Saturday, June 13, 2015

Spring Flew By

We put the finishing touches on our bird kites and
took them outside for test flights. 

It was a beautiful sight: Kindergarteners & 1st-graders;
bluejays, goldfinches and black-capped chickadees, all soaring together.

The 2nd, 3rd, & 4th-graders completed the clay renderings of their arthropods.
The models were enlarged versions of the animals that they chose to focus on this spring for their research reports. 

Our students played close attention to detail, some even studying the ommatidia in order to depict the insect eye. Using resource materials, they were each able to beautifully recreate signature arthropods. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bird Kites & Model Arthropods

Kindergartners and 1st graders began creating their bird kites recently. Using a cardboard template they traced a bird outline shape (24 x 24 inch dimension) onto 2-ply synthetic kite fabric. 

Kites include the black-capped chickadee, blue jay, and goldfinch. Students are using real feathers to create templates for kite embellishments. Outlining the shape and size of actual feathers, they made fabric cutouts of tail, wing, and head feathers - in various accent colors - that will be glued onto the main body of the kites.

Our next phase will be placing a bamboo frame inside the main body of the kite and gluing fabric pieces together.  Stay tuned for updates!

Meanwhile, plasticine clay is proving to be a wonderful medium for creating insects and arachnids. Although the normally rigid exoskeleton might seem tricky to recreate using a pliable and soft material, the plasticine overall is actually quite perfect for modeling the intricate anatomical detail of arthropods.

Clay Arthropods in Progress
Our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders have begun their written research projects. 

Each are working on creating enlarged clay versions of their animals of choice as they finish up their written reports. 

The students have selected several diverse members of arthropods (killer bee and stag beetle pictured here) for their research topics, including:

Stag beetle*
Morpho Butterfly
Bumble bee
Wolf spider
Black widow
Honey bee
Praying mantis
Killer bee*
Stick bug
Wood ant
Dragon fly

Friday, May 8, 2015

Aren't Bombardier Beetles Cool?!

This week we welcomed an expert on bombardier beetles to the classroom.

Eric Arndt, a MIT researcher, brought his work with him - giving each 2nd, 3rd, & 4th grader their own long-preserved beetle!

Eric explained to us that most species of beetles fall prey to birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. And that even other invertebrates: spiders, ants, praying mantis, and larger beetles will prey on beetles. But the bombardier beetle, that Eric has studied, manages to avert hungry mouths by using chemicals for defense.

Many arthropods produce toxic bad-tasting chemicals to make themselves less desirable as food but the bombardier is unique. It sprays a hot (as hot as boiling water!) irritating mixture of chemicals. Eric's research has found that the bombardier is able to produce this explosion by combining two chemicals but that the beetle will keep these two chemicals separate until the last moment; just before it is needed.

By producing a noxious spray - a series of short jet bursts - there are very few predators who would care to eat the bombardier.

Eric described how he and his collaborators were able to use specialized x-ray imaging to see inside living beetles! We saw a video that Eric made, showing the internal structures of the beetles abdomen magnified under a powerful microscope.  His work allows us to see, for the first time, inside a live beetle while it sprays its super-hot defense.

Then Eric took us on a beetle hunt outdoors.

We learned that these nocturnal animals can be found under rocks and logs, beside streams during the day. Later in the day, we used guides to help us to identify the arthropods we found.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


It's finally springtime and we have begun our foray into insects.  Our unit will encompass the last seven weeks of school.  2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders are in the process of researching arthropods - insects, arachnids, myriapods, and crustaceans. In doing so, each student will pick one favorite species on which to complete a full research report.  We began by finding out what we already know about this diverse group of invertebrates and listing some questions that we are interested in exploring further.

Here is a short excerpt from our recent discussion:

I'm curious about stink bugs, ticks, wasps, queen bees, ants, crickets, black widow spiders, dust mites, and springtails.
How do arachnids make their products (silk, venom, toxins, etc)?
I'm curious about how butterfly colors and spots are made.
I want to learn about how bugs [know how to] camouflage themselves.
How do arthropods eat?
Why do [honey] bees die after they sting?
I want to learn about the purpose of colonies. [How do eusocial societies work?]
What are all the jobs that insects have in colonies?
Process of building [insect] nests.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

City Planner Visit

After being city planners for the last two months themselves, students welcomed a professional urban planner/architect to school! From our visitor, students learned about how one becomes a city planner, the years of schooling - the many disciplines that need to be studied, the apprenticeship process, and most importantly the collaborative skills that are necessary for working with lots of other people. These skills are very familiar to us now after needing to negotiate several key issues along our city model project!

Our guest lead us through a scenario of an empty city block (vacant lot) located across the street from a school. We learned that before any construction can begin, the soil conditions must be determined. Soil samples would be sent to scientists for analysis. Even if the land looks unused or empty, he explained, you can't be sure of the contaminants or quality of the soil until it is fully analyzed by researchers. We learned that just because the lot is empty and may seem neglected, many people in the community may have strong feelings about what it should be used for. The people in the neighborhood will attend public meetings with the city officials and with city planners to discuss and debate the possible plans for the property. The city planning team might hear many different suggestions from the neighborhood community members and the planners would need to be responsive to lots of different perspectives. We understand now from our guest that there are meetings, meetings, and more meetings involved in city planning! From proposal project meetings, finance meetings, meetings with the city mayors office, meetings with the engineers, meetings with landscape architects, construction team meetings, and meetings with developers. Wow, sounds exhausting! When asked by a fourth grader, "What is your favorite part of city planning?" our visitor responded, "After the project is complete; seeing the people using the space or site that I helped to develop, that is my favorite part!"

Work in Progress
We too had lots of "meetings" and debates as our model city came together. Although we worked in separate teams within our neighborhoods: The City Park/Zoo Team, The Mountain Team, The Marine Nature Center Team, The Resort Team, The Airport Team, The Farm Team, and The Green Power Team, students also met up for several city-wide discussions. The entire group periodically came together and collaborated on carefully and accurately connecting each of the separate poster board neighborhoods. During one of our city-wide meetings, students agreed that an important detail was that they wanted our roads to sometimes be different widths within each of the neighborhoods but then to become the same width where the roads connected across neighborhoods! 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bird Cradle

Recently the K/1 class momentarily put themselves into the role of avian parents! They braved the damp and chilly morning to begin constructing their own bird nests. With twigs, pine needles, straw, mud and leaves, (collected on a previous nature walk) students created beautiful works of art!

The cradles varied in size, material, and design - reflecting many of the different bird species' nests that we have been investigating. As a finishing touch, students placed small rocks inside their nests as place holder for eggs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

City Underway!

Our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders have been hard at work developing and negotiating their city plans with one another.

They now have seven diverse neighborhoods well underway: City Park Zoo, Green Power Plant, Mountain Camps, Community Garden & Farm, Marine Nature Center, Luxury Resort, and Airport! The last remaining neighborhood, the main city hub (government center) is still in planning phase.

Roads have been laid, sidewalks set, grass "planted" and many buildings (made from recycled boxes) have been designed, cut and constructed.

Students are now thinking about exteriors.

We have looked at several cities from real life to help inspire us. Students are designing facades including: twig/log cabins, painted brick factories, granite textured buildings, pastel stucco hotels, a brightly colored school, and a glass and steel ATC Tower.

So far their creations are revolutionizing color scheme design as we know it!

Investigating Birds

In mid-March, the Kindergartners and 1st graders began an intensive focus on birds. What is a bird, how are animals grouped or classified, and what qualities make birds unique compared to other animals?

Our class compiled an impressive list of attributes that they feel define birds. The list stated, among other features, that to be a bird you must have:

a beak
two feet
and lay eggs

Teachers also added to the list, explaining that birds are vertebrates, have specialized (monocular) vision that is different from ours, excellent hearing, a food crop and gizzard, and a preening gland.

Students then investigated how the beaks and feet of different birds are specialized for the types of food each enjoys. To start, they compared the beaks and feet of the Eagle, Quail, Pelican, Robin, Ostrich, and Woodpecker to each other. We began to notice the different features of beaks; that beaks for cracking seeds are quite different from beaks used for probing nectar.

Our investigation led us to the bird identification guides where 1st graders scanned the pages looking for several examples of bird beaks that fit into each category: the seed eaters, the meat eaters, the nectar drinkers, insect eaters, plant eaters, fish eaters, and fruit eaters. Later they matched how the feet, of these same birds, paired with the types of foods that each bird must find; they found grasping feet, scratching feet, swimming feet, perching feet, running feet, and climbing feet.

Students are getting a feel for form and function, how the beak and feet are designed to complement each other in helping each bird to find and to eat their food!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

City Planning & In the Air

In February, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students began a multilayered, collaborative city-planning project. After many fruitful discussions, debating the components and infrastructure that are needed to design a livable home, neighborhood, and city, students were divided up into 6 neighborhood teams. As each team is working on a separate but connected neighborhood, the students will need to conference with one another throughout the process. The landscape has been determined; students decided that it is a coastal city with a nearby mountain, river, and a watershed! They are in the midst of debating issues such as placement of roads, bridges and sidewalks.

In early March the K/1s set out to design mini parachutes and began experimenting with gravity and air resistance. Before starting construction, they tested the drop rates of different canopy materials including: textiles, tissue paper, thin plastic, and paper. After students settled on canopy material, they began testing canopy shape. Some chose rectangle pieces while others cut canopies into a circular shape. Once they had cut their canopies to optimal size, they tested how varying the attachment site and the number of suspension cords, changed the drop time. We tried a parachute with the suspension cords attached within the canopy piece and then retested the same parachute with suspension cords attached to the very edge of the canopy. Students also found that, by varying the suspension cord length to the load, they could see a difference in how their canopy dome would open during test falls. The K/1s made their own minifigure parachutist out of clothespins and teachers planned a test-launch from 15 feet!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Building Bridges & Catapults

Through our studies of arch construction, a natural transition to architecture and bridge design occurred. 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students focused on the history of bridges and began designing and building their own truss bridge. As they recalled the principles behind load, tension, and compression, we noticed the central role that triangles play in bridges that are designed today. Using balsa wood, students measured, marked, and then re-measured each piece of wood before teachers cut their requests.

Construction was a heroic multi-week project and their commitment paid off when they were able to test and proudly report the surprising load-strength of their bridges!
Meanwhile, the Kindergarten and 1st graders were busily designing and tinkering their own best catapult in February: using popsicle sticks, rubber bands, glue, and a small bucket, students performed test launches with different weight objects (pompoms vs. tinfoil). They played around with stop and start angles, tension, and throwing arm length. Some students wanted to propel objects to the farthest distance while others were interested in having objects achieve the greatest height. After students were happy with their catapult designs and implementation, teachers set up a challenge course that included 1. Target Practice (using different width containers as goals), 2. Going the Distance (using measuring tape to track their landing results), and 3. Add them Up! (3-rounds of landing on a number mat and finding the sum). 

We found that through several rounds of trial and error trouble shooting (Ha Ha!) that they were able to improve upon designs and modify propulsion results.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Arch & That Medieval Thing

As we investigated the field of archeology and learned about the science behind uncovering ancient ruins, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders became very interested in how buildings were constructed thousands of years ago. Our path led us to Rome and in particular, the longevity of the Roman arch bridge design. We briefly covered the history of bridges and students began to identify the basic types of bridges and to understand the forces of gravity, tension, and compression that act on them. Students formed human arches and felt the forces in action! After they tried creating model arches with small stones and a sand/corn starch mixture, many students decided that using a removable frame as a base was key to successfully constructing a model archway.

They found that building an arch is anything but easy. Since the arch is completely unstable until the two sides meet in the middle at the keystone, students realized why engineers for years used wooden forms on each side to hold the structure in place until the two spans met in the middle.

Others were interested in comparing different materials for constructing an arch and they tested arch design using sugar cubes and glue (but said they would rather use thick frosting next time, concluding that the mortar is a most important factor for success!)

In the Kindergarten and 1st grade classroom, our investigators developed a deep interest in castles, knights, and Medieval times. In December, students began noticing the different geometric shapes that can be found in castle architecture. In several classroom-wide hunts, they identified shapes that resembled certain attributes of a castle. We introduced 3D-shape vocabulary and played with handheld models. Students became comfortable counting the faces, vertices, and edges of geometric shapes.

January brought us to an investigation of simple machines as they relate to castles. We provided several materials challenges centered on levers and learned about force, effort, and load. Students tested different shapes that could be used as a fulcrum, and experimented with moving the placement of fulcrum along the arm. They each set up their own mini seesaw, using a 12-inch ruler (the arm), dixie cups (as load and effort containers), a thick marker (fulcrum) and proceeded to investigate how the effort changed depending on the position of the fulcrum from the load. Another time they used a large thick wood board for an arm and a thick cylinder piece for the fulcrum and were able to lift a box of books and a classmate!