Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wormy Triumph

Today may have been one of my best so far as an environmental educator. On Thursdays I work with a group of middle school students--mostly seventh graders--at a school in Bellevue. There are usually about 15 of them, which is considerably larger than most groups I deal with, and they also have a lot more energy. Though they're my most challenging group because of this energy, they are also the most fun, and I'm constantly striving to come up with solid lessons and activities for our Thursday club time.

The advisor had mentioned that last year the YESC instructor brought in a worm bin and it was a big hit, so I started building my lesson.  I put together a Powerpoint with facts about worms (they have no eyes, they're hermaphrodites, they breathe through their skin...) and about vermicomposting. I also brought along my small worm bin, and a great dirt pie snack. To top the dirt pie, I made my own jello worms, the recipe taken from Macheesmo.

1 6 ounce package of red jello
4 envelopes of gelatin
4 cups boiling water
1 cup heavy cream
green and/or brown food coloring as needed
100 flexible plastic straws, and a container that will hold them all upright.
crushed Oreo cookies

You start by mixing the jello and gelatin together (don't add the water just yet!). When the gelatins are mixed, add 4 cups boiling water and stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Put this mixture into the fridge for 20-25 minutes to cool. During this cooling period, stretch the bendy part of all the straws, and bundle straws together. Find a container that will hold the straws upright while the jello hardens. After cooling period, add 1 cup heavy cream to the jello and stir well to combine. This product will be pretty red in color, and not very wormy. Add food coloring as needed--I found brown to work pretty well.

With the straws standing upright in your container of choice, and flexible ends down to ensure they get jello-ed and create worms with a bit of texture, pour jello-cream mixture to fill the container and straws! Then stick this whole jolly contraption into the fridge, and let the jello set for 6-8 hours. Then comes the fun part! First, find a way to free the bundle of straws from the container the jello has set in.

Now it's time to squeeze the jello from the straws. At first I thought I was too cool to use warm water to loosen the jello--and I had a lot of difficulty. It really works best to run 4-5 straws at a time under warm water to loosen the worms, then, starting at the empty end of the straw, gently squeeze the worm from the straw. Once you figure out the technique it goes pretty quickly. Squeeze the worms onto a plate and put them in the fridge for the warmed jello to re-solidify. You can add a little bit of dirt made from crushed oreos to give a more natural look to the worms.

Today's lesson about worms started with decomposer tag, then I did a short lesson in the classroom. At the very end I took one of my worms out of a bag, looked at everyone, and said "Have you ever seen How To Eat Fried Worms?" and put the worm in my mouth. I made a grossed-out face, then had to turn around so they wouldn't see how hard I was laughing. They definitely thought I'd eaten a real worm, and couldn't believe it! To wrap up the lesson each student got his or her own cup of dirt pie, topped with a couple of my worms. Overall, I'd say they were pretty impressed--many of the boys were planning on taking theirs home to gross out mom and dad.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Lauren. I'm cracking up laughing. I needed that. Hope to see you soon. Rhonda