Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Poetry and Engineering Inspired by Nature!

I am thrilled to be reviewing Karen Ansberry's new book: Nature Did It First: Engineering Through Biomimicry, as well as sharing some related STEM activity ideas. In this wonderful new picture book you'll find short poems highlighting the impressive adaptations of plants and animals followed by the story of how these adaptations have inspired engineers to solve a human problem. Nature Did It First is the perfect introduction to nature inspired STEM engineering challenges.
Nature Did It First Engineering Through Biomimicry STEM Activity

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Nature Did it First: Engineering Through Biomimicry

The author of Nature Did It First, Karen Ansberry, is a former classroom teacher and co-author of one of my favorite elementary science curriculum resources, Picture-Perfect Science Lessons. Ansberry is a master of combining science concepts, story and engaging STEM activities. (Not to mention an awesome facilitator for science education professional development, I have been lucky enough to attend her workshops, they are great!)

We really enjoyed reading Nature Did It First: Engineering Through Biomimicry at our house. It is the perfect mix of fun little poems and really interesting information about how animals like geckos and kingfishers and plants like burrs have influenced engineers to solve human problems. I also really like that there are materials and additional resources available for teachers at the end of the book and online, including a free STEM lesson plan found here.

What is Biomimicry?

First of all, what is biomimicry anyway? If you break down the word, into "bio" and "mimic" you probably can figure it out. Biomimicry is the process of designing nature-inspired solutions to human problems. It is mimicking what we find in nature to help us in our daily lives.

Nature Did It First: Engineering Through Biomimicry explores 7 interesting plants and animals and how their natural features inspired engineers in their designs.

Student Engineering Biomimcry Inspired by Nature

Nature Did It First! 

As I read this book to my daughter, I was surprised by many of the ways that animal and plant behavior or physical adaptations have been incorporated into designs in the human world.

Did you know that gecko toes have inspired the development of adhesives?

Gecko Nature Did It First Biomimicry Engineering STEM Challenge

Did you know that the fins of humpback whales helped engineers design more smooth and efficient windmill and water turbine blades? 

Humpback Whale Nature Did It First Biomimicry Engineering STEM Challenge

How about this- did you know that the slippery surface of a pitcher plant inspired a material that helps ketchup slide out of bottles more readily?

Pitcher Plant Nature Did It First Biomimicry Engineering STEM Challenge

These are just a few of the wild ways humans have been inspired by nature! You'll find several more fascinating examples when you read Nature Did It First: Engineering Through Biomimicry. This book would be a fantastic introduction to a STEM lesson at school, or the perfect read-aloud for nature-loving children at home. I highly recommend it!

Adaptation and Biomimicry Activities

To get children learning and thinking about the different features of animals, send them on an animal adaptation scavenger hunt! Read about the adaptations of sloths, anteaters and armadillos in this post, then download a FREE adaptation scavenger hunt card (link at bottom of post) that you can use to search for household items that have similar features or uses as these animal adaptations. [If you prefer, you can also download this scavenger hunt for free on my Teachers Pay Teachers page.]

How is camouflage used in the natural world and human world? Explore some fun camouflage science activities and find some related book suggestions here.

Children and students can design an animal in the amazing adaptations art activity included in my International Sloth Day post here.

Amazing Animal Adaptations Art STEAM Activity

Don't miss the awesome STEM challenge and teaching materials available in the back of Nature Did It First: Engineering Through Biomimicry and free downloads for grades K-2 and 3-5 found at the book's webpage here

In this engineering challenge, students will study nature, brainstorm a problem that can be solved by an idea from nature, brainstorm and design an invention, build a model and share their creation. An added language arts component could be to write a poem about the natural idea they investigated, similar to the wonderful poetry in Nature Did It First: Engineering Through Biomimicry.

Many, many thanks to Karen Ansberry for sharing her wonderful book with me! 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

T. Rex Tracks: A Math and Science Activity with Turtle Trails Publishing

I am thrilled to share this guest post from my friend Carla from Turtle Trails Publishing. You may also know her from the excellent learning activities she shares at Preschool Powol Packets and Teaching Without Chairs. Your kids are going to love getting outside and trying this dinosaur-themed STEM activity!

Tyrannosaurus Rex is one of the most popular dinosaurs of all time for a lot of reasons, but how much do you actually know about this dinosaur? I have an awesome science + math activity you about T. Rexes for you and your kiddos today!

T. Rex Dinosaur Math and Science Activity

Hi! My name is Carla Mae Jansen, and I recently finished writing A Dinosaur Made Me Sneeze, a picture book about the rock cycle (more on that below!). Anyway, since I’ve been working on this book we have been doing a ton of dinosaur activities lately--partly because the book is on everybody’s minds and partly because we all love dinosaurs! Seriously, I think there’s a part of me that will be seven forever.

Anyway, today I’m excited to share this T. Rex Tracks activity with you! It’s a low-prep, easy to do dinosaur activity that has your kids use science reasoning and math skills to create T. Rex “tracks!” 

Simple Supplies:

1- Track Markers (masking tape OR paper OR sidewalk chalk if you’re outside!)
2- Measuring tape or rulers

Easy How To:

1- To begin, ask your kids to guess how tall their legs are. Most kid legs will be 2-3 feet high. Tell them that most T. Rex legs were about 11 feet high! Measure 11 feet high along a wall, and see where the T. Rex leg would be! The rim of our basketball hoop was right at 11 feet...and yes, my 7 year old can climb straight up to it!

T. Rex Dinosaur Math and Science Activity

2- When we did this, I told the kids that since T. Rex legs were so tall, their steps were HUGE! But before we looked at T. Rex steps, let’s see what kid steps look like. Let the kids work in teams to mark a set of kid “tracks” showing at least 10 steps.  Is this different if they run?

3- Ask your kids how many kid steps they think would fit inside of one T. Rex step (or stride). If you have paper, write down their guesses. Since we were outside, we just talked about it.

4- Ask the kids how they can figure out how many kid steps fit inside on T. Rex step. It might help them to know that T. Rex steps when walking were about 5 feet long and when running were about 12 feet long!  According to our measurements, my 4-year would have to 6 steps to keep up with a T. Rex, my 7-year old would have to run 4 steps for every 1 T. Rex step, and my 10 year old would have to run 3 mighty leaps to keep up.

T. Rex Dinosaur Math and Science Activity

How close were their guesses from #3?

T. Rex Fun Fact: Some researchers believe that T. Rexes could have run up to 20 miles per hour, but would not have run faster than that because if they were to fall going any faster the crash would have killed them!

To finish off the fun, we read A Dinosaur Made Me Sneeze!

This is my new dinosaur-themed, science-based picture book!  It’s a delightful rhyming story that introduces rock cycle science (complete with vocabulary like “sedimentary,” “igneous,” “metamorphic,” and more!) with fantastic characters and a hilarious story! It showcases the changes that the Earth and rocks on the Earth make as years go by. You can learn more about it, see some of the illustrations, and more HERE! I really hope you love it!!

T. Rex Dinosaur Math and Science Activity

I hope you have a “roar-some” time with your T. Rex tracks!! 

Thanks again for letting me join you, and happy educating!

Carla Mae Jansen

Carla Mae Jansen is an educator, author, and mom who lives in Virginia, USA. She loves going rock-hunting, eating chocolate, and exploring new places with her family. She has a master’s degree in teaching science, and is always looking for something new to learn! You can follow along with her publishing adventures at Turtle Trails Publishing.

Friday, March 20, 2020

40+ STEM Activities Using Materials You Already Have

I've scoured the 300+ posts on Share it! Science to find over 40 hands-on science, STEM or STEAM activities that do not require special materials and can be completed with things you most likely already have at home. In a few cases I have made suggestions of possible substitutions for materials as well. With a little flexibility and creativity we can work together to give your family a fun experience at home (as well as sneaking in some learning...but don't tell the kids!)

Whether you are stuck close to home due to school closures, or just stumped on what to do with your kids over a vacation you are sure to find something here that will keep you busy! So, raid the recycling bin, check out the craft drawer and start learning and having fun.

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


Making, Building and Experimenting Activities 

Kids love things that move! You can build a zany Rube Goldberg machine out of recyclables or just about anything else you have in the house. What task will your machine accomplish? Feeding the dog? Cooling you off on a hot day? Squeezing toothpaste out of a tube? The possibilities are endless with this one!

Encourage the kids to be spies and CSI's with this (ink-free) fingerprinting and (heat-free) invisible ink activity! Explore loops, whorls and arches and other unique patterns in your fingerprints and create and distribute some secret messages. You probably have everything you need right in the kitchen!

Have a flashlight, white paper, water, an old cd? Just a few of the things you can use to make a real rainbow indoors! Learn how to make 5 different rainbows from just a few common household items.

Save your toilet paper rolls and try this challengeHow much weight can a toilet paper tube hold? How about an egg?

Science in the kitchen! This outlines a decomposition experiment with apples, but you could substitute any food you've got on hand. 

Build a marble roller coaster! This is so much fun for kids and adults alike. You might not have the tubes I've used in this post on hand, but you can use just about any recycled container to create a little roller coaster.

Green Kid Crafts Delivered Right to your Door

This leaf pigment experiment can be pretty magical, and it can be done with markers if you don't have access to fresh leaves- you'll find the directions for the marker experiment at the bottom of this post.

Do you have flowers outside? Learn how to build a butterfly feeder and see who comes to visit! If you don't have the exact type of jar or sponge at home, experiment to see how you can create a feeder that will deliver a slow feed of nectar!

Love bird watching? Here are some ideas for easy-to-make bird feeders.

Challenge the kids to build a solar oven and make some nachos or s'mores! This is wonderful for open-ended design and engineering.

Investigate reflections with mirrors and drawings. You can also challenge the kids to code some secret messages that only a mirror will help them read!

Did you know that your kids can participate in professional science projects in a hands-on way, or online? Here are some starting points for getting kids involved in citizen science projects.

Do your kids know where the trash goes? Build a landfill model and learn what happens in it over time. Great conversation starter for Earth Day!

ARRRGH! Do your kiddos love pirates? Try these pirate optical illusion activities.

Nature, Wildlife and Outdoor Activities

Go on an indoor animal adaptations scavenger hunt! Free printable included at the end of the post.

Go on a math-themed scavenger hunt for the Golden ratio in the flower garden or the park.

Did you know you can grow a houseplant from kitchen scraps? Try growing a grapefruit plant or an avocado plant

Learn the parts of a flower through dissection! Ideas included for adapting for all age levels.

Got dirt, mud, sand or snow? Learn some animal tracks and go on a scavenger hunt.

Dream up and design a themed garden! Fun themes for kids are: taco or pizza garden, rainbow garden, and alphabet garden.

Build your own indoor worm composting bin and start composting your food scraps.

Challenge the kids to design and engineer a plant seed from craft materials and see how well it sinks, flies or floats!

Build a creature and learn about animal adaptations with this easy activity.

Did you know bees communicate through dance? Challenge the kids to code directions in a dance just like a bee!

Kids love building? Here are some nature sculpture engineering challenges. Get outside and build!

For bug-loving kids, here are ideas for designing an insect investigation, includes a free printable science journal.

Observe birds at the feeder and keep a tally with this free bird counting printable.

Go on a nature walk and hunt for cool lichen, see what types of fungus you can find, or find an empty bird's nest.

STEAM: Activities that include Art

You'll find several STEAM activities in this post outlining a family STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) event at my school. These are all fun for the whole family.

Grab a container from the recycling bin and build a zoetrope, then have the kids make some simple animation. This is always a hit with older kids. **Depending on the size of your container you may need to adapt the measurements. (We have faith in you!)

Hone the kid's observation skills and practice sketching in this "magnify without a magnifier" art project. All you need is a writing implement, an interesting object to draw and some paper. 

Find some fractal patterns outdoors or online and create a beautiful fractal sun catcher. If you don't have tracing paper try substituting with parchment paper or very carefully with tissue paper.

Activities that Make Use of Technology

Kids on the computer? They can be citizen scientists and participate in projects like Penguin Watch!

Wildlife cameras are a great way to experience animals that you might not otherwise have the opportunity to see. Learn more about the Decorah Eagle wildlife cam here.

These are some videos I have used to teach science. They are all entertaining enough to watch for fun (and learn something too!)

Who doesn't like some fun music? Here are some of my favorite kid's science songs.

Did you know you can listen to an astronaut read you a picture book? Check out Story Time from Space.

Kids can learn coding for free through a variety of programs online (and off-screen as well!).

Looking for more science activities with household items?

Here is a list of companies offering free subscriptions during school closings!