Sometimes reaching out across the world wide web can lead to amazing things – as they did when Mrs. Fenn, an elementary school teacher at Ridpath Public School in Ontario, Canada reached out to Louie Schwartzberg on Twitter about her class’ interest in one of our favorite topics at Moving Art: fungi.
We had the pleasure of following Mrs. Fenn’s class as they learned about mushrooms and fundraised to support our upcoming documentary Fantastic Fungi. It was always a highlight of our day when we received an update on how the class was doing!
This past week Louie and Mrs. Fenn’s class connected through the power of Skype, where the students asked all sorts of questions about fungi and filmmaking. In turn, we asked Mrs. Fenn to give us a little background on her class, and how these first and second graders got so fascinated by the network living underground.
Moving Art: Can you introduce yourself and your class?
MRS. FENN: I’m Mrs. Michelle Fenn and I teach grades 1 and 2 at Ridpath Public School in the small town of Lakefield, ON, Canada. I’ve been teaching for over twenty years mostly in the primary grades. I have only recently become interested in mushrooms. I have always enjoyed eating mushrooms but only recently begun to understand that fungi truly is fantastic!
MA: How did you find out about Fantastic Fungi?
MRS. FENN: Admittedly, I discovered Fantastic Fungi completely by accident! My class was asking about planting mushroom seeds in our school garden, and when I told them that mushrooms don’t grow from seeds, they wanted to know more! I was doing some online research to help the students understand the mushroom life cycle and happened upon the Fantastic Fungi movie trailer and the Kickstarter website. I showed the trailer to my students and they wanted to see it again immediately. One student commented: “Mrs. Fenn, my mind is literally exploding!”
MA: Can you tell us a about the project your class has embarked on?
MRS. FENN: When I explained the Kickstarter project to the students they immediately wanted to jump on board and do some kind of fundraising. We continued to learn about mushrooms and how they can save the planet by watching any Paul Stamets videos that we could get our hands on and by reading Eugenia Bone’s “50 Fungi Facts” book together. Kids started bringing in samples from their yards and we tweeted them out to the world to find out what they were.
MRS. FENN: We decided that since we had a mushroom farmer as an educational assistant in our classroom, we would sell mushrooms to the parents and staff at the school to raise the money. As a class we developed order forms, collected money, and charted our growth. We were so pleased to see that we surpassed our goal. We grew some mushrooms in our class on logs! We then went to a mushroom farm on a field trip to see how they grew and to help to break up the logs that had been used. A small group of students worked on a pamphlet that had information about Fantastic Fungi and we handed them out to people at the local Farmer’s Market. The response was fabulous!
MA: What do you think attracted your kids to mushrooms and learning about them?
MRS. FENN: Once the students began learning about all of the cool things that mushroom and fungus could do, they were hooked.
MA: Do your students have favorite mushrooms? Which one is the most popular? Do you have a favorite?
MRS. FENN: The students love the portobello mushroom because it grows so large. I love the taste of a portobello mushroom on the bbq!
MA: Why do you think it’s important to teach kids about mushrooms?
MRS. FENN: Before I did this inquiry with the kids, I wouldn’t have thought that it was important! Now that I have seen all of the wonderful things that can be done with fungus and mushrooms to help solve many of the Earth’s ecological problems, I believe it to be essential. I also believe that we have inspired a few students to go into the field of mycology!
MA: What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about mushrooms?
MRS. FENN: I think the most surprising thing that we have learned was how scientists have developed a way to use mycelium to build furniture using 3D printers. We also thought that it was awfully amazing to see that using some types of mushrooms and ultraviolet lights, mushrooms could digest plastic, and then people could still eat the mushrooms.
MA: Do you have anything else to share about your class’ experience?
MRS. FENN: During the project my students really felt that they were helping to solve real world problems. They were passionate about the project, they connected with why it was important and they were driven to help spread the word.
We want to give our thanks to Mrs. Fenn and her class at Ridpath Public School for sharing their story with us, and for spreading the importance of fungi with the world!