Celebrate Arbor Day All Year With These 12 Activities

The Arbor Day Foundation was founded in 1972, the centennial of the first Arbor Day observance in the 19th century. I was born just a month later in Oregon – where a full week is set aside to celebrate trees.

The Arbor Day Foundation inspires people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.

We can do better than a single day or even a full week to honor earth. Join us in celebrating trees all year long with these 12 activities.

Celebrate Arbor Day with These 12 Activities @EvaVarga.net1. Learn about the history of Arbor Day

2. Plant a fruit tree in your yard or enjoy field trip to an apple farm

3. Correlate the history of the United States to one tree’s growth rings

4. Create art or poetry inspired by trees

forest ecology5. Get Involved with the US Forestry Department or other resource agency

6. Learn how to measure a tree’s height, crown spread and diameter

7. Study the ecosystem of one particular tree

botany

Life Logic: Botany – Plenty O’Plants  is a hands-on life science curriculum that provides ample opportunity for kids to explore plant science in-depth.  This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

8. Learn to identify trees in your community using a dichotomous key or create your own

9.  Study the structure of a tree, how it functions, and what benefits a tree provides

10. Take a nature walk and practice your new skill

Arbor Day @EvaVarga.net11. Organize a Nature Explore Families’ Club

The Arbor Day Foundation has put together a research-based, field-tested collection of resources designed to help you organize a Nature Explore Families’ Club at your school, organization, or in your neighborhood. The Families’ Club Kit has everything you need to start a club and help you connect families with the outdoors and each other.

It also includes general information and customizable forms to get your club started, a facilitator’s guide with helpful hints on organization, and 15 visual, child-friendly activity sheets with facilitator notes specific to each one. For families interested in getting started with nature study and outdoor learning in a co-op environment, this is a wonderful resource!

Read my post, How to Start a Homeschool Coop, to learn more about how to get started with collaborative learning experiences.

12. Show us your favorite tree

Post your photo in the comments, on my Facebook, or send me an email (eva underscore varga at me dot com). I’ll compile them in a special post and we can celebrate Arbor Day together!

 

 

In Honor of Dr Jane: Every Individual Matters

Dame Jane Morris Goodall is an English primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. She was born today, April 3rd in 1934. She has been a role model to me since I was a young girl. It gives me great pleasure to write this post as part of the Earth Month blog hop and share it with you on her birthday.

2015 marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day and will be celebrated on Saturday, April 18th. It comes during a pivotal time to protect the planet and ensure that world leaders address key issues facing the next generation. There is no better time to get involved and to take action.

Every individual matters.

Every individual has a role to play.

Every individual makes a difference.

In Honor of Dr Jane @EvaVarga.net

My children and I have had the opportunity to meet Dr. Jane on several occasions. Her quiet demeanor and the strength of her conviction always inspire us to do more. In an earlier post, Service Learning Through Roots & Shoots, I shared some of the projects and activities we have undertaken through Roots & Shoots.

Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots is the youth-led community action and learning program of the Jane Goodall Institute. The program builds on the legacy and vision of Dr. Jane and places the power and responsibility for creating community-based solutions to big challenges in the hands of the young people.

Just for fun, enjoy this delightful poem by Jane Goodall, The Old Wisdom.

In Honor of Dr Jane @EvaVarga.net

Dr Jane’s Roots & Shoots

Through our participation in Roots & Shoots, we have always looked for ways in which we can show our care and concern for the environment, for animals, and the community. My children and I volunteer in a variety of ways – each choosing projects and service learning activities that are suited to their individual passions.

My daughter is passionate about the environment. She repurposes a variety of things and sells them at local craft sales. She donates a portion of the money she raises to charitable causes. She is also spearheading a long-term project to study the impact of non-native invasive turtles on native species (Saving the Native Turtles and Don’t Let it Loose). My son volunteers regularly at a local retirement home to share his love of music with the residents. He has also coordinated a cupcake sale to raise money for Nystagmus.

Turn Learners into Leaders

This summer, Roots & Shoots is offering an innovative online professional development course. Free and open to everyone, this course will teach participants how to identify and implement a local service learning campaign using the Roots & Shoots program model and grow the next generation of Jane Goodalls.

Complete the course and mentor young people to lead change in their communities by mapping needs, collaborating with stakeholders, and designing practical solutions in the form of campaigns. Connect young people to Dr. Goodall’s message of hope while faciliating a sense of empowerment that comes from helping others.

To join me and other Roots & Shoots leaders around the world in this wonderful course, visit Turning Learners into Leaders.

natural parenting guide and earth month blog hop
To learn more about how you can make a difference, be sure to visit the Earth Month blog hop.

You will find up-cycling crafts, ec0-friendly toys, and gardening tips. You can also enter the giveaway to win one of the fantastic prizes!

Free Science Curriculum for Middle School

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!

Free Middle School Science Resources @EvaVarga.net

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!

humananatomy

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.

For great ecology lessons, your local extension agency is a fabulous resource. California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom and Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom are two examples.

Earth Science Curriculum

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.

For those who desire a faith-based curriculum, Old Earth Ministries Online Geology Curriculum is designed to be a complete, web-based learning experience, with pictures, animations, and links for further learning. They also have an Earth History Curriculum.

Physical Science Curriculum

While I didn’t find a CK-12 Physical Science text, there are high school level physics and chemistry available on Amazon.

The American Chemical Society shares a complete chemistry unit, Middle School Chemistry. They have also developed a unit on plastics, including a Plastics Analysis Lab.

The Periodic Table of Elements – A lesson about every single element on the Periodic Table from TED-Ed.

Teach Engineering has also compiled an extensive list of physical science lessons – including complete units on Rockets and Exploring Energy.

Science Journals for Middle School

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.

natural inquirer thumbs

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 MoonChickens Spread Latest Deadly Bird Flu, and Corals Dine on Microplastics.

Science Notebooks

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.

notebookingYou can find many notebooking resources on my Science Notebooking Pinterest board

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:
humananatomyprintables

Subscribe to my newsletter today!


Stephanie, at Harrington Harmonies, also has a wonderful collection of notebooking printables. Subscribe to her newsletter and you’ll receive her Solar System Pages FREE!

Online Resources for Hands-on Labs & Activities

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.

Citizen Science Opportunities

One the most exciting ways of teaching science to middle school students in engaging them in real science. Citizen science projects and service learning opportunities are exploding. The internet makes it super easy to collaborate with others and share research data.

citizenscienceYou can find more on my Citizen Science Pinterest board.

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:

  • The Great Sunflower Project – Take counts of the number and types of pollinators visiting plants (especially sunflowers).
  • 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.

Real Scientists

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.

scientistsThe 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.

Bestthings

For more FREE resources on a variety of topics, be sure to visit The Best Things in Life are Free link-up at iHomeschool Network.

Bottle Cap Mural Project – Part 1

In November each year, I coordinate an annual Art Show for our local homeschool community.  This past year, I wanted to undertake a long term project that would enable the homeschool students in our area to collaborate with one another and to make an impact on the greater community.  When I learned of bottle cap murals – I knew this was the perfect project.

See my previous posts here and here to learn how to easy it is to plan an art show for your homeschool community.

I am so excited to share this project with you, I couldn’t wait until we are finished. This mural project is an amazing example of how capable children are given the opportunity to express themselves in new and innovative ways. There were so many valuable steps involved; today I detail how the project got underway.muralproject

We began collecting bottle caps in the spring of last year and by the time school began in the fall, we had begun begging our friends and families to do the same. Each time we visited Grandma and Papa in Oregon, they’d have a plastic tub full of caps they had saved for us. We were even saving our caps while in South America and had everyone in our tour group doing the same.

Other families in our community did the same.  I am so proud of the families and students who collected thousands of bottle caps, caps that otherwise would have gone into the trash, to create this incredible mural.

I wanted to create a mural that reflected our local area but that was also relatively simple in design. I sketched a few ideas on paper, conferred with my kids, made a few modifications and eventually settled upon a design featuring Mt. Shasta, the Sacramento River, and the Sun Dial Bridge – three prominent landmarks in Northern California.

A week prior to the art show, my kiddos and I went to Home Depot and purchased the materials we would need to complete the project.  I had considered seeking donations from our local ACE Hardware but just never followed through.

  • 4′ x 4′ wood panels (which I asked to be cut in half only so it would fit inside my Honda Accord). Any size will work – depending upon the design.
  • Caulking (I purchased two kinds and haven’t yet determined which is best)
  • Paint (we used what we had on hand – acryllic)
  • Brushes

The next step was to transfer our template onto the wood panel and paint the background. Using a grid system, I quickly drew in the image with pencil and then recruited my own children to help me paint the background. Ideally, I would have liked all students to be involved in painting the mural but I elected to have the kids be involved only in adhering the bottle caps.

bottlecapproject

At that point, the mural is ready for caps. I thereby transported the mural to the library where the art show was taking place. I laid it upon an old picnic table cloth and set out the boxes of bottle caps (sorted by color) around the perimeter.

My children supervised the others in adhering the caps using the caulking gun.  At some point in the process, however, a few adults took over supervision and my own kids walked away to allow others an opportunity to get involved.

Some kids wanted us to leave it just as a painting because it looked so pretty.  To be honest, I was a little scared myself it wouldn’t look as good once we added the bottle caps.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.

 

I wasn’t able to supervise myself as I was involved with other details of the art show. In retrospect, I wish I had better explained the vision to the other adults because some cap colors were adhered to the board that didn’t match the background. I thereby spent some time scraping off these caps when I got home.

Sadly, we didn’t have enough bottle caps in the colors we needed (particularly purple and light blue). The board thereby is awaiting completion in the hallway of my home. When the board is finished, we will screw in the caps with screws to more securely mount them to the board.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of the bottle cap mural project when we donate the completed mural for display locally.

 

Service Learning Through Roots & Shoots

I have coordinated a Roots & Shoots club in one form or another since I first heard Jane Goodall speak at an Oregon Science Teacher’s Conference in 1997. She has been an inspiration to me since I was a little girl. Taking part in Roots & Shoots has not only enabled me to meet Jane Goodall, but has encouraged me to work hard to make a difference.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference, human and non-human alike.” ~ Jane Goodall

servicelearning

Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots is the youth-led community action and learning program of the Jane Goodall Institute. The program builds on the legacy and vision of Dr. Jane Goodall to place the power and responsibility for creating community-based solutions to big challenges in the hands of the young people. Through the program, young people map their community to identify specific challenges their neighborhoods face.  From there, they prioritize the problems, develop a plan for a solution, and take action.

“What you do makes a DIFFERENCE. You have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ~ Jane Goodall

Service learning projects combine learning goals and community service in ways that can enhance both student growth and the common good. Service learning can help your students become better learners, classmates, and citizens, and can help them make a valuable contribution to their communities.

map

This past summer, Roots & Shoots dramatically redesigned their website and the teaching tools they provide for their group leaders. They offered a four week course titled “Turning Learners into Leaders: Empowering Youth Through Service in Education” and I was delighted to have the opportunity to take part. It revitalized my approach to service learning and renewed my enthusiasm for Roots & Shoots.

I discovered that effective service learning emphasizes the following elements:

  • Integrated Learning
  • Community Need
  • Student Voice
  • Collaboration
  • Civic Responsibility
  • Reflection
  • Evaluation

There are many opportunities to engage students in service learning. Read about some of the projects my Roots & Shoots groups have undertaken over the years. I have color coded them to coordinate with the Roots & Shoots formula for success (Get Engaged, Map It, Take Action, and Celebrate). 

Our Annual Ladybug Hike

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!

ladybughikeWe have been participating since 2012 when we first learned of the project. You can read about our earlier discoveries here:

 All About Ladybugs

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.

ladybughike2Why 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.

Inquiry Challenge

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.

You may also be interested in my Ultimate Guide to Studying Insects. Here you will find links to curriculum and resources for the major insect orders.

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!
ladybugs journal

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.