4-6, Unit Four, Activity 8: "Models of Succession"

Students apply the process of succession to human activity and examine human habitat construction and its effects on the natural environment -- by building a model of a city and demonstrating their succession theories.

Grades: 4 – 6
Time: 1 – 2 hours
Subjects: Social studies, visual arts, ethics, life science

Teacher Background:
The students have seen how beavers stimulate change in the environment when they cut trees and build dams. Their “industry” sets into motion a form of habitat succession from forest to pond to meadow. Like the beaver, humans also stimulate change by cutting down forest to pave roads and build cities. Of course, humans have a much greater impact because there are so many of us, but still the process of habitat succession holds true. Or does it?

Materials:

  • Building materials such as clay, rocks, cardboard, glass beakers, pencils, or scraps of metal. (Encourage the students to be creative in selecting the materials for their buildings.)

Procedure:
1. Tell the students that they are going to build a city in the classroom. They will each construct a building out of the materials at hand. It might be helpful to have a few pictures of cities available for them to examine. Encourage the students to consider the qualities of the materials that they are using.
2. While the students are building their city, talk about the succession process as a cycle or circle into which everything fits. Each part moves smoothly from phase to phase. Everything is “recycled”. Bring up the idea that many people today believe that human industry, unlike the beaver’s, has broken out of this natural cyclical process and set off in several different directions creating elements which don’t get “recycled” because they don’t fit into existing patterns. Does this mean that we are in the process of creating new patterns -- cycles which are not yet perceivable? What will happen to the things that we have created?
3. When the city is complete, have the students suggest what the process of succession will be for human habitats like cities. They can use their newly created city to enact their theories. If they need help with ideas, an excellent resource for visions of the future is science fiction literature and movies. You might want to choose one to use as a springboard for discussion. Could this future really happen? Is it a bleak picture or a hopeful one?

Assessment:
Consider the question of whether humans are part of nature or have we somehow cut ourselves out of the scheme of things? Is it possible for us to cut ourselves out? Use the beaver as a comparison. Beavers don’t have the ability to examine the effects of their activity and plan courses of action. We do. Can we create a succession model that will “recycle” the products of our industry?

Last updated: November 8, 2017

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