Students turn their atrium into ecosystems from around the world

What started as a science unit that delved into ecosystems turned into a “field trip” that took students around the world. 

“It was the culminating in-school project for our ecosystems unit,” Third Grade Teacher Michelle McNaughton said. “It turned out better than I ever imagined!”

McNaughton taught the unit on ecosystems to the students, who in turned worked with Resource Teacher Melissa Economou to create 6 foot displays of a desert, forest, ocean, rainforest, tundra, wetlands and, of course, two ecosystems of their own imagination, Fantasyland and World of Wonder. 

The students would typically create the ecosystems in a shoebox at home, but this year McNaughton decided to have a little fun. Students had three weeks to do the project―two weeks to research the ecosystems and its residents, and one week to make the exhibits.

“I've wanted to do a zoo project, especially after taking the project-based learning training, but never could quite figure out how to make it all work,” said McNaughton. “With having Mrs. Economou with us and the smaller classes, we could really dedicate time and space to getting it done.”

The students brainstormed together and decided that each ecosystem should include the following categories: environments, adaptations, climates, artifacts, animals and non-living things.

“That kinesthetic learning is such an important part,” said Economou. “The students all told us how much they learn when they are physically touching the things that they are learning about and creating. It was also a great lesson in teamwork for the students.”

Even recess turned into more time that the students could craft their ecosystem. 

“Recess was all about finding rocks and sticks for the ecosystems,” said Economou. “They were really into the project.”

The original goal was to have the students present their ecosystems to their fellow students at the lower school; however, due to COVID-19 protocols and students having to stay in their cohort groups, McNaughton pivoted and added another fun element to the exhibit.

“Since the third graders, due to keeping cohorts separate, can’t stand near the exhibits while the other classes come by for visits, they typed up facts and made an ‘eyes only’ scavenger hunt,” she said. 

What did students think about it?
“I learned about ecosystems and what animals live in certain ecosystems,” said Virginia McNaughton ’30. Her favorite was the “unicorn one with happiness rainbows” (also known as World of Wonders). 

Her classmate Anthony Pueblo ’30 also worked on the wetlands with her and Sadie Zborowski ’30. 
“I learned that there are a lot of nutrients in the soil, and that’s good because it helps the plants grow and then make more oxygen, and that’s really good for our environment,” he said.

Classmate Carter Robb ’30 was surprised by what he learned doing the project, too. “I was surprised that the ocean made up so much of our world! It’s really important to protect it.”

Roman Pitts ’30 thought the project was really cool, too. He was in the group that created the ocean. His biggest takeaway— “We really need to take care of our environment.”

The exhibits are still on display at the lower school for students visit again and again. “They all did such a great job,” said Lucy Crenshaw ’28. “I wished we could have done big ones like this when we were in third grade!”


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