Living organisms and non-living systems have numerous characteristics in common, but only organisms

This focus idea is explored through:

  • Contrasting student and scientific views
  • Critical teaching ideas
  • Teaching activities
  • Further resources

Contrasting student and scientific views

Student everyday experience

Living organisms and non-living systems have numerous characteristics in common, but only organisms
Students tend to think of organisms as being only animals that interact with the physical environment and plants, without appreciating the complex interdependence between members of and across species.

Research: Hubber & Tytler (2004)

Their ideas of ecosystems are usually only associated with natural and wilderness areas rather than their own environments. This concept of an ecosystem also influences their ideas about how humans interact with ecosystems, which is often in terms of the destruction or collapse of natural and wilderness ecosystems rather than those systems that are part of their more immediate environments.

Research: Novak & Gowin (1984)

Scientific view

The world contains a wide diversity of physical conditions, which creates a variety of environments where living things can be found. In all these environments, organisms interact and use available resources, such as food, space, light, heat, water, air, and shelter. Each population of organisms, and the individuals within it, interact in specific ways that are limited by and can benefit from other organisms.

Interactions between different organisms are numerous and are usually described according to their positive (beneficial), negative or neutral effect on others.

The interactions between living things and their non living environment makes up a total ecosystem; understanding any one part of it requires knowledge of how that part interacts with the others.

Ecosystems do not ‘collapse’ but do change in function, structure and composition over time due to natural or human disturbance (examples include the impact of drought, flooding, mowing and herbicides).

Research: Novak and Gowin (1984)

Critical teaching ideas

  • All organisms exist within ecosystems.
  • Living things have various structures that enable them to survive: for example, transport structures in plants allow water and trace elements to move. Similarly there are digestive structures and respiratory structures in animals and reproductive structures in plants and animals that assist in organisms functioning within ecosystems.
  • Each organism has particular forms of these structures that assist their survival.
  • In all environments, organisms with similar needs may compete with one another for limited resources, including food, space, water, air and shelter.

Living organisms and non-living systems have numerous characteristics in common, but only organisms
Explore the relationships between ideas about organisms and their interactions with their environments in the Concept Development Maps – (Flow of Energy in Ecosystems,Natural Selection)

Students need to experience evidence of a functioning ecosystem with abundant plant-animal interaction to develop a better understanding of the complexity of interactions and to understand that they themselves live within ecosystems.

Time is a factor that influences the type of interactions and changes that take place in an ecosystem. This is problematic for science planning that does not allow students to observe changes over an extended period of time. Allowing ongoing investigations to run throughout the year is an important consideration (or alternatively use video clips that record changes over time).

Research: Skamp (2004)

Teaching activities

Collect evidence/data for analysis

Identify a project within your local community where student research and involvement may have an impact.

Some examples are:

  • Whale Dept. of Environment and Water Resources - Coasts and oceans
  • Marine Coastal Projects
  • Adopt a Dolphin - Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
  • Dolphin Research Institute

Research: Baker (2005)

Challenge some existing ideas

In order to challenge the ideas that ecosystems only exist in wilderness areas and that human impact is always negative, encourage students to undertake activities which allow them to investigate living things in a natural local environment such as the schoolyard, local pond, a wetland or a constructed environment such as a classroom pond.

Research: Skamp (2004)

Collect evidence/data for analysis

Studying pond animals over a period of weeks gives a sense of the changes that occur in populations as they interact or in changes of form as animals go through their lifecycles. Students can link this with a longer study to provide insights to seasonal changes and animal adaptations related to seasonal cycles. The ten part TV series The Life of Birds completed by Sir David Attenborough in 1998 provides some great examples of how birds have adapted to urban environments.

Research: Skamp (2​004)

Focus student attention on overlooked detail

Living organisms and non-living systems have numerous characteristics in common, but only organisms
Encourage students to record observations and descriptions of phenomena using science journals, labelled diagrams, timelines and PowerPoint presentations. Use microscopes and hand held lenses to assist observations of structure and function. For example you could map a school pond or nearby wetland, track where tadpoles are feeding and where other organisms are situated or move in relation to each other.

Clarify and consolidate ideas for/by communication to others

Students could create a news report on their project or develop a project like creating a new playground. They could explore an issue for the media or their school newsletter from differing perspectives such as a politician, a greenie, a farmer, a parent, a local elder or other teachers. This involves ethical decision-making on behalf of the students as to what to include and what not to include in the report.

Further resources

Science related interactive learning objects can be found on the FUSE Teacher Resources page.

To access the interactive learning object below, teachers must login to FUSE and search by Learning Resource ID:

  • Environmental evaluation project: frog pond habitat –students answer a short quiz about how organisms are adapted to their environment, then explore a pond environment. They choose sampling tools suited to avoid hurting the animals or damaging the study area, then collect animals from a pond, grassy bank, rocky bank, trees and shrubs. They look at a species description and video for each animal and describe how the animal meets its basic needs for food, water, shelter and protection.
    Learning Resource ID:  R9QN9M
  • Environmental evaluation project: frog pond habitat (2) – students explore why a frog population is declining by look at changes in the pond over time (specifically, water quality, habitat loss and predation by introduced species). Students build a food web for the pond and model population interactions. They identify which species have the greatest impact on the frog and finally build a report using evidence collected to support their conclusions.
    Learning Resource ID:  FTE6CS

What are the common attributes or characteristics of living systems non

All living things breathe, eat, grow, move, reproduce and have senses..
Non-living things do not eat, grow, breathe, move and reproduce. They do not have senses..

Do living organisms contain unique elements?

Living organisms contain unique chemical elements which are not found in non-living systems. An input of energy is required to maintain the complexity of living systems. The energy conversions that take place in living systems are governed by the same laws of thermodynamics that govern non-living systems.

What do all organisms have in common quizlet?

- All living things are made up of a common set of molecules. - All living things have DNA. - All living things use proteins to build their body parts and carry out their functions. - Evolutionary Theory explains both this unity of life and its differences.

Are living systems the most complex?

Living systems are the most complex chemical systems on earth. Living systems are governed by the same principles of chemistry and physics that govern non-living systems. Living organisms contain unique chemical elements which are not found in non-living systems.

How is growth different in living and non

Solution : Growth is a permanent and Irreversible increase in the size of a living organism. In Living organisms, growth is from Inside. Where as in Non-living objects like Mountains and sand mounds, growth occurs by accumulation on of material on the outer surface.