A mushroom walks into a coffee shop. “I’m sorry,” says the barista, “We don’t serve mushrooms here.”
“Why not?” asks the mushroom. “I’m a fun guy!”
Seriously, fungi make an interesting study. The photograph above shows some of the fungus among us here in Northwest Arkansas. A nature walk in your community will probably turn up some good specimens for you, too.
Here are links to some lessons on fungi:
- Breadbag Nightmares is a simple experiment suitable for all grade levels of beginning fungus studiers. The goal is to determine what conditions are best for growing fungi. We’d do this before the nature walk, and use our conclusions to choose a likely route.
- Biodiversity search is not particularly about fungi, but gives a great way to make your nature walk more scientific. If your students are old enough to organize their study without taking all the fun out of it, this gives you the method.
- Fungus and Witches is a PBS lesson examining the theory that the Salem Witch Trials were precipitated by an outbreak of ergot, a toxic fungus that grows on grains. It is designed as an introduction to fungi for older students, and includes some very interesting links.
- Science Friday has some printable mushroom trading cards with lots of info.
- Spore Prints use mushroom prints to explore fungus. We can see this becoming a cool art project, too.
- Bread Science is a lesson from the Exploratorium which includes a cool yeast activity. After the nature walk, when you move on to other types of fungus, this could be a great classroom experience.
- Fungus Jeopardy is a worksheet of fungus identification questions. This could be a good assessment tool for the end of a unit on fungus, or a great way to organize research practice.
And here are some sites with background information:
- A PDF packet explains a lot of basic information and has some fun hands-on activities, too.
- Here is a really thorough and not at all simple explication of the fungus kingdom for teacher background or older students. There are great international links to further background information here. Make yourself a cup of coffee before you start.
Mushrooms, soy sauce, bread, antibiotics — the class may be surprised at all the things that come from kingdom fungi to their homes. If you do your nature walk in a place where you can collect specimens, cut off some mature mushroom caps and lay them on paper with their gills (the bits like spokes on the underside of the cap) touching the paper. The next day, you’ll find that some have made nice spore prints on the paper.
Before heading out on a fungus-hunting walk or encouraging kids to use mushrooms for art projects, it is important to talk about the fact that many fungi are poisonous. After admiring fungi and learning about their usefulness, it could be interesting to talk about and write about the students’ feelings toward fungi. They may range from disgust to admiration, giving you a handy opportunity to do a little graphing.