The ecocolumns lab is a valuable longitudinal lab and a cornerstone to the course. It is a highlight for students and likely the first and most enduring thing they hear about my class before deciding to sign up.
Students thoroughly enjoy building ecocolumns. The supplies here are for an ecocolumn with three chambers: A terrestrial chamber on the top with soil, plants and invertebrates, a filter chamber with sand and gravel, and an aquatic chamber with fish and water plants.
I begin Ecocolumns the 3rd week of school in the fall. To prepare, I ask students to bring in 1 gallon “Crystal Geyser” water bottles. They can be empty or full. I like the water bottles, because they are sturdier than 2-liter soda bottles, don’t tip over as easily, and many families don’t drink soda anymore. (But, many teachers still use soda bottles just fine) Students can donate the purified water in buckets which can be used later on in lab. You can also ask teachers to donate bottles as many teachers at my school bring water for their own use in their classrooms.
Students need 3 bottles to build, but I always have them bring 4, because many need a spare for a mistake cutting the bottles.
I’m not very strong and can hurt my back easily, so I drag my teenage sons with me to buy supplies. Since I teach 5 sections of APES with 9 groups of students per class, that’s 45 ecocolumns to buy for.
At the end of Ecocolumns, my students graph their data and answer questions as a group. Here is an example of the questions they answer. This year, my students filmed their answers on Flipgrid. For props, they used their ecocolumns, graphs and an optional small white board.
Soil and Water measurements
Choose 2 of the following questions to discuss and answer with your group. One person from your group will record your discussion on the answer sheet.
Look at your plant height graphs (including elodea). Discuss what happened with your various plants over time and the possible reasons for the changes.
Look at your water pH graph. Discuss what happened with pH over time and the possible reasons for the changes or lack of changes.
Look at your water dissolved oxygen graph. Discuss what happened with DO over time and the possible reasons for the changes.
Look at your water Nitrite/Nitrate graph. Discuss what happened with these measurements over time and the possible reasons for the changes.
Look at your soil measurements: Temperature, pH, fertility. Discuss what happened with these measurements over time and the possible reasons for the changes.
Adjustments, Observations, Error and Design
Choose 2 of the following to discuss and answer with your group. A different person from your group will record your discussion on the answer sheet.
Discuss 2-3 adjustments. How did they improve your ecocolumn?
Discuss your observations. What were the most significant observations? Why?
Discuss mistakes and errors that were made during the ecocolumn lab and how they influenced the lab.
Discuss how each of the chambers in the ecocolumn affected the other chambers.
Science Practice: Asking Questions
Science is all about asking questions. In fact, there is an important article in The Journal of Cell Science entitled “The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research” by Martin A. Schwartz in which he outlines how real scientists don’t know the answers to many questions, but they ask a lot of questions in order to consider pursuing a line of research.
Write down 5 questions about your ecocolumn that you don’t have the answers to, but that interest you.