This month, I decided to go in a whole different direction with my STEM Book Club. Instead of science fiction, I went with some realistic environmental fiction. The book I chose was: The End of the Wild by Nicole Helget.
Eleven-year-old Fern, lives with her stepfather and her two brothers in a small, rundown house, on the edge of a poor town. Near their home is a grove of woods, where she and her family hunts and forages for food. The woods are Fern’s life and she often goes their when things get tough–empty pantries, past due notices, letters from lawyers and child services.
When a fracking company moves into town, Fern finds out that they want to cut down her woods and put in a wastewater pond. Fern is devastated but also conflicted because the company will bring jobs to her neighborhood and could help keep her family together.
Fern is determined to save the woods but she also wants to keep her family together. What can she do when being tugged in two very different directions.
Here are our discussion questions for this book:
- What is this book about? What are the main themes?
- What is fracking and why is it so controversial? Why is Fern worried about fracking?
- What is an ecosystem? How can they be threatened?
- What is deforestation? How could deforestation affect an ecosystem?
- (Page 163) Fern says, “Toivo thinks I don’t understand the constant itch of being poor, how it’s always a bug biting your back in a place you can’t reach.” How does her family’s poverty affect Fern? How does Fern use foraging to help?
- (Chapter 8) A major theme in this book is forgiveness and acceptance. What do you think Toivo means when he says, “One of these days, you’re going to have to cut the duck from Millner’s neck, too”?
- Fern has many responsibilities for an eleven-year-old. Do you think she deals well with these struggles? How do you deal with difficult situations or stress?
- (Page 193) – Toivo tells the social worker that the kids will struggle with him, “but it is an honest kind of struggling.” What does he mean here? With this in mind, would you rather a hard life or an easy life?
- Fern often seems to be stuck between “a rock and a hard place.” Give some examples of times when Fern gets caught in the middle between two points of view, and discuss how she tries to resolve these issues.
- A book like this gets us thinking about the environment and what we can do to protect it. Let’s reflect on this a bit…
Then we get into our STEM activity:
DIY Water Filter
Supplies: Water Bottle, Scissors, Coffee Filter, Sand, Charcoal, Dirt, Gravel, Water
- Ask a grownup to help you cut off the bottom of your bottle. Should be about 2-3 inches. Put aside for later.
- Take a cup of water and add a small amount of soil. Water should look dirty but does not need to be thick. Put aside for later.
- Twist off the cap of your water bottle. Turn it so the drinking side is facing down and the side you cut off is facing up. Take a coffee filter and push it down toward the bottom, so it is just about coming out the bottom. You may need to trim your filter to fit.
- Next, start layering your materials. Start with a layer of crushed up charcoal. On top of that, add your layer of dirt. Then sand. Then gravel.
- Once you are satisfied with your layers, stick the whole bottle inside the piece you cut off. This piece will catch your water as it goes through the bottle.
- Finally, take your dirty water and pour it into the bottle. The water will travel through each of the materials we placed until it catches in the bottom.
- You just made a water filter!
- What happened to the dirty water as it went through our layers?
- Do you think you could organize your layers differently for a better result?
Your filter is like one of the stages in cleaning water in a water treatment plant. Particles of dirt in the muddy water become trapped in the layers of materials, which help to clean the water. The finer the material the water runs through, such as the crushed charcoal and fine sand, the more dirt particles are trapped, making the water even cleaner. We’re basically straining our water until it is clean enough to drink.
*Adult Supervision Required – DO NOT DRINK THE WATER*
How’d it go:
Not going to lie, I did not get a chance to practice this STEM activity beforehand. Mostly because this wasn’t one where you can get small amounts of tester supplies. At first we didn’t think my tester worked because nothing was draining out, so everyone tried something differently with theirs. Turns out mine worked the best, because it was draining the slowest. We think folding the coffee filter up is what did the trick.
This was a fun, but messy, project. The kids also told me that they prefer futuristic or science fiction to the realistic fiction of this book. It was good feedback to have for the future.
Finally, we did have to have a little chat, as one eventually must with 4-6 graders, about taking the club seriously. So hopefully, the weather clears up and we won’t be as stir crazy next month.
That’s all for now!