Ethan’s First Book

26 Nov

Gone are the days of using a sheet of cardboard as the medium for your school projects.  With technology we have some many more sophisticated options…

After raising and breeding silkworms during the last half of the year I decided that Ethan should do some sort of ‘project’ to reflect the learning that has happened.

Using some of our many, MANY silkworm photos I thought it would be nice to create a photobook.  To combine with the photos I had Ethan write a report on the life cycle of silkworms, using his latest IEW skills.

It seemed like a mammoth task but once we broke it down into manageable parts, it was a piece of cake.  I chose the paragraph headings to reflect the content that I wanted Ethan to include and found the four texts that I thought were appropriate for his level of notetaking skills.  Then, each day for two weeks, Ethan took notes on one paragraph topic at a time, ordered his facts, and wrote a draft paragraph.   Once his drafts were complete he edited, polished and ‘dressed up’ three paragraphs at a time.

When we printed out the final report Ethan was astounded that HE had written so much, that it sounded so much like a real book and that it hadn’t seemed like much work at all when done in manageable bit sized pieces over time.  (Let’s hope this lesson sticks with him when I ask him to write essays sometime down the track!)

Creating the photobook was easy and lots of fun.  It took a while to upload our photos but from there we breezed through the process.  We used Big W’s online photo facilities as they had their frequent half price deal on at the time (one softcover 8×8 book for $10).  Unfortunately we had to retype in all of the text as cut and paste would not work.  (Lucky my Mum made me take typing classes at highschool!)

Once his book looked just how he wanted, with a few tips on keeping a consistent, simple, clear format, we paid for our order and waited patiently (well maybe not that patiently) for an email to arrive a week later to let us know that we could pick it up at our preferred Big W store.

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Now for the big reveal……TADA!!!!

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OH you should have seen how his little face lit up when he peeled back the plastic wrap to reveal his very own book.

So let me read it to you…

Silkworms and Their Silk

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Each year 150 000 tonnes of silk is industriously made in the world.  China is the major silk maker and was also the first maker of silk.  A legend says that Empress Xi Ling-Shi, who was dining in her garden, saw a cocoon fall into her boiling tea and it unravelled into silk.  Ancient China kept silk a secret for thousands of years because there was money in being the only supplier.  If the secret was released the penalty was death.  Another legend says that a Chinese princess hid silkworm eggs in her hair when she journeyed to India to become married.  Now silk is manufactured all over the world.

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Silkworm moths lay about 300 to 500 yellow eggs the size of a pin head.  The numerous eggs have a glue-like covering that makes them stick to anything.  Under a microscope you can spot air holes which are called pores.  After 3 days the eggs will change colour to white if they will not hatch and black if they will hatch.  The eggs need a cold place to develop properly, although a hot place to hatch.  Silkworms devour their way out of their tiny eggs.

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A silkworm is not a worm.  It is a caterpillar which is also called a larva.  Newly-hatched caterpillars will be 3mm long, hairy and have a large black head.  A silkworm’s job is to eat continuously to grow.  Silkworms only consume nutritious mulberry leaves which they feed voraciously on.  They take 25 to 30 days to grow to about 8cm long and 2 cm wide, which is the size of your finger.  A silkworm’s growth is amazing since the ‘worm’ can grow incredibly in such a short time.

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The silkworm’s skin is not stretchable so it must acquire a new skin by moulting.  This occurs four times while they are in the larval stage.  Before it moults it stops eating and raises its head in the air and stays like this for a day.  In that day the new skin is forming under the old, taut skin.  To dispose of the old skin it has to cautiously wriggle out, which occurs quite slowly.  The new skin is loose and wrinkled but as it eats it becomes tighter.  The time when it is not moulting is called an instar, which is when they are feeding.  There are five instars.  During the fifth instar the silkworm eats 80% of its life’s food.  The silkworm increases in size by 10 000 times the size when they were first born.  Moulting is the only way for them to grow.

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The silkworms create their cocoons out of silk.  Liquid silk comes from two glands and gum-like stuff is added to the silk to join the two parts.  The liquid silk hardens when it comes into contact with oxygen.  It comes out of the silkworm’s spinneret near the lower lip, which is different from spiders as their silk comes from the abdomen.  The silkworms build cocoons to keep them safe.  Cocoons take about two days to make and this begins the pupa stage in metamorphosis.  At the beginning of the process some short threads are used to precisely construct the framework or support of the cocoon.  The cocoon itself is made from a single strand of silk that is approximately 1.6 km long.  The fifth moult happens inside of the cocoon.  After this the pupa stage is fully started and the pupa remains motionless as it changes.  The cocoon, which the silkworm builds, protects and keeps them safe from hungry predators while they change into a moth.

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Reeling is the process of unwinding the silk.  The pupa must be killed by heat or steam, which seems cruel since the silkworm does not complete its full life cycle.  This is necessary as the emerging, adult moth will dissolve a hole in the cocoon and ruin the thread.  The cocoons are deposited into hot water to dissolve the gum making it easier to unwind.  The cocoons are lightly brushed to find the ends.  Just one cocoon’s thread is too fine so they use 5 to 10 cocoons to thicken the thread.  The old process is uncommon nowadays as reeling by hand takes too long.  The new process of reeling is automated and makes the unwinding faster.

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After two weeks the moths emerge from the cocoons.  The moth secretes a brown liquid that softens the cocoon so the moth can push through when they are ready to emerge.  At dawn the moths slowly emerge with crumpled wings.  The moth pumps blood into his tiny wings so they can expand.  The silk moths do not consume anything and most cannot fly.  The flightless silk moth can only flutter their wings and hop around, which makes them easier to care for.  They are bred to have weak wings so they can’t fly when they push their way out of their cocoons.

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Silk moths live for about five days and have only one purpose, which is egg laying.  Male silk moths need a female to math with and females need males.  The female releases an odour that attracts the male.  The males have no nose so the males use their antennae, which is one of their senses.  To mate a male moth joins the tip of his abdomen to the tip of the female’s larger abdomen while the male makes the important transfer.  After mating the male dies and the female completes her life purpose by carefully laying her eggs.

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Silk has been a most desirable luxurious fabric in history because of its many terrific qualities.  The soft shimmering fabric was given to kings as wonderful gifts.  This fabric can be easily dyed and in winter it is warm to wear and in summer it is cool, which makes it marvellous for clothing.  It is also well known for how it drapes and folds fabulously.  Today silk is used in clothes and home furnishings and is still the world’s highest demand opulent fabric.

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Did you learn something new about silkworms?  🙂

I am so pleased with Ethan’s writing.  We’d only just started IEW’s unit 4 (where you learn to take notes, and create a topic and clincher sentence for your paragraph) when I sprung this writing task on Ethan.  So his skills were brand new and quite shaky.   Clearly he still has plenty to learn about topic and clincher sentences and he hasn’t yet learned how to link paragraphs but this was a very nice start to his learning journey.

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Creating this book has given Ethan a renewed interest in this ‘writing thing’ that everyone tells him is so important.  I’m hoping that it’ll keep him plowing forward into even greater success.  He’s already written another piece – on the sinking of the Titanic.  He’s working on presenting this as a speech for his Daddy.

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Still not convinced that IEW is the best thing since sliced bread

You’re kidding right??!!!



Posted by on November 26, 2011 in Language, Science


5 responses to “Ethan’s First Book

  1. April

    November 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Absolutely brilliant! Well done Ethan… Such a wonderful way to showcase his work. IEW is awesome and so is the author and editor 🙂

  2. Susan

    November 27, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Congratulations, Ethan, on a great effort. I can’t wait to see it in person but it sure looks stunning here. I hope you will always treasure this book!

  3. kerrie

    November 28, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Wonderful work!
    what a proffesional looking book!
    may Ehtan have many years of writing interesting reports, stories and essays 😉

  4. kerrie

    November 28, 2011 at 7:30 am

    …and may he be better at proof reading than I am!

  5. Erin

    December 3, 2011 at 6:40 am

    This is SOO impressive!! and inspiring.
    Just awarded you the Versatile Blog Award:)


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