to be used by plants and other organisms.

With examples drawn from organisms that typically live in a tall grass prairie, this lesson introduces students to the roles of producers and consumers in a food chain and food web. As a Science Center activity, students create model food chains using pictures of native plants and animals from their own state or region. The lesson concludes with a class discussion about how scavengers and decomposers recycle nutrients from the organisms in a food chain.

 

Lesson 14: The Nutrient Game

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers return nutrients to the soil (or water) to be used by plants and other organisms.

Students play a game in which a large container of blocks represents nutrients in the soil. They act out the roles of plants, herbivores, carnivores, and recyclers to appreciate the importance of recycling nutrients.

 

Lesson 15: Recycling Nutrients

Big Idea: Nature's recyclers return nutrients to the soil (or water) to be used by plants and other organisms.

The students complete the Nature's Recyclers Unit by putting together a Mobius strip that models how nutrients are passed from one living thing to the next. Students' experience with the Mobius strip, along with the discussions in the lesson, solidifies their understanding of how producers, consumers, and decomposers all work together to ensure that nutrients are continually recycled in nature.

 

Skill Building Activity: Reading Science Books

Big Idea: Paying attention to a book's organization can assist reading comprehension.

Students familiarize themselves with the organization and layout of the Nature's Recyclers Student Reference Book. They are encouraged to look through each section before they begin reading so they can use visual and text cues -- such as headings, margin notes, and illustrations -- to help understand the material and its relationship to what they already know.

Ongoing reading strategies to help children absorb new information and vocabulary are included at the end of the lesson

 

Skill Building Activity: Observing and Describing

Big Idea: Observation is a powerful tool for learning about something. Detailed and accurate descriptions of your observations help you communicate them to others.

Children practice making accurate and detailed descriptions before and after observing a familiar object. They discover the importance of careful observations and detailed description in science.

 

Skill Building Activity: Designing a Fair Test

Big Idea: Scientists plan and design fair tests so they can determine how the one variable being changed affects the results of an experiment.

An important aspect of any scientific experiment is designing a fair test. In this lesson, students analyze the elements of a fair test and discuss ways to make the test fair. They identify variables that could affect how high a ball bounces and strategize about how to change only one variable while keeping all other parts of the experiment the same.

 

Skill Building Activity: Making Line Graphs

Big Idea: Line graphs are charts that can be used to measure how data changes over a period of time.

Scientists rely on graphs to help them analyze data they collect. A line graph is especially useful to scientists when they need to measure how data changes over a period of time. This activity provides a basic introduction on how to organize data on a line graph and how to use it as a tool to understand the data displayed. By looking for trends on a line graph, the students learn how to make educated predictions, a skill need for many science activities.