Friday, October 17, 2014

Our forest studies

Our Kindergartners and 1st Graders are deciding how to best tell tree species apart. They have been discussing the key features that all trees share and we are learning to notice the attributes that give us clues about which species a given tree might belong.

A typical tree guide requires significant amount of background knowledge; much of which we adults take for granted. Wouldn't it be great to have the students design their own tree guide -- deciding for themselves the features that they deem most important for telling trees apart?

We are working toward that goal. In order to categorize the leaves that they find, students have begun collecting fallen leaves around the school yard and are listing all of the traits and qualities that they notice. K/1's started making Venn Diagrams comparing and contrasting sets of leaves. One of our first comparisons included looking at a white mulberry leaf and a catalpa tree leaf. We are on our way to collecting data for creating a K/1 guide to trees!

Students also spent time outside yesterday, between rain showers, studying an elaborately decorated maple tree. But before they even began depicting coloration to their drawings, students carefully counted the branches and trunk formations; we were surprised to count at least 7 large branches that started very near the base and looked like the tree had multiple trunks.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nature's Engineers

 We invited members of a silk lab to our school. And oh, wow, were we treated to an amazing presentation today!

I am forever grateful to Principal Investigator Fio Omenetto who came, along with Benedetto, a post-doc, and Alex, a graduate student, to talk to our students about the seriously mind blowing power of silk. I thought I already knew a fair amount about potential applications of biomimicry (imitating elements of nature to solve complex human problems). But today, thanks to the silkworm (and to some really smart biomedical engineers!) I could actually envision a future without our piles of trash accumulating in landfills.

It was inspiring to meet these scientists who are spending their life's work cleaning up our planet; creating everyday products made out of silk.  Fio and his lab members are figuring out how to manufacture electronic gadgets from a renewable, sustainable source.

Could we really hand off a cleaner world to future generations; one without plastic piling up in landfills and in trash heaps?! It's a beautiful vision!

Fio, Ben, and Alex came with beaucoup props: thin sheets that looked like plastic, screws, nuts and bolts, a femur bone, entirely made of melted down silk. And enough cocoons for every student to take one home.