Be a squirrel–grab an acorn!

Acorns Are Not Only for Squirrels 

by Lauren Ockene

As part of our study of seeds, we gathered acorns! When students started to crack them, they discovered that larvae enjoy acorns and many were not edible. Of those that were, we kept them in the refrigerator for a week, only to discover that now many more had larvae; we inferred that they were there all along and ate more while living in the refrigerator. Next time we’d have to use the freezer to store them!

Students learned to see larvae holes in acorns, and Haniyah told us a great trick for discovering other rotting acorns – put them in water, and the rotting ones float.

The next steps were cracking them open and then breaking them into smaller pieces with a mortar and pestle. We then ground them in a wonderful old-fashioned grinder, until they looked like a coarse flour. The last step is to soak the meal in water and to rinse it many, many times to take away the bitter tannic acid. This is called leaching and Lauren did most of it at home in between JP Green School sessions.

Finally, we made acorn/oat porridge with maple syrup in the JP Green School kitchen. All of the students who tried it liked it!

 

Winnowing, Threshing, and Tasting Amaranth

Lauren had grown lots of amaranth, an ancient Incan grain, at home. We did not have quite a big enough amount to thresh in the traditional way so we scrunched it up in our hands, over bowls, to separate the seeds from their big red seed heads. Then each student brought a bowl of seeds outside and we winnowed them with a gentle breath, separating the fluffy chaff from the slightly heavier seeds. It was magical! Students tasted the seeds and some enjoyed eating them raw.

 

Bulbs, Tubers and Seeds

Our big theme this fall was seeds. We asked questions about  how they are dispersed, and simulated the ways in which they get around, like being blown by wind or carried along by animals on fur, or eaten and “pooped out” by birds. We learned about squirrels hiding acorns away, and then we gathered many ourselves. We processed them and made delicious porridge out of them. We also looked at some other ways plants reproduce when we dissected and planted bulbs like garlic and tulips, and harvested and ate the rhizomes of Jerusalem artichokes. One seed investigation highlight was when we separated tiny amaranth seeds from their big beautiful seed heads and then winnowed them to remove the chaff.

Fall at JP Green School Exploring and Learning, with a Focus on Seeds

By Lauren Ockene, Lead Teacher

This fall at JP Green School,  seeds took a front row seat, and related topics were woven into our learning in every session. We asked questions about how they are dispersed, and simulated the ways in which they get around, like being blown by wind or carried along by animals on their fur, or eaten and “pooped out” by birds. We thought about form and function, and used science notebooks as tools to help explore and reason about the relationship between the two.

We learned about squirrels hiding acorns away, and then gathered many of these oak tree seeds ourselves. We went through a long, fun process to make them into flour, and finally created a delicious porridge out of them.

We learned about dormancy in winter, including seeds and other parts of plants as well as animals. We studied the buds on trees, as well as ways other than seeds that plants reproduce. While working with this topic, students dissected garlic and tulip bulbs, and then planted some that were whole.

One seed investigation highlight was when we separated tiny amaranth seeds from their big, beautiful seed heads, and then winnowed them to remove the chaff. It was a poetic moment when all of the children were standing and silently, gently, intently blowing just enough and at just the right angle into their bowls of seeds to make the light, red chaff blow off of the slightly, barely heavier seeds. Their pride was tangible when the red chaff was (nearly!) all gone and there were just pure light brown seeds left. Lovely.

Another bonus is that both the amaranth seeds and chaff are AWESOME when seen through the microscope!

We built hoop houses to see if we could get lettuce, spinach and kale plants, with leaves,  to stay alive in our cold winter by giving it an environment in which it could live in dormancy, just like seeds do. It looks like we were a little too late with the transplanting, so many already look too weak to survive winter. However, the process was full of enjoyment and learning, and it will be exciting if we have even a few lettuce and kale plants that make it alive through the winter in our hoop houses.

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Behind all this deliberate work lies our philosophy of inspiring curiosity and scientific inquiry through activity–both playful and focused. We know we’ve done our job when the children take their free time to take apart a sunflower and bake its seeds. Or when they methodically glue flowers and seeds onto paper into a collage. Or when they create a “fairy meal” out of the tiniest garden vegetables. They’ve made work into play, and that’s  the relationship to learning that we seek to inspire.

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