September 26, 2011

Eco Column

 This Sunday we built our much anticipates eco-column!  What's an eco-column, you ask?  It's a configuration of coke bottles (yes, I'm from the South and we call every carbonated beverage under the sun "Coke."  Get over it, soda pop drinkers!  LOL!) that contain multiple little habitats that may or may not feed off of one another.  The kids have been excited about building one since the moment I mentioned it, but it's one of those things I felt certain worked better on paper than it would in real life.  So I did a TON of research, looking at pictures, schematics, diagrams and how-to's on a bunch of variations just to make sure this was actually going to be doable.  I'm still not convinced that all of our critters won't be dead tomorrow morning, but for now we are all pleased as pie with the results.

Plopping earth worms in the composting habitat.=
Since Joe went to watch football with his buddy on Sunday and the kids and I had a bonus day to ourselves with no school work planned, this seemed like the best day to give it a whirl.  We went to Petsmart to get the living creatures that couldn't be found in our own backyard and got to work.

Dirt for the terrestrial habitat.

I won't bore you with the details of how we made it.  I found this how-to site to be the absolute best and most informative.

Trying to keep those tricky crickets in!
I will tell you what the other web sites don't...some of the hang ups and perks we encountered. 

When we went to Petsmart, I asked the guy if his snails from super pristine tanks could survive an actually natural environment with real dirt and icky microorganisms.  He claimed that the snails would thrive in it, so I casually asked if there were any other critters that might thrive.  He said that all pet stores are cursed with these itty bitty snails that they do their best to eradicate, but it's a losing battle and if I wanted to wait while he scraped out the tanks, I could have all I wanted for free!  That's right folks!  Free critters for the aquatic habitat.  So we waited!  My guess is that you can score free critters too if you just ask if they want to unload their invasive pest snails.  There's a tip you aren't going to find anywhere else!  Haha!  A Momma Skyla exclusive :)  And those itty bitty snails are adorable!  They have pretty spirally shells and they are faster than their giant counterparts, making them more fun to watch.  Sometimes they even eat off the backs of the bigger snails and the kids just think that's hilarious!

The wide range of facial expressions here cracks me up! 

The thing they don't prepare you for on those how-to sites is how tiny crickets can be.  We bought a box of the crickets for feeding your reptile for a buck and those little stinkers are so tiny that they can easily escape through most air holes.  So, if you buy your crickets, use a needle and poke a bazillion holes rather than useng a hole punch or soldering iron to make fewer large holes.  You don't want a cricket infestation!  Also, after a few hours the crickets disappear into the green and you have to sneak up on them if you want to get a peek.  When they haven't been moved for a while, they are really active and fun to watch.

Lab time
I mostly did this for Hunter.  He loves nature and critters.  He particularly loves water critters, so I knew the aquatic habitat at the bottom would capture his attention and it totally did!  This morning he drug himself out of bed and went straight to the eco column and laid his head down on the kitchen table in a trance.  Joe and I shot each other looks like It's working as planned!!!  It never works as planned!!!  At class time I noticed that his pencil wasn't moving for a long time and said, "Hunter, what's the hold up, Buddy?"  He said, "It's the eco column, Mom.  It's just right here and it's so much cooler than phonics.  Can you move just for now so I don't feel tempted to be lazy?"  Haha!  I moved it to the sun room until science time and he clicked off his daily routine without further distraction. 

Today for the second half of our science class I had the kids draw detailed sketches of the set up so we can watch for any changes that take place.  Hunter generally scribbles the least he can get away with and then runs off, but today Hannah Jane and Haven both finished long before him and not because he was dragging his heels, but because he didn't want to miss a detail.  It was the most thorough work that kid has ever done!  When you can find things that really engage a kid's most sincere interests, it's amazing how little effort it takes to get their best work from them.  Like magic!

So, my recommendation is that this is a must-do activity.  It's pretty to look at, minimal upkeep, fairly cheap (a grand total of around 12 bucks for 3 cokes, aquatic plant and critters, and some tank gravel) and super engaging for the tall and the small.  It's the perfect centerpiece for studies on niches, habitats, interdependence, insect studies, and so on and so on...  We noticed a giant thing, longer than it's little tentacle looking things, coming off the front of the snail so Hunter has proposed we do aquatic snail anatomy tomorrow.  Yeah, baby!  Thant's what I'm talking about!  The reluctant student is now lesson planning legit courses of study based on interests and inquiry.  Does it get any better?  I think not!

Why are you still here?  Go make one!


  1. That is one of the most awesome things I've seen in a long time. And I'm a science teacher!!! Thank you for sharing your tips and tricks!

  2. Oh, so glad you like it! I think it was one of the most fun things we've done for science!

  3. Anonymous2.10.13

    Hi! I'm in 10th grade and in my bio class we have a challenge to make an ecocolumn that can last a year. After we put it together, we can't touch it or add anything. I was just wondering how long your column lasted and if you have any tips! Thanks!

    1. Hi there, anonymous! It's been so long that I can't tell you exactly how long it lasted, but I think we kept it around for about a month. We didn't quit on account of anything dying, though. I just needed my kitchen table space back :) Good luck with your project! I'd love to see pictures and hear how long it lasts!


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