Getting Started

Animals are all around us. As we walk through our neighborhood, we likely see animals being kept as pets, insects crawling on the ground, and birds flying through the trees. Depending on where you live, you may also see animals living in rivers, lakes, and swamps. How are these animals similar? How are they different? Why do they behave in the ways they do? How do their actions affect the environment in which they live? These are big questions that we’ll be answering.

You will get to observe and identify the behaviors of various plants and animals in various components of an ecosystem: the aquarium, the decomposition unit, the plant/animal chamber, and the precipitation funnel. You can also identify the role of different plants and animals in their eco column: producers, consumers, and decomposers. Specifically, look for how animals eat plants or other animals for food, if they use plants or even other animals for shelter and nesting; producers and consumers (herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, and decomposers) and how they are related in food chains and food webs. Also see if you can determine how they compete with each other for resources in an ecosystem, and how matter is transferred from one organism to others in the food web over time. You’ll want to get a feel for the relationships between the organisms and the physical environment in the big picture.


Here are the scientific concepts:

  • Use appropriate tools to perform tests, collect data, and display data.
  • Different plants and animals inhabit different kinds of environments and have external features that help them thrive in different kinds of places.
  • Plants and animals both need water; animals need food, and plants need light.
  • Animals eat plants or other animals for food and may also use plants or even other animals for shelter and nesting.
  • Roots are associated with the intake of water and soil nutrients, green leaves with making food from sunlight.


  • All organisms have external parts. Different animals use their body parts in different ways to see, hear, grasp objects, protect themselves, move from place to place, and seek, find, and take in food, water and air. Plants also have different parts (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits) that help them survive and grow.
  • Adult plants and animals can have young. In many kinds of animals, parents and the offspring themselves engage in behaviors that help the offspring to survive.
  • Animals have body parts that capture and convey different kinds of information needed for growth and survival. Animals respond to these inputs with behaviors that help them survive. Plants also respond to some external inputs.
  • Young animals are very much, but not exactly, like their parents. Plants also are very much, but not exactly, like their parents.
  • Individuals of the same kind of plant or animal are recognizable as similar but can also vary in many ways.

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

  • Design and build several different types of scientific observational experiments including a water cycle column, insect aspirator, waterscope, and more to observe animals and plants in their natural habitat.
  • 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.
  • Follow a set of written instructions for a scientific investigation.

Select a Lesson

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 …
Monocots and Dicots
Flowering plants can be divided into monocotyledons and dicotyledons (monocots and dicots). The name is based on how many leaves sprout from the seed, but there are other ways to tell them apart. For monocots, these will be in multiples of three (wheat is an example of a monocot). If you count the number of petals …
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 …
What Color Light Do Plants Like Best?
If you’re thinking sunlight, you’re right. Natural light is best for plants for any part of the plant’s life cycle. But what can you offer indoor plants? In Unit 9 we learned how light contains different colors (wavelengths), and it’s important to understand which wavelengths your indoor plant prefers. Plants make their food through photosynthesis: …
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!
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 …
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 …
Carnivorous Greenhouse
Plants need light, water, and soil to grow. If you provide those things, you can make your own greenhouse where you can easily observe plants growing. Here’s a simple experiment on how to use the stuff from your recycling bin to make your own garden greenhouse. We’ll first look at how to make a standard, …
Tracking Traits
Why do families share similar features like eye and hair color? Why aren’t they exact clones of each other? These questions and many more will be answered as well look into the fascinating world of genetics! Genetics asks which features are passed on from generation to generation in living things. It also tries to explain …
Family Pedigree
A pedigree analysis chart, usually used for families, allow us to visualize the inheritance of genotypes and phenotypes (traits). In this chart, the P, F1, and F2 generation are represented by the numerals I, II, and III respectively. Notice that those carrying the trait are colored red, and those not carrying the trait (the normal-looking …