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Field Trip to School

By Gary M. Habeeb

Type of Entry:

  • Field Trip to School

Type of Activity:

  • Hands on Activity
  • Group/Cooperative Learning
  • Inquiry Lab

Target Audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Integrated Science, 1, 2
  • Special needs - mobility impaired

Notes to Teacher:

This activity has all the elements of a field trip logistically, except there is no need to plan for transportation. The weather should be clear and the event is best planned for the late Spring or early Summer in order to view the greatest numbers of insects. The students help with meal preparation and clean up. Depending on the group you may choose to camp out on an athletic field or sleep on the gym floor. Students should set up their sleeping gear as necessary and have their notebooks, field guides and the collecting equipment ready at their stations before dusk. Collecting takes place between dusk and midnight. After collecting for insects, students spend the remainder of the evening sorting through and classifying their specimens.

Successful collection of insects at night depends on the isolation of the collecting sites from other light sources. Depending on the location of security lights, it may be possible to partially cover them for the duration of the collection hours or simply locate the students in areas far enough from their influence.


This lesson focuses on the collection and examination of insets to help students to better understand the diversity and adaptations of living organisms. In this activity students take an overnight field trip to school in order to get a field experience. This idea was spawned from the increase in costs and logistical limitations that made our annual field trip to the tide pools of Northern California unfeasible. It has also made it possible for those students to attend who more than likely couldn't because of prior family, work or school commitments. Using fluorescent lights and capture containers, students attract, collect and examine insects to learn about their diversity and adaptations.



For students working in groups of 4:

  • 1 - 2 foot or 4 foot fluorescent fixture (incandescent lamps work too, although they break easier) or battery powered fluorescent lights

  • 1 - extension cord (as long as necessary)

  • 1 - white cloth/paper sheet (5x5 feet)

  • 4 - tacks or duct tape to hang white sheet

  • 4 - film canisters or other plastic capture containers

  • 2 - kill jars (see specialized materials below)

  • 4 - plastic shoe boxes with half inch styrofoam bottom liner (for mounting specimens)

  • 1 - field guide to insects of your area or a Peterson Field Guide to Insects


Kill jars can be made using pint size mason jars with lids. Inside the jar pour a one inch layer of plaster of paris and let it dry thoroughly (in warm oven for about an hour). Next add enough ethyl acetate to saturate the plaster, then pour off any excess. For safety, wrap the entire jar 2 to 3 times with duct tape. Note: Use accepted safety guidelines for dealing with any potentially hazardous materials.


Student groups are spread out along the perimeter of a building or fence, far enough away from each other to reduce distraction of both insects and other students. Each group sets up a white sheet (tacked on the wall) and illuminates the sheet with the fluorescent light from below. As the evening sky darkens, the light draws the insects to the sheet. Student collect insects using the film canisters because they are unbreakable and light weight. The captured specimens are then transferred into the kill jars. Most organisms will need to remain in the kill jar for at least 5 minutes, larger insects may take more time. Specimens are then removed from the kill jar and are placed in the shoe box for later mounting. Be sure that students wash hands well after the activity and do not handle food during the activity. The next 2 class periods may used for identifying, mounting and writing about their collections.


Mounting an insect for display is done by piercing the body through the thorax with a pin and then anchoring the pin into a sheet of styrofoam (at least half inch thick). The identification label should also be pierced by the pin. Insects such as moths or butterflies should first be spread out on a flat surface with wings pinned open. Allow the wings to dry thoroughly before mounting in styrofoam.

Method of Assessment/Evaluation

Students are to collect at least 8 different specimens, classify them to family (genus and species for extra points) and mount each specimen with pins and appropriate labels. Trading is allowed to benefit those groups whose 'catch' lacked sufficient diversity. A brief description of each specimen along with summary observations of how each organism is suited to its environment is also required. It is very easy for students to collect more than 8 specimens.

Extension/Reinforcement/Additional Ideas

The basic activity can be carried out at most schools, urban or rural, but a nearby forest or field enhances the diversity of available organisms. Insects can also be collected during the day, but you will need to locate them and have capture nets available. Students often collect at home on subsequent nights to add to their personal collection.

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