Getting Started

In the beginning of this section, there are several labs that will teach students the anatomy of a microscope, as well as its proper usage and care.  Students will practice mounting different types of slides, and then record the data viewed through the microscope.  Finally, students will understand how to calculate magnification power using the objective lens and the eye piece.

Labs in this unit focus in plant life, including plant structure, needs and functions.  Students will learn names and functions of plant parts such as stem, root, leaves, and flower and their relationship to plant survival.  Focus will also be on the movement of water and nutrients into an out of a plant, as students learn the processes of osmosis and photosynthesis.  In these labs, students will build tools such as the Berlese Funnel, the Insect Aspirator, and several columns for observation of plant and insect life in different eco systems.

Here are the scientific concepts:

  • Organisms in ecosystems exchange energy and nutrients among themselves and with the environment.
  • Energy entering ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis, and then from organism to organism in food webs.
  • Over time, matter is transferred from one organism to others in the food web, and between organisms and the physical environment.
  • Populations of organisms can be categorized by the functions they serve in an ecosystem.
  • Different kinds of organisms may play similar ecological roles in similar biomes.
  • The number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support depends on the resources available and abiotic factors, such as quantity of light and water, range of temperatures, and soil composition.

By the end of the labs in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Design and build a water cycle column, a terraqua column, an insect aspirator, a Berlese funnel, a waterscope, a hydrometer, an eco column, and a carnivorous greenhouse.
  • Know how to demonstrate how to use and care for a microscope, how to mount slides, and how to record data viewed through a microscope.
  • Understand how to determine the parts and functions of plants, the effects of osmosis, the stages of mitosis, the components of an eco system, the characteristics of worms and the genotypes and phenotypes of offspring.
  • Differentiate observation from inference (interpretation) and know scientists’ explanations come partly from what they observe and partly from how they interpret their observations.
  • Measure and estimate the weight, length and volume of objects.
  • Formulate and justify predictions based on cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Conduct multiple trials to test a prediction and draw conclusions about the relationships between predictions and results.
  • Construct and interpret graphs from measurements.
  • Follow a set of written instructions for a scientific investigation.

Select a Lesson

How to Use a Microscope: Optics, Observing, and Drawing Techniques
How do the lenses work to make objects larger? We’re going to take a closer look at optics, magnification, lenses, and how to draw what you see with this lesson. Here’s a video to get you started: Here’s what you do:
Slide Preparation: Staining
Make sure you’ve completed the How to Use a Microscope and also the Wet Mount activities before you start here! If your critter is hard to see, you can use a dye to bring out the cell structure and make it easier to view.  There are lots of different types of stains, depending on what …Continue reading”Slide Preparation: Staining”
Slide Preparation: Heat Fixes
Make sure you’ve completed the How to Use a Microscope and also the Wet Mount and Staining activities before you start here! If you tried looking at animal cells already, you know that they wiggle and squirm all over the place. And if you tried looking when using the staining technique, you know it only …Continue reading”Slide Preparation: Heat Fixes”
Plant Press
Art and science meet in a plant press. Whether you want to include the interesting flora you find in your scientific journal, or make a beautiful handmade greeting card, a plant press is invaluable. They are very cheap and easy to make, too!
Celery Stalk Water Race
If you think of celery as being a bundle of thin straws, then it’s easy to see how this experiment works. In this activity, you will get water to creep up through the plant tissue (the celery stalk) and find out how to make it go faster and slower. The part of the celery we …Continue reading”Celery Stalk Water Race”
Osmosis in Potatoes & Beans
One way substances can get into a cell is called passive transport. One special kind of passive transport is osmosis, when water crosses into the cell. This experiment allows you to see the process of osmosis in action. Are you ready?
Cool Carrot Osmosis
The carrot itself is a type of root—it is responsible for conducting water from the soil to the plant. The carrot is made of cells. Cells are mostly water, but they are filled with other substances too (organelles, the nucleus, etc). We’re going to do two experiments on a carrot: first we’re going to figure …Continue reading”Cool Carrot Osmosis”
Here’s a fun experiment that shows you how much stuff can pass through a membrane. Scientist call it the  semi-permeability of membranes. Before we start, take out your science journal and answer this question: What do you think will happen when we stick a piece of celery into a glass of regular water. Anything special? …Continue reading”Membranes”
Water Cycle Column: Is Rain Pure?
When birds and animals drink from lakes, rivers, and ponds, how pure it is? Are they really getting the water they need, or are they getting something else with the water? This is a great experiment to see how water moves through natural systems. We’ll explore how water and the atmosphere are both polluted and …Continue reading”Water Cycle Column: Is Rain Pure?”
Here we’re going to discuss the differences between three types of worms; flatworms, roundworms, and segmented worms. The word “worm” is not, in fact, a scientific name. It’s an informal way of classifying animals with long bodies and no appendages (no including snakes). They are bilaterally symmetrical (the right and left sides mirror each other). …Continue reading”Worms!”
What grows in the corner of your windowsill? In the cracks in the sidewalk? Under the front steps? In the gutter at the bottom of the driveway? Specifically, how  doe these animals build their homes and how much space do they need? What do they eat? Where do fish get their food? How do ants …Continue reading”Eco-Column:”
Einstein’s Garden
Mass and energy are conserved. This means you can’t create or destroy them, but you can change their location or form. Most people don’t understand that the E energy term means all the energy transformations, not just the nuclear energy. The energy could be burning gasoline, fusion reactions (like in the sun), metabolizing your lunch, …Continue reading”Einstein’s Garden”
Terraqua Column: How does water affect land and animals?
How does salt affect plant growth, like when we use salt to de-ice snowy winter roads? How does adding fertilizer to the soil help or hurt the plants? What type of soil best purifies the water? All these questions and more can be answered by building a terrarium-aquarium system to discover how these systems are …Continue reading”Terraqua Column: How does water affect land and animals?”
Predator-Prey: Who Eats Whom?
The way animals and plants behave is so complicated because it not only depends on climate, water availability, competition for resources, nutrients available, and disease presence but also having the patience and ability to study them close-up. We’re going to build an eco-system where you’ll farm prey stock for the predators so you’ll be able …Continue reading”Predator-Prey: Who Eats Whom?”
Make an Insect Aspirator
Some insects are just too small! Even if we try to carefully pick them up with forceps, they either escape or are crushed. What to do? Answer: Make an insect aspirator! An insect aspirator is a simple tool scientists use to collect bugs and insects that are too small to be picked up manually. Basically …Continue reading”Make an Insect Aspirator”
Berlese funnel
Unsurprisingly, often the most interesting critters found in soil are the hardest to find! They’re small, fast, and used to avoiding things that search for them. So, how do we find and study these tiny insects? With a Berlese Funnel (Also called the Tullgren funnel)!
Make a Waterscope
As you walk around your neighborhood, you probably see many other people, as well as some birds flying around, maybe some fish swimming down a local stream, and perhaps even a lizard darting behind a bush or a frog sitting contently on top of a pond. Most likely, you know that all of these living …Continue reading”Make a Waterscope”
Protozoa in the Grass
This experiment allows you to see protozoa, tiny-single celled organisms, in your compound microscope. While I can go in my backyard and find a lot of interesting pond scum and dead insects, I realize that not everybody has a thriving ecosystem on hand, especially if you live in a city. I am going to show …Continue reading