Monday, November 29, 2010

Tree-rific math!

This month I'm gearing up for a big lesson on Christmas trees with about 200 preschoolers. Lucky me, right? But as I was out looking for "the perfect idea" for sharing about the role of Christmas trees and Christmas tree farmers with my preschool crowd, I found a cool resource for teaching real-life mathematics to older students using Christmas trees!

Photo from the United States Department of Agriculture
Natural Resource Conservation Service
The lesson comes from the Massachusetts Christmas Tree Association, and they offer an educational package free of charge (you just pay $5 for shipping) called The Annual Cycle of the Tree Farmer. If the rest of the materials are as cool as this fun, hands-on lesson, the $5 shipping fee is a steal!

Students will develop and understanding of area,the size of an acre and spatial relationships as well as learn different strategies for determining land area of irregular polygons in this lesson designed for students in grades 6 and up (adaptations for younger students are included at the end of this lesson).

The assignment revolves around this scenario:

Mr. & Mrs. Rice recently sold their dairy her and want to convert their former pasture land into a tree farm. They have a map of their property that shows the pasture land. Literature from the Massachusetts Cooperative Extension agent about growing evergreen trees suggests that trees can be successfully grown in a 6' x 6' arrangement with trees planted 6' apart in rows that are 6' apart. With this arrangement, 1,200 trees can be planted per acre of pasture land. An acre is a surface are of 43,560 feet.

Side note: I love the name Rice used in the scenario above! The land where our OARDC campus is located originally belonged to the Frederick Rice family. Frederick was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and eventually divided the farm between his two sons Simon and Barnhardt.

Question for students to answer: How many trees can the Rice family plant in their former cow pasture? A map of the property is included in The Annual Cycle of the Tree Farmer package.

Suggestions for teaching:

  1. Take the students outside and measure an acre on your school or personal property to help them understand how large an acre actually is. Before going outside, explain that since the square footage of an acre is 43,560 feet, the easiest way to measure out an acre is to create a square or rectangle with an area this size (Area = Length x Width, and in this case the area would be 43,560). Have students experiment in the classroom with calculators to find what combination yields a product of 43,560. Just a few of the possible solutions include: 208.47 x 208.47, 10 x 4,356, 100 x 435.6, 150 x 290.4, etc. Students should discover that the width will always equal the area (43,560 feet) divided by whatever length they choose. The students can then be divided into groups of 4 to go outside, measure and stake out the bounds of their acre using different dimensions for each group. This will help them understand that several different polygons can have the same area (in this case, 1 acre).
  2. Divide the students into groups of 3-4 and distribute the maps of the farm showing the pasture land that is to be planted to trees. Focus on 1 pasture and show it on an overhead. Give students 5 minute to discuss with their group possible ways to find the square footage of this pasture, then present their solutions. If using the map included with the Annual Life Cycle of a Tree Farmer, the lengths on that map have been converted to actual lengths using the map scale, where 1 inch = 100 feet. If you don't have the Annual Life Cycle of a Tree Farmer, you can create your own map selecting pasture shapes appropriate to the age level of your students. Perhaps the pasture shape is a trapezoid (calculate the area by dividing it into 2 triangles and a rectangle, then add the areas together) or a series of different shaped rectangles
These are fun, hands-on ways to help students learn about basic mathematical concepts and real-life problem solving. Which is always a good idea when it comes to minimizing the "But why do I have to learn my math?" questions! 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Turkey Beard? Weird!

Our favorite guest blogger is back again and this time he's talking turkey. It's Twig Walkingstick!  Twig lives in and around the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. 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. Dear Twig: Did you know that turkeys have beards?

A. Actually, I did know that. And I don't get to say that very often. Ha! Wait, not funny.

The "beard" of the turkey hangs down from the middle of the turkey's chest. It doesn't hand down from his chin. Though that would be cool if it did. It looks like a long, skinny, long-haired tail. Like the tail of a horse if the horse were as big as a miniature poodle and the tail were on the front, not the back. Scientists call the "hairs" of the beard "bristles of  "mesofiloplumes" ("MEZ-uh-FILL-uh-ploomz") - stiff, feather-like structures.

A male turkey, called a tom, starts to grow a beard at about 11 weeks old. The beard gets longer as the tom gets older. Sometimes it gets up to 12 inches long. It helps the tom attract females, or hens. A big, long beard means a big, strong tom. Or at least an older one. One that knows what it takes to survive, to not get eaten by a fox or an owl, and live to a long-bearded age. Hens dig that.


P.S. The wild turkey's scientific name: Meleagris gallopavo. Some hens have beards, too.


Notes from Twig: 
  • In the wild, in wild turkeys, most toms and some hens have beards. Also: some toms have more than one!
  • On farms, in farm turkeys, some toms don't have beards, some hens have them, and either way most of those beards are shorter than the beards of wild turkeys in the wild. (Wild!)
  • To learn just about everything you might ever want to know about turkey beards, read The Beard of the Wild Turkey by A.F. Schorder in the October 1957 issue of the journal The Auk. (Wing bump to the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation for the tip!)
  • Keen on turkeys? Want to try raising one? Try the Ohio 4-H Project #166, Raising turkeys.
You can clearly see the beard on the chest of this eastern subspecies of wild turkey.
Photo courtesy of Larry Price and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Using this information for education:
This is a great time of year for students to learn about turkeys and have some fun, too! Thanksgiving is a great time to learn about the differences between today's domestic turkeys and wild turkeys. You might not this so, but the difference is huge...and it's not just the color difference!

For a fun activity to teach students about the purpose of the difference features and characteristics of wild turkeys and a little more about the science of adaptation, be sure to check out our post from earlier this month on turkey survival!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Preparing for the feast

I don't know about you, but my kids are ready for Thanksgiving. Whether it's the turkey, the pumpkin pie, the days off school or the "official" start of the Christmas season, they are ready. So while their minds are on the upcoming feast anyway, it's a perfect time to practice reading charts, interpreting data and learning about how important agriculture and food production are to state's economies. Here in Ohio, agriculture is the largest industry in the state. That makes it pretty important!

Let's start by taking a moment to look at just a few of the "staples" of a traditional Thanksgiving feast:

The United States is the world's largest producer of turkeys. So where are these birds raised? Here are the top 10 turkey producing states in the country with the number of birds raised in each

  1. Minnesota: 48 million
  2. North Carolina: 40 million
  3. Arkansas: 31 million
  4. Missouri: 21 million
  5. Virginia: 18 million
  6. California: 16 million
  7. Indiana: 14.5 million
  8. South Carolina: 12.5 million
  9. Pennsylvania: 11.5 million
  10. Iowa: 9 million
Source: United States Department of Agriculture 2008 numbers. Print off the chart from the USDA, page 7, and ask students to rank the top 5 or top 10 turkey producing states either by total dollar value, number of turkeys, or even the average price per pound in each state. 

Follow up by asking age-appropriate questions, like how many turkeys are raised on farms in Indiana? Which state produces more turkeys, Arkansas or Virginia?  Which state produces the most turkeys? Which state produces fewer turkeys, Missouri or California? How many more turkeys are produced in Indiana than South Carolina? How many turkeys are produced in the three top turkey-producing states?

Even more fun? Take a look at the blog On the Banks of Squaw Creek to hear the tales of our teacher and blogger friend Katie,  who lives on one of those turkey farms responsible for making Iowa a top-ten turkey-producing state. She tells lots of turkey tales and has cool pictures of what modern turkey production looks like.

Education World has a worksheet available for download on sweet potato and cranberry production that explores similar questions, too.

Another great tool to look at is the American Farm Bureau's annual Thanksgiving basket survey. Each year they shop for the same list of Thanksgiving feast staples to estimate the cost of preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. The list remains the same from year to year, so students can look at the relative costs over time and chart those as well. They can also track inflation over time and compare those results as well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Students will "gobble" up this food web

Wondering how to make learning about food webs fun for your students? Here's an activity perfect for November (when we're all dreaming up the upcoming turkey dinner) where students will investigate the concepts of food webs and food chains. This is alos a great opportunity for them to learn about and describe the role of wild turkeys, plants and other organisms in cycling energy and matter. Another plus? this activity is easily adaptable for students in kindergarten through 8th grade and addresses science and environmental education national learning standards.

This photo of a Rio Grande subspecies of wild turkey is courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation
So what are food webs? Basically, food webs are the feeding relationships among the different species in a community. Each member of a community can be classified as either a consumer or a producer. Producers, well, produce energy—generally from the sun through photosynthesis. Producers harness the sun's energy to make their own food. On the other hand, consumers are those members of the community who consume energy by eating other organisms. Producers are the base of the food chain and very important, because all of the energy in the community originates with them.

Start off by discussing the definitions of producer and consumer and have students list examples of each, Write the name of each producer and consumer on an index card (1 per card) and tape each piece to the chalkboard or whiteboard. To make it even easier, you can print off these printable cards with list numerous members of the community, whether they are a producer or consumer, and what they eat. Younger students might find it easier to understand if each animal were represented by a pictureYou and your students may also be interested in learning more about wild turkey predators in particular for this lesson.

Then have the students come to the chalkboard and draw lines to show the energy chains.  You can also place the cards on the floor and connect them with yard. Students can then physically walk through a specific energy chain in the food web. Students can then record their specific chain on a piece of paper or in a science journal.

Once each student has recorded their chain, the teacher can pull an organism from the web. Have students discuss which food chains the removed organism affected. Repeat with other organisms from the chain and continue to discuss.

To add a fun twist, replace all the organisms in the food web and have students secretly select and record a second energy chain. Once each students has recorded their new secret food chain, the teacher slowly randomly begins to remove and organism. After the first organism is removed, record who is "dead" and who is "alive." Continue to remove organism and record the casualties and survivors until all the energy chains have been eliminated.

Here are some questions for discussion:

  • What did the students notice when all the organisms had died?
  • What strategies to herbivores use to avoid being captured? Answers will vary, but examples might include mimicry, mobbing behavior, camouflage coloration, safety in numbers, physical or chemical combat, etc.
  • What strategies do carnivores use to capture their prey? Again, answers will vary but might include binocular vision, sharp teeth, heightened sense of smell, sharp claws, camouflage coloration, hunting in groups, physical or chemical combat, etc.
  • How do organisms compete for food? Organisms usually compete for food through adaptations, performance, heard-to-head competition, or predatory competition. Students' answers may vary. For more on the adaptions of wild turkeys, be sure to check out our post from last week called "This turkey is staying alive!"
  • What would happen if there were more predators or prey in a particular community? Explain. Answers may vary, but could include overpopulation of species, which would lead to an increase in disease and a decrease in available food and space for that species.
  • How might humans affect the food web? Humans could negatively impact the food web through pollution and habitat destruction. However, humans can also positively impact the food web through habitat creation, establishing wildlife areas, and helping to control overpopulated species. It's important for students to realize not all human intervention is bad.
This lesson was based on and adapted from the "Turkey Web"activity found in the National Wild Turkey Federation's Wild About Turkeys k-12 curriculum and activity guide.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

This turkey is "staying alive"

November is here, so it's time to talk turkey. Turkey adaptations that is. Adaptations are physical or behavioral characteristics that plants or animals have to help them survive. But have you ever wondered how to make learning about adaptations fun for kids? Here's the answer: a quick and fun lesson on how the adaptations of wild turkeys help them stay alive!
This is an Eastern subspecies wild turkey...not to be confused
with the domestic turkey that graces most tables at Thanksgiving.
Photo by John Ford and the National Wild Turkey Federation.
This is a fun, hands-on activity...and now is the perfect time of year for it! Not only are your (and your students) probably starting to dream of all the goodies including the star player TURKEY on your Thanksgiving tables later this month, but many of the materials needed for this activity can be picked up at a bargain price now that Halloween supplies are on clearance this week!

This photo of a flock of Eastern Wild Turkeys was taken by Henry Zeman.
Courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

The following lesson is from the book Wild About Turkeys by the National Wild Turkey Federation.

  1. Start of by telling students they'll be learning about ADAPTATIONS. In fact, adaptations are so special that every time you say the word "ADAPTATIONS" students should wiggle their thumbs. 
  2. Define ADAPTATIONS and why we talk about them.
  3. Ask for a volunteer. Ask the other students if the volunteer could survive as a turkey in the wild. Nope...not without some wild turkey ADAPTATIONS. (Don't forget to wiggle those thumbs!)
  4. Now is the time to go through you ADAPTATION box and briefly describe how each of those items would help a wild turkey while you dress the volunteer with their new ADAPTATIONS. What's in your box? Here are some ideas:
  • Feathers: Use a down vest. Feathers help turkeys stay toasty warm. Their normal body temperature is 108 degrees! You can also use a camouflage jacket. The colors help turkeys hide from predators
  •  Tail feathers: Bright and colorful will do the trick! For males, these feathers help in strutting and make the female turkeys agree to a date!
  • Beard: Hit the Halloween clearance aisle and grab a costume beard. Turkey beards are a good indicator of gender and age.
  • Multi-colored head: A tri-colored bicycle helmet is a good bet for this one. The red, white and blue on turkeys' heads is a form of communication for the birds.
  • Carunkles:  Use a red neck tie. Turkeys can change the carunkles size and color to communicate as well.
  • Snood: This is as easy as a red balloon.Turkeys can change the size and color of their snood to communicate with each other and also to help regulate body temperature.
  • Beak: Here's another chance to take advantage of that Halloween clearance aisle by snagging a costume beak. Turkeys use their beak to catch food, and it's small, stout shape is perfect for the kind of food they eat. Can you imagine what a turkey would look like if it had a beak like a toucan? Ask students if they think turkeys can chew and if they have teeth.
  • Gizzard or Crop: A cheese grater is a "grate" replica of the small stones that are located in the crop and that grind up the bird's food.
  • Spurs: Cowboy spurs can be used to show how male turkeys use their spurs to fight other males. The best fighter gets the girl! Males sometimes also use their spurs as protection from predators.
  • Long toes: Plastic garden cultivator tools can show how turkeys use their feet to scratch the ground and dig up acorns, chufa, grasshoppers, worms and more.
  • Fast running: Jogging shoes make a nice visual. Did you know turkeys can run about 19 miles per hour?
  • Bones: PVC pipes or dryer vents can show how turkey bones are very fact, they are almost hollow. Turkeys can fly about 55 miles per hour at top speed!
  • Eyesight: Time to hit the Halloween aisle again for some googley glasses. A turkey's best defense is good eyesight, and turkeys can in fact see in color.
  • Strutting: One more thing turkeys do to get a date! Male turkeys do this to impress the ladies. Have your volunteer strut or dance whil playing "Staying Alive." 
Have the students vote as to whether or not they now think their volunteer's ADAPTATIONS are enough to stay alive as a wild turkey. Older students may be asked to think about their favorite animal and identify a few of that animal's ADAPTATIONS to share with the class. And what about our ADAPTATIONS as people?
Photo by Maslowski & the National Wild Turkey Federation
 Wonder why the students wiggled their thumbs every time the word ADAPTATION was mentioned? Try this experiment. Tape thumbs down to the rest of the students' hands and ask them to try everyday tasks like buttoning, zipping, getting a glass of water, writing their name, etc. Do our thumbs help us stay alive? You bet!

And speaking of adaptations, did you know domestic turkeys have their own set of ADAPTATIONS, too? Today's domestic turkeys are white and are descendents of a no extinct subspecies of wild turkeys. They are bleived to have been domesticated by Native Americans in Mexico between 150 BC and 400 AD. Spanish explorers brought Turkeyes to Spain, and by 1530, domestic turkeys were common throughout Europe. They arrived in the US from England in 1607.

Commercially-raised domestic birds look quite different from their wild relatives as you can see. Their feathers are usually white, which is preferred for the cleaner appearance of the dressed birds. Domestic birds are also so heavy they often have difficulty flying. Their neck skin (wattles) is heaver and their snood is longer. Their temperament is also more suited to confinement.

Domestic male turkeys tend to be vocal and respond with a squeaky gobble to almost any noise. Females use calls similar to their wild counterparts, including the cluck, yelp, cutt, purr and kee-kee.

From 1930 to 1987 when interest began in increasing the American wild turkey population, efforts were made to mate wild and domestic turkeys to increase the populations. However, the resulting offspring were unable to survive in the wilderness, having lost their survival instincts. They were quickly eaten by predators, even if the offspring contained only a small percentage of domestic turkey in their genetic makeup.

Interested in learning more about modern turkey production? Visit our good bloggy friend Katie at On the Banks of Squaw Creek. Her family raises turkeys for a living and their birds feed the processing plant that supplies turkey to all the Subways west of the Mississippi. Katie does regular turkey features and fill you in on all the happenings and yes, sometimes even the heartbreaks, of farm life.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween is over, so what now?

Wondering what to do with those leftover Jack-O-Lanterns? Now's the perfect time to go back and look at our fun lesson on pumpkin decomposition! 'Cause what's not to love about getting a useful lesson out of something you were probably just going to throw away anyhow?

And, I recently found two really cool books to go right along with that lesson on decomposition. Both talk about the plan life cycle in fun, easy-to-understand ways. In fact, we spent last week sharing those lessons with preschoolers, who loved the stories and illustrations (not to mention they ooey, gooey, slimey disembowelment of the pumpkins)!

The first book is Pumpkin Jack, which is both written and illustrated by Will Hubbell. I especially love this book for this activity because it starts the life cycle off with the Jack-O-Lantern phase of the pumpkin and has great illustrations of the slimey, rotten phase of the pumpkin. Then the seeds start to grow in the spring and the little boy ends of with another Jack-O-Lantern. This is and especially great story to share if you have kids who are reluctant to get rid of their carving masterpieces.

I also love It's Pumpkin Time! by Zoe Hall and illustrated by Shari Halpern. I especially love the illustrations, which definitely remind me of some of my favorite Eric Carle books. This book follows the adventures of siblings who plant and care for their own pumpkins. Especially helpful are the illustrations of the life cycle at the end of the story. I copied these drawings, cut and laminated them into smaller pieces and used them in a sequencing activity...which worked really well.

Halloween may be over, but those pumpkins are still good for something!
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