Share it! Science : June 2016

Pickle Science with Thriving STEM

For this week's Spectacular Summer Science Series post, head on over to Thriving STEM  for "How To Learn Chemistry By Making Delicious Pickles". Science is always a little more fun when you add something edible into the mix, don't you think? This is a perfect summer time family activity.

For other great summer science ideas, check out the other posts in this series and follow my Pinterest board- Summer Science!

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Sloth, Armadillo and Anteater Adaptation Scavenger Hunt!

X is for Xenarthra!

When you are thinking of animals from A-Z, the letter X poses some problems. There just aren't many animals, or words for that matter, that start with X!

Today, X is for Xenarthra. "Xen...what?" You might say. Xenarthra, pronounced "zen-arth-rah", is the group of animals that includes anteaters, tree sloths and armadillos. These are some interesting and bizarre creatures, each with some pretty amazing adaptations that help them to survive in their own niche in various locations on the planet.

Adaptations are how an animal is built, or how it behaves, that help it to survive. Often humans borrow these ideas for adaptations to help us do things. Today we are going to go on a Xenarthra adaptations scavenger hunt. You'll be looking for things humans have constructed that do the same jobs as the amazing adaptations of anteaters, tree sloths and armadillos. You can search in your house, outside, or in your classroom. For example: you might be looking for something protective like the armadillos bony plates. Maybe you'll find a bicycle helmet, or some hard plastic knee pads.

First, let's learn about some of these animals wild adaptations, then you can print out some scavenger hunt cards and go on your adventure!

Giant Anteater image: Malene Thyssen (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
Anteater Adaptations
  • The anteater has a long pointed nose, that is not only great for finding food, but also can be held above the water when swimming- like a snorkel!
  • The anteater's long tongue can reach up to 2 feet! It has tiny barbs and sticky saliva to catch ants. It moves quickly, so if you're an ant, you don't stand a chance! 
  • Anteaters have long tube-like mouths with no teeth. Their specialized stomachs have strong muscles and powerful acid so that they don't have to chew their food. 
  • On the inner toes of each foot, the anteater has long claws. These are used to break open ant hills and termite mounds, in addition to protecting them from predators and climbing trees. They walk on the sides of their feet so that they don't wear down these important tools.
  • The anteater's tail is used as an additional appendage. It can be used like a kickstand to help the animal keep its balance when standing on its hind legs. It can also be used to hang on branches. Part of the tail is hairless to help the animal grip. The rest has long hair which helps to keep the animal warm when it wraps the tail around its body.

Tree Sloths
Sloth image: Geoff Gallice [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Sloth Adaptations
  • The sloth has a stomach that includes many compartments. The food the sloth eats is difficult to break down, so this helps the process. It can take a long time, sometimes a month, for the food to break down! 
  • The sloth's metabolism is super slow and the creature maintains a low body temperature. Both of these adaptations allow the animal to survive on food that doesn't give them much energy. 
  • The sloth's fur is different than other animals. When the sloth is hanging upside down in a tree, the fur points down to help it shed water. Sloths living in very moist and wet conditions may have 2 types of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, growing on their fur. This gives them a greenish color that helps them camouflage. 
  • Sloths have curled claws that help them climb and hold themselves up in trees. These claws can help with protection, but they mostly rely on camouflage to hide themselves from predators. 
To learn more about sloths and for another great adaptations activity, check out my International Sloth Day post!

Southern Three Banded Armadillo image: Ltshears derivative work: WolfmanSF (SouthernThreeBandedArmadillo065.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Armadillo Adaptations
    • Armadillos are known for the hard bony plates that cover them from head to tail. Depending on the armadillo, they can have anywhere from 7-11 telescoping bands of plates. In between each plate is soft skin and hair. These plates serve as excellent protection!
    • When an armadillo needs to protect itself, it finds a hole and wedges itself inside with those bony plates pointed outward. This creates a strong wall that is very difficult for another animal to dislodge.
    • Animal behaviors can be adaptations too. An armadillo's first response to a predator will be to jump up in the air, which usually surprises the predator enough that it will run away.
    • Armadillos have strong claws for digging and burrowing.
      Armadillo image: Arnaud Boucher derivative work: WolfmanSF (Chaetophractus_vellerosus.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

      Now it's time to have a little fun. Print out this Xenarthra Adaptations Scavenger Hunt and see what you can find!

      Be sure to check out the other great activities in the A-Z of Animals Series on Teach Me Mommy.

      Also, don't miss the previous posts in this series: W is for Whale: Wonderful Whale and Water Bead Sensory Bin  and W is for Wolf: Wolf Science: Exploring the Sense of Smell.

      Follow my Pinterest board to save all the great activity ideas in this series!

      Build Your Own Butterfly Feeder: The Great Backyard Butterfly Experiment!

      Pollinator Week happens each June! What better time to investigate one of my favorite plant pollinators? Butterflies!

      I decided to build some butterfly feeders to see if I could attract even more butterflies to my yard this year. This will be an experiment that will last all summer long. I want to know where butterflies spend the most time in my yard and what type of butterflies visit. You can try it too!
      If you want to try raising your own butterflies, check out how we do it here. It's an exciting and fairly simple process. We look forward to getting our caterpillars each spring!

      This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may receive a small commission if you purchase something from one of these links, at no additional cost to you. Please see disclosures for more information. 

      Build your own butterfly feeder

      First I made two different types of butterfly feeders. One is a jar feeder, and the other is a plate feeder. Both used either recycled materials, or things I found around the house. I used the following materials:

      • old canning jar
      • string
      • scissors
      • colorful stickers
      • nail
      • hammer
      • sponge
      • sugar solution
      • large container lid
      • fruit
      • block of wood (optional)
      DIY Build Your Own Butterfly Feeder

      To make the jar feeder:

      1. Punch a hole in the lid with the hammer and nail.

      2. Cut a strip of sponge and poke it through the hole in the lid. You may need to use the nail, or a pair of tweezers to get it through.

      3. Decorating your jar with bright flower colors or faux flowers can help attract your butterflies. I used some bright foam insect stickers.

      4. Tie some string on the jar to create a hanger. Remember that your jar will hang upside down, with the sponge sticking out the bottom. I added a little duct tape to secure the string, just in case!

      5. Make the sugar solution. Mix 9 parts warm water, 1 part sugar to dissolve.

      6. Fill your jar, flip it over and hang it up!

      DIY Build Your Own Butterfly Feeder

      The plate feeder was even easier to make.

      1.  Poke holes for the string with the hammer and nail. If you have a scrap block of wood to hammer the nail into, it helps prevent the plastic from cracking.

      2. Make a hanger with some string.

      3. You may want to find something with a little weight, like a rock to place in the middle of the plate to keep it from blowing too much in the wind.

      4. Fill your plate with bright fruit. Slices of banana that have been in the freezer, and orange slices are good choices. I varied what was on my feeder based on what I had in the house that day. You can add some orange juice or sugar solution to help keep the fruit from drying out.

      **Watch your fruit and replace it if it begins to get dried out or moldy. Also keep in mind that any type of feeder can attract unexpected and possibly unwanted animals to your yard. For example, if you are in an area with black bears, it's not a good idea to leave your feeder out over night.**

      Observe Butterflies

      Now you have two feeders to observe, and any plant that butterflies enjoy visiting in your yard! You can now begin your experiment. Find out which plant or feeder the butterflies in your yard prefer. Begin making observations. You can use this printable observation sheet to keep yourself organized.

      Any time you put a new feeder in your yard, it takes time for the animal you are hoping for to establish itself. When I hung my feeders the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies that are plentiful in our yard were very busy slurping nectar from the late-blooming lilac bush nearby. I coaxed them to the feeder with some lilacs. They are still more interested in these flowers than the feeder. I wonder what will happen once the lilacs are finished blooming? The only way to find out is to keep making good observations!

      You will no doubt observe other visitors to your feeders as well. Within a few days, I noticed a pair of Evening Grosbeaks swoop down and check out the feeders, quickly moving on once they realized there were no seeds to be had. I've also spotted ants attracted to the fruit.

      Once you've found your butterflies to observe, you'll want to identify them! There are so many different types of insects, and so many different butterflies! Where do you start?

      Check out Growing with Science's excellent guide "Butterfly Identification for Beginners" to get you started.

      Excited to do more science this summer? This is just one post in the Spectacular Summer Science Series!

      Want to learn more about pollinators? Check out these posts:

      Secrets of the Garden: A Food Chain Activity

      I'm so excited to be a guest blogger today for Rainy Day Mum's Storybook Summer Series 2016.

      Check out my post: "Secrets of the Garden: A Food Chain Activity". Then explore the other great books and activities in the series!

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      Flying and Twirling: Paper Toy Physics

      No doubt you've made a paper airplane before, but have you ever made an air spinner, flipping fish or twirling triangle? What else can you make fly through the air, and what makes these things move the way they do?

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

      Physics for Kids: Lift

      How does a plane stay in the air? You can do a simple activity to understand this physics concept. The reason airplanes and birds have lift is due to a concept called Bernoulli's principle.The air moving over an airplane's wing is moving faster than the air below it. When the air blows faster the air pressure decreases. The air pressure below the wing stays the same, therefore pushing the wing upward, or lifting it.

      You can demonstrate this by blowing on a strip of paper. Hold the narrow end of the strip of paper just below your bottom lip. Blow across the top of it. What happens?

      Try it! A strip of copy paper 8 in long and 1 in wide works well.

      Explore paper airplanes with the designs and directions here. Do some experiments. Maybe you can answer these questions:
      • Which airplane designs have the most lift? 
      • Which airplane designs fly the furthest? 
      • What happens if you use construction paper or cardstock to build your airplane? 
      • What if you add some paperclips for weight?

      The Science of Spin

      There are all sorts of spinners and paper toys that fly that can very easily be constructed and tested. One of my favorites is this spinner (includes template). Once I made these with a group of preschoolers on a windy day and they went soaring right up and over the building! Add a paperclip on the bottom to improve your spin!

      My favorite spinners!

      The effect here is the same as a helicopter's propellers, which is Bernoulli's principle again. A helicopter is different than an airplane in that it has a rotating propeller instead of wings. Instead of moving quickly forward to achieve lift, it has to use another method. When the propellers begin to rotate the air speeds up. Once all this air is circulating around the propellers, the air pressure changes and the helicopter can lift off.

      You can find all sorts of designs for paper spinners in the "Air, Air Everywhere" section of the book Science Play! by Jill Frankel Hauser. Although this book is designed for ages 2-6, these paper designs can be enjoyed by any age. The designs for the "flipping fish" and a "twirling triangle" I mentioned earlier can be found here. You can experiment with different sizes and paper types. What happens when you add a little weight? The possibilities are endless!

      Let's look at one of the designs from Science Play! here. This is the simplest design- the spinning bar. 

      Cut out a small strip of paper. Drop it, or toss it into the air. What makes it move this way? What other things move and spin as you drop them?

      A maple seed comes to mind. These "helicopters" as we fondly refer to them, also called samaras, baffled scientists for years. The seeds spin when they fall through the air. They do so slowly to help them travel further away from their parent plant. How did they manage to stay airborne for so long?

      In 2006 scientists discovered how a maple seed does its thing. The spinning causes a vortex, much like a tornado, that lowers the air pressure over the upper surface of the seed. Due to the shape of the seed, it is sucked upward, giving it twice as much lift as a non-swirling seed. In a sense the maple seed is using both the shape of an airplane wing and the rotation of a helicopter propeller to move. Nature, as usual, is pretty darn smart.

      If you are fascinated by maple seed "helicopters" you should definitely check out Emily Morgan's book: Next Time You See a Maple Seed.

      What else can you find in nature that spins in the air? We're excited to hear how your flying and twirling toy experiments go! Share in the comments or find us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

      Excited to do more science this summer? This is just one post in the Spectacular Summer Science Series! Sign up to get Share it! Science News posts by e-mail so you don't miss out!

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      Spectacular Summer Science Series

      We're so excited to be hosting the Spectacular Summer Science series! Share it! Science News is teaming up with some other science-loving bloggers to give you 8 weeks of summer inspired science activities and projects. Paper air toy physics, pickle chemistry, solar oven challenges and more! Come back here each week for something new to try! 

      Week 1: Share it! Science News- Flying and Twirling: Paper Toy Physics

      Week 2: Share it! Science News- The Great Backyard Butterfly Experiment

      Week 4: Growing with Science- Fish Activities for Kids

      Week 5: Share it! Science News- Over 25 Ways to Explore and Learn in Nature

      Week 7: Share it! Science News- Solar Oven STEM: Engineering Design Challenge

      Week 8: Growing with Science- Nocturnal Animals and Light Pollution

      Battling the 'Summer Slide': Integrating Science and Literacy

      Summer Slide: Integrating Science and Literacy

      Have you heard of the summer slide? This is the phenomena that occurs over the summer months when kids aren't practicing the skills they need to maintain the level of academic achievement they have reached during the school year. If a student goes without reading during the summer months, they can slide back up to 3 grade levels by the time the new school year starts up!

      So how can we combat the summer slide and still let kids be kids? A great way is to incorporate some reading and fun open-ended science activities into your summer routine.

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

      A great way for kids to do a little reading and then create their own science investigation is by using the Everyday Science Mysteries series from the National Science Teacher's Association (NSTA). These books are meant to be guides for teachers, but could easily be used in the home as well. Each of the books includes short stories written for upper elementary and middle school audiences.

      From determining why the mass of a piece of chewing gum changes after you've chewed it, to building a timer powered by water, there is a lot that can be explored through these stories. Although many of the mysteries ultimately have a "right" answer, there are so many ways to come to that conclusion that kids will have to use their own creativity and critical thinking skills to get there.

      You can find Everyday Science Mystery books on Amazon, or purchase them at a discounted rate if you are a NSTA member. you are looking for picture and chapter books that lend themselves to science activities, then you'll definitely want to explore the Storybook Science Series at Inspiration Laboratories blog. This is a month of science activities linked to stories. You'll find our post: The Dandelion Seed: A Seed Design Engineering Challenge there along with all sorts of other fun activities. Check it out and then head to your local library to pick up some of the books.

      Another favorite of mine that connects reading with authentic science is the Natural Inquirer, a free science research journal for students published by the Cradle of Forestry in America Interpretive Association, the USDA and the US Forest service. These journals follow actual research scientists and their studies. The journal is reviewed by students before going to press. You can order free copies of the Natural Inquirer here.

      Kids can also find science news articles written just for them by following the links on my page Science News for Kids. 

      If you are looking for other ways to engage kids in science this summer, you won't want to miss my post: Over 13 Ideas to Keep Kids Engaged in Science all Summer Long.

      Read more about the summer slide here:

      Want to know more? Find out what other bloggers have to say about the summer slide: