Archive for September, 2012

September 28, 2012

What Are Trees Made Of?

by Melissa Harding

Most people would say trees are made of soil, sun, water and air.

As always when dealing with the natural world, the truth is more complex and beautiful than that. Robert Krulwich, National Public Radio blogger and co-star of WNYC’s Radiolab, investigates where trees come from in this week’s Krulwich Wonders column.

He asks: When you see a tree, where do its mass, branches and leaves come from? The answer is…air.

Krulwich cites Nobel Laureate and theoretical physicist Richard Feynman and Australian science website, Veritasium, concluding that trees do indeed come from air. What a strange idea, to think of trees popping out of the sky.

What’s even stranger is that they really do.

Richard Feynman explains how air creates fire and trees.

Intrigued? Read the original article here.

Still intrigued? Visit the BBC’s archives of Richard Feynman’s Fun to Imagine series on physics in real life.

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.

September 26, 2012

Pittsburgh area middle school students participate in Phipps’ annual Eco-Challenge!

by Melissa Harding

Nearly 200 middle school students and teachers from schools across Pittsburgh came to Phipps Tue (9/25) to participate in the Eco-Challenge, a school environmental outreach event co-run by Phipps and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU). Student teams enjoyed the day, learning about and creating artwork depicting plant adaptations, going on sustainability scavenger hunts throughout the conservatory, and creating fashion items from repurposed materials. This was the first year the participatory-learning Eco-Challenge opportunity was offered to middle schools, while this Friday (9/28) will mark the 3rd annual Eco-Challenge for high schools! We are very happy to see the program grow!

The above picture was taken by Molly Steinwald.

September 25, 2012

Love. Not Loss: A New Way to Talk About Biodiversity

by Melissa Harding

Above image from the IUCN’s Love. Not Loss campaign.

Let’s talk about biodiversity. When you think about biodiversity, you may think of a diversity of species, but do you also think of all the ecosystem services that a biodiverse region provides? Clean air and water, medicine, and erosion prevention are just a few intrinsic benefits that human beings receive from a biodiverse region. Conserving biodiversity includes tackling big environmental issues; how we solve these problems will greatly impact how a region’s plants and animals adapt and survive. However, the way we talk about biodiversity, especially to children, does not always bring these ideas across very well. It can be alternately alarmist and ineffective. The reality is that if our current way of talking about biodiversity was effective, we wouldn’t be losing so much of it.

Fortunately, the IUCN may have a solution. The IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization and acts as a neutral place for governments, NGOs, scientists and businesses to find pragmatic environmental solutions. The IUCN tackles hundreds of conservation projects every year and wields influence with its many member organizations, even having official Observer Status at the United Nations General Assembly. One of the IUCN’s committees, the Commission on Education and Communication, has recently launched a new campaign on biodiversity using positive messaging to get people engaged in the conservation message.

“Love. Not Loss” is based on the idea that inspiring awe, wonder and fascination with the power of nature is the most effective way to reach the public about the importance of biodiversity. Why is that? According to the IUCN, “Research on adults who care about biodiversity reveals the single most important factor behind taking action is an emotionally powerful childhood experience of nature, from a visit to a city farm to stroking a wild animal. When people experience a memorable natural encounter as a child, that experience can be reawakened in the adult. People who got outdoors and enjoyed nature as children are more likely to be environmentally responsible adults”. This not only speaks to the power of natural experiences in childhood, but also to our ability to recall them and the emotions that they elicited years later.

IUCN’s Love. Not Loss video “How to Tell a Love Story”; great examples of positive conservation messaging.

The three core aspects of this campaign are 1.) localizing its focus to regional species, 2.) humanizing the message and 3.) talking about the people behind conservation successes. The goal is to combine this positive messaging with a call to action. These two things together are what the IUCN are hoping will create a real shift in conservation attitudes and actions. As an educator, this approach resonates because of the pervasiveness of negative messaging in environmental education for children. Sometimes doom and gloom are the main motivators of a program, which can scare and guilt children; students who are given negative messaging retain less information and are less likely to make an attitude change than when given a positive environmental message (Source).  Another danger is that a focus on loss and extinction can often lead to apathy and inaction (Source). We should be inspiring our students towards opportunity instead of scaring them away from consequences. It is entirely possible to engage our students and inspire action, not fear.

Hand in hand with that, we should always be striving to provide the kind of outdoor and environmental education experiences that will allow our students to form a connection with the resource. Inspiring a love of nature in our young students will create a new generation of conservationists who ready to take action. Parents and families play a crucial role in this. While a field trip or visit can be amazing, continuous and positive outdoor exposure is what creates a sense of place and love of nature.

IUCN has also created a series of short, funny films to promote their campaign.

As part of their new campaign, the IUCN has put out a series of short films and images that focus on positive messages; they are hoping that educators, students, scientists and citizens will share them and pass the love on. They are also encouraging students to create their own Love stories and share them with the IUCN’s Twitter and Facebook followers. This could be a great project for a class or home school group.

Do you have any important nature memories from your childhood that shaped who you are today?
Share them with us in the comments below.

September 21, 2012

Little Sprouts Popping Up!

by Melissa Harding

Yesterday there were Little Sprouts popping up everywhere at Phipps. It was the first Little Sprouts: Singles program of the fall, We Heart Trees, and boy did we have fun!

Campers worked with their grown-ups tracing their hand and forearm to make a tree trunk; then they used egg carton stampers to stamp leaves onto their tree. After the craft, they had time to investigate our tree Exploration Station.  Using magnifying glasses and with their grown-up’s help, they observed tree cookies, sticks, leaves, acorns, horse chestnuts, leafy branches, and pine cones. They also had time to make leaf rubbings, read books about trees and play with our forest animal puppets.

During the lesson, campers learned the parts of the tree and how a deciduous tree goes through the seasons with the help of our tree puppet. We also read The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall and learned how apple pie comes from a tree. (Here’s a hint: the family of robins in the tree can tell you all about it!)

Finally, we went on a leaf walk through the Conservatory. With their grown-up’s help, campers used a picture check-list to look for six different plants on their walk; plants with big leaves, plants with small leaves, skinny trees, big trees, red leaves, and green leaves.

If you want to read some great stories about trees with your own Little Sprout, check out these books:
Little Mouse’s Big Secret by Eric Battut
Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis
Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall

Our next Little Sprouts Singles program, My Favorite Fruits, is scheduled for November 16, 10:30 am-noon. If you would like to sign up your child for a future Little Sprouts program, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our Little Sprout offerings, please visit our website. We hope to see you there!

The above pictures were taken by Christie Lawry.

September 18, 2012

Home Connections: Nature Journaling

by Melissa Harding

The Home Connections series features ways that you can teach simple environmental education concepts to your child at home.

In this week’s Home Connections, our topic is nature observation. Observation is a very important part of science; it is through observation that scientists collect data and create hypotheses. Whether studying the plants on the ground or the stars in the sky, it is important for young scientists to learn to good observation skills. One way to nurture those skills at home is through nature journaling.

Nature journaling is really just recording nature observations. A nature journal may include sketches, written descriptions, poems or songs, photographs, notes copied from field guides or books, and anything else you can think of.  No matter what level of skill your child possesses, he or she can journal; nature journaling is just a free-form way to record nature on paper.

To begin, you need a journal. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy; at Phipps, we make ours out of cereal boxes and scrap paper. The real key is how you use it. You can start your child off onto the path of nature journaling in just a few simple steps:

1. Go outside
Your backyard is a great place to start. Look at the patterns on a fallen leaf or the spots on a berry. Encourage your child to look closely at the object of his or her observation and help to point out details he or she might otherwise miss. One way to help older children observe is to create a backyard “field guide”; they can identify, draw and describe the various plants in your yard.

2. Ask a question
A simple way to engage your child in the process of journaling is to ask a question. If he or she is trying to solve a puzzle or find the answer to a question, it can be a more exciting experience. Questions can be easy (i.e. “What color are those flowers?” or “What animals is making that noise?”) for young children and more difficult for older children (i.e. “Why is that leaf so furry?” or “Who has been visiting the garden?”). Even better, ask your child what he or she has a question about and then help him or her investigate the answer. Children come up with crazy questions and you might be surprised at how fun they are to learn about!

3. Use your senses
The more your child engages all five senses, the more he or she will learn. Touch, sniff, look closely, and listen for clues (tasting is optional and should always be supervised by an adult if appropriate). Encourage your child to compare and contrast how different things feel, look, smell or sound.

4. Record the details
Help your child to record what he or she has learned. Small children may have an easier time drawing and also might enjoy using pictures from magazines to help illustrate their journals. Older children may want to write a poem or a description as well as draw; they may also enjoy recording their observations with a camera. Digital photography is a great way to get technology-oriented children excited about nature.

5. Learn more
After you have spent some time observing outside, learn more about your topic. Reading stories or field guides and researching on the internet are great ways to find out if your observations mean something in the larger science world. Noticing that the tomatoes in your garden have brown spots could indicate many different things, so researching that topic further will lead your child to learn more about fungus, bugs, or tomatoes; it may even prompt your child to ask deeper and more meaningful questions about ecology or the environment.

Some great resources to have on hand while journaling are: field guides, binoculars, a digital camera, magnifying glass or jeweler’s loop, a bug box, colored pencils, water colors, and crayons.

Here are some examples of engaging questions:
Comparison questions: Which tree has bigger leaves? Which flower has the most insects on it?
Observing a small area in depth: How many animals can you find in that bush? What insects live in that patch of grass?
Looking at animal behavior: Why do birds peck at the ground? Whose tracks are those in the mud?
Creating a backyard field guide: What different flowers are in the garden?

Nature journaling can be very enriching to do as a family; your child will be more inclined to see the value in journaling if he or she sees you doing it with them. Or, even better, keep your own journal!

If you find this to be a rewarding activity that you do with your family, please let us know about it in the comments below.

September 14, 2012

Upcoming Program: Evening Ed-Ventures at Phipps on October 5th!

by Melissa Harding

This October, join us for the very first program of our new Evening Ed-Venture series: Kitchen Creations. Evening Ed-Ventures are a kid’s-night-out program for children ages 6-9 that are scheduled for the first Friday evening of every month. Bring your child to Phipps to learn great science with us and have the evening to yourself!

At Phipps, we believe that teaching children about healthy eating helps create a future generation of healthy adults.  Kitchen Creations, a healthy cooking camp, focuses on food from different cultures and how food can bring us all together. Campers will slice and dice their way through several different recipes, as well as sample breads from all over the world and learn how they differ by culture and climate. Additionally, your child will make fun crafts and have time to explore the Conservatory at night.

Please join us on October 5, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. for Kitchen Creations.
Costs are $20/member and $25/non-members; sign up a second child for 50% off!

If you would like to sign up your child for this or any other Evening Ed-Venture program, please contact Sarah Bertovich at (412)-441-4442 ext. 3925. For a complete list of our Evening Ed-Venture programs, please visit our website.

We hope to see you there!

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.

September 14, 2012

School Program Spotlight: Butterflies

by Melissa Harding

In this new feature, School Program Spotlight, we will be exploring the content of some of our most popular school programs.

What insect tastes with its feet and smells with its antennae? It can also see the largest color spectrum of all insects, including ultra-violet and polarized light, and is covered in scales. Oh, and there are over 18,000 different species.

If you guessed that we talking about a butterfly, you’re right! Our most popular program, by far, is Butterflies. Every year, over a thousand children come to Phipps to learn about butterflies and walk through our Butterfly Forest. This 2-hour field trip is broken into two 1-hour parts: the classroom portion and the tour.

In the classroom, we use detailed images, videos and fun props to teach students about the butterfly life cycle, anatomy and adaptations. We talk in-depth about how a caterpillar can hatch from its shell only millimeters large and then grow 100 times its size in a matter of weeks, only to transform into a butterfly by creating a chrysalis of its own skin. Once inside, the caterpillar uses its stomach enzymes to digest its own body, turning into a kind of “caterpillar soup” and metamorphosing into an adult. From there, we compare anatomy and survival adaptations of both caterpillars and butterflies, focusing on mimicry, camouflage and chemical protection.

The tour portion of the program consists of a self-guided or docent-lead tour of the Conservatory. Those who would prefer a self-guided experience may request a PDF of our self-guided tour or explore on their own. Those who choose the docent-lead tour will learn about the history of the Conservatory and the plants of our tropical and desert biomes, as well as take a walk through our Butterfly Forest. Operating seasonally as our butterfly room, it is full of butterflies from April to September. When in season, there are cases of chrysalides installed along the trail, giving students the opportunity to see a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis and dry its wings. In the room itself, many different species of butterflies feed, mate and lay eggs among the lush foliage.

If you are a teacher and would like more information on how to sign up for this or any other school program, please use the “Registering for Programs” link in the menu above. Please note that scout groups, home school groups and other groups of 10 or more may sign up for any of our school programs as well.  Groups that book programs for September 1-December 31 are also eligible for our 25% off fall discount

The above pictures were taken by Julia Petruska and Christie Lawry.


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