STEAM and Ecosystems in 6th Grade Science
part of 6th grade life science and ecology/ecosystems studies,
Cambridge Public Schools uses a computer-based virtual environment
developed by Harvard called EcoMUVE.
Students are presented with a scenario related to a forest ecosystem
and utilize the virtual environment in EcoMUVE to come to a solution.
From the EcoMUVE website, “students work in teams to visit the two
islands over a span of fifty years to see how the populations and forest
structure change on each island over time.”
This year, 6th grade
science teacher Dave Suchy and his students at RAUC expanded upon the
EcoMUVE curriculum by collaborating with Ingrid Gustafson, CPS
Instructional Technology Specialist and Kyle Browne, director of Cambridge Creativity Commons.
As a final project articulating a hypothesis and solution to a problem,
students created mixed media scientific illustrations depicting the
EcoMUVE web of organism interactions. Their paper-based ecosystem webs
were made into computer-based interactive simulations by connecting MaKeyMaKey kits and were controlled by programming with Scratch.
Students gained practice in 21st century skills such as collaborating
and creativity throughout the duration of this project by engaging in
STEAM education – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and
Inspiring students to be
engaged in their learning is a challenge for all educators, but it is
particularly arduous in middle school. The collaboration between
science, arts and technology offers an incredible amount of access
points and communication modes, allowing more students to engage with
the material. During this project, communication between students was
essential to their groups success as students were assigned different
roles to research within the team. These roles included a bird watcher,
botanist, population specialist, and public health intern. To become an
“expert” in their assigned role, students gathered data in EcoMUVE.
After discussing a variety of perspectives, data points, observations,
and notes from the field guide, students met with their teammates and
formulated a claim. Once the claim was developed, students were ready to
move on to the art component of the project, learning how to create an
ecosystem web as evidence to support the claim.
Art - the “A”
were introduced to the field of scientific illustration, drawing, and
painting techniques for their scientifically accurate 2-D food web set
in a forest. Included in the illustrations were plants and animals that
informed their claim from EcoMUVE. Using photographs as reference tools,
students took on the role of scientific illustrators to draw and paint
their organisms as accurately as possible. Students arranged a
functional, accurate, and aesthetic design of their ecosystem food web
by placing organisms appropriately; drawing correct relationship
connections for predation, mutualism, parasitism and competition;
developing a clear key to accompany their work; and adding graphite
lines to link selected organisms to the MaKeyMaKey kit activating the
Scratch simulation. Once completed, the forest background and organisms
Technology, Engineering, & Math
upon computers science skills learned in previous science class
projects, students brought their scientific research and artwork to life
through programming. Their scientific illustrations were uploaded and
shared with students through Google Drive. With the help of Scratch,
students programmed relationships between the organisms in their
ecosystem, calculating the number of organisms in specific scenarios
thinking about “if/then” statements. Finally, students linked their
watercolor drawings to Scratch using MaKeyMaKey, enabling the simulation
to be controlled by pressing on individual organisms on the food web.
Groups experienced a real-life computer science scenario where each
member of their group contributed knowledge towards completing one final
product. To make the ecosystem come to life, students learned about
concepts such as loops, conditionals, operators, and sequencing.
the students were learning and applying science during the entire
project, the mode they used to gain and express their knowledge varied
throughout. Science writing, science reading, drawing, painting,
designing, and computer coding combined with speaking and listening
skills helped students express their understandings. Independence pushed
students to think critically to solve any problems that may have arisen
in their ecosystem and in their working groups.
Not only did
this project foster student learning, but it also provided a platform
for arts, science, and technology educators to collaborate as well as
think critically and creatively about best practices. Bringing knowledge
from the individual fields of expertise enriched and strengthened the
curriculum as well as demonstrated positive leadership and collaboration
to all students.