Lesson 2.3: Biodiversity and the Elements of Ecological School Grounds

In this lesson, students will explore the elements of ecological school grounds and investigate whether these elements are present on their own school grounds.

Grade Level: 6 - 12 or equivalent

Subjects: Science, social science, communications

Concepts/Vocabulary: Biodiversity, wicked problems

NGSS Performance Expectations:

Middle and high school:

  • Asking questions and defining problems

  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions

  • Engaging in argument from evidence

  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

5E Unit: Explore


  • Human-Environment Interactions

  • Cross-cutting Themes

  • Core Ecological Concepts

Universal Design for Learning Connections

Key knowledge (Students will know that):

  • Ecological school grounds can help address wicked problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and management of water systems

  • Their school grounds can play a role in reducing biodiversity loss

  • There are four elements which must work together to result in ecological school grounds

Key skills (Students will be able to):

  • Use their web-based research skills to discover the elements of ecological school grounds

  • Analyze whether their current school ground has elements of ecological school grounds

  • Work together to determine priorities and conclusions after researching the elements of ecological school grounds

Key dispositions (Students will value):

  • The ability of ecological school grounds to contribute to solving wicked problems such as biodiversity loss

  • Working together to research and determine priorities on an important issue

Technology Connections: Internet resources (optional)


  • Notebooks/electronic journal for each student to be used throughout the project as observation journals

  • Large paper for presenting priority elements of school grounds (or other means of displaying the information)

Estimated Time for Lesson: 3 45-minute class periods

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of what constitutes an ecological school ground.

  • Understand how ecological school grounds can help address wicked problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and management of water systems.

  • Create a priority list of ecological elements to apply to their own school grounds.

  • Document their thoughts about the activities in this lesson in a journal.

Assessment Opportunities

  • Contributions to class discussion

  • KWL Chart

  • Small group work

  • Whole class discussion

  • Direction sheet from jigsaw activity

  • Journal entries describing key takeaways from this lesson


In this lesson, students will explore the elements of an ecological school ground. Elements of ecological school grounds include:

  • Physical elements

  • Ecological components

  • Human influences

  • Boundaries

For additional ideas and concepts, take a look at this information on school grounds from the Children & Nature Network, and view the resources in #11 below.

The terms "green/ecological school grounds" and "green/ecological schoolyards" are used interchangeably in this lesson.

Getting Ready to Teach

This lesson follows a sequential step pattern and requires background knowledge (see above). Students should have working definitions of wicked problems before beginning this lesson.

Please open the links prior to teaching the lesson. There are excellent resources in #11 below that the teacher should be familiar with prior to starting the lesson.

The Lesson

Part I. Introducing Green or Ecological School Grounds

  1. Ask your students to watch this video on green schoolyards and read this information about what they entail. (The video's photos focus on younger students, but the message fits all ages.)

  2. In small groups, ask students to discuss which elements of ecological school grounds are most important to them and which ones are currently present in their school grounds. They should record their thoughts in their journals.

  3. Report out to the whole class and note responses in a place visible for all to see.

Part II. Biodiversity and Ecological School Grounds

  1. Introduce (or reintroduce) the concept of biodiversity (the variety of life) and explain that it is a wicked problem. This video as well as this one express the importance of halting biodiversity loss.

  2. Ask students to consider the potential role of ecological school grounds in increasing biodiversity. Have them answer this question using a KWL chart: "What role could making our school grounds more ecological play in increasing local biodiversity?"

  3. To make the KWL chart, have students fold a piece of paper into thirds, like they are putting it into an envelope. Open the paper and put it on their desks in landscape orientation (the long way). Then fold down the top 5 centimeters (1.5 inches). Unfold it and you have the template for the KWL chart. You can also access one here to print out and give to students.

  4. Write the question across the very top of the page. Label each column across the top underneath the question with K (What I Know), W (What I Wonder), and L (What I Learned). Ask students to fill in the first two columns.

  5. Discuss their answers and explain that we will be researching the elements of ecological school grounds and that biodiversity is one of them.

Part III. Researching the Elements of Ecological School Grounds

  1. We will now use a jigsaw activity as a framework for students to research what elements make an ecological school ground. Students should be divided into groups of four persons each. We will call these groups the "Home Groups." Students can name their groups using the word "Home" somewhere in the name, for example "Tree Home" or "Blue Jay Home".

  2. Next, students will break into one of four "Expert Groups." Each Expert Group will focus on one element of ecological school grounds using a document that is given to them, plus any additional research they would like to do or that the teacher may require. If it seems that the four groups are too large, students (with teacher input) can decide how to subdivide their group to focus on certain parts of their element.

  3. Expert Groups are taken from the elements of ecological school grounds information sheet given to students earlier:

a. Physical Elements

b. Ecological Components

c. Human Influences

d. Boundaries

  1. Here is a direction sheet to guide students as they do their research. Students should each make notes in their journals as they will be returning back to their Home Groups as "experts" in their particular element, and will be sharing what they learned with others in their Home Group.

  2. Each Expert Group should be given one of these documents and focus on their element of ecological school grounds during their review. Students may wish to do additional internet or other research to supplement their document or answer specific questions that arise.

a. OASIS Schoolyards: Recommendations Booklet for Transforming Schoolyards

b. Children & Nature Network Green Schoolyards Evaluation Framework

c. Green Schoolyards Advocacy Presentation - Children & Nature Network

d. Schoolyard Design Guide - Boston Schoolyard Initiative

  1. Once students have completed their research, they should return to their Home Groups. Each member of the Home Group will share what they have learned with the other members, and together come up with a complete list of ecological school grounds elements. Students should consider which elements could work on their own school grounds and prioritize them. It's expected that this list will be somewhat general. It will be referred to in later lessons and refined.

  2. Students should record their list on a large sheet of paper to show the class at the end of the lesson. It would be a good idea to also place it in their journals for easier reference in later lessons.

  3. Once the group work is finished, have the students discuss the lists as a class and come to a consensus on which elements could be a priority for their school grounds. Display this master list so that it is visible for everyone to see. Keep it to refer back to in later lessons. Students should record the list in their journals.

  4. Refer to their KWL charts and ask students to fill in the last column (L - What I Learned).

Part IV. Presentation Preparation

  1. Have students open their journals and record their main takeaways from this lesson, including big ideas, relationships, and goals.

  2. Remind them that this overall project culminates in a presentation or other means of advocating for more ecological and culturally diverse school grounds.

  3. Using the Presentation Rubric, ask students to record some ideas in the "Presentation Ideas" section of their journal for the slide(s) or piece(s) of information to be included from Lesson 2 in the project presentation, if you will not be using slides. Label these ideas "Lesson 2.3" or with some other label that helps organize the information to align with the rubric. Students can work in their groups (which you may keep for the duration of the project) or individually.

  4. Collect the journals to keep for assessment and to ensure that all students are collecting the information needed for their presentations.

Additional Resources


  • Students could create lists of questions and interview professionals such as landscape architects and sustainability experts to obtain their thoughts and ideas about the elements of ecological school grounds. These experts would preferably be local people or people familiar with the local area, and could be conducted in person or virtually.

  • Take a deep dive into Multi-Functional Landscape Planning (MFLP) by reading this article by Ito, et al. (2014), and visiting this website. How can MFLP be applied to the design of our school grounds?

In the Next Lesson (L 2.4)

Students will explore nature-culture connections on the school grounds.