Loretta Loykasek

Merit Winner: TMA Excellence in Science Teaching Awards

Loretta Loykasek - Burleson High School, Burleson, Texas
Invertebrate Research Project
Sample Lesson

Lesson Overview

This activity is designed to take up to two weeks, during which my pre-advanced placement (AP) biology classes employ scientific laboratory experiences dealing with an invertebrate organism. I adapted it from information I learned by attending lecture and research lab activities directed by Charlie Drewes, PhD, from Iowa State University at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Summer Institute for high school biology teachers in neurobiology at Princeton University.

I chose to use invertebrate organisms for this project because high school students do not know as much about them as they do about vertebrates; and they are smaller and easier to maintain and care for in a laboratory setting than are vertebrates.  Given the opportunity to work with live organisms, students enthusiastically anticipate this project and, once they begin, are actively engaged in learning. 

The project promotes research skills, teamwork, technical drawing skills, and problem-solving skills as well as an understanding of the job of a research scientist. Students must question, research, and develop possible solutions to a real-world problem that relates to TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) objectives and involves higher level thinking skills.  Working in a group of two or three students provides them an opportunity to work cooperatively and combine their efforts for a common goal. 

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this project the student will be able to:

  • Describe the ecological niche, anatomy, physiology, and behavior of an invertebrate of their choice;
  • Observe the behavior of an invertebrate in a laboratory setting;
  • Keep a scientific research notebook on an invertebrate detailing its behavior and responses;
  • Make technical drawings of an invertebrate;
  • Relate their learning experiences to the research scientist's occupation;
  • Design and conduct a humane, controlled investigation to determine how an invertebrate reacts to different nonfatal stimuli such as light and darkness, dry surfaces and wet surfaces, or food preferences; and
  • Present their findings.
TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) Objectives

  • 1A - Demonstrate safe practices during field and laboratory investigations;
  • 2A - Plan and implement investigative procedures including asking questions, formulating testable hypotheses, and selecting equipment and technology;
  • 2B - Collect data and make measurements with precision;
  • 2C - Organize, analyze, evaluate, make inferences and predict trends from data;
  • 2D - Communicate valid conclusions;
  • 3D - Describe the connection between biology and future careers;
  • 6D -Compare genetic variations observed in plants and animals;
  • 8C - Identify characteristics of kingdoms including monerans, protists, fungi, plants, and animals;
  • 10A - Interpret the functions of systems in organisms including circulatory, digestive, excretory, endocrine, nervous, integumentary, skeletal, reproductive, respiratory, muscular, and immune;
  • 10B - Compare the interrelationships of organ systems to each other and to the body as a whole;
  • 11B - Investigate and identify how organisms respond to external stimuli;
  • 12B - Interpret interactions among organisms exhibiting predation, parasitism, commensalism, and mutualism; and
  • 12D - Identify and illustrate that long-term survival of species is dependant on a resource base that may be limited.
Materials Used

  • Invertebrates such as planaria, Lumbriculus , earthworms, snails, centipedes, hermit crabs, fiddler crabs, crayfish, and Hydra either collected locally or ordered from a biological supply company;
  • Containers to house invertebrates;
  • Microscope - compound light and stereoscope;
  • Magnifying glass;
  • Spring water;
  • Food for invertebrates;
  • Air pump(s);
  • Lens paper;
  • Petri dish for observation;
  • Filter paper for observation;
  • Reference materials, Internet, etc.; and
  • Any other materials that students may need for the controlled investigation.
Methods of Implementation

The student researches basic invertebrate care, anatomy, behavior, and ecology prior to acquisition of the invertebrates.  Students work in research teams of two or three and are allowed to choose the invertebrate their team will observe and research. After deciding on the invertebrate, students on each team develop a list of biological questions concerning the invertebrate's behavior, anatomy, physiology, and ecology; research to answer these questions; and log the information in their scientific research notebooks.  Suggested questions concerning the invertebrate include but are not limited to taxonomy, habitat and community, niche, anatomical features, aspects of locomotion and behavior, nutrition and feeding, gas exchange and circulation, reproduction and development, predator/prey relationships, survival and the environment, nervous system and special senses, and human interaction.

Throughout this project I work with the students to answer questions, guide them when they come to roadblocks, and suggest solutions to problems that may arise from their research. Each team is responsible for the care of its invertebrate throughout this investigation. Individually, each student is responsible for keeping a scientific research notebook that should include observations of the organism, drawings of the organism, detailed descriptions of its behavior, methods used to care for the organism, research notes and findings, and his or her thoughts and feelings about this project.  Students are given class time to observe and research this project over a two-week period.   They also are encouraged to observe and work with their team at other times throughout the duration of the project in circumstances such as tutorials, before school, after school, and at lunch.   The scientific research notebook is turned in at the conclusion of this activity.


  • Students will receive up to 25 points for development of biological questions, research, and recording of biological questions concerning the invertebrate they choose.  To receive the full 25 points, students must include a works-cited list to indicate where they found the information regarding the invertebrate. 
  • Students will receive up to 40 points for their scientific research notebook. To receive the full 40 points, student notebooks must include detailed observations, research notes, and precise scientific diagrams/drawings of the invertebrate.
  • Students will receive up to 25 points for their controlled investigation. To receive the full 25 points, students must include a detailed description of the controlled investigation and its results in their research notebook.
  • Students will receive up to 10 points for group dynamics.  To receive the full 10 points, a data sheet must be attached to the research notebook outlining each group member's contribution to the project.  All members are expected to contribute equally to this endeavor. 
Description of What Makes Lesson Effective

If you were to ask my former students which lab or activity they learned from and enjoyed the most during their year in pre-AP biology, the answer would be the invertebrate research project.   This process causes the students to work cooperatively as a team, hones research and questioning skills, and forces them to think at higher levels; but it is also a lot of fun!  This is a much-anticipated activity for my ninth-grade pre-AP biology students - they hear about it from friends, siblings, and me.  One of the first questions I get at the beginning of the year is, "When are we going to get to work with the live animals?"    I constantly remind students about the project throughout the year as they develop their skills in biological drawings, data collection, and detailed written, laboratory reports.  The enthusiasm and energy that the students give to this project makes it one of the most valuable and memorable learning experiences of their freshman year. 


  • Student teams may present their findings about their invertebrate to the class in a 15-30 minute oral presentation.
  • This activity could be adapted for use with vertebrates. Students would research a vertebrate residing at the local zoo, and then spend time observing the animal in its zoo habitat.  Instead of a scientific research notebook, students would be required to keep a field notebook with all of their observations, research notes, drawings, and conclusions.  This would give them field biology experience to enhance their understanding of the interrelationships within the biological world. 

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Last Updated On

September 09, 2010