Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

If you teach grades 2- 5 and are looking for more ways to utilize New York as an outdoor classroom, consider heading “Into the Woods” with this four year teacher development program offered by the NY Metro GLOBE program. The first workshops begin in October 2012 and there are only a few slots left!  There will be 11 workshops throughout the first year, held on Saturdays or Sundays. Participating teachers are given a $125 stipend for each 7 hour training day.

Some topics include:

Pond Ecology in various parks in Queens

Stream Ecology, the Bronx River

Geology, parks in Queens and the Bronx

Forest Ecology

Seal Watch

Bird watching and ornithology, Prospect Park


Service Learning Projects

Authentic Student Environmental Research Projects

If you are interested, create a no obligation account online at www.globe.gov

For more information about registering, you can call or e-mail Peter Schmidt at 718-997-4268,  Peter.schmidt@qc.cuny.edu or Roy Harris RHarris2@schools.nyc.gov .
*This project is funded by an Environmental Literacy Grant from NOAA, and is being run by Queens College’s GLOBE NY Metro Program in partnership with the Wallerstein Collaborative for Urban Environmental Education at NYU.

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As we enter into August, some of our most helpful garden visitors – ruby-throated hummingbirds – will be migrating south. These quick little birds can be hard to spot, but you’ll be more likely to encounter one before their journey south if you put out a feeder full of sugar water to fuel their trip. Hummingbirds need to eat every few minutes since they expend an incredible amount of energy beating their wings up to 80 times per second!

This week at the museum, we learned all about hummingbirds and constructed our own feeders to hang in a garden, or out a window, fire escape, or front stoop. All you need are floral tubes like these, some colorful plastic craft materials (we reused old red and orange grocery bags), string, and sugar water!

The colors of the bags are important – hummingbirds have a strong preference for red and orange flowers like bee balm, bleeding heart, cardinal flower, or nasturtium.

We showed our garden helpers how to fold squares of plastic into fours, snip the center corner, and then design their own pretty petal shapes (very similar to snowflake crafting). The next step is to simply shimmy the flower petals up the neck of the floral tubes, fill with 1 part sugar/4 parts water and hang outside! It is recommended to heat your sugar water so the sugar dissolves nicely, and you’ll want to change it every 4 days so it doesn’t ferment.

After your hummingbird feeder’s hanging in a nice sheltered place, sit back and look out for a bright winged blur! Did you know hummingbirds spend so much time in the air catching bugs and slurping nectar that their weak little feet are nearly useless? They can perch, but they typically can’t walk!

Check out this tiny hummingbird nest from our collection. You can find more tips on making your garden a hummingbird nesting ground here. You can even help track their migration by reporting your sightings!

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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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Last week, our visitors discovered the phenomenon of iridescence on the scales of blue morpho butterfly wings. It turns out iridescence occurs a lot in nature! We can find beautiful examples of iridescence in mother of pearl shells, the feathers of peacocks and ducks, and even on some flies and beetles.

Some iridescent animals use their ability to reflect light to attract a mate. Male Anna’s hummingbirds will manipulate their feathers to produce quick flashes of bright red that they can direct towards a potential mate. Since the red color can only be viewed from a certain angle, the hummingbird nicely avoids also attracting a nearby predator.

Check out the wild and spooky iridescent mating dance of  the “Superb Bird of Paradise” from Papa New Guinea.

After exploring some pictures and videos of iridescence, your students may be ready  to experience it first hand. Your kids have probably been playing with iridescence all their short lives – all you need are bubbles!

Bubbles reflect light off two surfaces of soap sandwiching a layer of water. If the two reflected light wavelengths line up, you perceive a super intense color, this is called constructive interference. If the light waves reflected off the two surfaces don’t line up perfectly, they will cancel each other out, a phenomenon called destructive interference. In destructive interference the light waves become too mixed up and scrambled for your eyes to even perceive; the colors cancel each other out.  The varying thickness of the bubble surface changes which light wavelengths get amplified and which get cancelled out. How many different colors can your students spot on the surface of a bubble? Do the colors change based on the angle of observation?

After exploring iridescence through bubbles, go on a nature walk to see if you can spot any iridescent wildlife.

These iridescent green flies live in the garden at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

Starlings, with their iridescent green and purple plumage, are all too easy to spot in New York. They were introduced to Central Park in 1890 by a Shakespeare fanatic who wanted to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to New York City. They went from 40 birds to 50 million birds a century later! Read more about their invasive introduction to Manhattan here.

If it’s recently rained, examples of iridescence can even be found on an oily street or in sidewalk puddles!

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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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Some of the most memorable experiences we offer at The Brooklyn Children’s Museum involve adventures with our live animals. There are daily opportunities for kids to feel the scales of a snake, see a sea star extend its bright tubular feet, or let a delicate walking stick move across their outstretched hands. We’d like to introduce you to some of the animals that make teaching at the museum such a thrill.

photo by Nolynn Vega

Indigo, an albino corn snake, is native to North America. Corn snakes are found in the southeastern and central states. Their name comes from a propensity to hang around corn silos in search of small rodents, their favorite meal. Corn snakes are constrictors, meaning they kill or subdue their prey by squeezing before swallowing them whole in one big gulp.

photo by Nolynn Vega

Like all our snakes, they are gentle, non-venomous, and very unlikely to bite. My favorite part about teaching with corn snakes is that they love to move! This corn snake, Dots, loves to maneuver himself through my belt loop or key chain ring. When handling corn snakes, I’m much less likely to get the most commonly asked question: “Is that real?!”

Indigo’s beautiful “ghost morph” pattern and Dots’ “fluorescent orange” color comes from selective breeding, a deliberate  mishmash of dominant and recessive pigment genes. The standard pattern of a corn snake is a beautiful blotchy brownish-orange that blends  well into shaded forest leaf litter. Indigo’s light blue-grey color  and Dots’ vibrant orange would have made it difficult to camouflage in the wild. They would probably have been eaten as young snakes by a predatory bird. We’re so glad they’re with us!

Since we celebrated haikus in our last post…

Indigo corn snake

shines silver blue, singular

morph of gentle air.

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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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