Posts Tagged ‘science’

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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Axolotls have some wacky adaptations like feather-like gills on their head and the ability to regenerate limbs. They're endangered due to the non-native Carp and Tilapia that have been introduced into their native environment, gobbling up their primary food source. Come visit this interesting dude at The Brooklyn Children's Museum.

Activities on biomimicry can easily lead to questions about evolution. How did so many creatures evolve to have such wacky and perfectly suited adaptations? The Biomimicry Institute introduces students to the concept of natural selection through a simple hands-on game. Students begin in a circle surrounding a box of paper clips. Each student is handed a piece of paper. They may fold or bend their paper in any way that they think would make it the best “glider”. The object of the game is to get your paper to the box of paper clips in the least amount of throws. Each time a student’s “glider” touches the box the student may collect a paper clip. Read instructions for the full activity here.

The folds that the children make represent a natural mutation, with each round the student can adapt their glider to fly better.  The “gliders” equipped with mutations (folds and creases) most suited to their environment and best able to collect resources (the paper clips) stay in the game…they’ve adapted! Especially adapted gliders might even block other gliders ability to get near the box of paper clips. This helps show students what happens to organisms who share their environment with creatures extremely well adapted to obtaining their same food source. They can get crowded out!

One big piece of the evolution puzzle this game leaves out is “random variation”. Each “mutation” that that students add to their glider is formed with the goal of gliding in mind. Can you think of a way to alter this game that would show students that mutations are random rather than designed?

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Many cities have found ways to limit the very visible form of pollution called smog (smoke+ fog= smog), but on some unfortunate days industrial and automotive  pollution can mix together with inopportune  weather conditions and form unhealthy levels of smog in the air, leaving a hazy blanket over a city. The problem intensifies in cities surrounded by mountains and on warm weather days. Smog causes harm to humans, animals, and plants.

Do this simple experiment in the classroom to see fog form in a jar! Adult supervision required!

Smog Alert!

1) Cut a strip of paper about 10 in x 1/2 in. (25cm x 1.25 cm).

2) Fold the length of the strip in half and twist the paper.

3) Make a “lid” for the glass jar by shaping a piece of aluminum foil over the open end of the jar. Take away the foil and put it aside.

4) Put some water in the jar. Swirl it around so the inside walls of the jar are wet.

5) Pour out the water. Make sure there isn’t any water pooling at the bottom of the jar.

6)  Place 3 ice cubes on top of the foil to make it cold (I used an ice pack).

7) Ask an adult to light the strip of paper. Drop it and the match into the damp jar.

8) Quickly put the foil lid on the jar and seal it tightly. Keep the ice cubes on top of the foil, in the middle.

What do you see in the jar? Have you ever seem this in the sky? Could the air still be polluted on a visibly clear day?

This offers a prime chance to discuss the deadly London smog disaster of 1952, one of the worst environmental incidents in history. During a very cold but windless week,  many Londoners burned more coal than usual to heat their homes. This pollution combined with the pollution from coal powered power stations created a thick layer of smog in the air which severely affected the respiratory tracts of many people.   The smog killed 4,000 people and shut down all road, air, and rail transportation in the city! This event would come to inspire environmental research, government regulation, and public awareness of the relationship between air quality and health. 

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Do you teach 5th grade? The New York State Department of Conservation has an annual Arbor Day contest, looking for the best Arbor Day Poster. The theme for this year’s contest is Trees Are Terrific in All Shapes and Sizes. Here’s last year’s winner:

All contest entries are due by January 12, 2012 so they can be judged and the winner announced before Arbor Day, which is April 27, 2012.

Check out the contest website for full rules and details as well as lesson ideas for your 5th grade class, tying into mathematics, science, and arts standards. You can also see winning posters for past years.

What amazing art will your students come up with?

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Today, two favorite websites for early childhood science: Sid the Science Kid and Big Science for Little Hands. These are both great resources for teachers with students aged 3-5 and I hope they’ll help you plan great science lessons.

Sid the Science Kid's website; note the parents and teachers links on the right

A few months ago, the staff at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum had the opportunity to be trained by the team behind Sid the Science Kid. They talked us through the show’s format, the research behind Sid the Science Kid, and the show’s website. If you’re not familiar with the program, you can watch clips on the website or watch a full episode on your local PBS station.

What’s so great about Sid?

  • The show is all about the scientific method. Each episode starts with question that a kid might ask, like what happened to the bread I left out overnight, and then proceeds to test the question until the kids arrive at a conclusion.This is exactly the way to get kids ready for the full scientific method when older: start with a question, make a guess or prediction, test it, and then draw a conclusion.
  • Each episode has an activity and a game. Try them out with your students!
  • The vocabulary lists are amazing. Words are defined in a way that’s scientifically valid and developmentally appropriate. Check out the words they’ve defined so far and you will be much better prepared the next time a kid needs a new word defined. Here’s a link to the glossary.

The team from Sid the Science Kid does a lot of their planning using Preschool Pathways to Science: Facilitating Scientific Ways of Thinking, Talking, Doing, and Understanding, by Rochel Gelman, Kimberley Brennenman, Gay McDonald, and Moises Roman. It’s a great book to help plan science activities in your early childhood classroom.

This brings us to Big Science for Little Hands, produced by Science World in Vancouver. The website is all about science for preschoolers, with activities about wet and dry, air, contraptions, size, stickiness, and more. Most of it isn’t directly related to sustainability, but it’s all about getting kids to think scientifically. The activities are all designed to get kids engaged, unleashing their curiosity.

If you scroll down the homepage, you will find “questions to ask while exploring science with preschoolers.” These great questions, like “What has changed?” and “What has stayed the same?,” are simply worded questions that will help young learners get at complicated scientific truths. Best, of all, they’re available in English and 8 other languages: French, German, Spanish, Farsi, Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Punjabi. I used to work at a bilingual school, so I’m always on the lookout for resources that you can send home with kids for use with their parents, even if those parents don’t speak English.

I hope these two websites will help you think about great ideas for your classroom. What other early childhood science websites do you like to use?

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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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