Springtime FOSS Science

Kimi Hosoume, FOSS Author
March 16, 2010 | Life Science

Students watching snails

It's spring! For many FOSS students and teachers K through 8, it's time for life science and the excitement of having living, growing, crawling creatures in the classroom. It's also time to plan in advance for the care of the organisms so the learning experience is enjoyable, safe, and a successful one for all.

Where do I find isopods? What's a nightcrawler? Where can I buy darkling beetles? If you are asking questions like these, the first place to check is your FOSS Teacher Guide. In the Materials chapter you'll find the Planning for Live Organisms section. It describes how to obtain the particular organisms needed for the module. Later in the Investigations, the Getting Ready sections will further describe the preparation and care required for keeping animals healthy. As always, it's important to get each organism from the correct source for the safety of the creatures, the students, and our environment.

Another place to find information on living organisms is on Go to the Plant and Animal Care page. There you will find an alphabetical index of organisms by name and module. Information is provided for each organism about its biology and care in the classroom. Make sure to read the Introduction to Life in the Classroom section, and especially the National Science Teachers Association Guidelines for Responsible Use of Animals in the Classroom. FOSS endorses the NSTA statement, which describes the role teachers have in guiding student learning through the use of live organisms. Humane care and handling of the organisms are emphasized as well as consideration for the appropriate future care and disposition of the animals at the conclusion of the study. The statement includes other important guidelines for elementary and middle school classrooms to follow.

In addition, the Sources for Organisms section on FOSSweb, under Materials Management, provides a listing of each animal and where to obtain them. Delta Education sells coupons for most of the organisms through its website at or via phone, 800-258-1302. These coupons, or Living Materials Cards, require the teacher to call in or fax the coupon code 4—6 weeks prior to needing the organisms. Great care is given to safely packaging and delivering your order so creatures arrive in good health. Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning for living creatures in your classroom.

Students and terrarium

Students plant seeds in a terrarium and observe plant growth in the FOSS Environments Module.

Alert the school office. If organisms will be arriving to school by mail, let the office personnel know to look out for packages with “Living Organisms” stamped on the outside. It is best to get them into their tank or container immediately instead of spending the weekend in the corner of the office!

Keep cool and moist. A good rule to remember is “keep 'em cool and damp.” Find a place in your room that doesn't get direct sunlight and isn't by the heater. A constant damp moisture level is also helpful to keep organisms healthy. And remind your students, damp is better than wet or dry. Have a water mister available for daily misting if necessary. Mealworms and milkweed bugs are the exception to this, as they don't live in moist environments.

Refrigerate in a pinch. It's hot inside and outside, what do you do? If you can't get organisms like isopods and earthworms into a terrarium right away, place them in a closed container with moist paper towels or damp soil with tiny air holes and put them on the top shelf in your refrigerator. The cool and moist rule is at work here, and will keep your sow bugs and red worms alive prior to introducing them to their classroom habitat.

Rinse without soap. If students are handling the organisms, make sure their hands are clean of food residue, lotions or soap. Before handling, students can rinse their hands, but remind them not to use soap. After handling organisms, students can wash their hands with soap or use a disinfectant wipe. Cups and other containers to hold organisms should also not be washed with soap.

Be gentle and respectful. All living things should be treated with respect and handled gently. It is always good to remind students that although mealworms, crayfish, pill bugs, and earthworms are small, active creatures, we are much bigger and can harm them if we aren't careful. Emphasize being respectful observers by remembering not to poke, squeeze, or drop the animals. We can often learn more from these organisms by observing their behaviors with our eyes and ears rather than with rough hands or loud voices.

See the article on Live Plants and Animals in FOSS Investigations to read about how FOSS is working with the Oregon State Sea Grant Extension invasive species project to educate teachers on invasive organisms that can enter the classroom and ultimately create serious problems for the environment and native species if released into the wild.