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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Life Lessons: Projects About Living Things

Creatures in the classroom teach science and respect.
By Alexei Bien

A living organism in the classroom offers basic lessons in responsibility, empathy, and respect. But there are exercises for students that go beyond the simple care and feeding of a mushroom, a moth, or a tarantula. Listed below are resources for creating lesson plans around living things.

  • Fungus Among Us

    Teach students of all grade levels about the planet's efficient recyclers by growing and studying fungi with the Educator's Mushroom Growth Kit, by Gourmet Mushrooms. With these lessons plans to accompany your mushroom colony, students can learn about the role of fungi, which protect more than 90 percent of Earth's plants from disease and aid them in absorbing nutrients from the soil. Also, the American Mushroom Institute offers a lesson plan and a workbook online.

  • Biology Under Glass
    The Plantarium Garden Lab comes with suggestions and directions for activities, but you can easily supplement this guide. A wide range of lesson plans on everything from scientific plant names and plant cell structure to building and using a hydroponic/aquaculture system in the classroom is available at Education World. Its offerings cover all grade levels, each with recently updated links.
  • Not-So-Itsy-Bitsy Spider
    A simple list of lesson plans for the tarantula-blessed classroom is available at Talkin' About Tarantulas. At National Geographic.com, beautifully illustrated lessons on anatomy, life cycles, and species are easy to view. At the Tarantula Bibliography, you can find masses of information about everything from captive husbandry to the spider's natural history. Finally, a video called Survival Predators: Giant Tarantula can be found at Amazon.com.
  • It's a Plant-Eat-Insect World
    The International Carnivorous Plant Society has a thoughtful and highly useful Web site with answers to questions even your students haven't thought of -- yet. The site's tutorials, photos, and enthusiastic voice are as spellbinding as the plants.
  • Frog Facts
    San Francisco's Exploratorium, the onetime venue of a much-beloved frog exhibition, maintains a section on its Web site full of great information and links for students exploring the amphibians. At Everything ESL, you'll find a lesson plan designed specifically for English-language learners in grades K-5.
  • Down on the (Ant) Farm
    On the University of Kentucky's Web site is a list of lesson plans for students with ant farms in their classrooms. Education World lists lesson plans with descriptions and grade levels for each resource and its relationship to ant life.
  • A Worm of One's Own
    With luck, students will be so smitten with worms and their remarkable work ethic that they will want their own worm boxes at home to compost kitchen waste. The Washington State University Stewardship Gardening site includes simple directions for making worm boxes and answers many worm- and compost-related questions. This lesson plan, generated by Karen Byers at the IdahoPTV Teacher Training Institute, covers a lot of ground and includes good suggestions for supplemental material.
  • Big on Beetles
    The Cornell Beetle Science page is where you'll find the virtual beetle world, alive with supporting material for lesson planning.
  • Moth and Friends
    With a luna moth in your classroom, you have a natural ambassador to nocturnal nature. At Creatures of the Dark, a 42eXplore resource, there are lists of tools, lesson plans, and more.

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