Exploring an Ecosystem

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In this ecology activity, learners make a model water-based ecosystem called a terraqua column. The column (in a large soda bottle) includes pond water, duckweed, sand or gravel, and small snails. Learners observe what happens in their living model and consider such questions as what happens to animals and plants when humans harm an ecosystem. This activity is aligned to National Science Standards (NS.5-8.3 Life Science).

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
Over $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 2-Liter Soda Bottle per 2 person team
  • Very sharp utility knife
  • Awl (pointed instrument for piercing holes in leather, wood, etc.)
  • Clear packing tape
  • 4 Gallon-size Milk/Water bottles
  • Duck weed and pond water
  • 2-3 Snails per 2 person team
  • Potting soil
  • Sand or Vermiculite or Gravel
  • Pothos or Philodendron plant that needs cuttings taken from it
  • Clippers
  • Rooting hormone
  • Roll of cotton yarn (undyed)
  • Hammer


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Plants
      • Animals
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
      • Populations
      • Human Impact
  • The Nature of Science
    • Science and Society
      • Ethics

Informal Categories

  • Animals
  • Model Building
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source: