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Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

As a science educator, I hope to create more eco-literate students . We want them ready to stir up creative solutions to the many challenges we face on this warming planet. From the threat of rising sea levels to higher rates of asthma, New York City children are at the center of many environmental problems. But how can you get first graders to understand something as big and complex as climate change without having mini meltdowns?  A few weeks ago, I dubiously set out to have a conversation about climate change with our six year old after-school kids. Despite my fears of blank stares or horrified reactions, the conversation went extremely well! Here are some lessons I came away with.

How to talk to young kids about climate change:

Hurricane_Sandy_Bears_Down_On_US_Mid_Atlantic_Coastline_Credit_Spencer_Platt_Getty_Images_News_Getty_Images_CNA_US_Catholic_News_10_31_12Personal connections. In the week prior to this climate change talk, Hurricane Sandy passed through New York. The storm caused a huge amount of flooding and damage to Far Rockaway, Coney Island, Red Hook, and Lower Manhattan. Luckily, only a few of our staff and Kid’s Crew kids were directly affected by the flooding, but all of us felt impacted in some way.

Our kids all had stories of how they spent the hours of the storm. One girl described the howling wind outside her window, “I could hear the wind…it was really scary!” Another kid mentioned that he lives near the water and described seeing lots of dead fish on the beach afterwards. We talked about where the water comes from when it floods. I asked them what the water would taste like if they stuck their finger in the Hudson River or Rockaway Beach. “It would be salty!” they shouted. We learned how scary floods can happen when a storm makes the ocean water surge onto land where people live. I explained that something is happening on our planet that makes really strong storms occur more often — climate change.

Start your conversation by asking your students if they’ve ever experienced a strong storm, flood, or power outage. These visceral memories help kids connect to the concepts. Kids should understand that climate change isn’t something that’s coming in the far distant future. It’s happening now and we’re already feeling it’s effects.

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Use a kid-friendly book. This is where I turned to the really great Scholastic book Climate Change for help. It puts a scary phenomenon in kid-friendly terms. I asked them if they remembered the animal on the cover of the book. Of course! It’s the mighty polar bear we learned about last week! This book sums up the climate crisis in 40 picture-heavy pages. It even has a picture of a hurricane that looks an awful lot like Sandy.

Get yourself a climate change icon.  We had just studied polar bears the week before Sandy so the kids were already  invested in the well-being of these gigantic creatures. We did a little review of what they remembered: Polar Bears live in ice dens, they’re good swimmers, and they hunt for seals.

skyGo outside to explain the greenhouse effect. Before we could get to why climate change matters to the polar bear, the kids needed to understand the greenhouse effect. I explained that climate change is happening because the sun’s heat is getting trapped inside its atmosphere. We were outside on the roof so I had all the kids look up into the sky. I explained that even though we can’t see it, there is stuff up in the sky that won’t let the sun’s heat escape back into space. I asked, “What do you think could be up in the sky?” They came up with air and clouds. So I asked,  “What else? Can you think of anything that we burn that goes up into the sky? Have you ever stood behind a bus and seen anything coming out of the back?” They called out “Smoke! Pollution!”  I explained that yes, all the smoke and pollution from cars and buildings are creating an invisible blanket in the sky. I had them feel the warmth inside their coats versus the chilly air outside their coats (kids understand coats better than greenhouses). The earth has a big coat of air pollution and it’s trapping in all the heat. So why does the polar bear care that the planet is getting warmer? Because she lives on the ice! I asked them if they remembered what their polar bear ice dens had started to do after sitting in the greenhouse for ten minutes. “They started to melt!”

Play a game. Kids can only take in so much information before they need to get up and moving. After all that talk, it was time to transform into polar bears and go on a hunt for seals. They lined up behind me and I pointed to an “iceberg” on the other side of the roof (hula hoops would make great “icebergs”).  We got our strong swimming paws and legs ready and started paddling to the iceberg. When we got there, we feasted on some delicious seals. I explained that summer had arrived and we’d eaten all the seals on this iceberg. “The next iceberg is waaaaayyyy over there! Will we make it?!” We started swimming. This time when were about halfway across the roof and I narrated: “Oh no, we’re so hungry, we’re getting sooo tired, we’re not going to make it!” I had a couple kids feign dramatic polar bear deaths (a favorite natural sciences pantomime) and sink to the bottom of the icy sea! We traveled to a few more icebergs until our polar bear numbers had sufficiently dwindled.

Emphasize that we all share the same planet. Whenever we talk about an animal threatened by an environmental disaster, it’s important to remind the kids that we’re animals too and we all share the same planet and resources!  I explained that we’ve lost a lot of polar bears over the past 30 years due to the ice melt. And where does that water go when it melts? Back into the ocean – uh oh, we know from Hurricane Sandy that it is not in our best interest to have higher sea levels! A safer planet for polar bears is a safer planet for us.

Brainstorm solutions. I didn’t want to leave a messages of hopelessness. We ended by brainstorming some ways that we could keep ice from melting and keep stronger storms from occurring  How can we stop adding to that pollution blanket in the sky? They came up with a few solutions: “We could walk more places!” “Ride bikes!” and “Stop making so much smoke!”

Six-year-olds get it…why can’t everybody?

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Every Wednesday, I teach a science lesson to our 1st grade after-school kids. So far this year, we’ve explored snails, stick bugs, camouflage, and games from around the world. A couple weeks ago, we learned all about polar bears!

Polar bears are the largest land dwelling carnivores. They prey almost exclusively on seals. Surprisingly, when food is plentiful, they’ll only eat the seal’s fatty tissue- found in their brains and blubber- before moving on to the next kill. They are fully stocked with ice-hunting adaptations to make them fierce predators. Their paws have ice-pick claws that never retract and non-slip foot pads covered in tiny bumps that create suction on the ice. Their noses’ have a huge olfactory bulb that can smell a seal in water from a mile away.

Polar Bears are so well insulated that they often have to take dips in the icy water to cool down – they can swim for miles in Arctic water without stopping. Get this – each individual hair on a polar bear is a clear hollow tube. The hair funnels sunlight down to the bear’s black skin where the heat is absorbed and retained under a layer of blubber!

We will be getting out our incredible Polar Bear skin specimen on December 30th for a “Blubber Up!” program all about Arctic animal adaptations. Though I’m glad the importation of Polar Bear hides has been banned in the US (decades after we acquired this specimen), seeing a hide in person is truly awe inspiring. Don’t miss the chance to examine their transparent tube hairs up close!

The after school kids used their new expertise to sculpt a polar bear out of model magic clay. It was interesting to see the kids flattening out their clay before beginning to shape it into a bear likeness. I realized that many of them hadn’t sculpted before, and since we had only been looking at pictures of polar bears, they had trouble conceptualizing a 3-D bear!

We talked about molding a special long neck, strong swimming legs, and had to refer back to some pictures to remember if polar bears have tails or not. They were given a black marker to fill in the eyes, nose, and foot pads.

Since we just had our first snowfall, the kids were able to go outside and collect snow to build real ice dens for their bears! Each kid scooped up a bowlful of snow and shaped the snow to fit a mama bear and one or two cubs. By the end of the class, the dens were melting which was a perfect setup for next week’s topic: Climate change!

Stay tuned to hear about how six year old scientists talk about climate change.

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Photos provided by MSG Photos.”

Last week a bright and curious group of kids from the Garden of Dreams Foundation visited the museum. They were joined by some special guest stars from the New York Liberty women’s basketball team and together, we explored solar energy in celebration of the WNBA’s Green Week!

We began our energy investigation by discussing  what makes a building “green”, taking a look at the museum’s solar panels, and observing our solar power Green Threads exhibit. In just a few minutes, our energy experts were able to identify the pros and cons of solar energy. We don’t pollute as much by burning fossil fuels, but how do we produce energy on a cloudy day? The kids observed from our solar exhibit that there is much less electricity output on a cloudy day,  when there’s heavy smog, and at night.

Photos provided by MSG Photos

So they can become future solar energy experts and solve these conundrums, we wanted to give these kids a grasp on electrical circuitry, how electrons move from one place to another. We created our first circuit by joining hands in a circle and having two people in the circle each touch a finger to an electrode on the energy ball. The ball blinks and buzzes when the circuit is complete. The kids discovered how they could create a “switch” by unlinking hands anywhere in the circle and breaking the circuit. They especially enjoyed quick paced high fives that made for a silly sound pattern as the energy ball sputtered and buzzed.

Photos provided by MSG Photos

Our energy students then worked to build their own circuits with a battery as their power source. They knew the materials they would need- a socket, a light bulb, and wires. After fiddling with different wire combinations- Wa La! The light bulbs lit up one by one. For a bigger challenge, the teams tried to make their circuits larger by adding conductive materials. They tested brass buttons, felt, paper clips and beads to see which materials stopped electrons in their tracks and which allowed electrons to flow through.

Photos provided by MSG Photos

After the kids had great circuit success, we moved outside with some portable solar panels to see if we could have the same success with a renewable power source. At first, the sun was blocked by some ominous rain clouds. It had been a cloudy afternoon and we were worried the kids would leave with a skeptical view of solar energy. Our Liberty ladies encourages all the kids to wave their hands and try to blow the clouds away. At last, the sun peaked out from a clouds and our mini machines, propelors in this case, started spinning. With a little patience and help from our very tall guest stars, they harnessed the sun!

Photos provided by MSG Photos.”

These solar circuitry kits are a great investment that you can use again and again. We’d love to hear about any energy experiments you do in your classroom!

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Have you spotted any of the haiku traffic signs that have been placed around the city’s five boroughs? The next time you visit the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, check out the sign on our corner – Brooklyn Ave and St. Marks. The New York City Department of Transportation collaborated with artist John Morse in this creative project to get people to think twice about their fragile skin and bones before making any rash moves on our busy city streets.

This project ties together social and environmental aspects of sustainability. One of the biggest disincentives to commuting via bike is the risk of injury. Swerving around parked cars, avoiding car doors, and riding inches from speeding vehicles are all part of the daily life of a bike commuter, but biking in the city also leads to cleaner air and healthier urbanites. These cautionary words and images aim to lower the safety risks by reminding pedestrians, cyclists and drivers to wake up and slow down. Plus, they add some poetry to our street corners and art can be just as important as clean air in creating a vibrant, sustainable community.

Haikus are a great introductory form of poetry for first-time poets. Have kids clap out the syllables of these signs and see if they can figure out the haiku form for themselves. Challenge them to write their own “green street” haiku. What do they want to see on the city streets and can they express it in 17 syllables? We’d love to hear the haikus they come up with!

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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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This week at the Museum, we have a plethora of sustainability themed programming all leading up to our Earth Day celebration next weekend.

Throughout the week, there will be eco-art projects for all ages where kids can use recycled materials to make beautiful sculptures.

On Wednesday, explore our geothermal exhibit and experiment with water, hoses, and coils to learn how we use the temperature of the earth under the museum to heat or cool our building!


Visit Thursday to learn why Bamboo is a sustainable choice for floors, furniture, and even clothes. Come down to the Greenhouse to make your own Bamboo cutting to take home!

Visit Friday to learn how dams can damage ecosystems by rerouting natural waterways. Build your own dam in Neighborhood Nature.

Enjoy our special Live Animal Encounters throughout the week. We’ll be focusing of native critters, endangered animals, and invasive species.

We also have a very special Animal Encounter next Saturday. Drop by the garden and meet the chickens of BK Farmyards! These soft red beauties will eat greens out of your hand or sit in your lap if you dare!

Check out our full Calendar of Events.

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Another fun way for smaller kids to see the wind in action is to make their own pinwheels.

1) Start with a square piece of paper at least 4 x 4 in. Paper with different colors or designs on each side will make your pinwheel pop! Encourage your kids to decorate each side differently.

2) Draw diagonal lines from each corner of your square and mark a dot in the middle. Cut along diagonal line to about an inch from the center dot.

3) Mark 4 dots it the bottom right corner of each triangle of your square.

4) Work in a circle folding each dotted corner into the center of the square. Push a pin through each corner and the center dot.

5) Push the pin through the head of an eraser on a pencil or a straw and Wa La!… you have your pinwheel!

Now you’re ready to go outside and see where it spins best. Ask your kids if it spins better close to the ground or over their heads. Do larger pinwheels spin faster than smaller pinwheels?

If you have older kids, check out this lesson plan on designing wind turbines. Kids learn about how the competing forces of lift and drag work to make turbine blades spin. Your students can then design their own turbine blades. KidWind even holds national and web-based competitions for new turbine designs. Check it out here.

Also, if you are interested in helping other educators teach about wind, you should consider applying to become a WindSenator. Wind Senators help spread the word about wind energy by holding workshops, KidWind Challenges, and regional events.

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