STEM Club: Introduction to Body Systems

As many of you know, I teach a science class for local area homeschool students that I have come to call STEM Club.  Our focus this cycle is human anatomy or human body systems.

Each week, I will be sharing with you the hands-on activities and inquiry based labs that I use with my students. If you follow along with me and do the suggested extension activities, the material covered will be equivalent to a full semester course.


This post contains affiliate links.

Getting Started – Printables

The biological levels of organization of living things arranged from the simplest to most complex are: organelle, cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, organisms, populations, communities, ecosystem, and biosphere.

To review this with my STEM Club students, I created a levels of organization printable chart and asked that they complete it as homework in advance of our first class.

The purpose of this unit is to understand that there are different systems within the body and that they work independently and together to form a functioning human body. At the middle school level, students should begin to view the body as a system, in which parts do things for other parts and for the organism as a whole.

To assess the students’ prior knowledge, I distributed a black outline master of the human body and asked them to draw and label the parts of the body that they knew.

I also created an accordion style mini-book of the body systems that we will use throughout the unit. Students were asked to print it and secure it in their notebooks for easy reference and note taking throughout the course.

Lastly, they were asked to complete the vocabulary worksheet.

The FREE download link for each of these printables will be available to my newsletter subscribers.


The Human Body Systems

Integumentary System – the organ system that protects the body from various kinds of damage, such as loss of water or abrasion from outside.  Major organs include skin (epidermis, dermis, hypodermis), hair, nails, and exocrine glands.

Nervous System – consists of the brain, spinal cord, sensory organs, and all of the nerves that connect these organs with the rest of the body. Together, these organs are responsible for the control of the body and communication among its parts.

Endrocrine System – includes all of the glands of the body and the hormones produced by those glands. The glands are controlled directly by stimulation from the nervous system as well as by chemical receptors in the blood and hormones produced by other glands.

The endocrine system works alongside of the nervous system to form the control systems of the body. The nervous system provides a very fast and narrowly targeted system to turn on specific glands and muscles throughout the body. The endocrine system, on the other hand, is much slower acting, but has very widespread, long lasting, and powerful effects.

Head to Toe Science by Jim Wiese is a collection of demonstrations that illustrate scientific principles about the human body. The projects are geared to 9-12 year olds and arranged by system (nervous, digestive, respiratory, circulatory, muscular, skeletal, reproductive, and integumentary).

Each project includes an introduction, a list of materials, procedural guidelines, and an explanation of the science involved. It is a great resources for hands-on activities and demonstrations. The instructions are easy to follow and include fun facts to keep kids interested.

It is definitely worth buying, even though the activities are not inquiry based, as it provides background information and vocabulary. Some of the activities in the book are too simple for even junior high but most are perfect for middle school age learners.

Skeletal System – includes all of the bones and joints in the body. Each bone is a complex living organ that is made up of many cells, protein fibers, and minerals. The skeleton acts as a scaffold by providing support and protection for the soft tissues that make up the rest of the body.

Muscular System – responsible for the movement of the human body. Attached to the bones of the skeletal system are about 700 named muscles that make up roughly half of a person’s body weight. Each of these muscles is a discrete organ constructed of skeletal muscle tissue, blood vessels, tendons, and nerves.

Digestive System – a group of organs working together to convert food into energy and basic nutrients to feed the entire body. Food passes through a long tube inside the body known as the alimentary canal or the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). The alimentary canal is made up of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestines, and large intestines.

I highly recommend Human Anatomy Coloring Book by Margaret Matt (geared for ages 13-16).  I know what you are thinking. “A color book? Really?! ”

Yes, really.  Each detailed illustration in the Human Anatomy Coloring Book is accompanied by concise, informative text and suggestions for coloring.  Numerous views, cross-sections, and other diagrams are included for each of the body’s organs and major systems.

Combine inquiry based activities and demonstrations that illustrate scientific principle, the memorization of vocabulary, and daily practice tracing the organ systems with the aide of this book and will discover your students will not only understand how their body works but will be able to illustrate the organs as they share what they know.

For younger students (ages 3 to 11), I recommend the alternative, My First Human Body Book by Donald Silver and Patricia Wynne. It includes 28 fun and instructive, ready-to-color illustrations that explore the human body systems. The illustrations are detailed and yet simple enough to not be overwhelming.

Excretory / Urinary System – consists of the kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, and urethra. The kidneys filter the blood to remove wastes and produce urine. The ureters, urinary bladder, and urethra together form the urinary tract, which acts as a plumbing system to drain urine from the kidneys, store it, and then release it during urination. Besides filtering and eliminating wastes from the body, the urinary system also maintains the homeostasis of water, ions, pH, blood pressure, calcium, and red blood cells.

Respiratory System – provides oxygen to the body’s cells while removing carbon dioxide, a waste product that can be lethal if allowed to accumulate. There are 3 major parts of the respiratory system: the airway, the lungs, and the muscles of respiration. The airway, which includes the nose, mouth, pharynx, larynx, trachea, bronchi, and bronchioles, carries air between the lungs and the body’s exterior.

Cardiovascular / Circulatory System – consists of the heart, blood vessels, and the approximately 5 liters of blood that the blood vessels transport. Responsible for transporting oxygen, nutrients, hormones, and cellular waste products throughout the body, the cardiovascular system is powered by the body’s hardest-working organ — the heart.

Blood and Guts by Linda Allison is written for the middle school aged student and is organized well. The author devotes a chapter to each of the following topics: skin, bones, teeth, muscles, heart, lungs, cells, digestion, kidneys, eyes, ears, balance, brain and nervous system, and reproduction. She provides a basic but informative narrative for each as well as illustrations.

Numerous hands-on activities and demonstrations are described for students to try. Most are relatively simple but some are difficult and require adult supervision; others require materials that may be difficult to find.

The book uses cartoon illustrations (as shown on the cover). I would suggest supplementing with models, more accurate drawings (the Dover Publication mentioned above, for example), and photos.

Lymphatic / Immune System – our body’s defense system against infectious pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and fungi as well as parasitic animals and protists. The immune system works to keep these harmful agents out of the body and attacks those that manage to enter. The lymphatic system is a system of capillaries, vessels, nodes and other organs that transport a fluid called lymph from the tissues as it returns to the bloodstream. The lymphatic tissue of these organs filters and cleans the lymph of any debris, abnormal cells, or pathogens. The lymphatic system also transports fatty acids from the intestines to the circulatory system.

Reproductive System – The female reproductive system includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, vulva, mammary glands and breasts. These organs are involved in the production and transportation of gametes and the production of sex hormones. The female reproductive system also facilitates the fertilization of ova by sperm and supports the development of offspring during pregnancy and infancy.

The male reproductive system includes the scrotum, testes, spermatic ducts, sex glands, and penis. These organs work together to produce sperm, the male gamete, and the other components of semen. These organs also work together to deliver semen out of the body and into the vagina where it can fertilize egg cells to produce offspring.

Next week we will explore the integumentary system in depth. I will share a few demonstration activities as well as an inquiry science activity that tests our sense of touch, or somatosensation. You won’t want to miss it!

STEM Club: Sand From Around the World Lab Activity

Gravel, sand, silt, and clay, collectively known as sediment, are produced by the mechanical and chemical breakdown of rocks. Once disaggregated from the original source rock, this material is then eroded and transported by either wind, water, or ice, often ending up at the deposits of rivers or lakes, or ultimately as sediment in the sea.

In STEM Club last week we had learned how to identify rocks and minerals. This week, we took it a step further and discussed how scientists use the characteristics of composition and texture to help hypothesize where a sand sample may have been collected.

Background Information


The composition of sediment is largely dependent on the source material. For example, the sand around volcanic islands is often composed of volcanic rock fragments, volcanic glass (obsidian), and mineral (such as olivine) associated with volcanic rocks. Sediment found on beaches of southern California are largely composed of quartz and other minerals associated with igneous rocks, which form the bulk of our local mountain ranges.

In areas where there is no good source of sedimentary material from nearby mountains or volcanoes, the sand is often entirely composed of organic material (i.e. shell fragments, coral, etc). These sediments are called carbonates, because they are nearly entirely composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3).


The texture of sediment is largely determined by the transportation process. The three important characteristics used to assess the texture of sediment are rounding, size, and sorting.


As material is transported, it is subject to abrasion and impact with other particles which tends to “round-off” the sharp edges or corners. A well rounded sand grain has probably traveled a great distance from its original source area, while angular grain has probably only been transported locally. However, large particles tend to round much faster than smaller particles.

Grain Size

The terms gravel, sand, silt, and clay carry with them a size connotation. Gravel is any material greater than 2 millimeters in its largest dimension. This includes boulders, cobbles, pebbles, and granules (in decreasing size order). Sand is any material between 2 mm and 0.06 mm in size.

We usually sub-divide this category into very coarse, coarse, medium, fine, and very fine. In practical terms, very fine sand is about the smallest grain size you still see with your naked eye. Silt is material which is finer than sand, but still feels gritty when rubbed on your teeth. Clay is the finest material of all, and pure clay will feel smooth on your teeth, and will form a sticky ball when wet.

As a general rule, material gets smaller the more it has been transported. Therefore very coarse material usually indicates a short distance of transport and vice versa.


The sorting of a sediment is simply how well the sedimentary material is separated out by size. For example, if all the grains in a sediment sample are very nearly the same size then we say the sample is “well- sorted”. If a sedimentary sample were to contain pieces gravel, as well as sand and silt, it would be a “poorly- sorted” sample.

Sorting is primarily effected by the agent of transport. Water is an excellent medium for sorting of particles by size and density. Wind is probably the best sorting mechanism of all, but of course, only operates on the finer grain sizes (not much gravel is moved by wind transport). Ice is the poorest sorting mechanism, transporting and depositing all sizes of sediment with equal ease.

Sand PowerPoint

Some time ago, I found a wonderful Sands PowerPoint but I have sadly been unable to locate it again. Please – if you are familiar with the original source, I would so much like to point my readers directly to the source and give proper credit.

The following image is a slide excerpted from the presentation. Three sand samples have been photographed under magnification from which the roundness of each sample can easily be identified. The graph below each sample illustrates how well the sedimentary material or sand sample was separated by size.

Sample 1 – This is a medium sized sand with a few sea shell fragments. The sorting of the sand is good. There is not a huge variation in the size of the sand. The graph shows a bell curve with a relatively equal distribution of small, medium, and larger size grains. This is a good example of a BEACH SAND.

Sample 2 – This is a classic example of a DUNE SAND. It is very well sorted and fine grained. Well sorted means that the size of the grains is not varied. Most of the grains of this dune sample are in one size group (96.7% are in the size .009 to .005).

Sample 3 – This is a very poorly sorted sand. There are coarse particles and fine grained particles. This, along with the fact that the sand particles are very angular are the indications that it is a RIVER SAND. In other words, it has not traveled far from its original source.

Hands-on Sand Lab Activity


  • At least 4 different sand samples collected from different locations; the greater the variety the better
  • Metric ruler
  • Microscope
  • Microscope slides
  • Sand gauge (optional)
  • Sediment or sand sieve kit (optional)


In their science notebooks, I instructed the students to create a data table with the following 8 column headings:

  • Sample Name or Number and Location
  • Color
  • % Dark Minerals
  • Grain Size
  • Rounding
  • Sorting
  • Organic Material
  • Other (probable origin, sketches of grain shape, etc.)

I then encouraged them to examine at least 4 different sand samples from the sand collection provided. To guide their observations, students were asked to fill out the table as they went along. A microscope was also available so they could observe their samples under magnification.

Using the data on their charts and their microscope observations, students should have been able to identify the environment of deposition (beach, dune, or river) of the various sand samples.

STEM Club: Rock Types Lab

It is not easy to tell the difference between rocks & minerals because there are so many kinds of them. It takes years of study to be able to accurately identify a mystery rock.

Last week, we learned of the rock cycle which describes the dynamic changes over time among the three main rock types: sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous. Today, the kids took part in two rock identification labs to further develop their understanding of the basic rock types.

mineral is a naturally-occurring substance formed through geological processes that has a characteristic chemical composition, a highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties. A rock is a naturally occurring aggregate or combination of minerals. Rocks do not have a definite chemical composition. All rocks are made of 2 or more minerals, but minerals are not made of rocks.

typesofrocksThe Three Main Rock Types

Twelve stations were set up around the room – each with a rock specimen and a card that provided hints as to how that rock was formed. The students rotated amongst the stations and recorded first the name of the rock and then identified which of the tree rock types to which it belonged.

Here are just a few examples of the text clues given on the cards:

Marble :: In the past this was a sedimentary rock called limestone. However, heat and pressure have changed it into a much harder rock called marble. Marble today is used as a building material.

Limestone :: This rock formed when the small skeletons of diatoms, plankton, and other water animals sink to the bottom and are then buried and squeezed to form rock.

Pumice :: This rock came from the foot of a small volcano in central Oregon called a pumice cone. It is so full of holes that it will float in water.

typesrocksIdentifying Rocks – Using a Dichotomous Key

We then utilized a dichotomous rock key to identify a dozen or so small rock and mineral samples.  In most cases, we don’t see a rock during its formation, so we rely on rocks’ observable clues to infer their formations. Two clues that indicate a rock’s formation are its composition and texture.

  • Composition refers to what a rock is made of. The color of a rock can provide a clue to the composition. Fragments of other rocks, fossils, and identifiable mineral grains are also aspects of composition.
  • Texture is a description of the rock material. It includes characteristics such as crystal size and shape, number of different grain sizes, and alignment of grains.

Together we observed the rock’s texture, conducted a basic hardness test, and identified the minerals that compose it as best we could.

When Using a Rock Key there are a few things you need to know:

When minerals have the time and space to grow into their crystal forms, they grow to beautiful regular shapes that are easy to recognize once you have seen a few examples. In rocks, crystals grow up against each other; they have straight edges and often show flat shiny faces that reflect light like tiny mirrors.

Grains that are not crystals in rock do not have flat shiny faces. They are rounded, like grain of sand, or jagged, like a piece of broken rock. Grain size in rocks can mean the size of crystal grains or of fragments:

  • Coarse Grained – the rock is mostly made of grains as large as rice, or larger
  • Medium Grained – the individual grains can be seen without a magnifier, but most of the rock is made of grains smaller than rice
  • Fine Grained– the individual grains can not be seen without a magnifier

Layers in rocks show in different ways.

  • In some rocks (gneiss for example) different colored minerals are lined up in ribbons.
  • In schists, the layers are most often thin layers of mica or chlorite around masses of feldspar or quartz. The top and bottom is almost always mica or chlorite.
  • In sandstones, different sized sand grains sometimes show as different colors. When the grains are sorted by running water or wind, they show different shades of the same color.
  • The layers in slate are very thin and straight. The top and bottom layers are usually flat and quite smooth.

Gas bubbles form round or elongated holes in rocks. In pumice, the bubbles may be very tiny. In scoria or vesicular basalt, the bubbles are larger, often as large as peas.


For more information on rock types and identifying rocks, I recommend these resources:

STEM Club: The Rock Cycle

Rocks, like mountains, do not last forever. The weather, running water, and ice wear them down. All kinds of rocks become sediment. Sediment is sand, silt, or clay. As the sediment is buried it is compressed and material dissolved in water cements it together to make it into sedimentary rock. If a great amount of pressure is exerted on the sedimentary rock, or it is heated, it may turn into a metamorphic rock. If rocks are buried deep enough, they melt. When the rock material is molten, it is called a magma. If the magma moves upward toward the surface it cools and crystallizes to form igneous rocks. This whole process is called the Rock Cycle.

In STEM Club this week, I shared a game with the students with which we simulated cycling through the rock cycle. I began the lesson with a visual diagram of the rock cycle laid upon the tables and requested the students copy it into their journals. The three major rock types (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary) were illustrated, as well as the processes that act upon the rock material.


Magma is molten rock.  Igneous rocks form when magma solidifies. If the magma is brought to the surface by a volcanic eruption, it may solidify into an extrusive igneous rock. Magma may also solidify very slowly beneath the surface. The resulting intrusive igneous rock may be exposed later after uplift and erosion remove the overlying rock. The igneous rock,  may then undergo weathering and erosion and the debris produced is transported and ultimately deposited (usually on a sea floor) as sediment.

If the unconsolidated sediment becomes lithified (cemented or consolidated into rock), it becomes a sedimentary rock. As the rock is buried the additional layers of sediment and sedimentary rock build and thereby heat and pressure increase. Tectonic forces may also increase the temperature and pressure. If the temperature and pressure become high enough, usually at depths greater than several kilometers below the surface, the original sedimentary rock is no longer in equilibrium and recrystallizes.

The new rock that forms is called a metamorphic rock. If the temperature gets very high the rock melts and becomes magma again, completing the cycle. The cycle can be repeated, as implied by the arrows. However, there is no reason to expect all rocks to go through each step in the cycle. For instance, sedimentary rocks might be uplifted and exposed to weathering, creating new sediment.

Rock Cycle Game

Set up eight stations at which a change in the rock cycle occurs:

  • Earth’s Interior
  • Soil
  • River
  • Ocean
  • Clouds
  • Mountains
  • Volcano

Each student starts at one area. At each area is a die that the student should role to determine what path they should take. It is possible for the student to remain at the same station for a long time.  To alleviate frustration, I thereby stated that after 3 turns the student could go to another station.

While at each station and while moving to the different stations, students must record what is happening. For example,

“I began my adventure at ________ .  The first thing that happened was _________, then I went to ___________.”

Students continued to work through the rock cycle for several minutes (until the majority had cycled through 12 steps).


After their journey through the rock cycle is complete, students are encouraged to create a cartoon describing their adventures in the rock cycle. Each cartoon page should be divided so there are 12 boxes (one for each ‘step’ in the rock cycle).

Try it yourself! Download the student handouts and station cards .. Rock Cycle Journey.

STEM Club ~ Plate Tectonics

modeling plate tectonicsThe theory of plate tectonics provides geology with a comprehensive theory that explains how the Earth works. Though Alfred Wegener was the first to suggest the theory of continental drift and plate tectonics in 1915, it wasn’t widely accepted until the 1960s and 1970s as new information was obtained about the nature of the ocean floor, Earth’s magnetism, the distribution of volcanoes and earthquakes, the flow of heat from Earth’s interior, and the worldwide distribution of plant and animal fossils.

The theory of plate tectonics states that the Earth’s lithosphere is broken into 15 major plates.  Seven large plates include: the African, North American, South American, Eurasian, Australian, Antarctic, and Pacific plates. Several minor plates also exist, including the Arabian, Nazca, and Philippines plates.

These plates are all moving in different directions and at different speeds (from 2 cm to 10 cm per year–about the speed at which your fingernails grow) in relationship to each other atop the hot plastic upper mantle, known as the asthenosphere. These plates are in motion as a result of convection in the asthenosphere, creating a variety of interactions at the plate boundaries. At the plate boundaries, plates may converge (collide), diverge (separate), or slide past each other (transform boundary).  In addition, some plates may appear to be inactive.

In this simple activity, students will model each of the different types of interactions at plate boundaries. Each pair of students will need the following materials:

4 squares of graham crackers
1/2 rice cake
4 dollops of frosting
a small dish of water
paper plate

Part 1: Divergent Plate Boundaries

1.  Divide your plate into four sections with a marker
2.  Place a dollop of frosting in each quadrant
3.  Lay the two pieces of graham cracker side by side on top of the frosting so they are touching.
4.  To imitate the result of diverging oceanic plates, press down on the crackers as you slowly pull apart in opposite directions.

Think About It
1.  What do the graham crackers represent?
2.  What does the frosting represent?
3.  What happened to the frosting between the crackers?
4.  Name a specific location on the Earth where this kind of boundary activity takes place.
5.  What type of feature is produced by this movement?
6.  What is the process called that creates new ocean floor from diverging plates?

Part 2: Convergent Plate Boundaries (Oceanic & Continental –> Subduction)

1.  Take another graham cracker (to represent the thin but dense oceanic plate) and lay it next to a rice cake (to represent the thicker but less dense continental plate) so they are almost touching, end to end.
2.  Push the two “plates” slowly toward each other and observe which plate rides up over the other. On the actual surface of the Earth, the oceanic plate is subducted.

Think About It
1.  Why does the oceanic plate sink beneath the continental plate?
2.  Name a specific location on the Earth where this kind of boundary activity takes place.  Look at the attached plate tectonics diagram for help.
3.  What features are formed on the continent along this boundary?
4.  What feature is formed in the ocean along the subduction zone?

plateboundariesPart 3: Convergent Plate Boundaries (Continental –> Mountains)

1. Take two new graham crackers. Each piece of graham cracker represents a continental plate.
2. Dip one end of each of the two graham crackers into a cup of water. Don’t wait too long or they will fall apart.
3. Immediately remove the crackers and lay them end to end on the frosting with the wet edges nearly touching.
4. Slowly push the two crackers together.

Think About It
1. What happens to the wet ends of the graham crackers?
2. What feature do the resulting ends of the wet crackers represent?
3. Name a specific location on the Earth where this type of boundary activity takes place. Look at the plate tectonics diagram for help.

Part 4: Transform Plate Boundaries (Sliding)

1. Take two graham cracker pieces and lay the two pieces side by side on top of the frosting so they are touching.
2. Place one hand on each of the graham cracker pieces and push them together by applying steady, moderate pressure. At the same time, also push one of the pieces away from you while pulling the other toward you.

* If you do this correctly, the cracker should hold while you increase the push-pull pressure, but will finally break from the opposite forces. We found this one the most difficult to model accurately. 

Think About It
1. Name a specific location on the Earth where this type of boundary activity takes place. Look at the attached plate tectonics diagram for help.
2. Nothing happens at the beginning, but as the pressure is increased, the crackers finally break. What do we call the breaking and vibrating of the Earth’s crust?
3. Why do you think Earthquakes typically occur in California and not in the midwest?

STEM Club ~ Geospheres and Our Earth System

In addition to the lessons I presented on Earth’s interior and surface topography described last week, I also taught a short lesson on Geospheres and our Earth System. To those who had explored ecology with us in the spring, this was a bit of review though the material was presented in a different manner.

What is a System?

A system is generally described as a set of components that interact within a boundary. A clock is a good example of a system. Mechanical and often electrical components work together to display the time. In recent years, scientists have started to consider Earth, from the very top of the atmosphere to the core at its center, as a system with four major components or spheres that interact in very complex ways.



The area near the surface of the earth can be divided up into four inter-connected “geo-spheres:” the lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere. Scientists can classify life and material on or near the surface of the earth to be in any of these four spheres. The names of the four spheres are derived from the Greek words for stone (litho), air (atmo), water (hydro), and life (bio).

  • The geosphere (sometimes called the lithosphere) includes the solid part of Earth, the interior, and the pedosphere, which is the thin, outermost soil layer.
  • The hydrosphere is all of Earth’s bodies of water, including groundwater and Earth’s frozen water (the cryosphere).
  • The biosphere is all living things, plants and animals, from microbes to humans.
  • The atmosphere is the blanket of gas that surrounds Earth, and includes the precipitation, clouds, and aerosols (tiny suspended particles) that are found in air.
In STEM Club, we focused on spheres that are most accessible to students: the portion of the geosphere called the pedosphere; the hydrosphere; the biosphere; and the atmosphere.

Beginning to perceive Earth as a system can begin with something as simple as when we first feel warmth from sunshine or get wet standing in the rain. However, truly understanding Earth as a system requires a quantitative exploration of the connections among all parts of the system: air, water, land, and life.

At any moment in time, all matter and energy on Earth is part of one or more of these spheres, and across time, all of Earth’s matter cycles through two or more of these spheres.

annotated geospheresInterconnections and Processes

There are many simple examples of the interconnections between components and elements of the Earth system. I’ve listed a few here:

  • The roots of plants (biosphere) draw water and nutrients from the pedosphere, exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis, and send water into the atmosphere through the process of transpiration.
  • Plants also die and decompose to become part of the pedosphere.
  • Water evaporates from rivers (hydrosphere) and the soil (pedosphere) to become part of the atmosphere.
  • Oxygen in the atmosphere dissolves in a river (hydrosphere).
  • Fish (biosphere) draw dissolved oxygen into their bodies from the hydrosphere.
  • The sun warms the pedosphere, which transfers its heat to the atmosphere.
  • Warmed air transfers heat to cooler land surfaces.
  • Evaporation from a lake (hydrosphere) transfers heat to the atmosphere.
  • Rivers and ocean currents redistribute heat energy.
  • Precipitation can warm or cool the pedosphere on which it falls.

There are also connections between elements within a component of the earth systems.  For example:

  • Birds eat plant seeds.
  • Flowers attract insects and other pollinators.
  • Rivers flow into lakes or oceans.

Because of the interconnectedness, changes in one sphere bring about changes in the others. Sometimes these changes are dramatic, but more frequently these changes are more subtle.

  • Droughts (atmosphere) can cause severe changes in the hydrosphere, the biosphere, and the pedosphere.
  • Rain changes the soil moisture and the amount of water in lakes and rivers.
  • Increased water level in a lake has an impact on the plants and animals that inhabit the shoreline.
  • An increase in air temperature decreases the amount of moisture in the pedosphere by increasing the rate of evaporation and the rate at which vegetation loses water (transpiration) to the atmosphere.

Class Activities

Lesson Objective – By studying the flow of energy and matter locally, students will begin to build an understanding of how the four components of the Earth system work together to create and maintain Earth’s unique climate.

Last week, I shared with the class a powerpoint from Earth Labs and then assigned them the task of taking a photograph for this week’s lesson. The photo could be of their backyard, the lake, the river, or a park – it was entirely up to them.

I opened today’s lesson by sharing with them several infographics that illustrated the cycles of water and nutrients between the spheres: the hydrologic cycle (water cycle), the carbon cycle (photosynthesis, respiration, and transpiration), the nitrogen cycle, etc. Most of this was review for the students – but for some it was new material.

I modeled for the class the process of identifying the interconnections and processes evident in the photograph I took (example pictured above). I then asked students to annotate a photograph of their study site.

Lastly, the students created a simplified diagram of their study site to highlight the flow of energy and matter among the four components of the Earth system.


If you are interested in doing this lesson with your students, the printables and handouts are available as a FREE download, Geospheres Foldable