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Archive for the ‘Water’ 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.

poalr bear2

hurricane

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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Snails make the perfect classroom pets. They aren’t terribly high maintenance but they require enough care that students get to play an important role in maintaining a healthy colony.

A fish tank makes an ideal snail enclosure but those can run a little pricey- a plastic bin with a removable lid makes an inexpensive alternative. It should be at least around 20 cm x 20 cm. The bigger your enclosure, the easier it will be to monitor humidity levels. For more tips on building your own tank, check out this site.

You can build the habitat of your snail enclosure as a class project. Collect dirt, rock, leaves,  and sticks. You can even throw in real moss and ferns to help with humidity levels. Bricks, limestone, cement, or old sea shells add a source of calcium that the snails will grind up and use to “build” their shells.

Any gardener would be happy to let you collect plant-eating snails from their garden. Perhaps your class’s snail collecting could involve visits to local community gardens!

Beside the standard scientific observation we covered in our last post, here are some daily chores and activities your students can take turns doing to ensure happy gastropods:

  • Spray down their enclosure. If you don’t keep snails moist with a daily spritz, they’ll seal themselves up in their shell with a film of dried up slime. But don’t water too much — too much moisture and you’ll get stinky mold in the enclosure.
  • Add some fresh lettuce greens to your tank and watch how quickly the snails chomp away. You can try out other fruits and veggies to see what your snails prefer.
  • Have your students devise some experiments to do with your snails. The book Snailology has some some fun quandaries to work with:
    • Build a maze! Can find their way around corners and through obstacles?
    • Snail circus! Build a snail tight rope with some string and watch the snails race across. Do they “walk the line” or prefer a more windy path?
    • Test the weight bearing power of a snail! Tape a string and a penny to their shell. Can they pull a penny? Can they pull a quarter?
    • Are snails attracted to darkness or will they seek out the light?

    Let us know if you have snail success!

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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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Last Tuesday marked the official first day of spring. Happy Spring everybody! We’ve been talking about air quality and what better way to celebrate springtime and fresh air than a lesson on New York City trees.

MillionTreesNYC is a project that aims to plant a million new trees throughout the 5 boroughs within a decade, and the participation of New York City public schools is essential to attaining their ambitious goal!

They offer a huge range of programs and curricula for all grade levels. School programs range from year-long green surveying and planting projects to one-day school-wide assemblies to short 15 minute lesson plans for all grade levels.

Bette Midler formally beginning the MillionTrees campaign by planting a Caroline Silverbell in 2007.

Check out the great Kids Section where you can find a fun tree quiz and a leaf ID game to help your students familiarize themselves with common New York city  trees. Take a walk around the neighborhood  and take a tree survey! If you find a tree pit that’s missing a tree, MillionTrees can guide you through the process of acquiring, planting, and caring for your school’s new tree.

Earth Day is coming up on April 22nd.  Spending a day planting trees would be an excellent way to celebrate!

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Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is part of sustainable Brooklyn!

Methane is a gas found in rotting food and farts! It sounds (and smells) gross, but methane can also be used for fuel to create energy. This treatment plant collects methane and turns it into fuel. It is also the only wastewater treatment plant in the city open to the public. Learn more at the Visitor Center or check out the nature walk on site.

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is located at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Humboldt Street. Take the G toGreenpoint Avenue.

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is an example of Watch Waste.

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When Brooklyn Children’s Museum was renovated in 2008, all new bathrooms were fitted with low-flow water features. In fact, our boy’s bathrooms even have completely waterless urinals!

The water conservation exhibit helps kids understand the need for low flow by talking about just how much water is used by common features. Kids turn a know, pull a lever, or press a button and find out how much water is used by a bath or a shower.

One popular comparison is between an open fire hydrant and a fire hydrant with a sprinkler cap. The former (displayed on the left) uses a shocking 1,000 gallons per minute of water! That is so much water that it is both wasteful and dangerous – this much water causes decreased water pressure to nearby buildings, a problem in the case of a real fire.

To prevent this problem, you can go to your neighborhood firehouse and ask them to install a sprinkler cap (displayed on the right). Hydrants with sprinkler caps use only 15 gallons of water per minute, a huge reduction.

To learn more, check out the water conservation exhibit, on the Lower Level, across from Fantasia in the Science Inquiry Center.

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