Author, educator, master naturalist, and homeschool mom passionate about family life, traveling, & staying active.
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Category Archives: Science in Action
The category I use to share current stories on cutting-edge technologies, advances in science, and current events. In doing so, I will provide suggestions of engaging activities for kids to explore these concept at home. These may include experiments to do, articles to read, and science fair projects.
In June Groovy Lab in a Box teamed up with Popular Mechanicsfor Kids and created the popular Groovy Lab subscription box What’s the Matter? The kids and I recently had the opportunity to review this box and just love everything about it.
Disclosure: The links in this blog post are affiliate links.
The Groovy Lab subscription box is packed with all the materials you’ll need to do the lab activities. The What’s the Matter kit guides kids through an investigation of the states of matter (gas, liquid and solid) and teaches them about the properties of ice. Eachmonthly kit comes with an engineering challenge and all the materials needed to complete the project, including a groovy lab notebook that outlines all the activity procedures, asks leading questions, and provides a space for your young STEMist to record their observations.
Groovy Lab in a Box was named a winner of the Popular Mechanics 2014 Toy Awards, which recognizes the best new toys of the year with a heavy emphasis on STEM-related skills and outdoor or imaginative play. Recipients of the Toy Awards encourage problem solving, inspire creativity, spark imagination, and spur mischief. And they’re fun!
Our Favorite What’s the Matter Activity
There are several well designed activities in the Groovy Lab subscription box. Each activity is purposeful a it develops student understanding of the material to ensure success in the culminating activity. This was our favorite activity, the design challenge whereby students were asked to design the lighting of a “groovy” ice hotel and build a portable lantern out of ice.
This was a fun challenge to undertake and my daughter delighted in brainstorming ideas and then following through with her vision. She chose an aluminum tea tin for the structure as it was rectangular and inside placed a small measuring cup (a little larger than a shot glass) for the interior space for the light. She used botanicals and colored layers for appeal.
There were a couple of small challenges along the way, the biggest of which was getting the lantern out of the tin once it had frozen. The rim of the tin was indented a little to accommodate a lid and it was thereby necessary to melt more of the external side of the lantern than she had desired. Not deterred, “I want to do this again!”
July’s Groovy Lab Subscription Box – Out To Launch!
Do your STEMists love catapults? The second of three Popular Mechanics boxes, July’s Out to Launch is the perfect fit for them! In the Out To Launch box, your children will learn about the forces of catapults and things that are elastic.
The Engineering Design Challenge will test their engineering skills as they build several types of catapults, using only supplies from their Groovy Lab in a Box. As always, the Out To Launch box will have a groovy lab notebook where your kids can read about the investigations and design challenge. Plus, all subscribers get access to the Beyond…in a Box web portal for additional learning and fun.
I have always loved the outdoors and enjoy sharing my passion for nature study with others. I’ve recently completed my coursework to become a certified Oregon Master Naturalist.
To celebrate, I thought it would be fun to create a little quiz to help you get to know Oregon a little better. My vision is to create a new quiz every quarter.
Oregon Nature Quiz #1
How Well Do You Know Oregon?
Here are five photos of plants and animals that are found on the Oregon Coast. Can you identify them? (Hint: All of these photos were taken on the Oregon coast)
What kind of rodent is this?
2. What is this creepy looking black thing?
3. Can you name this flower?
4. Is this cutie a lizard or amphibian? Can you identify the genus?
5. This invertebrate is a common sight along the trails and even in our gardens. What is it?
1. The California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beeches) is pictured here on the rocky shoreline in Depoe Bay. The squirrel’s upper parts are mottled, the fur containing a mixture of gray, light brown and dusky hairs; the underside is lighter, buff or grayish yellow. The fur around the eyes is whitish, while that around the ears is black. Head and body are about 30 cm long and the tail an additional 15 cm. As is typical for ground squirrels, California ground squirrels live in burrows which they excavate themselves. Some burrows are occupied communally but each individual squirrel has its own entrance. They commonly feed on seeds, such as oats, but also eat insects such as crickets and grasshoppers as well as various fruits.
2. It is rather common in the maritime Pacific Northwest, Frog Pelt Lichen (Peltigera neopolydactyla) can range in color from bluish green to olive brown. It is found growing on both rocks and dead wood, in shady, open forests at varying altitudes. A large, loosely appressed leaf lichen, the lobes are broad, 10-25 mm wide, and the upper surface hairless. Often bearing brownish, tooth-like fruiting bodies on raised lobes along the lobe margins, the lower surface is whitish, cottony, bearing low, broad, brownish or blackish veins and long, slender holdfasts (rhizines).
3. Trillium (sometimes called Wakerobin) is a genus of perennial flowering plants native to temperate regions of North America. Growing from rhizomes, they produce scapes (similar to a stem) which are erect and straight in most species but lack true, above ground leaves. Three large photosynthetic bracts (modified leaves) are arranged in a whorl about the scape. The flower has three green or reddish sepals and usually three petals in shades of red, purple, pink, white, yellow, or green.
4. Rough-skinned Newts are amphibious and are often seen moving to breeding sites during the breeding season. Migration to and from breeding sites varies among populations. Some newts spend the dry summer in moist habitats under woody debris, rocks, or animal burrows with adults emerging after the fall rains. In some populations, adults remain in the ponds and lakes throughout the summer and migrate back onto land in the fall when the rain starts. Often they will form large aggregates of thousands of newts in the water.
Poisonous skin secretions containing the powerful neurotoxin tetrodotoxin repel most predators. The poison is widespread throughout the skin, muscles, and blood, and can cause death in many animals, including humans, if eaten in sufficient quantity. Populations in Crater Lake have been shown to lack this neurotoxin. In most locations the Common Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis, is the only predator of the newt.
5. The infamous banana slug is the common name for three North American species of terrestrial slug in the genus Ariolimax. These slugs are often yellow in color and are sometimes spotted with brown, like a ripe banana. These shell-less mollusks are detritivores or decomposers. They process leaves, animal droppings, moss, and dead plant material, and then recycle them into soil humus.
SCORING: 5 points: You must be a nature docent! 4 points: You are at home on the coast. 3 points: You think the coastal forest is beautiful, but would never spend the summer here. 2 points: You guessed randomly, right? 1 or 0 points: You’d really rather stay indoors.
What common household substances can be used to make invisible ink?
What things can you do to reveal a message written in invisible ink?
Steganographyis the practice of concealing a file, message, image, or video within another. The use of invisible inks is one of the earliest known examples of steganography. Invisible ink today is mostly considered child’s play, but in the not too distant past, its use and the recipes were considered classified government information.
Using the suggested inks and reagents provided here, write a secret message to a friend. Then get creative and see how many kinds of invisible ink you can find.
Types of Invisible Inks
There are two categories into which invisible inks fall ~ organic fluids and sympathetic inks. You can find many heat-activated invisible inks right inside your kitchen. Another type of invisible ink is chemically activated. Read on to learn more about each.
Organic or Heat-Activated Invisible Inks
Organic fluids consist of the natural methods your likely already familiar: lemon juice, vinegar, milk, or onion juice, to name a few. These organic invisible inks can be revealed through heat, such as with fire, irons, or light bulbs.
The organic fluids alter the fibers of the paper so that the secret writing has a lower burn temperature and turns brown faster than the surrounding paper when exposed to heat. To activate or develop the ink, simply iron the paper, set it on a radiator, place it in an oven (set lower than 450° F), or hold it up to a hot light bulb.
any acidic fruit juice (e.g., lemon, apple, or orange juice)
sodium bicarbonate NaHCO3 solution (baking soda)
sucrose solution (table sugar)
A solution is a homogeneous mixture composed of two or more substances. In such a mixture, a solute (baking soda or sugar) is a substance dissolved in another substance, known as a solvent (water).
Inquiry Science :: What other organic inks can you find? Which kind shows up best? Which kind lasts longest?
Sympathetic inks contain one or more chemicals and require the application of a specific “reagent” to be activated, such as another chemical or a mixture of chemicals. Most of these inks work using pH indicators, requiring the recipient to paint or spray a suspected message with a base (like sodium carbonate Na₂CO₃ or washing soda solution) or an acid (like lemon juice). Some of these inks will reveal their message when heated.
lemon juice, activated by iodine solution
starch (e.g., corn starch or potato starch), activated by iodine solution
vinegar or dilute acetic acid CH3COOH, activated by red cabbage water
ammonia NH3, activated by red cabbage water
sodium bicarbonate NaHCO3 (baking soda), activated by grape juice
sodium chloride NaCl (table salt), activated by silver nitrate
phenolphthalein (pH indicator), activated by ammonia fumes or sodium carbonate Na₂CO₃ (or another base)
lead nitrate, activated by sodium iodide
iron sulfate, activated by sodium carbonate, sodium sulfide, or potassium ferricyanide
CAUTION: Some of the chemicals suggested here can be hazardous if misused. Always use caution when working with chemicals. Read the information on the chemical label before you start, and always wear protective safety equipment such as goggles, gloves, and aprons. Adult supervision required.
Ultraviolet Light Activated Invisible Inks
Most of the inks that become visible when you shine an ultraviolet or black light on them will also become visible if you heat the paper. Here are are few ‘glow-in-the-dark’ ideas to try:
dilute laundry detergent (the bluing agent glows)
tonic water (quinine glows)
vitamin B-12 dissolved in vinegar
The History of Invisible Ink
The history of invisible ink is incredibly fascinating and swings wildly between high-tech methods and the humblest of approaches. Invisible ink was a key method for spy communications throughout history.Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies is an historical account of invisible ink and the secret communications revealed through thrilling stories about scoundrels, heroes, and their ingenious methods for concealing messages.
The Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, kept under luxurious house arrest for eighteen years by her Protestant cousin Elizabeth I, advised correspondents to write to her employing two commonly used substances: alum (hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate) or nutgall (the tannic acid secreted in swellings generated by parasitic wasps colonizing oak trees). Letters written in alum required the recipient to soak the paper in water, while nutgall needed a solution of ferrous sulphate as a reagent.
During World War II, chemist Linus Pauling worked on an unusual wartime project, formulating new kinds of invisible ink that would resist all known reagents. Pauling and his colleagues experimented with invisible inks made from pneumococcus bacteria (an inert strain so as not to spread pneumonia). The ink-ified microbe would react to an antibody, and then become visible once dipped in a dye solution. However, the ink never passed the experimental stage.
Visit The Art of Manliness for a more detailed look at how invisible inks have been used in espionage and naval intelligence.
Wildlife Biologists are scientists that observe and study the behaviors of animals. They frequently observe the features of certain wildlife and determine the role these animals have in their specific ecosystems. Many Wildlife Biologists specialize into a particular area of study defined by ecosystem or species. Some of these fields include: Entomology (insects), Ichthyology (fish), Ornithology (birds), or Marine Biology.
Youth interested in learning more about animals and the study of wildlife can learn a great deal from the comfort of their home via a webcam. Though limited in scope, animal cams can provide a glimpse into the lives of animals and are one tool to help develop our understanding of animal behavior.
I have compiled a list of some of my favorite animal cams from around the world. Take time to browse them all or utilize the printables I’ve provided below to develop a more in-depth wildlife biology study on your favorite animal.
Our Favorite Animal Cams
Location: Decorah, Iowa Best time to watch: Eggs may begin hatching between March 25 and March 29 based on a 35 to 39 day incubation period.
The Decorah bald eagles nest atop a large white oak tree in a secluded valley. Their eggs hatch roughly 35 days after they are first laid, which means that three eggs within the nest right now are due any time now.
We became captivated by this breeding pair when we first moved to Redding in 2011. The female Bald eagle has successfully fledged 14 eaglets and in 2015 had 3 youngsters in the nest! This is not the first time she has done this, as she did the same in 2009 and 2010. Only 5% of Bald eagles successfully lay and fledge three eaglets. Though this animal cam is currently offline (the eagle pair have moved), their story is fascinating.
Location: La Verne, California Best time to watch: March (chicks are hatching any minute)
Bella the Hummingbird has been nesting for more than 10 years. Her nest is about the size of a golf ball, and her eggs are only about the size of a mint. Every spring she lays eggs and a couple weeks later the world watches new life being born. This year, she last laid her eggs on the 6th and 8th of March. When I checked in with her as I wrote this post, they’d recently hatched.
Great Horned Owls
Location: Montana When will you see babies? Due in roughly 2-3 weeks.
The Montana owlets are due two or three weeks from now. Since owls are nocturnal, this is a live feed worth checking out later at night when the other animal cams have little or no activity.
When we lived in Bend, the spotted owl pair at the High Desert Museum were receiving a lot of media attention. It had previously been believed that Spotted Owls required old growth forest to survive yet here were a rehabilitated pair who had successfully reared several consecutive clutches of chicks. Sadly, I believe the owl cam is presently offline.
Location: Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach, California) Best time to watch: All the time.
The above the water cam shows the edge of the rocky beach, where penguins hop in and out of the water. You can watch as they swim and float on the surface. They also have a below the water cam to view the penguins as they dive and dart below the surface.
A mama bear and her three bear cubs is what you’ll get if you tune into the Brooks Falls animal cam, which features big shaggy brown bears catching fish, wading around, and just generally having a good time in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Since bear cubs are only due in July, this cam currently hosts a continual stream of highlights gathered from several live cams.
Location: Blue Spring State Park (Maitland, Florida) Best time to watch: Winter and early Spring
We first discovered the Save the Manatees Club when we were planning a family holiday to the Florida Keys. Though the manatee season has ended, favorite clips are still accessible. The live cams will resume again next season.
Location: Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, California)
You can watch sea otters here from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific Time. Daily feeding times are 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. And who knows? Maybe you’ll spot an otter pup somewhere in there.
This sloth cam, part of Zoo Atlanta, lets you become virtual best friends with two-toed sloth Cocoa, his lady friends Okra and Bonnie, and baby sloth Raisin. Though it’s currently offline, you can still log in at 1:30 pm ET every other Wednesday for sloth chats.
Location: “North Pole” Best time to watch: Holiday season
Reindeer who aren’t employed by St. Nick live in the colder climates of North America and Europe where they feast on a diet of moss, leaves, and grass. They are sometimes referred to as Caribou in Canada.
Mpala Live – Meet the animals that roam Mpala in Kenya’s Laikipia area. Their website also provides field guides, lesson plans, and activities that you can download free to get more out of your viewing.
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For a comprehensive collection of animal webcams, visit Live Animals TV, the world’s largest collection of animal webcams.
Wildlife Biology Lesson Plans & Printables
I have put together a simplified ethogram or inventory of behaviors and actions exhibited by an animal. The free printable will be available for my newsletter subscribers later this week. Take a moment to subscribe today. It will be available only for a limited time.
Most aquariums, zoos, and wildlife centers around the country have developed activity guides and animal observation lessons. You’ll find curriculum and materials for many of the animal cams shared above at the original host site. Many of these can be modified for use with animal cams as well as during your site visit. Browse their education links to see what you can find.
the science of animal behavior.
the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective.
The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois provides a wonderful Zoo Observation Data Sheet whereby students use an ethogram-based data sheet to record animal behavior. Thereafter, students use the data they have collected to develop their own animal behavior research project. Their materials can be adapted to wildlife viewing locations around the world.
You may also wish to download this very informative Animal Behavior slide show presentation to become familiar with the range of animal behavior and understand the methods that ethologists use to study animal behavior.
Plastics play an important role in our lives. Plastics are used to manufacture many everyday items and have significantly reduced the use of glass. Some plastics are very durable and make things like furniture and appliances. Other plastics make items such as diapers, trash bags, cups, utensils and medical devices. The largest amount of plastic is used to make containers and packaging for items such as soft drink bottles, lids, shampoo bottles, etc. Common plastic is made from petroleum, a fossil fuel which is nonrenewable.
Nonrenewable resources are made naturally by the earth, but do not renew themselves fast enough to be able to count on having the resource for an indefinite period time. Some resources are considered non-renewable because our access to the resource is limited. For example, glass and metal are non-renewable resources. The elements and minerals used to make glass and metal are found in the structure of the earth’s crust, however we are limited to what we can access through mining.
Renewable resources are either naturally reproduced at a sustainable rate or they can be produced in agriculture at a rate equivalent to the demand or need. For example, corn can be used for ethanol fuel and to produce corn oil. Corn is a renewable resource.
Bioplastics are a type of plastic made from renewable, biological materials like starches, cellulose, oils or proteins. They generally contain little to no petroleum and therefore are usually biodegradable. When bioplastics are exposed to the environment (sunlight, heat, water, microorganisms) they breakdown into non-toxic compounds like carbon dioxide and water. Additionally, unlike petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics are made from renewable resources. These resources are typically agricultural byproducts, like cornstarch and potato starch, tapioca starch and casein (milk protein).
Biodegradable: refers to material capable of breaking down into harmless products through the action of living organisms or natural processes
Byproducts: in agriculture refers to secondary products created from a crop. For example, corn starch is a byproduct of corn
Make Your Own BioPlastics
Plant based oils (Corn Oil, Sesame Oil, Vegetable Oil)
1 Ziploc bag per student
Access to a microwave oven
Place the following ingredients in a plastic bag: 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, 2 drops of oil, 1 tablespoon of water, and 2 drops of food coloring.
Seal the bag and gently mix the cornstarch mixture by rubbing the outside of the bag with your fingers until combined.
Open the bag slightly, making sure it can vent. Place the bag in a microwave oven on high for 20-25 seconds.
Carefully remove the bag from the microwave and let it cool for a few minutes. While it is still warm, students can try to form their plastic into a ball. Observe what it does.
Ask them to describe their plastic; did it turn out differently than others? Does the type of oil you used affect the bioplastic? Have the students name three things they could make with bioplastic.
Take it Further
I’m committed to sharing activities and resources for teaching science in your homeschool. I believe it is helpful to see that science isn’t scary and it doesn’t require special curriculum. Here are a few resources that you can use to further your study of plastics and renewable vs. nonrenewable resources.
Watch the 3-minute How Stuff Works video clip about Corn Plastic.
In this hands-on, inquiry based Plastics Lab Activity, students investigate whether all plastics the same? How are they different?
Polymers Are Cool ~ Experiment with different polymers, large molecules composed of many repeated subunits, with these 3 great recipes.
As plastics are not biodegradable, learn how you can make a difference in encouraging others to reduce our use of plastics. The volunteers at Washed Ashore inspired us to create a Bottle Cap Muralto help spread the word of the harm done to our oceans by plastics.
A few months ago, I shared a number of Great Spots to Watch Oregon’s Winter Storms. But winter storms are not the only thing that draws the crowds to our shoreline. Gray whales, which migrate farther than any mammal on Earth, can also be observed and volunteers all along the coast are eager to share their knowledge with you. Whale watching takes place almost year-round on the Oregon Coast.
Each winter in the warm waters of Mexico, gray whales give birth, nurse their calves, rest and play before their long journey north in spring. They swim 5,000 miles along the Pacific coast from Mexico to the waters of the Arctic. The trip ends in the nutrient-rich feeding grounds of the Bering Sea in Alaska. In fall, they travel back to Mexico again to complete a round trip annual journey of 10,000 miles.
We enjoyed a little weekend getaway this past weekend, driving north along Highway 101 to Newport. We stopped at numerous scenic points along the way to observe the waves crashing on rocky shoreline. In Depoe Bay, we visited with the Oregon Parks and Recreation volunteers who helped us to spot the gray whales migrating offshore.
The first phase (non-calves) of the northbound gray whale migration appears to have peaked and the second phase (moms with babies) is just beginning – just in time for Spring Whale Watch Week, March 19 – 26.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay was constructed during the postwar period designed to serve the rapidly increasing ranks of the motoring public, while taking advantage of a unique scenic vista—the world’s smallest navigable harbor at Depoe Bay.
While here, we also took time to enjoy the touch tables and pictorial history inside the center. What fascinated me most was the whale ear bone pictured here.
In land mammals, the fleshy pinna or the outside part of the ear helps collect sound and funnel it into the ear. That works because the acoustical properties of the air and flesh are different, so sound gets channeled into the ear canal where it vibrates the eardrum and the ossicles (or ear bones).
In water, the acoustical properties of flesh and water are pretty similar, therefore the fleshy outside part of the ear serves no function. Though hearing in baleen whales is not well understood, in toothed whales, instead of sound coming in through the ear canal, sound comes in through fatty tissues in the jaws which are attached to an acoustic funnel. Scientists believe that the ossicles vibrate this fluid-filled inner ear.
Baleen whales like the Grey Whale do not have teeth, instead they have 130 to 180 baleen plates that hang down each side of their upper jaws, like a fringed curtain. The plates are made out of fingernail-like material called keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails and hair. It makes the baleen strong, but still flexible.
Baleen is a filter-feeder system inside the mouths of baleen whales. The baleen system works when a whale opens its mouth underwater and the whale takes in water. The whale then pushes the water out, and animals such as krill are filtered by the baleen and remain as food source for the whale.
Inside the center, there was also a display that discussed how man has hunted the whale in the past for oil and baleen. It provided a fascinating reflection of how man has impacted our natural resources and how times have changed.
Whales are not the only wildlife one can observe here at the Whale Watching Center. In addition to the whales we glimpsed with spotting scopes, we also observed the following at wayside viewing center:
Black OystercatcherHaematopus bachmani
Black TurnstoneArenaria melanocephala
Pelagic CormorantPhalacrocorax pelagicus
Several species of gulls
Ground Squirrel – species yet unidentified, but resembles Belding Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus beldingi)
Whale Watching Sites
Beginning north and traveling south along highway 101, the following locations are excellent view points from which to watch for whales.
Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Cape Disappointment State Park
Neahkahnie Mountain, south of Cannon Beach
Cape Meares State Park
Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint
The Whale Watching Center, Depoe Bay
Cape Perpetua Stone Shelter
Sea Lion Caves Viewpoint
Umpqua River Whale Watching Station
Shore Acres State Park
Cape Arago State Park
Face Rock State Park
Battle Rock Wayfinding Point
For more detailed information on Whale Watching, download the brochure from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
你好！My name is Eva and I am a homeschooling mom to two middle school children. I'm a former middle school science specialist who has embraced the independent nature of homeschooling. Travel and authentic learning experiences are important to us as a family. I hope you'll find encouragement and practical help here. ♥
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