Wildlands Pond Experiment

Grade Levels: 4-12 (Note: This experiment can be simplified or made more challenging depending on the developmental levels of your students. See Teacher Information.)

Description: This investigation allows students to observe and identify the different life found in ponds and wetlands that may exist in and around the Wildlands. Numbers and varieties are to be submitted for others to compare and analyze.

Approximate Time Involved: One or two classroom planning sessions, 30 minutes plus travel time to collect samples at each site, two or three class periods to identify and count organisms, 20 minutes to enter data online, one or two classroom sessions to examine results, state conclusions, draw inferences, and make recommendations. NOTE: The time allotted above has been designed for an instructional special education classroom. Your time may need to be adjusted to fit the ability of your students. Already having pond samples will also significantly reduce the amount of time needed.

National Science Standards Addressed:

Content Standard A: As a result of activities in grades K-12, all students should develop

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understanding about scientific inquiry

Content Standard C: As a result of activities, all students should develop understanding of:

  • (K-4) Organisms and environments
  • (5-8) Structure and function in living things
  • (5-8) Populations and ecosystems
  • (9-12) Interdependence of organisms

Program Standard D: The K-12 science program must give students access to appropriate and sufficient resources, including quality teachers, time, materials, and equipment, adequate and safe space, and the community.

  • Good science programs require access to the world beyond the classroom.

Teacher Information:

Ponds are a great way to study ecosystems and all types of life forms. Most schools have some type of pond near the area. Students can see all different kingdoms co-existing and relying upon each other for life to continue. When working with students with mild mental impairments, you will want to prepare the students by working on observation skills. You may also want to set up the project by using a Know, Want to Know, and Learned (KWL) chart to get students thinking and to put them in charge of the experiment with their own questions. A good set of field guides (Golden Guide to Pond Life) with pictures identifying the animals will also assist the students with identification. HELPFUL NOTE: The longer pond water sits in the classroom, the more likely it will begin to stagnate and smell. To reduce this problem, either remove as much algae as possible after the first observation or aerate the water.

Challenging Your Students to Be Problem Solvers:

To make this experiment more challenging to your students, you might just want to pose a question such as: How many different animal phylums can you find in a sample of pond water? Identify the different animal phylums found in your sample of pond water and arrange them according to complexity. Using environmental indicators, determine the quality of the pond water you have collected. Compare two samples of pond water and describe the different plants and animals that are found in each. Conduct an investigation that will help you determine the environmental quality of your sample of pond water. Determine the different plants and animals in your sample of pond water and then compare your data with the data of another group.

This should become a team exercise where your student groups might each develop and write a hypothesis, list the materials they would use (buckets, microscopes, magnifying glasses, etc.), the number of each item, and a procedure. An excellent way to assess this activity is to have the teams repeat each other's experiment to see if they achieve the same results. This will also replicate the real world challenges facing a research scientist.

Needed Materials: pond water samples, 1 liter containers to collect samples, aquatic nets, plastic concave slides, microscopes (optional), pipettes (eye droppers), thermometers, air filter device to keep oxygen ciruclating in the samples (optional), pond life field guides for identification, permanent markers, safety goggles, magnifying glasses, blank white paper, small containers to separate the organisms for study (ex. baby food jars, petri dishes, etc.), illuminated hand magnifiers (optional)

Safety Rule: Collect all samples from the pond's edge to prevent any water hazard accidents. Safety goggles should be a consideration if there is a concern about the chemical make up of the water samples.

Procedure :

Student Information: The following information will provide you with the steps for setting up your pond project. Constant (or controlled variables) would be such things as: the amount of water in a sample, how long the sample sits, the way in which the sample was collected. Manipulated (or independent) variables would be those things that we change to see if the response will be different, such as: site, location, and depth of the sample, season, time of day. The responding (or dependent) variable for this experiment will be the number and variety of organisms you collect in each pond water sample. NOTE: Water temperature is one variable that will difficult to control or intentionally manipulate in this experiment. However, from your experiments, you may be able to infer as to whether temperature has any impact on the number and variety of animals collected.

A reporting form/data table for this experiment could be set up so that you can share such things as: where you collected your water sample(s), the temperature of the water, the time of year, clarity of the water, and number and type of organisms collected. If you would like to include a control, tap water would suffice. Also remember that a good scientific experiment is repeated a minimum of three times. Therefore, your data will be more accurate if you look at several equal samples of water from the same location.

Steps to Setting-Up Your Pond Project

1. Choose a location or locations to collect your samples. The number of locations you choose depends on the number of lakes, ponds, or wetlands available in your area. NOTE: It may be necessary for the teacher to collect samples in advance of this activity or ask students to bring in pond water samples from the surrounding area.

2. Take the temperature of the water with a thermometer at each location.

3. Use a permanent marker to write the location, date, and temperature on the bucket or on a clipboard.

4. Collect 3 - 1 liter (approx. 1 quart) samples from each water location. To do this, dip your container(s) into the water at the pond's edge making sure to get any algae or plant life present. Quickly remove it to ensure that most of your organisms do not escape.

5. Repeat the above steps at each new location.

6. Bring samples back to classroom for observation

7. Observe, identify, and record the type and number of visible organisms found in each sample (see experiment reporting form). Students may need to use a net or eye dropper to separate and identify the different organisms. These organisms can be transferred to such things as petri dishes, baby food jars, or any shallow white or clear container. The clear containers should be placed on a white sheet of paper to help make it easier to identify the organisms.

8. It will be possible to identify some of the organisms using just a hand lens or the eye. For smaller organisms, use an eye dropper to capture the organism and place it on a concave slide. Use a pocket magnifier or microscope to view the very small organisms. NOTE: You may want students to view and/or identify single-celled protozoa that are always present in this type of water, but this will take a higher powered microscope.

9. To compare and analyze your collected data (results), create a data table and graph. There are several good software applications to assist with this task.

10. Discuss your results in groups and as a class.

Below is a list of questions that can be used to stimulate student discussions. If your students are at a developmental level where you are able to challenge their higher level thinking skills, then only present them with the first set of questions from each group below. Use the second list of questions as a way to stimulate thinking when you students seem unable to expand their knowledge on their own.

Examining Results

Discussion Questions that Require More Critical Thinking Skills:

  • What were your conclusions for this experiment?
  • What could you infer based on your conclusions?
  • How would you design this experiment differently the next time?

Discussion Questions that Require Less Critical Thinking Skills

  • What types of animals did you find in the pond water?
  • Did the location change the number of organisms found?
  • If the answer to the above question is "yes", what do you think is the reason?
  • Did the water temperature have any impact on the number of organisms found?
  • Would you expect to find the same animals organisms in the pond all year round? How could you test your predictions experimentally?
  • What types of organisms did you find to be the most/least numerous?
  • What characteristics helped you recognize that these organisms were aquatic?

Pond Links

Give Water a Hand With Give Water A Hand, young people team up with educators, natural resource experts and committed community members to study water issues and take ACTION!

Pond Action This site provides a wide variety of K-8 pond activities that can be used as extensions to this project.

Enature.com This site provides online field guides for North American plants and animals with descriptions and photos.

This activity was adapted from a lesson created by

and Mike Schneider and Terri Emmerich @  emmerictm@stclair.k12.il.us An on-line version can be found @ http://web.stclair.k12.il.us/splashd/pondexp.htm