Have you ever seen a forest or prairie bulldozed for a parking lot? Or perhaps you've seen neon-green stream or pond covered with algae due to pollution? These alterations to the natural world are often called ecosystem change, or on a very large scale, global change. Such changes include deforestation, climate change, invasive species, pollution, and exploitation of resources, which are leading to complex environmental, societal, and economic problems that future generations will need to overcome. Some of these changes are easy to observe, whereas others are not readily apparent. These issues are obviously important to teach, but they can also be challenging to make tangible. How can they be conveyed in our classrooms in an engaging way that is meaningful for students?

We addressed this challenge by exploring two common forms of environmental change: nutrient pollution and invasive species in pond ecosystems. Nutrient pollution from fertilizer and agricultural waste affects about 70% of freshwater ecosystems in the United States, and nonnative invasive species now dominate many aquatic ecosystems, including San Francisco Bay and the Great Lakes. In many places, students need only look out the classroom window to see these issues in action.

Nutrient Pollution and Invasive Species in pictures

The core of the lessons involves a long-term (about four to eight weeks) classroom experiment where students create miniature freshwater ecosystems within 1-liter jars. Students use their jars in a replicated experiment that reveals how invasive species and nutrient pollution, both alone and in combination, can lead to striking changes in freshwater ecosystems. The curriculum includes inquiry-based education modules that explicitly address Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for middle school student.

Please read the summary article below. Try Ponds in Peril - we believe this student's face says it all! 

Modules 1 & 2 are nearly complete, whereas Modules 3 & 4 are under development. We welcome any feedback you might have (see About page for contact) and extensions that integrate with the curriculum.