Pre-Blitz Teacher Discussion Guide

To the California Educator,

Thank you for joining the Fall 2019 EcoBlitz CA! We are delighted you are taking the opportunity to enhance your classroom learning experience through participating in this project with us. We created this guide in the hopes that it facilitates thoughtful pre-blitz discussions, prepares your students for meaningful engagement with the EcoBlitz activities, and fosters a sense of curiosity about the interconnectedness of humans and our environment. We can’t wait to get outside with you and conduct some amazing citizen science!


EcoBlitz Team

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Students prepare for the BioBlitz portion of the EcoBlitz by defining biodiversity and thinking about the characteristics of habitats that affect biodiversity. Students are asked to think about what makes organisms different from each other, the importance of interactions between major groups of living organisms and their local environment. Students are then asked to make predictions about the biodiversity they may observe during their local BioBlitz and to reflect on their interactions with biodiversity and what a biodiverse world means to them.

*Listed below are some sample discussion questions. Please modify accordingly for the needs of your students.

I. Defining Key Terms

    • Biodiversity: the variety of living things in a specific area

    • Organism: A living thing, such as a plant, animal, bacteria, or fungus

    • Kingdom: a broad category of Living things based on their similarities and differences. The bioblitz will focus on three of these:

      • Kingdom Animalia: Animals are unable to make their own energy, so they must eat other organisms. Examples: jellyfish, insects, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, etc.

      • Kingdom Plantae: Plants are able to capture the energy of the sun using photosynthesis. Many of them use chlorophyll, which makes them green, to capture the sun’s energy. Examples: ferns, mosses, trees, flowers, etc.

      • Kingdom Fungi: Like animals, fungi are unable to produce their own energy. They are often decomposers and a critical part of recycling nutrients back into the environment. Although they resemble plants they are actually more closely related to animals! Examples: mushrooms, molds, lichens, etc

    • Species: A group of organisms that can reproduce among themselves

    • Ecosystem: a community of organisms and their environment, including abiotic (sun, wind, soil, etc) and biotic (other plants, animals, and bacteria present) parts of the environment

    • Habitat: Where an organism lives (for example: a forest, a tide-pool, etc)

    • Microhabitat: a small section of a habitat (for example: nooks in plant stems, the bottom of a leaf, the petals of a flower, the trunk of a tree, under a rock, in the soil, etc)

II. Thinking like a Biologist: What impacts biodiversity?

    • Tell students they are going to play a game of “which one does not belong.” (NGS Activity 2)

      • Each slide will include three organisms. Two are closely related, while the third organism is in a different group. Guide students through each slide to see if they can identify the organism that does not belong with the other two.

      • For each slide, elicit explanations from two or more students to the prompts: How could you tell? What characteristics helped you decide? Prompt students to explain the characteristics that may be shared by the two organisms in the same class, which are not shared by the third organism.

      • At the end of the slides, emphasize that special characteristics of organisms allow us to group them into similar types of organisms.

III. Biodiversity activity

    • Discuss how and why different habitats support different organisms.

      • What do plants, fungi, and animals need to survive?

      • Are all plants, fungi, and animals found in the same habitats?

      • What are some biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) factors that may be attractive or unattractive to plants, fungi, and animals?

      • What are some biotic factors that might lead to increased diversity?

      • What are some abiotic factors that might lead to increased diversity?

    • Discuss or make hypotheses about biodiversity.

      • Not all areas are equally attractive to all species of plant and animal. Why might this be?

      • To find a broad variety of organisms, we should look at as broad of a variety of habitats as possible, and as many microhabitats within those habitats that we can think of. What habitats and microhabitats would you look at in the area you’ve chosen to survey?

      • What types of ecosystems do students think will yield the highest number of species of plants and animals? What about the lowest? What human-related factors might positively or negatively affect the biodiversity of an area?

    • Discuss interactions among organisms within ecosystems.

      • Why and when in their lives do plants, animals, and fungi interact? How do humans interact with plants, animals, and fungi?

      • BlitzTip: During the BioBlitz, take a close look around flowers, as there may be pollinators and other critters that have been attracted to the nectar, and be sure to look for lichens and plants that live on trees or other plants.

    • Discuss the difference between wild and cultivated species.

      • For example, a cow or cultivated plant growing in a flowerbed is cultivated, while a squirrel or a wildflower is wild. iNaturalist requests that you identify observations as cultivated or wild.

      • Can you name any wild or cultivated species found in your community?

    • Discuss the difference between invasive (non-native) and native species.

      • Native species - an organism naturally found in an ecosystem, where it has been present for (usually) many millions of years.

      • Invasive species - an organism that has been introduced, either accidentally or intentionally, to a part of the world it is not normally found in. Invasive species compete with native species for food and light. Because they come from other places, their natural predators and parasites are not around to eat them, so they can quickly crowd out multiple native species and reduce local biodiversity.

      • Can you name any native or invasive species found in your community?

IV. Predict

    • What are some of the plants, fungi, and animals that are found in California?

    • What kind of habitat will you be visiting?

    • What types of microhabitats are found within that habitat?

    • How many species do you expect to observe? Which (micro)habitat do you predict will have the highest diversity?

V. Reflect

    • Why should we care about biodiversity?

    • How do plants, fungi, and animals make you feel?

    • Why do humans rely on ecosystems and the plants, animals, and fungi within it?

    • What amazing innovations have come from nature?

    • What can’t we live without? What can we live without?

National Geographic and iNaturalist have additional resources to help you and your students prepare for the BioBlitz portion of the EcoBlitz. Here are two that helped us produce this guide:


Students prepare for the TrashBlitz portion of the EcoBlitz by learning to think like an archaeologist and view trash as an artifact of human behavior. Students will examine the types of processes that affect trash after it’s been discarded, and reflect on their own waste production to make predictions about the trash assemblage they may observe during their local TrashBlitz.

*Listed below are some sample discussion questions. Please modify accordingly for the needs of your students.

I. Defining Key Terms

    • Trash: discarded materials or products that cannot be treated or processed for reuse.

    • Recyclable item: materials or products that can be treated or processed so that they are suitable for reuse

    • Archaeology: The study of human history through artifacts or other physical remains.

    • Garbology: The study of a community or culture by analyzing its waste. This is a “sub-discipline” of archaeology.

    • Archaeological site: any place with material evidence of past human activity

    • Assemblage: a collection of things found in close association with each other that are a product of human activities

II. Thinking like an Archaeologist

    • Why Study Trash?

      • Did you know that most archaeologists actually study trash? Ancient trash! Archaeologists study history through the physical evidence (things you can touch, smell, see) of past human behavior. While some ancient people left behind palaces and pyramids, most people leave behind a lot of trash and not much else! And while ancient temples or palaces can tell us about the priestess or nobles of the past, trash tells us about those who weren’t written about in history books. It tells us how everyday people lived their lives! What they grew or hunted, how they prepared their food, or what they spent their time making. Trash is the unwritten history of everyday people.

    • Garbology: The Archaeology of You and Me

      • Archaeologists who study modern people through their trash are called Garbologists. By studying our trash, Garbologists can discover what kinds of edible food we waste, what kinds of brands we like, and what percentage of recyclable items aren’t actually recycled.

      • During the TrashBlitz portion of the EcoBlitz you’ll think like a Garbologist to analyze what kinds of human activities or behaviors created the trash you find. Your collection location for the TrashBlitz is an archaeological site! And the trash you document and collect is your assemblage!

    • Essential Questions:

      • Why might archaeologists wish to study modern people through their trash?

      • What do you think we can learn about ourselves from studying our trash through garbology?

      • What can we do with the information we learn from Garbology? How can we use it to produce less trash?

III. Introduce Site Formation Processes

    • Site Formation Processes definition: the processes, such as burial, decay, and preservation, that affect materials between the time they are discarded and the present. There are two types of site formation processes:

      • Cultural Transformation Processes (C-Transforms): these are processes that relate to human beings interacting with the trash (or other materials) after they have been discarded. This can be intentional or otherwise. For example, a person may pick up something that was discarded and move it to another location, or they may accidentally kick a trash can and spill trash.

      • Natural Transformation Processes (N-Transforms): these are natural events or processes that affect the location, preservation, or decay of trash. N-Transforms are continuously ongoing and depend heavily on climate and location. Some examples are the accumulation of sand and soil, movement by rain, water, or wind, and animal activity.

    • Essential questions:

      • What happens to trash after it enters the environment? Does it stay in one place forever? Does it move through the environment? Where does it end up?

      • Can you think of another example of a C-Transform? Can you think of another example of a N-Transform? How might you tell the difference between the two?

      • Do you think these processes happen to all types of trash at a similar rate? Or are some trash items more likely to be affected?

        • Hint: think of the material the trash is made out of. Is it lightweight and will blow away with strong wind or rain? Is it organic and will decay quickly? Is it a shiny ring that someone will find and pick up?

      • Do you think all trash stays in the environment for the same amount of time? How long? Or does some biodegrade over time?

IV. Reflect

    • Reflect on and discuss how much trash you have produced in the past week.

      • What types of trash did you produce? What type of action or activity do you think produced the most amount of trash? What produced the least?

      • How did you dispose of your trash? Might any of it end up back in the environment? How, why? If so, can it have been prevented? How?

      • Bonus Activity: The week before you conduct the TrashBlitz, have students first predict the types and quantity of trash they produce in a day, then have them keep a record of all the trash they produced within a 24 hour period. Compare their “predictions” with their “results”. Did they produce more or less than they expected? What types of trash did they produce more of than they expected? What types did they produce less of? Why do they think their predictions were off?

    • Reflect on and discuss what you can do to reduce their personal trash production. Jot down ideas. Compare and contrast with other students’ ideas.

      • What is in their control? What is out of their control?

      • Hint: think about packaging, alternative materials, etc.

V. Predict

    • Archaeologists and Garbologists are scientists, therefore they often collect and analyze trash in order to test hypotheses. Have students develop hypotheses of their own about the amounts and types of trash they will find during the TrashBlitz.

      • Do you think you’ll find more trash or recyclable items during the TrashBlitz? In what ratio? Why?

      • What do you think will be the most common material you find? Plastic? Paper? Glass? Why?

      • Do you have a prediction for what sort of usage will most of the trash items have been intended for? Why do they think that?

      • In what location within your “site” do you think you’ll find the most trash? Why?

      • Take a stab at guessing the number of items you’ll find in a given area.