Our study of the desert biome has taken numerous avenues. The students studied the difference between two plants native to the desert, cacti and succulents, and contrasted the differences in their structure. In an effort to bring the garden into our classroom, as well as to study the requirements for plant growth, the students created terrariums using tiny desert plants.
A terrarium is like a tiny, self-contained ecosystem. Plants with similar environmental requirements are placed inside of a translucent container. Because the students were attempting to recreate the desert biome, they researched and found that their terrarium would require warm temperature, low humidity, dry soil and a maximum amount of sunlight. After researching the materials necessary, the students collected them.
Making a terrarium is fairly simple, it just requires that the materials are arranged in the right combination. As a class, we carefully planted each layer in glass pots. First, we laid down a drainage layer, or small stones to act as a buffer between the plant roots and the glass encasing. Then, we laid down a thin layer of charcoal (to keep the soil fresh). Soil was added, and of course we used cacti/succulent soil. Finally, plants were added.
Apart from the botany aspect, another way in which the students explored the desert biome was through a study of its animals. They learned through research about the many different types of animals that live in the desert despite its harsh climate, such as tarantulas, coyotes, and gila monsters. Using salt clay, each student created a representation of one animal.
Incorporating our desert study into our weekly cooking practice, we made a delicious mango, avocado and nopales salsa. Nopales means cactus in Spanish; it’s the fleshy pad of the prickly pear. It’s a common ingredient in traditional Mexican cuisine. The students enjoyed the guacamole-like salsa with whole grain tortilla chips, and prickly pear soda.
This experience allowed the students to research and apply acquired knowledge by creating terrariums as they integrated language and cooking skills into their desert biome exploration. In doing so the children were able to analyze the new information in a deeper way because this process was not just about gaining information but how to locate, evaluate and apply that information in unique ways!