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Pond dipping

Collect pond life and observe closely with a magnifier, and microscopes if available. Identify what you can. Pond water also can be studied in a tub in the classroom.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Classification of Living Things, Biodiversity (1, 3)
Biology: Life Cycles (2)
Biology: Food Webs, Ecosystems, Biomes (3, 4)
  • pond with accessible water among plants, or pond sample rich with life brought into the classroom
  • nets
  • large trays, white best
  • 10x magnifier, or box magnifiers, to see pond life more closely
  • white paint tray and pipette to confine samples to smaller space for observation
  • optional: flashlight to illuminate samples while observing, if indoors
  • optional: image of Daphnia (a commonly found freshwater animal) showing body parts including eggs, gut, eye
  • optional: if dipping from a pond, map of pond to draw what is found at what location - see Jericho pond attachment
  • cloths for wiping up water spills and mess

Find a good collection site at the pond. Around the base of plants, rather than open water, tends to be more fruitful.
Fill a large tray with pond water for each student group.
Using a fine net, students scoop from the pond or stream near to plants then invert the net into the large tray.

Alternatively, the teacher collects pond water samples and brings them into the classroom in white tubs (so that the contents can be seen easily).

Students transfer organisms they find in the large tray to smaller trays with a pipette, then use the magnifiers to look at them closely.
Students are assisted in identifying the pond invertebrates they find.

Try these web pages for identification keys:
For Daphnia and similar species, cyclops and shrimp: Page 46 of
For most species you will find: Make sure you click on "arthropods" as you'll find a lot of these, and then "other insect stages" for larger specimens.

Organisms students with me have found:
At Central Park pond, we identified Cyclops, freshwater shrimp, worms and Daphnia. In our back yard pond we identified Daphnia, leeches, caddisfly larvae, cyclops, worms, and sometimes stentor. At Jericho we identified Daphnia, water beetles, water boatmen, worms and shrimp. At Trout Lake we found Daphnia, worms, mosquito larvae, water mites, mayfly nymphs or something similar. Water plants and seeds also caught may be identified.

Gather as a group and add each organism found to a white board, then with discussion, link who eats who to form a food web.
Add other animals and plants seen around the pond. Optional: play bird sounds for local birds. Add them to the food web. Also add microscopic bacteria and algae, to feed the bottom levels of the food chains.

Attached documents: 

Wier at Central Park 2010, Laurier at Jericho Pond 2013, Tyee at Trout Lake 2015 X'pey at Beaver Lake 2016, Britannia at Trout Lake 2017, Carnarvon at Jericho 2017
Pond dipping ID pages in Wier

Grades taught: 
Gr K
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5
Gr 6
Gr 7
Allyson Donnelly
Barbara Duncan
Becky Evermon
Brenda Koch
Daphne Gurney
Despina Petrellis
Diane Merchant
Fiona Laporte
Julie Kawaguchi
Kathryn Mazzone
Kevin Dwyer
Kyle Nylund
Lindsay Izat
Nina Hooker
Pascal Spino
Patricia Ellis
Taz Ismail
Teaching site: 
Britannia Elementary
Carnarvon Elementary
Eton Arrowsmith Camp
General Gordon Elementary
General Gordon Elementary Science Club
ingridscience afterschool
Laurier Elementary
Nelson Elementary
Selkirk Elementary
Tyee Elementary
Weir Elementary
Xpey' Elementary School (formerly MacDonald Elementary)
Activity originally developed and delivered: 

Scientist in Residence Program