Environmental Science & Biocomplexity

Reviewer's Guide

Doug Slatten

HS Manager at Activate

Hi I'm Doug, thanks for checking out our Environmental Science program called Environmental Science & Biocomplexity. Our program is designed around the dynamics of complex and evolving coupled natural and human (CNH) systems. The project-based curriculum consists of a series of cases relating to biocomplexity and climate change where students address land use and resource challenges increasingly confronted by society. Our program is designed to help students understand the consequences of the choices that humans make about the land, water, and biological community that they inhabit.

What's Biocomplexity?

What Students Do

Students develop ecosystem literacy at the local scale of their familiar schoolyard ecosystem. They make a land use decision regarding the addition of an athletic field to the school grounds and investigate how land use impacts hydrology, nitrogen flux, biotic factors, social factors, and ecosystem services. They build a case for their chosen land use decision by constructing evidence-based arguments that take impacts, ecosystem services and social factors into account.

Students explore the impact of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity as they consider the proposed conversion of farmland to a suburban housing development. They map landscape elements and investigate biodiversity, social factors, fluxes of carbon, the economics and role of commodity subsidies, and the impact of green design. They debate land use alternatives and build a coherent scientific case to support their chosen land use plan for an abandoned farm.

Students explore connections between the agricultural and grazing practices currently responsible for large-scale deforestation in Amazonia, and local, regional, and global climate. They investigate the role of rainforest in regulating atmospheric gases and stabilizing rainfall. They analyze patterns of Amazonian deforestation and habitat fragmentation, analyze the economic ecology of soybean production, cattle ranching and forestry land uses, and conduct a stakeholder analysis. Finally, student teams prepare a plan for a small region of Amazonia, juggling types of land use to optimize critical factors such as biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration, economic benefits and viable agriculture.

Since habitat disruption due to climate change is at its most dramatic in the Arctic, many species are showing signs of rapid impacts. Students explore impacts on the Arctic biota that result from changes related to local warming. They investigate abiotic changes due to fluxes of heat energy in the Arctic. They learn about population dynamics, conservation biology, adaptation and natural selection to understand the options available to Arctic species. Building on data about already occurring changes, they forecast what is likely to happen to selected Arctic species as the climate continues to change, and make a case for appropriate conservation strategies for these species.

Student Experience

Student Case Projects

Students will develop a case project utilizing scientific argumentation over time, learning to distinguish between assertions that are based on values and those that are based on evidence. They produce final case project presentations at the end of each module.

Light Green and Black Cycle Diagram Chart (1)


All units are organized to address a Guiding Question that culminates in students presenting their case projects in teams. An example from the Urban Unit is presented on the left. The guiding question is: Should the school replace the streamside woodland on the school grounds with an additional athletic field?


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Teacher Supports

Teacher Guides Contain

  • Background science information
  • Examples of student work


Materials are listed in the Overview of each unit and also at the beginning of each Lesson. The curriculum does not require any special equipment beyond those that are used in a typical ecology or environmental science course.

Summative Assessment Opportunities

  • Final Case Presentation: The final case presentation in each unit is designed as a summative performance assessment. A rubric is provided.
  • Unit Assessments Banks: Are provided for end-of-unit summative assessment.
  • Reviewing What You Have Learned: A series of summative multiple choice and short answer questions to evaluate student understanding of essential learning goals. Answers are provided at the end of each unit Overview.
  • Extending Your Work: A number of projects that ask students to apply and extend what they have learned in the unit. At least one of the projects involves students in conservation-related issues at the local, regional, or state level.

Formative Assessment Opportunities

  • Student Blackline Masters: Student work to build their case is supported at several points by blackline masters. These should be reviewed for formative assessment.
  • Making Sense Questions: The Making Sense questions at the end of each lesson can be collected or used by students to assess their understanding of the concepts embedded in each lesson. These questions help students bring together what they've learned.
  • Check Your Thinking Questions: Check Your Thinking questions at the end of each reading are designed for review and/or formative assessment.


Introduce students and extend information relevant to student cases.


Video is embedded and introduces students to information relevant to their unit case projects.

Teaching Slides

A series of brief PowerPoints are available for you to use to introduce specific topics or techniques. You can use them as is, or adapt them for your specific purposes and circumstances.



Each unit is designed to take 8 to 9 weeks. Depending on the amount of material, and complexity of the topic, individual lessons may take 2 – 4 class periods.

Onboarding/Ongoing Support

When you start your implementation we’ll be there with you in person or virtually to help you unpack units and use the program. You'll get ongoing support from a curriculum specialist, tech support from our tech team, and invitations to our ongoing webinar series.

Thanks For Reviewing Our Environmental Science & Biocomplexity Program 

For more information email us at info@activatelearning.com.