Reflection: Classroom Setup SKILL BUILDER: How to Use a Microscope pt 2: Preparing Slides and Observing Living Specimens - Section 2: Warm-Up


Some of you reading this lesson thus far might be asking the question, "so where so you get these live specimens?"

Well, dear readers, that's an excellent question.  A water sample with sufficiently interesting live specimens doesn't exactly get into your classroom by itself (though you may have some luck with some of those "forgotten" tupperware containers still crowding the fridge in the teacher's lounge). 

For one, you could just order some of the specimens available from quality retailers like Flinn, Carolina, or Nasco.  I imply no judgement for those that use those services, but I do prefer to obtain my own samples.

To get a sample, I usually just take a standard 20 oz water bottle and fill it with water from a promising location, such as,

  • a pond from a local pond that has "nasty" water or at least visible algae populations.
  • a stream or pond on a hiking trail or forest preserve. 
  • a puddle that forms in a muddy or grassy area after a rain that has sat stagnant for at least a few days.

It's important in these cases to get some of the algae, silt, mud, etc., along with the water.   Yes, this probably means submerging your hand in the nasty water, so I usually bring a latex glove. This is important because the interesting microorganisms are usually busy eating algae or burrowed in silt or mud rather than just swimming freely.

A somewhat easier option if you're squeamish about collecting specimens in the great outdoors (or if you're in a part of the country where most of the water at the time you do this lesson is in a solid state) is to go to an aquarium supply store and buy some elodea or other plant.  You might want to make sure that whatever you take is from a freshwater tank.


The best option, however, is to subcontract this work to students. I give students the same guidelines above (except the aquarium supply store) and make it an extra credit assignment for students to bring back a water bottle full of "green, nasty water".  Not everything that comes back will be able to be used, but at least some of the samples they retrieve will be useable. 


Once I have samples collected, I like to pour them into large beakers and sit them on the windowsill in my classroom to allow the algae to do their photosynthesizing thing and drive the microscopic food web round and round.  I like to keep a couple of these going at a time and use a microscope to monitor which ones have more diverse micro-environments.  Sometimes I will use water from an especially diverse beaker to "seed" another. 

Basically, the thing I look for is green because green means life is there.  Even better than just green water (which may be almost entirely single-celled algae which don't do a whole lot of interesting movement), is water where there is visible, multicellular filamentous algae (the kind that look like thin green hairs).  These will almost certainly be host to any number of consumers and their predators, which unlike the single-celled algae, should be swimming around using all manner of locomotion.  

Some water samples will be useable as soon as they're collected, but it's interesting to keep the samples around.  If you're conscientious about adding water so the beaker doesn't dry out, you can maintain environments for a long time.  I currently have beakers in my classroom that have had continuous communities for more than 3 years running.

  So how do you get living specimens?
  Classroom Setup: So how do you get living specimens?
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SKILL BUILDER: How to Use a Microscope pt 2: Preparing Slides and Observing Living Specimens

Unit 2: The Nature of Environmental Science
Lesson 16 of 17

Objective: Students will care for live specimens and observe them by preparing their own microscope slides.

Big Idea: Like any piece of technology, microscopes require specific knowledge and skills to use effectively. Observing live specimens involves more advanced skills and familiarity with the microscope.

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