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Forest Ecology & Resources Teaching Units
developed by
2011 Forest Ecology & Resources Summer Teacher Institute Participants

Links to lesson plans coming soon March 1. 2012


1. Diversity: An Exploration of Plant Classification, Variation, and Changes, by Lara Bolz
3rd-4th, Environmental Science, Life Science, Math, Art, Writing and Reading

Unit Overview
This cross-curricular unit is intended for either 3rd or 4th grade. Students will focus on diversity as they explore different types of plants where they live, and how these plants vary from plants in other ecosystems. They will learn how the differences among the same plants help them to adapt, survive and reproduce, especially if there is an environmental change. Since I teach in a Montessori school, I have organized the unit according to Montessori philosophy—big picture first, then zoom in on the details. I have also incorporated the ideas used in Montessori materials, namely botany nomenclature cards and labeling. Naming and labeling helps students develop the language and observation skills and connections necessary to talk about plants in an educated and accurate way. The students’ diversity exploration will occur in the form of hands-on inquiry, data collection and analysis, educational games, stories, writing, and a final presentation.

Students will start with a basic exploration/lesson in the diversity of biomes across the globe (diversity of ecosystems). On day two, they will work in teams to explore the major ecosystems of North America. This will give them an opportunity to learn more about the specific animals and the traits they possess that give them an advantage for surviving in their particular habitat (diversity among animals). Day three will involve looking in our own backyards and into the microhabitats that exist there (diversity within ecosystems). On day four, they will look more closely just at plants. They will classify and categorize specimens, seeing the trait variations among plants, and also within the same species (diversity among and within species). Day five is a student-created extension & presentation of all the skills & information learned.

2. “Step Up” Goes Into the Forest, by Danielle DiFalco
4th – 6th, Science, Math, ELA, Social Studies

Unit Overview
This unit will be done with the ATG group (aka “Step Up”) which includes students from 4th through 6th grade in an after school program of 2 hours every other week. The theme of this unit is to become more familiar with the role of the forest in ecosystem succession. In grade 6, science content expectations include several core standards regarding ecosystems. Currently, I teach a unit in which each of my 6th grade students research a Michigan organism in much detail to discover the critical role it plays within its ecosystem. This forest unit that I will complete with ATG will be complimentary to my already existing unit on ecosystems. It will prepare the grades 4 & 5 students for the curriculum they will work with in grade 6. It will also benefit the current 6th graders since it will compliment what they are learning as they spend time with ecosystems studies during class time. My goal is to get the students outside appreciating nature, gaining scientific skills, developing communication skills and having fun.

3. Trees & People Forestry Unit, by Theresa Kraut
5th grade, Science, ELA

Unit Overview
These lessons provide an opportunity for students to be introduced to trees and the effects people and the environment can have on them. They will also be able to learn different types of trees, by finding out how to identify them through their leaves. I have incorporated Science and English Language Arts lessons to help out with time constraints and cross curriculum learning. I also have linked in picture books typically thought of for lower elementary into a fifth grade classroom. My students love the use of picture books in our 5th grade classroom and it helps to engage and spark their interests.

4. Exploring Michigan Forest Ecology Through Organism’s Relationships in Our Outdoor Classroom,
by Amy Martin Crowel

5th grade, Science and Math

Unit Overview
In this unit, the students will study the ecology of our outdoor classroom based on the collection and representation of data of populations of producers, consumers, and decomposers found there. They will collect data on tree type population and measurement of characteristics, salamander population based on habitat type, and worm population based on location of habitat. They will also collect data on the biodiversity of the community located within the outdoor classroom based on sample plot studies. Discussion will revolve around the needs of each population, how they connect in food chains & webs, and symbiotic relationships within the community and ecosystem.

5. It’s Not Easy Being Green, by Mary Jersey Ackerson

Unit Overview
The lessons and activities in this unit will be taught over the course of approximately two weeks, although some of the activities initiated during this time will be expanded upon though out the school year.

During the first week of the unit, students will be introduced to the idea of stewardship of the environment in terms of what can be done to improve the school’s local ecosystem. They will look at current and historical land use maps of Ottawa County. They will learn to identify and measure different types of trees, sample ground invertebrates with pitfall traps, and begin a yearlong bird-watching project. They will review key vocabulary and concepts from their fourth grade ecosystems unit, and they will explore a more natural ecosystem to compare it with the school’s property.

Throughout the second week, lessons will focus on the topic of energy usage and its relationship to the environment. Emphasis remains on stewardship at a practical level for fifth graders. They will review the types of energy learned in fourth grade and elaborate upon this understanding t begin to develop proposals for stewardship at our school. As a culminating activity, students will work in teams to propose and present a project aimed toward stewardship and environmental sustainability.


1. Forestry Unit, by Robert Kraut
6th Grade, Science

Unit Overview
Students will learn to identify ten common indigenous trees found in Michigan. They will also study dendrochronology which will enable them to age trees based on their growth rings and identify growth patterns of various tree species.

2. Biotic Factors in a Forest Ecosystem, by Kellie C. Huhn
6th Grade, Science

Unit Overview
In this unit, students will study how abiotic factors affect biotic elements in an ecosystem. Students will begin their study of biotic and abiotic elements in ecosystems by building their own terrariums and designing and conducting scientific investigations addressing the changes in plant growth caused by different soils.

3. Trees, Trees, Glorious Trees, by Amy Vasilion
6th Grade, Science

Unit Overview
Students will learn how to make good observations using the trees in the Outdoor Classroom located by the school. Students will then use a dichotomous key and their observations to identify the type of trees in the outdoor classroom. Students will do research on their tree to identify the characteristics of the tree. As a Service Learning project for our school, students will create signs identifying the type of tree, characteristics of the tree and whether the tree is native or non-native to Michigan. Students will then take the 4th grade students from Elliott School on a walking field trip. During the field trip students will point out the different types of trees and how to use the signs that they have created to learn more about the trees. Students will connect what they have learned about their trees to our ecosystems unit that is currently in place, and with our Social Studies curriculum on the importance of plants to economies.

4. Forest Mathematics, by Sean Codere
7th Grade, Science

Unit Overview
Students will learn and apply math concepts while gathering and working with forest data. The school forest will provide the platform to apply the classroom learning on such topics as data collection, data representation, and data interpretation. This will deal with most of the statistics chapter we cover in seventh grade and contains parts of three different Data and Probability GLCEs.

5. Keeping the Doors Open, by Jenny Doezema
7th and 8th Grade, Science and Math

Unit Overview
Students will make observations of and compare urban and nonurban forests, learn about Michigan forest resources, identify Michigan trees and learn about forestry measurements. This Unit plan is designed for the KDO program(A Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Public Schools math and science program for at-risk 7th and 8th grade youth). We have been running KDO as a math program for 5 years and have just applied for grant funding to add an environmental science component to our program. This Program meets twice a week on K College campus and has field trip access to the college owned Lillian Anderson Arboretum 10 minutes away by van. We will use both the campus outdoors and the Lillian Anderson Arboretum as our forest sites for this Unit.

6. Woods of Wheels and Wagons: Lessons for the new Carriage Museum at Wade House, by Maura Jung
8th Grade, Science

Unit Overview
The following lessons ideas are being prepared for a new Carriage Museum which is being built at the Wade House, a historic site of the Wisconsin Historical Society in Greenbush, Wisconsin. These lessons or similar ones will be added to the existing repertoire of lessons offered to school groups. The new Carriage Museum is in final planning stages and is due to break ground this fall. The new Carriage Museum will include displays of a variety of restored horse-drawn vehicles along with interpretive information about the vehicles and the types of horses required to pull them. Some hands-on components will be sprinkled throughout the museum.

The Wade House offers program opportunities for visiting school groups. The lessons being developed for the Carriage Museum will be offered as another programmatic option, but focused on and connected to the horse-drawn vehicles. Due to the non-formal museum setting for these lessons, they will be grouped in thematic blocks rather than as individual class sessions to provide flexibility. Each block can be taught independently or together as a series. The focus of Block #1 lessons will be the origin of wood and how to identify trees whose wood is commonly used in carriage building. Block #2 will focus on testing wood properties and why certain woods are selected for particular applications based on their properties. Block #3 will apply the knowledge in a real setting. A lesson in Block #3 will also serve as an assessment in this non-formal setting.

The Wade House will offer the lessons in blocks from 2 hour lessons to half- and full day. For the purposes of this assignment, the lessons will be presented in the order in which I believe they would flow best if taught as a series and in their entirety. In addition, I will use the Standards Model Academic Standards - Science & Social Studies Content and Performance for the State of Wisconsin. It should be noted that the State of Wisconsin provides guidelines as to what students should know at the end of grade 4, end of grade 8 and end of grade 12. Since these lessons are geared toward students in grades 5-7, the academic standards for 8th grade will be used.

7. All About Trees, by Earl (Ted) Knudson
8th Grade, Science

Unit Overview
The lessons that I am submitting are useful for schools that do not have every day access to a wooded area or forest nearby. Northern Indiana has a wide variety of native and non-native trees and in any acre of a county or state park there will be more than a dozen different tree species. I believe that students need to have greater knowledge of the types of trees in our area.


  • Forestry Teaching Unit, by Benjamin G. Johnston
  • High School, Advanced Biology

    Unit Overview
    Very little has been done at the high school level with our school forest. I have developed these lesson plans for my advanced biology students who will have the opportunity to utilize the forest this summer before the school year begins.

    The following five lesson plans are set up as five steps for implementing our forest with the following goals:

    1). Familiarize the entire school community with our forest.
    2). Develop a long term database and plan for our forest.
    3). Inspire students to create a research project using the forest.

    Step/Lesson #1:
    General forest area familiarization and species identification. (Summer)
    Forest mapping and species identification (Winter)

    Step/Lesson #2:
    Forest stand measurements.

    Step/Lesson #3:
    Corse woody debris and decomposition.

    Step/Lesson #4:
    Forests, soils, and earthworm ecology

    Step/Lesson #5:
    Student research project; develop and plan.

  • Forestry and Ecology Teaching Units, by Bryan Boughton
  • 9th – 12th, Math and Science

    Unit Overview
    In an attempt to connect classroom learning with real-world applications, this unit will give students experience using math and science skills by classifying and measuring given tree plots. This unit is intended for an alternative and interdisciplinary education setting serving students from grades 9-12. Assessment for each lesson is formative and is done via worksheets or by assessing quality and accuracy of self-made tools.

  • Grand Blanc High School Nature Center Forestry Unit, by Stephen Applebee
  • 10th , Biology

    Unit Overview
    The main objective of this 5 to 6 day forest unit is to allow students to develop an overall appreciation of what a relatively untouched forest area looks like and how the ecosystem as a whole functions. We are very lucky here at Grand Blanc high school to have a parcel of land that is about 5 acres that has been maintained as a nature center since the school was built back in the 1970’s. The objective of this unit is to incorporate the terminology used in the Ecology unit of our book as well as to allow students to actually see how these terms are applied in the field. When the unit is done I would like for the students to design a management plan that will allow the nature center to survive at optimal “health” for decades. While completing the unit the students will be asked to ID species of trees in the nature center, create their own 1/10th of an acre plot, use DBH and tree scale sticks, graph heights and diameters, use a cover board for the possibility of reptile and amphibians, analyze their plot for invasive species (plants and insects), determine what type of soil is most likely associate with what specific stand of trees, determine how much carbon is stored in one tree, and also come up with an overall assessment of the health of the nature center. I will also use lectures on the history of forestry and also use video evidence to show the ramifications of forest mismanagement.

  • Forest Health and Resources: A Case Study of a School Forest, by Shanna Tury
  • 11th -12th, Advanced Placement Biology

    Unit Overview
    Students will investigate forest species and characteristics in an outdoor setting through various activities to learn about forest composition, forest health, ecosystem services, forest products, carbon cycling, and ecological footprints. This unit connects to my current curriculum by expanding my ecology unit and offering a case study approach to learning. My AP Biology students now spend a few weeks studying the major themes of ecology, at the organism, population, community, and ecosystem levels, through a combination of lecture and outdoor and indoor laboratories. These additional activities will provide a more focused investigation of forest ecology and resources to allow students to explore the wood lot of our school to analyze the complex biotic and abiotic associations occurring therein. It is my hope that my students will gain increased confidence and skill when performing tree identification and forest measurements, and will also learn to critically analyze the data collected to ascertain forest health, ecosystem services, and carbon cycling of their local school forest.

  • Forest Ecology Unit, by Randy Ward
  • 9th -12th, Outdoor Education

    Unit Overview
    This unit was designed for 9-12th grade students that take our Outdoor Education class at the high school. The course is an elective and focuses on the lower track students and a hands-on approach. We have periods of 55 minutes. At our school, preparation for the ACT test has become a large curricular push. To that end, the primary part of the ACT for science revolves around charts, graphs, and the interpretation of data. The purpose of this unit is twofold. First, it is to address issues with measurements and calculations. Second, its purpose is to give students experience with creating and using charts and graphs with science data, and then using that data to draw conclusions. This will be accomplished while learning about the forests present here in Michigan.

  • Forest Ecosystems Unit Plan, by Mark Meyers
  • 10th -12th, Biology, Botany, Environmental Science

    Unit Overview
    The following unit will cover several themes in forest ecology including: the history of forestry in Michigan, tree identification, and forest succession. These topics or themes tie directly into the ecology unit that I teach in my Biology, Botany and Environmental Science classes. Upon completion of this unit my students will understand the practices of science literacy which include identifying, using, inquiry, reflection and social implications. My goal, in this unit, is to foster a deep understanding and appreciation for forests, trees, ecology and ecosystems within my students. I would love for my students to be internally motivated and want to learn about the woods, trees and forests on their own outside of my classroom.

    Modified and updated February 29, 2012

    For more information regarding the Institute, contact Joan Schumaker-Chadde at 906-487-3341 or

    Joan Schumaker-Chadde, Course Coordinator
    Western U.P. Center for Science, Math & Environ. Education
    105 Dillman Hall
    Michigan Technological University
    1400 Townsend Dr., Houghton, MI 49931
    Tel: 906-487-3341 Fax: 906-487-1620

    Contact the WUP Center