Abiotic Observations

Lesson Summary:

Students will use tools to quantify how abiotic factors can vary from ecosystem to ecosystem.

Enduring Understanding:

Environments and communities require many interconnected systems


This activity is primarily a Structured Inquiry.
The following describes different observation activities that can be done through out the week at Islandwood as students visit different locations.  The inention is to use as many or as few as the instructor has time for in order to tie the observations into comparison of elements (both biotic and abiotic) in different ecosystems.  Students learn how scientists record their observations in order to use them later to interpret and analzye their observations and to make predictions.

Age group: 4th-6th Venue/s: anywhere
Materials: light meter, thermometers, relative humidity gauge 
Time: 25 min to teach students how to use the tools and to make the first observation, 10 minutes thereafter
Set up: 15 minutes to pull all necessary tools and ensure they are working properly

The core lesson:

Possible Questions to explore with this activity:
How is the light, air and water of forest different from the light, air and water at the pond (harbor)?
How would you describe the abiotic elements in the forest/pond/harbor?
Is there more light at the pond/harbor or in the forest?
How does this affect the producers in each ecosystem?
Is the forest warmer or cooler than the pond/harbor?
How does this affect the biotic elements in each ecosystem?

The initial set up can be a little time consuming, once students have learned how to do it, subsequent observations should go quicker.  This can be woven throughout the week, with students doing one role on one day and then teaching another student the next day and taking on a different role.

Location 1 2 3 Average

 You will need one table for each element you are measuring: light intensity, air temperature, relative humidity, soil moisture content (explained here) or others you come up with such as water salinity or water temperature.

Light Intensity
Check to make sure the iPods you are using have the LuxMeter Pro app before heading out.

  1. Give an ipod to three students.  Work with them to make sure that the app is using the camera on the face of the iPod check by looking at what is displayed in the screen in the lower right corner of the app.  Use the camera icon to toggle between cameras.  The meter is fairly sensitive; help the students pick an approximation of the numbers they are reading.
  2. Have the three students stand in three different locations within your observation area – approximately 10-20 feet apart – and take a reading.
  3. Record each student’s reading, one in each column on the chart.
  4. Help students determine the average using the calculator on the iPod.

Air Temperature
Use the thermometers on the anemometers.  Check to make sure they all read the same before heading out (the Brunton anemometer has a wind chill offset in it).  If using a meat-type thermometer make sure you have a means to suspend them in the air, otherwise the students will be measuring the temperature of the object (or the ground) that the thermometer is resting on.

  1. Give a thermometer to three students.  Help them turn it on and switch from Celsius or Fahrenheit.
  2. Have the students stand in three different locations 10-20 feet apart being sure to hold the thermometers away from their body.
  3. Have them record the reading when the temperature has stabilized (is no longer decreasing or increasing).
  4. Record each student’s data, one in each column on the chart.
  5. Help students determine the average using the calculator on the iPod.

Relative Humidity
Bring along a small container of distilled water in addition to the relative humidity gauges.  Make sure you have at least one conversion chart with the gauges.

  1. Before starting, teach the students how to read an analog thermometer and have them practice
  2. Fill the reservoir on the humidity gauge with distilled water.
  3. Spin the gauge for 20 seconds and record the reading of the each of the thermometers (take the “wet” one first).
  4. Subtract the wet thermometer reading from the dry thermometer reading – this is your “depression” value
  5. Use the chart to determine the relative humidity based on the air temp and your depression value.
  6. Record the two observations on the chart.
  7. Help students determine the average.

Before students take a second observation in another location, have them make predictions (and write them down) on whether there will be more or less light, warmer or cooler and more or less humid.  Have them discuss with a partner why they think so.
You can also have them take another set of measurements in a similar ecosystem.

After you have two or three locations of data, have students describe what the data are saying.  Which location has the most light?  Which location is the warmest?  Have them write down or discuss why they think that is the case.  Then have students explore the question initially posed (from above).

This can then be tied into comparing the biotic elements of an ecosystem and how the biotic elements adapt to different ecosystems (both biotic and abiotic components).
It can also be tied to SPP activities where they take the same measurements at their school.  Students can make predictions about how their school/home might be similar or different.  Prompt them to use explanations based on what they measured and observed here at Islandwood.

Other Connections:

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