Friday, September 30, 2016

Bird Brains ~ activities for kids

Last week I featured the book Crow Smarts, about how some crows make tools and can figure out puzzles. This week the focus is on birds in your neighborhood.

The best way to watch birds is to be somewhere they can't see or hear you. I like to sit by a window and watch, but some birdwatchers build blinds. Roberta has some great instructions on how to build a bird blind over at Growing With Science.

Go on a Feather Walk. Take a camera or notebook and colored pencils so you can take photos or draw detailed pictures of feathers you see on your walk (it is illegal to collect feathers). If you have a bird guide, try to identify what birds the feathers might have come from. Otherwise, check out the US Fish & Wildlife service's Feather Atlas.

Feed the birds. Get involved in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Feeder Watch. Beginning in November (once the bears are hibernating), you load up the feeders and a couple times a week count the birds visiting your feeder. Feeder Watchers submit data from November through April. That data helps scientists track movements of winter bird populations as well as long-term trends in the bird populations. The data has shown how some populations have expanded their northern range as the climate has warmed. 

Build a Bird Feeder. If you don't have one, here are some instructions for building a bird feeder from Wildlife Watch.

Learn a new song. Listen to the sounds your local birds make. See if you can learn a song, or call. If your birds are too shy to sing when you're around, head over to Cornell Lab of Ornithology and listen to calls of various birds there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wild Outdoor Wednesday

Watch things that hop: crickets, toads, grasshoppers… Where are they going? How far do they hop? Capture their colors and movement on the page in images and words.

Remember to take your sketchbook or journal with unlined pages, something to draw and write with, and something to add color ~ watercolors, colored pencils, crayons, or markers.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Crow Smarts & author interview

Crow Smarts: inside the brain of the world's brightest bird (Scientists in the Field series)
by Pamela S. Turner; photos by Andy Comins
80 pages; ages 10 - 12
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

"Is a crow smarter than a second grader?" That's the question this book opens with - and the answer is a resounding "yes". But you might not recognize crow intelligence unless you know what you're looking for. They don't write essays or take multiple choice tests. What they do is solve problems.

In this book, author Pamela Turner spends time with scientists studying New Caledonian crows. In the wild, these birds fashion tools to spear their food. One chapter focuses on how a juvenile crow learns tool-making from his parents and by trial-and-error. She devotes an entire chapter to tool-making and another to the challenges that scientists presented to the birds including problems that required multiple steps to solve. You can see New Caledonian crows solving problems here.

What I love about this book - about Turner's nonfiction in general - is that it is fun to read! She takes you into the jungle with the scientists, and shares the logic crows use to puzzle out solutions. There are maps and sidebars and an "ask the author" section at the end.

I just had to "ask the author" Three Questions, which Pamela graciously answered.

Archimedes: What inspired you to write about crow intelligence?

Pamela: For the past 12 years I've been a volunteer at Lindsay Wildlife Hospital in Walnut Creek, California. The first time I saw a baby crow, someone was syringe-feeding into its gaping mouth. Crow babies make a funny high-pitched sound when you feed them. Also, they are very interactive and play with their food and other things. Eventually I became a crow and raven specialist and even brought baby crows home to raise in my own house. When I was writing the book about tool-using dolphins, I'd collected lots of information about crows... so I thought I'd do a book focusing on the crows.

Archimedes: What sort of research did you do?

Pamela: I read articles and books, and then went into the field with the scientists. I spent five days in a blind! Part of the research was in the forest and part was in the aviary, One of the reasons I got excited about this project is the connection between tool use and language. When scientists look at brain scans, the parts of the brain that light up when making stone tools are the same as language centers.

Archimedes: What do you love best about writing for kids?

Pamela: Delving into a subject I'm excited about and sharing it. With science it's all about going out with the scientists into the field. With biographies, it's interesting to see how someone's early childhood experiences got them started or helped to mold their lives. For example, Tyrone Hayes loved frogs as a kid. He didn't know you could study frogs for a living, yet he followed his passion and became "the frog scientist".

Find out more about Pamela and her books over at her website. Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wild Outdoor Wednesday

Collect the colors of the sunset on your page. What do you hear? See? Feel?

Remember to take your sketchbook or journal with unlined pages, something to draw and write with, and something to add color ~ watercolors, colored pencils, crayons, or markers.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Seeds Can't Sit Still!

 Last week I featured the book, Plants Can't Sit Still, about the different ways that plants move. This week the focus is on one way plants move: with their seeds. Some plants produce seeds that look like parachutes; some have seedpods that explode; some have sticky seeds that hitch a ride on your clothes - or animal fur.

Save Seeds
You might find flowers going to seed. If they're flowers you like, try collecting their seeds. Calendula has curved seeds that form in heads. Sunflowers have tight heads of seeds. Lupine seeds come in pods, like peas.

Once you've collected your seeds, make a seed packet for them. Here's directions for folding an envelope out of paper. Or you can use a small envelope and decorate it.

How far do seeds Fly?
Some plants, like milkweeds, dandelions, and thistles, produce seeds that look like tiny parachutes. What kinds of parachute seeds can you find in your neighborhood?

Collect some different kinds. Take a good look at them - note their differences. Some might have long, silky threads while others are shorter and stiffer.

Make a starting line with chalk, or using a stick. Release your seeds and try to follow them. How far do they travel?

Find Hitchikers
Find some old wool socks - and put them on over your shoes. Then go for a walk in a weedy field. When you come back, look at all the seeds that attached to the socks. Use a handlens to see details  of hooks and stickers. Draw pictures of how the seeds hook onto the socks.

Check out more seed activities over at Roberta's blog,  Growing With Science.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wild Outdoor Wednesday

Revisit your square. Do you notice any changes? Write down what you see; draw pictures; capture the colors of September in your square. When you are finished, take the sticks and string home with you.

Remember to take your sketchbook or journal with unlined pages, something to draw and write with, and something to add color ~ watercolors, colored pencils, crayons, or markers.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Plants Can't Sit Still & author interview

Plants Can't Sit Still
by Rebecca E. Hirsch; illus. by Mia Posada
32 pages; ages 5-10 (and older!)
Millbrook Press, 2016

theme: plants, nature, nonfiction

Plants don't have feet or fins or wings,

yet they can move in many ways.

If you look closely, you discover that plants can't sit still! Maybe you've seen a plant move - a seedling starting to grow in your garden. You run out to see if the beans have started to grow and there's a green sprout poking out of the soil. Run in for a glass of lemonade, and by the time you've returned something thick is poking out and by the next day there's a seedling, unfolding its leaves.

Or maybe you planted some morning glories by the fence and sort of forgot about them - but a few weeks later you notice they've climbed up and over and around. That's plants moving!

What I like LOVE about this book: This is such a fun book to read - it makes you want to get up and move around. It validates any kid who's been accused of being unable to sit still.Seriously, if plants - the things rooted into the ground - if they can't sit still, then why should we be expected to?

I love the simple, yet accurate, language that Rebecca Hirsch uses to show how plants move - in space, time, and developmental stages. Plants wiggle and squirm, they float and fly, they hitch rides. They definitely don't sit still.

I also LOVE the bright, bold watercolor and collage illustrations. Mia Posada's artwork is astounding and brings every page to life. I especially like the Venus Fly Trap.

Beyond the book: Check out these videos of plants moving - using time-lapse photography -
 Investigate the plants living in and around you. Do they move? How would you know if they did? Watch a plant for the week and try to determine whether - and how - it might be moving. Roots? Stem? Leaves? Seeds? Do petals open and close at certain times of the day?

Hunt for action words - verbs - that show how plants move. Here's a few to get you started: creep (roots), climb (vines), fold (petals), twirl (maple seeds).

Drop by next week for some hands-on plant science activities.

Now for an interview with author, Rebecca Hirsch. I just had to ask Rebecca why she wrote this book, and she graciously answered Three Questions.

Archimedes: What inspired this book?

Rebecca: (confessing that she became an "accidental" plant biologist in graduate school) Plants are so fascinating. They move in a different time dimension than we move. Many people don't pay attention, but you can see them move. Raspberries, for example - their canes arch and bend down, and where they touch the ground they take root. In that way, the plant moves. One of the cool things I learned in my research was that 200 years ago, scientists were discovering ways that plants were like animals. Even trees have social networks - a "wood-wide web".

Archimedes: What sort of research did you do for this book?

Rebecca: Observation - I see a lot of this plant movement in my garden, especially the climbers (pole beans, cucumbers) don't stay put. I also read a lot of books and papers by scientists and watched some good time-lapse videos of plant movements (my favorite is watching morning glories send their tendrils out). And I interviewed a scientist doing plant research.

Archimedes: What cool new things about plants did you learn while working on this book?

Rebecca: I learned so much - too many things to include in a book! So many plants disperse their seeds by exploding. And there are so many ways that climbing plants can climb. Some use leaves or tendrils to wrap around something, and some have glue - a sticky substance exuded by rootlets. And some plants move by floating along in flooding rivers until the water recedes; then they take root.

Thank you, Rebecca. You can check out her website here.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining 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 BooksReview copy from the publisher.