When a Science Experiment Fails: Signs of Fall

When An Experiment Fails

In our homeschool STEM Class, I attempted a little chemistry demonstration – just for fun.  I’d originally read about the pumpkin demo here, Rainbow Fire, and I did the experiment as described but as the kids can attest, it didn’t work. On the drive home, my kiddos hypothesized that the fact that I waited a little while for everyone to get settled may have caused the hand sanitizer to evaporate. Upon further investigation, however, perhaps I was missing a key chemical.  Another site I found, Green Fire, suggested the use of Heet (methanol).  I will have to try again.   If any of you give this a try, please let me know what you discover. 🙂

The fact that it didn’t work out though is perfect science (though very embarrassing when done as a class demonstration).  When an experiment doesn’t go as planned, however hard to admit, it is actually great.  It gives you the chance to go back and really figure it out.  There is always an answer for why it didn’t work. You often learn more when it doesn’t go as planned.

Later that afternoon, Buddy was working on an aeronautics project (he’s trying to make an airplane with cardboard, rubber bands, and plastic propellers).  When his design doesn’t work out, he gets very frustrated and laments, “I wasted so much time on this! I wasted all this glue!” (or tape, or whatever materials he used). It is difficult to console him but with my own failure earlier that morning, I had an example with which to show it happens to all of us.

Recently, another activity seemingly failed and I thought I would share our process of discovery with you …

Signs of Fall

One of the extension activities I had suggested to my STEM students when we were covering plants was a chromatography activity to investigate the pigments in leaves, Signs of Fall (scroll down for the activity “Invisible Changes”).  Another link, with the same title, Signs of Fall, provides a PDF download for a student page with guiding observation questions.

My daughter and I worked together to set up the investigation just as it was described.  She was even careful to measure an exact amount of isopropyl alcohol into each jar. We then placed a strip of coffee filter into each jar, taping it into place to secure it and then capping each jar with a small piece of aluminum foil.  We left it overnight but there was not a single strip with any color pigment.  We thereby walked away, shrugging our shoulders. Another failed experiment.  This was getting frustrating.

I couldn’t let this one go, however.  We must have overlooked something.  I thereby left it set up on the kitchen counter for another day or two while we contemplated and brainstormed what we might have done wrong. When we happened to peek into the jars a couple of days later, we surmised that perhaps we had put the coffee strips into the jars too soon – before the heat of the water bath had had time to activate the pigments because the liquid in the jars was now clearly colored when before it had remained clear.

We thereby pulled off the aluminum foil, discarded our first strips and inserted new ones.  We checked the progress of our test a few hours later …

When a Science Experiment Fails: Signs of Fall @EvaVarga.netWhoa-lah! 

If chromatography is something you’d like to investigate further, you might also consider this activity, Rainbow Candies: A Candy Chromatography Experiment for Kids.  It is a great way to use up some of that leftover Halloween candy that may be lying about.

Life Logic: BotanyAn expanded version of this lesson is available in the Science Logic curriculum
Life Logic:  Plenty O’Plants.

What’s in My Naturalist Bag?

In my mind, nature journaling is the perfect hobby. It incorporates so many of my passions – a love for the outdoors, the challenge of a long walk in the wild, the joy of creating something beautiful, and an inclination to learn more about the world around me. As such, whenever I venture outdoors, my naturalist bag is never far from my side.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

I love to nature journal and have been teaching students of all ages how to begin nature journaling for many, many years. One of the questions my students always ask is, “What’s all in your naturalist bag?” “What all do you carry with you?”

My Naturalist’s Bag

Before we dive into the contents, a naturalist’s bag is simply a tote, backpack, or anything portable. Essentially it is a field kit with painting and drawing materials that you can take outside for a leisurely afternoon walk or a quiet morning on the beach.

Please don’t look at what I carry now and think that you must make yours the same!  Your naturalist’s bag is a personal reflection of your preferences. You have different needs, wants, skills, and intents than I do.  We are each on a different paths and our journals – and even our bags – reflect that journey. For example, I still erase quite a bit but my daughter does not. She prefers to see how her lines work together to tell a certain type of story. 

“Nature journaling can be a quick fifteen minute sketch or an hour of painting and color immersion.”  

Getting Started

Tools are wonderful things, but it’s not necessary to start with more than a few things: pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, and paper. These may be any type of your choosing; the important thing is to start drawing! I find that an inexpensive .7 mm mechanical pencil is a great tool. They never need sharpening, they provide a fairly wide range of darks (depending on your paper), and they are easy to refill or replace.

In an earlier post, I share 5 tips for Getting Started Keeping a Nature Journal.

Whatever your materials, get acquainted with them. See what they can do, what types of lines they make — what darkest or lightest marks? If you’re brushing up on drawing skills and have an assortment of tools, use those that are most comfortable, at least to start. As you gain experience and get more comfortable, you can expand your kit.

Image of a naturalist's bag with contents displayed around it.

The Essentials I Carry:

Here’s an example of my naturalist’s kit. I tried to make it as portable as possible.

Travelogue Drawing Book – I love the small size of the square 5.5 x 5.5. The paper has a good tooth which makes it an excellent choice for drawing and sketching work. It works well with many mediums: pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, and markers. The paper also accepts light watercolor washes without buckling. In the inside back cover is a clear pocket envelope perfect for tucking away feathers, leaves or other flat specimens.

Prismacolor col-erase blue pencil – My new favorite item is the col-erase non-photo blue pencil. It is the perfect tool to sketch out the basic shapes and create a framework for the finished work. When the piece is finished, the blue fades into the background and is less noticeable than a standard pencil.

Black Micron Pigmas – The smaller sizes are my preferred pen for stippling and fine detail. I use the larger nibs to journaling narrative.

Prima Marketing Watercolor Pan Set – I currently have the Vintage Pastel set. I love the colors, especially the sage and dark rose. I am considering additional palettes but my daughter is encouraging me to make my own customized set.

Waterbrushes – I have recently begun to use brushes which have a hollow barrel in the handle that can be filled with water. These are great tools for field sketching and more compact.

If you are interested in the online courses I teach, follow these links for more information. I teach Junior Naturalists Classes for youth & Nature Journaling in the Classroom, a course for adult educators.

Other Favorites I Carry:

Easthill Large Capacity Pencil Case – I love the larger size of this pencil bag. It fits an assortment of mechanical pencils, artist drawing pencils, a selection of colored pencils, an eraser, and pencil sharpener. I like the white erasers as they don’t leave a colored residue behind.

Prismacolor Pencils – I love Prismacolor pencils! They lay down color and blend together so smoothly – it’s like coloring with butter. For many years this was my absolute favorite medium. It was thereby economical for me to purchase the large set. I don’t carry them all with me in my naturalist’s bag however. If you haven’t used them before, consider buying them individually at an art store or a small set of 12-24.

Extras: I also keep a small ruler, a white birthday candle for watercolor resist, a portion of a cotton sock which I have cut to serve as an arm cuff, a small magnifying glass, zip-lock bags or empty Rx containers for small samples. NOTE: the Rx containers are not totally leak-proof, so keep them empty in your kit. As a precaution I keep anything wet or damp in a zip-lock bag.

It’s worthy to note that I also carry a first aid kit, sunscreen, and drinking water.

Youth Activism: Don’t Silence Their Voices

At our weekly Scout meeting earlier this week we talked briefly about how we, as individuals can make a difference. If you do your duty, then you can make a difference and though you are just one person, together youth activism has the power to impact the world.

Youth activism is youth engagement in community organizing for social change. Youth participation in social change focuses more on issue-oriented activism than traditional partisan or electoral politics.

As hard as it seems, it’s possible to make a difference. All it takes is one idea and the right mix of determination and willpower to effect change at the local level. Start with one thing you’re passionate about and find small, local ways to organize and find solutions to the problem. 

Image of youth activist Greta Thunberg with her sign "Skolstrejk for Klimatet"

GRETA THUNBERG

By now, everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist focused on the risks posed by climate change. She began her school climate strike only a year ago. This past week, she inspired over 4 million people to take a stand for climate.

“Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed.”⁣⁣ ~ Greta Thunberg⁣⁣

Greta is great. However, if we center our attention and lift up only the white youth leaders on an international scale, we risk recreating the exact same dynamics of instilling a culture of white supremacy that is present in modern, adult organizing spaces. We risk silencing the voices of black, indigenous, and people of color .

Indigenous youth and adults have been tirelessly leading the fight for climate justice for millennia and yet their voices have not received the same recognition. Let’s celebrate a few of these amazing young activists!

Image of youth activist Autumn Peltier

AUTUMN PELTIER

⁣Autumun Peltier, Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Canada, was appointed chief water commissioner for the Ashinabek Nation and was recently nominated for the 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize, awarded annually to a child who “fights courageously for children’s rights.” She was only 13-years-old when she addressed the UN General Assembly and told world leaders to “warrior up” to protect water.

Image of youth activist Isra Hirsi

ISRA HIRSI

Isra Hirsi, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike. She helped launch the U.S. movement the same month her mother, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, took office. She says the climate crisis “is the fight of my generation, and it needs to be addressed urgently.”

Image of youth activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

XIUHTEZCATL MARTINEZ⁣⁣

Earth Guardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is an indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement.⁣⁣ He has fought for climate protections and spoken to large crowds about the effects of fossil fuels on the Indigenous and other marginalized communities since he was six years old. In 2015, Martinez and 21 other youths filed a lawsuit against the US Federal government, Juliana et al. v United States et al. They argue that the federal government is denying their constitutional right to life, liberty and property by ignoring climate change. 

ROOTS & SHOOTS

Are you a young person interested in making change, but don’t know where to start? Or are you an adult who is inspired by the recent wave of youth activism in the U.S. and want to help out? Consider Roots & Shoots; join an established group in your area or start a new group for your homeschool community or at your school.

Roots & Shoots, a program of the Jane Goodall Institute, is a global movement of youth who are empowered to use their voice and actions to make compassionate decisions, influencing and leading change in their communities.

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ~ Jane Goodall

Founded by Jane Goodall in 1991, the goal is to bring together youth from preschool to university age to work on environmental, conservation, and humanitarian issues. Roots & Shoots is a movement for youth just like Greta, Autumn, Isra, and Xiuhtezcatl …. just like you or your children.


SESEY 2018: Summer Experiences in Science & Engineering

My daughter has been interested in engineering for as long as I can remember. She’s taken part in a numerous STEM workshops for girls over the years. Last summer, she had the amazing opportunity to take part in a summer intensive workshop (SESEY) at the university where she plans to enroll.

SESEY was created to encourage traditionally underrepresented groups to explore the world of engineering and to consider careers in its variety of fields. Initiated by Oregon State University in 1997, SESEY is coordinated by the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering.

Working in the lab as part of her summer intensive workshop at Oregon State University

Participants have the opportunity to interact directly with university students – to ask questions about campus life and how to balance their course load. Presentations and tours of each department are provided to help students better understand the diverse options in engineering.

Learn how to encourage girls in STEM careers with these fun activities.

Best of all, participants have the unique experience of taking part in an authentic research project. Working in small groups, they apply the inquiry method to real life issues. At the end of the week, they present their findings in poster format at the annual DaVinci days celebration.

My daughter was overjoyed to be assigned to the one environmental engineering project this past year – Bioremediation of Chlorinated Solvents Using Aerobic Microorganisms. Here’s a peak at her poster:

The program – especially the professors and university student volunteers who collaborated to make it happen – has cemented her desire to pursue a career in chemical and environmental engineering. She will be applying for admission soon.

You might also be interested in the engineering unit I developed, World’s Tallest Buildings. This short unit study includes a timeline project, integrated writing assignment, and an oral presentation.

Have your teens taken part in summer learning experiences or weekend intensive courses? I would love to hear about opportunities in other parts of the country.

The Science of Beekeeping: A Visit with an Apiculturalist

I have been fascinated with honeybees since I was in college.  I owe that fascination to an amazing professor, Michael Burgett at Oregon State University, whom taught an introductory entomology course that I enrolled in my senior year.  Had I taken that course earlier in my college days, I likely would have minored in entomology.  Anyway …

Visit with an Apiculturalist

For a while now, I have wanted to introduce the kids to the science of bee-keeping.  I have even hinted to my husband that I would love a hive of our own; that bees would make me happier than diamonds.  A girl can dream, right?

We recently discovered that a family we know here in Northern California are apiculturists.  When I made this discovery, I was full of questions.  It was thereby no surprise when they invited us out to help them to extract the honey from their hives.

Here’s a peak at the honey bee nature journal entries we created upon our return home.

Beekeeping 101

The frames had been removed from the hives a few days prior and brought into the garage.  This helped to provide a peaceful atmosphere in which to extract the honey for the bees gradually returned to the hive when the threat had moved on.  The frame boxes were stored in the attic of the garage for it was very warm up there and the honey was thereby less viscous.

The frames were removed from the box, the wax caps (if any) were sliced off with a flat, knife-like tool which was heated with electricity, and the frames were set into a large kettle like device.  We all took turns spinning the frames around … the honey would literally fly out of the hexagonal cells onto the wall of the extractor (presently muscle-powered but plans to motorize it spoken of).  The honey then drips down the sides and through a hole in the bottom which then leads to a double filter to remove any wax or insect remnants that may be present.  The honey is then funneled into jars for consumption.

Building insect hotels or habitat for insects is a great summer project for students learning about pollinators. 

This year, the family has 13 hives but sadly, the dry weather through the summer and an area grasshopper infestation in July caused the nectar source to be rather dismal.  As a result, they pulled only 81 frames in 9 supers with honey which will yield about 230 pounds of honey.  The previous year, they family had a small fraction of the hives they do now and yet had a similar yield.

When we had spun out 18 frames, we took turns donning the bee-keeper attire and visiting the hives.  The female worker bees, the drones (males lacking stingers), and of course the queen were identified.  We also had the opportunity to hold a drone in our bare hands much as we would have held a small frog.  This was such a strange feeling!

The Nature Book Club

Welcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

Today, I would like to share with you an amazing book that delights readers of all ages. Using the book jacket and enclosed paper sheets, this book becomes a house for mason bees, which are non-aggressive, non-stinging super-pollinators. Mason bees pollinate far more than honeybees and their nest will give kids a chance to observe the insects more closely.

Turn this Book into a Beehive is written by Lynn Brunelle, author of Pop Bottle Science. Rich text teaches kids about the world of bees and numerous exercises, activities, and illustrations engage one’s imagination. Best of all, with just a few simple steps readers can transform the book into an actual living home for backyard bees.

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one. Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for July 2019:

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.

The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!

You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.

By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts. That’s it.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast

Many people love to come to Oregon in the winter solely for the dramatic wave action and winter storms. Yet 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 here.

Whale watching takes place almost year-round on the Oregon Coast but the winter is a particularly good time as viewing peaks in early spring. No matter where you choose to catch a glimpse of these amazing animals, volunteers all along the coast are eager to answer questions and share their knowledge with you.

Check out my earlier post detailing Great Spots to Watch Oregon’s Winter Storms.

image of young girl near an ocean side cliff journaling Whale Migration

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 23-29, 2019.

image of a young boy and his father standing in the skeletal mouth of a grey whaleWhale Anatomy

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).image of the inner ear bones of three whales

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.

image of whale baleenBaleen 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.

Science Literature

Cetaceans have captivated the human imagination for centuries. Kelsey Oseid explores the most interesting and illuminating facts about these marine mammals in her book,  Whales: An Illustrated Celebration. Her guide dives into their mysterious evolution (from land to water mammals), their place in mythology, and their ecology, habitats, and behaviors. It also covers the current state of wild and captive cetaceans worldwide, why we should care, and what we – as individuals – can do to help.This book is perfect for all ages.

 

More advanced readers will want to consider Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures written by Nick Pyensen. This acclaimed author is the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. His book explains these marvelous creatures – feeding, migrating, their interactions with one another, and so much more. Using old-fashioned tools as well as radio trackers, 3D laser scans, and drones, Pyenson takes us on an epic adventure through the eyes of a paleobiologist. I highly recommend this book for high school students and those interested in ethology.

image of a gray whale skeletonWhale 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 Foulweather
  • 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
  • Cape Sebastian
  • Klamath Overlook

Other Wildlife

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 wildlife at wayside viewing center:

  • Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani
  • Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala
  • Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus
  • Several species of gulls
  • Belding Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus beldingi), I believe

Welcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for January 2019:

Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast by me here  at Eva Varga

Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate shares a Winter Tinker Kit

Emily has put together a fun Winter Scavenger Hunt at Table Life Blog

Hibernating Animals is the focus of Karyn’s post at Teach Beside Me

Erika at The Playful Scholar shares a fun, Hibernate or Migrate, Early Learning Game

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.