Terrarium Pollution Experiments

You may have read in our previous posts about the 5th and 6th grade students at Hebron Station School we worked with last year. Those 6th grade students had their research on bird feeding behavior published in the scientific publication BirdSleuth. On a recent trip back to Maine, I was excited to learn that those 5th graders, now in 6th grade, had used the same Headwaters teaching framework to conduct another great set of research projects. This time students used seedlings in terrariums as a way to study the effect of pollution on plants. The Headwaters team was very happy to hear that the teaching methods we have spent the last 2 years developing, have legs of their own and are helping students without any direct support from us.

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Here are the terrariums in action.

Using the very same Student Driven Research Protocol from in their first program, students developed their own pollution incident related experiments. As part of a unit on climate change, students conducted these pollution experiments among other activities to meet the NGSS MS-ESS2 standards. Students also met the CommonCore standard RST.6-8.9. From rubbing alcohol, to cayenne pepper, and simulating a nuclear winter, they came up with a number of unique projects, for which they had to develop methods for themselves. Below is some of the students work.

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This student measured the growth rate of oat and rye grass seedlings as they were “polluted” with rubbing alcohol. 

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Here is a great hypothesis section from one of these projects. Students used different pollutants based on their own interests.

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This student grew their seedlings in the dark to simulate a nuclear winter. While the plants kept growing, the student noticed, and recorded, how the plants changed color while in the dark.

The biggest reason I was excited to learn about these projects was that the teacher we worked with last year was able to use this framework in her own teaching without any support from Headwaters. As an organization, we talk a lot about offering more than a stand alone experience and sharing our educational tools with teachers through our programs. This is another great example showing that when you give a teacher better tools to educate with, you help every student they teach down the road.

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One thought on “Terrarium Pollution Experiments

  1. Headwaters Science Institute has refreshed my teaching energy with their Student Based Research Protocol which helps to guide my young scientists with their classroom experiments. The protocol is teacher friendly in that it is easy to explain to the class and well written when students reread independently to understand each next step. The advanced thinking students can move along at their own pace with little extra teacher support. Furthermore, the special needs students can participate in each of the steps just like their peers, with a few simple teacher modifications.
    One of the best parts of this protocol is to observe the student excitement and learning energy during their hands-on activities. Students are incredibly engaged. They act and behave like real scientists. Another distinguishing benefit is the cross curricular connections to mathematics, reading and writing skills.
    During recent Student/Parent/Teacher conferences, given a choice of completed works to share, all students wanted to share their Climate Change Terrarium Experiment containers, mathematical graphs and their finished Scientific Method writing. Parents were impressed with their child’s oral presentation of their applied learning.
    I highly recommend the Student Based Research Protocol to any teacher wanting to include scientific authenticity and enthusiasm to their classroom.

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