George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning

Creature Features: Mushrooms and Tarantulas and Luna Moths, Oh, My!

Open your classroom to a menagerie of living science projects.

    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.

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    Credit: © Carolina Biological Supply Company

    Rootin' Around

    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  

    Luna Moths

    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.

    Product: Luna Moth Cocoons
    Lesson Plans: Life Cycle, Facts, or Care Sheet (PDF) for Luna Moths

      Credit: Getty Images

    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   Credit: © Carolina Biological Supply Company.

    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.

    Product: Frog Eggs
    Lesson Plans: Frog Life Cycles
      Credit: © Carolina Biological Supply Company.

    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

    Mushroom Modules

    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.

    Product: Gourmet Mushrooms Inc.
    Lesson Plan: Educator's Mushroom Growth Kit

      Credit: Getty Images

    Leafy Predators

    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.

    Product: Venus Flytraps
    Lesson Ideas: International Carnivorous Plant Society
      Credit: Veer


    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?

    Product: Habitat Kit with Rosy-haired Tarantula
    Lesson Plans: Tarantulas
      Credit: © Carolina Biological Supply Company.

    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.

    Product: Antworks Ant Farms
    Lesson Plan: The Secret Lives of Ants from the University of Kentucky

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    How can educators, students, schools, and communities go green? Find additional resources about sustainability, conservation, and other earth-friendly practices and curricula on Edutopia's Environment Education page.