Systems and Ecosystems Through Play



Through a series of hands-on model-making activities, the Systems and Ecosystems program helps students learn about interconnectedness and interdependence in ecosystems. The program begins with a storytelling exercise in which the facilitator uses a visual model to walk students through the history of wolves in Yellowstone - a classic example of a trophic cascade. Next, students create a visual model of a kelp forest ecosystem and use the model to tell the story of otters in kelp forests - another example of a trophic cascade. Lastly, to help students understand how interconnectedness and interdependence are relevant to everyday life, students create a visual model of the key relationships in their own life and reflect on the ways that their choices have direct consequences on the people and things immediately around them as well as indirect consequences on those farther away. The program addresses multiple items from both the CCSS and the NGSS.

Downloadable Materials:

Quick Stats: 

  • Ideal Audience: Curious humans ages 10+
  • Preparation Time: 
    • 1-2 hours to read lesson plan
    • 20 minutes per activity to print/gather materials
  • Lesson Time:
    • Core activities: 3 activities / 5 hours total
    • Optional activities: 2 activities / 1 hour each
  • Connects to multiple NGSS and CCSS standards (detailed in pdf)

Important note on materials:

One of the optional activities requires The Puzzle of Life. However, The Puzzle of Life is only necessary for this one optional activity. The core lessons require only freely available materials: scissors, crayons, markers, and the printable pdf’s that are available for free on our website.

If you'd like to use this optional activity, but don't have enough copies of the Puzzle, please email us. We are currently piloting a Puzzle-By-Mail program where we loan out classroom-sized bundles of The Puzzle of Life for 2-3 weeks at a time, asking only for a security deposit and the cost of postage. If you are interested in participating in this program please email us: inquiries AT


Coming Soon:

More great ideas.