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STEM Education Resource Center (SERC)

Biological Sciences

FOSS Diversity of Life
Grades 6 - 8

What is life? We usually know it when we see it, but what is it? This course introduces students to the big picture of life on Earth. Students discover that all living things, despite their complexity, share the same basic characteristics. Students learn that all organisms (bacteria, protists, fungi, plants, and animals) are composed of cells, and that a single cell is the fundamental unit of life. Students explore the relationship of organisms to their environment, and recognize life as a temporary condition experienced for various lengths of time by all living things. It is our hope that, in their efforts to answer the question "What is life?" students will develop an appreciation for the awesome diversity of life on Earth and a personal interest in life in all its forms.

Investigation 1: What is Life? prompts students to think about characteristics that are common to all living organisms and develops an operational definition of life that will be refined throughout this course.
Investigation 2: Introduction to the Microscope acquaints students with the microscope as a tool used by scientists to study organisms in detail.
Investigation 3: In Microscopic Life students discover cells and begin to understand their importance as the basic units of life.
Investigation 4: The Cell teaches students to recognize cells as the basic unit of life and to appreciate the diversity of cells that contribute to the diversity of life on Earth.
Investigation 5: In Seeds of Life students recognize that seeds are living organisms in a dormant state. They observe and describe the first developmental stages of a plant.
Investigation 6: In Transpiration students conduct investigations to understand how the vascular system transports water throughout a plant and how stomates on leaves regulate the rate of water flow through a plant.
Investigation 7: In Plant Reproduction students investigate the reproductive systems in flowers to understand the origin of seeds, and to explore plant adaptations for seed dispersal.
Investigation 8: In Snails students observe and analyze snail structures and behaviors in order to set up a secure and supportive habitat in which snails can live.
Investigation 9: Roaches introduces the concept of adaptation by pointing out the structures and behaviors of an insect and relates those adaptations to the roach's natural history and habitat.
Investigation 10: In Kingdoms of Life students explore the Monera (bacteria), Protista (algae), and Fungi kingdoms to understand their roles in the scheme of life

Module Summary
Parts List

FOSS New Plants

Grade 1 - 2

The New Plants module provides experiences that heighten young students’ awareness of the diversity of life in the plant kingdom. Students care for plants to learn what they need to grow and develop. They observe the structures of flowering plants and discover ways to propagate new plants from mature plants (from seeds, bulbs, roots, and stem cuttings). They observe and describe changes that occur as plants grow, and organize their observations on a calendar and in a journal.

FOSS expects students to:
  • Develop a curiosity and interest in plants as living things.

  • Experience some of the diversity of forms in the plant kingdom

  • Provide for the needs of growing plants.

  • Observe and describe the changes that occur as plants grow and develop.

  • Become familiar with the structures and functions of flowering
  • plants (root, stem, leaf, bud, flower, seed).

  • Discover various ways that new plants can develop from mature plants.

  • Compare change over time in different kinds of plants.

  • Organize and communicate observations through drawing and writing.
Downloads: Parts List

FOSS Populations and Ecosystems

Grades 6 - 8

An ecosystem is the largest organizational unit of life on Earth, defined by a physical environment and the organisms that make their living there. Students learn that every organism has a role to play in its ecosystem, and has structures and behaviors that allow it to survive. This course provides the first steps of ecological understanding for students, with the hope that their future steps will be considered and measured, with the interests of all life being served


1. In Milkweed Bugs students explore reproductive biology and population dynamics.
2. Sorting out Life introduces students to ecology.
3. In Miniecosystems students investigate ecosystem interactions.
4. In Mono Lake students investigate food webs.
5. In Finding the Energy students learn that food energy is derived from the Sun, which drives life processes.
6. In Population Size students explore factors that limit population size.
7. In Ecoscenarios students research and analyze ecosystems.
8. Adaptations introduces students to the concepts of adaptation and variation.
9. In Genetic Variation students learn genetic mechanisms to determine traits of individuals in a population.
10. Natural Selection introduces students to environmental pressures.

Downloads: Module Summary
Parts List

FOSS Structures of Life
Grades 3 - 4

The Structures of Life module consists of four sequential investigations dealing with observable characteristics of organisms. Students observe, compare, categorize, and care for a selection of organisms, and in so doing they learn to identify properties of plants and animals and to sort and group organisms on the basis of observable properties. Students investigate structures of the organisms and learn how some of the structures function in growth and survival.

FOSS expects students to:
  • Develop an attitude of respect for life.
  • Gain experience with organisms, both plants and animals.
  • Observe and compare properties of seeds and fruits.
  • Investigate the effect of water on seeds.
  • Observe, describe, and record properties of germinated seeds.
  • Compare different kinds of germinated seeds.
  • Grow plants hydroponically and observe the life cycle of a bean plant.
  • Observe and record crayfish and land snail structures and behavior.
  • Use knowledge of crayfish and snail life requirements to maintain the organisms in the classroom.
  • Organize data about crayfish territorial behavior.
  • Develop responsibility for the care of organisms.
  • Exercise language, art, social studies, and math skills in the context of life science.
  • Use scientific thinking processes to conduct investigations and build explanations: observing, communicating, comparing, and organizing
Downloads: Parts List

STC Program: Organisms Unit Kit

Grades K - 1st

How is a pill bug different from a snail? Do a pine tree and a guppy have anything in common? By observing various plants and animals, you'll help students begin to understand the diversity of life around them. With these activities, you'll encourage students to observe and detail similarities and differences in living things.

This is a very exciting unit for young students because they have a chance to observe, touch, hold, and care for a number of living things as they plant seeds and observe and record their growth, construct terraria and aquaria and stock each with plants and animals, and compare observations of the terrestrial & aquatic habitats in terms of the needs, behavior, and changes in the animals and plants in each.

The two use kit comes with all of the great materials you’d expect from the STC Program™, along with a box containing the materials for a second, non-concurrent use. All you need to do is set the box aside until you are ready for it.

Mr. Thrifty Bones
This economical, 33" skeleton has remarkable detail and full, natural movement. All bones are individually wired and the arms, legs, and skull are removable for close-up study. Constructed of sturdy plastic with dust cover and heavy, metal stand.

Articulated Skeletons

Microscope and Digital Camera

Ken-A-Vision CoreScope comes with a multi-directional round floating stage, high-quality glass optics, incandescent lighting, and separate coarse and fine focusing knobs, making it easier for the students to use.

PupilCAM 2.0
is a 1.3-megapixel, high-resolution microscope camera with digital CMOS technology. It has an attached 5-ft USB cable for direct computer interface and a built-in microscope adapter to provide a secure, precise attachment to a microscope or stereomicroscope

The Blue Planet: Seas of Life DVD
The Blue Planet: Seas of Life is the definitive exploration of the marine world, chronicling the mysteries of the deep, coastline populations, sea mammals, tidal and climatic influences, and the complete biological system that relies on and revolves around the world's oceans

Department of Physics, Astronomy & Geosciences
Smith Hall, Room 445 (map)
Hours: Monday - Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Phone: 410-704-3020
Fax: 410-704-3511






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