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Posts Tagged ‘plants’

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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Did you enjoy the underwater hornwart experiment to show photosynthesis? Here are some ideas of experiments to do with a geranium, which you should be able to buy for about $3 at a local plant store. (Other plants will work, too; we picked geraniums because they are inexpensive and large enough for little eyes to see.)

Materials: potted plant, construction paper, small paint brushes

  1. Start by just observing the plant. What do you see? What parts does it have? What are those parts designed to do?
  2. Cover both sides of a leaf with construction paper to block the light for two weeks and watch how the leaf turns white as it can’t make food. The construction paper is preventing the chlorophyll in the leaves from absorbing the sun’s energy. This demonstration will help students understand that a plant does, in fact, need the sun.
  3. Feel the fuzzy leaves and hypothesize about why a plant would want fuzzy leaves (it helps keep water droplets off the pores of the leaf and allows it to “breathe” or transpire).
  4. During the spring, look for pollen in the flowers. Take a paint brush and use it to pick up the visible pollen on the stamen, or male reproductive organ of a plant. Then, dust the pollen from the paintbrush to the stigma, or female reproductive organ of the plant (see pictures below). Once the plant has been pollinated, seeds will form! Notice how the seeds curl out of the seed pods after the flowers have dropped off. Later, you can blow the seeds in the wind and notice how their long tails catch the breeze. Where are the seeds going?

What other experiments would you do with a plant to learn more about its parts?

The stamen is where pollen comes from. All of those small yellow dots are pollen.

The stigma receives pollen. Pollen causes pollination, when the egg of the plant develops into a seed.

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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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Growing food in a classroom is great, but it’s also wonderful to go to a farm and see lots of food being grown. Students start to link plants to the food on their plate. Learning about where food comes from will also prepare students to learn about food transportation and related sustainability issues as they grow older.

There are actually lots of farms in New York City and fall is a great time for a visit, enabling students to learn about harvest. Check out these farms, both contemporary and historic, throughout New York City. All of them offer field trip options; farms marked in bold type offer field trips to all grades, including early childhood.

Of course, if you don’t teach in one of these neighborhoods, another option is to find your closest community garden and arrange a visit there. One way to find a local garden is to use the Green Apple Map. Click the link, zoom in to your neighborhood, and find out where a local community garden is located: http://www.greenapplemap.org/. Additionally, to find information about and resources for community gardening, see Green Thumb: http://www.greenthumbnyc.org/. Oasis NYC also has a comprehensive listing of community gardening resources: http://www.oasisnyc.net/garden/resources.aspx

One of many community gardens in Brooklyn

And don’t forget farmer’s markets! Try arranging a field trip to one and give students a chance to talk to the farmers who come from just outside the city to supply New Yorkers with fresh food. For more information, check out: http://www.nyfarmersmarket.com/  or http://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/ourfarmers

Do you know of other farm or garden resources we forgot? Please share!

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Growing a plant is a time-honored tradition in the early childhood (EC) classroom, and for good reason. Life cycles are a huge part of the EC curriculum, and young learners need to see something for themselves to believe it. Help students learn about growth and develop their scientific observation skills by growing plants together.

Start with a book like How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan or One Bean by Anne Rockwell with students. Both books provide instructions on how to grow your own plant in the classroom, providing students with the opportunity to see the relationship between seed and plant.

After observing one plant grow, experiment. Ask students what conditions they think will help a plant grow best and then test out two identical seeds with identical pots and only one growing condition varied. Grow one in dark, one in the light. Or, water one more than the other. Then, watch their growth each day to determine which growing condition is better for the plant. This activity will help students not only with plant life but also with the process of asking a question, testing it, and drawing a conclusion: the basis of the scientific method. Students are never too young to be scientists!

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When planning to incorporate nature in your classroom, where to start? This may seem obvious, but the key is letting children start by exploring.  All learners, but early learners in particular, need to be given the opportunity to observe for themselves and formulate their own questions before being told what to do. Young students are still learning how the world works and need time to watch and think.

Take an entire period, or more, to have students make observations outdoors. Pick a spot in the schoolyard or a nearby park and have students observe what they see. Here are some ways to encourage that observation and exploration:

  • Snails are an animal that kids can handle safely. They are plentiful (especially after the rain), will walk on a student's hand, and are reasonably durable, as long as students are taught not to squish them.

    Before leaving the classroom, make sure that students know not to touch any animals they find. For plants, explain that if a part of the plant is attached to the ground or to a tree, it should be left alone. Leaves or seeds on the ground can be picked up.

  • Give each student a clipboard and piece of paper. Pre-literate students can draw what they see; literate students can both draw and write their observations.
  • If students are having trouble focusing, give them a prompt to focus on. Ask students to observe the ground for five minutes, then the air, then look for signs of animals, then plants, etc.

    What do you see? How does it move? Asking students to observe, describe, write, and draw will help unleash their natural curiosity and help you decide what to teach next!

  • Students should have some time to sit and draw or write, as well as some time to walk around and explore. Give students boundaries, but allow them to move freely within those boundaries. If one student finds something particularly interesting (a spider web, a puddle, a live animal), you may want to re-gather the class so they all have the chance to see it.
  • When you return to the classroom, have students share what they saw and any questions they may have. Some questions may be answered during the course of your regular curriculum, while others may merit extra research by the class. Take note of which topics they were interested in; these could provide ideas for what to focus on next.

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We keep using this phrase “my green community.” By now you may be wondering, what is a green community? A green community is one that takes care of the environment. A green community provides a healthy environment for plants and animals, including people.

This definition may be sufficient for a teacher of very young students. Alternately, you may be interested in a more comprehensive look at what elements make a community truly green. For adults, one great starting point is an exhibition produced by the National Building Museum in 2008 entitled Green Community. Their website (http://www.nbm.org/exhibitions-collections/exhibitions/green-community/green-community.html) has extensive information about what a green community is and is not. This includes five categories of green and information about real places that fit into these categories.

While this is a great resource, it is designed for adults. We at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum have spent time thinking about how to take these complicated ideas and present them appropriately to children.

Here, then, are five actions that together make a community green:

Re-Invent Your City

Our city is growing! Every year, Brooklyn is home to more people. More people need more houses, more food, more everything. What do we do if we run out of space? In a green community, people think creatively about how to use space.

Example: The MTA uses a lot of power to run the subways and buses. To reduce some of their power demands, they installed solar panels on the roof of the Stillwell Avenue Terminal in Coney Island. The canopy of the station went from being wasted space, to renewable energy for the public transit system.

Travel Green

What’s the best mode of transit? You! Whether walking or biking, physical activity is good for your health and good for the planet. If you have to travel a long distance, take the bus or subway. Brooklynites are already some of the greenest people in the United States due to their massive use of public transit!

Use Less

Think of good ways to use less. Turn the lights off. Don’t leave the water running. Re-use a water bottle. Think about how to use less – less water, less plastic, less energy, less of everything!

Grow Green

Take care of the plants and parks around you. Plants are important – they provide oxygen, keep temperatures cool in the summer, provide food and shelter for animals, and look beautiful, too! Seeing nature’s green around you is a sign that you can breathe easy.

Watch Waste

What do we do with the things we don’t need anymore? Not everything needs to be thrown in the garbage. We can separate food waste and recyclables from trash that goes into landfills. Even better, we can reuse things – either reuse them ourselves or give them to somebody who wants what we don’t want anymore. After all, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure!”

To help identify instances of these five actions, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum has developed a family guide to Brooklyn that looks for evidence of green places and practices in the borough. The print guide and an accompanying online map will be available soon. What would you include in our map of Brooklyn?

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