Spalding Lab Outreach Activity Information

Here you will find information about the activities Spalding lab has developed to take to community events. Many of our activities can be used in the classroom, either as presented or with some minor adjustments to meet the needs of a particular age group or class. Please do not hesitate to contact Bessie Splitt if you have any questions or would like to develop a protocol to use in the classroom.

Seed Planting Activity

This simple activity involves participants in several levels. On one level, students are educated on what a plant needs to survive, while being shown seeds at different stages of germination. Students are allowed to develop their own experiments on plant growth using the test tube set up as well. Also, this set-up allows participants to become familiar with lab supplies and small equipment. We want to "de-mystify" the tools of the trade.


Supplies needed to grow seedling: water bottle and test tubes

  • 5 mL polystyrene round-bottom tubes (purchased from a scientific supply company. Other materials may be used in place of tubes.)
  • strips of paper towel
  • seeds (We use cucumber, but many different species would be suitable. It is best to work with seeds that are large enough for inexperienced hands to manipulate.)
  • water
  • Parafilm (purchased from a scientific supply company.)

1. Fold a strip of paper towel so that it fits snugly into the test tube. Slide the paper towel part way into the test tube.

2. Place 2-3 seeds in the middle of the paper towel and slide the towel the rest of the way into the tube.

3. Squeeze just enough water into the test tube to wet the paper towel. If there is water pooled in the bottom of the test tube, lightly tap the excess water out of the tube.

4. Secure the open end of the test tube with parafilm.

5. Place the test tube in an area where it will be exposed to sunlight, such as a window sill or countertop. Check the seeds every day for germination.

Cucumber Seedlings

Examples of seedlings after four days of growth on a windowsill.

6. Once the seedlings have grown too large for the test tube, they can be transferred to soil to continue growth. Remove the parafilm from the end of the tube, gently pull the seedlings out, and carefully plant them by covering the roots in shallow soil in a pot. Make sure they get plenty of water!

Small cucumber plants growing on windowsill

Month-old cucumber plants grown on windowsill. 

Think of the different variables you can change in the set-up to experiment on how a seedling develops. What happens if the seedlings are grown in complete darkness instead of

Digital Camera Exploration

Digital imaging is an important tool that allows scientists to better understand how plants function. Many digital imaging instruments are used in UW's Plant Imaging Center. Students can use a simple set-up of a digital camera, lens, and laptop to see how scientists can use a camera to study plants.

Candace shows a student how to use the camera.

The camera we use in our outreach work is a Point Grey Chameleon™ CMLN-13S2C CCD camera and associated FlyCapture® acquisition software. An Optem Macro Video Zoom Lens is attached to the camera and can be used to adjust light settings, zoom, and focus.

Candace and Misuk show how the camera can focus on a flower.

Spalding Lab

Bessie Splitt is the lab's outreach coordinator.

Back to Spalding Lab Outreach page.