Thursday, November 20, 2014

Balancing Technology and Nature

Kids love to use technology. Technology offers an exciting way to engage children with the natural world. Use these suggestions to help your students learn new ways to interact with nature and each other.

Practice First
Before using a technology for the first time, let your students explore the technology and teach them how to use it properly. Something as a hand lens might be an entirely new experience for a child.

Get Digital
Take students on a nature walk. Give students opportunities to photograph things in their outdoor environment and bring this information back to the classroom.

Digital Recording Device
Record environmental sounds in a variety of areas around the school. Replay them in the classroom and have students use the information collected to construct a sound map.

Enhance Outdoor Exploration
View things in different ways by using magnifying lenses, bug boxes, and binoculars.

Changes in the Environment
Become aware of changes in the environment by observing sundials, windsocks, and thermometers.

Look Up Information About Nature
What kind of tree is that? There’s an app for that! See a cool bird? Google it!
  • WildLab Bird - A free app that can be downloaded onto the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (try iBird Lite for Android). Use WildLab Bird to learn the basics of bird identification. This application uses audio, photographs, maps, and the process of elimination to help identify over 200 bird species. Sightings can also be entered into a national bird watching database for comparison.
  • WildObs Observer - A free app that can be downloaded onto the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Android. WildObs Observer allows users to search for and identify thousands of species of mammals, birds, snakes, plants, and more. Log your wildlife encounters for your own calculations or upload them to a national database for comparison.
  • Leafsnap - A free app that can be downloaded onto the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (Andriod version in development). Leafsnap uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from individual leaf photographs you take in the field. This application contains high-resolution images of bark, flowers, fruit, seeds, and more. Currently Leafsnap specializes in tree species found in the Northeastern United States, but expansion to include all US regions is underway.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Sound of Nature

Nature is filled with an abundance of unforgettable sounds such as breezes whistling through leaves, birds singing early in the morning and streams gurgling over rocks. Use these fun ideas to help your students explore the many sounds of nature.

Forest Concert
Plan a field trip to a nearby nature area. Allow students time to sit and listen for the various sounds from nature, such as those made by birds, insects, and other animals. Talk about the different sounds you hear and ask students to imitate the sounds they heard. Try these suggestions for how to imitate the sounds:
  •       birds – hoot, tweet, chirp or whistle
  •        insects – buzz, hum, or chirp
  •        squirrels – chatter
  •       wind – rub hands together; blow air; whistle, swish, or swoosh
  •        rain – tap feet or pat thighs; clap hands
  •        thunder – stomp feet

Listening Walk
Before heading outside your listening walk, teach your students American Sign Language for a few outdoor sounds (e.g., wind, rain, animal, bug) – printable American Sign Language cards are available on the Project Learning Tree website.

Lead your students on an outdoor walk and use the signs to “tell” one another what you hear. Talk about the sounds heard:
  • How would you describe this sound?
  • Where to you think it is coming from?
  • What do you think is making it?
  • Can you imitate it?

Match the Sounds
Make two matching sets of plastic eggs filled with naturally “noisy” items (e.g., acorns, pebbles, grass, sand, soil, wood chips). Invite your students to shake the containers and find the matching sounds. Number the eggs and make a chart so you can record the matches.

Mother Nature Had a Prairie Song
Compose a song with your students using the sounds around the Old MacDonald theme. Instead of “Old MacDonald had a farm…,” create a new beginning that ties into the nature theme, such as “Mother Nature had a prairie” (or a pond, forest, etc.) A few animals found in a pond habitat, such as frogs and fish, would be a great verse or two. Integrating other animals and their habitats will reinforce student learning.

Natural Instruments
The natural world is home to many objects or materials that can be used to create sounds. Rubbing twigs together, crunching leaves, tapping rocks, or blowing on a blade of grass produce sounds that can be used to create “instrumental” creations. Combining natural items together would be an excellent way of making instruments. Challenge students to create their own natural sound makers to share with their classmates. Use their creations to study rhythms and other musical topics.

Recording Studio
Set up a recording studio with instruments, microphones, recording devices, CDs of nature sounds and blank media. Encourage your students to mix the sounds they make with natural sounds to create new sound recordings. Replay the new recordings and ask students to choreograph dances inspired by sounds in nature.

Reading Connections
Baylor, B. 1997. Other Way to Listen. Aladdin.
Carlstrom, N. 2000. Way to Wyatt's House. Walker & Company.
Clement, C. 1993. The Voice of the Wood. Puffin Books.
Davol, M.W. 1992. Heart of the Wood. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.
Merriam, E. 1993. Quiet, Please. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.
Owen, R. 1994. My Night Forest. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.
Showers, P. 1993. Listening Walk. HarperCollins Publishers.
Taylor, B. 1997. The Other Way to Listen. Alladin.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Shapes in Nature

Looking for a fun way to teach your students how to identify common shapes – take them outside. Shapes are all around us in nature. Here are some suggestions for finding them and fun ideas for further exploration.

Dance with Leaves 
Using a variety of leaves, ask the children to show you how they might use their body 
to look like the same shape as the leaves. Scatter leaves and play a version of musical 
chairs. When music stops each child goes to a leaf and makes their body look like 

the leaf shape. 

Hide and Seek with Shapes Game
Place small natural items (such as leaves, rocks, flowers) that are basic shapes onto a tray. Cover up the tray and take one away. Let the children guess which one is missing.

I Spy with Homemade Binoculars
Make binoculars for your students by stapling, gluing or taping two toilet paper tubes together. Punch holes in the tubes and attach yarn to make a neck strap. Encourage each child to decorate their binoculars with paints or stickers.

Using their binoculars, have children play, “I Spy”, for shapes within their natural environment.  Begin by saying, “I spy with my two eyes something the shape of…..”.  Children then have to look for that item and either name it, or go stand by it, if able.

Schoolyard Shape Guide
Make a shape guide to your schoolyard. Encourage children to find things outside that are different shapes and take pictures of them. Come inside and print the pictures and make a book. Have the child dictate their picture and write it down. Make into a book to read to the class and then add to your library.

Shape Scavenger Hunt
Take pictures of shapes both inside and outside the school. Make a copy of each picture. Have your students locate where that shape is.

Shape Walk
Give each child a construction paper shape cutout and have them string them onto a necklace (a labeled shape template is available on the Project Learning Tree website).  Take a short walk outside and have them look for various shapes outside.  When you return to your classroom, hold up each shape and have them tell you what they saw outside that was that shape.
  • What did you see outside shaped like a ___________?
  • Which shapes did you see the most?
  • Which shapes are your favorites?
Spiral Art
Coil short lengths of rope into spirals. Press them into paint or ink and use them to print on paper. Make patterns or, with pens or markers, fill in more details to create artwork.

Twig Shapes
Provide twigs in varying lengths and shapes. Let the children make the shapes with 

the twigs (printable shape cards are available on the Project Learning Tree website). You could also cut the twigs so they are fractions of each other (e.g., two red twigs are the same length as one gray twig).

Reading Connections
Carter, D.A. 1996. Colors and Shapes. Little Simon.
Cole, H. 1998. I Took a Walk. HarperCollins Publishers.
Dodds, D. 1996. The Shape of Things. Candlewick Press.
Dotlich, R. 2000. What is a Triangle? HarperCollins Publishers.
Dotlich, R. 1999. What is a Square? HarperCollins Publishers.
Hoban, T. 2000. Shapes, Shapes, Shapes. HarperCollins Publishers.
Hoban, T. 1998. So Many Circles, So Many Squares.      HarperCollins Publishers.
Pallotta, J. 2004. Icky Bug Shapes. Scholastic, Inc.
Rau, D.M. 2006. Star in My Orange: Looking for Nature's Shapes. Lerner Publishing Group.
Roemer, H.B. 2004. Come to My Party and Other Shape Poems. Henry Holt & Company, Incorporated.
Rotner, S. 1992. Nature Spy. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Roy, J.R. 2005. Patterns in Nature. Benchmark Books.
Sohi, M.E. 1995. Look What I Did with a Leaf! Walker & Company.
Stockdale, S. 1999. Nature's Paintbrush: The Patterns and Colors around You. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Swinburne, S.R. 2002. Lots and Lots of Zebra Stripes: Patterns in Nature. Boyds Mills Press.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2015 Take It Outside Art Contest

Celebrating wildlife artist, Maynard Reece & Iowa Fish

Category I First Place 2014 Winner 
Ethan H

“We really had a good time doing the contest. It brought in a lot of good discussion and even the teacher aides were surprised at some of the facts I shared from the DNR website. The kids loved it.”

The Department of Natural Resources invites you to enroll your class in our fourth annual “Take It Outside” Art Contest.

This year’s contest will celebrate the great contributions of wildlife artist, Maynard Reece. Reece is considered one of the founding fathers of wildlife art. As a child, he spent many hours exploring Lake Okoboji. His teachers discovered his artistic ability at the age of 13 and entered one of his drawings in the Iowa State Fair. As a young adult, Maynard worked at what is today known as the State Historical Museum collecting specimens for the museum’s collection and painting fish to create the plates for the original publishing of Iowa Fish and Fishing – this was instrumental in launching his career as a freelance artist. Reece’s fish drawings can be viewed on the DNR website

Students are encouraged to use their artistic skills to create an image of their favorite Iowa fish (see the eligible fish list in the complete contest rules) in its natural habitat. Fish species fact sheets are available on the DNR Education website (click on Fact Sheets/Fish in the Document Library). Starting next month, check out our Take It Outside: Fish Iowa! blog for more information about Iowa fish and Maynard Reece.
New This Year!
We are partnering with the Wildlife Forever® State-Fish Art® Contest to host an Iowa State-Fish Contest in conjunction with our annual Take It Outside Art Contest. The first place artwork in each judging category will be submitted for National Awards. First place winners at the state level will be honored at the annual State-Fish Art Expo this summer.

For more information visit our website.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Nature Themed Snack Ideas

Celebrate Food Day by introducing your students to healthy nature themed snacks today and throughout the school year. These “recipes” are from Growing Up WILD and Environmental Experience for Early Childhood. If you are interested in getting trained in these materials, contact our program.

No-Cook blender applesauce
6-7 small apples
½ cup sugar or honey (optional)
dash of cinnamon
2-4 tablespoons of water

Peel and cut apples. Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Ants on Log
Spread cream cheese on a carrot stick, celery stick or pretzel log. Put a row of raisin ants on top.

Spider Crackers
Spread a round cracker with cream cheese or other spread. Place another cracker on top, creating a sandwich. Tuck pretzel sticks into the edge of the sandwich to make 8 legs. Use a small amount of spread to attach eight sunflower seed eyes and another larger round cracker for the abdomen.

Dippin Bears
Mix one 8 ounce container of plain yogurt and 2 tablespoons of fruit preserves in a small bowl for dip with bear-shaped graham crackers.

Tuna Boats
Make “boats” by cutting tops of whole wheat rolls and filling with tuna salad. Add a cheese triangle “sail” with a toothpick.

Beach Snack
Pulse granola in a food processor until it looks like beach sand. Sprinkle a layer on the bottom of a clear cup and add a layer of blueberry yogurt. Add a gummy fish for a fun surprise.

Pretzel Poles
Use pretzel sticks for fishing poles and bean spread or cream cheese for bait. Have children “fish” for fish-shaped crackers.

Earth Tone Animals
Cut animal shapes out of pie dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar before baking.

Track Crackers
Spread softened cream cheese or hummus onto whole grain crackers. Arrange small strips of carrot, red pepper, or chow mein noodles on each one to resemble a bird track. Use raisins to create a cat track.

Rice Cake Owl
Spread cream cheese or other spread on a large rice cake. Add two banana slices for eyes and two raisins for pupils. Place a triangle of cheese under the eyes for a beak.

Deer Sandwiches

Cut small sandwiches in half diagonally. Orient the sandwiches so that one of their points faces “down” and becomes the deer’s noses. Press raisins into the bread for eyes and a nose. Add pretzel sticks for antlers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Favorite Tree Hunt

Go on a “Favorite Tree Hunt” around your schoolyard or at a nearby park. Visit several trees, pointing out the bark types, leaves, seeds, and shapes. Let each child pick a “favorite tree”. Invite the children to share about their favorite tree and why they chose that particular tree.

Take pictures of the children and their favorite trees. Make a bark rubbing of the tree. Let the kids collect a leaf, seed, or twig from their tree.

Create a class Our Favorite Trees scrapbook showcasing the kids’ collections they gathered from their trees and the bark rubbings. Encourage each child to draw a picture of their favorite tree and tell why their tree is special.

Visit the “favorite trees” often, including in different seasons so the kids can see the differences.

Visit the Project Learning Tree website for a printable card you can share with parents to extend learning at home with family and friends.

Pound leaf pictures
Materials: hard wood surface; hammer with flat head; paper towels; paper or fabric (muslin) for printing; variety of leaves

Gently hammering a leaf releases its chlorophyll and makes a print of the leaf on cloth or paper. Layer, in this order, a thick small board, a paper towel, the fabric or paper on which you want to print, a leaf, and another paper towel. Begin by pounding lightly to release the color without bursting the plant cells to pieces. Lift up a corner and peak at the impression. Continue hammering if necessary. Display the pictures on a bulletin board and out of direct sunlight.

Reading Connections
Brenner, B. 1998. The Tremendous Tree Book. Boyds Mills Press.
Florian, D. 2002. Summersaults. Greenwillow Books.
Green, M.L. 2008. Underneath by Favorite Tree. PublishAmerica.
Iverson, D. 1999. My Favorite Tree: Terrific Trees of North America. Dawn Publications.
Jones, A. 2008. The Wish Trees. AuthorHouse.
Locker, T. 1995. Sky Tree: Seeing Science through Art. HarperCollins.
Romanova, N. 1992. Once There Was a Tree. Penguin Group (USA)
Ryder, J. 1991. Hello, Tree! Lodestar Books.

Sanders, S. 1997. Meeting Trees. National Geographic Society.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Camouflage Detectives

Many animals have special coloring, markings or physical features that help them blend in with their surroundings. Help your students become camouflage detectives and discover creatures hiding in plain sight around your schoolyard or a local park. How many expert hiders can you find?

Talk with your students about why animals are hard to see in nature. Ask children to describe the color, size and shape of different animals, such as squirrel, bird, turtle. Look for animals that live in trees. How are they different from animals that live in the water?  Why do some animals want to hide?  Can you find an animal that is hiding? 

Questions to probe:
What do you think might live in this area?
What color do you think they will be?
What size of creature might be here?
What do you think they need to stay alive?   

Many animals have physical features to scare away predators. In the spirit of Halloween, explore some of these “costumes” with students. Invite students to use the animal inspiration to design their own “scary” outfits. Whether they simply draw their designs or actually create them, stage a fashion show in which they explain their idea and the animal defenses that inspired it.

Camouflage Adventures
Can you find the Mitten Game?
Play a hiding game with a bright colored mitten. Have one student cover their eyes. Hide the mitten. The class helps guide the “finder” using their body language…..COLD: close to the floor, means you are not near the mitten.  WARM: hands to the ceiling, means you are getting close to the glove.  Was it easy to find the bright mitten?

Let’s try a dark mitten. Play the game again and compare. Was it harder to find the dark mitten?  Would a clear glove be hard to find? If you were an animal would you want to be easy for find? What would you wear if you were in front of your school?

Hide and Seek
Encourage children to bring in old T-shirts. Take art supplies outside and let children decorate the shirts. Challenge some to use a bright color and others to try to create patterns and colors that would blend in with the local environment. When the shirts are dry, have children pull them on over their clothes, and play a game of hide-and-seek. Which children are easiest to find?

Reading Connections
Barrett, J. 1988. Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Dell, P. J. 2006. Why Do Tigers Have Stripes? A Book about Camouflage. Capstone Press.
Fredericks, A. D., and K. Povelite. 2000. Clever Camouflagers. T&N Children’s Publishing.
Gilpin, D. 2010. 3-D Close Up: Animal Camouflage. Advantage Publishers Group.
Goodman, S. E. and M. Doolittle. 2001. Claws, Coats, and Camouflage: The Ways Animals Fit Into Their Worlds. Lerner Publishing Group.
Heller, R. 1992. How to Hide a Butterfly: and other insects. Penguin Group Inc (USA).
Heller, R. 1995. How to Hide a Meadow Frog: and Other Amphibians. Penguin Group (USA).
Helman, A., and G. Jecan. 2008. Hide and Seek: Nature’s Best Vanishing Acts. Walker & Company.
Kalman, B.  2010. How do animals hide? Crabtree Publishing Company.
Lionni, L.  2000. A Color of His Own. Random House Children's Books.
Otto, C. and M. Lloyd. 1996. What Color is Camouflage?. HarperCollins Publishers.
Pledger, M. 2004. Hiding in the Woods: A Maurice Pledger Nature Trails Book. Silver Dolphin Books.
Rustad, M. 2009. Animal Camouflage in the Forest. Capstone Press.
Tildes, P. L. 2000. Animals in Camouflage. San Val.
Whitehouse, P. 2003. Hiding in a Forest. Demco Media.

Wood, A. J., and N. Palin. 1996. Hidden Pictures: Find a Feast of Camouflaged Creatures. Lerner Publishing Group.