Teaching Lesson 1

The most important thing about Papercatchers is that students participate in the simulation and make a link to how it relates to ecosystems.

See the complete curriculum module for detailed instructions on how to lead each activity.

Review the activities from Lesson 1 as well as the material below. Reflect on how you would teach this in your class. Post your reflection to your portfolio in "Pedagogy->Module 3" under the heading Lesson 1.

Lesson Objectives

The student will:

- Learn characteristics of complex systems that relate to ecosystems (LO1)

- Experience population growth and limits to growth through a simulation (LO2)

- Graph different patterns of growth and learn to distinguish them (LO3)

- Learn the concept of a carrying capacity (LO4)

- Make observations of the behavior of a system using a computer model (LO5)

- Speculate as to why computer models can be valuable scientific tools (LO6)

Teaching Summary

Getting started – 10 minutes

1.     Ecosystems as Complex Adaptive Systems introduction


                  Activity #1: Papercatchers – 25 minutes  

2.     Participatory Simulation

3.     Population Growth and Carrying Capacity


                  Activity #2: Preview of the Rabbits and Grass model – 10 minutes

4.     Preview of the model,

5.     Make observations, ask questions


                  Wrap-up – 5 minutes

6.     If you were to study a real-world ecosystem, what kind of data would you want to collect?

Assessment questions (suggested):

      Name a characteristic of complex systems that can be seen in ecosystems (LO1)

      Describe and draw two growth patterns you saw in Papercatchers.  (LO2, LO3)

      Describe what limited growth in the Papercatchers activity (LO4)

      Describe two outcomes you witnessed in the demonstration of the rabbits and grass model (LO5)

      Discuss why a computer model might be helpful in studying ecosystems (LO6)

NGSS Performance Expectations

Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

MS-LS2-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.

NRC Disciplinary Core Ideas

Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

DCI-LS2.A: Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors. In any ecosystem, organisms and populations with similar requirements for food, water, oxygen, or other resources may compete with each other for limited resources, access to which consequently constrains their growth and reproduction. Growth of organisms and population increases are limited by access to resources.


Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience

DCI-LS2.C: Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all its populations.

NRC Scientific and Engineering Practice Standards

Practice 2: Developing and using models

2C: Use and/or develop a model of simple systems with uncertain and less predictable factors.

2E: Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

2G: Develop and/or use a model to generate data to test ideas about phenomena in natural or designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs, and those at unobservable scales.


Practice 3: Planning and carrying out investigations

3B: Conduct an investigation and/or evaluate and/or revise the experimental design to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence that meet the goals of the investigation.

3D: Collect data or produce data to serve as the basis for evidence to answer scientific questions or test design solutions under a range of conditions.


Practice 4: Analyzing and interpreting data

4A: Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

4B: Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

4D: Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.


Practice 5: Using mathematics and computational thinking

5B: Use mathematical representations to describe and/or support scientific conclusions and design solutions.

5D: Apply mathematical concepts and/or processes  (e.g., ratio, rate, percent, basic operations, simple algebra) to scientific and engineering questions and problems.


Practice 6: Constructing explanations and designing solutions

6A: Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena.

6B: Construct an explanation using models or representations.


Practice 7: Engaging in argument from evidence

7C: Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument supported by empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support or refute an explanation or a model for a phenomenon or a solution to a problem.


NRC Crosscutting Concepts

1. Patterns:

1B: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems.

1C: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.

1D: Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.


3. Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

3A: Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.


4. Systems and Systems models

4B: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.


CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards




Use abstraction to decompose a problem into sub problems.


Connections to other fields


Provide examples of interdisciplinary applications of computational thinking.


Modeling & simulation


Interact with content-specific models and simulations to support learning and research.


Modeling & simulation


Use modeling and simulation to represent and understand natural phenomena.


Modeling & simulation


Analyze data and identify patterns through modeling and simulation.


Data collection & analysis


Collect and analyze data that are output from multiple runs of a computer program.

Responsiveness to Varied Student Learning Needs

In Project GUTS, we integrate teaching strategies found to be effective with learners with various backgrounds and characteristics such as economically disadvantaged students (EDS), students from groups that are underrepresented in STEM (URG), students with disabilities (DIS), English Language learners (ELL), girls and young women (FEM), students in alternative education (ALT), and gifted and talented students (GAT).


In each lesson we describe the accommodations and differentiation strategies that are integrated in the activities to support a wide range of learners.


Module 3 Lesson 1: Ecosystems as Complex Adaptive Systems

(URG) The in class modeling activity, Papercatchers, involves student movement, a strategy that uses a multi-modal experience to increase student engagement.


(DIS) In the preview of the Rabbits and Grass model, we use technology to present information in multiple modes of representations.  We provide multiple means of action, expression, representation and engagement.  These are all principles of Universal Design for Learning.


(EDS) We elicit students’ prior knowledge about local ecosystems and build on their funds of knowledge as a resource for further questioning and investigating.


(EDS) We validate the use of place [by situating the topic of ecosystems within the local environment] to keep the students engaged and make a connection of science and community.


(FEM) (URG) We choose a curriculum topic, Ecosystems, that has relevancy and real-world application, to interest and engage the girls and students from underrepresented groups in STEM in the class.