Labs For Each Unit in AP® Environmental Science

This is a list of labs with links that I do for each unit in the Course Exam and Description. There are many more great labs that APES teachers do. I chose these for the most “bang for the buck”–lots of concepts learned and/or science practices, feasible for many APES sections and large APES classes, feasible for my school’s outdoor area, and budget-friendly from year to year. I typically write small grants for equipment and then use over and over again.

For a list of lab supplies, read this post.

If I have a post written about the lab, you are able to click on the title of the lab to read about it.

Unit 1: The Living World: Ecosystems

  1. EcoColumns–this lasts for 3 months and covers topics in Units 1, 2, 4 & 8
  2. Productivity Lab –I use a video lab to save time, but there are many versions for students to physically do.
  3. Owl Pellet Lab
  4. Light in the Deep Sea Activity from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Unit 2: The Living World: Biodiversity

  1. Island Biogeography Lab–There are many wonderful shared variations of this lab. I have a longer, analytical, inquiry-based 5E version on TPT, if interested.

Unit 3: Populations

  1. Cemetery Lab –Many good labs shared by many teachers. A post with mine as a 5E is coming soon.

Unit 4: Earth Systems and Resources

  1. Soil Labs 
    1. Chemistry of Soil (N,P,K,pH). Many good versions of this lab out there and many good kits . I do this lab with ecocolumns.
    2. Physical Properties of Soil (porosity, soil type, color, permeability). (My students do at their summer workshop at the local water agency. But there are many good versions and good kits for this lab.
  2. Tree Rings and Climate Change (can be covered with El Nino in unit 4 or wait until Unit 9)–a post is coming soon!

Unit 5: Land and Water Use

  1. The Tragedy of the Commons Lab
  2. Trees and Forests Lab–Students go outside to measure trees and discover ecosystem services. Many shared versions are out there from teachers. A long, analytical 5E is on TPT, if interested.
  3. Salinization Lab (This is my 1st controlled lab which is used as scaffolding for other experimental design labs)
  4. Cookie Mining–A post is coming soon!
  5. Climate Change and Cities Experimental Design Lab (or in Unit 9)–A post coming soon. Can be purchased on TPT, if interested.
Salinization lab

Unit 6: Energy Resources and Consumption

  1. Kill-A-Watt Lab

Unit 7: Atmospheric Pollution

  1. Particulates Experimental Design Lab

Unit 8: Aquatic and Terrestrial Pollution

  1. Water Quality Testing 5E Lab
  2. Biomagnification Lab-This version is from the Monterey Bay Aquarium
  3. Toxins Lab

Unit 9: Global Change

  1. Tree Rings and Climate Change Lab (or in Unit 4)–a post is coming soon!
  2. Climate Change and Cities Experimental Design Lab (or in Unit 5)–a post is coming soon!
  3. Ocean Acidification Experimental Design Lab (if time, I have not had time the last few years)
  4. Measuring Biodiversity. Many good choices out there including a Parking Lot Lab. I sometimes use quadrats for biodiversity.

After the AP Exam
1. Solar Cookers (usually done after the AP Exam as it takes several days). Many options shared from many teachers that are wonderful. I have a longer, analytical 5E on TPT, if interested.

Biomagnification Activity from the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I really like this biomagnification activity from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I discovered this activity in a Monterey Bay Aquarium workshop at a conference I attended a couple of years ago.  Its accessible for different levels of learners in regular NGSS Biology and regular Environmental science and has enough technical science for AP® kids.

The materials are easy to use and cheap. My school laminates for me to make the items durable for many years.

This activity focuses on POPs-Persistent Organic Pollutants and then plastic pollution in the ocean, but we discuss mercury pollution in top predatory fish as well.

How to do the Biomagnification Activity

The instructions from the Monterey Bay Aquarium are easy to follow,  but here are some pictures that may also help.

Each student gets a card. The instructions tell you the correct proportions for your class size. Each trophic level hunts at the same time.

These are ocean “molecule” cards.

I use the center lab table in my lab, but you can do this outside or inside on the floor. I spread them out and don’t worry about turning them all over. I tell students they can only “hunt” with one hand and place the molecules in the other hand.

A sample of molecules that were picked up and counted,

Students need to tally their POPs only. Then, they write their POP total on a mini post-it note.

The first round is all the phytoplankton–about (15-20 students). The second round is all the zooplankton (about 8-9 students), then the sardines (5-6 students), salmon (2-3 students) and finally 1 human. After the phytoplankton hunt, the other hunters during their round take the tally of POPs on the mini post-it-note from the previous trophic level and then continue to hunt on the table.

Sample data from a “Salmon”

After the simulation, students answer questions, read and annotate/highlight.

A nice leveled reading for students

I make copies of pages 8-10 of the document for my students. This is nice, easy and meaningful biomagnification activity for my students and leads well into Water Quality. 

Math Differentiation in Science

Students in science classes often have differing math abilities and its difficult to cover math without boring some kids and losing other kids. One way to approach  is to allow student to have choices on how to approach the math problems. This is a form of differentiation and allows kids to take ownership of their own learning. To do this method, you will need videos of your math lessons. This is not a onerous task. I usually record a worksheet in just 15 minutes on the Explain Everything app. I upload to Youtube, or Google Drive and share the links on Google Classroom.

Since videos are recorded, students can go at their own pace and direct their learning.

Introducing Differentiation to Students

Kids do well when they understand “why”. I go over the Immediate Goal with them:

  • To practice how to do various energy word problems in order to get a good grade on Exams, the Final Exam and the AP® Exam.

And the Ultimate Goal:

  • Life is made of word problems. You can use these skills as you analyze household bills, your car’s fuel efficiency, purchasing decisions, etc.  Some of you will also need these skills in your career.

Directions for Students

  • Skim your paper/s
  • Make a choice on how to proceed 


A. Work through problems on own–persevering through difficult ones until your brain clicks and you have an “Aha” moment.  Check answers with key when finished. Sample Answer Key:

Review papers with keys.

B. Work through problems on own, when stuck for longer than 1-2 minutes on a problem, check solution and answer on key.  Then, go onto the next problem without the key.

C. Work through the easier problems on own, skip the harder ones. Then, watch the video to check answers on the easier ones and to learn how to solve the harder ones. Fast forward the video to the problems you need help with. Example Video Below:

D. Watch the videos in their entirely to learn how to solve the problems.

NOT an Acceptable Choice: Copy the solutions and answers from the key or from a friend. You will earn a bad grade on your next exam, the final exam and the AP® Exam.

  • Tell your elbow part which one you are going to choose and why
  • Can you switch later?  Absolutely
  • Can you start one way and then change?  Absolutely


Grade your students not only on completion, but also for following one of the choices. Rotate around the room to make sure they are on task. Accountability comes when students take an exam and know or don’t know how to do the problems.