Grade 9 Sustainable Ecosystems

This resource page is designed to help students respond to STSE issues relating to ‘Sustainable Ecosystems’ with inquiry-based actions. ‘Sustainable Ecosystems’ is a unit set within the Biology strand of Ontario’s Grade 9 Science curriculum. The Overall Expectations for teaching and learning in this unit are:
1. Assess the impact of human activities on the sustainability of terrestrial and/or aquatic ecosystems, and evaluate the effectiveness of courses of action intended to remedy or mitigate negative impacts
2. Investigate factors related to human activity that affect terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and explain how they affect the sustainability of these ecosystems
3. Demonstrate an understanding of the dynamic nature of ecosystems, particularly in terms of ecological balance and the impact of human activity on the sustainability of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

General Overview of Resources Use
The activities of this resource page are organized into three progressive sections as recommended in the Backgrounder. Click here for a brief description of the sections.

Detailed Suggestions for Resources Use
1. Model Inquiry-based STSE Actions
You could begin the unit by drawing out students' existing knowledge of what sustainability means in the context of science, technology, society, and environments – this might be done through a class discussion, mind map, short skit, etc. Once students have expressed their thoughts, they can begin to think of activities or events that have threatened or continue to jeopardize the ability of ecosystems to survive, let alone flourish. Ideally, they will also identify how their own lifestyles are contributing to a weakening of ecosystems. A few examples to get the students thinking, include:
Automobile idling: According to surveys, Canadians idle about 6-8 minutes a day, resulting in air pollution and the release of greenhouse gas emissions from car exhaust.
Landfills: Much of the garbage produced in Ontario is deposited at landfill sites. As the amount of garbage produced by Ontarians grows, so do environmental concerns – we produce about 13 million tonnes a year. Toxic emissions from the breakdown of garbage may seep into the atmosphere as well as ground and surface water is not treated.
Invasive species: Organisms that multiply and thrive in a non-native habitat, often do so at the detriment of native species (e.g. zebra mussel, Japanese knotweed). Such invasive species are a threat to biodiversity, can cause disease, and reduce property values.
Wilderness conservation: Canada's boreal forest, which houses thousands of animal and plant species, is of global importance – while most of the world's original forests have been logged, much of the boreal forest remains intact. Logging, hydropower, petroleum, and mining industries, however, pose a threat to the conservation one of the world's only remaining frontier forests.
Having sensitized students to a number of issues related to Sustainable Ecosystems, ask students what could be done about them – record their answers. Furthermore, provide examples of actions people have taken through the article and two videos below. With each example, discuss the type of action, potential sources of information used, and allow students to share opinions about the effectiveness of each action.

1) The 3 R's song

2) Hamilton by-law limits garbage collection
Article: 'One container max starts today'

3) Landfill gas as an alternative form of energy

2. Guided Inquiry-based STSE Actions
Before beginning the project, it is important to assess students’ comfort and expertise with conducting primary and secondary research. You might have to take some time to provide students with lessons on developing inquiry skills such as asking cause-result questions, designing experiments and correlational studies, preparing appropriate tables and graphs, analyzing data, reporting findings, etc. Since students will be conducting primary research, it would also be useful to discuss the general features of correlational studies and experiments.

If you feel that students have sufficient expertise with primary research, you should then proceed with a guided inquiry-based project. One suggestion is for students to conduct primary and secondary research on automobile idling. You could 'hook' your students with a brief true/false quiz.

Have students...
a. Find information on:
- Habits of Canadians (i.e. how long, where and why do we idle our vehicles?)
- Individual factors that may contribute to idling (e.g. gender, type of vehicle)
- Common myths regarding idling
- Environmental, economic, and health-related impacts of idling
- Actions of non-profit organization, governments, community members, etc. in response to the negative impacts of idling.
b. Create and distribute a survey to at least 10-15 people in households with a car (e.g. Idling Survey (Sample).doc).
c. Display the results in a bar graph. It may be useful for students to combine their data to form a larger sample size.
d. Determine whether there is a relationship between individual characteristics and idling practices.
e. Brainstorm a number of actions that would help effectively address the issue. (Watch a news report on actions taken by the Children's Clean Air Network for inspiration OR a commercial for an idle-free Calgary.)
f. As a class or in smaller groups, implement a plan of action.

A simple idea for taking action would be for students to design posters, communicating the importance of not idling vehicles; they could be placed in students' homes and around the school to educate others.

Recommended Websites
Natural Resources Canada
Hinkle Charitable Foundation
'Turn your key to be idle free' Campaign (Mississauga)

3. Student-led Inquiry-based STSE Action Project
a. Handout copies of the assignment to the class – it may be useful to do this at the beginning of the unit. Read it over together and ensure everyone understands each part.
b. Provide students with a list of STSE issues relevant to the Internal Systems and Regulation unit, including ones that were brainstormed by students in the first, modeling activism phase.
c. Organize students into small groups of 3-5 students – each will explore and act upon one STSE issue. Encourage students to work collaboratively, making decisions and dividing work appropriately.
d. Provide students with in-class time to use the library and/or computer lab for research and encourage groups to meet outside of class time. It would also be useful to set tentative deadlines for each stage of the project to help groups manage their time.
e. Towards the end of the unit, students should have an opportunity to defend their proposed actions with their research findings in front of the class. This would provide a great opportunity for students to share their learning with the class, reflect upon their growth and next steps, and receive feedback from the teacher and peers.