Ladybugs are familiar sights in the Spring. (Photo: Wiki Commons).
Biting Ladybugs: Should I Run and Hide?
Ladybugs are one of those insects that even non-insect lovers tend to like. They're bright and colorful, tickle when they walk, and are easy to handle and play with. Kids don't feel threatened by them and adults will often go out of their way to move them or take them outside. There are countless children's story books about the wee creatures. However, they are still insects. In this post I want to share with you the awesome life cycle of lady bugs (you will never guess what they look like as babies!), their mouth parts/anatomy, and a few ideas for lessons or teaching materials.
An ant keeping his aphid "cows" safe. (Photo: K. McDonald)
Free and Low Cost Resources
As many of you know, I lead a double blogging life with my Citizen Science in the Classroom series on the umbrella citizen science site called SciStarter. If you haven't checked out their plethora of citizen science activities that you can get involved with, then head over to their site. In my series, I focus on specific citizen science projects and then help teachers figure out how to conduct those projects to meet grade specific, Next Generation and Common Core teaching standards. While writing my last post about a project called School of Ants, I was amazed at how little there is out there for teaching about ants. I had to do a great deal of digging to find teaching resources. But when I did, I found some great ones that I thought I'd share here. You can also check out my SciStarter blog post with Next Gen. and Common Core connections.
My favorite resource so far is Dr. Elanor's Book of Common Ants. This is a great free resource with wonderful illustrations, large ant pictures and close ups, and clear text. It's written for adults, but it's also kid friendly (4th-12th Grade). This book, along with a magnifying glass, is all you need to get yourself started with basic ant ID (or toss your kid outside with it and get them busy discovering on their own). I loved learning facts about pavement ants, winter ants, and the common little black ants called the "Odorous House Ant." Odorous house ants are the tiny little black sugar ants that come into the house. She suggests the "Squish-n-Sniff" for these guys because when you squish them, they smell good! This is how they got their names. How fun is that? If you are a naturalist at heart and want to learn more about ants, then this is the go-to resource.
Dr. Elanor's book is an amazing resource. (Photo: Your Wildlife)
Arizona State University has a great website on ants (Photo: ASU)
I also stumbled across a great video about ants on YouTube. It's called "ANTS-Natures Secret Power." It is a bit long to show in class (about an hour), but you could use segments or assign it as homework to the students.
I'd also like to suggest some of the following books:
There are many more books out there that are great, these are just a few. If you need magnifying glasses, ant farm kits, or other supplies, you can find resources on my "Nature Gifts and Teaching Supplies" page. The wonderful thing about ants is that they are everywhere and require very few materials to study and observe. Happy "anting" (this is actually a term used by birders when birds rub ants on their feathers for some unknown reason, but I think it applies here).
An Introduction to the Teaching and The Citizen Science Website Journey North
Journey North, a Citizen Science Website for Everyone
Journey North is a Citizen Science Website That Tracks Phenology (life cycle changes in plants and animals) and Seasonal Changes
Spring weather has briefly visited us this week, though the cold is coming back soon. But invariably we're seeing the first signs of Spring everywhere. This weekend the first osprey was spotted locally, geese are migrating, red-winged blackbirds are singing out their territories, and I heard a lone spring peeper. With thoughts of spring it's a good time to make you aware of a wonderful resource for citizen science. The website Journey North is designed as a tool for individuals and classrooms, as well as informal educators, to use for tracking seasonal changes and migrations. The term for tracking the seasonal life cycle changes of plants and animals is called phenology. This website provides the tools to track the phenology of robins, humming birds, whales, barn swallows, worms, first leaf-out, eagles, flowers blooming, caribou, whooping cranes, and so much more. They also specialize in providing tracking maps and information for recording seasonal changes in sunlight and weather.
Examples of projects found on the Journey North website and "teaching" pages.
Each year brave and intrepid birders go out into the cold and snow to count birds for the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) with the National Audubon Society. Starting December 14th and going through December 1st people choose to join local birders from their region to help on one day during this rage. Participation is free and you can search for local clubs doing the count on this web page: http://netapp.audubon.org/CBC/public/default.aspx.
States with Master Naturalist Programs and Classes
After a successful nature walk, talk, or program I'm often asked about where I received my education, what it takes to be a naturalist or nature educator, and where to get trained. I came to being a naturalist through an indirect route of loving nature and studying it on my own very early on, we're talking playground days. I started out in college studying Environmental Science and later picked up a Masters in Biology. However, along the way most of my naturalist skills have been through trial and error. These include reading books, using field guides, looking up neat things that I found on hikes, birding, looking for reptiles etc. If this all interests you then I'd suggest that you take some naturalist classes.
Frog tadpole found on citizen science collection trip (Photo: Karen McDonald)
Do you know students in grades 7-12 that love science and nature and conducting their own science experiment? The American Museum of Natural History, in New York, is hosting its annual Young Naturalist Awards challenge for students around the US. It is open to traditional students as well as home school students.
Review of SciStarter, Citizen Science Project Searchable Website
It's not often that I come across well organized and useful sites that pulls together science resources globally and locally, but SciStarter (http://scistarter.com/) is one. For me, this is a five star website. Scistarter has been featured in Discover Magazine, NPR, WIRED, and BBC. On it's face it looks very simple, a searchable site for citizen science projects to get involved with.