Bundle 5: Iowa’s Changing Land Use

Welcome to Bundle 5 – Land Use


This bundle provides resources for teachers and students to explore land use, and how it has changed and continues to change in Iowa. Many tools can be used to study land use change.  Our bundle features extensive use of historical and current maps and aerial photography. Expect this bundle to take a minimum of 4 weeks, and as long as 8 weeks to complete. Students begin (Tier 1) by comparing current and historical maps/aerial photographs of where they live.  In Tier 2, the concepts of watersheds, ecosystem services, and thermal properties of different landscapes, and the interaction between landscape and water cycle are introduced.  The Tier 2 lessons (there are three of them) can be covered in any order, or some of the Tier 2 lessons can be omitted. For Tier 3, we encourage teachers to allow students or student teams to take on their own research projects based on questions or problems generated during Tiers 1 and 2.

Studying land use brings up a wide variety of issues including agriculture, fishing, ecosystems, economic development and jobs, water quality, flood management, animal habitat, food availability and quality, recreation, and soil erosion. Current, local events are encouraged for incorporation into Bundle 5 — especially for Tier 3.  The key components are that students have a driving question, collect data, use this data to generate evidence, make a claim, and share their findings.

Big ideas:

  1. Land use in Iowa has changed and continues to change over time.
  2. Earth’s systems benefit humans, but per-capita use and over consumption impacts those natural resources.
  3. Urbanization of natural landscapes has large impacts on the environment.
  4. Biotic and abiotic factors work together to sustain each other in a natural environment.

Standards addressed:

Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
 Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
 Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.
 Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth’s systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity.
MS-PS1-3 Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.
MS-ETS1-1  Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
MS-ETS1-3 Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
Science and Engineering
Crosscutting Concepts


Tiers in depth:

Tier 1:

Teachers will guide the whole class in an initial investigation of current vs. historical land use using aerial photography. This section is designed to engage the learner in their local environment by having them determine, document, and share with their classmates the land use changes over time where they live. Students then set out to learn about watersheds and will investigate their local watershed. Later, students are encouraged to investigate their personal questions about land use in their local areas.

Tier 2:

Students study ecosystem services and benefits to better understand how earth’s systems benefit humans, and how per-capita use and consumption impacts those natural resources. Students will begin by confronting one of two local phenomena, in which human consumption interacts with natural resources. In the first option, students examine the relationship between karst topography, land use, and the quality of drinking water. In the second option, a local development project is considered in terms of the impact it has on the benefits we receive from the site’s natural resources. These options can both be considered sequentially, or one can be chosen over the other.

Tier 2:

Students will learn about heat absorption and reflection of light in different materials through hands on activities, articles, and websites. Students will perform investigations analyzing surfaces such as pavement in their surrounding community. One web option for data are pavement temperature sensors throughout Iowa and available on Iowa State’s website.  Using their data and new knowledge, students will then be asked to develop solutions to potential problems that may or may not affect them or others in their local area.

Tier 2:

This series of investigations is meant to expose students to the examination of Iowa’s natural resources and ecosystems. Students will examine Iowa’s climate and natural water cycle and how that influences habitats. Students will be introduced to natural resources as they examine how biotic and abiotic factors work together to sustain each other in a natural environment. These investigations work well as a reference point of comparison with how human beings have altered the natural landscape.

Tier 3:

This is the ultimate goal of the unit.  Learning is for the learner – not for the teacher.  To this end, students should investigate a question that they are interested in, related to the topic, that they could gather data, take a stance, and share their findings.  As they explored Tier I & II, surely they had topics that piqued their interest.  Let them run with it.  Negotiate how they share what they have done, whether it be a YouTube video, a presentation, a paper, a website, fundraising for some community improvement….. the sky is the limit.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Iowa 8th grade Science Bundles Copyright © by Ted Neal, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.