IMG_2182Every spring 6th graders from all over Wisconsin visit UW-SP as a part of the College Day for Kids program.  Students that sign up with the Slemmons’ Lab Paleo class participate in the “Out of the ooze comes some clues” course.  In this course we explore many aspects of paleoecology. Specifically students view diatoms through a microscope and discuss their ecological relevance. These lessons were adapted from the:

Decoding diatoms, MudEd at the University of Minnesota

“Project ARTiculate Karen Stomberg, FNSBSD Art Specialist, of Fairbanks North Star Borough School District’s

Diatoms are not only a source of art and inspiration but identifying the presence and abundance of the fossils of diatoms can give us a window into the past and understand how environmental change affects lakes in the future. . . so just like a paleontologist or archeologist examines the bones of animals that lived in the past (what they ate, how they lived, which ones were there), we will look at the fossils from algae known as diatoms which are very sensitive to changes in the environment. Based on which diatoms and how many of each kind are present, we can determine what the environment was like in the past.


Students explore how diatoms can be used as a tool for studying the health of a lake over time by trying out lake sampling techniques, examining diatoms under a microscope and understanding biological symmetry by creating art inspired from diatoms.


The class is divided into two sections: 1) paleoecology and lake exploration, and 2) diatoms and art.  Students are be able to participate in both sections or focus one area depending on their interest.

Paleoecology and lake exploration:

  1. Using a microscope, students view and identify diatoms and plankton from lake sediments and freshwater sources
  2. Students examine a lake sediment core and witness how cores can record environmental change.
  3. Students explore different tools for examining lakes (plankton nets, coring equipment, etc.).
  4. Using a simulated lake sediment core, students identify the diatoms present during certain sections of the core and infer what the environmental conditions were like during that time. Students can then identify the historical context that coincides with those environmental conditions.

Diatoms and art:

  1. Students observe and name diatom structures, shapes, and patterns – including radial and bilateral symmetry.
  2. Students discuss the role of art and technology in recording scientific discovery.
  3. Students create a piece of art to represent the structures observed.

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