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Environments: Lesson 4

5th – 6th Grade


BIG IDEA: (display in class during the lesson)

All organisms need energy and matter to live and grow and living organisms depend on one another and on their environment for their survival.

Investigation 4: Environments

IdahoStandard(s) addressed:


1. What are the factors of aquatic


2. What is an ecosystem?

3. What changes the acidity of the water

in aquatic environments?

1. Aquatic environments include living

and nonliving factors.

2. The interaction of organisms with one

another and with the nonliving

environment is called an ecosystem.
3. Carbon dioxide produced by aquatic

organisms changes the acidity of the



Teacher’s Notes: This lesson takes at least 6 teaching days with several additional days for observation over a two-week period.

NOTE: Start this lesson about two weeks after constructing the terrariums.
Advance Preparation:

Age tap water. Let the water sit overnight in an open container to allow the chlorine to dissipate.

Set up an aquarium ahead of time with aged tap water and test with two fish. If they do not survive try bottled distilled water.

Each group will need about 4 liters of aged tap water.

Purchase enough guppies, mosquito fish or goldfish so each group has two plus a few extra for a class aquarium at a pet store.

Also purchase some small pond snails, a dozen sprigs of Elodea and Lemna (duckweed)

Order 30 or more crustaceans such as Gammarus (scuds) from Delta Education

Put all the plants, snails and crustaceans in a class plant aquarium until used.

Store aquariums away from direct sunlight and heat sources.

Practice the BTB testing ahead of time to observe the reactions of the indicator BTB and vinegar

1 class aquarium for plants

1 baster for crustacean transfer

1 net for animal transfer

Science resources – Freshwater Environments

2 basins – 6 liter

1 package fish food

water conditioner

transparent tape

4 vials, 12 dr, with lids

1 spoon, 5 ml

1 beaker, 100 ml

2 bottles of bromothymol blue (BTB)

1 pitcher


soda straw

sheet of white paper

lettuce for the Gammarus

For every group:

1basin, 6 liter

1 basin cover

1 thermometer (Celsius)

2 fish (either goldfish, mosquito fish or guppies)

5 post-its

3 plastic cups with lids

1 soda straw

1 beaker, 100 ml

4 CM 5Investigations with BTB

Overview of the Lessons

_____ Read engaging scenario and discuss clues provided.

_____ Discuss, share and record problem according to the engaging scenario.

_____ Write a Focus Question

_____ Write a Prediction

______Set up aquariums

______Record observations in science notebooks

______ Test water using BTB as an indicator

______ Observe and record observations in science notebooks
DAY FIVE (repeated observations over several days)

______ Observe and record observations in science notebooks


______ Making Meaning Conference

______ Claims and evidence: students write 3 claims and evidence statements using the guiding questions


______ Conclusion: revisit prediction statements and write whether the prediction solved the problem

based on the results and why.

______ Reflection: Students respond to one stem.



“The environmental biologists and ecologists are very pleased with the way you set up your terrariums and are observing the environmental factors for them. You may remember that they wanted you to set up an aquatic (water) environment called an aquarium and observe it over time as well. They have sent along some materials for us to use to help them. They want you to follow their plans to create an aquarium. This time they want us to set up and observe the aquariums with fish added first. Later they want us to add some additional plants and animals. They want us to find the environmental factors for the aquarium. They are also interested in how environmental factors can change As in our last lesson, the scientists also wish for us to make careful observations and record them in our science notebooks.

What is our problem here? What do we need to investigate?

FOCUS QUESTION (discuss in groups, display, record in notebooks)

Teacher’s Notes:

Teacher says,

“What do the scientists want us to do?”

To find the environmental factors for the aquarium
“What did they give us to help?”

Materials to test environmental factors and some printed materials
What else do they want us to do?

Determine if environmental factors change over time by making careful observations and

recording them in our science notebooks

“Discuss with your group what you know about environmental factors and record it as the FOCUS QUESTION. This is the problem we are going to investigate and solve. Keep in mind the clues we mentioned and be prepared to share your ideas. Model a sentence starter by writing the following on the board:

How can we find out … ?

Walk around the room listening to their ideas. Solicit appropriate examples to share with the class. If possible display their ideas on the board or a transparency. Have the class notice which ones do not address the problem in the scenario. If there are groups still struggling with writing a focus question, have them select one of the displayed focus questions. They are to record it a CLASS FOCUS QUESTION below their own.

A suggested class focus question:

How can we find out the environmental factors in an aquatic environment and do they change over time??

Prediction (record in notebook)

Teacher’s Notes:

Review the environmental factors from the last lesson. Lead the students to generate predictions for their focus question. Teacher says, “Now that you have a Focus Question, discuss with your group what you might think is the answer to your question. Write a prediction for each living organism. Remember your predictions have to include a “because” statement. Use the sentence starter to help you write them.”

Prediction sentence starters:

I think that the environmental factors of the aquatic environment are ………..because…… .

I think that the environmental factor of … will change over time because … .


I think that the environmental factor of water will change over time because water changes its temperature.

Allow students time to discuss. Walk around the groups to listen to their ideas and assist them in how to record it in their notebooks. As students finish recording their predictions have them share their ideas with the class.

Help students see the relationship between the focus question and the prediction.

Guide and assist those groups that are still having difficulty writing a prediction.

Collect the cups of organisms and return them to the materials table.

Close by sharing that tomorrow students will examine the materials sent by scientists to set up an aquarium.

NOTE: Before starting this lesson be sure you have dechlorinated the tap water and have placed two fish – either goldfish or guppies in each aquarium.

Introduce the aquariums. Share with the students that it contains dechlorinated water and some goldfish (or guppies). Explain that the water was aged for 24 hours to make it safe for the fish.

Distribute the aquariums with the fish and water already inside.

Allow the students to observe the fish for a few minutes. Ask them to pay specific attention to the fish structures, movements and behaviors.
Then have the students record their observations in their science notebooks and draw and label what they have observed inside the aquarium.
Then ask each group to make a list in their science notebooks of what they think are the environmental factors in the fish environment. They should also separate them into living and non-living. Suggest that this is a good place to use a t-chart. (also draw one on the board).

Environmental Factors in the Fish Environment

Living Nonliving

Then hold a class discussion. Have each group share the environmental factors and how they listed them as living or nonliving. The students should list water, light, heat and aquarium as non-living. Some may also include gases or other materials in the water. The second fish is the only living environmental factor in one fish’s environment.

Ask, “What is missing from the environment?” The students should come up with food. The fish need food to survive. Share that the source of food will be dry fish food.

Explain that each group member will share responsibility to maintain their aquarium, daily feeding

of the fish, checking water temperature and monitoring the water conditions. Distribute thermometers and have the group measure and record their water temperature. Also ask the students to observe and record the water condition. Is it clear? cloudy? Has anything sank to the bottom? Post-its should be used to measure water level and to identify the name of the group.

Store the aquariums away from fluctuating temperatures and out of direct sunlight. Basin covers are optional.

Close with a question:

  • What are the two most important nonliving factors in an aquatic environment?

(temperature and water quality )
Have the students do a quick-write by completing this sentence:
The two most important non-living factors in an aquatic environment are temperature and water quality because …. .
Assign Science Stories – Aquatic Environments Around the World as homework.


Open the lesson by introducing BTB as a chemical used to test water.

The Environmental Biologists and Ecologists at Lewis-Clark College wanted us to find out some things about the water in aquatic environments. Water quality and type is very important in aquatic environments. We discussed this yesterday as one of the two most important environmental factors for the fish.
They sent along a chemical used to test water called BTB. Let’s find out what happens when a few drops of BTB are added to the aged tap water.”
Put one 5 ml spoon of aged tap water into a clean vial. Add two drops of BTB, put the cap on, and swirl to mix. Hold the vial against a white sheet of paper so the class can observe the blue color.
Then state: “I have some vinegar in this bottle. Vinegar is an acid. Let’s find out what happens when some acid is added to our water with BTB.”
Dip a straw in the vinegar and then in the vial. Stir the solution and hold up the vial to show the yellow color. Then ask the students to comment on what color the BTB turned when water has acid in it. Establish BTB turns yellow in the presence of acid.
Word Wall indicator – a chemical used to test for the presence or absence of a substance in a material. BTB is an indicator of the presence of acid in liquids.

xplain that BTB is an indicator of the presence of acid in water.

It is important to know the amount of acid in the aquarium because

too much acid will hurt the fish and other living organisms. Blue indicates no acid. Green indicates a little bit of acid. Yellow indicates a significant amount of acid.


What would a blue-green or aqua color indicate?” (Some acid but not as much as green).

Demonstrate the BTB test on three different water samples using the three, labeled vials you have

(aged tap, fish, plant) that were sent by the Biologists for the class to examine.

Measure 5 ml of the appropriate water into each vial. Then and 2 drops of BTB. Cap and swirl the vials.
Ask if there was a difference in the color of the three water samples. Then ask if the students can determine which of the samples has the most acid. (usually fish water)
Ask the students what they think could cause the differences in the amount of acid in each of the samples. List their responses on the board.
State that the biologists would like for us to find the source of the acid. Remind them that when scientists conduct experiments, all of the variables except for one under study must be kept the same or controlled.
State that the biologists have sent along an idea for an investigation that may help determine the cause of the acid in the water. Distribute CM 5Investigations with BTB. Review the directions and answer any questions.

Review what variables the students will be controlling or keeping the same in each of the samples.

(amount and type of water, amount of BTB, length of time for the investigation)
Students can use a fish from their aquarium, have a group member get the cups, lids and a piece of Elodea from the class plant aquarium.

Have the students draw and label each of the three cups and their contents in their science notebooks and record their initial observations. Then let the cups sit for 30-40 minutes. Then have the students observe the three cups again. They should notice that the water in the fish cup has turned green or yellow. The other two cups should be blue. Have the students draw, label and record their observations in their science notebooks.

Then ask the students what caused the changes.
Give each group a straw. Have one group member to blow gently into their cup containing 100 ml of tap water and 6 drops of BTB. Have the students record their observations of any changes that may take place in their science notebooks. (The water should turn from blue to green or yellow).
Explain that both fish and humans exhale a gas called carbon dioxide (CO2). The carbon dioxide combines with the water to form an acid called carbonic acid. Then explain that the fish cannot be exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide for long periods of time and need to return to the aquarium.
Put the two remaining cups (plain water and water plus Elodea) in a dark place, such as a cabinet until the next day. Return the fish to the aquarium.
Close by having students do a quick-write in their science notebooks completing the following sentences:
Today I learned that indicators such as BTB … . I also learned that carbon dioxide … .
Share responses.


Open the day by having the students get their two cups out of storage and observe and record their observations in their science notebooks. After a night in the darkness the plant water will be green.

Have them move the cups to a location by the window. After 30-40 minutes have them observe and record again. As sunlight falls on the plants, the water will turn blue until it is even bluer than the tap water.

Why do you think the carbon dioxide level of the plant water is changing?

(Plants produce an excess of carbon dioxide at night or in the darkness)

Close with students doing a quick-write to answer the following question:
How do living organisms affect the quality of aquatic environments?”

DAY FIVE (Repeated observations every two-three days for 2 weeks)

Note: After today, students will make and record observations every two-three days for

two weeks. Move on to LE 5 during this period of time. Make sure that students keep a few

blank pages in their science notebooks for these observations and before making entries for LE 5.

Open by asking the students

  • What could you do to the aquarium environment to make it more like a natural water environment?

Listen to the student responses to see what they suggest. Then share that the scientists have sent along some additional living organisms for the aquariums. Share the small pond snails and the Elodea and Lemna. Have each group send a member to collect two or three snails, one or two sprigs of Elodea and some Lemna in a ½-liter container. Each group will add these to its aquarium.
One hardy crustacean that is large enough to observe is an amphipod, Gammarus. They are related to crayfish. Keep them in the plant aquarium before distributing them. Add Gammarus (optional) to the aquariums. Beware that the fish may eat them.

Have students draw, label and write observations in their science notebooks regarding the new aquatic environment. They will repeat this process every two or three days over the next two weeks.
Close this session with a discussion of the observations and the following questions:

  • What is a natural fresh water environment like?

  • H
    Word Wall ecosystem – the interaction between a group of organisms within its environment.

    ow is an aquarium similar to a fresh water environment? Different?

Introduce the term ecosystem. Ask students what the word ecosystem means to them. Call on several volunteers. Build on what students say to define the word. You may wish to break the word into two parts – eco and system.

  • eco means nature or something natural.

  • system refers to a group of factors or parts that work together as a whole

Putting the two parts together we have a natural system. An ecosystem is formed by the interaction of a group of organisms with its environment. The important word here is interaction. An ecosystem is more than the living and nonliving factors that make up the environment. An ecosystem is also the interactions (how they act together) and the relationships between the environmental factors over time.

Close by having the students discuss in their groups how their aquariums could be called an aquatic ecosystem. Share out and then have the students do a quick-write to finish the sentence below:
Our aquarium can be called an aquatic ecosystem because … .
Expect changes in the aquariums.

  • Elodea grows and form roots

  • Lemna multiplies and begins to cover the surface of the water

  • Snails lay eggs on plants or the sides of the aquarium

  • Aquariums in the sun become green-water aquariums from the growth of algae

  • Goldfish/guppies die

  • Goldfish/guppies eat Gammarus

  • Gammarus
    eat lettuce

Note: Students can investigate the survival rate of Gammarus by charting the numbers alive in the aquarium over time. Using the dip net provided in the kit, students can collect and analyze information by removing all Gammarus from an aquarium, count the numbers collected, and record their results in their science notebooks. Students can compare results over time and among the different aquariums.

In between observations, assign the Science Stories – Water Pollution: The Lake Erie Story and Sources of Water Pollution as homework.

DAY SIX (after completing the observations)

Making Meaning Conference (Teacher directed)

1) Reviewing data.

Remember, this is the conferencing stage. It is preferable that students not take notes during this activity, but contribute with their results. However, don’t discourage students who wish to add down information during the discussion. Ask students to use the information that was recorded from their science notebook entries.

2) Observing and looking for patterns.

Teacher guides students to share - making claims supported by evidence. To initiate analyzing the information observed the teacher can say:

  • What are the factors of aquatic environments?

  • What is an ecosystem?

  • What changes the acidity of the water in aquatic environments?

Guide students in writing CLAIMS based on the data charts. As they share information, assist students in making associations with claims based on their evidence. Teacher should make the claim and students should provide the evidence.


Claims Evidence

I claim that………….. I claim this because………..

I know that …………. I know this because ………..
1. Carbon dioxide from fish and plants 1. When we tested for carbon dioxide we found

changed the acidity level of the water the plants and fish increased the level in the water

2. The aquarium is an aquatic ecosystem 2. All of the living organisms in the system depend

on each other for survival

3. Water temperature is an environmental 3. If the water is too hot or too cold the fish will die


Teacher decides to list as many claims and evidence needed for students to understand the process.

CLAIMS AND EVIDENCE: (record in notebooks) Teacher says:

“You need to write down at least 3 claims and evidence statements. Remember, these claims must be based on your data.”

Teacher will see students individually as they write claims based on their observed evidence.
Example sentence structures:

I claim that ____________ I claim this because ____________.

I know that_____________. I know this because _________.

Share and discuss claims and evidence.

CONCULSION: (record in notebook)

Students are then asked to revisit their original prediction and write a sentence that states whether the evidence from their observations supported it or not. They are to explain why and provide clear explanations regarding how their evidence supported, or did not support, their predictions. They are also to write a conclusion using the following sentence stem: “Today I learned……”

REFLECTION: (record in notebook)

Students will revisit the “Big Idea” and their results. Ask them to respond to one of the following stems:
“What really surprised me about the aquariums was …….”

“A new question that I have about the aquatic ecosystem is ……..”

“I would really like to know more about ……”
Share these in class.



Environments – LE 4

S T Notebook Components

Focus Question

  • Relates to scenario.

Predictions (2)

  • One sentence that answers problem

  • Uses “because”


  • Living and non-living t-chart

  • Labeled diagrams and observations of aquarium changes

  • Data collection from indicators investigation

Claims and Evidence

  • Three statements


  • Revises/affirms prediction

  • Completes “Today I learned” statement


  • Responds to one stem


“The environmental biologists and ecologists are very pleased with the way you set up your terrariums and are observing the environmental factors for them. You may remember that they wanted you to set up an aquatic (water) environment called an aquarium and observe it over time as well. They have sent along some materials for us to use to help them. They want you to follow their plans to create an aquarium. This time they want us to set up and observe the aquariums with fish added first. Later they want us to add some additional plants and animals. They want us to find the environmental factors for the aquarium. They are also interested in how environmental factors can change As in our last lesson, the scientists also wish for us to make careful observations and record them in our science notebooks.

What is our problem here?

What do we need to investigate?

CM 5

TESLA, Scaffolded Inquiry, Grades 5-6 Environments- Lesson 4, 08/14/09

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