HTH COVID-19 School Information Parent and Student Resources, Meal Services, and Distance Learning Information

Student Projects

Urban Ecology

Authors: Nicole Costa, Bobby Shaddox

Grade: 6th

Subjects: Biology, Graphic Design, Humanities, Science

project poster for Urban Ecology project
project poster for Urban Ecology project
project poster for Urban Ecology project
project poster for Urban Ecology project
project poster for Urban Ecology project
Group shot with Bobby, Nicole and class.
Students holding Urban Ecology page
Students holding Urban Ecology page
Students holding Urban Ecology page

What is urban ecology?

How can humans create sustainable and efficient modern urban ecosystems?

Students will discover how humans interact with nature in urban ecosystems. They will understand the terms sustainable and efficient in order to apply them to designing improved modern cities. Students will research green building techniques, alternative transportation options and alternate energy. As a class, students will collaborate in both science and humanities classes to present their research in an Urban Ecology Magazine. The class goal is to publish our magazine in time for the HTM annual Exhibition Night in order to educate our community on this pertinent and contemporary topic.

Students will begin with whole class activities to learn the basic concepts of ecosystems and urban ecology. Students in each class will be paired up to research and write their articles. Each pair will be given a different topic. Since there are two classes of 28 students each, each class will create its own magazine with 14 articles.

First, students will complete a Pre-Assessment about urban ecology so that teachers can see what they already know. Students will begin with an introductory Powerpoint presentation from the teacher, using their Intro to Urban Ecology Notetaking Guide to take notes on the vocabulary and ideas presented.  They will then participate in a class activity to learn about ecosystems using the handout Classwork #1: Ecosystem Investigation. This will guide them through a class investigation of different “ecosystems” and allow them to practice developing questions, hypothesizing, experimenting, and recording observations. Students will then read a series of articles to help learn about various topics related to urban ecology; they will also analyze the content and format of the articles using the Article Analysis Guide.  After spending 1-2 weeks gaining background knowledge through these activities, students will complete a Crossword Review and take Urban Ecology Quiz #1 to demonstrate their understanding of the content.

Students will know:
  • What an ecosystem is
  • What the abiotic things are in an ecosystem: LAWS=land, air, water, sunlight
  • Science Vocabulary: biotic, abiotic, “green,” sustainable, efficient
  • What urban ecology is
  • What green building is
  • What sustainability and efficiency are (related to green buiding)
  • Alternative transportation options
  • Magazine production vocabulary: hook, headline, subheadings, quote, pull quote, statistics, captions, body copy, drop cap, column
Students will understand:
  • Principles of green building: use of natural materials, efficiency, on-site generation of renewable energy, reduction on environmental and human health impact, reduction of waste
  • Why green building methods are important
  • How various green building techniques work and can be implemented. (Possible assigned topics include: solar power and solar thermal, passive solar design, green roofing, permeable surface use, grey water collection and recycling, compost toilets, straw bale, cob, cordwood, adobe, earthship, bamboo, biodiesel fuel, hybrid cars, electric cars, ethanol as fuel, hydrogen fuel cells, permaculture
  • How to write an effective introduction, or “hook” for their article to capture readers’ attention
  • The process authors go through to publish their work
  • How to be part of a magazine production team
Students will be able to: 
  • Write a magazine article about their assigned topic
  • Create and design artwork to accompany their article
  • Use Adobe InDesign to design a basic magazine layout
  • Build a model to demonstrate how their technology works
  • Inform community members about their topics on Exhibition Night
  • Write, revise, edit, and publish an article about the green building technique they researched
  • Use feedback from peers and teachers to improve and revise their work
  • Be a supportive,  efficient, and contributing member of the magazine production staff
  • Meet deadlines as needed
Students will launch the Urban Ecology Magazine by participating in a staff meeting with their Editors-in-chief (the teachers!). The teachers present the students with the Meeting Agenda, where they will discuss salaries and expectations, the Mission statement, their topic assignments, and due dates. Students will work together to solidify their mission statement, and then all will be required to sign to indicate their agreement to uphold the mission statement. Students will also receive name badges, their partner assignment, job title, and their urban ecology specialty. They will keep a portfolio of their work during the project, using the Portfolio Cover Sheet.
Once students have been assigned their specialty roles, they are ready to research their specific topics in order to prepare to write the article for the magazine. Topics include: electric cars, composting toilets, green roofing, earthships, straw bale, hybrid cars, water conservation, solar thermal energy, biodiesel fuel, hydrogen fuel cells, adobe mud, sustainable wood products, ethanol, and heating and cooling homes efficiently. Students will use the Research Guide to help them research their topics effectively. The teacher will also provide a list of Useful Web Sites for Research. See the Example Research Guide for more details on this process.
The Language Arts teacher will present warm-ups and mini-lessons about the craft of writing magazine articles as the students prepare to write the first draft.  Many of these activities will be done as daily class warm-ups. Here is a list of some mini-lessons used during the drafting stage of the project:
  • Capturing Reader’s Attention
  • Creating A Headline(with Powerpoint for lesson)
  • Examining Introductory Paragraphs
  • Brainstorming the Introduction
  • Magazine Terms Activity (with Powerpoint for lesson)
Once research is complete and the teacher has checked the student’s Research Guide, students will begin drafting articles. To begin drafting their articles, they will use the Article Planning Guide to organize and plan how to deliver their researched information. Finally, students will use the Article Draft Template to write the first draft of the article. They will participate in peer editing to get feedback on the first draft using the Draft One Critique Form. After completing the peer critique, students will complete the Draft 2 Goals Handout, which will help them process the feedback they receive and incorporate changes into the next draft.
Students will then consider the artwork that will accompany their written article. They will participate in a gallery walk to examine and evaluate effective magazine artwork, and complete the handout Useful Magazine Artwork during the activity. They will spend time working on original artwork, including diagrams, graphs, pictures, or artwork to accompany the text of their articles.  Students will then display the rough drafts of their artwork for peer critique. They will use the Artwork: Peer Critique form to give warm and cool comments to their peers about the art.
Students will continue to revise and edit both written and graphic content, participating in a second peer review of their final article with artwork included. They will continue to revise and edit until their work is approved by the editors-in-chief for publication. Once the article text and artwork has been finalized, students will need to work on the layout design using Adobe InDesign. Students should complete the Formatting Tutorial and the Adobe InDesign Tutorial prior to working with the program.  These will help them prepare their article for publication.
Students will also create a model related to their topic to display to the community on the Exhibition Night at the end of the project. The model should demonstrate how the green technology works. Students will complete the Model Planning Guide with their partner to decide how they will showcase the topic they studied. Prior to the Exhibition Night, students will complete the Exhibition Exit Slip, to help show they are prepared to discuss their topics.
The following timeline is based on approximately 2 hour class periods per day. Near the end of the project, the teaching team likely is spending all 4 hours a day of class time on project! 
Week #
Project Tasks
·   Pre-assessment
·   Introduce Project Requirements
·   What is Urban Ecology?
·   Ecosystem Investigation
·   Homework and Quiz #1
·   Staff Meeting
·   Mission Statement
·   Assign partners and topics
·   Begin Research
·   Research: complete Research Guide
·   Write Article Draft #1
·   Peer Revision
·   Draft #2
·   Effective Magazine Artwork Lesson
·   Continue revision and editing of articles
·   Tutorials: formatting and InDesign
·   Begin work on original art to accompany article
·   Peer Critique of Artwork
·   Create article layout using InDesign
·   Final InDesign Layout DUE
·   Plan and build models to display on Exhibition Night
·   Prepare to speak to public about topic
·   Publish Magazine!
·   Exhibition Night: Display work for community
·   Final Quiz and Reflection


Adult World Connections: 
During this project, students should be able to visit local buildings or sites that implement green building and or LEED techniques. Also, teachers invited guest LEED architects to speak to the class about urban ecology so they can learn from an expert in the field.
Possible Extensions:
  • Design blueprints for their own green dream home or building
  • Research and help build the class human-powered bike generator
  • Design the magazine cover, be student editors, write the magazine introduction


Students show off their finished magazine.


Students show off their article in the finished magazine.


Students show off the cover they designed for the magazine.

Example of Student Article

Example of finished student article.


Student Artwork
Example of student’s original artwork for the class magazine.


Student Artwork
Example of student’s original artwork for the class magazine.

fuel cell

Student Artwork
Example of student’s original artwork for the class magazine.


Student Artwork
Example of student’s original artwork for the class magazine.


Student Artwork
Example of student’s original artwork for the class magazine.

Article Draft Template
This handout can gives students a template to follow to write their first drafts of articles.

Article Planning Guide
This handout will help students plan topics and organize information prior to writing their first draft of their articles.

Project Description for Students
This handout introduces students to the project and describes the tasks they will complete.

Useful Websites List
This handout lists websites students can use for research.

Urban Ecology In Depth Reflection
This article by Bobby and Nicole offers detailed reflections and insights into the project. (excerpt from book, “Learning by Design: Projects and Practices at High Tech Middle.”

Project Logo
This is the project logo.

Introductory PowerPoint

This PowerPoint can be used to introduce science concepts to students early in the project.

Rubric for Final Magazine Article

This rubric can be used to evaluate students’ magazine articles.

Rubric for Models and Exhibition Night

This rubric is for evaluating the students’ models and their presentations on Exhibition Night.