Incorporating live organisms into your classroom enhances students’ understanding of many science concepts. However, you have to determine what to do with these organisms at the end of the school year.
Maintaining live organisms
There are many options for keeping live organisms over the summer or finding them permanent homes. The following is a list of our suggestions.
- Contact biology teachers at year-round schools in your area. They may be grateful for the contribution to their classroom. Also, daycares and preschools that operate through summer may adopt certain classroom organisms.
- Donate your live organisms to local aquariums or science centers. They may be happy to give the organisms a new home.
- Pack your organisms up and take them home with you. If this won’t work, you might make regular visits to your classroom to care for them (depending on the type of organisms, of course). Discuss this option with the school administration to ensure that you can access the classroom all summer and that scheduled school maintenance activities do not preclude this approach.
- Find your organisms a foster home. Many students fall in love with classroom organisms, especially furry ones, and would love fostering them over the summer. Make sure that parents are on board with this plan! Note: Never send any USDA-regulated organisms home with students. Dispose of them according to USDA guidelines.
- Establish a self-sustaining aquarium for aquatic organisms. Introduce aquatic plants and invertebrates that you used in your classroom. At the end of summer, you just may have a mini ecosystem for your new students to enjoy.
Disposing of live organisms
USDA-regulated species or species for which you can find no suitable option for continued care must be disposed of appropriately. Below is a list of guidelines for doing so.
- Allow plants to die naturally and then dispose of them in the trash. You may also bag living plants and place them in a freezer for at least 24 hours to kill them. Then discard the bag in the trash. Note: Do not put any living plants in the trash; they may be invasive species.
- Freeze small crustaceans, protists, and aquatic invertebrates and then discard them in the trash. If suitable, feed them to aquarium fish.
- Place unwanted terrestrial invertebrates, e.g., pill bugs and all life cycle stages of butterflies, in a sealed container and freeze for 24 hours. Then discard in the trash.
- Autoclave containers of microorganisms, e.g., bacteria and fungi, and place them in the trash. If an autoclave is unavailable, soak all the containers and media in a bleach solution (1 part household bleach to 9 parts water) for 24 hours and then discard.
Protecting the environment
It is important that you follow your local, state, and federal guidelines and regulations for handling and caring for live organisms in your classroom—and for dealing with them after your use. We at Carolina Biological Supply Company do not advocate releasing live organisms into the outdoors. Many environmentally disruptive populations of invasive species began with the intentional release of individuals. Even a species that is native to your area may disrupt the local gene pool if released. In addition, individuals from one area may harbor diseases or pests to which local populations or other local species are vulnerable.
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At year’s end, you have a lot to do in a short amount of time. We hope this checklist will help as you close down your laboratory and get it in shape for the start of the next school year.