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). 

The Ultimate Guide to Studying Insects

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by insects. I have curated an insect collection of my own for years and I love sketching them in my nature journal.

Insects are all around us and their abundance makes them the perfect introduction to the world of zoology. Studying insects is a wonderful experience for upper grades to begin using the taxonomic binomial naming system for the first time.

ultimate guide insects

An Introduction to Insects or Basic Entomology

Insects belong to the phylum Arthropoda. As such, they have a hard exoskeleton which they molt several times as they grow, bilateral symmetry, and jointed appendages (legs and antennae).  The arthropod phylum is the largest in the animal kingdom – more arthropods than any other animal.

The phylum can be further divided into four classes:  Insects – 3 pairs of legs, Arachnids (spiders & mites) – 4 pairs of legs, Crustaceans (crabs & lobsters) – 5 pairs of legs, and Millipedes & Centipedes.

If you are looking for a fun, hands-on curriculum for upper elementary or middle school students, I have compiled a number of my favorite lesson plans in a unit study approach, Introductory Entomology. Through hands-on activities, real life simulations, and multi-media presentations this six-week unit incorporates more than 10 entomology lessons and suggested extension activities.

I have also gathered a number of great resources and lesson plan ideas from across the web to provide you with the ultimate guide to studying insects.  You’ll most assuredly find inspiration and activities galore – many of which include free notebooking printables. The following list should get you started on your insect studies:

  • Bug Collecting – A step-by-step guide to collecting bugs and insects
  • Adventures with Insects & Critters – All about collecting and keeping insects and other small critters
  • Conduct an Insect Survey – Collect data to calculate the diversity of insects; includes a free notebooking printable
  • Aquatic Science: Spring Pond Study – Get the kids outside equipped with a small wash tub, an ice-cube tray, and this free download to investigate aquatic critters
  • BugScope – Provides free interactive access to a scanning electron microscope so that students can explore the world of insects
  • Integrated Pest Management – One of the lessons in my Introductory Entomology unit engages kids in a cooperative learning, simulated experience
  • Keep a journal of your observations – See Cicada for a spectacular example
  • The Xerces Society – A nonprofit that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Find a wealth of insect resources on their website.

When teaching about insects in middle school, I feel it is important to introduce them to the use of a dichotomous key and to provide ample opportunity to practice classification skills. I put together a PowerPoint presentation to introduce kids to the differences between insect orders. You can download the presentation here:  Insect Classification.

damselflyIn addition to the broad resources I have shared above, I have also compiled a number of hands-on activities specific to insect orders.  You may wish to study insects one order at a time or perhaps you have a budding coleopterists (an entomologist who specializes in the study of beetles) in your family.  The links provided here are grouped according to the most common insect orders:

Lepidoptera:

Hymenoptera:

Odonata:

Orthoptera:

Hemiptera:

  •  Links coming soon

Other:

june beetle noseLiterature Connections & Lapbooks


There are numerous non-fiction books about insects.  One of my favorite books is a book of poems by Paul Fleishman, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Written to be read aloud by two voices – sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous – this collection of 14 poems celebrates the insect world, from the short life of the mayfly to the love song of the book louse.

While I highly recommend the print version for the gorgeous illustrations by Eric Beddows, I also recommend the audio version – particularly if poems written for two voices is unfamiliar to you. Upon listening to this book, my kids delighted in creating insect poems of their own.

In my quest to share with you the best of the best, I came across a few wonderful posts that are perfect for younger siblings:

Citizen Science

There are numerous opportunities for people of all ages to explore insects and contribute to real, ongoing research.

caterpillar

Field Trips & Excursions

Many zoos and aquariums have special exhibits that feature insects.  I’ve highlighted a few here but be sure to contact natural history museums and zoos in your local area.  While smaller venues may not have a permanent exhibit, they may feature insect exhibits periodically in their rotation.

Career Opportunities

Students in upper grades may already have an idea that a career in biology or zoology is in their future.  Some may be interested in collecting insects and not realize that their hobby can actually be a possible career.  If you are interested in learning more about the possible career options in entomology, read my post Science Career Options: Entomology Careers.

Insect Hotels: Nesting Habitat for Mason Bees

The plight of the honey bee and other pollinators is of concern to me.  Insect hotels or habitat for insects is the perfect project for our Roots & Shoots group to show care and concern for animals.  It was also a great introduction  to service learning for my STEM Club kids.  I thereby invited both groups to join us for a day of insect revelry.

I began by introducing the kids to the Mason bee, the common name for a species of bees in the genus Osmia, of the family Megachilidae (Blue Orchard and Hornfaced the best known species). They are so named for their habit of making compartments of mud in their nests, which are made in hollow reeds or holes in wood made by wood-boring insects.

Unlike honey bees (Apis) or bumblebees, Osmia are solitary; every female is fertile and makes her own nest, and there are no worker bees for these species. The bees emerge from their cocoons in the spring, with males the first to come out. They remain near the nests waiting for the females. When the females emerge, they mate. The males die, and the females begin provisioning their nests.

Osmia females like to nest in narrow holes or tubes, typically naturally occurring tubular cavities. Most commonly this means hollow twigs, but sometimes abandoned nests of wood-boring beetles or carpenter bees, or even snail shells. They do not excavate their own nests. The material used for the cell can be clay or chewed plant tissue. One species (Osmia avosetta) in the palearctic ecozone is known for lining the nest burrows with flower petals.

Females then visit flowers to gather pollen and nectar. Once enough provisions have been gathered, she backs into the hole and lays an egg. Then she creates a partition of “mud”, which doubles as the back of the next cell. The process continues until she has filled the cavity. Female-destined eggs are laid in the back of the nest, and male eggs towards the front. Once a bee has finished with a nest, she plugs the entrance to the tube, and then may seek out another nest location.

By summer, the larva has consumed all of its provisions and begins spinning a cocoon around itself and enters the pupal stage. The adult matures either in the fall or winter, hibernating inside its protective cocoon. Most Osmia species are found in places where the temperature drops below 0°C for long durations, like Canada, and they are well adapted to cold winters.

insecthotelsBuild It & They Will Come

Maintaining Mason bee habitats or insect hotels can be a simple, yet powerful way for people of all ages to intimately connect with the awesomeness of nature. Mason bees don’t sting unless they’re squashed or squeezed so they’re kid and pet friendly and don’t require protective clothing or training to work with. Since they’re sociable but solitary, there’s no need to coax colonies into complex forms. A well-designed and well-built habitat with ample nearby pollen sources will naturally attract mason bees, can allow intimate year-round observation of their lifecycle, and especially for teachers, parents and community garden programs be a powerful real-world teaching tool.

Mason bees are increasingly cultivated to improve pollination for early spring flowers. They are used sometimes as an alternative, but more often alongside European honey bees. Most mason bees are readily attracted to nesting holes; reeds, paper tubes, or nesting trays. Drilled blocks of wood are an option, but do not allow one to harvest the bees, which is vital to control a build-up of pests.

I found the post, Housing Mason Bees at Bees, Birds, & Butterflies particularly useful as I researched the how-tos for building insect hotels.  You can also purchase pre-made insect hotels from a variety of sources.  For example, Esschert Design Bee House. The kids had a great time building their own and it allowed their creativity to show.  Most of the kids recycled materials (soup cans, two liter bottles, etc.) to create a cylinder to hold bamboo and paper tubes. Many of the kids stated they wanted to build a wooden frame around their tubes and planned to finish their projects at home.

Attract Pollinators with Native Plants

To help bees and other pollinating insects (butterflies) you should provide a range of plants that will offer a succession of flowers, pollen, and nectarthrough the whole growing season. Patches of foraging habitat can be created in many different locations, from backyards and school grounds to golf courses and city parks. Even a small area planted with the right flowers will be beneficial those with small yards shouldn’t hesitate to do their part.

  • Use local native plants.
  • Choose several colors of flowers; particularly attractive to bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
  • Plant flowers in clumps.
  • Include flowers of different shapes. Bees are all different sizes, have different tongue lengths, and will thereby feed on different shaped flowers. 
  • Have a diversity of plants flowering all season.

Contact your local extension agency to learn what plants are native to your area.  You may also find useful fact sheets provided by The Xerces Society.

Additional books & resources:

Homegrown Learners

Citizen Science Opportunities Abound

What is citizen science?  I’ve never heard of it before. 

I don’t have a degree in science.  I couldn’t possibly contribute anything of worth.

It’s probably too expensive.

How do I get involved?

citizen scienceThese are just a few of the questions or comments I hear as I share with other homeschool families about our experiences with citizen science.  Citizen science is nothing new.  The National Audubon Society began annual Christmas Bird Counts in 1900 – engaging people across the country in identifying and cataloging native birds.

Now, using the power of the internet, citizen science projects and service learning opportunities are exploding. Citizen science is the collaborative effort of volunteers and professional scientists working together to collect and/or analyze data.  Citizen scientists are individuals in all walks of life – regardless of age, level of education, or socio-economic class.

Watch this informative Oregon Field Guide video segment from episode #2402.

You do not need to have an advanced degree in science to guide your children or students in productive participation in citizen science projects. Citizen science falls into many categories – astronomy, biology, ecology, entomology, environmental science, and water quality.

There are many benefits to incorporating citizen science into your curriculum.  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.

Our Citizen Science Project Reports

We’ve had the opportunity to take part in a variety of citizen science projects over the years.  I share some of our past experiences here:

Hunting the Lost Ladybug

Malama Honokowai – Weed Warriors

Rainforest Caterpillars

School of Ants

Water Quality Monitoring

More Citizen Science Opportunities

Earthwatch Expeditions – Opportunities to volunteer all over the world

Great Backyard Bird Count

Journey North Citizen Science Projects (including Tulip Test GardensMonarch Butterflies, and Bald Eagles).

National Phenology Network

World Water Monitoring Challenge

YardMap

 

 

Project Noah Badges

We have been using Project Noah, an award-winning software platform designed to help people reconnect with the natural world, since it was first launched in early 2010. The project began as an experiment to mobilize citizen scientists and build a digital butterfly net for the 21st century. Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah is mobilizing a new generation of nature explorers and helping people from around the world appreciate their local wildlife.

We love how the Project Noah community is harnessing the power and popularity of new mobile technologies to collect important ecological data and help preserve global biodiversity.  In addition to providing a tool for ecological data collection, it is also an important educational tool for wildlife awareness and preservation.  Contributors the world over are able to share their experiences and communicate with one another about a shared interest.

One of our favorite things about Project Noah are the virtual badges.  The patches were influenced by the merit badges from the Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts. These patches help identify the specific strengths of the members. They also encourage new members to continue contributing to the project. Ultimately,  earning patches is a fun way to encourage kids to get outdoors or as a reward for their efforts.  Project Noah badges are divided up into four categories:

Spottings

Spottings patches are earned by the number of spottings you’ve contributed overall to Project Noah.

Missions

To earn Mission patches you’ll have to join and contribute spottings to specific missions that have special requirements on the category and type of submissions they’re looking for.

Special Achievements

Special Achievements are earned through interesting relationships between the spottings you submit. For example, if you upload spottings from at least three countries you will earn the Globe Spotter.

Specialists

Specialist patches are reserved for people who submit a significant amount of spottings for a specific wildlife category. For example, if you upload a significant number of fungi spottings you will be deemed a specialist in that category.

project noah patches

We like to print the Project Noah badges we have earned onto sticker paper and adhere them to the inside cover of our nature journals.  My journal is pictured above and shows the Specialist and Spotting patches we have earned thus far (Missions and Special Achievements are on the back cover). It is a fun way to document our contributions to the site as well as celebrate our explorations of our natural world.

I have dabbled with creating my own missions for online courses I teach and for localized classes I coordinate for homeschool kids.  I have come to learn, however, that user created missions are designed for small groups, classrooms, and individual users and are thereby only local missions.  As such, participants do not earn a mission patch.  Larger organization will need to contact Project Noah directly if interested in setting up a custom mission and thereby tapping into the global community of citizen scientists.