The Bugs Will Tell: Macroinvertebrates Spill the Beans
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Grade: 4th - 7th grade
Class: Science
Author: Valerie Valla
Ballston Spa Central School
NYS Content Area Standard:
Math, Science & Technology:
Standard 4: Science
NYS Interdisciplinary Standard:
Adirondack Curriculum Content Area:
Natural HistoryHuman History
Performance Indicators:

MST 4: The Living Environment

Key idea 7: Human decisions and activities have had a profound impact on the physical and living environment. 

Performance indicator 7.2: Describe the effects of environmental changes on humans and other populations


  • Science: Earth & Space Sciences
  • Life Skills: Thinking & Reasoning; Working with Others
Keywords: macroinvertebrates, biological inventory
The Challenge:
Investigative Question or Issue: How might resource managers use macroinvertebrate populations to assess the health of a stream or river?

Challenge originally created by Valerie Valla & Marion Shorey.

This challenge may require a high degree of “coaching” from the teacher. It may be necessary to assist students in the processes of taking a valid macroinvertebrate population sample, collecting and interpreting data, and comparing data to that collected by other researchers so as to draw some general conclusions regarding the Investigative Question above. Refer to references on the next page to find help with procedures

Author comments: Differentiate the assignment of waterways.  Lower ability students should be assigned to polluted rivers where they would count as many macroinvertebrates but a fewer categories.  The higher ability students are assigned to the cleaner waterways so they need to do more sorting.

Students were engaged and interested.  We used the Smartboard for brainstorming, website movie and student presentations.  The mocked and actual sampling activity with laminated waterways, rocks and macroinvertebrates thrilled the students.  They enjoyed the camaraderie and stayed on task nicely.  All products students created were interesting, informational and made the individuals, partners, teachers and parents proud.  They were high quality.

All of the included activities can be altered slightly to accommodate both highly skilled and low level learners.  If you need further suggestions for how to accommodate a variety of learners please contact the creators.

The Challenge:

Conduct a macroinvertebrate survey of the local waterway to which you have been assigned. Create a poster suitable for use in a presentation in which you communicate your findings to others.

Directions: Put students into groups of 2 or 3 to perform a macroinvertebrate survey of a local waterway. Provide Student Handout and  Macroinvertebrate Count Form.

Posters should include the following items:

  • The name of the waterway investigated
  • A map of the waterway locating it accurately in your region
  • A bar or pie graph of findings that shows the relative presence of each of the following categories of invertebrate in your waterway: sensitive, somewhat sensitive, and tolerant
  • A Tally Sheet that shows the raw data from the research
  • A concluding statement (paragraph) which explains the findings and draws a conclusion about the health of the waterway based on the data collected.

Students should be prepared to use their posters to support a short presentation to the class in which they share their findings and conclusions based on those findings. All members of the group should be prepared to answer questions about the study and defend the accuracy of the data and final conclusions.

All work should satisfy the Quality Standards identified below and in the Product Quality Checklist that follows.

A Northern Forest Partnership Challenge

Related Files:
Example of Student Work
Example of Student Work
Example of Student Work
Quality Standards:

Bar/Pie graph & Map (group activity):

  • Different color for each bar/wedge
  • Neat
  • Accurate
  • Graph should fill the page
  • Axes & bars/wedges/ clearly labeled
  • Appropriate increments
  • Title
  • Waterway highlighted on map
  • Student name, teacher name, and section in upper left corner on poster

Presentation (group activity)

  • Informative
  • Accurate
  • Well-designed and thought out
  • Clear
  • Interesting


Artstream: Macroinvertebrate Lunch, West Plains Middle School 2002-2003, sponsored by Missouri Department of Natural Resources:

Meet the Movie Characters of Macroinvertebrate Lunch:

The World in Your Watershed Resources:

NYSDEC Stream Biomonitoring Program Overview:

Hudson Basin River Watch:

NYSDEC Division of Water:

USGS National Water Quality Assessment for New York State:

Stroud Water Research Center:

Critter Search:

Product Quality Checklist
Print This Checklist
Standard/Criteria: Points Possible: Points Awarded:

BAR/PIE GRAPH & MAP (group activity):

  • Different color for each bar/wedge
  • Neat
  • Accurate
  • Graph should fill the page
  • Axes & bars/wedges/ clearly labeled
  • Appropriate increments
  • Ti

PRESENTATION (group activity)

  • Informative
  • Accurate
  • Well-designed and thought out
  • Clear
  • Interesting
  • Incorporates portions of the entire lesson
  • Attractive
  • Neat

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