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Lesson Plans: Built and Natural Environment

Built and Natural Environment Lesson Plans

How do people interact with and change the natural environment? A major focus of urban ecology is comparing how ecosystems function in nature and how they are changed by people. Urbanization means changing from native vegetation to man-made materials. The following activities will challenge you and your students to think about the consequences to us and other organisms of our changing urban landscape.


Historical Aerial Photograph Interpretation


Aerial photographs are one way to look at change over time. In the metropolitan Phoenix area, much of the urban growth has taken place in the past 50 years, so it is possible to find photographs from the same location and see dramatic changes. This activity will encourage your students to think about patterns of development in the changing urban landscape. The photographs were taken at 10 year intervals since 1970 at five different locations in the Phoenix Metropolitan area.

Student will be able to:
  • identify and analyze land use changes over time with historic aerial photographs.
  • learn to classify different land use into categories
Additional Notes:

This lesson uses the photographs without dates. The photographs can be found on this website underslide sets: Historical Aerial Photos


Historical Aerial Photographs without dates PDF



People and Their Environment

Time:  20 minutes, Grade Level:  7-12
Ecology is a branch of biology that studies interactions among living things as well as interactions of living things and their physical environment. In an urban setting people are one of the living things interacting with the environment. People influence the environment and the environment influences people in various ways.
Students will:
  • be able to begin to explain why social science research is a component of Urban Ecology.
  • begin to think of questions about the influence of humans on the area of school they are studying.
People and Their Environment PDF



Land Use Changes 1912-2000


In studying the urban ecosystem, CAP LTER scientists are interested in knowing something about the history of Phoenix.  This activity is a scavenger hunt for use with the interactive game on Land Changes 1912-2000 found on this website. These GIS maps were created by one of the scientists to understand how land use has changed over time in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Student will be able to:
  • answer basic questions about urban growth in the Phoenix area
  • predict how land use will change over time

Land Use Changes 1912-2000 PDF



Watershed Walk

Time:  50-60 minutes, Grade Level:  4-8

Everyone lives in a watershed and a healthy watershed is vital to a healthy community.  Urbanization impacts watersheds and affects how they function.  This lesson identifies what a watershed is, the nested watersheds Phoenix Valley students live in, and how the built environment alters natural flows of water and materials through the watershed.

Students will be able to:
  • explain what happens to water when it hits the ground.
  • recognize that bodies of water are the end product of drainage from watersheds.
  • understand the difference between water flow in a natural versus an urban system.

Watershed Walk PDF

Watershed slides PDF



Heat Related Illness

Time:  50-80 minute, Grade Level:  6-12
Did you know that the average nighttime low temperature in Phoenix has increased by 8ºF over the last 30 years!  This is due to our urban heat island.  Summertime heat in the U.S. causes more deaths than any other natural phenomenon. If the body does not cool properly or does not cool enough, the victim may suffer a heat-related illness. This lesson explores the symptoms, prevention and treatment of two heat related illness.
Students will:
  • understand the reasons for increased heat risks in urban desert environments.
  • differentiate among heat-related health issues (heat stroke, heat exhaustion).
  • follow the correct emergency response to scenarios of heat-related health issues.

Heat Related Illness PDF

Heat Related Illness Scenarios PDF



15 Minute Graphs

Each of these short lessons introduces students to a different ecological research concept and allows them to interpret real data in graphical from. The Urban Heat Island lesson provides background about this phenomenon and is followed by results collected by professional scientists related to different landscape types. The People and Plants lesson shows how neighborhood landscaping is related to socioeconomic status. Students analyze graphs and respond to questions to determine patterns.


The Urban Heat Island PDF

People and Plants PDF