Friday, March 31, 2017

Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!

Spring is here - and in some places there are lots of bugs flitting and flying and crawling about. Here are two books to celebrate the insects - and other arthropods - in your neighborhood.

Insects, the most fun bug book ever
by Sneed B. Collard III
48 pages; ages 9-12
Charlesbridge, 2017

Earth is a great place to live. But, says Collard, if you look at all the animals on our planet, it becomes clear that insects dominate the life on Earth. Scientists have catalogues nearly 1 million species of insects, and they haven't come close to finding all of them.

Collard gives us the basic body plan for bugs, and then goes into details about how well they can see (some see ultraviolet light), how fast they can fly (35 mph for dragonflies), how tough they are (ironclad for some beetles). He points out the hairiest and the hungriest, tells us the secrets of insect communication, and gives us an inside view of "growing up insect",

As promised, this is a fun bug book. We learn about insects' favorite foods - some will dine on tacos from a dumpster while others prefer sweet nectar - and there's an entire section devoted to the "party animals". Some bugs are very social. Collard introduces us to "good" bugs, those that we use for dyes, food, medicine, and pollination services. He introduces us to "bad bugs" that chew up crops and damage homes. The key thing: insects are essential and play a vital role on our planet. So if we want to do right by our six-legged buddies, we should be planting more gardens - and throwing out the pesticides.

Creepy Crawlies: tiny creatures, amazing powers
by Richard and Louise Spilsbury
128 pages; ages 7-12
Scribo, 2017

Divided into five chapters, this book gives kids a close-up look at ants, bees, dragonflies, and spiders. One chapter is filled with "frightening fun" - scary statistics and a quiz.

In each chapter you'll learn the basic body parts for that bug, its "superpowers", and get introduced to some diversity in the group. For example, in the chapter about bees you learn about stingers, compound eyes, and living with a queen. Then you get to meet killer bees and leafcutter bees.

The cool thing about dragonflies is how their aquatic larvae use jet propulsion to get around. And some spiders can run - 70 times their body length in a second! That's like running 10 times faster than Usain Bolt.

We're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies provided by publishers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club - Meet a Bug

Ladybugs found in and around Ithaca, Cornell collections
A sure sign of spring at our house is the ladybugs that gather in sunny windows or fly about the kitchen banging into the ceiling light. Over winter, ladybugs found cozy places to hide beneath bark, inside cracks, under house siding - one year an entire clan claimed the inside the curl of a rag rug I'd left hanging on the clothesline.

Ladybugs are beneficial; they eat aphids, mealybugs, and other pests, and brighten up the day. But they have their drawbacks: they have a bitter odor (which you will discover if one lands in your cocoa) and they bite (but tiny bites, and not too often).

We have a lot of ladybugs here in New York state - around 90 species. But over the past 20 years, some of our native species have become harder to find. One of these is the nine-spotted ladybug, once so common that in 1989 the NY State legislature adopted it as the official sate insect. But by 1993 scientists couldn't find a singe nine-spotted lady anywhere in the northeast.

While native populations declined, introduced species had no trouble establishing themselves. The seven-spotted ladybug was imported from Europe to help fight pests in farmer's fields. A more recent immigrant is the multi-colored Asian ladybug - the one you are more likely to find in clusters inside your home. These imports range in color from pink to orange and sport anywhere from 0 - 18 spots on their hard outer wings.

If you do find a bunch of ladybugs in your house, help them get back outside. If you have a lot, put a clean bag in your vacuum and suck them up - then release them outside.

And if you love ladybugs, get involved in the Lost Ladybug Project.  It's a fun way to learn more about this bug-of-the-month and help scientists learn more about ladybug populations.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Science of Science Fiction

The Science of Science Fiction
by Matthew Brenden Wood; illus by Tom Casteel
128 pages; ages 12 - 15
Nomad Press, 2016

I grew up on Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Heinlein and Star Trek. In the intervening years I have seen: flip phones (Star Trek communicators), voice-activated software, jet packs, robots, and more.

So I loved the timeline at the beginning of this book - a date where an idea was introduced in a sci-fi story, followed by a date when that technology was first used. For example, in 1870 Jules Verne wrote about Captain Nemo piloting an electric sub in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In 1954 the first nuclear sub, appropriately named USS Nautilus, was launched.

Topics in this book include cloning ancient creatures (Jurassic Park, anyone?) robots, androids, artificial intelligence, life on Mars, aliens, faster-than-light travel, and time travel. Text is augmented with cartoons, short sidebars, fast facts, and questions.

What I really like are the hands-on investigations. You can extract your own DNA, calculate the likelihood of intelligent life in the universe, and play around with centripetal force. My favorite, though, is measuring the speed of light using a microwave, a bar of chocolate, a ruler, and a calculator. Who can resist an experiment that involves chocolate?

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club - Making Oobleck

A couple weeks ago I posted a review of  Charlotte the Scientist is Squished,  - so I thought it would be fun to do some experiments using the scientific method. The "Scientific method" is an outline (or flowchart) that describes how scientists develop hypothesis, test their ideas, and come to conclusions.

Our experiment: making Oobleck. All you need is water and a box of cornstarch. Warning: do not dispose of cornstarch experiments down your sink; they could clog your drain. Wrap them up and throw them away.

Question: What happens if I mix cornstarch in water?
Hypothesis: If I make it thick enough, it will probably be gluey.
Experiment: Start with 1/2 cup water and 3/4 to 1 cup cornstarch. Pour the water into a bowl, and then add the cornstarch. Stir well.
Observe and record:
  • What does it feel like? 
  • Can it stretch? Bounce? 
  • Can it pour? 
  • Is it solid? 
  • What happens if you pour it onto a cookie sheet and hit it with a hammer?
  •  What happens if you put it into the refrigerator? 
  • What happens if you add more cornstarch? More water? 
  • What if you divide it in half and leave one part out in the air and another part inside a ziplock bag? 
  • How long does it last? 
  • Does it get moldy?
Analyze: This is where you draw some conclusions about this non-Newtonian  fluid that acts liquid when you gently put your hands into it, but acts solid when you squeeze or hit it.
Share Results: Scientists write articles. You could take a photo of your oobleck and write a brief note about it and give it to a friend.

You can find more things to do with oobleck here. Find out more about non-Newtonian fluids here.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Beastly Brains

Beastly Brains
by Nancy Castaldo
160 pages; ages 12 & up
HMH, 2017

Do animals think? Solve problems? Do math? Understand the concept of fairness?

You bet, says Nancy Castaldo, and she offers up a wealth of examples shoeing how animals think, talk, and feel. In one chapter she describes and experiment in which scientists gave monkeys tokens that they could use to buy treats. The monkeys quickly learned to take advantage of "sales" (when they could get more than the usual item for the same cost). They also stole tokens from others.

Other scientists wanted to know whether dogs feel jealousy. So they tested pairs of dogs. One was asked to "shake" without any reward. Then another dog joined them and when it "shook" paws it was given a treat. Do you think the first dog kept giving her paw when asked to "shake"? No! She went on strike! Unfair!

Castaldo has filled this volume with stories that will amuse you, make you think, and maybe even inspire you to test your own pet's intelligence. There is a wonderful section at the back ("Inquiring Minds Want to Know") that outlines how you can do your own animal intelligence studies. There are also tons of other resources: places where your pets can get involved in studies, organizations that advocate for animals, videos and books, plus a glossary and source notes.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ changing seasons

What a difference a week makes. Only seven days ago things were bright and sunny. But early Tuesday morning this week we had white flakes falling out of the sky at a furious rate. Could be it's just the Ides of March. More likely it's the confluence of a storm moving north hitting a low pressure coming southeast out of Canada - and BOOM - a blizzard.

What changes happened in your area in the past seven days?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Charlotte the Scientist is Squished

Charlotte the Scientist is Squished
by Camille Andros; illus by Brianne Farley
40 pages; ages 4-7
Clarion Books, 2017

themes: investigation, science

Charlotte was a serious scientist.

She's got a lab coat, protective glasses, a magnifying lens, and a clipboard for important notes. What she doesn't have: space to do her experiments.What does she expect? She's a rabbit, so of course she's going to have lots of brothers and sisters living with her.

So Charlotte puts her scientific method to use to solve her problem. She starts by asking a question. Then she forms a hypothesis: If I can get rid of my brothers and sisters, I will have room to be a scientist. To test her hypothesis, she conducts an experiment - or two - which don't quite end the way she hoped.

Time for Plan B: if she was going to get some space, she would have to go there. To space. And when she gets there, she has lots of room for all her experiments. There's only one problem: Charlotte misses her family.

What I love about this book: what a fun way to introduce kids to the scientific method! There's great  back matter, including a list of the steps of the scientific method. I also love the end papers, which are blueprints of her space lab. And I like how Charlotte finds the solution to her problem.

Beyond the book:

Do Science!  Make some kites and fly them in the March winds. Experiment with kite shapes and tails, size and weight, materials (can you make a kite out of stuff from the recycling bin?). Try flying kites under different conditions. 

Keep a Question Notebook - someplace you can write down questions you have. Like how do birds fly when it's windy, and can you teach bumblebees to drink sugar water from a jar lid?  Leave some room beneath the question so you can scribble ideas for how to find out the answers. Then use the scientific method to find the answers.

Meet the Author: Scientists sometimes get their ideas from strange places. Author Camille Andros says she got her idea for this book while in the shower. Here's an interview with the author.

Today is 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. It should hit bookstore shelves early next week.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Caroline's Comets

March is Women's History month, so I thought I'd kick it off with a true story of a woman in science:

Caroline's Comets, a true story
by Emily Arnold McCully
40 pages; ages 6-10
Holiday House, 2017

In 1786, Caroline Herschel became the first woman to discover a comet. She was also the first woman to be paid for doing scientific research.

Weaving Caroline's memoir and correspondence into the text, Emily McCully takes us into the life of an early astronomer.

Caroline's father was the first to show her the stars; her mother taught her the practical skills she would need. But then, when she was 22 years old, her brother William invited her to join him in England. In addition to helping around the house, he needed some help recording his astronomy observations - and some help building a telescope.

So Caroline became his assistant inventor. She pounded and sifted dried horse manure so her brother could build a mold for making the mirror. Their first telescope magnified things 6,000 times. That might not seem like a lot these days, but back in the 1700s it was astronomic.

They discovered that the Milky way was made of stars. They discovered a new planet (Uranus). And then, as the King's Astronomer, William began a sweep of the sky.Caroline discovered nebulae and star clusters and two new galaxies - and all the while she did needlework, kept William's accounts, and cleaned all the equipment.

Then, December 21, 1786, Caroline discovered a comet. McCully fills the pages with wonder, discovery, and comets. She also includes great back matter with a timeline, glossary, and additional notes.

 Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Skeleton hunting

Early spring is the perfect time to look for skeletons on your lawn - leaf skeletons, that is. We usually have a bunch of leaves that don't get raked up before the snow, and so they sit all winter, in the damp and cold. Decomposers - fungi, bacteria, and small insects - get to work eating the soft tissue of the leaves.

What's left is a network of tough veins. These make up the transport system of the tree: they provide a way for newly made sugars to be carried to the roots for storage. They carry water from the trunk to the cells of the leaf.

Go on a leaf skeleton hunt. The best places to look are wet spots in your lawn, or a pothole or other puddle that has been around since fall. What kinds of leaf skeletons can you find? Our oak leaves take longer to break down, so we rarely find oak leaf skeletons. But the aspen leaves seem to degrade well. If you want to preserve your skeletons, you may have to dampen them before pressing.