Introduction to Scientific Collections and Museum Databases

Lesson overview: This lesson is an introduction to scientific collections and the types of data associated with them. Students will learn that an herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens for scientific research. They will learn that collections data are primary scientific data, and will gain experience accessing and working with data from the Kansas State University Herbarium database.

This lesson includes a tutorial and a worksheet designed to accompany the tutorial. The worksheet includes introductory questions about museum collections and questions that depend on the students following the steps in the tutorial.

Vocabulary: database, biodiversity, herbarium, scientific collection, locality, flora

Materials and supplies: computers with internet access, Microsoft Excel or alternate spreadsheet software, copies of worksheets for students, and (optional) projector and screen to display tutorial in class

Assessment: responses to questions

Background: Much biodiversity information from museum collections is available to the public. These data are used by scientists for a variety of applications. Some examples include study of taxonomy and floristic patterns, ecological niche modeling, and monitoring of changes in plant distributions. Open access to collections databases provides teachers and students the opportunity to use primary scientific data in the classroom. This activity introduces students to available data from one museum, and allows them to explore it. Students are guided through the steps of accessing and downloading the data, importing the data into a spreadsheet, and manipulating the data to answer specific questions. Students will create a graph summarizing one aspect of the data.

This lesson was developed for use with the Kansas State University Herbarium database, accessed through the BiodIS website. Teachers and students throughout Kansas will find data relevant to their counties. Collections data from other areas are also available. We hope, further, that teachers from outside the region will find that this activity adaptable to collections databases in their areas (for information on herbarium databases, see; for biodiversity information projects generally, see

Materials: Files below are downloadable in the format described; *signifies key materials.

*Student tutorial: Tutorial.pdf (Tutorial on using the BiodIS interface to search the KSU Herbarium database)

*Student worksheet: Worksheet.doc (Worksheet for use with the tutorial)

Worksheet “key” for instructor: WorksheetKey.pdf (Notes on expected worksheet answers)

Kansas Science Education Standards: Standards.doc (Standards relevant to this lesson compiled by Drew Ising)