Hands-on Activity: Biodomes Engineering Design Project: Lessons 2-6
Educational Standards :
Pre-Req Knowledge (Return to Contents)
Some knowledge about environments and ecosystems, as introduced in Lesson 1 of the Biodomes unit.
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this activity, students should be able to:
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Each group needs: (Most items are available at hardware or garden center stores.)
For the entire class to share:
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
Let's see what you know about different environments. Can anyone name an example of an environment? (Possible answers: Tropical rain forest, desert, other forest types [such as deciduous or coniferous], grassland prairie and arctic tundra.) All of these environments and ecosystems are part of our biosphere. The biosphere is the part of the Earth's atmosphere that supports life and includes both living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) things. It includes all the plants, animals, weather and climate. So, what happens when we have too many organisms in one environment? It may get too crowded! We call the number of organisms in a particular environment its population. Populations are made up of all the members of a species living in the same place at the same time. We learn about population numbers, or population density, to help us understand how much of resources (such as food, water and air) are available for each individual organism in an environment. Engineers need to know about the population density and how it is distributed so they can design areas for cities, parks, roadways, and even water systems so enough is available for a community to drink and use.
If you were able to design an environment, what would it look like? Would it have plants and animals in it? Which ones? How would you decide how many plants and animals you would put in your environment? Would you also live in your environment? How would you get the right amounts of air, water and food for each of your plants and animals? Well, engineers actually design artificial environments that consider all of these things. These environments are called biodomes. A biodome is a model that is designed to represent a particular environment and the community of organisms that live there. Biodomes are used to study ecosystems and attempt to model how living and nonliving things interact in those natural environments. The goal of a biodome is to create an environment that has enough resources for every plant and animal, creating a balance or equilibrium. Engineers come up with all sorts of cool designs using the engineering design process and eventually they settle on one to create.
Who knows something about the engineering design process? It is the set of steps that engineers take when they develop a new or improved product. Can you think of some of the steps an engineer may need to complete when designing something? Well, first they have to have a problem or a need. Then, they brainstorm creative ideas and solutions to that problem or need. Next they select the most promising idea, and draw or communicate the idea to others. Finally, they build a model of the design and evaluate whether or not that design is successful.
Who would like to become and engineer, learn more about environments, and create a biodome? Here is our challenge for this project:
Countries from all over the world have started a new project to create the best biodome yet! This new biodome will represent all the different climates and landscapes on the globe. The organizing committee has asked engineers from all different countries, including you, to help them in the design process. They request that you create a small-scale version – or prototype — of your design. Your design must only include one climate and landscape. When all the designs are done, one of them will be selected as the winner, to be built. So, it is time to put on your engineering hats and start thinking about how to make the best biodome. First thing to do is brainstorm your ideas and then make a drawing. Are you ready?
Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)
Procedure (Return to Contents)
Before the Activity
With the Students
Part 1: Designing Your Biodome (for Biodomes unit, Lesson 2)
Part 2: Building Your Biodome Structure (for Biodomes unit, Lesson 2)
Part 3: Energy Flow in Your Biodome (for Biodomes unit, Lesson 3)
Part 4: Plants in Your Biodome (for Biodomes unit, Lesson 4)
Part 5: Animals in Your Biodome (for Biodomes unit, Lesson 5)
Part 6: Decomposers in Your Biodome (for Biodomes unit, Lesson 6)
Part 7: Review & Evaluation (after completion of the model biodomes)
Attachments (Return to Contents)
Safety Issues (Return to Contents)
Troubleshooting Tips (Return to Contents)
Limit the materials that students are permitted to use to create their biodomes, otherwise, the biodomes tend to become large and resource demanding. This approach mirrors the real world, in which engineers are usually given size, budget and/or resource limitations. One way to limit size is to set a maximum footprint area, such as one square meter or one square foot.
To give the seeds more time to grow, consider swapping the order of Parts 3 and 4, so the seeds are planted earlier in the model biodome development process.
For Part 5, if insects are not available outside (due to the weather or other limitations), consider purchasing a small supply of crickets or snails (often free since they usually have too many) from a pet store, or potato bugs from a science lab. Note that snails and aquarium plants should not go down the drain or into a nearby stream as both are nasty invasive species. Instead, explain to the students that you'll find a home for them, and then either return them to a suitable aquarium elsewhere or destroy them.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Discussion Questions: Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses.
Activity Embedded Assessment
Workbook: Have students follow along with the activity using the Biodomes Engineering Design Project Workbook: Lessons 2-6. Ask the student teams to complete the questions in the workbook after they have finished each part of creating the biodome. After students have finished the workbook questions, have them compare answers with their peers. Review their answers to gauge their mastery of the subject.
Re-Engineering: Ask student teams to brainstorm to come up with many ideas on how they could improve their biodomes. Have them sketch the most promising ideas.
Show and Tell: Have student groups show off their biodomes to the rest of the class. Have them explain: 1) how they developed their design, 2) the best part of their design, 3) what could go wrong with it, and 4) what could be fixed or improved in future models. Remind students that engineers go through the design-build-redesign process many times before they are satisfied with a finished product.
Engineering Poster: Using the knowledge they learned in the biodomes lessons and activities, have student engineering teams each create a poster to present their best design for a biodome of a particular environment. Ask them to title their posters with an engineering company name that they invent, such as, Eco Engineering Corporation.
Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)
Have students conduct research to find out what types of construction methods have been used in real biodomes. See if they can find any details on how these design ideas were reached.
Have students make a bar graph representing the class' biodome diversity.
Have students make a bar chart of the animals and plants they included in their biodomes. Gather all class data and make a class chart as a demonstration. From the data, ask the students how biodome engineers make sure they gather an appropriate sample of plants, animals and decomposers. (Point out that most of students probably gathered the easiest animals and plants to find. What would happen if biodome engineers did this? Would it be a good representation of life?) Then, ask the students to do this for their own biodomes.
Have students research real-world biodomes and find out what animals, birds and fish are inside. How do biodome managers control how the animals come into contact with each other in order to maintain healthy populations of both predators and prey?
Activity Scaling (Return to Contents)
References (Return to Contents)
Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2, Tuscon, AZ. Accessed October 26, 2006. http://www.bio2.com/
Dictionary.com. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Accessed October 11, 2006. (Source of some vocabulary definitions, with some adaptation) http://www.dictionary.com
ContributorsKatherine Beggs, Christopher Valenti, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise Carlson
Copyright© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado. The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education, and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no 0226322. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder
Last Modified: April 17, 2014