JMG Project

General Resources
Excellent school garden website – a 24 acre Granny’s Garden school that has lesson plans, planting ideas for kids and much more!
Smithsonian magazine website – good starting place
List of Classic Gardening Literature from JMGKids – nice list, plus award winners
American Society of Plant Biologists – ideas for lesson plans and more
Kids Gardening Organization – ideas and resources
CarbonKids – run by CSIRO for climate change education
Water Cycle activities from the NSDL

October Mtg – Soil Color, Texture and Structure
General Soil Organisms websites:
Fabulous Harvard website – Casual Patterns of Ecosystems – with lessons and questons about decay – I’ve seen a lot of these activities elsewhere, but these are in-depth, thoughtful and very inquiry-led.
Article about “Soil-Watching” written by Francis Hole, a nice summary of soil science and his philosophy. Too long to read to kids, but bits and pieces?
Webpage by the National Science and Technologe Committee on Soil Biological Communities: includes: 1-Biological Crusts  2-Fungi  3-Bacteria  4-Protozoa 5-Nematodes 6-Arthropods
Page on Francis Hole, past soil scientist
Microbe Zoo Dirtland – great page for kids to see pictures and play
Wonderful page with 18 simple films outlining different classes of soil organisms URL
“Dig It” Soil Exhibit from Smithsonian – full of films and interactives for after meetings

November Meeting – Nutrients
Project Meeting Plan:
1. The JMG book has a nice activity where we learn about plant “vitamins”, and the kids needs to draw/color/male plant that is missing on the vital macro or micronutrients.
2. I can try to find a play (it is Sunday night), but if I can keep kids busy enough, maybe we can write a short play together.
3. website has a fabulous list of ideas, activities and resources – once I figure out plant activity in #1, will go through and plan a second activity.
4. Planting fava bean seeds and some milkweed seeds to take home (and plant at home and in our garden).

Some important links:

Nice picture of the food web in soil (nematodes, arthopods, etc.)
K-12 Resources with lessons and more on website
Bureau of Land Management  – resources for kids
NASA Soils page – excellent lesson plans and ideas
Soil Stories PDF
Plant Makeover Details and Additions Page

1. Talk about vitamins, do kids know about any of the macro or micronutirents that we humans need to be healthy? It turns out that plants have many of the same needs (it turns out plants need 16 total, which includes O2, carbon and hydrogen, readily available from air and water).
Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Sulfur (all macro)
Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Molybdenum, Boron and Chlorine (micro)
2. What happens when we humans don’t get enough of our vitamins? Low calcium? Low iron? Low potassium? What do you think happens to plants with defieciencies in these nutrients?
This will be our activity – draw or make before and after plants using the Plant Makeover Cards (groups of 2-3 kids each). (I need to print these out). Each group will pick unique nutirent and try to keep it a secret so the other kids can try to guess which nutrient they did.
3. More questions and discussion points: why do humans not get enough nutrients/vitamins? Why do you think plants might not get enough?
This leads to the issue of these nutrients needing to be available in the dirt, which means the pH needs to be right! See the “Nailing Roots” activity
This should be a segue from the makeover activity – one of the reasons plants don’t get nutrients is because the pH is wrong, too low or too high.
1. Where do we get calcium (very important for making cel walls, normal nerve function and muscle function) from? Milk. Where do the cows get the calcium from? The plants they eat. These micro and macro nutrients are all minerals or elements that exist in the earth
2. Start with an iron nail, and stick the nail into the dirt. Ask “will the plant be able to absorb the iron from this nail?”. What needs to happen to the iron on the nail for the plant to be able to absorb it? It needs to be in soluble form!
3. Whether or not a nutrient is in soluble (what does “soluble” form mean, exactly?) form depends on the pH of the soil. In general, macronutrients are more available in soil with high pH and micronutrients are more available in soil with low pH.
Taking pH – you want about 50 grams of soil mixed with 100 mls DI water – stir every 3 minutes for about 15 minutes and then let settle.Have kids guess what they think the pH will be before testing the pH of the soil slurry.
4. Show them the pH availability chart, and have them think about which pH is the best for getting the most nutrients in soluble form (range of 5.5 – 6.5 is ideal). Talk about acidic and basic, and how slightly acidic soil is best for most plants, but not all. Some acid loving plants would be blueberries, cranberries and raspberries (around 4.0 pH) – can you think why these plants would have evolved this way when less nutrients would have been available?
From the Nailing Roots activity, we have a good sense of how important pH of the soil is in terms of plants being able to find the nutrients they need, but what if the pH of the soil is too high (add sulfur) or too low (add lime)? Also, what is the soil is depleted of certain nutrients? How do these nutrients get returned to the soil after the plant has absorbed them?
1. Do a thought experiment of imagining a field of corn growing somewhere. Think of the corn absorbing all of the nutrients, calcium, potassium, nitrogen and more. The farmer harvests it and sends it off

December Mtg – Water Cycle and Surface Tension
I’m going to switch things up a bit and do some water stuff before erosion and composting, although I will get them started with their Bottle Biology composting experiments for the February meeting (no Jan meeting, thank goodness).
Plan for the meeting (too many activities, but I like to have more than needed to adjust if needed).
1. Start with a discussion of the recent rains. What did kids notice about their yards, sidewalks and streets? Where did the water go? is it all in the soil? How long will the soil stay wet?
What do you know already about water? What are some of the properties of water? (look, flavor, form). What about volume and density? Does anyone know what the density of water is? it is 1g/cm3. Does this change if water is cold, frozen or a gas?
a. Bring out the three beakers, with the same volume of water in each (warm, ice-cold and frozen). Let’s weigh these – do you think they will weigh the same or be different? It doesn’t matter what state they are in, they will all weigh the same. Oh wait, what about water vapor??
2.Surface tension fun
a. Drops of water on waxed paper – what shape are they and why?
b. Drops of water on a penny – how many drops of water can you place on a penny before it overflows?
c. Cup of water, how many pennies can you add to a full cup of water before the water overflows?
d. Demonstrate the inverted water jar from “Look Out Below” from Spills and Ripples (studying Rayleigh Taylor Instabily). Get kids to ask why the water and card don’t drop – what is holding up the index card and water? Show them how to do it with gauze and facial tissue, again asking what they think will happen. Give them some time to play with the experiment themselves – what can we discover? Why in the world are we playing with RTI (Rayleigh Taylor Instability) and surface tension (which prevents RTI) when we are in a gardening project? Think of an astronaut in outer space looking at Earth? What does he see? You can think of humanity basically living between two huge water oceans and one immense air ocean (atmosphere pressing down on us), so surface tension comes up a lot in the formation of air and water currents, which in turn determines a lot of our weather patterns. Temperature is obviously important too, and in fact, with global warming, experts predict we will have more and more Hurricane Sandys in the future.

Glossary terms:
Raylieigh Taylor Instability – the growth of ripples at an interface between 2 fluids when the upper fluid is more dense than the lower fluid, leading to pouring or spilling.
Cohesion – water is attracted to water
Adhesion – water is attracted to other materials
Fantastic page about cohesion and adhesion, and why water is “sticky”:
3. Back to the water cycle – we have been examining and playing around with liquid water, and exploring all of it characteristics, but what about water vapor? Does water vapor have the same density as liquid water? If ou evaporate 100 mls of water, how much space will it take up? (We can’t know – gases spread out).
a. If there is an outlet, and time allows, boil some water, and do the condensation experiment with a pan of ice cubes held over the steam (water droplets will form on the bottom of the pan). Alternatively, can also use very hot water in a glass jar, and place a sealed bag of ice cubes on mouth of jar (can do over a lit candle to heat water). This is from Weather Service page of activities (
b. How does this demonstration relate to real life?
c. Set up the PVC tubes for splash testing, and wind erosion
d. Send home containers for water cycle modeling.
Extra activities if needed:
Make clay models of water molecule so we can talk about polarity.
Resources and Weblinks:
NOAA page about water cycles (and much more) –
Cool paper activity of water cycle diagram from NOAA:
USGS Water Science School page – great starting point for information, activities and more: plus the page with more advanced resources if you need it:

Feb Mtg – Composting and Soil Conservation
General Resources for Planning:
The NRCS (Nat. Resources Conservation Service) has nice, in depth activities and fact sheets for soil science, from K12 to college. This PDF has activities on examining soil microbes, an earthworm study and “How Does it Rot?”:
The general page:
Investigating the effect of rain on Land – from Texas, long activity with modeling of erosion
Teacher’s site from
PDF – build ersosion safe mountain, see below for link
Link to NASA Soil Story about Erosion in Ethopia
Francis Hole’s story/play about Mr. Soil and erosion
Fun game from NOAA about water cycle:
Bottle Biology page:
Soil Erosion activity from AAAS ScienceLinks – good background material
Engineering Erosion Activity from site, socratic questions, uses model of erosion (making it rain on dirt mixture)
Continuation of GEMS River Cutters activity (DE modeling of rivers) – in depth, good hands-on activity – MyScienceBox site
Havard’s RECAST Activity B: Creating a Decomposition Chamber Page

March meeting – Aquifers and Wetlands
What we did
I guess I should have us do more planting, then! When you have two small plots, there just isn’t a lot of space to be planting and harvesting every single week – it would be so delicious to have a larger space, but then I would also have to spend a lot of time in between meetings keeping the garden up. But we can certainly do more seeds and cuttings for take home plants. Anyway, I can bring the cubes for the game to chemistry tomorrow, although I think the labels got thrown away (don’t really need them) and here is the link for the game and instructions:

Soil Microbes – Winogradsky Columns – started at Feb meeting (takes time) | the Diametaceous Earth modeling  – how rivers and more are formed by water
Water sandwich model (JMG book)
Carpeting wetlands activity
Lessons from NOAA about watersheds and more:
Fun game from NOAA about water cycle too:
Page from USGS about watershed and more:
MyScienceBox activities ob watershed:
Third grader explains nature’s role in clean water, plus his science project with his scientist dad

April Meeting – Water Movement
We have two meetings left, April and May, so need to plan out activities. I had originally planned on this month being about the Water Wicking, Percolation Race and the Read Roots (needs to be started sometime in February) activities, but I didn’t start the Read Roots one in time. From the AIMS’ Water Book, I have these:
1. Soil Soakers, page 118. Key Question – How does the type of soil and its location affect the rate and depth of water penetration?

May Meeting – Water Conservation
Go over process for how our water is cleaned
Estimating water usage at home (give them assignment in April)
AIMS activity “Are you Aware” from Water, Precious, Water

—Water Island activity (page 186) from AIMS Water book might be nice “game” to open up meeting.

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