Future City Lab: Interconnected I

Lesson One: Introduction


Grade Level: Grade levels: 6-8
Keywords: ecosystem, biodiversity, interconnected, habitat, keystone species, deplete, restore
Source: www.flickr.com/tattoodjay

Time Estimate: 90 minutes

Connection to Future City Lab: Living with Nature: How can New York City enhance its natural environment and cope with climate change?

Connection to Port City: Oysters: Bounty of New York Waters


Students will:

  • discover the essential role of oysters in New York City’s history
  • think critically about the importance of interconnectedness, natural habitats, biodiversity, and our future


  • Game: Pick-up Sticks (available online and at many toy stores)
  • Computer-connected projector or individual internet-capable classroom computers
  • Excerpt handout
  • Worksheet or journal


  • NYS Science Standards: Unit 3 LE. Key Idea 5: Organisms maintain a dynamic equilibrium that sustains life.
  • NYS Science Standards: LE. Key Idea 6: Plants and animals depend on each other and their physical environment.
  • NYS Science Standards: Unit 2 LE. Key Idea 7: Human decisions and activities have had a profound impact on the physical and living environment.
  • Next Generation Science Standards: Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.
  • Next Generation Science Standards: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

Guiding Questions:

  1. What is the function of oysters? How do they work?
  2. How can oysters benefit New York City in the context of pollution, climate change, rising sea levels, and catastrophic flooding/storm surge?
  3. What is the impact of the loss of natural habitat?
  4. Why is it important to revitalize the oyster beds in New York City waterways?
  5. What part can we play in protecting the environment?
  6. Who has the agency to enact environmental change?


    In this introductory lesson, students will consider the consequences of human impact on a natural habitat.  Through an examination of history, students will understand the importance of oysters to the biodiversity of New York City, and to the health and protection of our waterways and shoreline.  Students will consider the effect humans have had on the New York City ecosystem and contemplate the interconnected nature of our environment.

    Download the Reading Excerpt

    Download the Reading Comprehension Worksheet

  1. Introduction through Kinesthetic Learning: Pick-Up Sticks (Biodiversity Interconnectedness Activity) (25 minutes – 10 minutes of play, 10 minutes of discussion, and 5 minutes of definitions)
  2. Rationale: The balance of biodiversity depends on delicate, often unnoticeable interactions between different species and their natural environments. This balance is somewhat similar to a game of  "pick-up sticks."

    Game Play: Follow standard rules of play – scatter sticks and use one designated stick (check your set for specific rules) to pick out individual sticks without moving others. Students can accumulate points by getting certain colored sticks (again, look to your set for designations) and the first to reach a certain point amount wins.


    Observations: What was easy, what was difficult?  

    Speculate: What do you think we might learn from this game about ecosystems, biodiversity, and interconnectedness?  

    Students may bring up concepts like: 

    1.) How closely connected each stick is and how it is hard to move one without affecting the others – species are closely connected in ecosystems 

    2.) How fragile the whole system is 

    3.) System being affected by outside force 

    Explain that today’s lesson will explore these themes as we explore the ecosystem of New York Harbor, using two main concepts of interconnectedness and biodiversity. 

    Define Interconnectedness:  being connected with each other (record in journal or worksheet)  

    Define Biodiversity: the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem; the number of different kinds of life forms in a given area (record in journal or worksheet) 

    Context: Read http://www.thebluedotpost.com/why-biodiversity-and-the-interconnected-web-of-life-are-important/ for quick background the three levels of biodiversity (genetic, species, and ecosystem) and explain why each is important for the overall health of an ecosystem. 

  3. Evaluating and Inferring (15 minutes)
  4. If able, examine the online interactive of Mannahatta and the New York Harbor in 1609 https://welikia.org/m-map.php. (If you’re not based in New York City, plug in the Museum’s address at 1220 Fifth Avenue.) Note the sliding rule at bottom to toggle between 1609 landscape and the present. 


    What wildlife would you think this habitat would support? (use the “About this block in 1609” map feature to further explore)  

    Turn and Talk: Why might some of these species no longer be native to NYC? What role might humans have played in this depletion? What happens to a habitat if even just one species is removed?  (use the “About this block today” map feature)  

    Class Share:  Share one idea that your partner had.  

    Define keystone species: a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically. Oysters are a keystone species. (record in journal or worksheet) 

  5. Reading Comprehension (30 minutes)
  6. Have students read the 3-page excerpt of Tom Hynes’ February 2016 article for Untapped Cities (provided) and fill out the accompanying worksheet for an overview of oysters’ history in New York City, the role humans have played in their decline, and why oysters are important to the New York ecosystem. 

  7. Reflection: So What? (20 minutes)
  8. Am I connected, too? In groups of 3-6, students discuss the following:  

    Disconnections within the ecosystem:  

    1.) Why did the oysters disappear?  

    2.) What role did humans play in their disappearance?  

    3.) What effect does this have on water quality?  

    4.) What effect does  this have on the biodiversity of the habitat?  

    5.) What effect does this have on the land? (Clues: What species might be dependent on species that live in the water? How do oyster reefs protect land?) 

    6.) What effect does this have on people? 

    Have the class share out and discuss.   

Additional Resources 

Mark Kurlansky, The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (New York: Random House, 2007)

Billion Oyster Project: https://www.billionoysterproject.org/ 

New York Public Library blog: https://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/06/01/history-half-shell-intertwined-story-new-york-city-and-its-oysters 

Thrillist, "Why Oysters and Ridiculously Important to the History of New York City": https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/oyster-facts-new-yorkers-dont-realize 

Timon McPhearson, David Maddox, Bram Gunther, and David Bragdon, "Local Assessment of New York City: Biodiversity, Green Space, and Ecosystem Services​​​​​​": ​https://static1.squarespace.com/static/552ec5f5e4b07754ed72c4d2/t/5550a998e4b08a0248d246bd/1431349656250/mcphearson+et+al.+2013b_cbo-2.pdf 

Fieldtrips: This content is inspired by the Port City, 1609-1898 and Future City Lab galleries in the Museum’s flagship exhibition, New York at Its Core. If possible, consider bringing your students on a fieldtrip! Visit http://mcny.org/education/field-trips to find out more. 


This series of lesson plans for New York at Its Core was developed in conjunction with a focus group of New York City public school teachers: Joy Canning, Max Chomet, Vassili Frantzis, Jessica Lam, Patty Ng, and Patricia Schultz.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these lessons do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.