Teacher Stuff #1

Here are 3 Arizona activities that we have used for years to teach both children and adults about Arizona.  Hope you find them as useful and fun as we have over the past 40 years.  Email us if you have any questions.

“I Love You, Arizona!”
Activity 1 – Sprouting Saguaro Cacti Seeds

1.       Collect a 1/2-egg shell for each of your students.  You can also use biodegradable planting cups that can be bought at any plant nursery.  DO NOT PLANT IN A PLASTIC CUP!  With a permanent marker, write student’s name on the eggshell.

2.      Obtain a bag of planting soil from a nursery or local grocery store.  Pour this planting soil into a bucket of water so as to make a real “soupy” mixture.  If you and your kids do not like getting your hands messy, use disposable rubber gloves.  Mix the soil/water solution together until the soil is very saturated with water.

3.      Reach into the bucket and grad a hand-full of soil.  Squeeze the soil to remove all the excess water.

4.      Place the “squeezed” soil into the 1/2 eggshell until the 1/2 eggshell is full of wet soil.

5.      Sprinkle saguaro seeds onto the soil.

6.      With the pad of your index finger, “pat” the seed down into the soil.  You will still be able to see the seeds.

7.      Using an egg carton, have students place the saguaro seeds and eggshells into the carton.  Since each egg carton will hold 12 eggs, you will need 2 to 3 egg cartons for your class.

8.      Cover tightly, the entire egg carton with “clear, saran-wrap”.

9.      Place egg cartons under indirect light.  A window is fine as long as direct sunlight does not fall upon the cartons. 

10.     In about 7 – 10 days, you will begin to see small, green plants sprouting.  What you first see are two, seed leafs called cotyledons.  The baby saguaro is found where the two cotyledons join together.  The baby saguaros are about the size of a pinhead and are whitish in color.  The two cotyledons will “die off” as the saguaro begins to grow.

11.      Baby saguaros need to be watered at least once a week.  For the first 2 – 3 months, water the saguaros by misting them; do not pour water on them.

12.     When the saguaros are big enough to put outside, which may be 6 months to a year, plant the whole egg shell/biodegradable cup into the ground.  Be sure to plant the your saguaros under a “nurse plant” as direct Arizona summer sunshine will kill them!

You can get saguaro seeds…
a.      collect saguaro seeds from saguaro cactus fruit in June and July.
b.     buy packages of saguaro seeds from nursery of gift shops that sell to tourists.  You will need 4 – 5 packs of saguaro seeds for a classroom of 30 students.

“I Love You, Arizona!”

Activity 2 – Making String From the Agave Plant

         The Native American people excelled in their ability to live and survive from the plants and animals found in the natural environment.  This activity will give students one experience in using a plant that was so very important to the early Native Americans.

         Agave  - The agave plant is a succulent commonly found in the Sonoran Desert.  There are many varieties of agave and many are used in desert landscaping.  Agaves are sometime commonly called century plants because of the incorrect idea that they only bloom once a century.  The truth is that agave does only bloom once and that bloom varies by species from 5 years of age to 25 years of age.  When they do bloom, they send forth a tall stalk that can raise up to 10 feet into the air those blossoms into a cluster of beautiful flowers. 
         The Native American people used agave for many things.  The underground tuber was a source of food and, in some areas, still worked into the drink tequila.  But it is the agave leaves that we are interested in using for this lesson and they were used to make string, ropes and even sandals. 

Making agave string...


2.  While wearing gloves and with a sharp knife or garden scissors, cut 1 - 4 agave leaves from the base of the plant.  Two leaves will make enough string for a class of 30 students.

3.  Immediately dull the sharp needle found at the end of the agave leaf by cutting it off 1/2 inch from the end.   We want to keep and show our students the needle for in reality it was used as a needle and threat for sewing by the Native American people.

4.  With your knife, cut off any other sharp hooks, spines, etc. that you find on the agave leaf.  Since agave is a succulent, it is relatively easy to cut off these sharp hooks, etc.

5.  Wrap your know “safe’ agave leave totally in aluminum foil.  We are going to now bake this leaf so make sure it is wrapped well with the foil.

6.  Place the foil-wrapped agave into you oven for two hours at 325 degrees.  Let me assure you that as the agave bakes, you will smell it!  Different varieties of agave have different smells as they bake.  THE AGAVE AND THE ALUMINUM FOIL WILL BE HOT WHEN YOU REMOVE IT FROM THE OVEN, SO WEAR GLOVES AND BE CAREFUL!!!

7.  Once your agave leaf has cooled, you are now ready to remove the fleshy parts of the leaf and secure the fibers that act as agave string.

8.  Have students lay newspaper on the classroom floor as to not to create a mess on the classroom carpet!

9.  Using river rocks as hammers, have student GENTLY pound the agave leaf.  As they do this, the plant-matter will be broken away from the leaf fibers.  Continual pounding and washing of the agave leaf in a bucket of water will slowly remove all the plant matter leaving only the agave fibers/string.  To get all the plant matter off the fibers may take 10 - 20 minutes of pounding and washing of the leaf. 

10.  Now that you have the fibers cleaned, you can show the students how to braid the individual fibers into a strong cord.  From this cord, the Native Americans made ropes, sandals and many useful items that they used in their everyday living in our Sonoran Desert.

“I Love You, Arizona!”

Activity 3 – Etching Sea Shells

1.       Have your students draw their design onto their shell with a pencil.  A bold design might be their initials that look like this…

  L B

Any design must have both an outside and an inside line.  A circle would look like this…
2.       With clear fingernail polish, paint the polish between the lines of the design.  What is painted (covered) with the clear fingernail polish will be protected from the acid in the vinegar. 

3.       Turn the shell over and paint the entire underside of the shell with the clear fingernail polish.  Let the polish dry hard, usually 5 – 10 minutes.

4.       Into a 12 ounce plastic cocktail cup, pour about 2 inches of white vinegar.  This becomes the acid that will etch the shell.

5.       When the fingernail polish on the shell is completely dry, place the shell into the cup of vinegar with the design up.

6.       You will notice that small bubbles immediately begin the rise from the part of the shell that is not covered with fingernail polish.  The etching process has begun. 

7.       It will take between 4 – 6 hours to etch the shell into a nice design.  The longer you leave the shell in the cup of vinegar, the more (deeper) the etching will go into the unprotected part of the shell. 

8.       Do not leave the shell in the vinegar overnight as too much of the shell will be etched away and the shell will become too brittle.

9.       When the shell is etched to your satisfaction, wash the shell with water.  Washing off the shell with water will stop the etching process.

10.     With fingernail polish remover, remove the clear fingernail polish from the design and the back of the shell.  Your etched shell activity is now completed.

11.   If you want to highlight the etched design, you can have your students paint their designs with a colored fingernail polish like red.

12.   This activity is a great activity for Mother’s Day.  An etched shell with your students’ initials or with a heart design will bring tears to any mother’s eyes.

13.     Just make sure that any designed used by your students is such that they can paint the fingernail polish between a set of lines.  The Hohokam could etch fine lines but they had 300 years of practice to get to be that good!

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