Monday, November 30, 2009

Ugly Bug Contest 2009

Be sure to drop by Arizona State University's Ask A Biologist page sometime before December 15, 2009 to vote for this year's ugliest bug. Of the ten contestants, my bet's on the cockroach. How can it possibly be losing to the snakefly?

Photo of American cockroach by Drew Avery,
through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License via Flickr.

Last year's ugly bug contest winner was the tick, the blood-sucking frequent disease carrier, who won by a wide margin. You can learn more about the other six contestants from 2008, including the stink bug and weevil, here.

Get into the spirit with these bug-themed coloring pages, which include sheets on bat wing bones, a human skeleton, and the terrestrial ecosystem, in addition to ugly bugs. You can also download your very own ugly bug contest poster (this is a .pdf file).

(Note to self: Eew! They really *are* ugly!)

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Steven R. Kutcher's Bug Art

Friday, November 27, 2009

National Gallery of Art's lending library

I recently learned that the National Gallery of Art lends out educational materials through their Division of Education. Their Education Resources include over 120 items, including CD-ROMs, slides, DVDs, teaching packets, and videos. Topics range from broad-ranging surveys of art to profiles of individuals and specific artistic techniques. Some materials are available for an extended nine-month loan period, to coincide with the school year.

But you don't have to be a teacher or affiliated with a group to use the items. Anyone in the U.S. can borrow materials using the Loan Materials Finder (skip to the last paragraph of this post if you're outside of the U.S.). If you'd rather have a hard copy to browse the collection, request a catalog. More information about borrowing items can be found here. (In short, materials are geared for grades K-12. It takes at least a month to process your request, you can usually keep the materials for two weeks, and you pay return shipping at a reduced [media mail] rate.)

Among the many fascinating titles available through this service, I found several with direct ties to science:

Art + Science = Conservation: Learn about museum conservation techniques used by the NGA in this 19-minute videocassette. (Also available on DVD.)

Art&: A Teacher's Guide to Lessons and Activities for Fifth and Sixth Graders: This four lesson teaching packet includes a segment on Art and Ecology.

John James Audubon: The Birds of America: a 29-minute videocassette with viewer's guide showing his original drawings and engravings. (Also available on DVD.)

Leonardo: To Know How to See: a 58-minute videocassette discussing the works of Renaissance artist / inventor Leonardo da Vinci.

Masters of Illusion: a 30-minute videocassette examining how Renaissance artists changed the depiction of perspective and created illusions of space.

Seeing Color: Object, Light, Observer: a 27-minute video asks "artists, curators, conservation scientists, and science students" to define color. The DVD also includes an examination of pigments, optics, and color vision.

Thomas "Yellowstone" Moran: a 12-minute videocassette detailing his survey of Yellowstone and how that effort helped to found the U.S. National Park System. (Also available on DVD.)

Thomas Moran, circa 1883

Vermeer: Master of Light:
X-ray analysis, infrared reflectography, and computer analysis are used to examine the paintings of Johannes Vermeer in this 58-minute videocassette.

You can also visit the NGA Classroom for online lessons in art and NGAKids for more adventures with art. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Yellowstone National Park, National Park Service

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fingernails are like tree trunks

Little Brother's little hands

Ouch! In September, Little Brother caught two of his fingers in the door of our car. It was a horrible experience. He screamed, I panicked, and Kerm came to the rescue by opening the door. Two of Little Brother's fingers immediately turned purple, at which point I threw everyone back into the car and sped off to the Emergency Room.

But by the time we had arrived, Little Brother's fingers looked fine. Aside from a mild cut, there was no visible injury. I felt bad for bothering the ER staff. However, the medical personnel assured me that following up with a crush-type injury is important.

About a week later, we went to our pediatrician for a recommended follow-up. Again, I worried that I was wasting her time. I couldn't see anything wrong. But the doctor pointed out two very teeny tiny blue-black spots right at the base of Little Brother's nail beds. Those are the bruises, she told me.

Here is a picture of Little Brother's fingers today, over two months later. The color of the bruises has faded (from bluish-black to purple to red) as his nails have grown. The bruised part of his fingers seems to have spread, but in reality, the affected area has simply grown larger along with the nail.

In this way, fingernails are like tree trunks -- they mark the passage of time. When you count the rings on a tree stump, you might notice that some rings are closer together than others, indicating years when the tree grew less due to drought or other stressors. You can sometimes see damage from fire or insects, which can cause the rings to be lopsided.

Fingernails are much the same. They grow more slowly when people suffer from poor nutrition. Human fingernails can tell you something about the overall health of a person. Their color and texture can reveal systemic illness, nutritional deficiencies, or, as in this case, injury.

Luckily for us, Little Brother is healing nicely. But it looks like it will be another month or two before his fingernails go -- or I should say, grow -- back to normal.

Photo credit: Mama Joules

Friday, November 20, 2009

My ornamental corn has sprouted!

Recently, I purchased some ornamental corn and put it in my front yard. I figured that I would celebrate the fall season and maybe feed some neighborhood squirrels in the process. I wasn't expecting this!

My ornamental corn has sprouted! All of the little kernels are trying to make baby corn plants. Now I'm not sure what to do with my corn. I hate to throw out anything that is growing, but I wasn't really planning to raise corn. Maybe I'll toss the cobs out into the woods behind my house to give the seedlings a fighting chance. Given that winter is coming, though, I'm not sure how well they will do. We'll see ...

Photo credit: Mama Joules

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Butterflies on the International Space Station!

There are butterflies in space! Painted Lady larvae and three Monarch caterpillars are currently orbiting above us, after recently traveling to outer space aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The "butterflynauts" boarded the International Space Station yesterday.

You can track the progress of the Painted Lady butterflies via Twitter (@ButterflySpace). Teachers can download a free teacher's guide and register for email updates about the mission. There's also a specific thread for teachers on the BioEd Online web board devoted to this experiment.

From the Butterflies in Space website at BioEd Online:
"On November 16, 2009, Painted Lady butterflies [flew] aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station (ISS). The butterflies will spend several months in space as part of an exciting experiment to observe their life cycles and behaviors in microgravity. We invite your class to participate! The butterflies will live in a special habitat, which provides a safe environment, food and water. Photos and video will be transmitted back to Earth and made available here ..."
But Painted Lady butterflies aren't the only insect space travelers this time. Monarchs are up there, too! Through Monarchs in Space, Monarch Watch is documenting the progress of the monarch larvae. You can download some wonderful instructional data from this site along with links to other fun stuff like these recent pictures of the monarch caterpillars in space.

This current set of butterfly experiments builds upon previous work by BioServe Space Technologies, which has designed experiments in space since the early 1990s (including space flights for spiders, ants, and silkworms).

This video describes some of the challenges that the butterflies may face in their new habitat:


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Discover the Nature Explore™ Families' Club

Do you enjoy sharing nature with kids? Why not start a Nature Explore™ Families' Club? This outreach project is a collaborative venture of the Arbor Day Foundation, Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.
"The GOAL of the Nature Explore Families' Club is to inspire children and their families to connect with the natural world and spend quality time together outdoors."
It's easy to get started. You can download a zip file from the Arbor Day Foundation. Along with copies of flyers and other promotional materials to advertise your new group, you will receive the Nature Explore™ Families' Club Kit. The kit includes facilitator notes and worksheets for the kids on nine topics like Get to Know a Tree, Animal Signs, and What Can You See in a Cloud?

These activities would be great for a group of young children. I have a friend who has been regularly taking a gaggle of preschoolers on nature walks and I think the materials would be perfect for her group.

Enjoy your time outdoors!

Friday, November 13, 2009

TOYchallenge 2010

Looking for a creative way to teach science to your group? How about TOYchallenge 2010? This toy design competition is for 5th to 8th graders in the U.S. and Canada, offered through Sally Ride Science. With an adult coach, each 3-6 member team of kids (half of the team must be female!) designs a new toy over the remainder of the school year. But you don't have be affiliated with a school to join in - homeschoolers, after-school clubs, and neighborhood groups are welcome.

Toys must be original and can not be built using pieces of existing toys. Each proposed toy must fit into one of three categories: Toys that Teach, Games for the Family, or Get Out and Play. After choosing your category, each team follows an engineering design process to prepare a written description and drawings of the proposed toy, due in the Preliminary Round Entry, which closes on February 12, 2010. Promising design teams are then invited to travel to compete in the Nationals (you can apply for travel assistance to off-set the cost, but all teams are expected to fundraise to offset their costs). Last year's competition was held in May at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, but previous competitions have been held in other locations.

Check out last year's winners for inspiration. There's even a page of ideas to get you started. But there's only a week left to register, so be sure to sign up now! (Note: there is a $65 registration fee.)

Photo credit: Kok Leng Yeo through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license via flickr.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where were you when the wall came down?

Twenty years ago today, as a college student, I sat transfixed before my television. People were standing on top of the Berlin Wall, tearing it to shreds. It was an event that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. The wall went up less than ten years before I was born. As long as I could remember, the wall had always been there, immovable and permanent. But on November 9, 1989, the wall came down. Amazing.

Today, the Berlin Wall reminds me that some problems, though they seem insurmountable at the time, do eventually have solutions. It might just take some time for us to break through.

Photo credit: Mama Joules (This portion of the Berlin Wall is currently on display at the Newseum.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Win $500 in gardening supplies!

As a parent-volunteer, I've been busy this past week looking for grants and supplies for Kerm's school. Searching for grants is an interesting process. I like to web surf, so I just type various words into a search engine and let 'er rip. As I was looking for a free source of butterfly hatching kits, I wound up finding something delightful and unexpected. I just had to share it with you!

The National Gardening Association has a wealth of information on their website, including a section for gardening grants. The H.J. Heinz company (makers of Heinz® Ketchup) is sponsoring the Heinz Wholesome Memories Intergenerational Garden Award.

The cool thing about this grant is that you don't have to be an organization to apply for it - it's meant for families. All you need is an older generation that wants to garden with the kids in the family - like a Mom and her kids or a Grandpa and his grandkids. The application form isn't long, and you could win a pile of nifty gardening supplies like kids' tool sets, a composter, elevated planter, gardening journals, and more.

If your family likes to garden, this grant is for you! The application deadline is January 10, 2010. Good luck!

(I'm so excited about this grant that I've already downloaded the form and I'm planning to apply. Kerm and Little Brother would have great fun planting in our backyard.)

Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service