Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's a pollination jubilation!

Summer is here. The sun is shining and the bees are buzzing. But bees aren't the only pollinators hard at work! Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther (the male parts of the flower) to the stigma (the female parts of the flower). After pollination, the fertilized flower egg will become a seed and the ovary will form into a fruit.
Now, since flowers are stationary, they need help transferring their pollen. Some flowers attract insects and birds to help with the job. As I was taking a group on a tour of Secrest Arboretum this Monday, we saw one plant that literally had well over a dozen different species of insects hard at the work of pollination. When the insects of birds visit the flower,, they can accidentally rub against the pollen (the yellow stuff in the picture above) and carry it with them to another flower. In the process, they transfer pollen from an anther to a stigma, which pollinates the flower and enables from fruit to grow.
So how do plant attract pollinators? Several ways:

  • Displaying brightly colored petals
  • Mimicking smells
  • Providing nectar (one sweet food source!)
  • Mimicking shapes of other objects
  • Using designs or tracks to direct pollinators
Just a note: not all plants are pollinated by animals. Some are pollinated by wind or water and still others are self-pollinated.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a perfect time of year to see pollinators hard at work. Take a hike outdoors and challenge the kids to find a flower, describe the parts they can see, and hypothesize about how they think the plant is pollinated. It's also fun to look for pollinators at work....just be sure to look and not touch!

Growing Together is a great resource available from Ohio State University Extension that has a lot of great outdoor-themed lesson plans. Inside, you'll also find great worksheets and detailed pictures of the parts of the flower and tons of other cool resources. Contact your local Extension office to ask about ordering a copy. The following activity is adapted from this book.

Materials needed:
  • Cardstock or construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Q-Tips or other cotton swabs
  • Colored chalk or colored sugar
  • Glue dots
  • Large marshmallows
  1. Have students cut out or color a cardstock or construction paper flower about the size of a hand (this is a top-down view of a flower - so it will look kind of like a symmetrical cloud).
  2. Attach marshmallow to center of the flower with a glue dot.
  3. Cut Q-tips in half. Dip cotton-covered end in crushed colored chalk (I use colored sugar like for decorating cookies so I don't have the work of crushing the chalk). Insert other end of Q-Tip into marshmallow, like spokes on a wheel. 5-6 "spokes" per flower is good. I suggest making a minimum of 2 flowers and using only one color of sugar or chalk per flower.
  4. Gently moisten the top of the marshmallow (to make it a little "sticky")
  5. Have students pretend a new Q-Tip is an insect collecting pollen an nectar. As it flies around from one flower to the next, see how is spreads the sugar from the outer anthers (Q-Tips) to the inner stigma (marshmallow). Remember, the pollinator doesn't go directly from anther to anther, it bumps around and explores in teh flower to fins what it is looking for.
  6. Let them each take turns pollinating each other's flowers.
Other cool facts about pollinator preferences:
  • Hummingbirds prefer deep, tube-shaped flowers, especially reds or deep oranges.
  • Bats and some moths prefer large, night-blooming flowers, often rotten smelling, and prefer white.
  • Bees prefer colorful, scented flowers with UV guides; they see all colors except red and especially prefer blue, purple and white.
  • Butterflies prefer deep, tube-shaped flowers or large flowers where they can rest. They prefer red, purple, orange and white.
Other great pollinator resources:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Prairie Plant-apalooza

Twig lives in and around the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, where he enjoys the prairie plant in Secrest Arboretum. His alter ego is Kurt Knebusch, one of our super-talented writers and editors on campus. Each month, look for Twig to answer a reader questions and some additional interesting facts below. After Twig's post, we will be providing some ideas and suggestions on how to incorporate the info in Twig's column into fun science learning for your students and children.

Q. Twig: What's with all the prairie plants? I'm seeing special sales of them. There's a whole garden full at my school. I'm waiting to see a buffalo! What gives?

A. You're right. Prairie plants are getting more popular. One reason is that more gardeners are interested in native plants -- in this case, plants that are natural to North America. (A lot of U.S. garden plants were imported from Europe and Asia.)

Another reason is that prairie plants are easy to care for. They're perennials -- they come back every year -- so you plant them only once. They shade and crowd out weeds, so you rarely if ever have to hoe them. And they don't mind hot, dry weather, so you don't have to water them (except when they're young), unlike a green, grassy lawn.

Also, prairie plants give food and shelter to birds and butterflies. Walkingsticks, too!

A downside, of course, is that you can't play baseball on them. Bob the Bug keeps getting lost.

What are some prairie plants? Wildflowers like purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan and grasses like big bluestem and Indian grass.

Great names. Great plants. Great Plains. You, too, can have a little house on the prairie! Or a big one! Or a modest, well-kept bungalow!

Using this information for education:
There are tons of ways to learn about prairies! First, the most obvious is to visit somewhere where there are prairie plants! One such place is Secrest Arboretum on OARDC's Wooster campus. We have a mega-cool prairie plant garden in the arboretum. Admission is free and open to the public seven days a week during daylight hours. Most of the plants in the garden are labeled with their common and scientific name...which means you'll actually know what plants you look at enjoy.

There are also tons of great lesson plans available on our North American native prairies:

Teacherlink has several social studies lessons
National Geographic's Incredible Prairie Picture Show
Illinois State Museum's Historic Native American Plant Dyes
Discover Education's The American Prairie
Living Roadway Trust Fund of Iowa's Create a Prairie Roadside

And that just scratches the surface! So get out there, explore and enjoy our native prairie plants!! Summer is their season of glory!

Our Homeschool Home

Monday, July 12, 2010

Take a hike!

Summer is a great time to get out and about and enjoy nature with children...they see so many wonders we as adults often miss! So cast your cares to the wind and make time to enjoy the outdoors...and while you're at it, make it a fun time to learn, too!

Scavenger hunts outdoors are great fun. Plus, they enhance kids' abilities to correctly use and identify directional words like near, far, above, below, left, right, etc., as they participate in the excitement of the hunt. So not only will kids have fun hunting for nature objects (enhancing their knowledge of the natural world and developing science skills), but they also practice determining an object's location (spatial awareness and location are good math skills).

The following activity was adapted from Embark on a Math and Science Hunt. They have tons of cool year-round science ideas for each grade there, plus they have a neat 2010 Summer Activity Challenge where you can keep track of all the cool learning activities you do this summer.

First, determine your destination. Haven't been hiking in a while? No worries. Both national and state forest services have tons of resources online for both beginning and advanced hikers. Or, call your local parks and recreation department for suggestions. In fact, here's a list of suggestions for Ohio hiking destinations.

If you are in our neck of the woods (literally) in northeast Ohio, we invite you to come visit Secrest Arboretum. Our 90-acre research arboretum is home to numerous varieties and cultivars of trees and plants and has plenty of walking trails to keep you busy. We are open to the public free of charge seven days a week during daylight hours.

Once you've selected a destination, gather your supplies:

  • Several pieces of card stock (8.5 x 11" is a good size)
  • Pictures of flowers, lichen, trees, insects, flowers, etc. that are to be found on the hike. Printing off pictures from the internet is great. The possibilities are endless.
  • Crayons
  • Adventure pack
  • Small plastic storage bags
Once your supplies are together, create your Adventure Pack. Do a little online research to learn about the flora and fauna in and around your destination. Find pictures of some fun and unusual things, like flowers with funny names (how about "sticky monkey flower"?) or unusual items like cool fungus or colorful bark.
Print the pictures, cut them out, and attach them to the card stock. Then label them along with the name, description and any unusual facts. You can even make these into clue cards if you want, putting the picture and name on one side of the card and the description and location clues on the reverse side.

If you have the chance, it's always a good idea to take your cards out for a kid-free test drive (granted, this may not work for you if you're going somewhere farther from home...but it's a good idea none the less). Look for each of the items you've identified and write down location clues to help the kids locate them.

Another strategy that would work well if you are able to take a prep hike without the kids is to take along a camera to photograph cool finds. You can write down location clues and look up cool facts about what you found once you return home. 

Finally, sell the adventure to your kids and take off on an exciting hunt! A story is only as good as the teller. Set the stage by putting all the clues together into a fun Adventure Pack, adding some storage bags to collect cool rock and stick samples along with a crayon and paper in case they want to draw pictures of any cool finds. Be sure to hype the hike as a science adventure trying to track down all the clues in the Adventure Pack.

Have a great adventure!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Learning lessons with leaves...

Who said summer is time to take a break from learning? Summer is a fabulous time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors...and that in itself is a great learning opportunity! But "add" in some math skills that are fun and easy and it "sums" up to a winning combination. The following activity is derived from Math in the Garden. This book is published by the National Gardening Association and is choc-full of great hands-on mathematical learning guessed the garden!

Mathematical measurements and patters are vital in describing the world around us...and what better place to explore number, operations and even algebra than in the garden? Numbers are everywhere...not only in all areas of mathematics, but also in our daily lives. It's vital children understand what numbers represent and how they are used. Children learn about numbers through concrete, real-world experiences, such as counting objects of the number of petals on a flower. Numbers are also used to measure in units (such as how many feet tall a sunflower measures) or to make comparisons (such as which sunflower is tallest).

Estimations allow children to gauge an approximate quantity without counting precisely. Opportunities to practice making estimates helps children gain a deeper understanding of the magnitude of numbers and measures as well as assess the "reasonableness" of an answer.

In today's activity, children will measure the area of a leaf with nonstandard units, such as beans, buttons, and bottle caps. The sky is the limit when it comes to units of measurement for this activity. Once the surface area of various leaves is determined, the children will compare those areas.

Each pair of children will need:
  • leaf
  • clipboard
  • overhead transparency
  • white paper
  • transparency pen
  • about 1cup of small, flat objects (like the beans, buttons or bottlecaps discussed above). Dried lima beans work well
  • journal for recording observations
  • pencil
Prep Work:
  1. Select a plant whose leaf area is smaller than a standard sheet of paper. Select a leaf that will hold a countable number of objects within it's area. Younger children will need to use smaller leaves to be successful at counting. A spinich leaf might be a good choice for a 5-year odl, for example.
  2. Select a flat surface, such as a picnic table or level area of ground, where the group can gather to set out their clipboards and compare areas.
  3. Either provide each pari of students with the steps for measuring area or write it on a large poster board, chalboard or easel where all students can see the step. (See below)
Steps for Measuring Area:
  1. Trace a leaf
  2. Place 1 bean inside traced leaf.
  3. Estimate how many beans will fit inside the leaf.
  4. Put 10 beans inside the leaf.
  5. Revise your estimate and write it down.
  6. Fill the area of the leaf with beans.
  7. Count the beans using groups of 10. 
  8. Write down the number of beans.

Conducting the activity:
  1. Walk through the garden asking kids to look at the variety of sizes and shapes of leaves. Have them use their hands to show the size of the largest and smallest leaves they find.
  2. Tell them they will be exploring different sizes of leaves. Use your pre-selected leaf to demonstrate how to trace the leaf onto an overhead trasparency. (Carefully place the leave between the transparency and clipboard, then gently trace around the leaf with the transparency pen. This allows the leaf to remain on the plant and lets you kep the outline.
  3. Hold the transparency up for everyone to see. Point to the space inside the leaf and ask the children if they knwo the mathematical name for the space inside. It's called the "area."
  4. Hold up a lima bean (or other unit of measure) and ask how many beans they think it will take to cover the area.
  5. Have the children discuss their estimates, share them with each other, and explain their thinking.
  6. Demonstrate the steps for measuring area outlined above letting the children make the estimates. Ask if their estimates became more accurate as they gathered more information.
Measuring the Area of the Leaves:
  1. Go over the steps for measuring area one more time; make sure each pair of students has access to or can see a copy of the steps.
  2. Have the pairs select their leaves. If they are having trouble tracing a leaf on the plant, have them select a fallen leaf to trace. Guide them through the measuring steps and assist if necessary.
  3. Regather and have a group show their leaf outline while the other children make estimates cbout the area. Have the group revela the actual area in beans.
  4. Record that number inside the leaf outline and place that paper in the center of the group.
  5. Continue with another group. Have them show their leaf in comparison. Is it larger, smaller, or about the same size? You can place the transparencies one on top of the other to help estimate the area.
  6. Have the children estimate the area of the second leaf, then share the actual number of beans and record that number in the center of the leaf tracing.
  7. Continue until all the groups have shared their leaves. Line the leaf tracings up in order of smallest to largest area.
  8. Ask questions such as: What helped you make your estimate? How many leaves have about the same area? What do you notice about the size and shape of leaves? How do you think leaves help the plant grow?

  • This activity is designed to arress the math standards of number, operations and algebra and well as geometry and pattern.
  • It is particularly relevant for students ages 5-8

More ideas:
  • You can use transparencies with a centimeter grid to compare areas using standard units of measure, then compare the results of the standard and nonstandard units of measure.
  • Use string to measure the perimeter of the leaves. Modify the shapes encompassed by the string to see how the areas are affected.
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