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Succession in the Classroom

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Keywords: pioneer species, Change over time, Succession
Subject(s): Science, Photography, Biology, Information Skills, Earth Science, Writing, Special Needs, Life Science, Geography, Technology, Social Skills, Art, Journalism, Math, History
Grades 6 through 8
School: Sarasota School-Arts & Science, Sarasota, FL
Planned By: Julia Calderon
Original Author: Julia Calderon, Sarasota

Students will demonstrate an understanding of change over time.
Students will identify the “pioneer” species.


SC.D.1.3.4: Know the ways in which plants and animals reshape the landscape.

SC.D.1.3.5: Understand concepts of time and size relating to the interaction of Earth’s processes.

SC.G.1.3.4: Know that the interactions of organisms with each other and with the nonliving parts of their environments result in the flow of energy and the cycling of matter throughout the system.

SC.G.1.3.5: Know that life is maintained by a continuous input of energy from the sun and by the recycling of the atoms that make up the molecules of living organisms.


•Set up a large clean aquarium in a location that it will receive plenty of light and heat (or provide a grow light above the tank).

•Using masking tape, place a mark of the floor where the tripod will be placed, about 1 meter from the tank, depending on camera’s viewable area.
--Tripod can be set up in advance for groups to share (Depending on room set-up/space, all groups can share 1 tripod that is set up at the specific location)

•Assign each lab group, in each class, a seperate camera memory card for their photos to be stored on during the project.
--Provide a safe location for each group to store their memory cards. (6 groups x 6 periods = 36 memory cards)

•Assign each group a digital camera. 1 camera can be assigned to each lab station. (6 lab stations, 4 students per station)

•Assign lab groups. Groups should be heterozygous (ability level, race, gender, etc..).
--Ideal set up for each group:
1 - High level ( or Advanced/Gifted student)
1 - Medium-high level
1 - Medium-low level
1 - Low student ( or ESE/ESOL)


•Day 1-2: Introduce and set up the tank.

•5 minutes/week (for 8 weeks to ½ a school year): photograph and record observations.

•Last 2 days: Students create their PowerPoint presentations.


•Students discuss what would happen if they never mowed their yard.
--What would it look like in one month, one year and one century?

(DAY 1)

•What is succession?
--(Interdisciplinary): In history succession is used in describing monarchies. One king succeeds another.
•Discuss primary & secondary succession.
•Compare and contrast primary and secondary succession in lab groups.
--Venn Diagram or other graphic organizer can be used to assist ESE/ESOL students.
•Each student is to bring in a bag of soil from their backyard.
*Safety Note: Remind students that many insects bit or sting and to avoid locations where they are likely to encounter such insects.

(DAY 2)

•Students add their soil to a large (55 gallon) aquarium with a glass lid that is placed in front of a sunny window.
•Water the tank until the soil is damp.
•Close the lid securely, using clear tape over gaps.
•Lab groups photograph the tank with digital cameras.
--Students will use the tripod to record the best image.
--Students will take at least one image from the same location each time.
----Students may take additional photos from other angles to supplement their observations in their log book
----Students should try to note the image number in their log book.


•Each lab group will photograph the “Tank of Succession”.
•Groups will also record on a log in their lab journals, any changes that they notice or activity that is occurring in the tank.


•Each lab group will use Microsoft PowerPoint to create a slide show that shows that tank as it changes over the period of time.
•At the end of the slide show, students will also include a brief overview of what happened in the tank, including the following questions:
--What was the pioneer species?
--Was there a climax species? Why or why not?
--What role did insects and other organisms play in the created environment?
--Give examples of cycles of matter that occurred inside the tank?
----I.e. Water, carbon, nitrogen.
•Lab groups will be graded on how well the complete the final presentation and how thoroughly they answer the questions.

Materials Used:

•1 sandwich bag of soil from each students home (144 TOTAL).
•55 gallon glass aquarium.
•Tight fitting glass aquarium lid.
•One watering pitcher.
•One trawl.
**One digital camera per group (6 TOTAL).
**One 1 Gig. camera memory card per group, per class (36 TOTAL).
**One tripod per group (6 TOTAL).
•One computer with Microsoft PowerPoint (or equivalent presentation software) per group (6 TOTAL).
•One bound notebook (lab journal) per student (144 TOTAL).
•Clear packing tape
•Masking tape (optional).

(**Indicates requested materials)

•The longer the “Tank of Succession” is left to grow, the better the results will be. Ideally this activity should be preformed in the first half of the school year.

•This project is best done when there is an abundance of seeds being dispersed by various plants.

•As an alternative to having students bring in their own soil, the class could collect soil from around the school, to add to the tank.

•Instead of 1 large tank, groups or classes can set up their own tanks using large jars or smaller aquariums. This would allow for groups to compare results.
--If you have multiple classes you could set up one 10 galloon tank per lab station. This would allow for each lab group in a class period to have their own results while only having to set up 6 stations, instead of 36.
--Stackable "critter keepers" may also be used if space is limited, choose ones with solid lids. Ventilation slits can be taped over.

•Within a week or two, students should start to notice a few weeds starting to sprout; these are the pioneer species.

•Make sure that the lid is tight fitting to prevent escapees (fruit fleis, ants, etc...)
--Clear packing tape can be used to seal small gaps.

•ESE/ESOL students will especially benifit from this hands on activity.
--In reviewing the photos students will be able to see first hand how succession occurs.
--Students who are weak in verbal/linguistic skills will be able to demonstrate their level of understanding through their images and presentations. Students can use images or clip art to show the cycles of matter, pioneer species and climax species.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
-Students can parallel how successions of civilizations are similar to succession in nature.
-Students can discuss succession of monarchies.
-Students can measure and then graph the height of a plant in the tank as it grows.
-Calculate the volume of soil in the tank.
-Students can create short stories or poems that explain the changes that occurred in the tank.
-Students can sketch the tank at the end of the project.
--Sketches could be does as still life or impressions.
Students identify areas in Florida (local geography) that model different levels of succession. Which communities are Climax Communities? How has modern civilizaiton affected succession in Florida? How and why do we control, prevent, or speed-up succession?
Materials: Tripods, Point and Shoot, Mobile Labs, Memory Cards