Billion Oyster Project

Set Up an Experimental Tank Based on Material Testing


Oyster Tank Investigation



Class Periods




Subject Areas



Students experiment with different materials in 1 gallon tanks in order to come up with some ideas for an experimental question to use with their second tank.


Design an experiment based on the testing of materials.

Materials and Resources


  • 10 spat-on-shell substrate oysters

  • 10 one-gallon tanks (e.g. Penn-Plax New World Habitat Tank, Small, 1 gal)

  • Various materials that the students can “play with” in their smaller tanks.  The more options the better! For example:

    • Instant Ocean Sea Salt

    • Aquarium Gravel (large) - 10lb bag

    • Aquarium Gravel (medium) - 10lb bag

    • Aquarium Sand

    • Undergravel filter

    • Power filter

    • Various filter media: cartridges, canisters, stones, pads, carbon, etc.

    • Tank divider

    • Air pump

    • Air pump tubing

    • Other reef associate organisms

    • Water Conditioner

    • Aquarium Bacteria

    • Bacteria supplement

    • Thermometer

Before you get started

Tips for Teachers

  • One important purpose of this lesson is for the class to come to some sort of an educated agreement as to the one question on which their experimental tank should be focused.  Feel free to use a different method to come to this same conclusion.


  • Set up the second tank as a baseline before class begins.  This includes water that is 15ppt and an aerator.

  • Set up all the various materials in the list of “Supplies” around the perimeter of the room.

Instruction Plan


  1. Students get into small groups.

  2. In an orderly fashion the students walk around the perimeter of the room and “window shop” for the items they want to play around with.

  3. Students return to their seats and groups fill out an “order form” for the items they want.

  4. Distribute items to groups in an orderly way.

  5. If students want additional items, establish the protocols for this beforehand.


  1. Each group gets a 1 gallon tank, water, and one spat-on-shell substrate oyster.

  2. Groups play around with their materials in order to come up with an experimental question for the second tank.

  3. Each group receives the Design an Experimental Tank handout and completes it for their tank.

  4. Each student receives a Notes on Other Groups’ Experiments handout.

  5. Each group delivers the pitch for their experimental question to the class and students individually take notes on each pitch using the handout.

  6. Class should choose (teacher can consider how democratic to make the process) which experiment they would like to do as a class.


  1. NOW, it is time to complete the setup of the second tank.

  2. In this demo, the teacher will finish setting up the the tank and engage the students in discussion along the way.

  3. Gather the class around the tank so everyone can see.  

  4. Note: The only things that must be placed in this second, experimental tank are water, oysters and the aerator. Other than that, what is put in the second tank is based on the experimental question the class decided upon.


  1. Students devise a method for collecting the data on the second tank. This may be done back in their groups or as a whole class.

  2. Students should include in their description how often the data should be taken, what units it should be, who will take it, and how the class will keep track of it. They should also decide on a length of time for their experiment.

  3. Post the experimental question above the tank and assign class responsibilities for data collection, monitoring, cage maintenance, etc.