Archive for August, 2013

August 16, 2013

From the Ground Up! Urban gardening & communication program opportunity

by Melissa Harding

phipps high school outreach underserved science education

Attention high school students interested in food, farming, and cross-cultural communication!  We have a new program–“From the Ground Up”–in which 15 teenagers will participate in a series of monthly Saturday morning workshops from September 2013 through June 2014.  The workshops, focusing on cooking, urban gardening, and the cultural aspects of food, will also be documented through photography and video by the students themselves and shared with teenagers participating in a parallel program in Kano, Nigeria. To be eligible for this program, students should be between the ages of 15 and 18 and must qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch program. Students will also receive a stipend for participating!

If you or someone you know is interested , contact Kate Borger, High School Program Coordinator, Phipps Science Education and Research Department, for more information: or 412-622-6915, ext. 3905.

Applications can also be downloaded here. DEADLINE to apply: September 3, 2013.

The above photo was taken by Kate Borger.

August 16, 2013

Summer Camp Recap: Cooking with Characters

by Melissa Harding


Summer Camp Recap is our Friday seasonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

This week was another single week of camp and a very exciting one at that! Our campers planted, harvested, chopped, cooked and ate their way through the week with the help of some special friends. Cooking with Characters is a cooking-based camp for campers 4-5 years of age; this camp features recipes from some of children’s favorite books and movies, along with stories, songs and games!

Day one featured Remy the rat from the movie Ratatouille; Remy is a rat who loves to cook, even though he isn’t allowed in the kitchen of a real restaurant. Campers made their own ratatouille from tomatoes, onions, pepper and zucchini. They harvested recipe ingredients from our Edible Garden, including some herbs to flavor the pot. Campers explored different textures of plants, following a recipe and kitchen safety. They also learned that is important to try everything once before deciding that you don’t like something.


Day two was all about tea parties. Alice in Wonderland, as well as some other storybook friends, helped our campers learn what plants need to grow and how some plants are specially adapted to grow in different ways. Campers made tea sandwiches and pickles with cucumbers, as well as herb tea, to have at their very own tea party. They learned about plants with tendrils, vining plants, and other plants that grow towards the sun.

Day three was a pizza party! Campers were joined by Curious George and read about his antics at a pizza party; poor George only wants to help, but is just too curious to stay out of trouble! Campers made their own healthy pizzas topped by herbs and sautéed veggies from the garden. They learned all about seeds and how they grow. They also planted their own “pizza” gardens with basil, parsley and tomatoes to take home with them. Campers learned that being curious doesn’t have to lead to trouble; they used their senses to observe the plants in the garden and ask questions, just like Curious George.


Day four was all about bugs! Campers loved eating bugs with Timon and Pumba from The Lion King. Campers learned that some bugs are pollinators, which help us to get the veggies that we eat every day. They made “bug” snacks out of yummy fruit – fruit parfaits and strawberry “ladybugs”. Campers looked for bugs on the CSL green roof and even read some funny bug stories; they learned that we need all kinds of bugs to keep our ecosystems healthy.

The last day of camp was a special day – campers created a special meal for their grown-ups with the help of Strega Nona and her magic pasta pot.  Campers made pasta from scratch to serve their families and decorated placemats. They also learned about composting and worms; campers investigated the worms from our compost bin and learned that without worms, there would be no new plants to grow! They also looked for decomposers in the soil around the Conservatory, observing pill bugs, millipedes, ants and worms.

Check out the slideshow below for more great pictures!

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For more images from the week, visit our Flickr page.

The above pictures were taken by Hanna Mosca and Christie Lawry.

August 13, 2013

What Does a Scientist Look Like?

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like your favorite television shows go on hiatus for the summer, so does the blog. We will be running eighteen summer camps in eight weeks, so we will be a little busy! In place of original posts, Tuesdays will now feature some of the blog’s most popular posts from the last year. Fridays will feature that week’s camps, with pictures, crafts and lesson ideas for parents and educators.

What do you think when you hear the word “scientist”? If you think of Doc Brown from Back to the Future or Bunsen Honeydew from The Muppet Show, you are not alone. Studies show that, when asked to draw a scientist, most children draw some “mad scientist” version of those characters. Researchers have been studying this problem since the early 1980’s and have even developed a rubric for scoring how stereotypical these drawing are. The Draw-A-Scientist Checklist (DAST-C) was developed in 1983 to provide a reliable formula for analyzing student drawings. Each item on the checklist represents a stereotypical characteristic relating to students’ views of scientists. Examples include: wearing a lab coat or glasses, having bushy hair, holding instruments of knowledge like clipboards and calculators, relevent captions like “eureka!”, etc. Researchers also look for the prevalence of caucasian males representing race and gender in these drawings.

“For you, what is a scientist?” Some of the answers of primary school children gathered by Marie-Odile Lafosse-Marin, Espace des Sciences Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, ESPCI-ParisTech.

The pictures in the above video are typical examples of the kinds of drawings made by students. There have been hundreds of studies on this subject; I want to highlight a few of them to illustrate the problem, but I am more interested in presenting solutions.

One of the most famous of these studies, conducted at the US Department of Energy’s Fermilab facility (the only US laboratory dedicated to high energy physics), tracked a class of seventh grader’s perceptions of what a scientist looks like before and after visiting the lab and talking to the physicists who work there. The results are fascinating. Prior to their visit, students’ drawings showed the typical “mad scientist” aesthetic talked about above. However, after meeting the scientists in the lab and talking to them, their drawings and descriptions showed a real change; students drew scientists as regular people, with hobbies and outside interests, who also happened to have important jobs.

In another study, researchers also asked students to draw themselves practicing science in school and to describe how science relates to their lives. Most students (56%) drew themselves sitting at a desk and taking notes. When asked about their drawings, these students said that reading their books or taking notes are usually what they do in science. The minority drew themselves doing various science activities. When asked how relevent the science they do in school is to their lives at home, the majority of students viewed science as something they can use at home, although only a few cited the scientific process specifically.

The real questions is: what do studies like these mean for our students? If children perceive scientists to look a certain way, especially when that is different from themselves, it can make the field of science seem like less of an option for them and diminish diversity in the scientific community. These studies also indicate a lack of knowledge of the nature of science and the work scientists do, as well as a general lack of interest in science. Many fear that while curriculum developers and science educators strive to highlight women and different ethnicities as scientists, adult views of science may come mostly from ingrained stereotypes learned during childhood.

So let’s talk about some solutions (and there are many). It seems that the best way for children to understand what a real scientist looks like is to meet them and talk to them. One great program, 1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days, is an effort by the journal Scientific American to put real scientists into classrooms all over the country. Another example is the Botany in Action (BIA) program at Phipps, which brings scientists from all over the world to interact with students in Pittsburgh. The Eco Challenge, one such BIA event,  invites high school students to interview these scientists and learn about their research. Students learn that life in the field is both challenging and rewarding, as well as the idea that “research” can encompass a wide range of topics.

The internet is also another great source. The charming new website, This is a What a Scientist Looks Like, is a good place to start. This website invites scientists to change perceptions about what a scientist is or isn’t by being themselves: contributors submit their picture and a short description about what they do. The result is a collection of faces that challenges assumptions and represents a wide swatch of the scientific community. The Tumblr I am Science allows scientists to share personal stories about what science means to them. These heartfelt and personal online interactions with real scientists are fantastic.

Finally, talking about and investigating science at home is the best way to get your child to see the relevance of science in his or her life. There are hundreds of resources, online and at your local library, of science experiments to conduct and scientists to learn about. Most importantly, try to exhibit attitudes and values that support learning. Be positive and try to help your child see science as it already exists around him or her. Before you know it, you will have a future scientist on your hands!

For more information on how to interest your child in science learning, check out’s list of parent’s resources, including information from NASA, US Department of Education and Brain POP.

The above images were taken by Molly Steinwald and Melissa Harding.

August 9, 2013

We Say “Goodbye” to Cory: Reflections on a Summer at Phipps

by Melissa Harding


Cory Doman, our very wonderful and very talented photography intern, is leaving us to go back to school for the year. In between her tear drops, she has graciously written the following reflection on her time spent with the Science Education and Research Department.  

Seeing the world through the lens of a camera gives you a different perspective on life. I kept this notion in the back of my head when I started my Photography internship, but I was truly amazed by what I was able to capture at Phipps Conservatory. With each moment paused in a frame, I was able to photograph the very instance of campers expanding their horizons. And what an invaluable instance it was!

Before, I only had experience in photographing still objects. I had always loved the intricacies of flowers and nature. I was fascinated by the complexity each had to offer. I gradually progressed to a different subject during an internship at Penn Brewery. I found how intriguing it was to photograph authentic German cuisine and the brew masters’ process of perfecting their craft.

My first day photographing the campers at Phipps Summer Camp, I was filled with great excitement and apprehension. Thoughts like “What if the kids don’t like me” or “What if I can’t get any of them to smile” ran through my head but the moment I stepped into the new classroom in the CSL building, all of those thoughts quickly faded. I immediately started snapping away at the curious campers digging in the dirt for worms and making mud pies. The smiles and laughter made each day worth while.

I found that as each camp continued throughout the week, I became more adaptable to the age group and learned how to interact with the kids for that golden shot. I also found that a higher shutter speed, natural light, and a big goofy smile made for the best photos. I was an object of curiosity to the campers as each one was to me as I watched the group make discoveries about the world around them.

Being in an environment that has so many resources available, Phipps is a horticultural menagerie where these campers can learn how to grow a sustainable garden, cook nutritious meals, and live a healthy life style all at a young age. As I interacted with these students each day, I know I was part of something greater than I had ever imagined when I first started: a new age of wonderfully brilliant and passionately curious learners. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with the Science and Education Team. I could not have asked for a better experience.

Thank you!


Cory was such a wonderful part of our summer camp team this year! She is a kind, lovely person and a pleasure to work with. We are all in awe of her talent behind the camera. She will be very much missed and we wish her all the success in the world!!

To read more about Cory, check out her staff page.
The above photo of Cory was taken by Christie Lawry and the bottom photo was taken by Cory Doman.

August 9, 2013

Summer Camp Recap: My Five Senses

by Melissa Harding


Summer Camp Recap is our Friday seasonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

This week is another single week of camp, but a very exciting one – the Little Sprouts are back and they are learning about their eyes, ears, noses and fingers! Little Sprouts: My Five Senses is based on touching, smelling, hearing, seeing and even tasting. Campers learned what their five senses are and used them to explore the natural world. They spent the week smelling herbs, feeling plants and listening for nature sounds.


Day one focused on sight. Campers made a pair of binoculars out of recycled toilet paper rolls and decorated name tags. They learned about their sense of sight and why it is important to look closely. Next, they went on a walk around the Conservatory, using their binoculars to observe and practicing their skills by looking at plants with magnifying glasses. They saw lots of colorful flowers and even a few bugs!

Day two focused on touch. Campers decorated T-shirts with fingerprint daisies, feeling the cool paint on their hands. Next, they made their own salt dough, with help from their grown-up. Campers felt salt, flour, water and mixed it all up with their hands; they also added silky soft leaves and hard seeds to make a sculpture. The lesson focused on touching different leaves and flowers; campers took a walk around the Conservatory looking for different textures.


Day three focused on smell. Campers used smelly Kool-Aid paint to color in pictures of fruit, matching the picture to the smell. Next, they smelled different fruits and veggies – citrus fruits, strawberries, nectarines, pears and even onions. They also took a walk to the Edible Garden to hunt for smelly herbs. Campers smelled different herbs, flowers and leaves as they toured around the Conservatory.

Day four focused on hearing. Campers made seed shakers from repurposed materials.  They then learned about their ears and hearing, singing songs about their senses and reading a story with silly sounds. They took a walk in the Conservatory to find different “shakers”, each one filled with different seeds, along the way. Campers listened to the sound of each shakers and tried to guess what size and shape the seeds were. They even planted a scented geranium to take home; they can practice their observation skills all year long!

Want to talk to your Little Sprout about his five senses? Here are some of the books that we read this week at camp:
Here Are My Hands Bill Martin
My Five Senses Aliki
Listen to the Rain Bill Martin and John Archambault
Nosy Rosie Holly Keller
Meow Said the Cow Emma Dodd
Who Says That? Arnold Shapiro
Growing Colors Bruce McMillan
You Smell Mary Murphy
Can You Growl Like A Bear? John Butler

Check out the slideshow below!

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While our summer Little Sprouts camps are full, we are offering even more programs this fall! Our first, We Heart Trees, is offered both September 19 and 20 from 10:30-noon. Contact 412-441-4442 ext. 3925 or see the website to register!

For more pictures, check out the Flickr page as well.

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman, our photography intern.

August 6, 2013

Backyard Connections: Snuggling Up to Soil’s Construction Crew

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like your favorite television shows go on hiatus for the summer, so does the blog. We will be running eighteen summer camps in eight weeks, so we will be a little busy! In place of original posts, Tuesdays will now feature some of the blog’s most popular posts from the last year. Fridays will feature that week’s camps, with pictures, crafts and lesson ideas for parents and educators.


This new series, Backyard Connections, gives fun and easy tips for exploring the nature right outside your door.

Spring is the perfect time to get out and explore your yard. There is so much to see and do; plants are sending out new shoots, birds are nesting and the grass is turning green. In short, spring is a time of transformation and you don’t want to miss it! Start off my looking down at your feet and even farther into the ground; though it may look brown and lifeless, soil is truly alive. It is an ecosystem all of it own, complete with producers, decomposers and everything in between.  At Phipps, one of our favorite soil citizens is the humble worm. While it may just look like a slimy tube, a worm is so much more than that.

The earthworms that you see crawling in your flower garden contribute to soil health by adding nutrients through their castings and aerating the ground by digging tunnels. Worms eat soil; or rather, they consume the soil and digest bacteria from individual particles. They take giants bites of the soil as they crawl along, creating tunnels wherever they go. Whatever they don’t digest is excreted out the other end as worm castings. If these little guys didn’t fill the ground with tunnels, the soil would become compacted; this means that there would be no room for air and water in the soil, which would put the other critters and plants in bad shape. Worms are essentially the soil’s construction crew, making sure that everyone underground has a home.


Worms are also one of the most interesting soil critters to study.  Grab a piece of newspaper, clear plastic lid, flashlight and spray bottle of water, because here are the steps to conducting a super fun worm study at home in your own backyard:

Look inside
Worms are transparent, which means that you can literally watch their organs working.  The best way to look inside a worm place it on a clear, plastic plate and shine a flashlight up through it. The worm won’t like this, but it won’t hurt it. Look for tube running down the middle of the worm, filled with dark granules. That is the digestive tract. Worms don’t have stomaches, but rather a crop and gizzard (like a bird). After it eat, it stores the food in a crop, which is a little sack. Its gizzard, which is another sack made full of stones the worm has swallowed, grinds the food down and passes it through the intestines where nutrients are absorbed. The dark granules are pieces of dirt that the worm has swallowed.

Another thing to look for are the five hearts; they are not shaped like human hearts, but rather are actually aortic arches. Worms have blood vessels that move blood through their bodies very close to the skin (which is why they look pink). Human hearts work with our lungs to pump air into our blood and blood through our bodies. Worms have no lungs, as they breathe through the skin, so what their hearts do instead is help them digest their food.

Heads or Tails?

If you try to look for a worm head, you may be a bit baffled. Worms do have a head and tail, but it can be hard to tell which end is which. Worms have no eyes, since they spend most of their time underground in the dark; instead, they sense vibrations in the soil. To find the head, you need to put your worm on the ground or on your plastic plate and then wait. The worm will start to crawl; the head will lead the body as it begins to move. This is the end with the mouth, or prostomium. This is hard to see with a magnifying glass. In fact, it can be hard to discern much of anything with your eyes. Your ears, however, can help you.

Put your worm on a small piece of newspaper and then bend your ear down to listen. You should hear little scratching noises; this is the sound of the worm’s setae against the paper. Setae are little bristles on the worm that help it move through the soil. If a worm wants to hold itself tight against the soil, it can jab its setae into the dirt. You can also feel them on the worm, like little bumps. Run your fingers down its underside; its feels smooth, you are moving towards the tail and it feels rough, you are moving towards the head.

Make a muscle

See those stripes on the outside of the worm? Those are muscles! Earthworms have no arms or legs. They have two sets of muscles; one that makes it long and the other one that makes it short. When they want to move, the earthworm will alternate the use of its long and short muscles, which allows its body to be pushed forward in the soil. These are great to find with a magnifying glass.

Egg Hunt

Look for a band in the middle of the worm. This is called the clitellum, which is where a worm lays its eggs. Worms are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both eggs and sperm inside of them. However, they still need to mate in order to preserve genetic diversity; two worms will join their clitella together and exchange sperm sacks. Each worm will use the other’s sperm to fertilize their own ovules, then they lay little yellow sacks of eggs. These egg sacks are very small, about the size of a pin head, so it can take some work to find one. If you do, you are in for a treat; look carefully and sometimes you can even see the embryo inside!

By this time, your worm is probably pretty tired. Make sure to put your new friend back someplace moist and dark – under a rock or a chuck of soil. It will find its own way back down under the ground.

A note on handling worms: worms are very sensitive to temperature, light and moisture. It is always important to handle them with moist hands and watch for signs of fatigue. They will start to stretch out and go limp; they’re not dead, but it is best to put them back and give them some time to rest in the dark.

If you enjoy studying the worms in your yard, grab a shovel and dig for more critters. Pill bugs, millipedes, centipedes, and ants are just a few of the organisms that you can find in a handful of dirt. Even better, get your magnifying glasses and explore the tiny hairs on plant roots and the white strands of mycelia scattered through the soil. There are over 1 million earthworms in an acre of soil, so get digging!

The top photo is copyrighted by Molly Steinwald; the bottom photo was taken by Christie Lawry.

August 3, 2013

In with the Interns: Eight Interns, Six Weeks

by Melissa Harding


“These seven interns shown here in the above image along with myself in the photo has shown myself that everyone is not the same, in a good way. We all come from backgrounds and lifestyles. Brought all together for six weeks, we accomplished weekly goals, worked with the happiest and smartest horticulture staff and grew as individuals. I am glad that as a returning intern, I grew as a better person and more aware of the environment around me.” – Kiehl Jackson

In with the Interns is our new segment featuring the 2013 high school interns; this segment will explore what they do, learn and experience this summer. This week we will hear from the interns themselves as they describe the most effecting part of their time at Phipps.


“This summer spent at Phipps made me realize that we have everything we need to live happy lives around us – the world at its simplest form, with the plants, flowers and bees on the ground, the blue sky, the calm and rushing rivers offers us a beautiful and healthy way of life.” – Larissa


“Phipps internship has been a wonderful summer experience for me. Without it, my summer would have been spent on my couch, which is pretty boring. Being a Phipps intern has introduced me to many wonderful experiences and people. I am glad that I applied and became an intern here at Phipps.”  –  Kausar


“When I first came here I was looking from an engineering standpoint. Phipps has totally changed my perspective on the world I am living in and has made me more conscious and open minded to all the opportunities and green careers that are out there.” – Garreth

“At Phipps the most important thing I learned about it global awareness. I chose global awareness because not too many people are aware of global issues and Phipps has taught something about making changes to the daily things I do to improve the environment. Even I know like 1% about global awareness, just that 1% is making me make some changes to things I do regularly for the sake of the Earth’s future.” – Franck


“This internship has not only left me with a vast knowledge of plant life, but opened the doors to several green careers by actively engaging us in community service and environmental culture.” – Will

Ian by Kiehl

“Being here at Phipps doing this internship has been so amazing to me. The new friends, lifelong memories, provoking thoughts and ideas and the different ways of life that I’ll never forget. This was all so beneficial to me, it ties in every things I did since I started here and it will always have a lifelong effect on me.” – Ian

To hear more from this summer’s interns, check out the interview they did with The Allegheny Front about how they might reduce food waste in their live.

The above photos were taken by Kate Borger and Kiehl Jackson.


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