Objective: In this activity you'll create a waterproof "pond" in your classroom and bring in actual pond plants and animals to study.

Materials: 4 long beams measuring 2' x 4' or 4' x 6', large white cloth, large waterproof plastic sheet in good condition (a shower curtain would work great), a bucket with a lid. Optional materials: hand magnifiers, dip nets, water thermometers, turkey baster, macroinvertebrates identification key, pencil, paper, and art supplies

Background: Pond life is not as placid and familiar as it might seem. Under a lily pad....beneath the ice....in just one drop of pond water you'll find a complete ecosystem, teeming with life. A close look at a bucket or two of water from a typical pond shows it to be a not-always-peaceable kingdom, where birds, insects, fish, protozoa, and plants all coexist.

The evening before you plan to do this activity, visit a local pond where you know there are abundant pond organisms. You may wish to invite a few students along with you, since your purpose is to collect as many pond organisms as you can. Transport these plants and animals to your classroom in the covered bucket with the lid securely fastened.

In the classroom, spread the white sheet out on a level surface. Ideally, you should be able to use a large table, although using the floor of your classroom (preferably in a low-traffic area) is also possible. The cloth provides students with a high-contrast background to view the organisms more readily, and is not necessary if the table top is white.

Place the four beams of wood to form a rectangle or square on the cloth, and then cover the cloth and beams with the plastic sheet, ensuring that there is adequate overlap. You may wish to tuck the loose ends of plastic beneath the wooden beams. Carefully pour the contents of the bucket into your "pond", pouring gently from a position very close to the plastic sheet to minimize disturbance to the invertebrates. After a few minutes any organic materials from the pond will settle and your in-class pond study can begin.

The list below shows a check list of pond study process skills; you may wish to write this list on the board, asking each student to tick off each of the skills that they have attained:
1. Put nose close to water to look for very small organisms
2. Use magnifier to see organism close up
3. Draw a diagram of something that lives in the pond water
4. Use a baster to move small organisms from one place to another
5. Measure the water temperature
6. Use a net to catch something
7. Observe a plant or animal closely for two minutes
8. Identify an organism using the identification key
9. Write a description of how an organism moves

There are a number of activities that can occur in the classroom using the animals you have collected. These activities are listed in "One Small Square - Pond". If your school has microscopes, this is an excellent opportunity to study the incredible variety of microscopic life that exists even in a single drop of water.

One important concept that you can discuss with your students is respect for life. Impress up on your students the need to keep the invertebrates immersed in water at all times to keep them healthy. Also, ask your students if the classroom environment is a normal place for these invertebrates. The answer is no - the lights are brighter here, and the water is slowly warming up throughout the day as you continue to study the creatures. Because of these conditions, you may notice some mortality as the day progresses.

If some of the invertebrates start to "fade", this is your signal to model respect for life. Initiate "Operation Save" to save the lives of the pond invertebrates. You'll have to act fast! Place the empty bucket at one end of the pond, and have all the students assist you carefully lifting the plastic and slowly tilting it so that the contents of the sheet run back into the bucket. These organisms need to be returned to the pond environment as soon as possible - if you cannot do it immediately, place the lid on the top of the bucket and leave it in a cool spot to minimize any further stress to the organisms. In this way, you are showing that you respect the life of the invertebrates.

If possible, do the follow up activity, "Water Canaries" from Aquatic Project WILD.

Check out the Big Sioux Water Festival's "Lakes and Streams" trunk and complete the activities. This trunk can be loaned to your class, for no charge, for a period of one month. Contact the Big Sioux Water Festival for more details.

Have your class do a rap version of "Blood-Sucking Friends" lyrics.

Find out about a "secret" fishing hole of an elderly friend of the class (maybe a student's neighbor or grandparent). Invite the class friend to visit your class to tell "fish stories". Next, travel together as a class to the spot and see if the fishing is as good as the tall fish tales that you and your students have heard about it.

This activity adapted from: Pond-In-A-Classroom, CPAWS Education website
Grade Level:

Subject Areas:

SD Standards for 4th grade:
4.L..1.2; 4.L.2.1; 4.L.2.2; 4.L.3.1


Critical Thinking, Observation, Evaluation, Identification, Experimenting, Discussion

Prior Preparation: "One Small Square - Pond" by Donald M. Silver is an excellent book to purchase prior to beginning this activity. It will give you ideas, experiments and information from which to begin this activity. As a follow up to this activity, "Water Canaries" from Aquatic Project WILD is ideal to introduce students to water quality assessment measures used to determine health of a water body.

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