Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Smelly Bee Feet


There are bees all over my garden! Bumble bees, carpenter bees, tiny metallic green bees, hairy gray sweat bees, and lots and lots of honey bees. Which means, I have lots of bees to watch when I get tired of weeding.

One of the things I've been wondering is how bees can tell whether there's food waiting inside the flowers they're about to land on. Sure, honey bees dance out directions to their sisters about where the best nectar can be found - but what if another bee got there first?

Turns out that bees - at least bumble bees - can tell whether someone else has visited a flower by the stinky feet print left behind. Yup. Bees have smelly feet, say researchers at the University of Bristol. This means the bees can tell whether they've visited a flower before, and even whether one of their nest-mates has been there. You can read the entire study here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Great American EclipseToday!

The Great American Eclipse is happening!

If you plan to view the sun directly, make sure you have special filters (eclipse glasses) that meet the  ISO 12312-2:2015 standard. Even with those, don't spend a lot of time looking at the sun.

The safest way to watch the eclipse is with your back to the sun. Make a projector and watch the images. If you project the image onto paper, you can trace projections of the eclipse over time so you have a permanent record of your day.

Here are Five Ways to View an Eclipse (from Science Friday)

Here's some Eclipse Science (from last Wednesday)

I'll be watching the eclipse using my favorite pinhole projector: a hole poked through a paper plate. (Though I might use the cereal box, too)

Have fun and be safe! Remember to put on sunscreen and don't look at the sun without your special eclipse filters.

Friday, August 18, 2017

My Awesome Summer

My Awesome Summer,  by P. Mantis
by Paul Meisel
40 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2017

P. Mantis had a wonderful summer, full of bird-watching, hide-and-seek, fine food, sibling rivalry, and flight lessons. There are a few scary moment, like the time she almost got eaten by a bat, and narrowly escaping spider webs. But for the most part it was a summer to remember.

What I like about this book:
It's fun to read! Written from the point of view of a praying mantis, it's set up as diary entries. For example:
June 2
All the aphids are gone. I'm hungry. Growing so fast! I ate one of my brothers. Okay, maybe two. Fine dining? Or sibling rivalry? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. P. Mantis also reveals her most important trick: how to be still and look like a stick. This gets her out of a lot of dicey situations.

I also like love that what would usually go into back matter has been put on the end papers. Small-ish chunks of information about praying mantises and their ecology are accompanied by illustrations. The end pages are where you learn what mantises like to eat, how they use camouflage to hide from predators, flight, and laying eggs. That's where cool websites are and a very tiny glossary.

I like the cover, too. Who can ignore a face like Mantis's? Plus the monarda! Heading out to my garden to see if any of her cousins are hanging out amongst my flowers.


Beyond the Book:

Go on  a Mantis Expedition. Explore flowers and shrubs and tall-grass areas to see if there are any mantids hanging about. Remember to take along something to sketch with, or a camera. Things to observe:
  • how big are the mantids you find?
  • what colors are they?
  • do they fly?
  • watch their behavior for awhile. How do they hunt? 

What do mantids do during a solar eclipse? On Monday there will be an eclipse of the sun. If you live in North America you'll see partial or total eclipse. Check the Wednesday Explorer Club post for more. 

Check out this cool interview with StoryMakers. You'll learn how Paul Meisel met P. Mantis, and how he does his illustrations.

Read this Mantis profile over at National Geographic Kids.

Write about your awesome summer. When I went to school, every fall we had to write a story about what we did that summer. Don't wait. Get a head start ... and if you're feeling particularly creative, write a story from the point of view of an animal who spent the summer nearby. 

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, August 16, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Solar Eclipse Science!

photo from NASA - eclipse seen in space



The Solar Eclipse is coming - Monday, August 21 - and if you live anywhere in North America you'll see at least a partial eclipse. A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blocking out part (or in a swath of lucky locations, all) of the sun's light.

We all know - or at least we should know - that looking directly at the sun can damage our eyes. This holds true for solar eclipses, too. So even though the moon will block the sun's light, you can't watch the eclipse by looking at the sun -

 UNLESS you have special eclipse-viewing glasses.

Eclipse viewing glasses have special filters that protect your eyes. Regular sunglasses are NOT adequate. If you don't have a pair of special eclipse viewing glasses, check your local library. Many libraries are providing glasses and holding fun eclipse viewing parties. Find out more about eclipse safety here.

Those of us who grew up in the last century (context: it was only 18 years ago) learned a cool - and cheap - trick for viewing solar eclipses: make a projector. Instead of looking at the sun, you project the sun's image on a sheet of paper (or a white wall) and watch the moon move across the sun's image. The easiest projector to make is a pinhole projector.

How to make a pinhole projector: Find a piece of cardboard in your recycling bin (clean pizza box, cereal box, large postcard, old spiral notebook cover, even a couple paper plates). Then use a thumbtack, nail, or even sharp point of a pencil to poke a small hole through it. With your back to the sun, hold the cardboard over your shoulder and project the image onto a piece of paper on the ground or a white sidewalk.

Eclipse Science: 

What is the best size or shape of hole for a projector? The suggested size for a pinhole is 1mm, with a perfectly round hole. Will larger holes project just as well? Punch or cut a series of holes of different sizes so you can compare them during the eclipse. Which ones provide clear images? Which provide fuzzy images?

Does hole shape matter? What if you cut a triangle or square?

Does distance of your projector from the ground matter? Compare images when you hold projector close to ground, knee distance, waist distance, shoulder distance... attached to the handle of a rake and held high above the ground...

How does the world change during a solar eclipse? Before the eclipse make some notes about the temperature, how the air feels on your skin, what the surrounding environment looks like, what bird and insect sounds you hear. Continue to jot down observations as the eclipse progresses, and especially when it reaches its darkest. 

More projectors: Got a cereal box? You can turn it into an eclipse viewer with a minimal amount of materials and time. Here's how. Or try making an eclipse viewer from a tube. Instructions here. (Experiment: does tube length matter?)

Remember: it's summer, so put on your sunscreen because you can get a sunburn even during an eclipse.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Birds and bugs



So... you may have noticed over the summer that I love bugs. Ants, bumble bees, clear-winged hummingbird moths, beetles of all colors and kinds! And I found a cool field guide perfect for kids who want to learn more about insects.

Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Insects
By Libby Romero 
160 pages; ages 8-10
 National Geographic Children’s Books, 2017

This is so much more than a field guide. Introductory pages tell where to find insects, how to be safe around insects (avoiding stings, bites, and defensive chemicals), and how to protect insects. Each page introduces an insect, giving its scientific name along with notes about ecology and behavior and photos. There are text boxes noting things to look for, listen to, plus hands-on activities (how to draw a dragonfly), plus plenty of “Insect Inspector” side bars. Every few pages you’ll find an “Insect Report” focusing on specific features: wings, how to tell an insect from a “bug”, and the art of insect deception.

Helpful back matter includes a photographic “Quick ID Guide”, a list of books and apps for discovering more, a glossary, and index. And all of that is in a pocket-sized guide with tough, flexible covers.
 
Bird Braniacs
by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer;  illustrated by Rachel Riordan
104 pages; ages  5 - 13
Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2016

The subtitle for this book is "activity journal and log book for young birders." It is meant to be written in, drawn in, shared with friends. Part activity book and part birding journal, Bird Brainiacs is the perfect book to tuck in a backpack, or toss in the picnic basket when heading off to the park. There are quizzes, “mad-lib” fill-in-the-blanks, games, nature challenges, personality questionnaires, word scrambles, and bird facts. I love the hands-on science stuff: a do-it-yourself bioblitz, bird count, and nest-watching. There are enough bird-log pages to get you started on a summer’s worth of birding plus some how-to-draw pages for the doodler in us all. I know the age range is for up to 13 years, but heck, this looks like fun for the whole family. 

Drop by the STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies from publishers.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Hummingbird Moths


The other day the teasel were busy with bumble bees. There, hovering with them was something else. It hovered sort of like a hummingbird, but the black and yellow stripes made it look like a huge bumble bee - plus hummingbirds don't have antennae.

It's a hummingbird moth, also called hummingbird hawk moth. Look closely and you can see a tiny tail fanned out beneath it. And if you hold still, you can hear them hum, just like a hummingbird (though a moth has never buzzed me yet). Around here they tend to visit monarda and teasels, and they also like phlox, honeysuckle, and verbena.

Here's a video showing a hummingbird moth collecting nectar

Want to learn more? Check out this article by the US Forest Service, and a wonderful collection of photos here.

As you head out on explorations this week, remember: things are not always what they seem. Slow down, look closer - and take notes.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper
by Anastasia Suen; illus. by Ryan O'Rourke
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2017

Dig, dig, dig!
Pour, pour, pour!
Pound, pound, pound!

What's going on behind that tall board fence? Put on your hardhat and let's find out.

Machines and people work together to build a skyscraper. So tall it touches the clouds. So if they're building up, why are they digging down? Because tall buildings need sturdy foundations.

Anastasia Suen takes readers behind the fence and into the world of a construction site. Active language engages kids in what's going on, and additional text explains why. Bolt by bolt, beam by beam, we travel up, up, up to the top of the building. Once the skeleton is completed it's time to put the "skin" on - the metal and glass panels that hold everything in. And then, at last, with a fold-out page that extends high above the others, we see the finished skyscraper.

Beyond the book:
Want to see one under construction? Check out this video.

For older kids interested in architecture, click over to my review of Architect Academy (ages 7 and up).

Then pull out the bin of blocks and build, build, build your own tower!

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, July 26, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ the Beetles


The other day I was sitting on the porch looking at grass and there, scuttling between the blades, was a brilliant green beetle. We've got lots of beetles; there are coppery Japanese beetles nibbling leaves and flowers in my garden, orange beetles hanging out on milkweed, ladybird beetles in a rainbow of hues from yellow and peach to bright red, as well as darker beetles in blacks, browns, and purple.

There are more than 400,000 different kinds of beetles, and they are a diverse group. Go out and look at them and you'll see what I mean.

Besides the obvious - color and size - check out their antennae (you might need a magnifying lens). Some are long and thin, like filaments or strings of beads; others have clubs at the end or look like they have fingers that can open and close.

Look in different places: in puddles, wading pools, under rocks, on plants, in the grass. Check for beetles at different times of the day; some fly by night, and lightning beetles even make their own lights.

Here's more about beetles from San Diego Zoo. And if you're still wondering what's the difference between a beetle and a bug, check this out.

So head out to hang with the beetles for a day or a week. Take your notebook and colored pencils so you can capture their beauty.

Archimedes Notebook is taking a break from book reviews for a few weeks so I can spend this summer being a curious naturalist. I'll be heading out with my notebook and camera - so you might find some new Wednesday Explorers Club adventures posted. But for the most part I plan to indulge in non-digital exploration of my world. I invite you to turn off your computer for a few hours each week so you can explore the world around you.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Wordless Wednesday





Archimedes Notebook is taking a break from book reviews for a few weeks so I can spend this summer being a curious naturalist. I'll be heading out with my notebook and camera - so you might find some new Wednesday Explorers Club adventures posted. But for the most part I plan to indulge in non-digital exploration of my world. I invite you to turn off your computer for a few hours each week so you can explore the world around you.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Ants

Lately we've been finding ants in the house. Last summer it was odorous house ants - the ones that, when squished, smell vaguely like coconut. This time it's black carpenter ants. They're larger and tougher than the odorous ants and, as far as I can tell, have no smell when stepped on.

The carpenter ants live somewhere outside, probably in one of the nearby dead trees. They wander about in search of food. I've found them on the counter beneath the cake, but not eating cake; they prefer fruits and insects.

This week head out and explore ants in your neighborhood.
  • what color are they?
  • how big are they?
  • follow them - where are they going?
  • what are they carrying?
  • do they gather at a food source and eat, or do they carry food back to their home?
  • and if they carry it back, do they share the load with a friend or carry it themselves?
  • what do your ants like to eat? You can find out by leaving bits of different kinds of food on a piece of paper and watching what they take.
  • do your ants follow trails? If so, what happens if you pick them up and put them down somewhere off the trail?




Archimedes Notebook is taking a break from book reviews for a few weeks so I can spend this summer being a curious naturalist. I'll be heading out with my notebook and camera - so you might find some new Wednesday Explorers Club adventures posted. But for the most part I plan to indulge in non-digital exploration of my world. I invite you to turn off your computer for a few hours each week so you can explore the world around you.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Field Trip!

 In spring, my yard was covered with yellow flowers - dandelions, hawkweed, and buttercups. The yellow flowers are still there, but now I'm noticing a new color coming into the landscape.

PINK!

Everywhere I  look.

Purple-flowering raspberries. Roses. Red clover. Thistles. Pinks. Smartweed. Chive blossoms - though they're more of a lavender than pink, but still pink-ish.


 So your mission this week is to head outside and see what colors you find in your yard, neighborhood, vacant lot, wild area beyond the mowed grass at the park, roadsides, fields, meadows.

Take along something to record your observations: a notebook and colored pencils, or a camera. Are there different kinds of pink? What insects are on the pink flowers?




Archimedes Notebook is taking a break from book reviews for a few weeks so I can spend this summer being a curious naturalist. I'll be heading out with my notebook and camera - so you might find some new Wednesday Explorers Club adventures posted. But for the most part I plan to indulge in non-digital exploration of my world. I invite you to turn off your computer for a few hours each week so you can explore the world around you.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Happy 4th of July!


Happy Independence Day!

Learn more about fireworks - and the chemistry behind their colors - here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Look Closer



Red Clover ~ a wildflower growing in abundance along our roads and in abandoned fields.Look closely, and you'll see that the flower head is made up of many tiny flowers. Look even closer and you might be able to count the petals (there are 5).


The leaves have white or pale green chevrons on them. Look closer and you'll see that the edges are fringed with hairs. Clover provides food for wildlife including pollinators and tiny caterpillars that dine on their leaves.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Three books on Animals




Who doesn’t love learning more about the secret lives of animals! Here are three books that give us a glimpse into the lives of elephants, foxes, and more.

Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants
By Sandra Markle; illus. by Fabricio VandenBroeck
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2017

It’s a hot, dry day in Tanzania when Grandmother elephant smells water in the distance. Mama, Little Calf, and the rest of the herd follow Grandmother’s lead. It’s been a long, dry season of drought, and the river they find gets smaller by the day. There’s barely enough grass for the zebras!

It’s so hot, and so dry that Little Calf drops from exhaustion. But finally Grandmother finds a waterhole filled with cool, thirst-quenching water. She remembered it from a long time ago. Back matter reveals the true tale behind this story and lots of fun elephant facts, plus resources for those who want to dig deeper.

The Secret Life of the Red Fox
By Lawrence Pringle; illus. by Kate Garchinsky
32 pages; ages 6-9
Boyds Mills Press, 2017

We have foxes living in our area; some nights you’ll see one running across the road and leaping through the fence into a field. But they’re secretive critters, so it’s nice to find a book that gives an up-close look at their lives.

This book opens as Vixen sets out on her hunt. She has a mate – they send wild foxy calls into the night – and it’s time to look for a den so she can provide a safe place for her kits. Eventually we see them, as they emerge to explore the world above ground.

Back matter includes more information about red foxes, a glossary, and books for curious kids who want to read further.

Whose Poop is That?
By Darrin Lunde; illus. by Kelsey Oseid
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2017

There are lots of books about animals: how they make homes and raise families, how they escape predators, and how they hunt. There are even books about what animals eat - but there aren’t very many about what comes out the other end.

Whatever you call it – poop, dung, scat – it comes in all sizes and shapes. And if you look at it closely, it can tell you a lot about an animal. This book presents footprints on one side of a spread, with the animal’s scat on the other. The reader’s job is to figure out the mystery animal. You don’t have to be an expert because with the flip of a page you learn whose scat that is and a bit about the critter. There’s turtle poop, owl pellets, and even fossilized dung.

Back matter includes the “scoop on poop” and some animal scat facts. That fossilized animal poop? That’s called a coprolite.