Curricular Unit: Biodomes

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5 (3-6)

Choose From: 6 lessons and 9 activities

Subject Areas: Biology, Life Science, Science and Technology

Two photos: Glass domes and greenhouses with a mountain backdrop. A boy and a girl look at the sand, soil, bark and water pool in a clear plastic container.
(left) Biosphere 2 in Arizona, USA, (right) students examine the base of their model biodome.


Students explore the biosphere's environments and ecosystems, learning along the way about the plants, animals, resources and natural cycles of our planet. Over the course of lessons 2-6, students use their growing understanding of various environments and the engineering design process to design and create their own model biodome ecosystems - exploring energy and nutrient flows, basic needs of plants and animals, and decomposers. Students learn about food chains and food webs. They are introduced to the roles of the water, carbon and nitrogen cycles. They test the effects of photosynthesis and transpiration. Students are introduced to animal classifications and interactions, including carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, predator and prey. They learn about biomimicry and how engineers often imitate nature in the design of new products. As everyday applications are interwoven into the lessons, students consider why a solid understanding of one's environment and the interdependence within ecosystems can inform the choices we make and the way we engineer our communities.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

The many facets of biodomes represent a wide range of real-world engineering applications. Engineers design housing, cities and structures for specific environments and ecosystems, using their understanding of the biosphere and ecosystems to shape the human-built environment. Population statistics are important parameters that engineers use to determine the development of open space areas, such as city planning, transportation development, and community water supply needs. Engineers of all disciplines follow the steps of the engineering design process to generate ideas and create prototypes and models. Understanding energy flow and transfer is important for the heat loss/gain of buildings, the fuel to power appliances and tools, meteorological sensors and computer modeling systems. Engineers take advantage of the natural characteristics of plants to improve technologies and make our lives more comfortable, for example, in wastewater treatment processes, air and pollution clean-up, and even solar panels that mimic photosynthesis. Many engineers are directly involved with animals as part of cleaning up chemical spills or restoring habitat. Engineers often use the natural world as inspiration for design, for products such pollution development of antibiotics and healing drugs, as well as the design of sea vessels, airplanes, boats, radar and sonar, medical imaging, and Velcro® - to name a few.

Unit Overview

This unit is comprised of a series of six lessons during which students use their growing understanding of various environments and the engineering design process, to design and create their own model biodome ecosystems. The Procedure section of lesson 2's Biodomes Engineering Design Project: Lessons 2-6 activity provides instructions for the Biodomes unit, lessons 2-6, guiding students through Parts 1-6 to develop their models. Biodome components covered include its structure, environment and energy flow, plants, animals and decomposers. This activity can be conducted as either a very structured or open-ended design.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all. (Grade 3)

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This unit focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Use evidence (e.g., observations, patterns) to construct an explanation.

Alignment agreement:

For any particular environment, some kinds of organisms survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Alignment agreement:

Cause and effect relationships are routinely identified and used to explain change.

Alignment agreement:

Knowledge of relevant scientific concepts and research findings is important in engineering.

Alignment agreement:

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Worksheets and Attachments

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More Curriculum Like This

Go with the Energy Flow

Students learn about energy and nutrient flow in various biosphere climates and environments. They learn about herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, food chains and food webs, seeing the interdependence between producers, consumers and decomposers. This lesson is part of a series of six lessons in whic...

preview of 'Go with the Energy Flow' Lesson
Elementary Lesson
Cleaning Up with Decomposers

Students investigate decomposers and the role of decomposers in maintaining the flow of nutrients in an environment. Students also learn how engineers use decomposers to help clean up wastes in a process known as bioremediation. This lesson concludes a series of six lessons in which students use the...

Biodomes Engineering Design Project: Lessons 2-6

In this multi-day activity, students explore environments, ecosystems, energy flow and organism interactions by creating a scale model biodome, following the steps of the engineering design process.

Planting Thoughts

Students gain an understanding of the parts of a plant, plant types and how they produce their own food from sunlight through photosynthesis. They learn how plants play an important part in maintaining a balanced environment in which the living organisms of the Earth survive. This lesson is part of ...

preview of 'Planting Thoughts' Lesson
Elementary Lesson

Unit Schedule


Pre-Unit Quiz: To conduct an overall pre/post assessment of the Biodomes curricular unit (six lessons, with associated activities), administer the Pre-Unit Quiz to the class before beginning any discussion on Biodomes. Then, after completion of lesson 6, administer the same (post-unit) quiz to the same students and compare pre- to post- scores. In addition, this short quiz is suitable to administer to a control group of students who have not completed the unit, to comparatively test the impact of the curricular unit on learning.

Post-Unit Quiz: If you administered the Pre-unit Quiz before beginning the Biodomes curricular unit, conclude the overall pre/post assessment of the unit (six lessons, with associated activities), by administering the Post-Unit Quiz to the class after concluding lesson 6 and its activity. Compare pre- to post- scores to gauge the impact of the curricular unit on students' learning.


© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado


Christopher Valenti; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Denise W. Carlson

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education, and the National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no 0338326). 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.

Last modified: February 25, 2020


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