Digging into Interdependence

In Opal 2 so far this year have learned to appreciate bugs, to be comfortable with them and truly, to love and care for them. We think they are amazing and beautiful, wise and strong. We are ready now to broaden our view and to think about bugs in context – in the context of the world around them. We began a few weeks ago to share some books about the big idea of interdependence and we have been on a journey together going deeper into the complexity of this word for many weeks now.

  Salmon forest

We began with a book called Salmon Forest. After reading this book, the students shared some thoughts through drawing. They noticed connections between things. They noticed life cycles of salmon and simple chains of different elements for instance bear – salmon – dead salmon – poop – soil. A few students began to see some complexity in the many connections and dependencies things have on each other chains linked with more and more chains all interconnected by some element.

  River-Amelia Salmon map

We wanted to bring everyone along in their thinking about how things connect to one another and how things that don’t seem related are actually related through one or more other things. We used our bodies to build the chains and cycles of connections we read about in Salmon Forest and it became quite complex.

Interdependence body web

 Avery, A teacher who has been interning at Opal this year, took the following field notes as the students worked.

Monday, 28 March 


Returned to book “Salmon Forest” and reflection drawings from the week before Spring Break. Marcy had written up “cycle” and “life cycle” on the board, as a reminder of what terms came up in conversation about the book. She began to re-read the book, inviting students to notice when anything in the book reminded them of cycles or life cycles.

MC: When they [salmon] go up and have to they their eggs and have to die of old age. It’s the life cycle of how fish die – before they die and after they die.

Marcy: Where does the cycle start? Pick a piece of it to start us off.

MC: Well, they’re eggs first.

Marcy: Come up and be the eggs. [Tapes label on shirt] Ok, who’s he connected to?

R: Grown-up salmon. They lay the eggs. [Joins McCune at front] But I’m dead. I die after I lay the eggs. [Amelia volunteers to be grown salmon. River takes on dead salmon.]

Marcy: How are you going to stand in relation to each other? How are you ordered? You just hanging out? [Students order themselves Eggs-Grown salmon-Dead salmon]

U: Bugs and bacteria eat the dead salmon. [Joins]

S: The baby salmon feed off the bugs that eat the dead salmon. [Joins]

Connections continue and students join the cycle, or attach to the cycle as different elements, including humans, birds, etc.

A: Bears are part of the cycle. They eat the salmon, then they poop, and that makes soil.

Marcy: So, that’s a cycle all on its own! They didn’t talk about those other cycles in the book. What else wasn’t in the book, but still have a connection to this life cycle of the salmon?

M: Birds eat the bugs that eat the dead salmon, and live in the trees.

Marcy: Right. All animals have their own life cycle. Let’s build Adaline’s bear cycle here, and see how it fits into the salmon life cycle.

[A repeats bear cycle, students step to the front, taking on different roles of bear, poop, soil, and trees ]

A: And, trees help the river because it provides shade for the river, so it can stay cold. And that goes back to grown-up salmon.

Marcy: So, we’re back to the grown-up salmon, creating a cycle. [Students link arms into a circle to illustrate cycle.]

U: There’s more – I’m a part of the cycle, too! [Bugs and bacteria]

Marcy: What part do you want to attach yourself to? [U attaches to dead salmon.] Who else is going to connect to this cycle?

(A attaches as oxygen to … ? Students say, “Everything! Oxygen is everywhere!” so A goes into the middle of the cycle.)

Marcy: Ok, now I’m going to take one thing away, and I want you all to think about whether you are affected by it or not. I’m going to take the bugs and bacteria (U) out of the cycle. Now think: Are you affected by this? If there were no bugs, would your survival be affected? If so, sit down.

Several students sit down.

U whispers to me: More than half the class depends on me!

As students decide for themselves, only elements left are: dead salmon, river, ocean, nest.

S: How could there be a nest there if there are no bird to build it?

W: The world didn’t start like this, it’s what happened when the bugs vanished. The birds had already built the next, but they don’t live there anymore.

Question of whether oxygen (A) should have left or not.

Marcy: There’s a word I want to share with you all that captures what we’ve experienced in thinking about these cycles. [Writes ‘Interdependence’ on the board. Students sound it out.] What do you think it means, based on what we just worked on?

U: Everyone needs something to survive.

Marcy: Just one thing?

U: Well, maybe 4,000 things!

We read a few other books too – Sparrow Girl and The Dancing Deer and the Foolish Hunter – and we watched a wonderful documentary called the Queen of Trees. This documentary tells about a fig tree in Africa and it’s completely dependent relationship with a very tiny fig wasp without which the fig tree would not exist. The film shows the incredible number of species this tree supports and their relationships with one another – sometimes beneficial for both, sometimes just beneficial for one.

  Sparrow Girl Dancing Deer and Foolish Hunter Queen of Trees

As a next step, and to move those big ideas in Africa back here to our surrounding habitats, students were given the assignment to create a web or map of interdependence for their bug (the bug they had chosen to research and ‘become’ this year). As we did a gallery walk to study our classmates thinking, students were amazed at some of the relationships and connections that were found.


During reflection, one student asked a question about another’s map:

N:  I don’t understand on O’s work how the caterpillar and the parasitic fly are dependent on each other. I get how the fly is dependent on the caterpillar but how is the caterpillar dependent on the things that lays eggs in it and kills it?

O explains: The caterpillar is dependent on the parasitic fly because if there were no flies that layed eggs in the caterpillars, then their would be too many polyphemous caterpillars and they would eat all of the plants they eat and there would be no more so none of them would survive. So they are dependent on their predators to make sure their are not too many.

Many students agreed that their bugs were probably dependent on their predators as well for the same reasons, but the students who are studying bees said that this did not affect their bugs because they ate from flowers and there were plenty of flowers and nectar so they did not need predators to keep their population in check.

One idea we are considering at the moment is how we fit in to the chain of interdependence. One thing we decided to do is put some of these ideas into action and help the Arboretum get rid of an invasive plant that is harmful to the systems of interdependence that exist in that habitat. Rachel Felice who works with Portland Parks and Rec. came and spoke with us about English Ivy.


We had a work day to pull English Ivy and try and clear it from surrounding trees and other areas. The work was hard and dirty but incredibly rewarding. The students did not want to stop when our time was up and they kept talking about how fun it was to help and do good work for the area we call the Magic Bug Forest.








                        We saved this Trillium!


The most surprising piece for all of us, though was how it brought our class community together. The reflection afterwards was full of comments like:

"It was really fun because we all worked together to make it happen."

"When I first got to the patch of Ivy I thought me and my partner could do it but it was so hard we needed help and when we called for help, another group came and helped us work on it together."

"It was so hard to pull the ivy out of  the ground, but every time I needed help, someone came."

This experience has sent us down a wonderful new path of exploring our interdependence with one another in our own Opal 2 community.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.