One of the summer activities we most look forward to is National Moth Week.Our First Moth Nightwas in 2013 and it has since become a tradition. Last year, we collaborated with the rangers at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area allowing us access to the park after hours. Such a delight to have the entire beach all to ourselves!
Several friends joined us – including a small herd of deer who roamed the area nearby for quite some time – and a park ranger and his friend. We hung a sheet between the trees in the forest area adjacent to the picnic tables on the beach and set up a few lanterns. Before night fell, we did a little nature journaling and enjoyed watching the sun set over the lake as we awaited the arrival of the moths.
When it was dark, we began to take note of the insects that slowly arrived. The kids would proudly exclaim, “Here’s another one!” each time a new insect landed on the sheet. While only a few moths came to visit, we did observe many other insects – many of which were beetles.
We did our best to take photographs of each before they flew away – a task that turned out to be a little more difficult than anticipated – and tallied the numbers for each species.
We stayed until the kids began to get a little sleepy. Ranger Bill closed out the evening with a few delightful stories as his friend quietly played her Native American-style flute.
The next National Moth Week will be held July 18-26, 2015 so start planning your events now!
What is Moth Week?
National Moth Week offers everyone, everywhere a unique opportunity to become a Citizen Scientist and contribute scientific data about moths. Through partnerships with Project Noah, Bug Guide, Xerces Society, Lepidoptera Society, and others, National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other life history aspects around the globe.
Mothing can be done anywhere- at parks, nature centers, backyards and even in towns and cities. Events are taking place around the world – join up or host an event of your own. Learn more at National Moth Week.
This year, National Moth Week will spotlight the Sphingidae family of moths found throughout the world commonly called hawk moths, sphinx moths and hornworms.
Join Us For a Memorable Summer Evening
So invite a few friends and contribute to this awesome project by hosting a moth night of your own. What happens at a moth night? Basically, you put up a sheet and a light with a bunch of your friends, and sit around and wait for moths. How simple is that? And it is so much fun!
As has become tradition, I love taking my students outside in the spring for a variety of science activities. Our STEM Club ecology focus one year was on soil ecology and I thereby planned a couple of outings to a small lake in a residential neighborhood not far from my home. Despite the proximity to homes, I am always surprised at the diversity of wildlife we are able to observe here.
We parked on the street adjacent to the lake and immediately became aware of a Killdeer nest just a few feet from the road. The two adults loudly began to distract the kids and lure them away from their nest. Despite my efforts and those of the birds, the ever-so-inquisitive boys in my group managed to locate the nest and excitedly proclaim there were eggs! It was difficult to keep the kids away and get focused on soil. Even as class was underway, one wandered quietly back over to sit closely and watch the birds for several minutes.
Killdeer nest on open ground – often in gravel – using a slight depression to hold the eggs. They don’t line it at all and since there is no structure to stand out from its surroundings, a killdeer nest camouflages marvelously into the background. Even their speckled eggs themselves look like stones.
For more information on Killdeer and their unusual behaviors, I encourage you to read The Precocious Killdeer on Birdwatching.com
Upon sharing this discovery with a friend of mine, she introduced us to NestWatch. NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive.
By finding and monitoring bird nests, NestWatch participants help scientists track the breeding success of birds across North America. Participants witness fascinating behaviors of birds at the nest and collect information on the location, habitat, bird species, number of eggs, and number of young.
Participating in NestWatch is easy and just about anyone can do it, although children should always be accompanied by an adult when observing bird nests. Cornell Lab provides a wealth of tutorials and resources to guide you along the way. It is rewarding to know that your observations will be added to those of thousands of other NestWatchers in a continually growing database used by researchers to understand and study birds.
I quickly signed up and recorded our observations. We returned two days later to check on the status of the nest, but were unable to find any sign of the birds. There were no shell fragments or signs of young precocial birds. Despite the uncertainty of our Killdeer nest, we are now excited to find more nests and to share our observations with the scientists at Cornell Lab.
Citizen Science with Cornell Lab
More than 200,000 people contribute to the Cornell Lab’s citizen-science projects each year, gathering data on a vast scale once unimaginable. Scientists use these data to determine how birds are affected by habitat loss, pollution, and disease. They trace bird migration and document long-term changes in bird numbers continentwide. The results have been used to create management guidelines for birds, investigate the effects of acid rain and climate change, and advocate for the protection of declining species.
Using the same login name and password that you create for NestWatch, you can also participate in any of the following citizen-science projects:
Involvement in citizen science projects enables students to make connections with relevant, meaningful, and real experiences with science. In turn, their experiences help facilitate their own investigations as they gain confidence.
There are many citizen science projects today and more become available each year. I encourage you to take time to explore some of the opportunities. I am confidant you will find projects that match your interests.
Welcome to the 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 and for a giveaway!
See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in April:
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.
Before I was blessed with children of my own, I had the honor of working as a science specialist at two public schools in Oregon. Teaching middle school science was my dream job! We explored a variety of topics and enjoyed hands-on labs every week.
As a homeschooling mom, I understand that budgets are tight and we have to make tough decisions about what extra-curriculars and curriculum we can afford. The best things in life are indeed free so I have compiled a list of free science curriculum for middle school.
This is NOT just a list of free printables and a hodge-podge of activities – but complete curriculum units!
Life Science Curriculum
A secular middle school science text that is available for free on Amazon is CK-12 Life Science for Middle School. As a digital text, the 1143 pages won’t weigh you down and it contains all kinds of embedded media and related educational videos.
For nature study, you’ll absolutely love the Handbook of Nature Study! Barb has an incredible collection of tutorials and resources for using nature study in your homeschool. I’ve linked to her Getting Started post here, but be sure to browse around her site – there are enough printables and lessons to keep you busy all year long!
I have shared a number of great human anatomy lesson plans and activities here on my website. STEM Club: Introduction to Body Systems is the first post in the series. Read each for a complete unit study on the human body.
Also available from the CK-12 Foundation is CK-12 Earth Science for Middle School – a combination of various earth science disciplines encompassing geology, oceanography, climatology, meteorology, and even for the purposes of understanding the position of the Earth in the Universe, astronomy.
Scientists report their research in journals, which enable scientists to share information with one another.
The Natural Inquirer is a middle school science education journal published by the US Forest Service. They also have a series for upper elementary entitled, Investigator.
There are many free issues to download and read. When you click on each issue, it tells you what the theme will be and some of them have additional lesson plans to download. Each free issue is full of pictures, ideas, and questions to stimulate the science mind.
In addition to the journals, the US Forest Service also provides a wealth of other educational resources to accompany the journals including Lesson Plans and Games & Activities.
Science News for Kids is another great source for current events and news. It is an online collection of articles and resources for students and educators. Some of the recent article titles include: Something’s Cooking on Saturn’s Moon, Chickens Spread Latest Deadly Bird Flu, and Corals Dine on Microplastics.
Scientists keep notebooks. The scientist’s notebook is a detailed record of her engagement with scientific phenomena. It is a personal representation of experiences, observations, and thinking – an integral part of the process of doing scientific work.
The science notebooks of Charles Darwin,Linus Pauling, among other scientists are also available online. These primary source documents capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. It is fascinating to look at the illustrations and sketches famous scientists have made and to compare them with our own.
As developing scientists, middle school students should be encouraged to incorporate notebooks into their science learning. Read more about using Science Notebooks in Middle School in this PDF by FOSS.
Students today enjoy creating interactive elements for their notebooks – mini books and foldables to record new vocabulary or gather data from a lab activity. There are many science notebooking printable available online to accompany a wide variety of topics.
Subscribers to my newsletter will receive the Human Anatomy Systems printables and interactive notebooking set shown here:
SciGirls is a television show for kids ages 8-12 that showcases bright, curious real tween girls putting science and engineering to work in their everyday lives. SciGirls Connect provides inquiry-based STEM activities for a variety of science topics.
I am sure everyone is already familiar with Steve Spangler‘s store but did you know he also has a number of Fun Science Experiments?
Another great resource for junior high science teachers and students is The Science Spot.
Involvement in citizen science projects enables students to make connections with relevant, meaningful, and real experiences with science. Most also provide lesson plans and curriculum to help you get started. Here are a few great citizen science projects to consider:
Darwin for a Day – A web application that allows you to explore the Galapagos Islands through Google Street View and document its unique plants and animals.
Old Weather – Help scientists recover Arctic and worldwide weather observations made by United States ships since the mid-19th century by transcribing ships’ logs.
As students develop their own science skills, it is equally important that they get a feel for what scientists are actually doing. Integrating career exploration gives students an opportunity to learn about real scientists and the variety of jobs available with a science degree.
The US Forest Service has put together a great set of Scientist Trading Cards. Print the cards to learn more about each scientist and then create your own. The USFWS – Pacific Region has an incredible set of photos on Flickr, #ScienceWomen.
I periodically write about science career options – Entomology and Hydrogeology are two thus far you may wish to explore. More to come soon!
In my history of science series, Science Milestones, I highlight architects, engineers, inventors, and scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us. In each post, I share learning guides or unit studies featuring basic facts about the person, questions for discussion, and places to read, watch and otherwise learn more.
Some species of native ladybugs in North America are disappearing. In just the last 20 years these beneficial predators of farm and garden pests have become extremely rare. This rapid decline is of great concern. Recognizing the need to take action, a number of schools in New York State began the Lost Ladybug Project in 2004.
The Lost Ladybug Project is a citizen science project that people of all ages to look for any ladybugs they can find, and then send in pictures of each one. One of the first major discoveries came in 2006 when Jilene (age 11) and Jonathan (age 10) Penhale found a rare ninespotted ladybug near their Virginia home. This was the first ninespotted ladybug seen in the eastern U.S. in 14 years. Their finding confirmed that the species was not extinct and that with enough people working together we can find even these rare species.
With recent funding from the National Science Foundation the Lost Ladybug Project has expanded and now anyone in North America can participate. Both common and rare ladybugs, whether native or introduced, are important to find. They all contribute to understanding where different species of ladybugs can be found and how rare they really are. Once we know where the rare ladybugs can be found, we can try to protect their habitat and save them!
We have been participating since 2012 when we first learned of the project. You can read about our earlier discoveries here:
What do ladybugs eat? A single ladybug larva will eat about 400 medium-size aphids during its development to the pupal stage. Males may eat less but an adult female will eat about 300 medium-size aphids before she lays eggs. She can eat about 75 aphids in a day and may consume more than 5,000 aphids in her lifetime!
Did you know that ladybugs use their antennae to touch, smell, and taste?
What would happen if all the ladybugs were gone? Both adult and larval ladybugs are known primarily as predators of aphids but they also prey on many other soft-bodied insects and insect eggs. Many of these are agricultural pest such as scale insects, mealybugs, spider mites and eggs of the Colorado Potato Beetle and European Corn Borer. A few ladybugs feed on plant and pollen mildews and many ladybugs supplement their meat diet with pollen.
Beetles chew from side to side, not up and down, like people do.
How did ladybugs get their name? The most common legend is that during the middle ages in Europe, swarms of aphids were destroying crops. The farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help – and help came in the form of beetles that devoured the plant-destroying pests and saved the crops! The grateful farmers named these insects “Our Lady’s beetles,” a name which had endured to present day.
How long do they live? After a female lays her eggs, they will hatch in between three and ten days, depending on ambient temperature. The larva will live and grow for about a month before it enters the pupal stage, which lasts about 15 days. After the pupal stage, the adult lady beetle will live up to one year.
Why are they so brightly colored? Why do they have spots? The bright colors serve as a warning to indicate to any potential predators of the distasteful repellents the beetle will release if attacked. The spots are part of the bright warning pattern and vary depending upon species.
What eats ladybugs? Lady beetles are not commonly eaten by birds or other vertebrates, who avoid them because they exude a distasteful fluid and commonly play dead to avoid being preyed upon. However, several insects, such as assassin bugs and stink bugs, as well as spiders may commonly kill ladybugs.
How many different species are there in the US? In the world? There have been over 500 species of ladybugs identified in the United States, and over 4500 in the entire world. Only about 70 of these are the cute red, yellow, and black ones we think of most.
Ladybugs can be found all over the world and can move between continents. Introductions of new species can affect natives. What you will be doing as part of the Lost Ladybug Project is sampling the ladybugs in your habitats.
The degree to which specific ladybug species are associated with particular plant hosts (or their prey) is still an unsolved mystery. This would make a wonderful science fair project for advanced students.
If you are interested in participating in the Lost Ladybug Project, visit the website to learn more. There is also an app to enable you a fast way to upload and share images on the go!
We’ve always enjoyed taking part in the monthly challenges at Handbook of Nature Study. This month, our selected challenge was Incorporate a Photo. Later in the week, we utilized one of our photos to create a nature journal entry to commemorate our outing.
Have you ever looked at the night sky and been amazed by all the stars? Have you ever seen bats darting above your head when your sitting by the campfire roasting marshmallows?
The warmer evenings are the perfect time to get outdoors and observe nature after the sun has set. There are tremendous opportunities for night science activities throughout the summer months.
National Moth Week
National Moth Week offers everyone, everywhere a unique opportunity to become a Citizen Scientist and contribute scientific data about moths. Through partnerships with major online biological data depositories, National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information on other life history aspects around the globe.
Mothing can be done anywhere- at parks, nature centers, backyards and even in towns and cities. Events are taking place around the world – join up or host an event of your own. Learn more at National Moth Week.
The summer of 2014 also provides wonderful opportunities to learn more about our nearest celestial neighbor. The earth will be bathed in moonlight as three perigee “supermoons” occur in consecutive months: July 12, August 10, and September 9. The scientific term for the phenomenon is Perigee Moon, the point in the Moon’s elliptical orbit closest to Earth.
Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side (“perigee”) about 50,000 km closer than the other (“apogee”). Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon’s orbit seem extra big and bright.
On July 12th and Sept 9th the Moon becomes full on the same day as perigee. On August 10th it becomes full during the same hour as perigee—arguably making it an extra-super Moon.”
Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseid meteor shower, one of the brighter meteor showers of the year, occur every August, peaking around August 9-13. The 2014 Perseid meteor shower will peak between August 10 and August 13. However, a waning Gibbous Moon (the Moon’s phase after a full moon) may make it harder for observers to see the shower.
Consisting of tiny space debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation, Perseus. This is because, their radiant or the direction of which the shower seems to come from lies in the same direction as Perseus. The constellation lies in the north-eastern part of the sky.
Check with local astronomy clubs and park centers in your local area to learn more about public astronomy events.
Just for Fun
Some activities you might also want to consider are:
Join up with a park ranger for a guided moonlight kayak tour.
Lay on beach or lake shore and enjoy gazing at the stars. How many constellations can you name?
Go for a nature walk on the night of a full moon. Can you find bats or other nocturnal animals?
Observe the moon each night for a month and record your observations in a moon journal. Get creative and include art and poetry as you feel inspired.
As a homeschool family, we have read about the first European colonists in the Americas and constructed paper models of Jamestown. We have explored the ecosystems of North America and created posters to illustrate food webs. We have created travel brochures to teach others about Alaska. We have even created multimedia news reports to share our experiences at Chinese New Year. And the lapbooks. When we first started homeschooling, we created many, many lapbooks. Sound familiar?
These are common examples of the kind of assignments that teachers and homeschool parents bill as projects. A classroom filled with student work may suggest that students have engaged in meaningful learning. However, it is the process of students’ learning and the depth of their cognitive engagement— rather than the resulting product—that distinguishes projects from busywork.
A project is meaningful if it fulfills two criteria. First, students must perceive the work as personally meaningful, as a task that matters and that they want to do well. Second, a meaningful project fulfills an educational purpose. Well-designed and well-implemented project-based learning is meaningful in both ways.
Many students find schoolwork meaningless because they don’t perceive a need to know what they’re being taught. They are unmotivated by a teacher’s suggestion that they should learn something because they’ll need it later in life, for the next course, or simply because “it’s going to be on the test.”
With a compelling student project, the reason for learning relevant material becomes clear: I need to know this to meet the challenge I’ve accepted. Teachers can powerfully activate students’ need to know content by launching a unit in a way that engages interest and initiates questioning. This can take the form of a video, a lively discussion, a guest speaker, or a field trip.
Come along with me as I share an example of one particular project we have recently undertaken utilizing the Project Based Learning Cycle. You’ll discover that the cycle isn’t a concrete, step-by-step approach, but a fluid, natural progression of learning and growth.
6 Steps to Project Based Learning
1. Identify the Problem
A good driving question captures the heart of the project in clear, compelling language, which gives students a sense of purpose and challenge. The question should be provocative, open-ended, complex, and linked to the core of what you want students to learn. It could be abstract (When is war justified?); concrete (Is our water safe to drink?); or focused on solving a problem.
On a Roots & Shoots nature walk a few months ago, we observed that the population of native pond turtles had significantly declined. In the past, we had observed many pond turtles basking in the sun but this time, we saw only two native turtles and a large number of non-native Red-eared slider turtles.
This led us to question, “Why the change in population size? What was happening to the native pond turtles and what could we do to combat the decline?”
2. Analyze the Problem
In terms of making a project feel meaningful to students, the more voice and choice, the better. However, teachers should design projects that fit their own style and students.
You may choose to limit the choices, allowing learners to select what topic to study within a general driving question or choose how to design, create, and present the final product. You might provide a limited menu of options for creative projects to prevent students from becoming overwhelmed by choices. On the other end of the scale, students may decide what products they will create, what resources they will use, and how they will structure their time.
A few days after our outing, the coordinator emailed the kids suggesting they take action to increase public awareness and ultimately, prohibit the sale of red-eared sliders in pet stores. My daughter was quick to pick up the challenge. She was eager to make a difference.
3. Field Studies & Investigation
Students find project work more meaningful if they conduct real inquiry, which does not mean finding information in books or websites and pasting it onto a poster. In real inquiry, students follow a trail that begins with their own questions, leads to a search for resources and the discovery of answers, and often ultimately leads to generating new questions, testing ideas, and drawing their own conclusions. With real inquiry comes innovation—a new answer to a driving question, a new product, or an individually generated solution to a problem. The teacher does not ask students to simply reproduce teacher or textbook provided information in a pretty format.
On a family walk a few weeks later, we observed numerous Red-eared sliders once again (a different location than the first). My kids both lamented pet owners releasing these turtles into the wild without considering the consequences. My daughter began to further her questioning, “Where is the population of Western Pond Turtles the largest? Where is the population of Red-eared sliders the largest? Is the population of Western Pond Turtles changing at the same rate at Mary Lake as it is at Turtle Pond?”
As she posed these questions to me on our walk, we discussed strategies for answering the questions. She expressed an interest in collecting real data – capturing and tagging the turtles. “I can bring my fishing net and I can paint a number on the back of their shell so I don’t count the same turtle over again.”
I suggested she reach out to local agencies (Fish & Wildlife, Parks & Recreation, Forest Service, etc.) to see what efforts the resource specialists had made (if any) in this regard. Would they allow her to pursue this is more depth?
4. Identify Resources & Research
A project should give students opportunities to build such 21st century skills as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and the use of technology, which will serve them well in the workplace and life. This exposure to authentic skills provides the project with an educational purpose. A teacher in a project-based learning environment explicitly teaches and assesses these skills and provides frequent opportunities for students to assess themselves.
One step in the research process is to understand the natural history of both the Western Pond Turtle and the invasive, Red-eared sliders. My children have kept nature journals for years and so it was a natural decision to illustrate the turtles in their journals as a way to record their knowledge and research. See my earlier post, Saving the Native Turtles: Part One – Naturalist’s Notes.
5. Test Solutions and Revision
Formalizing a process for feedback and revision during a project makes learning meaningful because it emphasizes that creating high-quality products and performances is an important purpose of the endeavor. Students need to learn that most people’s first attempts don’t result in high quality and that revision is a frequent feature of real-world work.
In addition to providing direct feedback, the teacher should coach students in using rubrics or other sets of criteria to critique one another’s work. Teachers can arrange for experts or adult mentors to provide feedback, which is especially meaningful to students because of the source.
At every step in the learning cycle, the kids have been making changes and revisions. As my daughter brainstormed ideas to investigate the population size, she modified her action plan with suggestions I made. When she meets with the resources specialist, she will undoubtedly make additional changes to her approach. As the kids work on their posters and letters (see step 6 below), they will create a rough draft and seek feedback from one another as well as from their parents.
6. Present Solutions & Engage the Public
Schoolwork is more meaningful when it’s not done only for the teacher or the test. When students present their work to a real audience, they care more about its quality. Once again, it’s “the more, the better” when it comes to authenticity. Students might replicate the kinds of tasks done by professionals—but even better, they might create real products that people outside school use.
One of the projects the kids have planned is to create posters to educate the public about the dangers of releasing exotic pets into the wild. They have invited their friends to join them in this service learning activity and they intend to hang the posters at local pet stores and the science center. They have also begun to write letters to their state congressmen to encourage them to take legislative action.