Sunday, September 16, 2012

The "One Small Square" Strategy: Mushrooms and Other "Fun Guys"

Mushrooms love the woodchips in my flower bed.
[Edited and re-blogged from "A Child's Garden," September 2011]

We originally completed this study last fall, but are re-posting this for the September Simple Science Strategies newsletter, because it made good use of the "One Small Square" Strategy, the focus strategy for Week 3 of the September Newsletter, and focused on mushrooms, the topic for Week 2!


We sure have had some wild weather here in New England at the end of the Summer of 2011. We have had so much rain that the crop of mushrooms sprouting up everywhere has been very interesting and incredible.

Fall, especially the Back to School time, is always a prime time to go mushroom exploring, with the warm days, cool nights and more frequent rain.  Also be on the look-out for mushroom cousins, the slime molds and actinomycetes, that you probably mistake for their more well-known family members. Here is a mushroom study that you can do for September.

Before You Go Outside:

    Tiny shelf fungi on a dead tree, Fenton-Ruby Park and Preserve.
  • Read up on mushrooms. The Handbook of Nature Study has a very thorough discussion of many of the types of fungi that you might see on an expedition, on pages 714-727. If you read a little further, you can learn about their indoor cousins, the bread molds (pp. 727-728).
  • The Handbook of Nature Study website has an Autumn Outdoor Hour Challenge on Mushrooms that has excellent links to videos, notebooking pages and other resources.
  • Gather materials you might need for a mushroom study: clipboards and pencils, hand lenses, a long plant tag or flag to mark your mushroom spot, plastic food service gloves.
  • Read Outdoor Hour Challenge #9: One Small Square for a description of how to carry out the observation activity. 
  • Prepare observation sheets for each child. 
  • Review routines: "How to Work With a Partner."
  • Teach safety rules about potentially poisonous plants.

Honey mushrooms in a shady flower bed.
Observing Mushrooms and Their Cousins:

A mushroom study lends itself well to a multiple-day observation, since the fruiting body of most fungi only remains for a few days, and changes considerably with time and the weather.

Step 1: Note the location of some fungi on a nature walk.

Some places to look include wood chipped areas of a school flower garden or playground, rotting logs, tree stumps, and places where a tree once stood. At this time of year, a whole crop can pop up literally overnight, so don't be discouraged if you don't see any on a particular day.

Be on the lookout for the little "buttons" of some mushrooms that look like tan bumps before they sprout up the next day.

Step 2: Use the One Small Square technique to sketch what you observe.


Step 3: Mark the location with a stick or "flag" so you can find it the next day.

Step 4: Return to sketch changes for the next few days, until the mushroom collapses.

Mushrooms change very quickly from day to day, which is exciting for kids. Note the weather each time you observe (that day's as well as the weather from previous days). These observation forms have a place to record the weather.

Each day you observe, ask the students some questions:
  • How did your mushroom change? Why do you think this happened?
  • What was the weather like the day before? How might that have affected the mushroom?
  • What type of weather do mushrooms prefer? If you don't know, how can you find out?
  • Where are the mushrooms growing? What is the ground like there? Are there any trees around? 
  • Do you see any insects around the mushroom? What are they doing?
  • Does your mushroom have a smell? (Make sure that children don't handle the mushrooms without wearing gloves, because some poisonous mushrooms resemble harmless ones.)
Classroom Follow-up: 

Study the Anatomy of a Mushroom --
  • Enchanted Learning has a diagram of a gilled mushroom that students can label, to learn the anatomy of one type of mushroom.
  • The Mushroom Lady has a pile of activities that will get your kids really studying mushrooms in-depth.
 Learn About Mushroom Relatives --
  • Here is a handy sheet of terms that you might want to study, so that you correctly distinguish between fungi, actinomycetes, slime molds and other fungus-like organisms.
Study Edible Mushrooms (and Eat Them!) --
  • Create a mushroom study station with stereoscopes and various edible mushrooms from your grocer's produce department: shiitake, oyster, portabella, white button, straw, crimini...
Fairy Rings, Faerie Houses and Other Literacy Connections --
  • Study the folklore surrounding fairy rings and faerie houses.
  • Build a faerie house (or two or 10...) along your school nature trail or in your backyard garden.
Faeries and other woodland creatures -- literacy connection!

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