Archive for May, 2012

This spring at Brooklyn Children’s Museum, we’ve guided our 2nd and 3rd grade after school kids in their first gardening adventures. Each student got a 2 x 2′ plot to call their own. They removed the weeds, turned the soil, seeded, watered, and after about a week, sprouts began to grow!

Some students seeded with extra enthusiasm and ended up with beautiful, super crowded plots. We told our lil gardeners to choose their most thriving plants and give them room to grow. They plucked out all the sprouts closely surrounding their star specimens. They could either replant the spouts in an empty space or enjoy them as a tasty treat!

After about six weeks of watering and waiting, the kids’ gardens did look quite lush…a little too lush. We discovered common ragweed and crabgrass encroaching on a good chunk of their plots! Did you know that there are an estimated 100,000 dormant seeds in every square meter of arable ground?These native, annual weeds spread thousands and thousands of seeds in their spring-to-winter growing season in hopes that a relatively few will take root.* The kids enjoyed pulling out these pesky plants and reseeding their plots with cinnamon and lime basil seeds.

What challenges will these new gardeners face next? Tune in to follow their progress!

* The “Eastern Forests” Peterson Field Guide by John Kricher and Gordon Morrison offers awesome, concise but thorough paragraphs on common New York plants, animals, and all things ecology. We’re bound to be citing Kricher’s tidbits again and again.

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Last month, we got kids thinking about where their trash ends up with Trash Talk and Loop Scoops. But let’s start at the beginning. Where does our food come from? How many places does the slice of cheese on our burger see before it ends up on our plate?

At Brooklyn Children’s Museum, we teach a program for school groups called, “It’s Easy Being Green.” We cover topics like proper recycling, energy efficiency, and sustainable food choices. The food activity splits kids into groups; each group is responsible for piecing together the life cycle of one ingredient on a burger. They’re given cards that each represent one phase in, for instance, the journey of a slice of cheese. Take a look:

The journey starts here at “Sunset Farm”. But why are we starting on a corn field if we’re trying to get to a slice of cheese? 

To feed the cows! Unfortunately, most cows in the US are fed corn rather than the tasty grass that their stomachs were built to digest. The cow’s milk then has to be transported to the cheese factory. That’s two big truck rides so far for one slice of cheese!

The cheese then gets stored in a large warehouse with other grocery goods. 

A truck picks up the cheese from the warehouse and takes it to the grocery store where it’s stocked on shelves and finally awaits your purchase.

Your cheeseburger can now be assembled and enjoyed! And now what? What about the packaging your cheese slice came wrapped up in? What about all your other food scraps? Where do they end up? 

Most of the time, they end up in a landfill.

Now, here’s the challenge: After students have pieced together the journey of their cheese (there are twenty cards or steps for the cheese alone!) they have to figure out how to remove pieces of the production-distribution-consumption-waste system to make the whole thing more sustainable. How can we get this slice of cheese to travel less? This activity can lead to great discussions on Farmer’s Markets, local food, and composting.

Want to try this activity with your class? Email GoGreen[at]Brooklynkids.org for a PDF version of the full set of Hamburger life cycle cards!

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In order to come up with inventive, creative solutions for the mounting global challenges we’re to face- climate change, loss of biodiversity, more droughts, more extreme storms-we’re going to need all hands on deck! Unfortunately, it seems that we might be pushing away a good 50% of those creative minds from the fields of science, math, and engineering. Check out these alarming statistics presented by The Engineering Project on the trends of women in science education.

What do you think about these stats? Of course, there are lots of different forms of intelligence and creative thinkers who thrive in other fields-education, literature, history, philosophy-are also vital as we adapt to our changing world.

What do you think? Have you seem girls in your classroom transition away from their interests in science and math? How big of a role does gender play in your classroom? Have you ever caught yourself reinforcing the false belief that boys are just innately better in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields?

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In our last post, we started thinking about where our food comes from. Here are a few food ingredients whose plant source might surprise you!

Vanilla comes from the seeds of a vanilla orchid.

Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree native to Southeast Asia.

Black pepper comes from the seeds of a woody vine  in the rainforest.

Ask your students to write down their favorite meal. Then see how many ingredients they can name. Which ingredients come from plants?  See if they can take it one step further and name the plant sources of all those ingredients. This could be an excellent research project. Have students report back on their most surprising findings. (The fungi and minerals in our food might throw them for a loop!) Students could even compose a collage of all the plants in their favorite meal.  An example of tracing an ingredient to its plant source might go something like this:  Burger to Beef Patty to Cow to Corn Plant.

This food investigation could go in many directions and offer some unique teaching moments.  How do they know what the cow in their beef patty ate? Students might get stuck on the multisyllabic chemical ingredients in some of their favorite processed foods. Do chemical foods offer the same nutrients and plant foods? What exactly are “artificial flavors”?

We’d love to hear where this food activity takes your class!

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Here’s a sustainability epiphany that many kids may be surprised by. Almost all food either comes from plants or the animals that eat plants! It’s easy to look at a carrot or an orange and understand that it came directly from a plant, but what about candy, cheese burgers, or pancakes? It can be hard to make the seed-to-plate connection when your food doesn’t seem to have much to do with a garden or a farm.

Eric Carle’s book “Pancakes, Pancakes!” could be a great tool for little ones starting to think about where their food comes from. Of course, the beautifully crafted pictures in this book offer a nostalgically outdated version of our food system (think pitchforks and red barns vs. combined animal feeding operations and genetically modified seeds), but the book succeeds in getting the wheels turning regarding how much nature goes into a simple meal.

“Pancakes, Pancakes!” follows a young boy on a farm as he follows his mother’s request to track down all the ingredients needed to make his yummy breakfast.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed our past few posts on biomimicry. There will be lots of opportunities to study surreal adaptations at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum this summer.

On June 3rd, we’ll be taking a close look at Phantastic Phasmids, the masters of camouflage of the insect world. Kids will get to interact with stick bugs and build their own leaf insect model.

Curious how nocturnal animals thrive in the dark hours? Join us on June 17th for Creatures of the Night where we’ll explore the adaptations that help night prowling moths, hedgehogs, bats and snakes navigate the dark.

On July 26th, we’re going to focus on Teeth, Jaws, Fang, Baleen! How are different animals’ mouths perfectly suited to eating their favorite prey? Kids can decorate their own toothbrushes to keep their chompers clean!

Join us for Mimicry, Schmimicry on August 16th and 19th when we’ll learn about tricky animals that have adapted to look like their scarier, more dangerous co-habitants.

Stay tuned as we highlight our favorite animal quirks!

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Axolotls have some wacky adaptations like feather-like gills on their head and the ability to regenerate limbs. They're endangered due to the non-native Carp and Tilapia that have been introduced into their native environment, gobbling up their primary food source. Come visit this interesting dude at The Brooklyn Children's Museum.

Activities on biomimicry can easily lead to questions about evolution. How did so many creatures evolve to have such wacky and perfectly suited adaptations? The Biomimicry Institute introduces students to the concept of natural selection through a simple hands-on game. Students begin in a circle surrounding a box of paper clips. Each student is handed a piece of paper. They may fold or bend their paper in any way that they think would make it the best “glider”. The object of the game is to get your paper to the box of paper clips in the least amount of throws. Each time a student’s “glider” touches the box the student may collect a paper clip. Read instructions for the full activity here.

The folds that the children make represent a natural mutation, with each round the student can adapt their glider to fly better.  The “gliders” equipped with mutations (folds and creases) most suited to their environment and best able to collect resources (the paper clips) stay in the game…they’ve adapted! Especially adapted gliders might even block other gliders ability to get near the box of paper clips. This helps show students what happens to organisms who share their environment with creatures extremely well adapted to obtaining their same food source. They can get crowded out!

One big piece of the evolution puzzle this game leaves out is “random variation”. Each “mutation” that that students add to their glider is formed with the goal of gliding in mind. Can you think of a way to alter this game that would show students that mutations are random rather than designed?

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