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Live Plants and Animals in FOSS Investigations

Karen Mendelow Nelson, FOSS Curriculum Specialist
March 15, 2010 | Life Science

"Never Release Classroom Organisms into the Wild!"

Top image: Students get hands-on experience with crayfish in the FOSS Structures of Life Module.

In November 2009, FOSS and the Oregon State Sea Grant Extension invasive species project hosted a focus group of teachers at the Lawrence Hall of Science to discuss environmental issues related to invasive species. The Sea Grant project is conducting research in several states to review teachers' perceptions about the growing issue of invasive species and the use of organisms in the classroom. An invasive species is a non-native organism that competes with native species for food resources and may also spread disease to native organisms. Teachers may not realize that a species they are using in the classroom may be invasive.

The teachers in attendance at the focus group were very enthusiastic about the value of students working with living organisms. Their students are excited about having live creatures in the classroom, which makes the students more motivated observers. While learning about plants and animals, students exercise responsible behavior in caring for living organisms. They have the opportunity to experience life cycles firsthand. By providing food and shelter, students learn to appreciate the factors necessary to maintain a viable habitat. One teacher brought up the importance of discussing with students the clear purposes for why live organisms are utilized in science investigations.

Students with <em>Elodea</em>

The Elodea in this aquarium is an example of an invasive species.

The issue that the focus group was most concerned with was making sure that classroom instructors understand that after completing their classroom work with live organisms, they need to maintain the organisms in their classroom, share them with other classes, or dispose of them properly. Currently some organisms used in FOSS investigations—for example land snails, crayfish, and Elodea (anacharis)—have important warnings about disposal. In the future, all K—6 modules will incorporate more specifics about reminding teachers not to release organisms, as well as suggesting other alternatives for disposal. The FOSS Plant and Animal Policy endorses the NSTA Guidelines for Responsible Use of Animals in the Classroom.

When receiving organisms from Delta, FOSS provides a booklet about care and disposal, with instructions for each organism. Page one of this booklet explicitly states "Caution: Do Not Release this living material into your local environment!" Additionally, teachers need to stress the importance of non-release to parents and students if organisms go home with the students. Following some simple guidelines with living organisms will enable you to enjoy observing and caring for fascinating creatures with your students!

If you would like more information about invasive species, visit the following websites.