Monday, July 5, 2010

Summer Fun: Ecosystem Edition

This is not my idea, but I know a good one when I see it, and I had to tuck this away to do this summer with the kids. Some kids at one of our schools did something similar for a science project, and then my friend Michelle, over at Scribbit, detailed the project when she did it with her children up in Alaska. That being said, so that I take no credit whatsoever, this is a really, really cool thing to do with your kids, young and old. Even my sixteen year old daughter was completely engaged for the hours we spent.

First, here's what you need for each one:

3 clear 2-liter (empty) soda bottles
clear packing tape
aquarium gravel
water
dechlorinator
rubber band
4" piece of netting (I used cut up pantyhose)
soil
fish, snails, or other aquatic life
elodea, (which is banned in CA), duck weed (which the store didn't have), anachris, or other aquatic plants
crickets, pill bugs, earthworms
a few dead leaves and small sticks

You can use the link to Scribbit for perfectly detailed directions, but first you get your soda bottles, 3 for each ecosystem, and you begin cutting them up. The bottom one (basement, AKA pond life) gets the top cut off of it. The middle one (AKA coupler) gets both bottom AND top cut off. The top level (AKA earth level) gets bottom cut off, but saved to reattach at the end.


Once you have your pieces, you take your basement/pond life level and add an inch or so of gravel. Fill it almost to the top with water and add a few drops of dechlorinator. Then add special friends, like the plants, guppies, and snails. You can use different fish, but guppies are the sturdiest. These snails that the nice fish store man chose for us stay fairly small, and they're beautiful. Each ecosystem got 2 snails, 2 branches of anachris (plant), which they could break into smaller pieces, and 3 or 4 guppies so that hopefully 2 will live.



The guppies and snails were happy almost immediately, exploring their new home. Well, except for one of Aiden's that just floated to the bottom. And then swam like a madfish to the top only to float to the bottom again. Aiden named him "Wheeeeeee!" We're not sure how long Wheeeee! will be around for.


For the top/earth level, we put the layer of pantyhose over the open mouth of the bottle, secured it with a rubberband and then turned it upside down. Next, we added a layer of gravel, and then some super-soil from our garden. Into this level we planted some grass seed, but rye/alfalfa/mustard would work well too. I just couldn't find my sprouting seeds. Then we added our friends, one cricket (with a small chunk of potato for him to nibble), 3 pill bugs, and an earthworm each. Then a few dead leaves and small sticks went on top. Just for fun, I gave each child a garden tag to use for a nameplate.

The bottom of that soda bottle (which is now the top) was taped back on, with the edges tucked just inside the rest of the bottle so water doesn't run out. Then that top level is set inside the coupler level and taped.

Both of those two top levels are now set inside the pond life basement level and secured with tape. Now it should be airtight and self-contained, as a proper ecosystem should be.


Can you see the little fishies swimming around?

Now just set them in front of a sunny window so that photosynthesis can happen, setting in motion the cycle of life. The water will evaporate to the top to rain down on the soil, helping the grass to grow and the dead leaves to decompose, which feed the insects. There will be plenty of oxygen from the plants, and the algae that will grow will feed the fish and snails.

Can't wait to watch it all happen!

Oh, and by the way, all of the supplies for 3 ecosystems, including the soda bottles came to under $17. Nice.

42 comments:

Kimberly said...

How brilliant is that? Love it! I'm adding it to my Keep-the-kids-happy-and-learning list.

Scribbit said...

Oh those turned out very nice--may they live long and prosper :)

Leslie said...

Oh that is too cool.... I am going to do this when we start homeschooling in August.

YogaNana said...

I love them!!!!!!!

Mommyof3 said...

GREAT PROJECT!!! My daughter has to make a 3D project on Ecosystems and this would be a perfect project, not only for her, but her younger brothers would benefit from this as well. To time it for presentation, how soon will you start noticing the "cycle"? (She has 14 days to submit)

Anonymous said...

So are the fish still alive?

Jenna said...

Well, it was a year and a half ago, so no, the ecosystems are no longer with us. But I'll tell you, the fish lived several weeks. The snails kept on going and multiplied and the roly-poly bugs in the top had several new generations when all was said and done. They were really fun!

Stephanie said...

I love this! Thank you.

uncanny said...

I think I would skip the fish and try to just catch some wild water bugs (or just do the snails). Duck weed here is very common and prolific. Done at the right time of year, it would be easy to just head out to a pond and capture some Biodome guests.

Brad said...

I'm determined to try this out next summer. Hopefully Pauly Shore won't come along and throw a party.

sarah said...

I did this ten years ago in my high school biology class and used sea monkeys instead of fish. They are still alive and my teacher still has it in her window! Sea monkeys are the way to go!

Monica said...

How long did this take to prepare after all supplies were gathered and divided? I am wanting to try this with a class of 16 third-graders and need to plan how many 45-minute class periods it will require.

Anonymous said...

Very Cool maybe when we go to see the Grand son we can create this for his room!!

Tereasa said...

Found this on pinterest and I am definitely pinning it! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

My son did this in Biology and they used a Beta fish. We still have the beta fish months later.

Chef Amanda said...

How long did these last? How did you "maintain" them?

Jenna said...

For us, they "lasted" several months. But I've heard of other people still having theirs longer. They are a sealed self-maintaining ecosystem, so you don't "do" anything to them or for them. That's the cool thing about them, and that's the study in ecosystems.

Mary said...

So, you don't have to feed the fish anything?

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this idea!!! I will try this with my fifth graders.

Jo said...

this is awesome!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

One of our 5th grade science kits makes these with the class

Gina in STL said...

Great idea!!

Anonymous said...

This was a great hit in our 5/6th grade classroom. We overpopulated the pond and the ecosystem partially collapsed demonstrating a great concept! The snail had a baby which was interesting as well!

Thomas Kengen said...

Will the wather run out where the fish swim in? It is all ging to the top or what? And what do the fish eat? The plaats arent the plant running out after a while or what?

Sharilyn Jones said...

I'm going to do this with my 2nd graders in science class next year. Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

Water bugs or shrimp or just snails are probably a better idea than guppies. Guppies are NOT vegetarians and can't live off algae for long. I've been wanting one of these biospheres since I heard about them, though!

Marti Ann said...

I am gathering my supplies to try this out. I have attached a link to your site from my blog to show everyone what I keep talking about. I am going to have my ten year old write about the development for the first 4 weeks and then once a month so we can track how everything prospers.
I did read on a different site that they had planted grass seed on the top layer.
My three year old loves bugs and fish so he will love to watch it every day! Thanks for sharing! Is this a project your family would consider doing again?!

Anonymous said...

Some species of snails can live on just algae, but fish need to be fed. Please do some research on what animals require to live before considering including them in a small biosphere. There is a lot of good information available on aquarium forums such as plantedtank.net . It would be a more responsible way to teach science.

Jacqué said...

How long did this project take from start to finish?
Assuming that all the components were gathered and in place (bottles pre-cut, etc.).
Like a previous poster I plan to use this project as a class activity and am not sure if it needs two 50 minute or if one would suffice.

Jenna said...

Jacque, I suppose the biggest factor is the ages of the kids you're doing it with. Mine were bigger and could do most of it independently. If you have the materials ready, that would help a lot, but a classroom of kids tends to slow things down. I think it took us about 45 minutes, but if I were teaching a class, I'd schedule two periods, I think. Unless, these are big kids and can work quickly! Have fun!

Libby said...

This is a cute idea, but to anyone who is planning on making these ecosystems: if you are going to add guppies, please note that guppies will starve to death if you leave them with just plants and snails. They are not vegetarians and snails are too big for them to eat. You will need to add Daphnia (water fleas) to the water or make a hole in the bottle to add fish food. The same is true for beta fish. They are hunters and, contrary to popular belief, only eat plants when they are truly desperate. It's wonderful that you are teaching your children about ecosystems, but stewardship, making sure the living things in your care have everything they need to survive is another important lesson in their environmental education.

Jenna said...

Thank you, Libby! (And I think someone else mentioned this too.) I feel so bad about the guppies. I got this idea from another site and trusted that they had researched this more thoroughly. I should have checked myself! I didn't know that guppies needed more than plants. I really appreciate you pointing this out. There have got to be other "animal life" options for the ecosystem!

Debra Millan said...

I have seen this idea on other sites and just wanted to thank you for being so detailed. I can't wait to actually try this project out with my own kids.

Ranae Pincock said...

I am creating an integrated unit on ecosystems for sixth graders. I like this model the best. I am going to use ideas the ecosystem concept storyline from the Einstein Project to space it out for my class.

Regarding the conversations about inclusions of guppies, I found this site http://www.learner.org/courses/essential/life/bottlebio/ecocol/build.html. On the site is a downloadable PDF that lists plants and animals that work best for both areas.

Anonymous said...

We use this exact set-up from our Foss science kits. The kids love it!

Anonymous said...

Looking for a science project...this is a good idea!

Sydney Ralph said...

Using this for my biology class!!! #brilliant

Courtney Patrick said...

When i built one in 5th grade my fish lived about 8 years. i had two then three weeks later 5 and kept getting more.

krpand3 said...

Ours turned out great! We used beta fish and a tetra per the recommendation of the salesman at the pet store. The condensation showed up by the next day and our rye grass was growing in 3 days time. Fish are doing great after a week!

Joshua said...

As an experienced aquarist, I beg you. Please do not use fish in this setup. They have no change to act according to their natural behaviour. Also such a small amount of water do not have any buffer capacity, meaning that the water conditions can easily change and cause a lot of stress or death for a fish. If you think of a life-span of a fish, you should not generally talk about weeks or months, but years. Sure, some species live shorter life than others, but nevertheless it is not a success if a fish lives few months. Please look a decent source (for example: http://www.seriouslyfish.com) for the requirements of a specific fish.

Kindly,
Joshua

Siobhan Ryan said...

Its now 2014 and Im going to try this with my Ed Support Class. I have read all previous comment and will take that on board about the animal survival. I'm in Australia so I will research some suitable water dwellers and insects...Many thanks for the ideas. My Kids will love this.

Lisa Wilkinson said...

My daughter's class has done this....and now I have a leaky ecosystem running tables, shelves, carpet....so is there a way to transplant it and use something more stable than plastic bottles? Could this be moved into a aquarium or fishbowl? Has anyone tried something other than bottles?