Archive for May, 2014

May 30, 2014

Amanda and Botany in Action Fellows Present at the Twentieth Century Club

by Melissa Harding

IMG953375 (3)

This month, Amanda Joy and Botany in Action Fellows Anna Johnson and Jessi Turner presented at the Pittsburgh Twentieth Century Club in a presentation entitled “Botany in Action at Phipps: An evolving botany research program helping scientists connect their research to the lives of the public”. The presentation described the creation and recent evolution of the Phipps BIA program and introduced several of the 2014 Fellows. Both Anna and Jessi spoke about their research in the fields of urban sustainability and conservation biology, respectively.

The above photo is used courtesy of Amanda Joy.



May 29, 2014

Little Sprouts Flutter Through the Conservatory: Our Butterfly Friends

by Melissa Harding


Butterflies are beautiful creatures that are not only important to plants, but pretty fun to learn about too! Our Little Sprouts were especially excited to learn about these pollinating pals; in the latest Little Sprouts: Singles, Our Butterfly Friends, campers learned how butterflies help plants as they searched for them in the Butterfly Forest.

To begin, campers created caterpillars out of cardboard and fabric stripes. When they were finished, they decorated a giant butterfly mural with different color dots, making a beautiful butterfly. Campers used both crafts in the lesson as they learned about butterfly body parts and the process of metamorphosis. They learned how a butterfly starts out as a larva, slowly growing until it creates a chrysalis, then finally becoming an adult butterfly. Campers acted out the process with their bodies and looked through butterfly goggles to pretend they were butterflies about to drink some nectar.

After learning so much about their butterfly friends, campers took binoculars through the Conservatory to find some live ones. They found quite a few fluttering in the Butterfly Forest and even stopped to find some flowers that these critters might like to eat! They used their fingers to find the pollen and nectar inside of the flowers and used their senses to explore some especially sweet-smelling blooms.

If you would like to learn more about butterflies with your own Little Sprout, check out these books:
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Looking Closely Inside the Garden
by Frank Serafini
Butterflies in the Garden
by Carol Lerner
Becoming Butterflies
by Anne Rockwell and Megan Halsey

Our next Little Sprouts, I Eat Plants, is scheduled for June 9-12, from 10:30 am-noon. This camp is currently full, but if you would like to join our waiting list, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our Little Sprout offerings, including summer camp, please visit our website.

To see more photos from camp, check out the slideshow below!

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The above pictures were taken by Phipps Science Education Staff.

May 28, 2014

Melissa Harding Presents at American Alliance of Museums 2014 Annual Conference

by Melissa Harding


Last week,  Melissa Harding presented at the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) 2014 conference in Seattle, Washington. Melissa presented with colleagues from the Museum of Science Boston, Providence Children’s Museum and Phoenix Zoo on a panel entitled “Grown-ups Wanted: Inviting Adult Learners into Early Learner Spaces“. The presentation outlined the different ways in which these organizations reach an adult audience with their mission and message while simultaneously engaging young children. Melissa spoke about our Little Sprouts and Move with Me programs, which model techniques and provide resources that caregivers can use to interact with their children in the natural world at home and at Phipps.

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.

May 16, 2014

Bee Behavior Decoded: What is the Deal with Bees and Hexagons?

by Melissa Harding


We have been talking an awful lot about bees lately and here’s the reason: learning about these buzzing insects is important because, as pollinators, they are crucial to the success of many flowering plants. Without bees, we would not have many of the plants that sustain our lives every day. Not only are they important to our lives, but bees are pretty incredible creatures. From the way they dance to communicate with fellow bees to how they use their eyes to see patterns in ultra-violet light, bee behavior is pretty un-bee-lievable.

Robert Krulwich, National Public Radio blogger and co-star of WNYC’s Radiolab, investigates bees and bee behavior in this week’s Krulwich Wonders column. Specifically, he asks the question: why do bees like hexagons so much?

It turns out that this is a pretty tough mystery that has only recently been solved. The answer lies in the figure of physicist and writer Alan Lightman, who argues that bees build their honeycombs out of hexagons in the name of efficiency. Not only do bees always create hexagons, but they are considered to be “perfect hexagons”, meaning that all sides are of equal length. Lightman proposes a multi-faceted answer. First, whatever shapes the bees use need to fit together perfectly, creating a secure structure. Every cell is designed to fit seamlessly into the next one. This rules out random polygons and blobs, as well as shapes like circles and pentagons, since none of them fit together tightly. In fact, the only three shapes that fit this criteria are squares, triangles and hexagons. In addition, according to Lightman, the creation of the chosen shape needs to use as little wax as possible, since this is a valuable commodity within a beehive. Hexagons use less wax to create than both squares and triangles; a hexagon-based structure is both the most compact and the least resource intensive. Thus the hexagon wins!

Want to know more about the math behind hexagons and delve deeper into the world of bees? Read the original article here.

It’s not just bees that like patterns. Want to learn more about symmetry in nature? Check out Lightman’s most recent article, The Symmetrical Universe, in Orion Magazine.

The above photo was taken by Julia Petruska.

May 7, 2014

Home Connections: Raising Butterflies Indoors

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education_ Butterflies (1)You may have noticed that the butterflies are back for the summer. Cabbage whites are fluttering around your broccoli, looking to lay some eggs, and tiger swallowtails are looking for nectar in your flower beds. Butterflies are out of hibernation and looking for a good time. Adult butterflies spend their days doing two things – drinking nectar and laying eggs. These eggs are the start of the butterfly life cycle, which is both exciting and easy for even young children to understand. Beyond that, the life cycle has an air of mystery about it: What is really happening in that chrysalis? How does the butterfly get in there? While it is very enjoyable to watch them flutter around your backyard and to look for eggs and caterpillars on your plants, it can be even more fun to raise butterflies indoors. This is a great way to practice scientific thinking; your child will learn about the butterfly life cycle while utilizing his deductive and observation skills – and have a good time doing it!

To begin with, you will need some caterpillars. There are multiple online resources that provide you with both caterpillars and a butterfly habitat. It is best to purchase a butterfly species that is native to your area so that you can release them after you are done. Each kit come with care instructions to help you give your caterpillars a comfortable experience. Make sure to follow the directions regarding feeding and when to put your chrysalids in the larger butterfly habitat. You will also need magnifying glasses, a nature journal and any butterfly resources that may help your child learn more about butterflies. (See the bottom of this post for resource ideas).

Learn about Larvae
Begin your butterfly experiment by observing the caterpillars; set aside a set time each day to observe your critters together with your child. Caterpillars have interesting bodies; they have both “true” legs and little suction cups called “pro legs”. They also have an assortment of spines and patterns to confuse their predators. Take some time and observe your new friends. What colors are they? What end is the head and what end is the tail? Encourage your child to use his magnifying glass and learn about caterpillar anatomy. Caterpillars also engage in some pretty weird behaviors. Watch them walk upside-down on plant stems and use their jaws to gnaw away at leaves. The caterpillars you receive should go through several stages of molting, so see if you can catch them in the act! There are many exciting behaviors that your child can observe and record. Some of these  are so strange that it may prompt your child to start asking questions; this is a good time to give them resources to help fill the gaps in their knowledge, while encouraging them to wait and see if they can discern the answers by further watching.

Chrysalis Count-down
One of the most mysterious parts of the butterfly life cycle is the pupa stage, or the chrysalis. Before your caterpillar molts for the last time, it will hang in a “J” shape off one of the branches in its container. This is a great time to keep an eye on your caterpillar, as you may be lucky enough to watch it shed its skin and turn into a pupa. The skin that makes up the chrysalis is very different from the skin of the larva; it may be a completely different color. Often, this is to camouflage the vulnerable pupa from predators. Once your caterpillar is in the chrysalis, create a chart in your journal to count down the days until it emerges. It can often take up to two weeks for this to happen and there is very little else to observe during this time, so counting down the days is a fun way to keep your child engaged in the process.

butterfly phipps unplugged technology petruskaBeautiful Butterflies
Soon you will notice the chrysalis begin to shake. This is caused by the butterfly inside wiggling its way out! If you can catch this in action, it is an incredibly exciting sight. The butterfly will emerge slowly, covered in a sticky, red liquid; this is meconium, the remnants of the metamorphosis process. For the next several hours, the butterfly will flap its wings to dry them and fill them with blood. This is a very vulnerable time in the life of a butterfly; it is unable to fly until the wings are dry. Make sure to have a source of nectar in the habitat for your hungry butterfly to drink once it is ready. Have your child record this process if they are able. This is a rare opportunity for your child to get incredibly close to a butterfly; observe it carefully, maybe even drawing or painting it. Watch it unfurl its proboscis to drink nectar and use its antennae to smell. Count its legs and talk about the qualities of an insect. What an exciting time to observe!

Time to Fly
When you are done observing, it is time to release the butterflies. They will not be happy in their habitat for very long, nor will they be able to complete the butterfly life cycle without a mate. Releasing your butterflies can be a special occasion; reading a poem, sharing observations or even going to a special spot that you think the butterflies will like are all lovely ways to celebrate the life cycle. Slowly open the habitat and gently shoo the butterflies out into the open; they may falter a bit at first, but will quickly find their wings and soar away to find food and mates.

Here are some resources to help you get started on your butterfly raising journey:
Live caterpillars:
InsectLore and Carolina Biologicals are reputable places to get started; you can find a kit to match any price point. Try to purchase your caterpillars from a site that sells them for education, as opposed to weddings or events.
Taking care of your critters: This resource will give you details on how best to raise your new friends.
Butterfly gardening: Make your yard friendlier to all pollinators with these tips.
Monarch tagging: Monarch Watch is a citizen science program that helps scientists to track the migration movements of monarchs.

Phipps Science Education 71Field guides and other butterfly resources for all ages
Check some of these books out of your local library and learn more about your pollinating pals; check the card catalogue for related titles!
Butterflies through Binoculars by Jeffrey Glassberg
Butterflies of North America by Ken Kauffman
Kids Look and Learn: Butterflies! by Becky Wolf
A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston
Backyard Books: Are You a Butterfly? by Judy Allen
National Geographic Readers: Caterpillar to Butterfly by Laura Marsh
National Geographic Readers: Great Migrations Butterflies by Laura Marsh 

Watching this process gives children a sense of the complexity of the life cycle and makes them feel like they have been a part of helping their caterpillars to grow. A wonderful activity, growing butterflies can connect children to nature on multiple levels; if it peaked your child’s interest in butterflies, spend some time observing the ones that visit your yard. You can also go to your local botanical garden or children’s museum; these informal learning institutions often have pollinator gardens to attract butterflies of all kinds. Some even have butterfly rooms, like at Phipps, where butterflies are cultivated in large numbers. If your child’s interest in butterflies continues over the summer, consider raising another species of butterfly at home or taking part in a monarch tagging program at your local nature center. The sky is the limit!

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

May 1, 2014

Inspire Speaker Series, May 15 – Sustainability: An American Grand Strategy for the 21st Century

by Melissa Harding

Presented by Green Building Alliance and Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, the second year of this lecture circuit will continue to plant the seeds of inspiration throughout our community.  

Sustainability: An American Grand Strategy for the 21st Century

In July 2009, Admiral Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked Captain Wayne Porter (U.S. Navy) and Colonel Mark Mykleby (U.S. Marine Corps) to develop some ideas pertaining to a grand strategy for the nation in the 21st century.  By August 2009, the men wrote “A National Strategic Narrative,” a concept paper that offered sustainability as the organizing logic for an American grand strategy.

Such a central idea would establish the framework for converging and expanding U.S. domestic and foreign policy toward emerging opportunities, rather than exclusively on perceived threats and risks.  Now at New America Foundation, Mark is working to create the strategic construct to implement the concept of sustainability as the American grand strategic imperative for the 21st century.  Audience members at May’s Inspire Speakers Series will gain insight into an intriguing and sometimes overlooked perspective on sustainability and how it relates to the future of our country’s security.

More About Colonel Mark “Puck” Mykleby

  • Senior Fellow at New America Foundation
  • Graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, 1987
  • Masters of Military Studies and Masters of Strategic Studies
  • Read more about Mark here

Local Speaker: Bill Peduto

Who better to make the local connection to this topic than Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto?  Mayor Peduto has served Pittsburgh’s East End neighborhoods for over a decade and been integral in shifting the city’s economy toward education and medical technology.  He has been a champion of protecting and enhancing Pittsburgh’s recent reputation as a green initiative leader and helped create the city’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan.  Mayor Peduto is the ideal local voice to help celebrate the finale of this season’s Inspire Speakers Series.

PLUS: Since October 2012, the Founding Class of the Green & Healthy Schools Academy has been undergoing advanced professional development for how to integrate sustainability into the school buildings, curriculum, and culture.  Each school of this founding class will give a brief presentation on how they have applied their knowledge and work to a defining keystone project that emulates their school’s values and vision.

Come grab dinner and enjoy an opportunity for networking in Phipps Cafe starting at 5:00 p.m.  Inspire Speakers presentations will follow at 6:00 p.m.  Register here to join the speakers for dinner after their talks.

Check out the rest of this year’s Inspire Speakers presenters here!  GBA Members save $51 by purchasing the entire series!


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