by: George Kerr
Now is the perfect time of year to use the ants from out on the playground, campus fields, or any location near your classroom for some serious experimentation! First, have your students google information about ants and the roles they play within their colony. Then use your media center/school library to supplement their research . After you’re comfortable that your students have learned enough about ants to give them the background they need to begin to make educated guesses about ant behavior, take your students to an ant hill and circle out along where the forage ants are walking.
Since ants are social insects, your students should easily see the work being done that was described in your research. Guards are guarding the entrance to the nest, builders are hauling pebbles and grains of sand, nurse maids are hauling trash, and foraging ants are hunting and dragging food back to the colony.
This is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how ants communicate using pheromones. Trap a few ants by the entrance, and watch as the alarm spreads outward like a rock in a pond. All ants will stop what they are doing and turn to the task of defense. They will eventually calm down if the danger is restricted to that minor disturbance. When they do, using the white spray paint the P.E. teacher uses to make the foul lines on the playground, spray-paint all the ants near the nest, and ask your students to count the white ants.
Your students should record the number of white ants on a data table. Ask students to meet you before school, during lunch, and after school for the next few days to count the white ants they see. Science data collection is that kind of a chore. Then have your students use the data to tell a story. Use student observations and guesses to create testable events. For example, many of your students will declare that the paint killed most of the ants causing a low population of white ants the next day. Test this hypothesis in a classroom lab.
One way to do so is to point out that research indicates that ants change jobs every four days or so. By painting the foraging ants it’s easy to see if one ends up on guard duty. The idea is to have students test what they read.
The final chapter should indicate that if students see only a few white ants in the days following the painting, it’s likely that the nest is a large one. If a large number of white ants is present shortly after, it’s likely that the nest is fairly small.
So how does an ant farm enter the lesson? Well thats the best part. It keeps the population biology lesson alive all year. Parents come to visit the classroom and students tell them all about Ant Day or Ant Week all year.
Though it is difficult to paint the ants in a classroom ant farm, having an ant farm on hand allows your students to observe the varied jobs in the colony and provides hours of learning and enjoyment for your students. Educational Innovations carries the AntWorks ant farm. The clear gel provides all the nutrients your ants need to survive for months, and best yet, you never have to feed or water these ants. Everything is self contained.
Oh, one more thing…I am from Nevada, we have no fire ants in the northern part of the state. Our red ants are great to work with. It’s best to consider the safety factors in your location before going outside to collect your ants. The ant farm from Educational Innovations has a coupon that will deliver nice ants to your classroom if you are unable or unwilling to collect your own…