Thursday, February 23, 2006

Wriggling Worms

Our worm bottle project at Ida B. Wells is going really well. Last week the students made worm bottles—they turned plastic water bottles into cozy worm houses. First they had to cut off the tops and poke holes in the bottles to provide air for the worms. Then they filled the bottle with layers of shredded newspapers and chunks of vegetable scraps. They sprayed the newspaper with water to provide a moist environment for the worms. While doing this, we got to talk about how much moisture the worms need and why—they breathe through their skin, which has to be wet in order for them to breathe. We also talked about the newspaper bedding, which makes a comfortable environment for them but is also a food source. Worms eat paper?? Yes! Paper is made of plant matter (wood pulp) and ours is printed with soy ink! So it’s healthy for worms to eat. After building the layers, we opened the can of worms (ha ha) and the students put on some rubber gloves.

Then the fun really began. I was so amazed at how interested the students were in touching and examining the worms! There was only ONE single comment of gross-ness! They dug right in, poking around and looking for the big ones and little ones. We looked at a big red worm with a visible clitellum, the ring that the worm slips off to fill with eggs, making a cocoon. Several students exclaimed, “I want to see the pregnant worm!” Many discussions of worm sexuality followed—worms are hermaphrodites but they do need a partner to reproduce! We could even see lots of baby worms crawling around. The students were really mesmerized.

The best was today, when we opened up the bottles to take notes on how they have changed since last week. The students sprayed them with more water at least once in the meantime, and stored them in a dark and warm part of the classroom away from windows. Today was so great! Everyone opened up their bottles, and many emptied them onto newspaper to really see the contents. The worms looked even fatter and redder, and there were lots of little babies. The contents of the bottle were all mixed up now, no longer neat layers of paper and vegetables, but a mass of worm castings that look like black soil, pieces of paper and vegetables, and plenty of mold as well. The students looked at everything, wrote down what they saw, and then cleaned up their little worm homes. They took out some of the moldy bits, re-wetted the paper, and added new fresh food scraps. They packed their bottles back up, wrapped in dark-colored construction paper, and tucked them back into their cozy corner.

Today especially, checking on the worms a week later, the students were really observing what conditions make the worms happiest. They decided that fat, moist, red, and reproducing worms meant they were happy. They noticed the moisture levels, the amount of food, and the darkness in “happier” bottles and tried to make their own bottles healthier worm environments. We even looked at some “pregnant” and baby worms under the microscope. So slimy and cool!

I got this activity from Nutrition to Grow On, a garden-based curriculum created by Jennifer Morris & Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, which you can order from the California Dept of Education. Also see links “For your Own School Garden” in the sidebar of this blog.