The first science lab of the year was comparing plant and animal cells. This lesson is as much about how to use the microscope and prepare slides as it is about any major scientific realization. How do we do it? What's the fancy setup? It's really very simple.
Materials: Onion, tweezers, toothpicks, dark food coloring (I used red), 2 slides, microscope with 1200x power. (All of this except the onion and toothpicks are in the microscope kit I linked to in my science materials post.)
We looked at cells from the thin, transparent membrane of a regular old white onion, dabbed with an infinitesimal amount of food coloring on the end of a toothpick. At 1200x you can clearly see the network of cells and the dark spots of the nuclei.
At closer to 2400x, you can differentiate the cell membrane and the cell wall.
For animal cells, we used a scraping of cells from the inside of the cheek. At 1200x you can see the individual cells and the spots of nuclei.
Emma drew examples of each type of cell in her lab notebook and labelled the cell components that she could see. The slides get washed in the sink with sudsy water and can be used again.