Fungi—mostly invisible to us yet found almost everywhere we go! It makes for a really interesting topic for students to explore in the classroom. How do fungi grow? Where can we find fungi? What shapes, colors, and sizes are fungi? And what other fascinating fungi facts can we discover? These books from our STEM Tuesday list inspired the following classroom ideas.
Funky Fungi: 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More by Alisha Gabriel and Sue Heavenrich
The engaging narrative, which masterfully incorporates the science of mycology, is brimming with cool facts (like making shoes from fungi) and tons of fun STEAM activities and experiments – beginning with the creation of a “FUNgus” journal. It’s intriguing sidebars, stunning photographs, illustrations, and graphs, and scientist highlights make this a fun read with something for everyone kid and adult alike.
Fungarium: Welcome to the Museum by Ester Gaya, illustrated by Katie Scott
A stunning, oversized book organized like a museum guide with “galleries” on fungal biology (reproduction and spores), diversity, interactions (Mycorrhizas and termites), and their relationship with humans (pathogens, edible, and pharmaceutical). In addition to engaging facts, vividly detailed images, there are three gorgeous ecosystem illustrations featuring the connection and interactions of fungous within mountains, temperate forests, and tropical forests.
Mushroom Rain by Laura K. Zimmerman
From what they smell like to who eats them, this is a fun introduction to the diverse and sometimes bizarre world of mushrooms. Older readers will enjoy the information at the back, including how mushrooms can cause rain.
The Book of Fungi: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from around the World by Roberts, Peter and Shelley Evans
Perfect for browsing, this book is as advertised: filled with life-sized photos of mushrooms, plus descriptions and range maps. Written for adults, but a treasure for kids who love to peruse field guides – if you can find it at your library.
Go on a mushroom hunt!
Explore outside with students to see which mushrooms they can find. Carry The Book of Fungi: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from around the World with you or download a fungi identifying app to your phone or tablet. Or students could bring digital cameras or draw images of the mushrooms they find. Visit a nature area and remind students not to touch mushrooms, as some may be poisonous. Look near rotting trees, on the sides of living trees, or where there are rotting leaves and plants. Have students document what they see and then identify the kind of mushroom they found. If they want, they could make the FUNgus journal described in Funky Fungi. See how many the class can find!
Spore slide investigation
What do spores look like? Students can study them under a microscope in this investigative activity. First prepare some microscope slides for students. Use a variety of fresh mushrooms, cut off the stems, and place the mushrooms gill-side down on top of the slide plates overnight. Make sure to label each slide. The next day, remove the caps and you’ll see that spores have dropped onto the slides. Cover each with slide with a glass coverslip. Next set up some microscopes with the slides and set them at the lowest magnification level. Ask students to view the spores and record what they see for each type of mushroom. Ask them to increase magnification and see how it changes their view. Students can then compare the different kinds of spores. Do they look the same? What are their differences?
You can find mycelium just about everywhere in gardens and forests. All you need to do is dig! Provide students with gardening gloves and garden trowels. Make sure they have notebooks or digital cameras to take photos. Now ask them to dig in shady spots to see what they can find. Tell them to look for cobweb-like white material in the soil. Once they. find some, tell them to document what they see. What does the mycelia look like? What else is in the soil? Have students record the location and depth of their hole too. Then students can share their findings with the class.
Mushrooms can make some beautiful art! Here’s what students need to create some spore art in the classroom:
- fresh mushrooms from the store, with gills covered as much as possible
- cutting board and sharp knife
- thick white card stock
- cardboard box
- markers or colored pencils
- Have students cut the bottom part of their mushroom to expose the gills.
- Then place the mushroom cut-side down on the white card stock. Add a few drops of water to the top of the mushroom.
- Cover the mushroom and card with an upside-down cardboard box and let it sit overnight.
- Remove the box and the mushroom the next day. You should see a pattern of spores that look like the gills and shape of the mushroom. Be careful to not disturb the spores!
- Spray some hairspray on top to secure the spores. Students can draw around the spore design. They can label their art too with the type of mushroom they used. Beautiful!
Hope you enjoy trying these activities out. Here are a few other sites to explore to find more fungi activities or videos for students:
- North American Mycological Association, THE FUNGUS FILES: An Educator’s Guide to Fungi K-6, Second Edition
- Kids Discover, Exploring Fungi
- Cascade Mycological Society, Fungi Education Activities
- PBS Learning Media, Life Sciences, Fungi
This month’s STEM Tuesday classroom activity list was prepared by:
Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can. Visit her at latchanakenney.wordpress.com.