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Archive for the ‘Plants’ Category

One of our new school programs this year is called “A Snail’s Place.” This program was born when we discovered that kids don’t just  dig snails, they love them. Whenever we bring out one of these plant-devouring gastropods, which we happily collect from our own garden, kids become transfixed in close observation. The excitement of a snail emerging from its shell and poking out one tentacle feeler at a time, the tactile sensation of their slimy foot moving across their hand, and the surprisingly quick responses of snails can hold kids’ attention for twenty minutes (that’s like two hours in kid-minutes). Snail observation also escapes the fear factor that comes with observing other bugs like our Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

At BCM, we are always working to make our programs less didactic and more inquiry based! Rather than delivering all the interesting snail factoids to passive students, we want our students to feel empowered to do their own research and share their findings. We composed a snail resource sheet for the kids to explore. The students can read and share the facts they find most interesting and compare their live snails to the anatomical diagram. Can they find their eye spots? Can they find their spiral shell? Can they find their breathing hole?

We collect scientific observations and questions as the students observe. Some questions we’ve collected from the public include: Are snails good climbers? How do you think they move? What’s the purpose of that slime? Why do they come out in the rain? What kind of habitat do you think they like?

Our final activity is to review the things that snails need in their environment to be happy. The kids venture outside to collect sticks, rocks and leaves to build the perfect snail habitat! They observe how the snails interact with their new environment. Do they seek out the shade or the light? Do they like to eat all kinds of leaves? The students add their most successful snail architecture to our permanent snail enclosure.
Stay tuned for tips on keeping your own classroom snail tank!

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This week, we’ve discovered another reason Brock microscopes are so awesome. With no plug to worry about, you can take them outside! We had our after school kid’s crew students pluck specimens from the garden to observe up close. Take a look at our kids’ eye view of some Hinoki False Cypress.

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If you’ve ever explored the greenhouse at Brooklyn Children’s Museum, you may have spotted our most elusive creatures, the walking sticks. Then again, they’re easy to miss! These bugs are masters of camouflage, and their bizarre traits don’t stop there. We delved into the strange world of stick and leaf mimics in our “Phantastic Phasmids” program and here are a few surprising facts we learned about the order of insects Phasmatodea .

Creepy Cloning

Most phasmids are females, and if a male mate is not readily available , the females have the ability to produce clones, an animal phenomenon called parthenogenesis. They lay hundreds of eggs containing exact female replicas of themselves!

One…Two…Three Times a Mimic.

Stick bugs share a special mutualistic relationship with ants. Ants love to feed their \ larvae the special nutrient-rich part of a seed called the elaiosome. After they’ve fed their young, they dispose of the seed in an environment perfect for germination. The stick bug eggs mimic the look of a seed, complete with a fatty cap like a seed’s elaiosome. By imitating the crux of the mutualistic relationship between ants and seeds, the stick bug gains a safe anthill home for its eggs to hatch and thrive while the ants still benefit from the nutrients of that expendable knob on the stick bug’s egg. What an opportunist — the phasmid piggy-backs on an already beautifully established mutually beneficial relationship between plants and ants!

And get this — when the egg first hatches inside the anthill, it even resembles an ant! The stick bug ant-mimic crawls out of the anthill to its safe habitat in the trees.

Our visitors love having these alien creatures walk across their hands. Sometimes their uncanny resemblance to sticks doesn’t really strike the kids until they’re able to get an up-close view of their long branchy legs.

One fun activity to try with your students is to make a phasmid collage. Have the kids go outside and collect a few sticks and leaves that have fallen from trees or other plants. When you get back to the classroom, use glue to compose a phasmid that would remain expertly hidden from any predators seeking a buggy snack. We used these leaf and stick bug templates to get the kids started with their collages.  Email us at gogreen [at] brooklynkids.org if you would like a copy of these templates for your classroom.

Learn more about phasmids and see some cool walking stick videos at our sister blog Brooklyn Greenhouse.

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With all the alternating rain and sunshine we’ve been getting, the Kids Crew gardens are taking off!

Yesterday, some of our gardeners were able to harvest their first vegetables! Emily had the biggest bounty with three radishes in her garden plot. She kept one for herself and generously doled out the rest to friends.

Aliana had the first blooming flower, an edible nasturtium. Without hesitation, she picked the flower and gave it a taste. Delicious! Soon there was a crowd of curious co-gardeners begging for a petal.

 

Other students taste tested their spinach, kale, and other lettuces. Lots were super excited to reap the fruits (or veggies) of their labor.  

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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 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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