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Spend time on the ground outside and learn more about critters you find! Students will dig in different areas of soil to investigate the relationship between location and the number of macroinvertebrates (bugs).

Learning Goals:

  • Students will learn the vocabulary: macroinvertebrate, ecosystem, changed variable, and measured variable
  • Students will carry out a soil investigation by searching through the ground and counting creatures they see
  • Students will make connections between how the location of soil they dig in might be related to the quantity of macroinvertebrates they find

Materials Needed:

  • Access to investigation data chart (see attached)
  • Paper to journal and sketch on
  • Pencil
  • 3 different locations to look for bugs. Can’t find access to dirt? Look under bushes or along a sidewalk!
  • Container
  • Scooper (like a spoon or gardening tool)
  • Timer
  • Link to list of macroinvertebrates (you can print it!): http://www.colby.edu/biology/BI131/Lab/Lab08SoilinvertGuide.pdf
  • Optional: gardening gloves, hula hoop


  1. Discuss with your student(s):
    1. What do you think lives under the dirt?
    2. What do you think you’d find if you looked under the ground?
  2. Students draw, color, and label bugs that they think might live in the area of investigation (your backyard, a community park, etc). Dig around in the dirt for something to draw to get you started.
  3. Have your student(s) journal:
    1. What do you notice?
    2. What do you wonder?

                        *You are a student too! Tell your student what you notice and wonder.


  1. Most of the little bugs in the dirt are called macroinvertebrates.
    1. A macroinvertebrate, according to Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/animal/macroinvertebrate), is any animal lacking a backbone and is large enough to see without the aid of a microscope. Macroinvertebrates are part of an underground ecosystem.
    2. An ecosystem, according to Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/science/ecosystem), is the complex of living organisms, their physical environment, and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space.
  2. Discuss with your student(s):
    1. Is there a location where the macroinvertebrates are more active near the surface?
    2. Where do you think you’ll be able to find the most/least amount of macroinvertebrates?
  3. Decide on 3 hula hoop-sized locations (if finding dirt is difficult, try under bushes or along a sidewalk. If you don’t have a hula hoop, draw a large circle with a stick or your finger).
    1. These 3 locations represent your changed variable, which is the one variable changed by the scientist.
  4. Using your hands or a scooper, find as many macroinvertebrates as you can within 5 minutes. Put any macroinvertebrates you find in a storage container so you can count, record, and identify them.
    1. The macroinvertebrates are your measured variable, which is what scientists focus their observations on to see how they respond to the change made to the changed variable.
  5. kyleen datasheetAfter 5 minutes, count up how many total macroinvertebrates you found and record that number in your chart. Use the provided identification chart (link) to learn more about those macroinvertebrates.
  6. Sketch and label your favorite macroinvertebrate, then return them back to their ecosystem in the soil.
  7. Continue this process for your 2 other hula hoop-sized locations (changed variables), searching for the same amount of time (5 minutes) and looking for macroinvertebrates (measured variable) in the same way.


  1. Now your student(s) should have looked through 3 locations, recorded your number of macroinvertebrates in the data chart, sketched a couple macroinvertebrates, and returned them all back to their ecosystem. So…(discuss) what is the relationship between location and number of macroinvertebrates found?
  2. Have your student(s) journal:
    1. What does the data tell you?
    2. Where can you look to find the most and least amount of macroinvertebrates? How do you know?
    3. Was this how you thought the investigation would turn out?
    4. What surprised you?
  3. Discuss: Why do you think macroinvertebrates live (or don’t live) in the soil you looked in? What’s your evidence?
    1. Trying using this sentence stem: I think     [claim]     because     [evidence]    .

*Example: I think worms live in my compost pile because there are lots of nutrient-rich foods for them to munch on.


  1. Discuss with your student(s):
    1. What did you learn that you didn’t know before?

    2. If you could do this investigation again, what would you do differently? What would you do the same?

    3. What new questions do you have?

    4. If you could design your own investigation, what question would you ask? What relationship would you explore?


Investigation Data Chart (see attached)

Video of Investigation Summary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOpEDawETMg)

How do I identify macroinvertebrates: http://www.colby.edu/biology/BI131/Lab/Lab08SoilinvertGuide.pdf

What is a macroinvertebrate: https://www.britannica.com/animal/macroinvertebrate

What is an ecosystem: https://www.britannica.com/science/ecosystem

Next Steps:

Try other Home Growin’ Kids lessons at https://homegrowinkids.wixsite.com/homegrowinkids

Meaningful science learning can happen with everyday phenomena in our own homes or neighborhoods. This elementary learning menu includes options for family-supported science learning for younger learners at home.

PreK - Kindergarten Grades 1-3 Grades 3-5
Observe the weather and draw what you see. Watch videos of baby animals and their parents and describe how they interact. Describe the ways baby animals and parents look alike and different. Discuss ideas about why it might be harder to see at night or in a dark room compared to in daylight or a brightly lit room.
Draw and describe what the weather looks and feels like for several days in a row (e.g., sunny, cloudy, windy, rainy, snowy, stormy) Observe the sun, moon and stars over multiple days (in a journal with descriptions and drawings). Describe the differences in their appearance or location from day to day or week to week. Look at different plants growing outside. Discuss parts of the plants that help them grow or survive. If you can, plant some seeds to watch them grow.
Kick a soccer ball and explore ideas about how a harder kick makes the ball go farther. Experiment with letting it roll on different surfaces and seeing what happens when it collides with other objects. Go on nature walks and describe plant and animal parts and how they might help the organisms survive. For example: Roses have sharp thorns that hurt when you touch them. Maybe this keeps people from picking them. When you’re riding in a car, wonder about why the windows on one side of the car facing the sun are warmer than the other car windows. When you get home, draw a model to explain it.
Walk around your neighborhood or a local park and name the animals and plants you see, then talk about why the neighborhood or park is a good place for them to live. Go outside after a windy or rainy day. Describe what changes they see or what is different. Discuss how the wind or water might have caused these changes. Place different objects in a container filled with water. Discuss what happens to the objects. Why do you think some of the objects float and other objects sink?
Sensory scavenger hunts. Find 6 objects that have a similar property: are X color, that are X shape, that have a smell, that are hard, soft, etc. Go on a scavenger hunt in the kitchen together and put all the bowls, utensils, pots and pans in groups based on similarities and differences. Cook a meal together and discuss how sometimes when you mix two substances together, something new forms, or whether you can change something back to its raw form after you have cooked it.
Cut out pictures from magazines to make pattern collages by color, shape, size, etc. Walk around your neighborhood or a park and document the different plants, insects and animals you see. Then go to a different neighborhood or park and find out if the same plants, insects and animals are present. Discuss how the construction of a new house or building might change the ecosystem that was there before the construction began.
Track shadow patterns in a room by making string outlines on the floor. Toss a ball outside, or in an open space inside, and discuss how to make it go shorter and farther distances. Take apart an electronic toy that has a light or makes sound and investigate the circuit inside the toy. Draw a model of the circuit inside the toy. Using evidence from your model/drawing, explain how the circuit works. What effect would an open circuit have on the toy?
Count and record how many stars you can see out a window every night. Draw what the moon looks like every night to identify patterns. Find something that is broken. Take it apart to see if you can find a way to fix it or reuse the parts. Find something that is broken and take it apart to identify all of its pieces. Develop a model to explain how the parts work together and what happens when a piece is broken.
Find an interesting object and observe it carefully. See if you can notice details that someone else can’t. Can you describe it so well that someone can figure out what it is, even if they don’t see it? Measure shadow patterns every hour to see how they change during the day. Can you make a specific kind of shadow puppet (that is a particular size and shape)? How did you do that? Find a rock and observe it carefully. Write a story to describe where the rock came from and what made it look the way it does.
See if you can find an animal either outside or even living in your own home. Watch it carefully. Where does it go? What is it doing? Why is it doing what it is doing--is it looking for food, or water or a safe place? Be an energy sleuth! Document all of the objects in your home that are using electricity. How do you know they are using electricity? Consider whether they are using energy when not in use and could be unplugged to save energy. Be an energy sleuth! Document all of the objects in your home and the evidence you have that they are using electricity. Consider whether they are using energy when not in use and could be unplugged to save energy. Make a family plan to conserve energy.
Work with your family to sort items in the trash and/or recycling containers into categories based upon their properties. Are they made from metal, plastic, wood? Try to figure out how much water you use in a day by using kitchen measuring devices to collect water when you wash your hands and brush your teeth. Try to figure out how much water you use in a day by using kitchen measuring devices to collect water when you wash your hands and brush your teeth. Estimate how much water it takes to flush the toilet, wash clothes, wash dishes. Make a family plan to conserve water.
Watch a seed grow! It can be a garden seed or a dried bean you eat. Place the seed in a plastic baggie with a wet paper towel covering one side so you can see what happens as it grows. Make a list of light sources you can find in your house. How are these light sources used? Write about a light source in your house and how it helps you and your family. Make a flip book of roots, shoots, and flowers for plants and heads, bodies, and feet, for birds based on your own observations and/or images from media. Mix and match them and draw the environment that would be required for the organism to survive.


Version 1.1. of this work has been developed by members of the Council of State Science Supervisors. View Creative Commons Attribution at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/