Toxins 5E Lab

Two important topics in APES are combined for this 5E–Serial dilution Lab and LC50 Lab. The lab papers needed for this lab can be found on these google doc links.
Engage, Explore, Explain
Elaborate, Evaluate
How Toxic is Toxic
LD50 of Substances

Engage: Flint, Michigan

This Engage is a short case study about lead exposure for students. Most students have heard of Flint, Michigan and its water quality problems so this adds to previous knowledge (a key component of Engage). The video piques their interest and then we discuss our own drinking water and how this problem would not occur here, because we are a newer community that does not have lead pipes. We also discuss how older cities with lead pipes can prevent lead leaching by using an additive in the water. Click to read this article explaining more about how lead gets into drinking water.

Explore: Serial Dilution

Students in AP® Environmental Science need to understand how toxins can still be prevalent in very small amounts. The best way to do this is for students to do a serial dilution. (Note: This activity is courtesy of Dan Hyke from the APSI, I attended in 2006. I have altered it and combined with LD-50 for this 5E)

Materials needed for serial dilution

As students walk through the procedure, fill in their data charts and answer the guiding questions, they hopefully will come up with the concept on their own–toxins can still be present even in very small amounts such as parts per million (ppm), parts per billion (ppb) and parts per trillion (ppt). Materials needed are: (Click on an underlined item for a link to the product)

  • Well plate
  • Plastic Pipet
  • Beaker for tap water
  • Toothpicks
  • Dropper bottle of a dye/stain/coloring such as a Food Grade Dye like FD&C Red Dye #40 Do not use regular food coloring as it dilutes much too quickly

Students use 3-4 drops of the red dye solution in the first well.  Then they fill the other wells with 9 drops of tap water. After that, they drop one drop from the previous well and stir.

Well Tray at the end of the lab

Students are often concerned when their solution is clear by well 7. I tell them that’s normal and they are to still make the transfers. They need to move the molecules in order to understand the point of the lab.

Students creatively identify shades of red and pink and learn about ppm, ppb, and ppt on their data sheet. Some students will need help with these circles. I tell them that “their brains will hurt” today.

Sample serial dilution data
Students using an online thesaurus to get creative on shades of red

Explain: Student Sense-Making

In a good 5E, students should be able to develop the concept you want them to on their own. Developing good guiding questions is your job as the teacher to lead them to it.  For this lab, students should make a CLAIM or a STATEMENT that “Substances can be in water even if you cannot see it, smell it or taste it.

Elaborate: LC50 Lab

We use the results from the salinization Lab to do LC-50. Students bring their salinization labs back to class and we collect class data. (Students save all work in their APES binder) This time, however, we want “opposite” data–the number of seeds that DIED, instead of the number that germinated.

Students fill in the chart for their group’s data and then all students copy class data. I often make a chart on the board for groups to fill in.

From there, using a document camera or on the board, teach students how to find the LC-50 by drawing a line from 50% on the y axis to where it hits the dose-response curve and then down to the x axis. Read the concentration that kills 50% of seeds. If you need help with this, I made this video for absent kids that may help you understand how to do this lab:


This 5E does not have its own Evaluate–rather students are assessed for these skills and knowledge on their next exam.

* AP® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse this site.

Trees, Forestry and Deforestation 5E

Take students outside to measure trees, discover ecosystem services of trees and forests, develop math skills, deforestation and sustainable forestry in the “I Love Trees 5E” Lab. If you are lucky enough to teach at a school next to a forested area, take the kids there. If not, trees on the school grounds, park or other area work just as well.

Student using a homemade clinometer to measure the height of a tree at school

Teacher Preparation

For this 5E, you need to make clinometers using cardboard, string/yard, a piece of metal (anything with a little weight) and a straw. You can have students make the clinometers if you would like, but I had my student lab assistant make 10 clinometers for me to save class time. They can be reused over and over. I made one clinometer for each group of 4 students.

Class set of clinometers that can be reused over and over

You also need two sewing tape-measures for each group of students and a tree map. I identified the trees ahead of time in the study area and googled their density. You could teach students how to identify trees using the iNaturalist app or a field guide if you want.

Materials for 1 group of students. One clinometer, two tape measures, and a tree map of the school grounds


An engage section of a 5E should be very short. For this 5E, I asked kids about the biggest tree they’ve ever seen. I find that personal questions where kids can share with their elbow partner and the rest of the class is very engaging. Another part of the Engage sections is review the photosynthesis equation–a good 5E builds on previous knowledge.

I show my own pictures with large trees (like Sequoias or Redwoods at the National Parks or large oak trees in town). Students like to see their teacher’s pictures.

This picture was taken 10 years ago in Sequoia National Park. My children are now older and one is in my APES class. Kids LOVE to see this.

Explore #1

Students head outside to take data in this Explore. Its helpful to demonstrate how to use the clinometer before heading outside. You or your students will choose a tree and measure the tree height using a homemade clinometer. They will also measure the tree circumference using the measuring tapes, the distance the tree to a building and the condition of the tree. After measurements, students will do math calculations using given formulas to help them determine the height, diameter, volume and mass (using the density), and the carbon sequestered by the tree.

Students hold the clinometer with the plumb line straight down and then walk forward or backwards until they can see through the straw to the top of the tree.
Students measure the circumference of the tree using measuring tapes and then use a formula to find the diameter.
Students use two measuring tapes to measure the distance from the tree to the student using the clinometer. The easiest way to do this is to “leapfrog” two tapes as shown above.

Explore #2

Students head back to class to enter their tree’s data on iTreeTools. 
Data chart for the results from iTree is below:

Total benefits for this year $
Carbon Dioxide Sequestered $
Annual CO2 equivalent of carbon kg
Storm Water runoff avoided $
Air Pollution Removed each year $
Carbon monoxide removed g
Ozone removed g
Nitrogen Dioxide removed g
Sulfur dioxide removed g
Particulate matter < 2.5 microns removed g
CO2 Stored to date $
Life CO2 equivalent of carbon kg

Explain: Student-Sense-Making

Students work through a series of questions to help them discover the scientific concept on their own. Sample questions:

  1. What are the $ benefits of your tree? _________________
  2. Review: What is the photosynthesis equation:
  3. Draw a picture of the tree and show how molecules are moving
  4. Where does the C from CO2 end up?
  5. Think about it: How does cutting down trees for lumber and paper affect atmospheric carbon?
  6. Think about it: How does cutting down trees and burning them affect atmospheric carbon?
  7. Many species of trees increase in density, as they get older. How does this affect carbon sequestration? (Hint, the mass increases also).
Sample drawing for #3 above. The idea is for students to understand that carbon creates biomass in trees and other producers.

These and other questions help students discover the scientific concept/s and make a CLAIM. This is the place for formative assessment. Walk around and check student claims. Make sure they understand what you want them to understand.

Question :: How can how trees provide ecosystem services regarding climate
change, air pollution and water pollution:
Claim :: (Complete sentence answer to the question above.—Make sure you write
about ALL THREE ecosystem services)    

Explain: New Understandings and Vocabulary

This is the place for formal science instruction. in this E, students will watch a series of 3 mini videos that describe more ecosystem services of trees and why tree-sitters do what they do. Students record more ecosystem services of trees on their lab report. Its best to do this portion as a class so that you can stop and discuss. However, it can be done at home, if needed, to save time. One video is a lovely TedTalk about trees.


In this section, students learn about deforestation and then sustainable forest solutions. Students will watch a series of 6 mini videos and fill in a T-chart with facts about deforestation and facts about sustainable forestry. Two sample videos are:

While there are some counter-arguments to sustainable forestry, students need to understand some solutions for exams. You can discuss places you agree or disagree with sustainable forestry.


The evaluate section of this 5E is unique, engaging and fairly easy to grade. Students will fill in the branches of the tree drawing with 5 ecosystem services:

Students then describe problems with deforestation next to the stump:

And methods of sustainable forestry next to this drawing:

The Evaluate section can be done individually or with a partner–with or without notes. You decide which is best for your students.

Open Access Picture credits:

Island BioGeography Theory 5E Lab

Students pour beans through funnels in this version of Island Biogeography

The Theory of Island Biogeography is a nice 5E lab using inexpensive materials (funnels, beans and poster paper) that not only teaches students an important concept, but also helps develop higher level thinking skills.

The Theory of Island Biogeography states that larger islands closer to the mainland have higher biodiversity than smaller islands further from the mainland. This theory is also applied to isolated habitats on land. You can read about this concept on this document and can share with students.

The basic concept of this lab is not complicated for students, but applying it to preserving biodiversity on continents or even thier own community can be counter-intuitive. Students have difficulty realizing that we have isolated habitats on land and that preserving pockets of habitat that are larger and closer together is the best for biodiversity.

The 5E Lab

This Island Biogeography Theory 5E Lab is inquiry-based to help students discover the concept on their own and develop critical thinking skills to make real-life applications.
Engage: Students discuss how animals or plants migrate to islands.
Explore: Students drop beans through funnels onto a poster multiple times and count the species that land on each island. They do some math to help them calculate averages per island.

Explain: Students make sense of their data using guiding questions and make a claim about the scientific concept–this is a great place for formative assessment. Then, they read a passage explaining the theory in formal academic and scientific vocabulary.
Elaborate: Students apply this knowledge to isolated pockets of land in their community using Google Earth–its best to do this as a whole class so that you can help students find pockets of habitat. This is something that most students have never realized, but when they do, its a great “aha” moment.
They then apply this knowledge to our National Parks. Using a map of the National Parks, they are asked which parks would have the most biodiversity using this theory and then where they would create a new park. Many students want to put a new park in a state (like Kansas) that doesn’t have any national parks. This is incorrect according to this theory. A large park next to an existing large park is the best solution according to this theory.

Evaluate:  Students write a chunk paragraph addressing the following questions. They are to base their argument using evidence from this lab.

  • What do you observe in your town about habitat fragmentation?  What kind of wildlife would be the most affected?
  • How could we use this concept when we develop urban planning? How should development occur to preserve the most species?

APES Lab Supplies Part 2: Other Recommended Labs

The labs on this post tend to be popular, because they cover a lot of topics within the lab, build skills, and/or are engaging. You don’t need to do all of them! I do about half of the ones listed below. Some labs have links for the write-ups.

Read APES Lab Supplies Part 1 for Must-Do Labs

APES Lab Supplies for Popular Labs

  • Tragedy of the Commons:  This lab has many great versions.
    • Colored marshmallows, goldfish crackers, or candy are favorites. Some teachers use beads to be reusable. If you have large classes, marshmallows are the cheapest.
    • Straws or chopsticks
    • Tape
    • Paper plates or paper towels

counting plants with quadrats

  • Ocean Acidification
    • Plastic cups: 4-5 per group
    • Shells (ask kids to donate or ask seafood restaurants for oyster, clams and mussel shells). One small shell or piece of a larger shell per group.
    • Vinegar or another acid
    • pH meters
    • Scales-pocket or regular
    • Plastic pipets

  • Cemetery Lab for human population studies
    • No supplies needed if you can walk to an old cemetery
    • If you simulate using paper tombstones in lab, you may want to decorate the lab with Halloween decorations. The dollar store is a good source.
  • Oil Spill Cleanup
    • Plastic containers or metal pans to hold water and simulate the ocean. One per group.
    • Cotton Balls
    • Straws
    • Plastic pipets
    • Cups or Beakers
    • Vegetable or mineral oil
    • Detergent
  • Air Pollution Lab.  There are a few good ones to choose from.

Using a stereoscope to count particulates

  • Productivity–there are many versions of this lab also.
  • Soil Profiles made out of food items
    • Plastic parfait cups: one per student
    • Vanilla and chocolate pudding: quantity depends on number of students.
    • Oreo cookies
    • Sprinkles
    • Gummy worms: 2 per student
    • Spoons
  • Cookie Mining
    • Generic chocolate chip cookies (1 per pair of students)
    • Name-brand chocolate chip cookies
    • Extra cookies to eat when finished
    • Paper clips
    • Toothpicks
    • Scales-pocket or regular (optional)
  • Solar Cookers (usually done after the AP® exam due to time requirements)
    • Aluminum foil–a big restaurant-sized roll from Costco or Amazon will make a lot of solar cookers (40-50 of them)
    • Packing tape or duct tape
    • Masking tape
    • Lots of boxes: I ask the food service on campus for empty boxes
    • Empty cans to test water temperature
    • Plastic wrap
    • Thermometers
    • IR Temperature guns (optional)

Other Basic Supplies

I use these items frequently for many labs

Sharpies (need 10 black for the year)
Spoons (need 1 box for labs)
De-chlorine drops for fish tanks
Filters for fish tank
Aquarium light bulbs
Fish food
Colored markers (Crayola or similar) for lab conclusion posters
Painter’s tape for marking beakers, lab apparatus
Hand Sanitizer-large container for classroom
Batteries for various sensors and probes
Chalk: IKEA makes the best chalk! Or Expo Neon markers for lab table drawings

Acid rain chalk drawing

APES Lab Supplies Part 1: Essential Labs

A question new AP® Environmental Science teachers ask is “What supplies do I need?” or “What kits should I buy?” This post will go over basic APES lab supplies.

Kits are a great way to start and can help many new AP® teachers, but aren’t necessary if you don’t have the funds. Most labs can be sourced more cheaply by ordering individual items.

APES lab supplies can be cheap or expensive.  What you decide to do depends on your location (some outdoor labs are regional), the materials you have, the size of your classes and how much money you have.  Over time, apply for grants and other funding to build up your supply of plant lights, probesware etc.

You need basic lab supplies that your school should already have such as glass and plastic beakers, balances, graduated cylinders etc.

APES Lab Supplies for Must-do Labs

While there are no official required labs for APES, there are a few which have appeared on the AP® Exam or cover many concepts that have appeared on the exam. Here are some recommendations for APES lab supplies.

Measuring the sprout in mm

  • LD-50 Lab: You can do this lab many ways.
    • Use salinization lab results so you aren’t taking time for a new lab.
    • Purchase a kit.
    • Purchase individual supplies for the lab
      • Macroinvertebrates such as brine shrimp or daphnia, or seeds
      • Some kind of toxin
      • Beakers/cups etc.

This is a salinization lab that I also use for LD50

  • Soil Quality Labs. There are two main soil labs that are essential:
    • Chemistry of Soil
    • Physical Properties of Soil.
      • Can be purchased in a kit
      • Or individually purchasing materials such as sand, soil, gravel and plastic cups.

  • Water Quality Lab
    This is an expensive, but essential lab. You can do this lab several ways:

    • An inexpensive kit for the lab
    • If you have a pond or creek to walk to, you may want a portable kit and a couple of hip waders and macroinvertebrate collection devices or kits.
    • Probes or sensors are more expensive initially, but end up saving money over multiple years. See this post for supply ideas for an in-class lab.
    • My favorite inexpensive dissolved oxygen meter is the Milwaukee Dissolved Oxygen Probe.  It rarely needs calibration and lasts for years. Also, fairly inexpensive (for a DO meter) on Amazon.

  • Experimental Design Lab:  Don’t do as a separate lab just to teach scientific method at the beginning of the year–you don’t have time in an AP® course. Instead, teach experimental design with another lab such as salinization,  ocean acidification, biodiversity with quadrats, or air particulates.

Read the next post for more recommended labs.

APES Lab Supplies Part 2: More Recommended Labs



Air Pollution Lab-Airborne Particulates

One of the best (and easy to implement) labs I do is an air pollution lab–airborne particulates lab. I worked with a colleague at a neighboring school (Laura Solarez) to develop this lab for AP® Environmental Science.

This is an experimental design lab which is really important for students to do at least once or twice in the year, because the AP® Exam WILL have experimental design questions on the multiple choice section and sometimes on an FRQ. The AP® exam will ask complicated higher-level thinking questions-many of which are experimental design. 


Materials needed on day 1 of the lab.

Materials are quick and easy for this lab

  1. Petri dishes-2 per student, if possible
  2. Vaseline
  3. Tape-blue painter’s tape is best as it can be removed easily to allow reuse of the dishes.
  4. Stereoscopes are best. Microscopes can also work using a low objective. Hand lens with a good light source work, but are more difficult for kids to use.
  5. Poster paper with markers (optional) for lab assessment

Day 1

Day one of the air pollution lab takes about 45-60 minutes. Student lab groups brainstorm and come up with a question to test, a hypothesis, and design. They must get two approvals from me before making their petri dishes.  My students have already done an experimental design lab so this process is fairly quick at this point. If this is the first experimental design lab of the year, expect this to take longer and for students to need more revision.

Student Sample

This lab is challenging with the constants. They can never really isolate all the variables and because of this, they will get flawed data. This is really important!!   Analyzing the weaknesses in their lab help them identify flawed experiments later on in life and on the AP® Exam. I aim to develop scientifically literature citizens.

I give students some ideas such as comparing indoor vs. outdoor particulates, front yard vs. back yard or the number of pets. Some students come up with very creative ideas outside of these suggestions.

If rain is in the forecast, make sure they don’t set out the dishes in the rain (or sprinklers). Also, they need to make sure they all set out the dishes on the same day for the same amount of time, because weather can influence.

After approvals, students make their dishes. I made this video last year. They pay attention to the video more than me demonstrating in person!  I show the video up to minute 3:18 on Day 1

Make sure you tell students to make a little sign at home, because I’ve had many dishes thrown away by parents over the years. They don’t know what it is and just throw away. Students make a sign that says “Science experiment–don’t throw away”.

Student making the dishes

Students label and bring dishes home to expose

A control dish that is not exposed indicates that the particulates came from the air, not the vaseline or were already in the dish.

Day 2 of the Lab

Day 2 of the air pollution lab is several days later. Give students enough time (over the weekend, for example) to expose their dishes for at least 24 hours. Students bring their dishes back to school on the day you instruct.

I show the rest of my video to help them understand how to count the particulates.

Students need to make a template out of graph paper to use on each petri dish. Its impossible to count every particulate so using a template with a few boxes helps them manage the counting.

Students examining square #2 in stereoscope

Using a stereoscope

View through a stereoscope. Each black dot and line is a particulate

Since students work in groups of 4, they divide up tasks. Some count data and some begin their posters. They can switch jobs if they desire.

Counting particulates and making posters

Dividing up tasks

Sample poster

After students finish counting particulates, They can wash the dishes in hot soapy water and dry. The dishes can be used again next year and also for the Soil Salinization lab.


I like students to make and present posters for this air pollution lab. It really helps them discuss and analyze the results. Why their hypothesis was correct or not AND more importantly, why this lab was flawed. They can never fully control all the variables and I want them to see that other factors may have influenced their results. This is the best part of the lab–learning to identify flawed experiments.

My poster template is inspired by Argument-Based Inquiry, but I have added more sections and clearer instructions.

I have had students present to the entire class, present to two other groups, or make a Flipgrid. All three ways have merit.

You can also have students write a formal lab report individual or as a group as assessment as well.

Click for a poster rubric.

A complimentary lab is the Kill-A-Watt Lab.  A lot of particulates air pollution comes from the production of electricity from coal. This lab also helps students develop math skills.




Water Quality Testing in the Lab

Water Quality Testing is essential for AP® Environmental Science students. Every released exam has water quality test questions.

Ideally, taking kids to a stream or pond is best, but testing water quality in the field is not possible for my students in arid Southern California.  Surface water is seasonal and often too far away.  Instead, my students bring in water samples to the lab.

Scroll to the bottom for links to student handouts.

Teaching Students to Collect a Water Sample

I demonstrate how to take a water sample for students.  This year, I made a video which they enjoyed more than my demonstration.

Any empty bottle (water, Gatorade etc) works. Rinse out a little with the sample water and then fill under the water.  Interesting water sources include rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes, well water, the ocean and fountains.

This student brought in a sample from a Disneyland fountain.

Ideally, students should wear gloves to collect the sample. But, if they forgot to bring gloves, they can throughly wash with warm water and soap after collecting the sample.

Students should cap the bottle under the water to prevent air at the top from skewing the dissolved oxygen (DO) results.  Sometimes, this isn’t possible (with a small creek or heavy waves in the ocean) so I tell them to do the best they can.  There is some error as Biological Oxygen Demand will decrease the DO reading, but we discuss this.

Students need to label the bottles and bring to class on the day we do water quality testing.

In the Lab

I used a LaMotte water quality testing kit the first year I taught APES, but soon realized that probeware was more economical in the long run with the quantity of students I have.  I was accepted for grant funding to purchase my initial probeware and have used science funds and donation money to replace items as needed. Read where to find science funding.


Student using the Salinity Probe

I use a variety of water quality testing devices that are easy to use. I used to have a full set of Vernier probes, but over time they either broke or I stopped using them due to needing calibration–sometimes right in the middle of a lab! This collection is what I currently use–requires little prep work on my part and works for an entire day–5 sections of APES students.

These 9 baskets are rotated around the lab. Each basket has laminated instructions

I rotate baskets instead of kids going to stations. This is easier with 36 kids in lab and then they don’t have to travel with their water sample.  I give kids about 4 minutes per basket and then they rotate clockwise. Kids also spend that time using reference sheets to see what the test measures and what are the levels for safe drinking water and for healthy aquatic life.

Water Quality Tests Reference Sheets

Water Quality Testing Devices

This is the LaMotte Testing kit I used before I received grant money to purchase my initial probeware 12 year ago.

Today, I use a variety of items that are reliable, economical for 165 kids in APES and easy to use. They’ve been acquired over a dozen years through various means and I’ve changed a few items over time. Most of them have links to Amazon if you want to read more about the item.

Water from a golf course lake and a pH meter

Milwaukee Dissolved Oxygen Probe. My favorite DO probe as it rarely needs calibration and lasts for years. Also, fairly inexpensive on Amazon.

Student using the Turbidity tube

Students look down and match the middle secchi disk with one of the side secchi disks

Nitrate and Nitrite Test Strips

Copper test strips are my token heavy metal

Total Hardness Strips test Calcium in the water

Vernier Conductivity Probe. Measures TDS-total dissolved solids

Vernier Salinity Probe

Vernier Temperature Probe

Fecal Coliform Bacteria is also very important, but also very expensive. If you have the funds, its great for kids to do in lab.  If not, make sure they learn about it.  This year, I made an instructional video instead of purchasing $100 worth of tests.  

In years past, I have purchased Coliscan Easy Gel which works well and is easy to use.  I’ve also used Petrifilm which is a little more economical for large classes. 

Students also record odor and color, but those are observations.


Click for my water quality lab handout for students.  You will need to change the handout to match the items you have for testing. Also, there is a link for our local water quality reports. Find your own local report and change the link.

These are my reference sheets. Again, you will need to add or subtract for the tests and devices you have.

Have fun water testing!


Soil Salinization Lab

One of the most common (and important!) labs in AP® Environmental Science is the Soil Salinization Lab.

There are many versions of the lab that are great. This is mine.  It has been altered and changed with ideas from lots of teachers over the year.

(Side note:  I am a HUGE fan of inquiry, but I do not do an inquiry lab for this topic for a couple of reasons.  I want kids to do a proper controlled experiment before they do experimental design later on. They can refer to this lab when they are designing their own later in the year. This is part of scaffolding. With each controlled experiment (such as Ocean Acidification), I remove more instructions and parameters. Another reason is that I also want the kids to test specific concentrations of salt, because we use the results for an LD-50 lab later in the year.)


Supplies needed for the Soil Salinization Lab. These are provided for each group of 4 kids.

  1. Seeds
  2. Graduated cylinders with optional pipets to help kids with precise measurements. Mark one graduated cylinder for the 5% solution and one for the distilled water. Same with pipets. This prevents cross-contamination. Train the kids to be careful and prevent cross-contamination. Even a couple of drops of salt left over in a graduated cylinder can influence results.
  3. Overhead markers
  4. Scissors to cut paper towels
  5. 5% salt solution (mix yourself)
  6. Distilled water
  7. Beakers
  8. Petri dishes or ziploc bags. Petri dishes can be reused for an air pollution lab-Airborne Particulates.

Prepare a 5% salt solution by mixing 5g of NaCl (Table salt) with 95ml distilled water. Make enough for your classes.  I make about a liter for my 5 classes of APES.

I like pea seeds and prepare these containers for the groups. Tell the kids to keep covered to prevent fungi contamination. Fungi does ruin the soil salinization lab on occasion. I’ve had it happen once in 12 years. Use very clean petri dishes and keep beakers covered when not in use to prevent this.

Cover the seeds to prevent fungi spores from contaminating the lab

What seeds to use?

I’ve used peas, mung beans and radishes for soil salinization over the years. My favorite is peas, but the others work as well. Radishes tend to have lower tolerance to salt. You can even have students test different seeds in different groups. Mung beans sprout quickly and have a nice tolerance to salt as well.

Radish germinate quickly, but have a lower tolerance to salt

Mung beans are nice, but hard to find sometimes. They need longer than 2 days to get good results.

My favorite is pea seeds. This is after two days, but we usually take data after 3-4 days so the kids can measure a longer sprout.

This is a bit longer than I like to leave the seeds. They begin to degrade and smell. The best time is 3-4 days.

Using Ziploc Bags

I use snack-sized Ziploc bags with my online APES class that I meet with on Saturday mornings a few times a year. The bags are convenient as I don’t need them back when the lab is over and they’re inexpensive.  In my regular classes, I prefer petri dishes as they can be reused from year to year and are easier for the kids to work with the seeds.

The write up using ziploc bags can be found here.  I also use a Flipgrid conclusion so they can film their results and show me at home.

Use a sharpie to mark the bags and create a paper towel “taco”. Wet the paper towels before putting the seeds in or they roll around too much.

Day 1 of the Lab

Go over the first page of the lab together with students.  They have difficulty with the terms (control, variables, constants) if they’re out of practice. Also, teach the students to use words such as “increasing” or “decreasing” in their hypothesis as this is good practice for FRQs.  Its also more of a “collegiate” and precise hypothesis.

Students need to do the math for serial dilution before beginning the lab. I usually go how to do the math and then they can easily solve.

After doing the math, they can prepare the soil salinization dishes.

Make sure they use separate graduated cylinders for 5% NaCl solution and distilled water. Have a “mixing” beaker to mix the solution before pouring over the seeds. This makes sure that the solution is evenly mixed.

Students preparing petri dishes

Best way to prepare the dishes

Make a paper towel taco and place seeds inside

Pour solution over the seeds

Cover with the top of the taco

Tuck in the sides. If towels stick out, they will wick moisture out of the dish and the dish will be ruined. Label with an overhead marker so the ink can be washed off when finished.

Stacks of completed dishes. 9 stacks of 6 dishes for one period.

Day 2 the lab (3-4 days later is optimal)

Students will take data on the # and % of seeds that germinated and measure the sprout length. I tell students to measure the longest sprout in each dish.

Measuring the sprout in mm

Students sometimes have trouble knowing if a seed germinated so I have this drawing to help.

Results take about 15 minutes. Then students wash and dry dishes. I store and use the dishes again for an air pollution lab and again next year.


Electricity 5E using Kill-A-Watt Meters

Last summer, I received a grant for Kill-A-Watt meters and implemented this new lab.  It teaches students about electricity, watts, math and conservation using Kill-A-Watt meters. The kids were SUPER engaged (so were adults who came by) and it was highly relevant for not only their lives, but the energy concepts they need to know.  My AP® Environmental Science students did the lab, but the AP® Physics B teacher will also use this year.

Click for a copy of the lab.

You will need to alter the copy to reflect the cost of electricity in your town and the specific appliances that you have or want to use in lab.

Supplies Needed

  • Kill-A-Watt Meters:  I had one meter per lab table with two items to test at each table.  I ordered the Kill-A-Watt EZ model from Amazon.  But, I also like the regular model too.   The EZ model lets kids see the cost of electricity more easily, but the regular model is easier to use and find the “watts”setting.  Either are fine for this lab. (But, if you use my write-up, be sure to change some of the instructions if using the regular model).

In order to afford 10 of them, I wrote a grant request on Donors Choose and was funded in a few days by two corporate sponsors.  Here is a post about my favorite ways to find funding for new labs. 

  • Various appliances from your science room or from home.
  • Power Strips (optional).  The plugs in my lab are on the sides of the tables so I found power strips were very helpful. That way all the kids in a group could see the meter when it was plugged in.  I ordered a few of these to have ready next year.  If your’e writing a grant, be sure to add a few of these, if needed in your lab.

    The plugs in my lab are on the sides of the tables which means only 1 person out of 4 could see the meter AND they’d have to turn sideways to do it. Instead, I placed a powerstrip on each table to bring the meter to the top and all kids could read the meter.
  • Christmas lights (optional, but really engaging for the kids) .  I was fortunate to find regular and Energy start Christmas lights at Target in October, but I couldn’t find LED lights so I ordered online.  They were pricey, but I only needed 1 strand and it will last for several years for this lab. (And I can use to decorate my classroom for Christmas!)

    LED, Energy Star, and regular Christmas lights. All were 100 count strands for comparison.

Lab Setup

I had two devices per lab table and meter.  The students rotated from table to table.  I utilized items in the lab whenever possible, like this TV.

The two appliances at this station were the mounted TV and a portable heater.

Large and Small Battery Chargers. The larger one drew more watts, but is also a rapid charger.

Safety warning for the space heater. The heater isn’t dangerous as it has safety mechanisms, but I put a note on just as a precaution.

Apple phone charger and a Micro USB charger. The kids plugged in their own phones. They needed to try two different devices.  Some groups only had iPhones so they had to compare models.

Goggles sterilizer and microwave. It was interesting that the goggles sterilizer (UV light) used the same wattage when plugged it whether it was turned on or off.

A blow dryer on high, low, hot and cold made interesting data.

Data-Explore section

Students took data on a chart and then created a graph.  I had a Kill-A-Watt meter set up at each lab table along with 2-3 appliances and then set a timer for kids to rotate every 4-5 minutes.  I had 9 tables and it took about 45 minutes to rotate to every table.

If kids finished that station before the timer, they worked on the bar graph of their data chart.

The LED desk light only drew 2.8 Watts

Explain-Vampire Power and Conservation

I showed a couple of videos helping explain some of the data that kids see.  I wanted them to notice the appliances that still drew power even when not turned on.  Many students have never heard of this.  I also wanted them to see good examples of energy conservation.

Elaborate–Math Calculations

Kids did A LOT of practice with energy math–which they need for the AP® Exam.  It is also needed in real life.  In addition, they discussed the environmental and human health costs of electricity.