The advent of computers in the classroom has made virtual field trips and science labs a reality. But not every teacher is wired, and not every educator is satisfied with flat-screen encounters for their students, especially when environmental science is the subject at hand. The case can be made that a single living organism to observe and care for can be more useful to a teacher than a simulated jungle. Here is a potential menagerie to consider -- click on the live links for product purchase and lesson plans or ideas.
Supplanting the sawed-off, dirt-packed soda bottle, the gel-based Plantarium Garden Lab allows students to watch plants grow above and below the surface in perfect transparence.
Product: Plantarium Garden Lab Kit
These wan, four-eyed, nocturnal beauties with no feeding ability have a life span of less than a week, so there may be a few tears -- and then, a chance to start a discussion about impermanence and biodiversity.
Meet the Beetles
If your school budget or policy does not allow for living organisms, fear not; Cornell University's Beetle Science page is a great alternative. Considering the fun fact that one of every five living species is a beetle, it makes sense to invite a virtual band of them in.
Lesson Ideas: Beetle Science
Frog Eggs to Frog Legs
At the exciting rate that these eggs become tadpoles and then full-fledged frogs, even the youngest students with the shortest attention spans will thrill at the process unfolding in their classroom aquarium.
Tub o' Worms
As this 14-gallon vermicomposter fills up with organic refuse, it has ample space for your students' attention while the worms process waste into rich soil components. The tub comes complete with bedding, redworms, and the activity book Worms Eat Our Garbage.
Product: Worm Composting Classroom Kit
Lesson Plan: Vermicomposting with Garbage-Eating Wonder Worms
Neither plant nor animal, fungus is a kingdom unto itself, as worthy of classroom representation as a bean sprout or a tadpole. The kit from Gourmet Mushrooms includes standards-based lesson plan, anatomy and lifecycle worksheets, and the mushrooms themselves.
Will students be interested in plants that trap insects, occasionally using fairly gruesome techniques? Might they be fascinated by the nepenthes -- a.k.a. the carnivorous pitcher plant -- known to trap even rodents and birds? Yes, and yes.
Who better to undo a student's (or teacher's) teeth-chattering arachnophobia than Rosie, the Chilean rosy-haired tarantula, one of the most docile of the giant spiders?
Ant Farm of the Future
Based on a 2003 NASA space shuttle experiment, this ant farm redefines "lunar colony." The futuristic version of the beloved green plastic ranch will entice budding entomologists with modern sensibilities.