3 Easy Steps to Observing Pond Life under a Microscope
One of the hallmarks of Homeschool Microscope Lessons is collecting pond water to observe microscopic life, but rarely do you get the help you need to do this successfully- especially when it comes to preparing the slides and being able to find something and identify it. 3 Easy Steps to Observing Pond Life under a Microscope is one of a series of lessons on using your microscope to observe microscopic life in pond water.
Disclaimer: I was given a Home 1000x LED Microscope and digital microscope camera from Home Science Tools and I was compensated for my time in writing this post. I purchased the Microscopic Life Kit from Home Science Tools. This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!
So you have a microscope.
Or you are considering whether or not to purchase one.
Either way, it’s time to do some microscope labs.
Using a microscope doesn’t have to be intimidating.
We’re going to accomplish our goal in three easy steps:
Materials Needed for Collecting & Observing Microscopic Pond Samples
There are a few things you must have for looking at pond life under a microscope.
You could do without some of the items on this list.
Others are non-negotiable.
If you are doing a unit using a microscope,
invest in some basic essentials.
It’s easier to say yes to science when you have the right tools!
- Collecting Vials– to hold your pond water when you collect it at the pond
- Sharpie Markers– black works well for labeling items in the world of science, but color is also fun. As long as the markers are not water soluble and work well on plastic and glass surfaces, they are the right tool.
- Painter’s Tape– for labeling your collecting vials. This stuff is useful for many homeschool activities. If you don’t have it on hand, pick some up!
- Pipettes– for transferring the pond water onto your slide
- Microscope Slides– for placing the specimen under the microscope
- Cover Slips– to go over top of the specimen and keep it in observable view under the microscope
- Methylene Blue– optional for staining cell parts in your organisms
- Microscope– one that you can observe over 100x. At least 400x is probably best to see the Protists large enough for identification.
- Digital Microscope Camera– if you want to record video of your microorganisms in action
- Pond Source– one where you can easily collect some water (not state or federal parks)
- Microscope Life Kit– totally optional, but this has many of the needed supplies right inside plus materials for more exploration.
Collecting Microscopic Pond Life for Observation
Once you have the essentials required for observing pond water under a microscope,
it’s time to choose not only a pond
but the right spot at the pond.
Here are a few guidelines for you:
- Choose body of water that is appropriate for collection– this is not federal and state parks. So, it could be a town park if that is permissible or a private pond you have access to.
- Be safe– take precautions with children and teens alike to not fall in or to swim and wade in areas not designated for these activities.
- Look for still water – will yield more microscopic aquatic life than running water. It’s not impossible, but I like quick success when it comes to demonstrating science. Go for the sure thing!
- Sample the edge of the pond– where there is plant life, including algae thriving.
- Sample some mud– with the water
- Use the collection vials– to scoop up water and mud and plant life and put the lid on your sample
As you choose where to sample, you can ask your student some questions. Talk about where the best spot for sampling might be- will it be the clear water in the center of the pond? Or the murkier edges?
How will the time of year affect your sample? Where do protists go in the winter?
Take more than one sample from various locations at the pond. Compare each one. What do you find?
Now that you have your samples, it’s time to prepare them for viewing under the light microscope.
Preparing a Wet Mount Slide of Your Pond Sample
In order to observe microscopic pond life under your light microscope, you’ll need to prepare the specimen.
There are few ways to do this, but in this post we’ll focus on just one way.
Gather your slide making materials
and make sure your microscope is ready for action.
- Agitate the sample vial– at least turn it over a few times so the solid material you collected is disturbed.
- Collect some of the sample– with a disposable pipette by gathering some of the suspended material with the water
- Place several drops– onto the side
- Drop the cover slip– into place by adding it to the water sample at a 45° angle and dropping it on the slide.
- Put the cover slip– into the water at an angle to reduce trapping air in bubbles under the cover slip
- Tap out any bubbles– that do form, if possible
- Place the slide under the microscope– using the stage clips on the microscope
- Follow the procedure– for finding things under a microscope (a video tutorial can be found at that link).
- Locate the mud– and have a look around. There is bound to be something moving!
- Switch to high power– remembering that it will be focused on less of your sample. Keep looking! If you have the microscope with a movable stage, then you can slowly move the slide around to continue the hunt.
- Look for more– Protozoans in your sample. How many can you find?
- Repeat this procedure– with your other samples. Which samples yielded the most number of microscopic life?
Once you find a good section in your sample, give your students plenty of time to explore.
Time to explore without time limits is important.
So is allowing each student to enjoy the same process.
Exploration will lead to more discovery.
The only thing on the agenda in this lesson is finding members of the Protista kingdom under your microscope.
Observing Pond Life under a Microscope
The thing about a microscope is that it’s a one person affair.
Multiple students can work together to prepare the slides for observation.
Only one student can look through the microscope at a time.
Even split into lab pairs, this can be a painful process.
It sort of kills the open exploration we’re looking to achieve.
Enter the digital microscope.
Even better is the digital camera for the microscope.
We upgraded from our digital microscope to the Home 1000x LED Microscope
and added the digital microscope camera.
The camera fits on standard light microscopes and
turns a solo experience into a group party.
Everyone can gather around to see what the microscope is seeing.
Microscopic Pond Life Video
The microscope camera not only allows you to observe your sample on a screen.
The camera can also:
- Take still pictures– of your specimens
- Record video– of moving items under the microscope
The video below is 30 seconds of awesomeness.
The star of the show is a paramecium.
Other Biology Posts from Blog, She Wrote
- The Beginner’s to Guide to Using a Microscope– the first post in this new series about using the Home LED 1000x microscope. It includes video on how to use a light microscope in both low and high power.
- The Beginner’s Guide to Microscopic Life in a Pond– identify what you are looking at and use the free field guide.
- Observing Onion Cells– directions for making and staining an onion cell for observation under the microscope
- The Snake Project– a year of life science taught through the lens of caring for a wild caught garter snake. This was 8th grade science for our daughter (currently a college freshman).
- Illustrating the Human Body– an artistic approach to studying the human body
- Entomology: The Science of Insects– a series of posts on entomology and insect collecting
Free Microscope Observations Lab Printable
Being a scientist is an adventure.
Are you ready?
Get your tools
and put them to use
3 easy steps.
Microscopic Marvels Online Course
An affordable, year long course devoted to the study of microscopy through hands on observation, research, and scientific journaling. Just $67 for a high school, college prep microscope course that is friendly to out of the box and neurodivergent teens.