Harrington Elementary 5th and 6th-graders Search for Signs of Decomposition

By Hazel Stark
Co-Founder/Co-CEO

The 5th and 6th-graders probably did not expect to learn about the FBI when they heard that Maine Outdoor School was coming to lead to programs in May 2017, but that’s exactly what they did--they learned all about Fungi, Bacteria, and Invertebrates! This article is the last in a four-part series on these recent programs at Harrington Elementary, so visit our News page for more.

 Students discovered a prime example of a (non-edible) False Morel

Students discovered a prime example of a (non-edible) False Morel

While many people, regardless of age, often get the creepy-crawlies when thinking about worms, beetles, and bacteria, these Harrington students were not worried. They were tasked with exploring the woods around the newly renovated trail system at their school in order to find evidence of decomposers. They peeled back bark on rotting logs, scoured the ground for mushrooms, and dug in the soil to find invertebrates. They were amazed when they found a perfect example of a particularly brain-like mushroom (a False Morel, shown left), given that they had just been learning about brains in science class--even more amazed when they learned that mushrooms were decomposers!

Having a MOS instructor with the knowledge of science in the outdoors really brought my unit on life science to another level.
— Jeff Chick, Harrington Elementary 5th-grade Teacher

After their free explorations, they created labelled drawings of their favorite decomposition examples they found. Some students drew mushrooms, other drew the quintessential blue-streaked fallen branches being decomposed by blue-stained fungus, while others drew worms and beetles in the soil.

During the MOS program the following week, they considered decomposition even more carefully by finding examples of organisms in four different stages of decomposition in a different area of their school’s forest. They found living trees that hadn’t decomposed at all, scat that had just been dropped the previous day, and an unidentifiable slime that was quite decomposed indeed! They searched for and identified animal tracks using field guides and considered how an animal track might turn to a fossil someday--with or without the help of decomposers. When asked what the world would look like if we didn’t have decomposers, one student concluded: “It would be a mysterious place we couldn’t even imagine.”

 A girl let this decomposer crawl all over her hand

A girl let this decomposer crawl all over her hand

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