"We have animals from 11 different habitats in our class, all with different dietary needs," reports Syndee Malek from Redford, MI. "My fifth graders wondered whether we could grow foods in the GrowLab to supplement the diets of our iguanas, guinea pig, birds, hamsters, snails, and other classroom pets."
Students first researched what each animal might eat in the wild, then chose seeds of plants they could grow in the classroom that they though might produce similar types of edible parts. They chose lettuce, spinach, and parsley, for instance, in place of different tropical "leafy greens." Since they have so many different animals, students consult with a veterinarian on proper care and feeding, notes Syndee.
So what does an iguana a prefer at lunchtime? That's the type of question that sparked curiosity and predictions. Students set up experiments and discovered that the iguana turned down the herbs but went wild over carrots, while Popeye the guinea pig snubbed spinach for leaf lettuce.
"It has provided a nice opportunity to link studies of food chains, habitats, and nutrition," explains Syndee. "Students were surprised to learn that iceberg lettuce has little nutritional value for the animals, for instance, and realized that it probably has little to offer us as well. Now they're much more interested in growing and tasting a range of vegetables."