1. Terraqua Columns - Lesson Plan

Ecosystem lesson and discussion

  1. On a blank sheet of paper, ask each student to draw a small stick figure in the middle of the page to represent him/herself.
  2. Instruct students to write down as many living (or formerly living) things that you interact with in your daily life in the space around the stick figure. Connect each thing to the stick figure with a line. You may want to start an example on the board for students to build from. Think about family, friends, teachers, other people, pets, food, plants, garbage, etc. Give students at least 5 minutes to create a diagram.
  3. Around the diagram, draw or describe the environment in which these interactions take place. You may want to add to the example on the board. Think about home, school, the outdoors, the city, the neighborhood, etc.
  4. Spend 10-15 minutes discussing and sharing the diagrams that students created. Focus on the interactions between a student and the other organisms and on the interaction between a student and his/her environment. You may want to introduce the term "organism" as a living thing. Some questions to encourage discussion:
    • How many interactions did you come up with? Are there more?
    • What interactions did everyone have in common?
    • What interactions did only some people have?
    • What kind of interactions do you have with living things? With non-living things?
    • Can we group interactions together into categories?
  5. Tell students that their diagrams illustrate their personal ecosystem. Encourage students to help come up with a definition of an ecosystem. Ecosystem - a group of organisms that interact among themselves and with the environment in which they live
  6. Describe other ecosystems (a forest, a meadow, a mountain) and the interactions that occur between organisms and between organisms and their environment. Consider both small (a fish tank) and large (planet Earth) ecosystems.
  7. Conclude the discussion with the question: Are we all part of the same ecosystem? Is someone in Asia part of our ecosystem?


Terraqua column construction

  1. Explain that students will be building mini-ecosystems called terraqua columns. Give students an overview of what they will be doing with their terraqua columns over the next 2-3 weeks.
  2. Divide students into groups of 2 or 3 students. Once students are seated with their group, distribute 1 soda bottle and wick to each group. Distribute terraqua column building kits around the classroom so that materials can easily be shared.
  3. Remove the label from your soda bottle.
  4. With a Sharpie marker, draw a line around the bottle 2 cm below the shoulder curve (where the bottle curves towards the opening). You will want to visually make sure that the students drew their lines in the right place.
  5. Use the box cutter to poke a slit along the line.
  6. Use scissors to cut the rest of the way around the line. The larger, bottom part of the bottle is your "reservoir". The smaller, upper part of the the bottle is your "planter".
  7. Use the hole puncher to punch 2-3 holes near the upper rim of the reservoir. The holes allow air to circulate in the water portion of the terraqua column. This is not as necessary if you intend to use tap water.
  8. Poke a 1 cm hole in the cap with an awl or drill a 3/8 inch hole with an electric drill. To save time or improve classroom management, this can be done ahead of time by the teacher.
  9. Use a Sharpie to label the reservoir with the names of the group members.

Filling the Terraqua Column

  1. Saturate the wick in water.
  2. Insert the wick through the hole in the cap. Screw the cap onto the opening of the bottle.
  3. Invert the planter onto the reservoir. Make sure that the wick reaches all the way from the bottom of the reservoir to the top of the planter.
  4. Add water to the reservoir. I found that 500 mls was a good amount of water. If you want students to monitor the water level and learn about measurement, you can add water to the reservoir in 100 ml units and mark the side of the reservoir with a sharpie at the top of the water line.
  5. Add soil to the planter. When adding the soil, hold the end of the wick up and fill in the soil around the wick. Make sure that the wick is not stuck against the side of the planter. Bury the top of the wick in the soil.
  6. Plant 5 seeds in the soil.
  7. Water the soil with 100 mls of water.
  8. Have students make initial observations of their terraqua columns. You may want to record:
    • Amount and type of water added
    • Number, type, and location of seeds planted
    • Type of soil added
    • Color and texture of soil
    • Color of water
  9. You may want to tape the planter and reservoir together with clear tape.