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Ants and jellybeans: Appreciating small things

In Science Magic this week we looked for magic in little things.  Ants were the starting point for our lesson that mixed scientific investigation, biodiversity, teamwork, communication, appreciation, sleuthing, and jellybeans! There were new students in class, so we started the class with animal-based introductions. Each student told the others about their favorite large and small animals.


We then heading outdoors and placed traps for ants.  We tested a variety of foods – peanut butter, sugar water, maple syrup, lemon juice, salt, jams, and honey – to see which one would attract more ants.  Some students made predictions about which would work best – with past experiences suggesting that sugar water would work best.  We smeared the foods on waterproof paper and paper towels.  It was sticky and messy – but the kids were excited! We then placed the traps in a variety of grassy, forested, and paved areas around the school.


An ant trap with jam and honey

An ant trap with jam and honey

While we were waiting for ants to arrive, we headed inside for a teamwork and communication activity.  Each student received several pieces of paper with half an ant on the page.  Students had to talk with others in the class to match the ant halves.  Then they had to work as a group to figure out a secret message that was on the back of the ants.  They eventually figured it out: “Appreciate the small things in life! They make our world a better place!”
We sat down to discuss the role of biodiversity, learning that ants are important to environments because they are essential to food webs, help degrade organic matter, and loosen soil.  We discussed links between our favorite large animals and small animals. For instance, one student’s favorite animal was a gorilla.  We linked it to ants in just two steps through the banana plant, which requires loose, well aerated, uncompacted soil. Ants keep the soil loose, and (some) gorillas eat bananas – showing that large and small animals and biodiversity of all types are interconnected.


Teamwork to figure out the mystery message

Teamwork to figure out the mystery

The ants have a message

The ants have a message


We then had fun with jellybeans and olfaction! We learned that ants are heavily dependent on their sense of smell.  Student then experienced how important the sense of smell is to humans – by eating jellybeans with their noses plugged.  They tried to determine the flavor of the jellybeans without their sense of smell – and couldn’t!  They then unplugged their noses and were surprised by the huge difference in taste. We learned that humans rely on their sense of smell for up to 80% of their taste sensations.  (This activity is courtesy of the AAAS and was demonstrated during the 2014 USA Science and Technology Festival. Ms. Anu volunteers for the AAAS.)


It was then time to head outside to check on the ant traps.  Of the 16 traps that were out, only 2 had attracted any ants – one on pavement and one on grass.  The ants liked the honey and sugar water.  (Ms. Anu was particularly interested in the lack of interest in peanut butter.  In the tropics in Palau where Ms. Anu has done this activity before, peanut butter is a big draw for ants!)  It looked like there was only one species of ant on both traps.


The winning ant trap

The winning ant trap


To conclude the social and emotional learning aspect of the class, each student then thought about small things in their lives that they appreciate.  From ice cream to atoms to bees, our students certainly appreciate diverse things in their life!  Here is one student explaining why she appreciates bees: Zosia-bees


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