Thursday, June 5, 2014

Learning is Fun

     Summer semester has started, and I've hit the ground running.  This semester I'm doing Adult Health I, or Medical-Surgical Nursing, and Pathophysiology, or Fluid and Electrolytes, which are two rather hefty subjects, so I'm going to be pretty busy for the next couple of months.  Since I knew what I was getting into, I decided to start a few long-term activities with Monkey.  I already showed off the Human Body that will be something we can add to as we go.  Another thing we started was an ecosystem.  I found the idea for this project here, and I loved it!

Here's what you'll need:
3 empty and clear 2-liter bottles

clear packing tape

aquarium gravel (or fine, rinsed pea gravel)

de-chlorinator (optional)

rubber band

4-inch square piece of netting


mustard, rye or alfalfa seeds

fish, snails or other aquatic life

elodea or other aquarium plants

duck weed

crickets, pill bugs or earthworms

a couple dead leaves or small sticks

Step 1:
  Cut the top off of the first clear bottle (make sure the labels are removed, you'll need the bottles clear so the sunlight can get through).

Don't cut it too short, just chop off the spout so you have enough of a bowl left over to fill with lots of water. This will be your "bottom floor."

Step 2:  
Cut the top and the bottom off of the second clear bottle, making a clear coupler that will eventually link the two other sections together.

Step 3:  
Cut the bottom off of the third clear bottle but save it, you'll reattach the bottom with tape after you fill it with good stuff and it will be your "top floor."

Step 4:  
In the bottom floor (the one you cut up in Step 1) put an inch of aquarium gravel and fill it nearly full with water. Make sure it's treated with de-chlorinator to take out the chlorine or, if you don't have any on hand, you can set out the water in a shallow pan for 24 hours and the chlorine will evaporate.

Step 5:
  Choose your guests!  We used two little guppies, male and female. We also chose a couple of different plants from Petsmart's fish section.  The guppies live quite happily by eating the plants and algae that accumulates in the bottle, keeping the system in balance.  The plants help keep oxygen in the water and filter the water.

Step 6:  
Now fill your top floor. Place the piece of netting over the neck of the bottle and secure it with the rubber band. With the bottle upside-down and the bottom off fill with about an inch of gravel then with a couple inches of soil and plant your choice of seeds (alfalfa, rye or mustard work well and are easily found in health food stores).

Step 7:
  Choose your top floor guests. You can use pill bugs or an earthworm or crickets.  We chose two earthworms and three crickets. Let them loose among the grass seeds and throw in a few dead leaves and a stick or two for decomposition.

Step 8:
  Replace the bottom to your top floor bottle and secure it with packing tape. You might want to have the top edge fit slightly down inside of the bottom edge (and that's when the bottle is upside down and the soil is in the spout) because as moisture collects in the top part it will trickle down the walls and if the seal isn't tight you'll get water on your counter. Fix this problem by putting the edges down inside of the edge they're to join up with.

Step 9:
  Slip the taped up bottle down into the coupler, secure it with packing tape and then slip the bottom edge of the coupler down into the top edge of the water-filled bottom floor. Secure it with packing tape.

Step 10:  
Place in a well-lit spot where sunlight can get through the clear plastic to do its work. Sunlight will allow photosynthesis which will keep the cycle in motion. Keep an eye on your guests, we lost our original pair of fish, and had to replace them.  Thankfully Petsmart has a exchange policy if the fish die within a certain amount of time.  We lost a cricket, but the other two seem to be doing great.  The whole thing is really quite cool to watch.

      This is our ecosystem after about a week and a half.  There's grass growing up top, and more algae is growing in the bottom.  You can even see condensation at the top of the bottle.  I used that to help Monkey understand how rain works.  That and another Magic School Bus episode, Wet All Over really brought it all home for her.  

     I've been doing a lot of hands-on, scientific-type projects with her mainly because I want her to grow up thinking of learning as something fun and enjoyable.  I don't want her to drag her feet about school or learning.  I want her to be excited about new ideas and new concepts.  I think that's the biggest problem kids have in school, but if they're excited about what they're learning, they may actually want to learn more.  

   Well that's my soap box for the evening.  Now how about I get off of it, and leave y'all with a recipe?  This one comes from The Wholesome Dish, but I made a few adjustments.

Very Berry Chicken Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
serves 4

1 TBS cooking oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp Tony's (or your version of a season-all)
4 cups baby spinach
1 1/2 cup strawberries, diced
1 1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (I use Chobani)
1 TBS poppy seeds
2 TBS white vinegar
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
3 TBS honey
1/2 tsp salt

Heat cooking oil in a skillet.  Season chicken breasts with Tony's, and add to skillet.  Cook about 4 minutes per side, or until cooked through.  Remove from skillet, and let rest 5 minutes.  Cut into chunks.

While chicken is cooking, assemble salad in a large bowl by adding spinach, strawberries, blueberries, and walnuts.

Also, prepare salad dressing my mixing together Greek yogurt, poppy seeds, white vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, honey, and salt in a small bowl.  Top salad with chicken chunks.  Serve with dressing.

   This is seriously the best salad I've ever had!  The dressing was the perfect balance of sweet and tangy.  I loved it!