A. Wills
Multiple Subject Teacher

This lesson will allow students to create a self sustaining biosphere.

Grade Level: 4 - 8th

Subject: Environmental

Length of Time: 30 - 45 Minutes

Objectives & Outcomes

The learners will create a self-sustaining biosphere that will thrive for at least one month.

Materials Needed

  • Mason jars with seals and lids
  • Clean sand/gravel
  • Activated charcoal
  • Plants
  • Water
  • Soil
  • Any decorative items that are desired (rocks, moss, etc.)


Opening to Lesson

  • Begin by telling students that a biosphere is a self-regulating system of ecosystems.
  • The Earth can actually be considered a biosphere.
  • There are man made, large scale biospheres as well.
  • Discuss why the ability to create a large scale biosphere may be important (colonize areas on other planets, being self sufficient if something large scale were to occur, etc.)

Body of Lesson

  • Explain to students that they are going to create a mini biosphere using a mason jar. The key is to make sure everything is clean and airtight.
  • Begin by cleaning a mason jar very well to prevent mold growth. Mold will take over and kill the biosphere. Add a layer of sand or gravel, or a mix, to the bottom of the jar. Aquarium sand works well and is already clean.
  • Put about 2 to 4 cm worth in a quart size jar. On top of the sand place a small amount of activated charcoal, 1 to 2 cm is plenty. This will serve as a cleaning agent.
  • Next, create a layer of draining soil, something such as cactus soil works well, but any good draining soil will work.
  • Next, decorate a bit. Add a small piece of wood or pebbles on top of the layers. Also add a  couple slow growing plants and some moss that can tolerate warm, humid environments. It is optional to add a small bug or two like a cricket or worm if desired.
  • Finally, add water enough to saturate your sand, but not flood the biosphere. Seal the cap well and keep a watch on your biosphere. It should be self-sustaining now. Place the biosphere where it can get sunlight, but not direct sunlight or it could overheat.


  • Have students journal daily about the changes taking place in the biosphere and any problems or surprises that may arise.
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Assessment & Evaluation

Students will follow directions to create a biosphere that is self sustaining. Evaluation will be based on the creation of the biosphere and the ability for it to continue to grow and thrive for at least one month.

Modification & Differentiation

Allow students extra time if necessary.

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