Ecosystems of the Planet
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- Content: A clear outline of the content covered by the delivery guide;
- Thinking Conceptually: Expert guidance on the key concepts involved, common difficulties students may have, approaches to teaching that can help students understand these concepts and how this topic links conceptually to other areas of the subject;
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A variety of ecosystems are spread across the world and these have a number of interacting components and characteristics. This theme develops an appreciation of a number of these ecosystems, before focusing study on coral reefs and tropical rainforests. Both ecosystems will be examined in terms of their abiotic and biotic components, processes, cycles and their value to humans. Learners explore the sustainable use and management of these bio-diverse ecosystems.
|2.1.1||Ecosystems consist of interdependent components.||R, L|
|2.1.2||Ecosystems have distinct distributions and characteristics||G|
|2.1.3||There are major tropical rainforests in the world.||G|
|2.1.4||There are major coral reefs,in the world.||G|
|2.1.5||Bio-diverse ecosystems are under threat from human activity.|
- the interdependence of climate, soil, water, plants, animals and humans
- their value to humans and to the planet
- threats to biodiversity and attempts to mitigate these through sustainable use and management.
|G, R, N, L|
This theme will introduce learners to the concepts of core ideas such as the distribution and characteristics of global ecosystems, the interdependence of components and the physical processes, cycles and systems which operate within ecosystems, at a variety of scales. This will be studied within the specific context of the value of tropical rainforest and coral reef ecosystems to humans and the planet and the threats they face, together with an evaluation of sustainable use and management.
The theme gives a broad overview of the main global ecosystems but then requires students to ‘get under the skin’ of tropical rainforests and coral reefs. The intention is to create a sense of awe and wonder about places which are geographically distant and very distinct from their own environments. Students will need good geographical knowledge of the distribution of global ecosystems and global climatic regions. They will also need to have a clear conceptual understanding of sustainability for the final section of this theme and be able to evaluate the extent to which ecosystems are managed sustainably at different scales.
Common misconceptions or difficulties students may have
Theme 2.1 (Ecosystems of the Planet), requires students to know the distribution of the main climatic regions of the world, which will support their understanding of ecosystem location. However, they may need additional support to ensure their locational knowledge enables them to access all areas of the specification. A good starting point may include a mapping exercise using Google Earth which virtually transports students from their classrooms to global ecosystems around the Earth.
Whilst students may have some prior KS3 knowledge and understanding of tropical rainforests, they may have limited ideas about coral reefs. Therefore students will require a rich variety of resources to allow them to fully appreciate the wonder, importance and threats to coral reef environments. In addition, students may have already studied nutrient and water cycles at KS3 in Geography and also in Biology, but will need to revisit these core concepts in order to apply them to rainforests and coral reefs.
Conceptual links to other areas of the specification – useful ways to approach this topic to set students up for topics later in the course
Learners will have already studied the concept of sustainability at KS3 and there are other opportunities to reinforce the concepts of sustainability across other units, for example; People of the UK (1.2) and People of the Planet (2.2) include sustainable strategies for cities. There are also a wealth of opportunities to integrate a skills based approach which could include interpretation of a range of resources including; atlas maps, aerial photographs, satellite images, climate graphs and GIS mapping. In addition, there are cross-curricular links with Biology which will support students in their understanding of ecosystem components and interdependence.
Opportunities for local fieldwork may exist which will develop student understanding of ecosystem components and also help to apply conceptual ideas to larger scale ecosystems. Fieldwork carried out will also support the Geographical Skills element of the specification through design of data collection sheets, sampling strategies and drawing conclusions through interpretation of data.
Approaches to teaching the content
The activities are intended to promote student-led understanding and to develop an interest and passion for the topic in ‘real world’ contexts. There is a heavy emphasis on the use of visual resources to enable students to create a picture of an environment which is geographically distant and distinct from their own. Throughout the theme, students are encouraged to work together to explore ecosystems in a way which makes their learning relevant and interesting for them, encourages a linkage of ideas, challenges them to think more deeply, to ask questions and be creative in their current and future learning.
A pairs activity to introduce the components of an ecosystem. Provide each pair with images of global ecosystems (Learning resource 1). Students describe each image and colour code words into ‘abiotic’ and ‘biotic’. Students devise a definition for ‘ecosystem’ and discuss.
Students could further sub-divide components into weather, climate, soil, plants, animals and humans. See separate Teacher resource 1 which locates the images and gives a suggested definition for ecosystem.
Initially, students use the interactive web link to identify global ecosystems. They can then use the satellite global images from the GmapGIS link to label the location and distribution of selected global ecosystems, using a range of tools.
Students could print out their finished maps and evaluate how effective their map is at representing the global distribution of ecosystems. What improvements could they suggest?
Jigsaw learning activity. Groups of students are assigned one of the 6 global ecosystems. They research the climate, plants and animals using a range web-based and non-web based resources. Each group produces an A4 revision sheet for their chosen ecosystem.
See separate Teacher resource 2 for additional guidance on jigsaw learning and peer assessment suggestions.
Students use the web link (or an atlas map of World Ecosystems) to annotate the tropics, continents, countries and regions where tropical rainforests are located. They add additional annotations which also explain this distribution linked to climate. As an alternative interactive mapping activity, students could use GmapGIS.
There are 6 major rainforests listed in the specification (Amazon, Central American, Congo River Basin, Madagascan, South East Asian and Australian) which students must locate alongside a selection of others. These are; polar regions, coral reefs, grasslands, temperate forests, tropical rainforests, and hot deserts.
Students watch the YouTube clip (5 minutes) which examines interdependence within coral reef ecosystems using food webs. Students list the species and their roles from the clip to draw their own food web and then answer the questions linked to the clip (Learner resource 3).
Students can make their food web more detailed using the web link to the Great Barrier Reef.
Students watch the video and use the WWF web link to create a TED style talk with the title; ‘Coral reefs – an ecosystem under threat’.
As an extension activity, students could suggest their own strategies to manage these threats.
Students watch NASA time lapse satellite video clip which shows rainforest loss between 1975 and 2008 and suggest reasons for the loss. Use the Young People’s Trust link to work in groups to create a power point of key terms with 1 slide per threat to summarise the main causes and consequences of each threat.
Students could develop their conceptual understanding of threats further by answering the sample exam question on p4 (see link) comparing the threats faced by tropical forests and coral reefs. They could both self and peer assess their answers using the mark scheme.
Students use the Bitesize list of 6 key sustainable strategies and rank order them according to which they think will be most effective or will work best and give reasons.
Encourage students to be critical and investigate the issues of selective logging in the Amazon (link) and review whether they believe this is a sustainable strategy or not.
Students use the Rainforest Trust website to identify 3 different ‘Forest Reserve’ projects to investigate. They create their own annotated world map to identify, describe and evaluate different conservation projects.
An alternative idea would be for students to produce a poster for the Rainforest Trust explaining why their conservation projects are so important.
In groups students choose one of four strategies of sustainable use and management of coral reefs and complete the evaluative activities (Learner resource 4).
This could also be carried out as a jigsaw learning activity.
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