Aquariums in the Classroom

Aquariums in the ClassroomAquariums in the Classroom: An aquarium is not only an attractive addition to the classroom, but can also be used as an instructional tool for a variety of topics (Science, Math, English, Geography, Art, etc). Of course the potential use for science may seem a natural association, as an aquarium can easily be used to teach topics such as: fish biology, nitrogen cycling, ecosystems, habitat, the food chain, photosynthesis, pollution, plant biology, anatomy, genetics, scientific nomenclature or scientific methods.

How might an aquarium be used to teach geography? Let’s assume you have set up an aquarium, with various species of tropical fish. As a project the class could determine the natural place of origin of the fish and then indicate on a blank world map were the fish are indigenous. What about math? How could an aquarium be used to teach a topic like math? Imagine now you had a well-stocked 55-gallon aquarium filled with fish. Let’s assume for a minute that your aquarium housed 10 Neon Tetras, 8 Rummynose Tetras, 5 Swordtails, 2 Angelfish, 1 Cory Catfish, and 1 Pleco. What you could now do is use the fish to teach about fractions and percentages.

Aquariums in the Classroom: Have the students determine what fractional value each species composed of the total population. Next have the students convert the fish fractions to percentages. In a subject like creative writing, the fish tank could be the topic of assignments. In an art class the aquarium could be used as students painted a picture of their favorite fish. As you can see there are many potential uses for an aquarium in the classroom. As educators your task is to find creative ways to incorporate the aquarium into your curriculum. As many of you can attest, students learn best when they have an interest in the topic and can get hands-on experience, and what better way to stimulate interest than with an aquarium.

There are many books available from your local teacher supply shops that carry lesson plans that involve aquariums and aquatic organisms. Additionally the Internet is a great resource for information and even lesson plans. Tetra Inc., has an interesting website that features lesson plans for teachers, that deal with aquariums. In the next three pages I will include an example taken directly from the Tetra web site lesson plans.

Observing Fish Behavior
(Over a Short Period of Time)
The student will be able to describe some typical fish behavior based upon observations of aquarium fish
during a 5-10 minute period.

Materials Needed:
Watch with second hand or class clock with second hand
Aquademics™ Science Worksheet #2 (one per student)
Paper and pencil for each student
Backgrounder on Animal Behavior (for the teacher or parent to review)
Review the Backgrounder on Animal Behavior.
Ask the students to make a brief profile of their own behavior during a typical day.

Pose questions such as:

1. Do they like to play alone?
2. Do they like to play in groups?
3. Do they eat one type of food at a time or mix it together?
4. Do they like to play quiet games or active games?

Tell students that aquatic scientists spend lots of time (hours and hours!) observing fish and recording data
about their observations. Today, each student will become an aquatic scientist.

Students will work in pairs for this lesson plan. Each pair will pick any fish in the Aquademics™ aquarium
and observe it for 5-10 minutes. One partner calls time every 15 seconds and records behaviors listed on
Aquademics™ Science Worksheet #2. The other partner describes what the fish is doing when time is

Distribute Aquademics™ Science Worksheet #2 and go over the list of possible fish behaviors. Show
students how to make a "tic" mark on each line if that particular behavior is observed. Tell students NOT
to guess at the fish's behavior if it is in a crevice or missing from view at the time interval; in this case, they
should place a "tic" mark on the line for NOT SEEN.
At the end of the specified time period, ask student groups to tally their "tic" marks and to make a graph
showing the frequency of various fish behaviors. Invite them to comment on and discuss which behaviors
were seen and why.
Each pair should have at least 20 "tic" marks at the end of the specified time period.
Have students draw the outline of a fish on a blank piece of paper. Ask them to write at least four different
observed fish behaviors inside the outline.
Animal Behavior
Animal behavior is a diverse area of study that looks at the organization of a single animal or even its cells
but also compares group dynamics and adaptations over time. People who study behavior look at these
different levels. An endocrinologist looks at how hormones dictate behavior through life. A physiologist
studies how the nerves, muscles and sense organs are stimulated and coordinated to produce behavior. A
psychologist or ethologist is interested in how the whole animal works and the factors that affect it. A
behavioral psychologist traditionally studies how an animal learns in a lab while an ethologist describes
naturally occurring behaviors in the wild. All of these areas of animal behavior combine to give a complete
view of how and why animals act the way they do. Today, however, the scientific study of animal behavior
is generally lumped under ethology.

The ultimate goal of ethologists is to understand patterns of animal behavior. An ethogram is a complete
list of behaviors for an animal. This includes actions alone and with other animals, postures, color changes
and vocalizations. Ethologists base their work on repeated observations and measurements.
Like other sciences, the study of animal behavior answers questions using the scientific method. This is a
series of steps that build on each other to arrive at conclusions:

1. make a hypothesis (an educated guess)
2. test the hypothesis
3. form a theory
4. prove the theory
5. state a law

Not all studies end in a law, or even a theory on which all scientists agree. It is important to share
information so that everyone can keep up with new information and changing ideas.
When your students design behavior studies they should quantify their work with real data. This
information can be shared and reproduced. Students should be encouraged to design their own projects,
bearing this in mind. Two concepts you might introduce are interval studies and how to work with
questions and variables.

Interval studies identify behaviors at specific times, such as every minute or hour. These studies are good
for projects that devote a lot of time to basic animal observation. They help build an ethogram. A
stopwatch or watch with a second hand and recording sheet are the basic equipment, with perhaps
binoculars for animals that you cannot approach. At the end of each designated time segment, the exact
behavior is noted. Behaviors that fall between the intervals are not noted. The behavior list generated from
this study can be used to quantify actions. To figure out the time devoted to each behavior, total the check
marks in each category. Then total all check marks. Use the following formula to determine what percent
of the time the animal spends in each category.

Example: You watch a pigeon for 25 minutes and note its action every minute on the minute. You see
grooming 6 times during the 25 observations.
Variables are factors that you can change to manipulate what is happening. Studies that use variables
study one aspect of behavior, such as aggression, feeding or choices. In an experiment, the "control" is
your baseline reading. It is used to compare against experiments with variables. It is only fair to introduce
one variable, or change, at a time and then observe its result.

For example, if you were studying to see if crayfish are territorial, you could first watch how one animal uses a defined amount of space. This is the control situation. You might guess that the number of hiding spaces or fellow crayfish, available food or
area of the tank make a difference. Each one of these new situations is a variable. The results of these changes compared to the control allow you to make conclusions.

Science Worksheet #2
Fish Selected:
Time Start:
Time Finish:
Behaviors #of Times Seen
SWIMMING in pairs
SWIMMING in group (schooling)
CHASING bigger fish
CHASING smaller fish
PICKING ON other fish
BEING PICKED ON by other fish
CLEANING another fish
BEING CLEANED by another fish
NOT MOVING on bottom
NOT MOVING in water

Aquariums in the Classroom.

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