The Backyard Book Club is back in action! For this month's meeting, the kids read James and the Giant Peach, thanks to a request by one of our members. (Click here for the book spotlight with online resources and other ideas.)
We started with a quick talk about what the kids loved best in the book, then went straight to our trivia activity. For this one, we marked one end of the yard as England and the other as New York City. Then we tried to cross the Atlantic Ocean like James and his buddies by answering trivia questions correctly on our whiteboard paddles. (Our younger members teamed up with a big kid to write down the answers. Click here for a printable list of discussion and trivia questions.)
Then it was time for a little science! First, we learned a little more about the bugs in the book, then we used that knowledge to go on a bug hunt. The kids looked all over the yard and found a surprising number of different types of bugs.
For our second science activity, we watched a short video about rainbow science (since the giant peach shatters a rainbow) and then made some rainbows of our own and talked a little about where they came from.
Then it was time for an art project! We talked about all the things that GREW in the book (the peach and the bugs), but how would the story have been different if things shrank instead? We made some fun book-related art (and some non-book-related art) using shrink film.
Finally, it was time for treats. As the kids munched on peach-o's and gummy worms, we read There's a Hair in My Dirt by Gary Larson. (The illustrations and text are great, and so is the message--that worms are important, and understanding nature is even more important than appreciating it. But there is some editing required for young kids. :)
In one of my favorite scenes of Ida B (this week's book), Ida B's dad tells her that they need to take care of the Earth. One of the best ways to do this is by recycling! Let's make our own recycled paper to help take care of the Earth just a little.
First, take your newspaper and cut it into very small pieces. (We used a paper shredder to speed up the process a little.) Put all the tiny pieces of paper into a bucket or large bowl and cover with warm water. (The ink from the paper might stain the bowl, so maybe don't use your fanciest one.) Let the paper/water mixture sit overnight.
Once your mixture has taken on sort of a lumpy-oatmeal texture, it's called pulp. And once you have pulp, you're ready to make paper! Spoon some of the pulp onto a sheet of aluminum foil and spread it into a thin layer. Remove as much of the water as you can by pressing a flat strainer over it. (We used a pizza pan with holes in it, but you could also make a strainer by poking holes in a piece of foil.)
When you've removed as much water as you can, cover your pulp layer with another piece of aluminum foil and flatten it with a rolling pin or heavy books. Carefully peel off the top piece of foil, then leave your project somewhere warm and safe to dry! (This is the part where you can decorate your paper by adding flat leaves, flowers, or even glitter.)
Once your paper is totally dry, just peel off the foil! Then check out this site or watch this video to see how paper is recycled on a much bigger scale. Thanks for helping take care of the Earth!
In this week's book, Gianna had to identify lots of leaves for a school project. We're going to learn about leaves too with this awesome chromatography experiment by ecologist Heather Hawke. Take it away, Heather!
Have you ever wondered why leaves turn color in the fall? They don’t really switch colors – some of those yellows and oranges are there all along!
Plants need food just like we do, only thing is, they make their own. They use a type of molecule, pigments, to capture sunlight. The plants can then use that energy to make sugar from carbon dioxide and water (photosynthesis).
Each kind of pigment works best at certain wavelengths (the different colors in a rainbow). The most common pigment group, chlorophyll, is really good at using most of the spectrum, except green. Then why are leaves green? That’s because chlorophylls soak up all the other colors. The green light bounces off, hits your eyes, and you see green.
Some pigments are better at absorbing other parts of the spectrum. The carotenoids give plants such as carrots or bananas bright yellows and oranges. The anthocyanins appear red to blue and are mostly present in flower petals and fruits such as cranberries or cherries. The uncommon betalains are found in only a few plants, but are responsible for red beets and colorful bougainvillea! Plants use a mixture of pigments in their leaves to capture as much of the energy in sunlight as possible.
In the fall, as the days get shorter, plants slowly stop making the chlorophylls and eventually their green fades away. Once the carotenoids are not swamped out anymore, their colors are finally revealed! Some plants will make anthocyanins as the days get shorter, and so will turn red.
In this experiment, you will try to find out how many pigments are in different leaves. You will separate the pigments using filter paper and rubbing alcohol, a solvent.
1. Tape top of paper strip to a pencil. Balance pencil on top of glass. Trim bottom of strip so it is close to, but not touching the bottom of the glass.
2. Lay paper strip on flat surface. Place leaf near bottom of strip and rub a dark line onto the paper, parallel to the bottom of the strip (see photo). The neater and darker your line, the better your results will be.
3. Replace pencil on glass. Make sure the paper is hanging straight down. Carefully pour in the rubbing alcohol until it just touches the bottom of the paper, but does not cover your pigment line. Try not to splash the paper.
4. Observe over the next hour as the alcohol reaches the top of the strip. Remove the strip and lay flat to dry.
As the rubbing alcohol moves up the paper (by capillary action), it carries the pigment molecules. Some of the pigments are larger than others. The smallest ones travel fastest so are nearer the top. The bigger ones are closer to the bottom.
This chromatography strip is from a beet leaf. Notice the purple betalain pigment at the top.
1. How many pigments do you see (there can be different shades of the same type of pigment – for instance, “chlorophyll a” is almost teal-colored as compared to the darker “chlorophyll b.”
2. Which of your pigments are the largest?
3. Did you get different results from different types of leaves?
4. If you repeated this experiment every couple of weeks until the leaves drop, what would you expect to see?
5. If plants did not have pigments, and so could not make sugar, what would you eat? Think this one through.
*Fun tip. Plant pigments are important for us humans! For instance, the carotinoids are powerful antioxidants and help your eyes stay healthy (eat your carrots and tomatoes!).
Thank you so much, Heather! I can't wait to try this with my kids. And if you're looking for more fun science from Heather, check out this awesome Rainbow of Ants activity!
About the Book: B95 can feel it: a stirring in his bones and feathers. It’s time. Today is the day he will once again cast himself into the air, spiral upward into the clouds, and bank into the wind.
He wears a black band on his lower right leg and an orange flag on his upper left, bearing the laser inscription B95. Scientists call him the Moonbird because, in the course of his astoundingly long lifetime, this gritty, four-ounce marathoner has flown the distance to the moon—and halfway back!
B95 is a robin-sized shorebird, a red knot of the subspecies rufa. Each February he joins a flock that lifts off from Tierra del Fuego, headed for breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, nine thousand miles away. Late in the summer, he begins the return journey.
B95 can fly for days without eating or sleeping, but eventually he must descend to refuel and rest. However, recent changes at ancient refueling stations along his migratory circuit—changes caused mostly by human activity—have reduced the food available and made it harder for the birds to reach. And so, since 1995, when B95 was first captured and banded, the worldwide rufa population has collapsed by nearly 80 percent. Most perish somewhere along the great hemispheric circuit, but the Moonbird wings on. He has been seen as recently as November 2011, which makes him nearly twenty years old. Shaking their heads, scientists ask themselves: How can this one bird make it year after year when so many others fall?
National Book Award–winning author Phillip Hoose takes us around the hemisphere with the world’s most celebrated shorebird, showing the obstacles rufa red knots face, introducing a worldwide team of scientists and conservationists trying to save them, and offering insights about what we can do to help shorebirds before it’s too late. Through prose, research, and images, Hoose explores the tragedy of extinction through the triumph of a single bird.
My Two Cents: This is a well-written account of a really amazing bird, complete with helpful maps, gorgous photos, and profiles of the scientists who are working to help migratory birds. I especially loved the appendix "What You Can Do", which will help young readers channel the enthusiasm and interest they gain by reading the book into helpful outlets.
Grade Level: 4-8
Additional Resources (most from the "What You Can Do" section of the book):
More to Read:
See how many desert animals you can find in this awesome painting by artist Arlene Braithwaite !
In this week's book, One Day in the Desert by Jean Craighead George, we met tons of cool desert animals: roadrunner, peccaries, tarantulas, headstand beetles, desert tortoises, honey pot ants, elf owls, foxes, and even a mountain lion. These animals have all made adaptations so they're fit to live in such a dry climate. But they're amazing in other ways too!
Use the animal facts here to learn about your favorite desert animals and how they've adapted to their climate. When you've picked some favorite animals and their adaptations, design an Olympic activity to compete with your friends and compare yourself to your favorite animal! Would you survive in the desert?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
This lesson is adapted from Exploring Adaptations: Animal Olympics from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Conservation Education & Science Department. They have lots of great resources for kids and teachers. Be sure to check them out!
In this week's book, Flush by Carl Hiaasen, Noah fought to keep the water from being polluted. We can help with water pollution too! This week's activity comes to us from my fabulous little sister Hope Braithwaite, who is the Programs Assistant at the Utah State University Water Quality Extension. So she's an expert on teaching kids about keeping water clean! Take it away, Hope! :)
In this activity, we'll evaluate the quality of a “water sample” (a bag of skittles), graph the results, and form a hypothesis about what was happening on the land near where the sample was taken.
Divide the candy into sandwich bags so that the assortment of candy represents a particular land use (see graph below).
Each color of skittle represents a different kind of pollutant.
For example, fertilizer may be one pollutant that comes from an agricultural field. Fertilizers are used to help plants grow. They can be beneficial by providing plants we like to eat get the nutrients they need to grow. Excess of these nutrients in streams and rivers can be harmful. They can cause excessive plant growth and when these plants die more oxygen may be used than can be replaced. Without enough oxygen fish and water bugs will die. Also, certain types of microscopic algae can be toxic if they reach high concentrations. Animals like dogs or livestock that drink from this toxic water can become sick or die.
Now it's time to analyze your "water sample" (bag of Skittles)! Have your kids separate and count the number of each pollutant and record it on a bar graph to show the number of pollutants in the "water sample". Write the different pollutant types across the bottom of the page (on the x-axis) and write "pollutant amount" down the left side of the page (on the y-axis).
Analyze the "water sample" with each kid. Ask them where they think each sample came from and how they came to that conclusion. Discuss how to reduce pollution as a community and in your own home. Here are some tips:
In the community:
Thanks so much, Hope! Bonus points for anyone who can guess what Hope's favorite candy is. :) (She likes Reese's too, but they didn't fit the activity as well.)
This lesson was adapted from Water Pollution Graphing by Utah State University Water Quality Extension. For the full lesson go to https://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/NR_WQ_2005-07.pdf. For more water related activities and information visit http://extension.usu.edu/waterquality/. They have some really great ones, so go check it out!