Organisms and Interactions: 6th Grade Sci (1 of 3)


Step 1: Build the Ecosystem

A challenge came from Quynh Tu, our 6th Grade Science teacher. She has a great organisms and ecosystems project that she wants to move from a poster-based product to an iPad-based one. As she describes it, the students have to create two organisms and describe them individually. Part of the description is the ecosystem in which they live and how they are adapted to it. The second level is that the organisms have to interact in some way (e.g. symbiotic, cooperative, parasitic). In the past, students have drawn their organisms out and labeled things on a poster. She’d like two main things to come out of “iPad-izing” the project:

  • Students can narrate the project, making them verbalize and expand their answers past the simpler poster labels, and
  • Students draw the ecosystem as well as the creatures, so that they have to describe more about the ecosystem’s effect on the creatures. She felt like this has gotten short shrift in the past.

I’ve broken this project down into three distinct stages, each with their own goals and tools:

  1. Build the Ecosystem
  2. Build the Organisms
  3. Assemble the Presentation/Movie

In this post, we’ll start with Step 1: Building the Ecosystem. To the lab!

We Need to Build a Stage

From what Quyhn describes, I’m envisioning painting a backdrop: a picture of an ecosystem which can be used as the stage upon which our organisms and presentation will unfold. First we need a drawing program which will let students create an environment.

It's water and a mountain. Trust me.

It’s water and a mountain. Trust me. (Paper)

One of my favorite drawing programs is Paper (free, with in-app purchases of additional brushes and tools). In Paper, I sketched out a basic scene with some water and a mountain. My creature will be an amphibian, so I want land and sea in the picture.

With the free version, it might be a little limiting for students. Also, I think that they might want to import pictures for this. I didn’t ask Quynh if that’s a possibility she’d like to open up, but I’ll keep it on the menu for now.

Skitch (free) is already on the student iPads, and is great for annotating pictures. It has the opposite problem: it doesn’t have much in the way of freehand drawing, which we definitely want to be a part of this.

Another app in our standard deployment is Brushes (free). Brushes is an art tool with great freehand tools and photo import. I know that I need mountains and water. Google Images, give me:

“Lake:” IMG_0120

Great. Now, give me “Mountain:”



Sold. Now, can I combine these in Brushes? You tell me:



That was about three minutes worth of work in Brushes. With another five, I’d pick a better mountain picture where the resolutions are compatible. For a background, I think I’m pretty satisfied.

Verdict: Recommending Brushes as app for constructing background. It can be done with either photo manipulation or freehand drawing.

Next, we’ll tackle Step 2: Creating an Organism.

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