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The Isopod Challenge

Vincent Reis
September 04, 1996 | FOSS in Schools

I must admit, when I learned that I might have to deal with isopods, I was more than a little apprehensive. I never did like "bugs." The names we had for them seem gentle enough: potato bugs, roly-polys, pill bugs, etc. Still, as a child I always stepped on them and never, ever touched them. Thankfully, my FOSS manual came to the rescue when I read that the little critters would not bite off my fingers or hide in my desk. And, to my surprise, my students have taught me to know and love these little guys. I've actually discovered that they make great classroom pets.

I knew I could get them from the supply house, but because there was a small woods on the edge of the playground, we figured there was a good probability that we would find them under rocks, leaf litter, and decaying logs. We made a short visit to the woods to look for likely habitat. We talked about the importance of returning the logs and rocks to their original positions to limit our interference with the forest floor environment. Once we had established a search strategy, I proposed, "Now kids, go home and look around. I'll give you extra credit for each isopod you bring in."

Not one isopod showed up in class the next day. Unwilling to admit defeat, back to the woods we went. Soon the kids had isopods crawling all over them. That night at home they gathered hundreds more.

We placed our isopods and their wood, leaf litter, or soil into six of the basins from the Measurement kit. Each basin was labeled and assigned to a collaborative group. A plant sprayer worked great to keep them moist, and a piece of damp newspaper on each basin also helped to keep their environment moist and dark.

At the conclusion of our FOSS activities with the isopods (part of the Environments Module), we decided to establish a class terrarium. This was accomplished by simply dumping the contents of the six basins into a large aquarium. Potato slices were added (which later sprouted into plants). We kept our terrarium moist with the plant sprayer and covered it with aluminum foil. We didn't even have to add any food.

The activities described here added significantly to our FOSS Environments Module. We saved some money, we had the isopods just when we needed them, and the isopod terrarium became a year-long extension and enrichment activity.