Lesson 7 

Making an In-class Biosphere


Adapted from "Building a Terrarium" lesson by Scott Oberg


  • To think about sustainability and cultural values
  • To reflect on the current environmental challenges facing Hawaii and planet Earth and develop a plan for “planetary protection” of Mars
  • Gain knowledge on how a biosphere could work on another planet to sustain life
  • Gain understand that a biosphere is a self contained habitat which could be used on Mars

Appendix 1:

Materials & Directions Handout 


  • One gallon clear glass jar with lid (pickle jar)
  • 2 cups small stones, the size of a pea
  • Crushed gardener’s charcoal
  •     10 cups potting soil
  • Stocking, cheesecloth, or burlap
  •     Wood chips
  •     Spray bottle
  •     Spoon
  • Measuring cup
  •     Scissors
  •     Small plants

Suggested plants found at local hardware stores:  

  • Laua’e, Ae’ae, Goosefoot,
  • Sphaghum moss (soil cover).
  • Rubber gloves

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Review the homework assignment (Biosphere Review Questions).  Go over key ideas.  Ask the students if they have any questions.


Print the "Materials & Directions Handout" to help guide the students (Appendix 1).  Have the students read the directions together as a class so everyone understands the activity. 

    1. Wash the bottle or jar inside and out. (If you are using a food jar, soak it until the label comes off.)  Rinse well and dry.

    2. Put ¾ inch of small stones in the jar for drainage.

    3. Put a spoonful of charcoal over the stones.  Charcoal is used to filter, purify and humidify the soil and water of the terrarium.

    4. Cut the stocking or cheesecloth into a circle to fit inside the jar.  The cheesecloth should cover the charcoal completely.  The cheesecloth allows water flow yet keeps the soil and filtering medium from mixing.

    5. Measure 1 ½ cups of soil.  Pour it on top of the cloth. 
Spread it around so it is even.

    6. Put the potted plants next to each other on a table.  Place them in a way that the student would like to see them inside the jar, with the tallest planted first and the ground cover going in last.

    7. Take a spoon and dig a hole right down to the cheesecloth in the center of the jar.

    8. Hold the stem of the tallest plant between your index and middle fingers.Turn the pot upside down.  Hit the bottom of the pot lightly with a spoon.  After a few taps, the plant will come out of the pot.

    9. Put the plant in the hole you dug.  Pack some soil around it to keep it in place.
Do the same for the other plants, except the ground cover.

    10. Measure 1 ½ cups of soil.  Spread it around the plants.  Press it down lightly with your fingers.

    11. Take the ground cover out of its pot.  Dig a small hole in the soil with your fingers.  Put the plant in the hole with some more soil around it and pack it down.

    12. Now put in the rocks, wood chips, and other things you picked for aesthetics.  Move them around until you like the way they look.

    13. Measure ¼ cup of water and water the plants.
    14. Clean off the inside of the jar with a paper towel.

    15. Put the lid on the jar and take it home.


End the activity by discussing the biosphere with the students and linking the elements in the jar with what could possibly be needed for human habitation of Mars.


Some students will not want to touch the soil.  These students could be given rubber gloves to participate.   The glass jars become heavy when full.  For safety, this lesson should be done on the ground over newspaper, so the jars do not fall. 


Standard 1: The Scientific Process: SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION: "Discover, invent, and investigate using the skills necessary to engage in the scientific process"
Benchmark SC.5.1.1 “Identify the variables in scientific investigations and recognize the
importance of controlling variables in scientific experiments.”

Benchmark SC.5.1.2: Scientific Inquiry: “Formulate and defend conclusions based on

Standard 2: The Scientific Process: NATURE OF SCIENCE: "Understand that science,
Technology, and society are interrelated."

Benchmark SC.5.2.1: “Use models and/or simulations to represent and investigate features of objects, events, and processes in the real world.”

General Learner Outcomes:
Community Contributor:  “The understanding that it is essential for human beings to work together”
Quality Producer “The ability to recognize and produce quality performance and quality products”
Effective Communicator:  “The ability to communicate effectively”