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In this lesson, students explore Florida’s springs using video segments from the Nature film “Springs Eternal: Florida’s Fountain of Youth” and related activities and discussions. Students learn about how the springs are formed and explore the Florida springs ecosystem, with particular focus on the manatees, fish, birds, and alligators that live there. Students also learn about red tide and its threat to the life in the springs. At the end of the lesson, students conduct research and give a presentation about one species that lives in and/or around the springs.
Three to four 45-minute class periods
Florida's Spring Video
Life in Florida's Spring Video
Red Tide Video
Life in the Water Supply Video
Resources about Florida’s springs and the species living in and around them:
This website contains information, photographs and educational resources about Florida’s springs.
The following section is used in this lesson:
Explore the water cycle and its role in the formation of Florida’s springs on this interactive website.
This section includes information and photographs about the different plants and animals living in and around Florida’s springs.
This site provides detailed information and photographs of species living in and around Florida’s rivers and springs.
This site contains “Wildlife Fact Sheets,” which include information about a variety of species, including the American Alligator and the West Indian Manatee who live in the springs.
This site contains information about eelgrass, as well as information and bird sounds of species including the Great Blue Heron and Osprey, which could be helpful for student research during this lesson.
This EPA website for young people offers general information regarding the origins of drinking water.
This website helps Californians identify the source of their water.
Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:
1. Explain that this lesson is all about an ecosystem in Florida that exists because of natural springs. Lead a discussion tapping students’ prior knowledge of natural springs. Explain that springs are sources of water that come from the ground and that in the state of Florida there are more than 350 springs.
2. Explain that Florida got its name from a Spanish explorer named Juan Ponce de Leon, who arrived there in the early 1500s, and named it “Florida” for the holiday Pascua Florida, meaning feast of flowers (Easter). According to legend, Ponce de Leon came to Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth-a natural spring that supposedly had rejuvenating powers. Frame the first video segment by explaining that, although it hasn’t been proven that these springs are fountains of youth, we do have information about how these springs are formed. Let students know that you are now going to show them a segment with information about Florida’s springs. Provide them with a focus by asking them to describe the steps involved in the formation of the springs.
3. Play Florida's Spring. After playing the segment, follow up by asking students to describe the steps involved in the formation of the springs. (1. Rain falls; 2. Water absorbs acids from plants and soil; 3. Acids dissolve limestone bedrock; 4. New cavities open; 5. Tunnels form below; 6. Water releases its minerals underground, drop by drop; 7. Stalactites form.)
4.Optional: To explore the water cycle and its role in the formation of Florida’s springs, explore the Journey of Water interactive with your students. Display the interactive on a screen for all your students to see. Click on each of the steps and discuss them with your students.
1. Explain that scientists have discovered that there is a long, winding maze of rocky tunnels below Florida’s bedrock, known as the Floridian Aquifer. Frame the next video segment by explaining that the mineral-rich water from these tunnels bubbles upward into springs and supports diverse, unusual wildlife.
2. Ask students to brainstorm what type of life they think lives in and around springs. Record their answers on the board.
3. Explain that the next segment features some of the species that live in and around the springs. Provide students with a focus by asking 1/3 of the class to look for birds, 1/3 to look for mammals and 1/3 to look for fish. Ask students to observe the following for their assigned group:
4. Play Life in Florida's Spring. After playing the segment, follow up by asking students to name the various species featured in their assigned category and describe why they live in the springs, what they eat and how they get their food.
Possible facts to include in the discussion:
1. Explain that in any ecosystem there are producers and consumers. The plants in the ecosystem are the producers, since they use light energy from the sun to produce food. Then there are animals, called consumers who cannot produce their own food and eat the producers and/or other consumers. The consumers are divided into three categories:
Note: Secondary and tertiary consumers can either be carnivores (eating meat) or omnivores (eating meat and plants).
2. Display the Producer/Consumer Pyramid or recreate the pyramid on a classroom board to illustrate how producers and consumers are typically represented in an ecosystem. Discuss with students how, normally, the numbers decrease as you move up from producers through to tertiary consumers. Explain that in most ecosystems there are more prey than predators. As you go up the pyramid from producer to prey to predators, the numbers of animals normally decrease.
3. Explain that they are now going to explore the producers and consumers in the Florida springs ecosystem. Divide the class into groups of 3-5. Hand out the Life in Florida’s Springs - Producer/Consumer Game to each group. (Distribute one set of 15 cards and one chart to each group.)
4. Instruct students to place each card into one of the four boxes on the chart, based on the information they learned from the Life in Florida’s Spring video (“tertiary consumers,” “secondary consumers,” “primary consumers” or “producers”). Encourage students to conduct more research, as needed, to get more information about what the species eat. If students are not sure which category to put a species in, encourage them to choose the category that most closely describes its eating habits. After groups have sorted all their cards onto their charts, ask each group to write the name of each species into its corresponding box in the chart.
5. Lead a discussion with the class about how students grouped the species and why. The table below provides a suggestion for how to categorize the species, as well as information about some of the food that each species eats:
6. Discuss some of the findings from the above activity. (Many of the species are secondary consumers.) Explain to students that there are actually more predators than prey in the Florida springs ecosystem and that this type of ecosystem is referred to as an “inverted food pyramid.” Explain that this is very unusual and occurs in only a few places in the world. Let students know that in most ecosystems there are more prey than predators. Ask for a volunteer to define “ecosystem” (a unit of interdependent organisms, sharing the same habitat).
7. Explain that in an ecosystem, in addition to producers and consumers, there are also “decomposers.” Ask for a volunteer to explain the term “decomposer.” (Decomposers are organisms that feed on dead or decaying species. They break down dead plants and animals and release their organic compounds and minerals into the soil. Producers then use these materials, along with energy from the sun, to create food.) Ask students for examples of decomposers (bacteria and fungi). Discuss why decomposers are an important part of the ecosystem. (They help provide organic compounds and mineral that producers need to create food.)
1. Frame the next segment by telling students that you are now going to show them a segment about something called “red tide,” which is harmful to manatees. Provide students with a focus for viewing by asking them to pay attention to what red tide is, how it gets into the springs and how it affects manatees.
2. Play Red Tide. Follow up by asking students to discuss what they learned about red tide.
Additional information not in the video: Red tide is a phenomenon (also known as a “harmful algal bloom”) that happens when microscopic algae called Karenia brevis (K. brevis) grow quickly and cause blooms, which give the water a red-brown color. The K. brevis algae create poisonous brevetoxins which can kill marine organisms.
1. Instruct students to work in pairs or alone to gather information about a species that lives in or around the Florida springs. Encourage students to conduct research using books, reference materials and/or online resources. Here are some sites that have good information and photographs about life in the springs:
2. Ask students to complete the Life in Florida’s Springs - Fact Sheet with information about their species and to prepare a brief presentation about their findings. As part of the presentation students should show the class an image of their species.
3. Students should give presentations about their species to the class. After the presentations, lead a brief discussion about some of their research findings. Discuss some similarities and differences between the featured species.
4.Optional: Compile all of the fact sheets to create a class book about Florida’s springs.
Extension Activity (Optional):
1. Frame the final video segment by asking students where they think their drinking water comes from. Explain that water that people drink comes from a variety of sources, including rivers, lakes, reservoirs and springs. Let them know that the next segment provides a close-up look at a water supply in Florida. Explain that the segment highlights some things growing in the water supply. Focus the students, by asking them to find out what living things are in the water supply and what makes it possible for them to survive there.
2. Play Life in the Water Supply. Follow up by asking students to describe the things living in the water supply. (Answer: Hydroids–small filter-feeding organisms– and mussels.) Ask students what enables these to live in the water supply. (Answer: Bacteria) Lead a discussion about the life in the water supply and how the bacteria support it. During the discussion, point out that in almost every living system, the sun makes it possible for life to exist. In this particular situation, bacteria take the place of sunlight.
Possible topics to discuss:
3. Optional: If students do not know where their drinking water comes from, provide them with 15-20 minutes to conduct research to find out. Here are some online resources that can be helpful in this search: