Get students excited about learning by bringing an environmental twist to biology lessons through project-based learning in ecology.

Within the study of ecology, students examine the connections between the environment, the creatures that live within it, and how the two comprise ecosystems around the world. Using project-based learning in ecology is an excellent opportunity to incorporate a student-centric approach to learning. Project-based learning allows students to apply knowledge acquired in previously studied lessons to relevant activities. Assign the following activities to help students move from proficiency to concept mastery by incorporating project-based learning in ecology within your classroom.

1. Looking Beyond a Waste Audit

project-based learning in ecologyConducting a waste audit is an excellent method for teaching students how their waste management affects the environment. Taking this activity one step further allows students to examine how the waste-management choices of their neighbors can affect the local ecosystem. Assign a waste audit to students as homework by asking them to dedicate time to walk around their local neighborhood (with a parent or guardian) and make a list of the most environmentally threatening items they see discarded as litter. Students will then research how the local ecosystem in their own neighborhoods will be affected by these materials.

2. The Global Scale of Oceans

One of the most unifying features of the world is the ocean system shared by the Earth’s inhabitants. It is also one of the most threatened facets of the world’s ecosystem. “The World Ocean,” one of National Geographic’s lesson plans for project-based learning in ecology, will introduce students to the basics of ocean awareness. In addition to learning about the connection between humans and the ocean, students will study the complete hydrosphere and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

3. Eco-Awareness: Pollinators

project-based learning in ecologyThrough PlantingScience, students will work online with scientists, who will guide children through examining different methods of pollination, which is crucial to plant reproduction and germination. Teachers will use the lesson plans for project-based learning in ecology to help students piece together the relationships between plants, animals, and food sources. Exercises include lessons covering flower dissection, wind pollination, animal pollinators, and geographical aspects of local ecosystems. Through the Agronomy Feeds the World module, students will learn about how different factors affect pollinators’ roles in food cultivation around the globe.

4. Eco-systems After the Flood

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Ecological Observation Network (NEON) is a facility that monitors factors such as climate change, land use, and the destruction of invasive species. In 2016, the organization released an educational module that requires students to examine data from the 2013 Colorado flood to determine factors that could contribute to natural disasters. In “Quantifying the Drivers and Impacts of Natural Disturbance Events: The 2013 Colorado Floods,” students will discover the importance of using data to support the science that could help forecast natural weather events and reveal solutions to save lives.

5. Eco-career Day

project-based learning in ecologyThe Ecological Society of America (ESA) provides a number of tools that bring ecology education to teachers, students, and the community. Though the organization provides many ideas for project-based learning in ecology, teachers should also show students how excelling in this field can lead to a meaningful career. Introduce students to the different careers they can pursue in ecology. Using this information, students should research one job path, speak to a professional who works in the field, and present their findings to the class. Students will be more likely to strive for excellence in a subject if the connection can be made between a their course of study and future career path.

Through bringing project-based learning in ecology into the classroom, teachers are able to show students how the subjects they are learning in school today can affect their lives every day in the future.

Want to increase student engagement in ecology? Download our free guide to project-based learning.


  1. STEM Jobs
  2. National Geographic
  3. Planting Science
  4. NEON
  5. ESA
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