Lesson 4.1: Envisioning Our Ecological, Bioculturally Diverse School Grounds

In this lesson, students will use the information they have learned to envision and create a plan for ecological, bioculturally diverse school grounds at their own school.

Grade Level: 6 - 12 or equivalent

Subjects: Science, environmental science, ecology, social studies, communications

Concepts/Vocabulary: Planning, loose parts, backcasting, action plan

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: Elaborate


  • Human-Environment Interactions

  • Cross-cutting Themes

Universal Design for Learning Connections

Key knowledge (Students will know that):

  • Determine the parts of a plan and how to develop one

  • Recognize gaps in information needed to develop a proposal and how to address them

  • Develop a budget to support execution of the proposal

Key skills (Students will be able to):

  • Synthesize information from different sources into a complete, meaningful proposal for their school grounds

  • Work in groups and develop consensus to create their proposal

  • Role play to ensure different perspectives are welcomed and discussed

Key dispositions (Students will value):

  • The concept of planning and its role in moving society toward common goals

  • The process of reaching consensus on goals important to all people

  • The needs and perspectives of different stakeholders

Technology Connections: Internet resources (optional)


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

  • SDG C-E-Rs from Lesson 1.1

  • School grounds observations from Lesson 2.1

  • School grounds map from Lesson 2.2 (as added to in Lesson 3.

  • List of ecological school grounds elements from Lesson 2.3

  • Presentation boards and biocultural design research products from Lesson 2.4

  • School grounds observations from Lesson 3.1

  • Biodiversity inventory observations and calculations from Lessons 3.2 and 3.3

  • Journal observations from throughout this project

  • Presentation slides from each lesson

  • Large paper for presenting student proposals (or other means of displaying the information)

  • Sticky notes or markers for voting

Estimated Time for Lesson: 2-3 45-minute class periods

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • Engage their knowledge of the SDGs and cultural relationships to nature, school grounds maps, biodiversity inventory observations and data, and data visualizations to envision their ideal bioculturally diverse school ground.

  • Work together on a plan to implement their vision.

  • Represent their observations using words, drawings, maps, and/or models.

  • Work in groups to accomplish these tasks.

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

Assessment Opportunities

  • Contributions to class discussion

  • Quality of teamwork

  • Ecological, bioculturally diverse school grounds proposals

  • Descriptions of observations in student journals

  • Journal entries describing key takeaways from this lesson

  • Preparation of slide(s) for presentation in Lesson 5


Planning is an essential skill for reaching goals in personal and professional aspects of life. Understanding the characteristics of a good plan and how to create one will be useful for students as they move through their education and professional careers. Having a good plan to present in support of their presentations on creating bioculturally diverse school grounds will lend credibility to their efforts and make it more likely that they will be taken seriously by school leaders.

A good plan includes these nine characteristics:

  1. Clearly defined objectives: Be specific about what you want to do!

  2. Keep it simple!

  3. Provide examples of what success looks like so you can gauge progress

  4. Make it flexible so it can incorporate changes in conditions or resources

  5. Practical and relevant: Make sure it can realistically be accomplished

  6. Include a timeline, both short and long-term

  7. Use available resources before expanding to new resources

  8. Inclusivity: Good stakeholder participation

  9. Consensus

Getting Ready to Teach

This lesson follows a sequential step pattern and requires background knowledge (see above).

In prior lessons students have been:

  • Learning about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Unit 1

  • Exploring the school grounds, mapping them, and learning about the nature-culture connection in Unit 2

  • Collecting plant and wildlife data and calculating the biodiversity index of the school grounds in Unit 3

In this lesson, students will take that information as expressed in the artifacts from each lesson as well as journal observations and use it to develop their own school grounds proposal, then refine it into a plan, which will:

  • Explain why students believe more bioculturally diverse school grounds are needed

  • Present their ideas for the school grounds

  • Provide supporting information to result in a well-rounded plan

Teachers can guide students in making their plans as detailed and involved as they wish depending on the time available for research and stakeholder involvement. A classroom visit by a city planner or other professional who does planning as part of their job would give students an insight into their careers.

A simple proposal or plan is just fine. Including drawings or models is desired so that the audience to which students will be presenting the plan can more readily understand and picture what the students are asking for.

One aspect of school grounds that teachers may be less familiar with, especially at the middle and high school levels, is having a space for students to engage with loose parts. These spaces can be very empowering for students both as learning and making spaces. This blog Reasons to Use Loose Parts for Middle and High School Students has some good information about loose parts for these grade levels. Consider these ideas as they could be used on the school grounds.

Students will need to have copies of artifacts from previous lessons in order to complete their proposal as listed below in #1.

Please open the links prior to teaching the lesson. You may also refer to additional resources at the bottom of this page.

The Lesson

Part I. Review What We've Done So Far (It's a Lot!)

  1. Students should have copies of the artifacts they have created in previous lessons:

    • SDG C-E-Rs from Lesson 1.1

    • School grounds observations from Lesson 2.1

    • School grounds map from Lesson 2.2 (as added to in Lesson 3)

    • List of ecological school grounds elements from Lesson 2.3

    • Presentation boards and biocultural design research products from Lesson 2.4

    • School grounds observations from Lesson 3.1

    • Biodiversity inventory observations and calculations from Lessons 3.2 and 3.3

    • Journal observations from throughout this project

    • Presentation slides from each lesson

  2. Before beginning the lesson, take a few moments to celebrate all of the work that has gone into this project so far. Ask students to reflect on their accomplishments and what meaning they have gained from their work.

  3. Remind students that up to now, we have been gathering this information and thinking about what it means to us. Now we are going to take these findings, maps, data, and our priorities as a group and create a plan for ecological, bioculturally diverse school grounds at our own school.

  4. Give students some time to work in their groups reviewing the artifacts they have created so far.

Part II. Envision Our Ideal Ecological, Bioculturally Diverse School Grounds

  1. Using the information created so far, have students work in their groups to develop a proposed list of elements they would like to have in their ideal school grounds. They may wish to do additional internet research.

  2. Give student groups this list of elements from a previous lesson. They should include at least one item from each element in their proposal. The list is not all-inclusive! Students will have many additional ideas.

  3. Ask student groups to prioritize their list of elements and put them, along with a school grounds map showing the locations of the elements (label the different habitat areas, different plants, cultural elements, etc.), on a large piece of paper as a proposal that can be hung for all to see. Prototypes of cultural elements or artwork should be included. Students may use the ones created earlier in this project. They could make 3D models of their school grounds instead of putting their maps on paper, and can optionally make videos or drawings to support their proposal.

  4. Students should research the cost of their proposals in at least a general manner. It would be helpful to have the current budget for maintenance of the school grounds to compare the two and see if any cost savings can be had, either in the short- or long-term, by implementing the students' proposals. If there are cost savings, that could be a compelling argument to add to their proposals.

  5. Once the student groups have completed their proposals and hung them up, share them with the whole class. Give each group two or three minutes (or more, depending on the time available) to present their proposals, emphasizing their highest priority items.

  6. Give each student one sticky note for each proposal. Ask them to look at each proposal and use their notes to give feedback, using positive and constructive words. If you don't have sticky notes, ask students to write their feedback on a sheet of paper next to the proposal.

  7. Once everyone has given their feedback, look for patterns and discuss the proposals' strengths and how they can be improved. Give student groups some time to incorporate the feedback they were given.

Part III. The Elements of a Plan

  1. Introduce the elements of a good plan (see the nine characteristics in Background information). Here is an example you could give the students.

  2. Using their proposals, have student groups create a plan that can be given to school leaders (or other appropriate organization) alongside the presentation that one student group will make (this is the presentation that students have been working on throughout this project and will be finalized in Lesson 5). Here is an action plan template for students to use. In order for the plans to stay simple and focused, students should include just two or three of their top priorities in their plan. The feedback they received on their proposals may help determine which priorities seemed most compelling.

  3. When working on their plan timelines, students may wish to use backcasting. Backcasting is a method of planning in which the starting point is a desirable time in the future, and planners work backward to determine what steps need to be taken to connect that future with the present. In this case, the ideal school grounds is the desirable future; what are the steps needed to get there? How long will it take?

  4. As part of developing their plan, and for practice in giving presentations, student groups should present their final version to stakeholders, including other students, teachers, maintenance staff, school leaders, and neighbors. The plan may need to be adjusted based on this feedback.

  5. Once student groups have finalized their plans, have them put the plan in a format that can be given to school leaders. This format could be written like a report or with graphics, presented on large paper, a video, or some other format, keeping in mind that school leaders will likely want to share the plan with others, including the public.

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. We will finalize the presentation in the next lesson.

  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 4 in the project presentation, if you will not be using slides. Label these ideas "Lesson 4.1" 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


  • Invite a representative of a local NGO or other community-based organization to visit the class and talk about their process for involving stakeholders in local decisionmaking.

  • To learn more about sustainable economic models that benefit biocultural diversity, students could research the circular economy and economist Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics.

In the Next Lesson (L 5.1)

Students will finalize their presentations to school or community leaders.