Monday, May 20, 2019

The Air We Breathe a class for 8-10 year olds

I wrote this for the Castlecomer Discovery Park and Footprints in Coal Museum, for the trip by the Pushkin Trust who are focusing on cross-border relations and particularly (this year) on the air we all breathe. If you run it by your children, you will be equally amazed I'm sure by how much the children this young know!

For the museum, craft village and to cover all this and the ecology and maths in nature trails in the fun of the woods, you'd have to go to Castlecomer yourselves! 

All children will need is some half sheets of A4 again and pencils to draw.
Activities: We can go and find and I will get them to draw, 3 different leaves and a pine twig for comparison. A  little venn diagram of  the three components oxygen O2, carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen (N2).  Then we will discuss and look for bugs, divided into beneficial insects and pests. We will draw them. Connecting some parts to the museum - Ie how before the first plants (tall ferns), 400 million years ago, there was no oxygen and the planet was mainly desert. We will also draw a fern to compare to the fossils and consider what harmful things there can be in the air.

Why is it difficult to see what’s in air?
It’s invisible
Does anyone know?
Oxygen (21%) what else?
Carbon Dioxide 
Nitrogen (not important for our breathing but very important for plants, so indirectly important for us)

Does anyone know why trees are important to air?
Trees produce oxygen.
They are very clever as they use carbon dioxide in the air and mix it with water, making their own food, like a sugar and releasing oxygen.

As we will see in the museum, before trees there was no oxygen. The land was just a desert with no animals or people.

Which part of the tree is important?
The leaves

There are broad-leafed trees and they are good for producing oxygen.

How else do they, help the air in summer?
Yes by offering shade and cooling the air.

If I told you the other sorts of trees are conifers, can anyone think of another word for those? 
They have needles rather than leaves and we have one inside at Christmas!
Yes, pines or fir trees.
As they are not good for creating oxygen 

What else are they good for? Fuel

Yes they are used for posts, building and making fuel to burn.
Do you think they grow faster or slower than broadleaf trees?
Yes faster, so does that make them a renewable energy?
Can we get more wood to burn to keep our houses warm?
How long does it take a pine tree to grow to full size?
Coilte, the forestry cut them down at about 25 years

Fairy door in a fairy tree, never burn wood from a Hawthorn  or you will upset the fairies

What else do we burn?

Oil, coal and peat/turf.
In the museum we will find out that coal is 320 million years old. And it took 30 metres of peat to press down into just one metre of coal. So can we make more peat or coal in 25 years too? No! 

That is what renewable means; we can get more of it!

If you were given the choice to work in the woods, cutting down trees or in a coal mine digging out coal, which do you think would have the best air?

What do we need air for?
Yes breathing!

Can you think of anywhere else there is air?
Is there air in water?
Does anyone know how fish breathe?
They take water into their mouths and push it out through their gills, which have lots of blood vessels in them that grab the oxygen on its way past and send it around the fish’s body.

Is there air in soil?
Yes plants need water, air and warmth to grow.
Do they need light?

No, you’re right, not to start with as we plant seeds in the soil, in darkness but when they have leaves and start producing their own food and oxygen for us all - Then they need light! 
The process (of producing oxygen from sunlight and water on the green leaves) is called photosynthesis! The way to remember it is like when you take a photo, the flash of light goes off!

What else do trees produce? (Moving from air to insects section)

Flowers and fruit.

But they don’t automatically produce fruit. Like with people and animals there are male and female plants… did you know that?  Pollen has to be transferred from the male anther in the male flower to the stigma of a female flower. 
So can trees move around and introduce themselves?
They need someone’s help.

Has anyone heard of pollinators who can fly and flit from flower to flower? 

Who are the great pollinators?
Yes, bees. But also lots of other insects and birds. Even the wind can blow the pollen around but the wind is not so accurate!

What’s another word for insects? Bugs!
We are going to have a look for one or two and draw them.

‘Bugs’ is a good word but does anyone here totally love bugs?
Most people say no so I like to call some bugs ‘beneficial insects’ and some ‘pests’. So we know who to look after and who to take out of our gardens before they eat everything!

What’s another word for beneficial? Good!

So some insects pollinate and that’s good.
What else do some insects do which is important/good?
Yes, they eat the pests!
Insects you are pleased to see include:
Bees, ladybirds, spiders, green lacewings (which are a rather elegant green flies with long see-through wings about 1.5cm.) and worms. Let me know if you can find any of these.

Worms are particularly good at aerating the soil (burrowing around and breaking down rotted leaves etc to make a breathing, living soil environment for plants to grow.

Harmful insects or pests! Include slugs, snails, fruit flies, ants and larvae. 
Does anyone know what a larvae is? 
They are like rolly polly maggots, who live just under the soil and nibble seedling roots. Uuugh!

But, what will they grow up to become? Yes, beautiful moths and butterflies.

So don’t feel bad if your house and garden has a few spiders, they will keep the pests away.

But we must remember that it is us people who decide whether a bug is good or bad. Do you think the little slug means any harm? No. And altogether they make up a perfectly balanced eco system keeping enough good air and food for everyone. 

So don’t kill pests, just remove them from the vegetable patch if you find one! 

Do you think chemical pesticides/bug killers can tell a beneficial insect from a pest? No, they kill both!

It is the same with plants. Does anyone know what a weed is? Definition:
‘A wild plant (no matter how beautiful) growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants’ – cultivated means like a field of potatoes and lots of poppies growing up in the middle!

Is there anything in the air that we don’t really want and can harm us? 
Yes, there’s pollution, car fumes but also there can be bacteria, spores and dust.

I just put this photo in as, like Monsanto, this advert is trying to make something toxic look heroic!

We know bacteria as we can catch a cold if someone is sneezing a lot nearby. But does anyone know about spores?

The plant with a lot of dangerous spore we have a lot of  here is the fern! So never cut down ferns in autumn when they are letting their spores fly around to reproduce. They can be very bad for our lungs. Ferns however, were one of the very first plants to grow on earth. Wait until you see the fossils of the first trees that grew. They look exactly like this but 20 metres taller! Let’s draw a fern now so we can compare it when we go in. 

These are actually blue bells but I'm sure there's some ferns in there somewhere

And what about dust? Do you all dust your rooms? Have you ever seen a layer of dust on a table or flying around when you shake a blanket? Let’s see if we can find a sunbeam and see if any little bits are hanging in the air.

This is not too dangerous but think about the dust when coal miners were in a small space, chipping out coal from the tunnels far underground. Let’s go and see what it was like.

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