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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

One great way to celebrate our planet is to highlight all the wonderful ways nature has inspired human technologies. Biomimicry is when we look to nature for inspiration and innovation for our own tools, buildings, even art.  If millions of years of natural variation and random selection have led to efficient and beautiful solutions to our everyday problems, why not imitate evolution’s designs?

This book Nature Did it First! introduces young ones to ways that animals thrive in the wild using tricks we thought we invented!

You can challenge your students by reading this book backwards and having them guess which modern convention was inspired by the natural phenomenon on the page. For example: What does this termite nest looks like? What do we use  that’s like the long proboscis that the butterfly collects nectar with?

Or you can have them view the modern object first and guess which animal did it first! For example: Do you know of an animal that has a scissor-like mouth? Which animals are able to give themselves showers?

Check in soon for more on the fascinating world of Biomimicry!

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One way to have less smoggy and polluted days in our future is to get our next generation of engineers, designers, and educators interested in renewable energy sources like wind. Check out this beautiful Wind Map that shows how much wind power there is at any given hour in the U.S.

Take your students outside to observe the wind! Kidswind.org offers some fun experiments for engaging kids with wind energy. See the Wind begins with a sturdy kite or large helium balloon, some streamers, and a windy day. Attach the streamers at 3 meter intervals along your kite or balloon string. Fly your kite! Students can observe and compare how the streamers close to the ground behave compared to the streamers high up near the kite. Is the wind stronger, smoother, or faster at different elevations? Why do the streamers behave differently? What does this mean for wind power?

Have your students all lay flat on the ground. Can they feel the wind? Now, what changes when they find someplace higher up to stand, like a bridge on the play ground?

How do we harness this plentiful wind?! Stay tuned for pinwheel and Wind Turbine projects.

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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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This weekend in science at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum we investigated animal nests in our program sponsored by National Grid. Kids piled into the greenhouse where we brought out some awesome examples of creative nests from our collection. Kids had the chance to build their own small nests and worked together to create one giant outdoor nest from recently trimmed tree branches.

From twigs and mud to bubbles and spit, nests can be made out of just about anything. Try our nest building activity in the classroom: Start with a layer of glue on the bottom of a paper bowl, then pass out a big mix of materials. You can either collect twigs and dead leaves from outside or gather up any fabric, string, yarn or other craft materials you have around. Let the kids go wild making nests and see what they create! Using chop sticks as a mock beak makes this activity a little more challenging for older kids. Can they make a sturdier nest by weaving together or braiding their materials? Would they want their nest to be flashy or to blend in?

We’ve talked about the creativity of urban birds on the blog before. While your students are building their nests, the class can also be monitoring one of the Nest Cams that scientists and bird lovers have set up around the city to keep an eye on our populations of Peregrine Falcons and Hawks.

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Have you been to Wave Hill? This wonderful garden and cultural center in the Bronx overlooks the Hudson River. It’s a great place to take a class; their programs go from grades PK-6 and feature topics such as seeds, birds, and trees.

On top of that, the site offers professional development, many sessions for free. The Outdoor Classroom, for example, trains teachers to incorporate Wave Hill into their curriculum. This session is being offered Tuesday, November 8th from 10am-noon. It will be offered again on April 12, 2012.

For a full list of school programs as well as inexpensive professional development options (some for credit), check out their website. It really is a wonderful site and a great one for young learners!

PS: Don’t forget. We have our own professional development at Brooklyn Children’s Museum next week on green communities!

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It’s here! Brooklyn Children’s Museum would like to present our new sustainability guide for educators, My Green Community.

The premise is simple: unfortunately, while nature is in the elementary science curriculum, other sustainability topics (energy, water conservation, food, waste management) are not. So, we tied study of community to study of environmentalism, linking social studies and science to create opportunities to introduce these key topics and to create interdisciplinary units of study.

The guide is divided into three sections: nature, sustainability, and a culminating project. The nature section deals with plants, birds, and insects. Sustainability covers energy, food, water, and waste. Finally, the culminating project is a mapping activity in which students examine their neighborhood for evidence of sustainability to decide in what ways their community is and is not green. Activities were designed for grades PK-2 but many will be applicable through middle school and even high school in some cases.

The full guide is available for download. In addition, you can attend a free professional development session as a supplement to the guide here at Brooklyn Children’s Museum on either October 20th or October 22nd. And, finally, this blog exists to supplement the guide. So if you love the Focus on Birds section in the guide, for example, click on the birds tag on the right of this page for more birds activities.

Please share this wonderful resource with your colleagues. If you have any feedback or would like to share how you are using My Green Community, contact us: gogreen@brooklynkids.org.

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Well, if you are a New York City teacher and you are reading this: congratulations on finishing five days with your students! It’s now the second week of school, you know your students’ names, you’ve introduced routines and rules, you are working on diagnostics, and thoughts are turning to curriculum planning.

Whether the schedule says that you teach science or not, all teachers can be science teachers. After all, science is simply the practice of asking questions about the world, making predictions, and then testing those predictions.

If this is a new subject for you, here are some great, preliminary resources for teaching about nature and the environment to help you think about how to incorporate this curriculum into your classroom. Following the book image will take you to a library entry for the book!

What books would you recommend to fellow teachers? What books have you found helpful in planning to teach nature, sustainability, or science in general?

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Speaking of wildlife in New York City, Jamaica Bay is an amazing place to study. It’s an estuary surrounding by Brooklyn, Queens, and a little bit of Nassau County. It is one of the largest tidal wetlands in the United States. Jamaica Bay is a fascinating ecosystem, full of biodiversity, which is having a variety of plant and animal species. In addition to salt marsh, grasslands, coastal woodlands, maritime shrublands and brackish and freshwater wetlands, Jamaica Bay is home to mammals, reptiles, insects, 91 different species of fish and 325 species of birds!

All of that information came from the Jamaica Bay Education Resource Directory, online at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/jamaica_bay/jamaica_bay_ed_resource_directory_final.pdf. This comprehensive guide will give the curious teacher lots of thoughts of what to do next. Read the entire guide, or you can consider these suggestions.

Students learn about horseshoe crabs on a field trip to Jamaica Bay.

Field trips:

Here, you have lots of options. Two of the most interesting are guided field trips focused on exploring the natural landscape of Jamaica Bay. You can either go to Marine Park in Brooklyn, which is run by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. Call 212-NEW-YORK to speak to an Urban Park Ranger and arrange a visit with your class. Or, you can attend the Gateway National Recreation Area, which is run by the National Park Service. Gateway also comprises parks in Staten Island and New Jersey. For information on field trips, check out their website: http://www.nps.gov/gate/forteachers/planafieldtrip.htm. Whether self-guided or ranger guided, teachers must attend a professional development session first, enabling them to best link Jamaica Bay to their classroom. More field trip ideas can be found in the resource directory.

Books:

Check out Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Food Web by Victoria Crenson. It is set in the Delaware Bay, but the food web and ecosystem described also applies to Jamaica Bay.

For a great, rhyming introduction to salt marshes, check out A Day in the Salt Marsh by Kevin Kurtz. The book will get students ready to think about all the different life forms in a salt marsh, and there are lots of teacher ideas at the end.

There are many more excellent books listed in the resource directory above.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum:

Don’t forget that we have an indoor beach at the museum, perfect for cold, winter days. There’s a dock tank, a sand play area, an investigation of horseshoe crabs, shells to examine, and a touch tank. Most of the creatures in our touch tank come right from Jamaica Bay. We usually have local horseshoe crab, hermit crabs, mud snails, mussels, and clams as well as sea stars, brittle stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, larger snails and sea anemones from farther away.

Inside the touch tank at the Brooklyn Children's Museum. The hermit crab and mussels were collected in Jamaica Bay. Note that the mussel in the foreground has its shell open!

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Sure! New York may be a concrete jungle, but it’s also home to forests, ponds, rivers, beaches, estuaries, bays, the ocean, and all the animals and plants that go along with those natural formations.

Don’t believe us? A great resource for learning more is Wild New York: A Guide to the Wildlife, Wild Places and Natural Phenomena of New York City by Margaret Mittelbach. This book will make you look at New York City is a whole new light. It’s a great pre-reading book for the teacher looking to incorporate more local nature into his or her classroom.

Students will enjoy Go Wild in New York City by Brad Matsen. The reading level is closer to 5th grade, but it is an excellently photographed book with images of urban wildlife in New York.

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These two books are a great starting point for urban nature investigation. If you would like more such books, check out the following:

  • Take a City Nature Walk by Jane Kirkland / Great resource for teachers who want to lead a class nature walk
  • Backyard Detective: Critters Up Close by Nic Bishop / Grades K-4, explore who lives in your backyard with pictures and names, includes an excellent pictographic index to help pre-literate students develop early literacy
  • Angell’s Animals: Wild Friends In An Urban World by Madeline Angell / Mostly about birds, short stories from the author’s encounters with urban animals
  • City Kids and City Critters! by The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, Janet W. Roberts, and Carole Huelbig / Ages 9-12, suggested activities based on years of experience in the Houston area
  • Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson / For the curious teacher
  • Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City by Leslie Day / Designed for adults, a great classroom resource; comes with an amazing map of “forever wild” sites comes along with the book
  • Central Park Wildlife: An Introduction to Familiar Species Found in New York City’s Central Park (A Pocket Naturalist Guide) by James Kavanagh / Great for planning a field trip to Central Park (and in other parts of the city) as it covers many species
  • Peterson First Guide to Urban Wildlife by Sarah B. Landry / A simple introduction for kids to a variety of species that may be found in urban areas
  • City at the Water’s Edge: A Natural History of New York by Betsy McCully / Highly readable, background knowledge for adults
  • Woodlands, Wetlands, & Wildlife by Marianne O’Hea Anderson / Beautifully photographed guide to NYC parks, with a focus on the wilder parks

What other books would you recommend?

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Does the word photosynthesis bring back painful memories of trying to memorize the Krebs cycle? It doesn’t have to! Even the youngest learner can see plants exhaling with this simple underwater experiment

Materials: A clear, glass bowl of water (or a small aquarium), a glass jar, an underwater water plant such as hornwort (purchase at your local pet store or anywhere fish supplies are sold)

Procedure:

  • Place the plant in a deep bowl of water. The water should cover the plant.
  • Place the glass jar over the plant, trapping it. The glass jar should be completely full of water. To do so, lower the glass jar on its side into the bowl, letting all the trapped air bubbles escape, and then tip it to cover the plant.
  • Leave the plant in a sunny place and watch what happens.
  • You will notice that bubbles will rise from the plant and eventually there will be a pocket of oxygen that gathers at the top of the jar where there used to be water.
  • Explain to students that, just like all trees and plants, the hornwort’s leaves takes the sun’s light and carbon dioxide and turns it into food for the plant. At the end of this process, the plant produces oxygen, which is what human beings breathe in. You cannot see the oxygen leaving all plants because oxygen just mixes into the air, but since this plant is underwater, you can see the process called photosynthesis at work!

The full concept of photosynthesis won’t be taught until high school, but even young learners can understand that plants breathe out oxygen with this great activity.

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