Things Go Wrong in Ecocolumns-and its OK!

Things will go wrong in ecocolumns, they always do.  And that’s part of the magic of ecocolumns. Being able to say “hmmm” or “huh, I don’t know” and being okay with the mystery.

Teach kids that its okay to fail. There is a great article about that in Scientific American.

No matter how well an ecocolumn is built, some columns will have issues.  Fish die, plants, die, fish disappear (yes, they do), plants disappear. Weird plants grow, bugs infect, they’re dropped, etc.  Its all OK. Its part of learning and discovering and as teachers, sometimes we have to say we don’t know either and leave it at that.  Read about some things they will learn, however, through ecocolumns.


(To read about building ecocolumns, go to these posts:  Student directions for building ecocolumns,   Cutting and filling bottlesplanting seeds and taking data , adding bugs, worms and leaf litter, and building the aquatic chamber.)


My kids build great ecocolumns and learn a ton, but here’s some failures from this year.

This ecocolumn had disappearing plants. Only one seed germinated and then died. So these kids had no plant data for about a month.
Volunteer grass grew in this ecocolumn. Fun to ask the kids where they think it came from. (Probably a seed picked up from leaf litter)
See the random black dots in the filter chamber? They’re all the same size and oblong. I have no idea what they are.
Dying plants. Some will die after they make their peas, and some will die from being handled too much and some just die.
Diseased leaves. I often have a black spotted disease infest bean plants. Nice way to talk about density-dependent limiting factors. Ecocolumns are close together so diseases spread more easily.
More diseased leaves
Some soil never drains very clear so kids will water the plants and drain into a plastic beaker for the entirety of the lab.

And of course, fish will die. I do a lot to prevent this, but it still happens.

Hard to see, but there’s a dead fish in the above picture (bottom right).
Burying a fish in the terrestrial chamber

And theres more for which I don’t have pictures. Over the years, I’ve had

  • Fish that jump out of the ecocolumn and die
  • Infestation with ants
  • Infestation with aphids
  • Seeds that never grow
  • Fish that devour elodea in a couple of days.

And more. Its all okay. Its still super fun for the kids.