An Introduction to
Biodiversity in the Schoolyard

Author: Joel K. Abraham

Overview: This lesson is an introduction to the Biodiversity in the Schoolyard unit. It is designed to engage students in the planning process of the sampling/collection. Students will be encouraged to begin recognizing local diversity patterns and to think about the influence of habitat structure on local diversity.

Lesson Concepts:

  • The diversity of life is represented everywhere, including the urban/suburban areas in which we live.

  • Both abiotic and human actions can influence that diversity.

  • Biodiversity measures can be made locally, and can inform us of what life is present in our local environment.

  • Biodiversity can be measured at different scales, and in different ways.

  • Scientists form and test hypotheses.

Main Goals: As the introduction to the larger Biodiversity in the Schoolyard unit, this lesson is designed to incorporate students’ prior knowledge of their school. Hopefully, the inclusion of students in the hypothesis formation and experimental design will increase student investment in the project, increase understanding of the scientific process, and encourage students to search for and question patterns in the natural world.


  • Handout with a simplified map of the school. A map created by the teacher may be more useful than any preexisting map, as areas of interest can be highlighted.

  • (Optional) Laminated cards with different types of organisms on them (e.g., 5 lion cards, 5 oak cards, etc.)

Time: One class period

Grouping: Have students work in groups of 2 to 4.

Teaching Tips: (optional)
This lesson should follow previous discussion of the concept of biodiversity, and at least a brief overview of science as a process.

Because the Biodiversity in the Schoolyard unit is very open-ended, steps should be taken to limit the scope and scale of the biodiversity collections. The measurements of biodiversity should be limited to a few groups, such as vertebrates, insects, and plants. Also, no more than three locations on the school grounds should be used.

One method for breaking students into groups, and to ensure mixing of students, is to use laminated organism cards. Create the cards by laminating a picture or drawing of an organism, making 4-5 copies of each organism type. The total number of organism types will depend on class size, and the desired number of groups. As students walk into the classroom they can be handed a card, and instructed to sit with their group. The cards can be reused throughout the year, and may be used to increase interest or reinforce knowledge of local biodiversity.

Break students into groups at the beginning of the class period, and have each group form a group name (~5 min.). Begin the lesson with a short review and discussion (~5-10 min.) about biodiversity, in which students are asked to name places of high/low diversity. Many students will choose biome level areas, while a few may use geographic boundaries or more specific descriptors. Student suggestions should be written on the board, or preferably butcher paper.

If all of the answers stay at a certain scale, the questions can be modified (e.g., Which areas in California have high/low diversity? In the Bay Area? In Richmond, CA?). After a range of answers is given, the discussion should move towards the idea of scale. Biodiversity can be measured at many different scales, and heterogeneity within a given area is the norm. This is worth taking extra time to clarify for the students, as it is important but not intuitive for them.

This makes a nice segue into Biodiversity on the Schoolyard. Discuss how biodiversity can be measured anywhere, including our local communities. One way to do this is to ask students where they could measure biodiversity in their local communities. If school doesn’t come up, mention it yourself.

Give each group the handout with a map of the school. Areas should be clearly demarcated on the map. Remind the students of the previous egg/hypothesis lesson, and then ask students to discuss whether biodiversity is constant throughout the schoolyard or if it is higher/lower in some areas, providing 3 reasons for their decision (<10 min.).

Have groups vote on which area will have the highest/lowest diversity. It is likely that many groups will arrive at the same conclusions. Choose three or four groups to provide the reasoning for their answers. Summarize the hypotheses and reasons on the board or butcher paper. It does not matter if there are two alternative hypotheses or if the class is in agreement about one (~7 min.).

The groups should then be instructed to come up with possible tests for the hypotheses (<10 minutes). If previously covered, remind the students of earlier lessons concerning the process of science (i.e., hypothesis formation, testing, and reevaluation).

Choose a group to give a quick synopsis of their proposed tests, and record their tests on the board. Ask if any groups have different tests, and let them propose them as well. Most tests will be rather simple, but a few may include methods.

At this point, the discussion can be moved in several directions. Standardizing measurements is one path that may arise if students tend to state different methods for quantifying biodiversity. If the proposed tests are simpler, the discussion can instead be directed towards the process of science. For more advanced students, the distinction.