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Project Playbook: Educator Edition

Self Watering Terrarium

Use upcycled materials to design and support a terrarium for plants to explore their needs.


A terrarium is a sealed container that can be opened to access the plants inside. Closed terrariums create a unique environment for plants, as the clear walls trap heat inside and promote plant growth. In this project, students are gods of their own environments as they learn about photosynthesis, evaporation, and how plants live.

❏ Plastic or glass container
❏ Sand
❏ Potting soil
❏ Seeds
❏ Water


  1. If your container has a closed top, cut it open for access.
  2. Add a layer of sand to the bottom of the container.
  3. Add a layer of potting soil to the container, on top of the sand.
  4. Add seeds, whatever you plan to grow in the container.
  5. Water the seeds, moisten the soil but don’t over-water.
  6. Cap the container.
  7. Place in direct sun and let it grow.

As the water evaporates inside of the bottle, it forms condensation. That moisture falls back to the soil in the form of rain. You may need to periodically add a small amount of water to keep the plant healthy, but this terrarium will mostly support itself.

OBJECTIVE: Students will be able to conduct an experiment to see if plants need both water and sunlight to grow.


  • What do plants need to grow?

Video: Watch this Project in Action

Engage / Explore

1. Students will be presented with the essential questions and the terrarium build instructions.

a. Ask students to design an experiment using terrariums to provide a scientific response

b. Teacher facilitates students’ learning but does not direct:

i. Use reflective questioning

ii. Encourage students to make progress

iii. Good scientific practices for experimental design

1. Planned experiment

2. Variables & control (language may be too advanced)

2. Evaluate

a. Student teamwork

b. Experimental design

c. Ability to identify the question

d. Communicating their plan and its intended purpose


1. Students conduct their experiment over the course of several days

a. Multiple terrariums should be used

i. Water and light

ii. No light, only water

iii. No water, only light

iv. No water, no light

v. Glass or plastic

b. Students record observations of growth and health of plant

2. Teacher facilitates

a. Good observation techniques

b. Asks reflective questions

3. Evaluate

a. Experimental process

b. Data collection process


1. Students make a conclusion from their evidence

2. Report out on their findings to the class

a. They may do a small presentation

b. Teacher may select on groups to share out and discuss each group’s findings

3. Evaluate

a. Conclusion from evidence

b. Communication of their findings