Human Activity

Life Science
Human Interactions with Physical Systems

Human activity has consequences on living organisms and ecosystems.

Benchmark: Biotechnology Risks & Benefits

Describe the social, economic and ecological risks and benefits of biotechnology in agriculture and medicine.

For example: Selective breeding, genetic engineering, and antibiotic development and use.

Benchmark: Human Effects on Ecosystems

Describe the social, economic and ecological risks and benefits of changing a natural ecosystem as a result of human activity. 

For example: Changing the temperature or composition of water, air or soil; altering populations and communities; developing artificial ecosystems; or changing the use of land or water.

Benchmark: Contributions of Cultures

Describe contributions from diverse cultures, including Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities, to the understanding of interactions among humans and living systems. 

For example: American Indian understanding of sustainable land use practices.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in Lay Terms

Humans have the ability to affect the organisms and the ecosystems of this planet.  Human activity influences the other life on this planet and the environment in which it exists.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea

Everything that a human develops and/or does has both benefits and consequences.  This applies to biology as well as other areas.  The benefits and consequences cause effect and can be found on social, economic and ecological levels within all cultures.

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks  Describe the social, economic and ecological risks and benefits of biotechnology in agriculture and medicine.  For example: Selective breeding, genetic engineering and antibiotic development and use.  Describe the social, economic and ecological risks and benefits of changing a natural ecosystem as a result of human activity.   For example: Changing the temperature or composition of water, air or soil; altering populations and communities; developing artificial ecosystems; or changing the use of land or water.  Describe contributions from diverse cultures, including Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities, to the understanding of interactions among humans and living systems.   For example: American Indian understanding of sustainable land use practices.

The Essentials

See this page.


Human beings live within the world's ecosystems.  increasingly, humans modify ecosystem as a result of population growth, technology, and consumption.  Human destruction of habitats  through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes and other factors are threatening current global stability, and if not addressed ecosystems will be irreversibly affected.( pg 186)

human beings are part of the Earth's ecosystems.  Human activities can, deliberately or inadvertently, alter the equilibrium in ecosystems(5D/H3)

The human species has a major impact on other species in many ways; reducing the amount of the Earth's surface available to those others species interfering with their food sources, changing the temperature and chemical composition of their habitats, introduce foreign species into their ecosystems, and altering organisms directly through selective breeding and genetic engineering 3C/H4

Framework for K-12 Science Education

A complex  set of interactions within  an ecosystem can keep its numbers  and types of organisms  relatively constant over long periods  of time under  stable conditions. If a modest  biological  or physical disturbance to an ecosystem occurs, it may return  to its more or less original  status  (i.e., the ecosystem is resilient), as opposed  to becoming  a very different  ecosystem. Extreme  fluctuations in conditions or the size of any population, however,  can challenge the functioning of ecosystems in terms of resources and habitat availability.  Moreover, anthropogenic changes (induced  by human  activity) in the environment—including habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, overexploitation, and climate change—can  disrupt an ecosystem and threaten the survival of some species. 12LS.2C

The sustainability of human  societies and the biodiversity that  supports them requires  responsible  management of natural resources. Scientists and engineers can make major  contributions—for example,  by developing technologies  that  produce  less pollution and waste and that  preclude  ecosystem degradation. When the source of an environmental problem  is understood and international agreement  can be reached,  human  activities can be regulated  to mitigate  global impacts  (e.g., acid rain and the ozone hole near Antarctica).  12ESS3.C

Resource  availability  has guided the development of human  society. All forms of energy production and other  resource  extraction have associated  economic,  social, environmental, and geopolitical  costs and risks, as well as benefits. New technologies  and regulations can change the balance of these factors. 12ESS3.A

Common Core Standards

Common Core Standards (i.e. connections with Math, Social Studies or Language Arts Standards):


S-ID   (1-4) Summarize, represent and interpret data on a single count or measurement variable.   This is often done in biotechnology when a standards graph is constructed in order to analyze unknown data points.

Interpret linear models(7-9)  Distinguish between correlation and causation.

Language Arts

Reading:   RI 3  Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

Writing  W-1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Writing W-7  Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Reading - Social Studies:  RH-6  Evaluate author's differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors'claims, reasoning, and evidence.

Reading - Science and Technical Subjects  RST 1 - Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.


Student Misconceptions 

Extinctions only involve animals and don't concern us.

Bio-technology and bioengineered foods are bad for you.

Many students fail to see the link between fluctuations in population size and related environmental issues (Munson 19910 Hard to Teach Biology Concepts pg 222

Humans are indestructible as a species today, 1994) Hard to Teach Biology concepts pg 222

Students think in terms of separate components rather than the interconnected system.  (They may consider ecosystems, not functioning whole, but as simply a collection of organisms (Brehm, Anderson, and DuBay, 1986) pg 222 Hard to teach Biology Concepts.


Students in the 9th grade biology class have been studying biotechnology for several weeks now.   They isolated DNA from calf thymus (a simple laboratory using calf thymus from the butcher shop, detergent, ethyl alcohol and meat tenderizer which can all be bought at the grocery store), they may have put a plasmid of DNA into a bacteria which made it glow in the dark and they may have run an electrophoresis lab using plastic containers.

Now, however,  it is time to analyze the outcome of some real life bioengineering.   Students are sent to the computer lab and asked to search for genetically modified organisms with an emphasis on foods.   The students make a list of those that they have consumed in the last day.   Students record their diet for a day and then list all of the foods they have eaten that are genetically modified.  Students are divided into groups and each picks a genetically modified food and begins to research using computers and smart phones.   The students write a 2 page report on their findings and then report back to the class.  Their report/presentation addresses the social, economic and ecological risks and benefits. of the genetically modified food? 


Instructional Notes 

Suggested Labs and Activities  Biotechnology  (REFERENCE NSE Standard)

It is beneficial to expose students to some aspects of biotechnology on a practical level first. Once exposed students have a much better idea of what genetic engineering actually entails. There are outstanding kits which can be purchased.   After comparing materials and  expiration  dates, the value of the kits seems reasonable and practical.  Possible options are:   P Glo  transformation laboratory from Biorad and the murder mystery gel electrophoresis from Biorad.  There are also several biotechnology activities that are "home made and easy to reproduce.  Among them are:  DNA isolation from calf thymus and tupperware electrophoresis which require no specialized equipment or expensive materials.  Ethical concerns

Lessons deal with  the science behind an BT crops to the social, ethical, and economical implications   Field experiences and testing

Doing water and macroinvertebrate testing on a variety of water systems can be very enlightening to students especially in situations where a natural system has been changed due to human activity.  One example is a power plant discharging into a river compared to a natural stretch of river.   Many differences in dissolved oxygen, temperature, macroinvertebrates presence and other chemical indicators can be seen.   Students can share and analyze data with students at other schools in other towns or areas of the country in different settings or find historical data on their own ecosystem.  This is an excellent way to monitor trends and describe the social, economic and ecological risks and benefits of these changing and differing ecosystems.   Measuring systems may involve test kits with titration or Vernier probes.  Gardening

One of the common practices of the American Indians (and also the American Maya, Inca and Aztec) was to plant gardens with the three sisters.    The three sisters consist of planting corn (which take nitrogen out of the ground), planting beans (which put the nitrogen back into the ground)  and squash (which produce vines to reduce soil erosion) together.   If students have access to a  school garden this can be an excellent strategy to introduce sustainability.    A variety of inquiry based questions can be explored using these ideas and planting, testing soil and yield under various conditions.

Instructional suggestions/options

Graphic Organizer - circle map - Draw a large circle  with two smaller circles inside.  Put  the word "ecosystem" in the center.  In the middle circle, write components of ecosystem, and in largest circle  write all the things humans do to impact those ecosystem components.

Many of the activities in this area can be done as inquiry based independent research.   It can be very effective when explore a concept through independent, experimentally based research. This can be done as part of a science symposium or fair.  (see NSE standards and

Case studies:  Cloning   The Raelians "Visionary Science or Quackery?"  (See NSE standards

Case Studies" Do You Really Know What You Are Eating?

(See NSE standards

Case Studies  "Living Downstream:  Atrazine & Coliform Bacteria effects on water Quality - A Debate Case"

(See NSE standards

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a great introduction to Human Impact on the Environment

Students read or watch the movie "The Lorax".  They discuss or draw a picture of how the environment was destroyed.  They may even write a children's book of their own which illustrates an environmental issue.

NSTA Press - Assessing Toxic Risk - benchmark for human impact

Reading - Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

Reading - Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Reading - Hair in My Dirt by Gary Larson

Reading "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv

New Vocabulary 


Biotechnology - The process of using biological principals in creative new ways (technological ways) to create new products and/or solve human problems.

Selective Breeding - Choosing the breeding stock for the next generation (artificial selection) in order to increase the chances that particular traits and genotypes are passed to the offspring.

Sustainable development - strategy for using natural resources without depleting them and for providing human need without caused long term environmental harm.

Risk and benefit analysis - comparing the risk of a particular procedure to the benefits of the outcome of that procedure.

Genetic Engineering - This is the processes of taking DNA from one organism and putting it into another so that it is functional and can be transcribed and translated into protein which has some affect on the phenotype of the organism.

Antibiotic Development - Developing drugs that affect some living organisms and not others (example:   penicillin kills bacteria by prohibiting cell wall formation).  Usually used to rid the host organisms of a parasitic organism.

Technology Connections 

Bio-rad Kits - pglo transformation, murder mystery electrophoresis - every students does not need to do every kit.   However, it is beneficial that each student get the opportunity to try their hand at a slice of biotechnology.   If possible, different classes can perform different protocols and then share their data so all students see the process and results of all of the technologies.

Youtube Video - World Populations - 7 minute video that shows the exponential growth of the human population for 1 A.D. to 2030 A.D.

Ecological footprint website: This website has students look at their families energy usage by the food they eat, where they live, and types of transportation they use.                                                                                                    


Assessment of Students

1.  Formative Which of the following is the best explanation of major human causes of global warming.  Explain your thinking.  acid rain, burning coal, the fuel we use in our cars, using leaded gas instead of unleaded, toxic chemicals in air pollution, the thinning of the Earth's ozone layer, water pollution.  Uncovering Students Ideas in Science Vol 4 pg 143 - human impact

2.  (Summative) Compare and contrast the economic and ecological risk/benefits of  "organic" and "biodegradable" as they apply to chemicals used for pesticides and fertilizers to grow food.

3.  (Summative) What is the difference between a renewable resource and a non-renewable resource?   Should we treat them differently?   How?

A renewable resource is one that can be regrown.   When used it is not depleted but instead can be replaced.   A non-renewable resource is one that is used up.   Renewable resources can be used with care and they can be "sustainable".   A non-renewable is a one shot and should be used only when absolutely necessary and with full knowledge that once it is depleted it is gone.

Assessment of Teachers

Questions could be used as self-reflection or in professional development sessions.

1.  How would you teach students to consider economic, societal, and environmental impacts for a current biotech and/or environmental  issue?

2.  How can you get students to focus on the overall concept and goal of a biotechnological technique while doing it without getting lost in the details?


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk

Community service projects such as buckthorn removal can be a wonderful experience for these students.  Other service learning projects related to the community and environment are valuable learning experiences for students.

English Language Learners 

Vocabulary is the most consistent problem in this group particularly social and economic risks and benefits. 

See multi-cultural

Extending the Learning 

Students could volunteer with a local environmental agencies.  Examples would include prairie restoration and wetland preservation.   Students would volunteer their time and then make a public presentation on the risks and benefits of maintaining and or changing that ecosystem.


There may be some ethical difficulties with biotechnology and the implications of gene manipulation.   This may be especially apparent when it involves human cells such as stem cell research.   Be cautious and respectful and always look at both sides of the argument.

This is a good time to explore the varying cultural attitudes toward human impact on the local environment and their attitudes towards sustainability.  For example, the Minnesota American Indian tribes planted their crops in such a way to preserve the nutrient content of the soils.

Special Education 

Experience has shown that special education students may have difficulty with manual dexterity and small repetitive tasks such as pippeting and/or transfer when exploring biotechnology techniques.   This may be because they are unable to coordinate or because they have difficulty putting directions into use.   It may be helpful for the class to run some of the biotechnology as a group with students completing each task at the same pace as the rest of the group as they explore the benefits and risks of biotechnology. 

Students can participate in a home analysis of any of the following:  water usage, light usage, disconnecting cell phone power cords, and other uses of energy.


Classroom Observation 


You may expect to see a spirited debate on the pros and cons of biotechnology.   Students will be seen researching a common use for biotechnology such as the corn BT gene, Select milk, the use of hormones in milk production, square tomatoes or ethylene free tomatoes and debating the safety and usefulness of the product.   What are the pros and cons of the technology and are their hidden consequences as yet unpredictable and unknown to man.


Parents and students together determine what plants grow naturally in Minnesota and which do not and require a great deal of watering and/or fertilizing.   Families design a landscape plan to take advantage of the Minnesota natives and consequently reduce the cost of chemicals and the work involved in maintaining their yard.