Planning for Engagement with Big Science Ideas
Puzzling Phenomenon or Anchoring Event
On the Olympic Peninsula here in Washington State we have a large variety of environments all with very different looking plants and animals. Here are three images taken at three different locations on the Olympic Peninsula. One image is from the Hoh River Rainforest, one is from high up in Olympic National Park in the Seven Lakes Basin, and the other is near the town of Sequim on the Dungeness River. Observe the different forms of plants that live in these different areas.
Why do you think there is such a large variety of plant shapes and sizes in the different areas as shown in these images?
What causes the large variation in these plant organisms?
- How do organisms live, grow, respond to their environment, and reproduce?
- What causes such a large variety of plants in these different environments on the Olympic Peninsula?
- The environment is made up of living and non-living factors within a specific geographical area.
- Living things have specific structures which allow them to survive and thrive in specific environments and not in others.
Gapless Explanation of Olympic Peninsula Environments (Adult Level):
Several non-living factors have impact on the plant species in these very different environments such as:
- Water (precipitation/ rainfall)
- Light (sun energy)
- Soil nutrients o Elevation
Each of these three different environments have unique non-living factors which have a direct effect on the plants and animals living in these regions. Plants need various things to grow and thrive in a specific environment. Within each of these areas plants have adapted various structures that increase their ability to survive. These specialized structures allow the organisms to survive and reproduce.
These non-living factors cause large variations in the plant structures
- Plants have certain structures that help them survive in specific environments such as:
- Leaves – for collecting light energy and transpiration
- Roots – for absorbing water and nutrients from soil
- Stems or trunks- provide for movement of water throughout the plant
The specialized plant structures allow adapted plants to survive in each of these environments. For instance:
- Plants need sunlight, air, water, and nutrients from the soil to survive, grow and reproduce
- In each of these environments plants structures (roots, leaves, stems, trunks) provide the means to access these necessities
- The large coniferous trees in the rainforest grow large to compete for limited light
- The ferns on the rainforest floor can survive in limited light and have leaf structures which are sword shaped and gather as much light as possible
- Light is the energy source for plants in all of these environments
- The cactus in the Dungeness Valley have thorns to protect themselves and waxy specialized skin surface to limit water loss
- The small alpine evergreen trees in the Seven Lakes Bason grow short and stocky due to the harsh wind and heavy snow
- High Alpine trees grow small due to the short growing season and harsh winter weather
Gapless Explanation of Olympic Peninsula Environments (Elementary Level):
The different locations get different amounts of rain and have different temperatures. (The temperature varies because of altitude, and the rain varies because of how the mountains cause clouds and rain.) Because of these variations, different plants do better in each location. They may do better because of roots that go deeper, or leaves that collect more light, or waxy skins to minimize water loss. Each location has plants (and animals) that have adapted to the conditions in that environment - so if the environments are different, the plants and animals that we find there should also be different.
LS1.A Structure and Function
- Plants and animals have both internal and external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival, behavior, and reproduction (4-LS1-1)
LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics Functioning and Resilience
- When the environment changes in ways that affect a place’s physical characteristics, temperature, or availability of resources, some organisms survive and reproduce, others move to new locations, yet others move into the transformed environment, and some die (3-LS4-4)
LS2.A Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
- Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem (5-LS2-1)
Elementary and middle school students typically use criteria such as “movement”, “breath”, “reproduction”, and “death” to decide whether things are alive. Thus, some believe fire, clouds, and sun are alive, but others think plants, and certain animals are non-living. Upper elementary school students may not believe food is a scarce resource in an ecosystems, thinking that organisms can change their food at will according to the availability of particular sources. Students of all ages think that some populations of organisms are numerous in order to fulfill a demand for food by another population. (See full article on "Children's Ideas about Ecosystems")