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Building an Ecosystem in a Jar

Main Core Tie

Science - Biology
Standard 1 Objective 2

Time Frame

3 class periods of 60 minutes each

Group Size

Small Groups


Utah LessonPlans


In this lab students must design a working, closed, aquatic ecosystem. They will demonstrate their understanding of food webs, energy flow and matter cycles.



  • student sheet (attached)
  • large pickle jars
  • UV lights
  • Pond Water Tour water test tabs (LaMonte, found in most catalogs), students provide everything else!

Background for Teachers

Time Needed: 1 period planning, 1 period set up, 15 minutes every other day for several weeks, 1 period to answer analysis questions, ½ period results discussion

Student Prior Knowledge

Students should understand the requirements for living things and a functioning ecosystem.

Instructional Procedures

  1. In this lab please remind students they will be working with live organisms. They should respect all life. Therefore it is critical students thoroughly understand how to create a working ecosystem.
  2. Assign students in groups of 3-4.
  3. Give them at least 1 class period to design their ecosystems.
  4. They should then have a few days to collect supplies
  5. Ecosystems should be sealed when the class is ready to begin
  6. Provide a full day for set up
  7. 15 minutes should be provided 4 days a week for 2 weeks for observations
  8. Be sure to encourage students to make detailed observations
  9. Give the students a class period to work on graphs and analysis questions
  10. Spend a ½ period with students presenting results of their labs

Sample questions:

  • Describe the functioning food web you began with in your jar.
  • How did that food web change over time?
  • Explain how the matter cycles functioned in your ecosystem?

Assessment Plan

Scoring Guide:

Prelab (through hypothesis) is complete.........30 points
Lab design in adequate and well thought through.......15 points
Observations and detailed and sensible.........40 points
Graphs clear and correctly plotted............15 points
Analysis Questions answered correctly..........22 points
Conclusions well written with concrete ideas...............15 points


Lesson Design by Jordan School District Teachers and Staff.

Created: 11/13/2014
Updated: 02/05/2018