Monday, March 30, 2020

Fantastic Fungi

Here, at CIEC we have decided to temporarily change the focus of our blog, from supporting teachers to teach the primary science curriculum, to supporting parents with some educational, and also enjoyable, activities to do with their children.  To kick off we are celebrating a new online publication that we launched in January.

You can also find this activity in this year’s British Science Week activity pack (Primary Activity Pack, p.23).  The activity encourages children to grow mushrooms as a sustainable source of protein.  With the correct kit, which is readily available online this is an easy activity to do at home (although, you need to remember, when accepting a delivery, that covid-19 microbes might be present on any outer packaging and remove this as soon as possible).  The activity was taken from our online resource Sustainable stories which is available to download from our website.

It was written in conjunction with a British food company, Quorn, who produce a high protein meat substitute, of the same name, from a type of fungus.   The activity aims to help children to understand that food can come from a variety of sources including animals, plants and fungi.  Also, to think about the impact that different food sources have upon the planet in terms of the resources (such as land and water) that they use.

The activity has lots of great learning opportunities. Don’t try to create a school learning environment at home as you and your child adjust to the ‘new normal’. Informal activities can lead to just as much learning in the long run.

Follow the instructions included in the kit. Mushrooms grow quickly, so this makes a great project for children to practise the skill of ‘observation over time’.  Talk with your child about the changes that they notice from day to day, perhaps including measurements as well as other aspects of the growing mushrooms’ appearance.    If children want to, this could be an opportunity to make a graph or to keep a diary (which could include drawings).  However, if you spend time encouraging children to talk about what they see, plenty of learning will take place even if nothing is recorded.  Children might also choose other ways to record what they see by taking photographs or by using an app such as PicCollage or maybe by making a time lapse or other video recording.
 An adult encourages a child to notice the changes in a growing plant

Another learning opportunity provided by growing mushrooms would be to think about the food that humans need to stay healthy.  Mushrooms are a great source of nutrients and can be cheaply and locally grown.  As long as you follow strict hygiene procedures these mushrooms will be suitable for cooking and eating which would be another worthwhile activity to share with your child.  However, do make sure that they understand that many fungi are extremely poisonous; not only would it be dangerous to eat them it is important to wash hands after handling them

Did you know…?
Fungus is not a plant or an animal but belongs to a completely different family of organisms. This family includes tiny fungi like yeast (which are used to make bread and beer), poisonous fungi (such as the red and white spotty fly agaric) and tasty treats such as oyster and chestnut mushrooms.  

Did you find this blog helpful?  Please leave a comment if you have any questions or if you have any suggestions for what you would like covered in future blog posts.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Sustainable materials: which metal?

Full details of the activity can be found in the new CIEC publication 'Sustainable Stories and Solutions for our Planet' which can be downloaded from

Sustainable materials – which metal?

In this activity you will investigate how some metals rust when exposed to oxygen in the air and water. You will learn about some metals that do not change, corrode or rust easily and so have special uses, particularly in reducing gas emissions on highly polluted roads.

It would be a wonderful way to teach the ‘Properties and changes of materials’ strand of the science curriculum for Year 5, with a particular focus on how some changes result in the formation of new materials that is not usually reversible.

The Activity: 
·         Carry out a ‘rust hunt’ to observe how some metals change colour and become weaker (corrode) when they react to substances in the environment.
 ·         Investigate which metals rust by placing everyday metal objects in saucers of shallow water. Over several days, observe which objects start to show signs of rust and which do not. Steel wool pads can be used to test for signs of rusting.
·         Begin to form conclusions about which metals rust and what causes this to happen. You could use a magnet to identify metal items that contain iron or steel.

·         Think of your own ‘rusting’ enquiry questions, such as: can iron or steel rust when there is no water? Does salt speed up rusting? Can I prevent rusting? Plan and carry out your investigation; you can ask for extra ‘kit’ if you need it.

Results from rusting activity using a steel wool pad left for two days in different liquids.

·         Research how some metals, such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium, are unique because they do not react easily, change or corrode. These ‘precious metals’ are often used to make jewellery as well as catalysts which are fitted to car exhaust systems to turn harmful gases produced in the engine into safe gases. 

Links to the National Curriculum
Y5 Properties and changes of materials:

  • explain that some changes result in the formation of new materials, and that this kind of change is not usually reversible, including changes associated with burning and the action of acid on bicarbonate of soda.

Working scientifically:
  • planning different types of scientific enquiries to answer questions, including recognising and controlling variables where necessary
  • recording data and results of increasing complexity using scientific diagrams and labels, classification keys, tables, scatter graphs, bar and line graphs 
  • reporting and presenting findings from enquiries, including conclusions, causal relationships and explanations of and degree of trust in results, in oral and written forms such as displays and other presentations