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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Discovering Decomposition with Pumpkin Jack

Decomposition is such an important ecological cycle. One of the best ways to explore it with children without getting gruesome is by learning about composting. This October you can turn the inevitable process of your Halloween Jack-o-lanterns rotting out into a science investigation.
First, inspire kids by reading the picture book, Pumpkin Jack. In this story, a boy named Tim carves a Jack-o-lantern and names it Jack. He enjoys watching Jack's glowing face in his room each night, until Jack begins to go bad and Tim's mom makes him get rid of him. Tim puts Jack out in the garden and watches him continue to decompose and change throughout the seasons.

You can observe a pumpkin and how it changes as it decomposes too. Every few days make an observation of your pumpkin. You can take a picture like I did, or draw what you see. Make some notes. You can use this printable observation sheet to keep track. If you put it on the refrigerator or a bulletin board where you will see it often you can observe your pumpkin throughout the fall and maybe even in the winter and spring.
Things to observe:
  • What color does your pumpkin change?
  • Does it get moldy? What does it look like?
  • Did you get a frost? What happens to your pumpkin after a frost? 
What's happening to the pumpkin during this process? Decomposition is nature's way of recycling nutrients. Exposure to the elements begins to break down the pumpkin's cells and eventually decomposers like worms and other invertebrates, mold and bacteria go to work breaking the pumpkin down until eventually it turns into compost.
Brave scientists will want to investigate that mold and bacteria more closely. You might even want to see if you can grow some more to observe. To do so safely, get a bacteria science kit.

Children can learn more about the fabulous creatures that work to turn living things back into soil at Growing with Science. For another great picture book about pumpkin decomposition to supplement this post, check out this link. Add to your science library with these children's books on compost and decomposition.

Want to try building a worm compost bin? You can use it all year long. Find out how here.

For more pumpkin STEM, check out my post, "Pumpkin Discoveries".

Halloween Science Experiments at Spangler Science 

More autumn inspired science at my Pinterest page: 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Monarch Migration, Ideas for Pre-K-12

As the seasons change from summer to fall to winter, animals living in more northern climates have three options: migrate, hibernate or bulk up! One of the most amazing migrations is that of the monarch butterfly.

This post contains affiliate links, please see disclosures for more information. 

image: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monarchs are the only butterflies to make a round-trip migration, similar to a bird. Other types of butterflies overwinter as either larva or pupa. Since adult butterflies depend on flowers for nectar they can't find food in areas where snow and ice are the norm.

In order to travel long distances (sometimes up to 3,000 miles!) they take advantage of warm pockets of air called thermals, and air currents. Each day they travel 5-100 miles until they reach their winter resting ground.

The monarchs that I see flitting about in the Northeastern part of the U.S. will head to Mexico, while those in the Northwestern part of the country spend their winter in California.

image: USDA Forest Service
If you're studying monarch butterflies or migration in your school or homeschool there are activities that can be done with all ages. Citizen science projects are wonderful for older students, while younger students enjoy learning about life cycles and the concept of migration.

Here are some ideas for learning about monarch butterflies at each age level.
Early Childhood
  • Role play the life cycle of a butterfly. Have students curl up in a ball to be an egg, then hatch and stretch and inch along like a caterpillar. Then they'll find a cozy spot and stay still for a bit while they are a pupae. Finally they are ready to climb out of their chrysalis and flap their wings as a butterfly. One of my favorite books to accompany this activity is Lois Ehlert's Waiting for Wings.

  • If it is spring, you can watch a butterfly life cycle right in the classroom. With a live butterfly kit, or possibly with butterflies from your local butterfly conservatory, raise butterflies from eggs, then have a release party when you have adults.

  • Read a story and then show on a globe or map where the butterflies migrate to. Developmentally, maps are a little tricky for Early Childhood, but you will at least be conveying the message that they go from one place to another during migration. One of my favorite monarch migration picture books to read to little ones is Gotta Go, Gotta Go by Sam Swope. The rhyming text and adorable pictures are perfect for a read-aloud. 

  • Watch and learn about monarch life cycles with the Kratt Brothers with this lesson plan and video from Wild Kratts on PBS. These resources are available through PBS LearningMedia, which I highly recommend exploring. There are tons of great resources and short video clips to hook students before you delve into your hands-on lessons. 
  • Read Hurry and the Monarch a cute tale of a monarch's life cycle through migration, with lovely illustrations.  

Middle and High School
image: William Warby [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
If you are interested in more migration activities, check out my post, "See it? Share it! Bird Migration".

For other citizen science opportunities involving insects, read "Insect Investigations: Summertime Citizen Science".

Think monarchs are beautiful? I do! Find a great photo and links to monarch photography at the Growing With Science Blog.

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