Aquatic Ecosystems Activities

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Want to explore aquatic ecosystems with your students in fun, engaging ways? Several activity ideas are outlined in this lesson. Each activity is designed to be meaningful for learning while maintaining flexibility to meet the needs of your students.

How to Study Places We Can't Live In

Let's face it: It's a bit easier to teach about terrestrial ecosystems because human life is located on dry land. This does not mean that we can leave aquatic ecosystems behind, though. There are many creative ways to bring these watery domains into the classroom, and students are often fascinated by these locations because they are unfamiliar with them.

The activity ideas below range from simple demonstrations to complex ongoing inquiries. Be sure to keep your students' learning needs in mind; each of these activities can be modified as appropriate.

Ongoing Aquarium Inquiry

If you have the supplies, budget, and class time, a great way to engage students is to have them set up and maintain an aquarium. Ideally, the aquarium would contain a variety of plant and animal life to simulate a common aquatic ecosystem. If time and budget permit, you could even have students establish both a freshwater and saltwater tank.

As you move through your unit on aquatic ecosystems, you can use the aquarium to steer discussion. Possible topics include:

  • It is necessary to clean an aquarium regularly. What performs the 'cleaning' in a natural aquatic ecosystem?
  • What additional plant and animal specimens could be introduced to our aquarium? Which cannot?
  • What are the similarities and differences between an aquarium and a natural aquatic ecosystem?

Aquatic Ecosystems Tour

If you have access to a nearby aquatic ecosystem, it is always a great idea to get students outdoors and exploring their world. This can be as simple as having students explore the plant and animal life around a drainage area behind the school or as complex as performing a lab activity in a nearby stream system.

Be sure to tour the area on your own or with colleagues first in order to discover any potential safety concerns. Also, don't forget to tell the administration where you are going for the day. With younger students, it may be a good idea to obtain parental permission before going to an aquatic area.

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