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Macroinvertebrates: What Wetland Bugs Can Teach Us



This experiential learning resource introduces students to the world of macroinvertebrates and the factors that negatively impact wetlands. A game approach is used to explore the effects of pollution on aquatic macroinvertebrate species.  Then students visit a local wetland to search for, and identify the creatures that inhabit the marsh.  During their investigation students consider the positive and negative impacts of human activity and learn how factors such as invasive species can affect the health of ecosystems.  They also use scientific equipment and gain a deeper understanding of scientific vocabulary related to freshwater systems.  Activities in two lessons include:

  • Describing the four components of habitat.
  • Identifying types of habitats they are familiar with.
  • Playing an adapted version of the Project Wet game "Macroinvertebrate Mayhem".
  • Collecting and identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates found in a local wetland.
  • Using field equipment such as dip nets and field guides.
  • Writing about their experience.

General Assessment


  • Engaging activities that are hands-on.
  • Takes students outside to explore.
  • Relevant topic that focuses on pollution.
  • Meaningful experiences for students.
  • Organized and easy to use.


  • Some of the resources such as nets and field identification guides may be more difficult for some teachers than others to locate.
  • There is no wetland action project associated with the resource.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

This resource would be particularly valuable as an accompaniment to any unit on habitats or interactions within ecosystems.  After discussing the results of the "Macroinvertebrate Mayhem" game students could be presented with several different scenarios where the number of pollution tolerant and intolerant organisms varies.  They could identify which scenarios demonstrate a healthy habitat compared to an unhealthy habitat.  Students could then create their own wetland on paper and cut and paste pictures of various aquatic organisms onto their wetland to show their knowledge that a healthy ecosystem contains a large diversity of organisms. 

From the invertebrates they collect in the wetland sampling activity students can categorize and sort the organisms by pollution tolerance.  They can chart their data and compare results with each other.  Then they can analyze their results and draw conclusions about the health of the wetland they sampled.  Students could also brainstorm ways to keep the wetland healthy if the results indicate it is doing well, or if there is a problem then they can propose solutions. These activities could be expanded into an action project where students "adopt" a local wetland and develop strategies to inform the community about how to protect this valuable ecosystem.

What important ideas are implied by the resource, but not taught explicitly?

Although not implicitly defined in the resource it is evident that biodiversity is negatively affected by pollution.  In the "Macroinvertebrate Mayhem" game students will make the connection between the number and types of organisms and the amount of pollutants in the water.  They will also examine a wetland, and using their new learning from the game students will be able to make conclusions about the health of that wetland. 

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

Themes Addressed

  • Ecosystems (3)

    • Appreciating the Natural World
    • Biodiversity
    • Habitat Loss
  • Water (1)

    • Water Quality

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Bias Minimization Good

The "Marcroinvertebrate Mayhem" game has students considering the positive and negative impacts of humans on ecosystem health. The game also develops a deeper understanding of the dependence of humans on healthy wetlands. The activity is reinforced by the exploration of a local wetland where students can visualize their new learning.

Bias Minimization: Presents as many different points of view as necessary to fairly address the issue(s).
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Good

As students consider how development can impact on ecosystem health they will also learn about the social and economic decisions that are a necessary component of protecting the environment.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

The resource effectively addresses multiple dimensions of problems and solutions. These should include the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

Respects Complexity Satisfactory

A variety of experiences fosters deeper thinking about wetland ecosystems and students consider new information through presentation, observation and experiential learning.

Respects Complexity: The complexity of problems is respected. A systems-thinking approach is encouraged.
Action Experience Poor/Not considered

Students will develop a deeper awareness of the value of wetlands but there are no specific wetland conservation action projects included with this resource.

Action Experience: Provides opportunities for authentic action experiences in which students can work to make positive change in their communities.
  • Poor = action activities poorly developed
  • Satisfactory = action opportunities are extensions instead of being integral to the main part of the activity
Action Skills Poor/Not considered

Students learn environmental sampling techniques such as dip netting and classification using field guides. They also learn about the use of indicator species as a way to determine the health of an ecosystem.Â

Action Skills: Explicitly teaches the skills needed for students to take effective action (e.g. letter-writing, consensus-building, etc.).
Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

Not considered in this resource.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Good

Wetlands are among the most threatened types of ecosystems on our planet and it is imperative that young people develop respect for these habitats. This resource fosters an understanding of the importance of wetland conservation through an experiential approach that provides a meaningful experience to students.

Personal Affinity with Earth: Actively encourages a personal affinity with non-humans and with Earth. For example, this may involve practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors.
Locally-Focused Good

Wetlands are found everywhere and this resource is extremely relevant in all geographic regions & communities in Canada.

Locally-Focused: Encourages learning that is locally-focused/made concrete in some way and is relevant to the lives of the learners.
Past, Present & Future Poor/Not considered

Not considered in this resource.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Good

The hands-on, experiential learning that occurs in a wetland provides numerous opportunities for students to make meaningful connections between new information and what they already know.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Learning Satisfactory

This resource is science based. However the game incorporates math outcomes when students tally the invertebrates at the end.  ELA aspects are included in the assessment activity which requires students to write a reflection about their experience.

Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Learning: Multidisciplinary= addresses a number of different subjects Interdisciplinary= integrated approach that blurs subject lines Good: The resource provides opportunities for learning in a number of traditional 'subject' areas (eg. Language Arts, Science, Math, Art, etc.). Very Good: The resource takes an integrated approach to teaching that blurs the lines between subject boundaries.
Discovery Learning Good

Both activities in this resource are entirely hands-on and allow for exploration and discovery.

Discovery Learning:

Learning activities are constructed so that students discover and build knowledge for themselves and develop largely on their own an understanding of concepts, principles and relationships. They often do this by wrestling with questions, and/or solving problems by exploring their environment, and/or physically manipulating objects and/or performing experiments.

  • Satisfactory = Students are provided with intriguing questions, materials to use & some direction on how to find answers. The learning involves unique experience & provides some opportunity for an 'ah-hah' event
  • Good = Students are provided with intriguing questions, materials to use, & make their own decisions on how to find answers. The learning involves unique experience & provides definite opportunity for an 'ah-hah' event.
  • Very Good = Students choose what questions to investigate as well as the materials/strategies to use to answer them.
Values Clarification Satisfactory

Although there are no formal values clarification activities in this resource, students should experience an attachment to wetland habitats that they may not have had previously. This will translate into a more fully-developed concern for wetland conservation and protection.

Values Clarification: Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.
  • Poor = Students are not explicitly given an opportunity to clarify their own values.
  • Satisfactory = Students are given a formal opportunity to clarify their own values. The range of perspectives in the resource is limited, therefore, students do not have an appropriate amount of information to clarify their own values.
Differentiated Instruction Satisfactory

Although not formally identified, the hands-on approach in this resource will appeal to multiple learning styles and abilities.

Differentiated Instruction: Activities address a range of learning styles/different intelligences. They teach to both cognitive and affective domains. Accommodations are suggested for people with learning difficulties.
Experiential Learning Very Good

Both of the lessons in this resource are learner centred and activity based.  Students also participate in an authentic scientific investigation when they do the wetland dip netting activity.

Experiential Learning: Direct, authentic experiences are used.
  • Satisfactory = simulation
  • Good = authentic experience
  • Very Good = authentic experience related to the primary goal of the lesson
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory

There is an opportunity for some small group or pairs learning in the dip netting activity .  Students can also support each other in the invertebrate identification tasks.

Cooperative Learning: Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.
  • Satisfactory = students work in groups
  • Good = cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good = cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Satisfactory

There is an assessment activity included with the resource which requires students to write a one page journal entry about their new learning. This assessment would be best used formatively to determine the level of students understanding. There are no other assessments included with the resource.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory

The activities encourage student consultation with each other as they learn about methods used to sort and classify aquatic invertebrates.

Peer Teaching: Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.
  • Satisfactory = incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good = an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Good

The "Macroinvertebrate Mayhem" game presents students with authentic scenarios of how the health of a wetland can be impacted by pollution. Students carry this new learning into their own scientific investigation of an actual wetland and use their knowledge to make a decision about the relative health of that wetland.

Case Studies: Relevant case studies are used. Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events in real situations that can be used to examine concepts in an authentic context.
Locus of Control Satisfactory

Students learn authentic skills such as aquatic invertebrate identification that can be used to further explore the issue of pollution and its impacts on the health of aquatic ecosystems.

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.