Archive for October, 2011

Today we are off the topic of insects and back to gardens…

So, you’ve learned all about compost and attended a “worm”shop… Now, what are you going to do with all that rich soil?

Kids dig in the garden at Brooklyn Children's Museum

How about starting a garden at your school? That may sound quite daunting, but there are organizations out there to help you. GrowNYC, for example, has a program called Grow to Learn that includes information on how to start a garden, funding to start the garden, resources for parents, advice from expert gardeners, teacher resources, eating the produce you grow, and much more! Check out their website, http://www.growtolearn.org/.

Planting season will sneak up on you before you know it, so now is a great time to get your school involved in starting a garden. And don’t forget that New York Botanical Garden is having a gardening workshop on November 8th.

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If you’re interested in doing a whole unit on insects, you will need some books. Here are some kid friendly suggestions (with a bonus for any teachers with Spanish-speaking students; many of the book suggested are available in English and Spanish):

Insects by Barbara Taylor is a great resource for students who want to learn more about insects. It comprehensively covers most introductory questions students will want to know about insects. In addition, this book is available in Spanish as Insectos.

The Beetle Alphabet by Jerry Pallota uses the many kinds of beetles to teach the entire alphabet. Drawings are very detailed and help students see just how many different kids of beetles are out there. The reading level is 2nd-3rd grade, but the alphabet and drawings could be used with younger students as well.

Jerry Pallota has a number of other books, including counting books that use insects. These are available in English and Spanish: in English, there’s Icky Bug Numbers 1 2 3 and in Spanish, there’s Cuenta los insectos.

The Magic School Bus Inside a Beehive by Joanna Cole focuses in on bees – demystifying these often scary creatures and helping kids learn about bee life. The book is written for 3rd grade reading level, but kids of all ages will draw information from it.

Then, of course, there’s the DK Eyewitness book Insect by Laurence Mound. Like all DK Eyewitness books, this one will answer almost every question a student will have and serves as a great reference for insect research. If you can get your hands on the most recent edition, it comes with a clip-art CD, providing you with you with lots of reference material. And, it’s also available in Spanish: Insectos.

Finally, don’t forget our earlier suggestion of a kid-friendly field guide like the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders & Related Species of North America by Arthur Evans.

Do you have any other favorite insect books?

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You probably already teach about animals and their habitats – why should you teach about insects in particular?

Insects and other small animals are a key part in any food chain, a subject your students will study in 4th grade science. Knowing about them and having respect for insects now will help them better appreciate insects’ importance later.

If you are interested in a great game that combines food chains with human impact on the environment, check out the game Deadly Links in an educational guide produced by the Girl Scouts (scroll to page 18). This role play examines the relationship between three animals (mosquito, fish, eagle) and what happens when human beings try to get rid of the mosquitoes. Deadly Links is appropriate for grades 4+ in its current form, but could easily be adapted for younger students.

Little kids might not be ready to learn about food chains, but they're always welcome to come to Brooklyn Children's Museum and build an insect of their own!

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Build a Bug

It’s quite easy to make a realistic insect in your classroom, including all the parts an insect should have.

Materials: egg cartons pre-cut, pipe cleaners, paint and paintbrushes, googly eyes (optional)

This little girl is working on her insect in a public program at Brooklyn Children’s Museum. As you can see, we cut egg cartons down to three-segment size (triple wide egg cartons divide perfectly). Each kid received the pre-segmented body, representing the head, thorax, and abdomen. To the head, she attached eyes and two antennas. Right now, she is painting her insect however she likes. The final step will be attaching 6 pipe cleaners for legs to the middle segment – the thorax. Pipe cleaners are ideal because they actually bend, just like the jointed legs of an insect. If you choose to attach wings, they would also go on the thorax. Finally, the egg carton is strong and tough enough to almost count as an exoskeleton.

Try it out in your classroom! We would love to see the bugs your students make – email them to us, gogreen@brooklynkids.org.

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You’ve already learned about the parts of arthropods and the parts of insects. How will your students remember all those new words? A song will help! Sing this one to the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”:

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen

Jointed legs and exoskeleton

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen

Have them do gestures at the same time to reinforce what the terms mean. Tap your head. Since a thorax is where the insects’ legs attach, hold up three fingers on each hand, place them in front of your chest and wave them like legs. For abdomen, rub your tummy. To show jointed legs, bend and flex your legs. And, finally, for exoskeleton, make your hands into fists and rap them on the opposite arm to demonstrate a hard exterior.

This song works well with all ages, from Pre-K to high school biology (even if you might get some rolled eyes with the big kids). We hope your students enjoy it! Check back tomorrow for an insect-making art activity.

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Speaking of fall, have you seen any monarch butterflies lately? Monarchs are amazing – they travel as much as 3,000 miles, making them the butterflies with the longest migration in the world and the only butterflies to make a long migration twice each year. Monarch butterflies migrate through New York City on their way to Mexico every fall and come back every spring. Peak season for them passing through New York City is early October, so you may have missed them for this year, but here is some information about monarchs anyway. Keep an eye out as there may still be some around, or wait for spring to see them again!

Monarch Watch is a hub for all things monarch. It has amazing resources, including the following:

Some of these resources may be a little old for early childhood, but the gardening and observation element is ideal for all ages. Butterflies are great for teaching about habitat, insect life cycles, and animal diversity.

Another great website out there is the Monarch Monitoring Project, produced by the New Jersey Audubon Department.  Cape May, NJ is the southernmost point in Jersey. It has well maintained marshes and dunes and is along the coast, so it attracts huge numbers of migratory birds and monarchs, too! The blog is great for upper elementary students. It features bar graphs of monarchs spotted each week during migration season, beautiful photographs, and lots of scientific information.

Do you know other monarch resources? What’s your favorite monarch observation spot in New York City?

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If you are looking for a great sustainability-focused training on election day, here are two options:

School Gardening Workshop at New York Botanical Garden

8:30 am – noon; Cost: $20

Come learn about the benefits of having a garden on your school site. Join NYBG staff and other gardening organizations to learn about logistics, resources, and curriculum connections for creating, maintaining, and  integrating gardens into your students’ learning. This half-day workshop is the perfect primer for helping you begin planning or even rekindling a garden on your school site.

For more information, contact Judith Hutton, at 718.817.8140 or jhutton@nybg.org. To register, contact Registration at 718.817.8181 or school_programs@nybg.org.

4Es of Energy/Take Action at Home at Brooklyn Children’s Museum

9 am – 4 pm; Cost: free with lunch provided; for teachers of 4th to 8th grade

This interactive workshop promotes an understanding of energy’s relationship
with the environment, our economy, efficiency AND the all important “E” – education. You will use hands-on activities to explore energy forms and  sources, global climate change and actions we can take to address the energy challenges we face. Participants will walk away with both the 4Es of Energy (4th-6th) and the Take Action at Home (4th-6th) curricula.

To register, visit www.getenergysmart.org/EnergyEducation or you can call 1-877-NY-SMART (Option 6).

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum has another energy workshop coming up, this one for teachers of 6th-12th grade. This workshop, Energy and Our Changing Earth, will focus on using data to teach about climate science. Also hosted by NYSERDA, it will be held on Friday, November 11th. Call 1-877-NY-SMART (Option 6) to register.

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Thanks to a recommendation from the Early Childhood department here at Brooklyn Children’s Museum, here’s a lovely fall book for your youngest learners, to add to your fall unit.

Autumn Walk is the story of a puppy who goes on a seasonal stroll, through a world that smells like cinnamon and feels “corduroy cold.” The sentences are simple but very descriptive, a great chance to introduce fall words to your students. Autumn Walk‘s illustrations are full of red, yellow, and orange to match the season and, as you can see, this board book is shaped like a leaf. Read this book with your 2-4 year-olds and then take your own walk outside.

And there’s more! Autumn Walk has a seasonal companion Winter Walk, for use a little later this year.

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Yesterday, we explained arthropods to supplement the Focus on Insects section in My Green Community. Today: pitfalls. A pitfall is exactly what it sounds like, a pit that will trap small creatures (insect sized) who fall in. Of course, not everything trapped in a pitfall is going to be an insect…

To make a pitfall, you can use the illustration on the left. Full instructions with a materials list can be found inside our educator’s guide.

Things you might find include worms and arthropods, including insects. Worms, of course, are not arthropods – a worm lacks an exoskeleton. Catching a worm in your pitfall will be a great point of comparison for students, because they can feel the difference between the two. (Many young children will have trouble feeling an exoskeleton on an insect, because it is still much less hard than a rock, say. They can usually, however, feel that a worm is squishy-er than a beetle.)

How are you going to identify the other creatures that end up in your pitfall? Try a website like http://insectidentification.org/, which also covers spiders (spiders, remember, are not insects). Here you can browse by category or enter characteristics of the small creature into a drop down menu to identify what it is.

Or, use a field guide. National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders & Related Species of North America by Arthur Evans is a kid-friendly, well illustrated guide that should help you identify most, if not all, of what you find. Check out a copy from your local library and your class can identify exactly what you find in your pitfall.

Check back next week for a simple song to help your students remember the characteristics of an insect.

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In the educator’s guide, My Green Community, we have a section focusing on insects. Students build a pitfall to humanely trap insects, observe them, learn basic insect anatomy, and sing a song to reinforce the new words they have learned.

Due to space constraints, we didn’t get into the difference between arthropods and insects. So let’s break it down here.

Arthropods are a sub-group of invertebrates (animals with no backbone). Arthropods, then, are divided into their own subgroups:

  • Insects (cricket; bee and wasp; butterfly and moth; cicada; ant; grasshopper; praying mantis; firefly, ladybug and every kind of beetle)
  • Arachnids (tick; mite; scorpion; spider including tarantula)
  • Crustaceans (all kinds of crab; lobster; shrimp; crawdad; barnacle; pill bug also called roly poly)
  • Other! (like centipede and millipede)

All of those animals are arthropods and they all have two things in common: jointed legs (legs that can bend) and an exoskeleton (their skeleton is on the outside of their bodies). What makes an insect different from other arthropods?

A section from the educator's guide

Insects, in addition to jointed legs and an exoskeleton, have a body divided into three sections: head, thorax, and abdomen.

And that’s enough for now! Check back over the next few days for more insect and arthropod activities…

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