Share it! Science : February 2017

Fractals in Nature: A Mathematical Suncatcher Project

Let's combine science, math and art with a nature inspired STEAM project. Fractals are fascinating mathematical patterns that are never-ending. They repeat and are similar regardless of scale. In other words, a small part of the whole looks just like the whole. These patterns create beautiful images that can be constructed by humans, but are also prevalent in nature.

One common example of a fractal is the Sierpinski triangle, where the triangle shape repeats and is the same whether you are looking at just one of the smaller triangles, or the large triangle.
Sierpinski Triangle (image: public domain)
This post contains affiliate links, see disclosures for more information.

Fractal patterns are found throughout the natural world. From fern fronds and planetary rings, to lightning and tree branches, nature is full of these beautiful patterns. Here are some examples:

Frost fractals

Romanesco Brocolli Fractals (image by Jon Sullivan, public domain)
You can go out and find fractals too! We went on a fractal scavenger hunt and then made a pretty suncatcher with one of the patterns we found.

To do this project you'll need:
First, head outside to see what sort of fractal patterns you can find! Remember, they are the same at all scales, so you could find large or small examples. With the leaves gone from the trees it is easy to see the branching patterns:
Fractals in the branching of a tree.

Snap some photos of the fractal patterns you find.

Fractals in the branching pattern of flowers.

Once you're back indoors, you'll print out your favorite images and trace the patterns in any color or repeating scheme that you like onto your tracing paper.

If you are unable to go outside due to the weather, you can also print out fractal images from the internet. Check out these amazing examples of fractals in nature. 

Once you are happy with your fractal design, create a frame with the dark card stock to complete your suncatcher. Hang it on the window to enjoy.

We were amazed at how much our suncatcher, which was a repeated pattern from one tree, looked like branching blood vessels in the human body. It is amazing that similar patterns are found in so many naturally occurring places.

If you are interested in learning more about fractals, we highly recommend Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell, and incredible images by her husband, Richard P. Campbell. I was lucky enough to hear Sarah speak about her book, and she is one of the most enthusiastic people I've ever heard talk about patterns in nature.

You might also be interested in another book by the Campbells, Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.

If you're looking for more great STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) activities, you won't want to miss the STEAM Kids e-book. Get it here, or read our review here.

Interested in more math and nature? Check out these other posts:

The Golden Ratio in the Garden which is part of our Children's STEAM Festival series.

Lessons from Sunflowers

This post is part of the 28 Days of STEAM series on the Left Brain, Craft Brain blog. Check it out for tons of fun STEAM activities!

Free Bird Counting Printable: Great Backyard Bird Count

If you enjoy sharing wildlife with kids, then bird watching is a great way to start! Even the youngest learners are enamored with visitors to a bird feeder. Keeping track of the birds that come to visit your home is an excellent family activity, and is also easy to incorporate into the classroom.

It is never too early to start bird watching, so grab your preschoolers and head to the window! We love bird watching at our house, so we look forward to February's annual Great Backyard Bird Count, or GBBC. As the bird count spans academic days and the weekend, this is a fun activity to do in your classroom or at home. You can go on a bird walk and count, or count from your window as you watch the feeders.

Free Bird Counting Tally Sheet for Kids Great Backyard Bird Count

This post contains affiliate links, meaning I will receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase after clicking a product link. Please see disclosures page for more details.

Free Bird Counting Tally Sheet for Kids Great Backyard Bird Count

Free Bird Counting Printable

We put together this bird tally sheet printable to help kids (or adults!) with their bird count. On it you'll find some of the more common birds observed in North America. Keep it near your bird-watching window at home or school, or laminate it to make it sturdy and waterproof for an outdoor bird hike!

You can download the free printable tally sheet here. 

Learn More about the Great Backyard Bird Count!

Get your children and students excited about citizen science! Anyone can contribute to scientific research and advancement. It is a great way to encourage a love of learning and is fun to boot.

The Great Backyard Bird Count and Other Winter Citizen Science Projects

Winter Citizen Science for Families Great Backyard Bird Count

The GBBC and Woodpeckers Galore! 

Family Bird Watching Great Backyard Bird Count

Valentine's Day is for the Birds (Make a bird treat!) 

Make a Valentine's Day Treat for the Birds Bird feeder

For Small Hands

Turning Screen Time into Reading Time!

In our house we read books every day. Yes, the "old-fashioned" type of books, made of paper. Although we would never give up reading this way, we were excited to give Epic! book service a try when offered a free trial.

We found all of our fiction favorites like Where the Wild Things Are and Clifford, and chapter books like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Ramona Quimby books

Not only were there great fiction titles, we were excited to see lots of non-fiction too. There was a whole DIY section ranging from eco-crafts, to keeping chickens and gardening. There were books on building contraptions and a variety of titles from National Geographic Kids.

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

Lifestyle 2017
Epic! has been touted at the "Netflix of children's books".  With tens of thousands of kid's book titles available, this moniker is really accurate. The service works on any device, is free for educators, and is reasonably priced at $7.99/month for others.

Thousands of high quality titles.

I really liked that the variety of non-fiction titles allowed kids and students to do quick research on something they were interested in without me having to worry about what misinformation or inappropriate content they might stumble upon on a regular Google search of a particular subject.

Recommendations are made based on what kids have read already. I liked that kids could have control over tracking their reading progress with weekly logs, and incentives to read with badges to earn. I can see this as being really motivating for reluctant readers.

Kids Profile on Epic!A selection of read-aloud stories, like those from Sid the Science Kid and many others are fun for those still too young to read themselves, or anyone who likes to be read to (and who doesn't?).

Huge selection of read-to-me and audiobooks.

Although we love the feel of a good book in our hands, and no device can replace that, after using Epic! I can see a lot of merit to subscribing to this book service as an option for the most voracious and reluctant readers. It would be excellent on a long trip, or when you can't haul a big bag of picture books along with you.

The opportunities for tracking reading progress and allowing kids opportunities for non-fiction project research from actual books would be invaluable in a classroom.

If your kiddo already has screen time each day, why not make it reading time too?  We highly recommend Epic! Learn more and try it out here

Disclaimer: I received a free two month trial subscription of Epic! for this honest review of the service. All opinions are my own and I was not otherwise compensated for writing this review.

Lifestyle 2017

Exploring Reflections: Creating 4-Leaf Clovers With Mirrors

Mirrors and reflections are super engaging from preschoolers through adulthood! That is probably why we find some great mirror exhibits in science and children's museums! For some fun with reflections at home or school, try this low-tech and easy-prep mirror activity.

This is a great STEAM activity for around St. Patrick's Day. It requires a bit of creativity, drawing and understanding of the science of light and reflection.

This post includes affiliate links, meaning I receive a small commission from purchases made from these links at no additional cost to you. See disclosures for more information.

A St. Patrick's STEAM Challenge

Can you make a four-leaf clover with just a green dot on a piece of paper and two small mirrors?

To try this out you'll need:
First, draw a green circle on an index card. By holding your two mirrors at an angle, can you turn the circle into two circles? How about four? Can you make the reflection look like a four leaf clover?

For small hands, it makes it easier to hold the mirrors in place either by creating a stand for each out of a ball of clay, or attaching them to something so that they stand up. We taped ours to two small cans to make it easy to move and adjust.

Keep adjusting the angle and placement of the mirrors. What is the greatest number of leaves that you can make on the clover? A fun extension for older students is to measure the different angles of the mirrors with a protractor and compare that to the number of leaves it creates on the clover. Is there a pattern?

Try this with other shapes and drawings. How about a rainbow, or symmetrical shapes or letters? The possibilities are endless.

So what is the science? Light is being reflected or "bounced" from the surface of the mirror to your eyes. In this case, you are observing the light being emitted by the green dot. The placement of the mirrors results in the light bouncing back and forth off of the smooth surfaces of the mirrors. With each "bounce" another image is visible.

Want to teach a lesson on reflection? I highly recommend the "Mirror, Mirror" lesson featured in More Picture Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children's Books to Guide Inquiry, K-4 . This lesson uses the great picture book I See Myself by Vicki Cobb

Looking for more great STEAM projects? Check out STEAM Kids!