Friday, April 26, 2013

Arbor Day - Celebrating Trees

Arbor Day celebrates planting trees - but it's a good time to get to know a tree growing in your neighborhood a little better.

Use your senses of sight, hearing, touch and smell to describe your tree. Is it like the other trees around it? Is it taller or shorter? What about its bark, or leaves? What about the shape of your tree? Is there any way you can figure out how tall it is?

Why did you choose this particular tree? What kind is it?

Try to visit it once a week and take a picture or draw a picture of your tree. What sort of changes do you notice over the year?

You might recall that back in October I mentioned a young man who created a tree-like model for an array of solar panels. His name is Aidan Dwyer. Here's a video of him explaining how he came up with the idea and, most importantly, how his generation can use science to make our world a better place.

The Secret of Trees | Albert Maysles from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

This post is part of STEM Friday round-up.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day Birth Day for Red Tailed Hawks

The Red-tailed hawk pair have three eggs - today two have hatched (as of 2:15 pm) and tried to nibble snake for lunch. You can watch on this video:

click on the nest cam button over to the right and you can check in on the nestlings as they grow - and maybe catch #3 hatching.

Earth Day

A view of home from a long way up. (Clouds along the eastern side of the Andes Mountains, Photographed by astronaut Frank Borman and James A. Lovell during the Gemini 7 mission.)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Habitat Spies Celebrate Earth Day

Habitat Spy
by Cynthia Kieber-King; illus. by Christina Wald
32 pages, ages 4 - 8
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2011

When I was a kid, we'd play a game called "I Spy" when we traveled. Dad started, challenging people to "spy a red car" or a cow or, when we were in Yellowstone Park, a moose.

Cynthia Kieber-King takes that old game for a ride through 13 different habitats. From backyard to beach, from plains to pond, her "habitat spies" - boys and girls from a diversity of cultures - discover plants, birds, mammals and more. And she does it in short, snappy rhyme that emphasizes action. In the bog, for example, "...sundews gape, beetles trap, flycatchers dart, lemmings tap."

Cynthia, who lives in central NY state, surrounded by a diversity of habitats, shared some thoughts about writing and being a "habitat spy". 

Archimedes: How did you end up with short poetic habitat descriptions that are so action-oriented?

Cynthia:  Habitat Spy started out with a different title, and longer lines of lyrical poetry that just didn’t seem to work. I wondered if I could make the language more engaging and still communicate the information I wanted to share; if I pared away all the descriptive words, leaving just the bare essence. I thought it might work, especially with illustrations sharing the story of each habitat. So I focused on action verbs – especially unusual ones – and added rhyme to make reading it out loud more fun.

Archimedes:  What inspired the idea for a habitat tour? And how did that evolve into habitat "spy"? 

Cynthia: A number of years ago the area behind my backyard was full of brambles, and far beyond the brambles the land rose into a wooded hill.  Whenever I played in the backyard with my young son, I wondered what those faraway and unreachable woods looked like.  I imagined the neat plants and animals I would see if I could get to those woods. Then I wondered what I might see if I kept walking, from habitat to habitat across the US – so many amazing plants and animals and the places they lived!  Since I couldn’t make that walk in real life, I made the trip on paper.  And the images in my mind of spying on all those habitats turned into Habitat Spy.

Archimedes: This is your first book - what other projects are you involved in?

Cynthia: Next week I’ll be starting a training program to become a volunteer at our local zoo – I’m quite excited about that!  I also have several books in the works, in various phases of revision. 

Beyond the Book

Celebrate Earth Day this weekend by learning more about where you live. Become a Habitat Spy - what can you see in your backyard? A vacant lot?

What are the plants and animals doing in your habitat? Come up with a list of action words (verbs) to describe what goes on in your habitat.

Kieber-King includes four pages of science activities "for creative minds" at the back of the book, including what makes a "habitat", animal adaptations, classification, and food chains.

This post is part of STEM Friday round-up. It's also part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Nest Building is For the Birds - but you can help

This is construction season for birds – and they’re busy searching for nesting material. Whether they make simple nests or elaborate cottages, birds are looking for building materials that will help keep their eggs warm, protect their young, camouflage the nest from predators and protect the babies from rain and weather.

Birds may use a variety of materials to build their nests, from twigs and leaves to strips of plastic shopping bags. Here are some other materials birds use to build their nests:

  • Grass clippings or dead grass
  • Yarn, string or thread
  • Human hair or animal fur
  • Feathers
  • Cattail fluff
  • Moss or lichen
  • Pine needles
  • Mud
  • Spider web silk
  • Straw or other plant stems
  • Dental floss
  • Shredded paper
  • Broom bristles or mop string
  • Cotton balls

You can help your backyard and neighborhood birds by providing some nesting materials. How?

  • Drape bits of string, thread, ribbon and cloth over trees and shrubs.
  • Loosely fill a suet cage with bits of nesting material and hang it where the birds will find it.
  • Fill a mesh bag or small basket loosely with materials and hang it where it won’t get wet. 

If you plan to put out extra materials, try to keep them natural – cotton or silk instead of plastic and polyester. And look for natural colors that won’t advertise a nest’s presence to predators.
 Remember to check out other cool science resources at STEM Friday.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring Blossoms

Spring Blossoms
 by Carole Gerber; illustrated by Leslie Evans
32 pages; ages 4-7
Charlesbridge, 2013

"Spring is bursting out all over.
 The sun is up. It’s warm. Let’s go!
Trees, so bare and plain in winter,
 are dressed up for their yearly show." 

This is how Carole Gerber opens her new book - and a new season -  celebrating trees. This time she focuses on spring blossoms and catkins, following two girls and their dog as they race from tree to tree. In lyrical verse, Gerber introduces us to nearly a dozen common trees. We learn that crab apple blossoms are white, while cherry blossoms are pink. Red maple flowers are red, but redbud blossoms aren’t – they’re pink. There are male flowers and female flowers, flowers with showy petals and flowers with tiny petals that you hardly notice.

Beyond the book:

Go on a bud hike. Look at buds, catkins, and blossoms on the trees in your neighborhood. Take some time to draw the twigs with their buds and blossoms.

Take a closer look at the buds and blossoms with a magnifying lens. Some things you might look for:

  • What color are the buds?
  • Do buds grow by themselves or in groups?
  • Are they smooth or hairy?
  • Are they covered with scales that look like roof shingles or fish scales?
  • As the buds open, do parts fall off?
  • Do flowers and leaves come out of the same buds?
  • Which comes first: flowers or leaves. 

Adopt a tree or two & visit them a couple times over the next two weeks. Draw what the twigs and buds look like.

Share your bud information with scientists through Project Budburst.

This post is part of STEM Friday round-up. It's also part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy provided by publisher.