Working with What You've Got

9, 10, 11, 12

In this lesson, students learn about the interconnectedness of the ecosystem and its impact on the economy of a region. Students will examine both biotic and abiotic ecosystem components and link these to historical industries of the region. Students will investigate the long-term sustainability of resource use and extraction in the area and make a service-learning plan for influencing sustainable use of resources and unemployment issues. 

Lesson Rating 
PrintFive 50-Minute Class Periods, Plus Time for an Assessment

The learner will:

  • identify economically important biotic and abiotic features of the local ecosystem.
  • identify factors that influence the abundance of the biotic and abiotic features.
  • compare the types of industries that existed in a region with the availability of resources that were existent at that time.
  • hypothesize reasons for the decline or loss of certain industries in a region over time as they relate to the health of the ecosystem.
  • propose strategies to stabilize the economy of a region through resource preservation and sustainable utilization.
  • hypothesize and explain what types of industries may exist in the region in the future based on the inventory of ecological resources.
  • number cards from one to six(for putting students into random groups of 3-5 students)
  • blank name tags or printer labels (100 or more)
  • large box of Goldfish crackers
  • large bag of gummy bears
  • two boxes of toothpicks
  • one tube of BBs
  • one or two bags of black jelly beans
  • several boxes of Tic Tacs mint candies
  • index cards, one per student
  • costume of historic occupation for your region (for Day Three)
Teacher Preparation 

The simulation game will be fast paced. It may be helpful to get two assistants: one to replenish the resources on a regular schedule and one to time students during their retraining.

Home Connection 

Learners interview several household members, extended family members, or neighbors about their past and present occupations. The student will: create a list of occupations, marked as past, present, or both. Assign a related resource to each occupation (use resource list created on Day One). Indicate why someone left a job, if applicable. Indicate how many jobs each individual held and for how long.


Penn State: Schreyer Institute. Think-Pair-Share model

United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Outlook Handbook"

Saskatchewan Schools, Canada. Exit Cards.


  1. Day One

    Anticipatory Set:

    As each student enters the room assign them randomly to a team by giving them a name tag printed with a job title (six different jobs: lumberjack, fur trapper/hunter, fisherperson, metal miner, oil tycoon, water bottler).

  2. Tell the students they will play a game in which they gather a resource connected with their occupation. The point of the game is to earn the most points. Tell them the point value of each resource and explain the game rules. Play the game described on Handout One: Resource Game. Play for ten minutes, debrief about strategy, and play again for 15 minutes or until they run out of resources.

  3. Discuss the connection between jobs and the availability of resources.

  4. Introduce a quote wall to students with the Cree Proverb, "Only when the last tree is cut; only when the last river is polluted; only when the last fish is caught; only then will they realize that you cannot eat money." Briefly discuss the quote and encourage the students to find their own quotes related to natural resources and jobs to display on a designated wall. They should print their quotes in large font or handwriting and include its source. As students bring in quotes to display, discuss their meaning and relevance to the lesson.

  5. As a class, brainstorm a list of economically important natural resources in the local environment. Review the difference between natural resources, human resources, and capital resources.

  6. Define the terms abiotic, biotic, renewable, and non-renewable. Assign anatural resource (from the brainstorm above) to each pair of students. Using the think-pair-share model, have students identify their resource as abiotic or biotic and renewable or non-renewable. Save the "share" portion of the discussion until Day Two.

  7. Day Two

    Anticipatory Set:

    Add a quote to the quote wall, "As soils are depleted, human health, vitality, and intelligence go with them." -- Louis Bromfield. Discuss what the quote meansand how healthy soil is related to health and intelligence. Discuss quotes students have brought in for the quote wall.

  8. Remind the learners that in the previous day's think-pair-share, they identified local natural resources as biotic or abiotic, renewable or non-renewable. Ask the learner pairs to share their findings with the rest of the class.

  9. As pairs have them explain why they think the non-renewable resources they identified are non-renewable.

  10. Ask the class if it is possible for a renewable resource to become non-renewable.

  11. Use the resource list generated on Day One to prioritize the resources in terms of their economic importance.

  12. Move the class into groups of three students. Each group will choose one of the most economically important resources to investigate further.

  13. Members of the group will share responsibilities and decide how they will report back to the class three things about their resource, including 1) how it renews or is formed, 2) how it can be preserved, and 3) what types of jobs are associated with its use. Students will continue to work on this group project over the next two days.

  14. Assign the homework described in School/Home Connection. Give them a due date so the gathered information is ready by Day Four, below.

  15. In the last five minutes of class, use exit cards to assess the students' understanding of the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources. Pose the question for the exit card: "Give an example of an abiotic resource, identify it as renewable or non-renewable, and explain why you identified it the way you did." Students write their answers on an index card and hand it in as they leave the classroom.

  16. Day Three

    Anticipatory Set:

    Begin class by showing a picture or prop demonstrating the tools of a historic but now somewhat less common trade from your area (cattle rancher, lumberjack, fisherperson, fur trapper, farmer, etc.). Ask the students to identify the occupation associated with the tool or prop.

  17. Ask the students why they think the historic occupation is less common today. Discuss changes in economy, resources, and other factors. Brainstorm present jobs that might be obsolete in the future.

  18. Have the students brainstorm other occupations that are no longer very common. For each occupation, identify the resource it was associated with and possible reasons it is no longer very common. Record the students ideas and post in the room as a reference.

  19. Have the students report back the information from the homework of the previous day. Post the information in the classroom as a reference.

  20. Share a quote of Dwight D. Eisenhower's for the quote wall: "Among these treasures of our land is water—fast becoming our most valuable, most prized, most critical resource. A blessing where properly used—but it can bring devastation and ruin when left uncontrolled." Discuss the meaning of the quote and how his words have more importance today.

  21. Have students share any other quotes they have found for the quote wall.

  22. Utilize the remainder of the class period for students to work on their presentations.

  23. In the last five minutes of class, have students complete an exit card to answer the following question: "How do resources of a region affect the types of jobs available in that region?"

  24. Day Four

    Anticipatory Set:

    As students enter, hand them each an index card and have them write a brief answer to the following questions: "If you are still living in the local area 30 years from now, what type of job do you think you will have? What changes in the local ecosystem could affect the availability of this job in the future?"

  25. Give the students about five minutes to write their responses, then pool a list of the proposed jobs on the board.

  26. Use the Occupational Outlook Handbook or state occupational data to look up information about current job growth trends. Look up the jobs they came up with in the entrance activity.

  27. Discuss with students how these trends may relate to resource use and availability (remember humans are a resource too).

  28. Ask the students to review their completed homework from Day Two. With the students' input and participation, create a graph of the data collected.The graph may show how job change relates to available resources, or other relevant information summarizing student observations. Discuss the completed graph.

  29. Have students brainstorm how current or future occupations could make better use of the existing resources.

  30. Share the following quote by Gifford Pinchot: "Conservation means the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men." Breifly discuss what this quote means and allow students to share quotes they have found.

  31. Use the remainder of the day for the students to finalize their presentations.

  32. Day Five

  33. Student groups present their findings about the resources they researched.

  34. Give the assessment assignment. (See Assessment below.) Note: You may use the assessment provided or develop an assessment strategy of your own.

  35. Guide student voice as they discuss possible action they may take to improve utilization of local resources. Discuss the statistics and information gathered for the presentations and use it as part of the investigation phase of a service-learning project. See Lesson One: Past and Present Parallels; Handout Five: Planning a Service-Learning Project.


Students choose a resource-based occupation that has either greatly declined or no longer exists in the area. They write a proposal for steps that would have helped prolong its existence. Students present their proposal in one of the forms below: Persuasive letter to an industry leader of the time, Essay Public service announcement (with written script) can be radio or video, Combination display and short descriptive paper, Combination prototype technology (model of a technology to solve a problem) and short descriptive paper. Proposal should include: a description of the resource and how it was utilized to support the job market, a description of the issues that led to a reduction in that job market, at least two possible proposed solutions to the decline in that job market along with an analysis of the pros and cons of each solution.

Cross Curriculum 

Students take action to improve utilization of local resources with a long-term plan to influence job sustainability. Students discuss the statistics and information gathered for their presentations and use as part of the investigation phase of a service-learning project. See Lesson One: Past and Present Parallels; Handout Five: Planning a Service-Learning Project.


Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark HS.13 Give examples of how philanthropy has reallocated limited resources through giving and citizen action.
      2. Benchmark HS.4 Give examples of how civil society sector giving by individuals and corporations can impact communities.
      3. Benchmark HS.5 Give examples of stewardship decisions throughout history and in current events.
      4. Benchmark HS.7 Explain why the civil society sector rather than the government or private sectors address particular economic areas.
      5. Benchmark HS.9 Analyze a major social issue as a "commons problem" and suggest ways the civil society sector could help to resolve it.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 02. Service and Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Select a service project based on interests, abilities, and research.