Resource Type
Completion Time
More than a week
Middle School and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
Robin Ellwood
Probe-ware (students develop questions based on what resources are available)
A local Pond!


Students will develop research questions that will help them develop an ecosystem profile (species/conditions/etc.) of a local pond. Their results will be compared with data from the McMurdo Dry Valley Lakes in Antarctica. Discussions about climate and energy dynamics will be conducted as conclusions are drawn. A map and key for the local pond (species/locations/conditions) will be created. This is largely a student driven project.


  • Students will learn to develop questions that can be researched within available time and resource constraints.
  • A "Profile" of the local pond conditions will be developed.
  • Students will develop an experiment that allows them to investigate their question (examples are: Does the level of light effect the types of organisms that will be found at a particular depth in the water? What light levels exist at different depths in the pond? Is there any correlation between light levels and temperature? Is there more Carbon Dioxide in the water in areas where there are more plants?)
  • Students will work collaboratively to go through the process of the "scientific method" and will report their findings to the larger group.
  • Students will practice giving peer feedback, creating scientific posters, and making presentations to an audience.
  • Students will develop an understanding of the biological diversity and conditions in a local pond and compare their results to an Antarctic Pond.


  • Prepare all available probe-ware (make sure batteries are charged, etc) and be sure it is compatible with the available computers. Obviously, the more technology that is available, the smoother this runs, but it can be done with quite a limited supply of equipment!
  • A review of basic ecosystem structure is helpful (producers, consumers, decomposers, light energy, photosynthesis, populations, communities, etc.)
  • A review (or introduction) about types of research questions, what makes a "good" question, how to write an appropriate research question, etc. is quite helpful. This is meant to be an experimental investigation – not a research project!


  • Once students have a basic understanding of ecosystem dynamics, take them to a local pond and allow them some time to explore the area.
  • Explain to the students that they will be working in small groups to develop and implement an experimental research question about this pond.
  • Review with students what types of resources are available to them (what probes, microscopes, collection tools, etc.).
  • Have students get into groups – either teacher selected or student selected (up to the teacher!) – Groups of 3 work best, but 4 is also typically effective.
  • Give the group time to meet and come up with some ideas about what they might like to research.
  • Back in class – have class brainstorm a list of possible topics/questions.
  • By the next day, each group should be able to decide what their research question will be.
  • Have them do pre-field preparations/work prior to returning to the field (they should develop their final question, null and alternative hypotheses, materials list, procedure, etc.)
  • Once plans are in place, allow students time to get to the pond to conduct their investigations. The time necessary here varies – it depends on types of questions and the amount of time that can be reasonably allowed.
  • Once all the data is collected, students work in class (and at home) to make graphs of the data, analyze the data, make conclusions, and prepare their final reports and presentations.
  • Students show their created posters as they make their presentations.
  • Dichotomous keys can be developed for flora and fauna in the area.
  • Pond maps can be created – aerial maps, depths, conditions at different depths, etc.
  • Students are evaluated both individually and as a group. Each student is given an individual grade based on individual contributions to the project. Student contracts are also drawn up at the beginning of the project so that it is clear who is responsible for which piece on the final report/poster/presentation.
  • The "scientific method" is a huge focus of this lesson; students will be able to explain the general process (and how it often spirals) of scientific investigations.
  • Students will be assessed through tests/quizzes on ecosystem dynamics.

Bird Project Rubric

1) Criterion: Group met all project deadlines:

____ Hypothesis developed and approved
____ Experimental design approved
____ All data collected
____ Graph of data
____ Statistical significance calculated
____ Poster for Peer Review
____ Final Poster

7 = score 5 4 = score 2
6 = score 4 3 = score 1
5 = score 3 <3 = score 0

0 --------1---------2---------3--------------4--------------5
Smattering Round of Standing
of applause applause ovation

2) Criterion: First Impressions of poster:

____ Significant color
____ Readable from about 3 feet (title from about 10 feet)
____ Photographs and/or sketches (EFFORT) of project in process
____ Organization – poster "flows"

    4 = score 5     2 – 2.5 = score 2
    3.5 = score 4   1.5 = score 1
    3 = score 3     <1.5 = score 0

0 --------1---------2---------3--------------4--------------5
Smattering Round of Standing
of applause applause ovation

3) Criterion: Statistical Significance calculated (LOTS OF CLASS TIME)

____ "chi-square" test conducted (appropriate calculations)
____ Degrees of freedom recorded
____ x compared to x-critical (comparison shown)
____ Null hypothesis rejected or not rejected

4 = score 5
3 = score 4
2 = score 2
1.5 = score 1
<1.5 = score 0

0 --------1---------2---------3--------------4--------------5
Smattering Round of Standing
of applause applause ovation

4) Criterion: All components met in poster
____ Title
____ Introduction/background
____ Objective/ question
____ Hypothesis (HO & HA)
____ Experimental design
____ Diagram of experimental design
____ Results
____ Graphs/tables/charts
____ Discussion
____ Conclusion

9.5-10 = score 5
8.5-9 = score 4
7.5-8 = score 3
5.5-7 = score 2
3-5 = score 1
≤ 2.5 = score 0

0 --------1---------2---------3--------------4--------------5
Smattering Round of Standing
of applause applause ovation

5) Criterion: Presentation
___ Active participant in presentation
___ Project explained clearly
___ Voice projection/eye contact
___ Poster used in presentation

4 = score 5
3.5 = score 4
3 = score 3
2 = score 2
1 = score 1
<1 = score 0

0 --------1---------2---------3--------------4--------------5
Smattering Round of Standing
of applause applause ovation

Final Grade:

Total points Letter Grade Numerical Grade
24.5-25 A+ 100
23-24 A 95
21-22 A- 90
19-20 B+ 87
18 B 85
17 B- 80
16 C+ 77
15 C 75
14 C- 70
13 D+ 67
12 D 65
11 D- 60
≤10 E 0


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an excellent curriculum (BirdSleuth) developed for helping students with scientific inquiry. Their curriculum is referenced to research about birds, but the process is totally applicable to any research interests. The web site (and free resources!) for BirdSleuth: Investigating Evidence is:


This lesson was created and submitted by Robin Ellwood. My contact information is: rellwood [at]