Archive for ‘Botanical Art’

January 20, 2014

High School Internship Opportunity: Horticulture, Sustainability and Service

by Melissa Harding

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“This program has changed my life, my views and the way I will grow up and become, all in the six weeks that I was at Phipps.”  – 2013 high school intern

Do you know any students that would make strong and eager candidates for an extraordinary summer learning experience?

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is now accepting applications from highly motivated high school students with an interest in the well-being of the planet to serve as summer interns in our paid internship program which will run from June 23th through July 31st. To be considered for this internship, students must be at least 16 years of age by June 24th and must be eligible for the free or reduced-cost school lunch program.

Our high school internship provides hands-on experience working with our science education and horticulture staff, along with classes, service projects, and field trips that expose students to a wide range of “green” concepts and career options.

More information and a Phipps employment application and a supplemental application form, along with a flyer suitable for posting can be downloaded from the Phipps website.

In addition to the two application forms, applicants are required to submit:
• A brief essay explaining their interest in the Phipps internship
• A letter of recommendation from an adult non-relative

Application materials are being accepted between February 1st – April 1st, and should be sent to:

Kate Borger, High School Program Coordinator
Phipps Conservatory
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Phipps’ mission is to inspire and educate all with the beauty and importance of plants; to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research; and to celebrate its historic glasshouse.

To learn more, check out previous blog posts about last year’s internship here, here, and here and some pictures from it below:

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The above pictures were taken by Phipps Science Education and Research staff.

November 20, 2013

Home Connections: Creating a Seed Mosaic

by Melissa Harding

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As the weather gets colder, it can be easier to feel disconnected from nature. It is hard to want to garden, play catch or go for a walk when the wind is biting at your back. Luckily, there are many ways to foster a connection with nature in the winter without becoming a popsicle. One such way is to create natural art; there are many natural items from the backyard and the pantry that can be turned into art – seeds and beans, seed pods, dead flowers, berries, pine cones and fallen leaves. These are the perfect materials for one of our favorite art forms: mosaics. Mosaics are like puzzles. They are art pieces that have been created out of many small pieces put together to make a bigger picture. While you can make a mosaic out of anything, natural materials create a beautiful piece that is truly biophilic.

We make our mosaics out of salt dough and seeds. Salt dough is easy to assemble out of materials from the pantry and dries nicely. Seeds are readily available in a variety of places; they can be found outside, in seed packets, in soup mixes and in bags from the store. We like to use a combination of lentil soup mix and seed packets, coupled with nature finds that our students get from the outdoor gardens.

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There are many recipes for salt dough, but this is our favorite:
Ingredients: 1 cup salt 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup luke warm water

Instructions: In a large bowl mix salt and flour, gradually stirring in water until it forms a dough-like consistency. Form a ball with your dough and knead it for at least 5 minutes with your hands, adding flour as needed to create a smooth texture. The longer you knead your dough, the smoother it will be. Salt dough is as salty as its name suggests, and is best kept away from pets and very small children, as the high salt content may make them sick if they ingest enough.

Want to add more color to your salt dough? Try these ideas: 1. Add powdered tempera paint to your flour, 2. add food coloring or paint to the water before you mix it with the salt/flour, or 3. add natural coloring like instant coffee, cocoa, or curry powder.

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Turning these items into a seed mosaic is simple:
1. Flatten the salt dough into the desired shape. Use cookie cutters to create smaller shapes or trim your dough into a free-form shape with a butter knife. (Hint: Filling an empty round lid is a sure way to get a perfect circle)
2. Draw a practice pattern on a piece of paper or lightly sketch it onto the salt dough with a toothpick; this will give you something to look at as you place your seeds.
3. Place your seeds to create a picture or pattern on the salt dough. Be sure to press them firmly into the dough. Cover as much of the salt dough as you like; the more seeds, the more colorful it will look!
4. Leave your mosaic to dry overnight. If making smaller shapes for hanging, be sure to punch a hole in the top of your shape with a pencil before letting the piece dry. While these mosaics are hard once they are dry, they are not suitable for being outdoors.

Once you have tried this fun craft with seeds, add other small natural items from your backyard or change up the color of your salt dough. This is also a great chance to explore a local park or green space to look for mosaic items.  The sky is the limit with this craft, so head outside and get crafting today!

To learn more ways to use salt dough, as well as other doughs that we use in our programs, check out this post. 

Check out this post to learn how art can foster a connection with nature.

The above photos were taken by Lisa Xu.

November 4, 2013

Fairchild Challenge at Phipps: Exploring Nature Through Poetry and Food

by Melissa Harding

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This year’s Fairchild Challenge at Phipps started off strong with two great challenges for middle and high school students. The first challenge for middle school students was to explore the nature in their neighborhoods, using art and poetry to describe their experiences. After researching traditional haikus that depict images from nature, participating students were asked to produce their own haikus about nearby nature and provide the reader with impressions of nature “around your block.” Each school was tasked with submitting a book of these haikus with original cover art.

Thirty-two middle schools ended up sending in lovely haiku poems for our first of six challenges. In fact, the entries were so wonderful, with beautiful artwork throughout the books as well as on the covers, that it was hard to pick a winner! The books were covered in painted leaves, Japanese brush-work and original photographs; the poems inside were thoughtful, with one teacher even submitting a book entirely in Spanish (written by her Spanish students). The esteemed panel of judges included botanist, Dr. Stephen Tonsor, nature photographer and Director of Science Education and Research at Phipps, Molly Steinwald, artist, Daviea Davis and poet, Shirley Stevens; the judges thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of choosing the top award winners, as difficult as the task was.

1st Place: Shaler Area Middle School
2nd Place: Harrison Middle School
3rd Place (tie): Carson Middle School and Marshall Middle School

Honorable Mention: West Hempfield Middle School and Shaffer Elementary 6th Grade

Judge’s Pick Awards:
Owen North – Avonworth Middle School
Mikayla Davic– Harrison Middle School
Logan Gibbons -Keystone Oaks Middle School
Tavo Campos -Shaler Area Middle School
Sophia Kachur – Shaler Area Middle School

Check out their beautiful artwork in the slideshow below!

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 The first place winners of all middle school challenges will be invited to appear on the Saturday Light Brigade radio program. The Saturday Light Brigade can be heard every Saturday morning on WRCT 88.3 FM. It also streams live at slbradio.org where the interview will be archived under Neighborhood Voices. Join Shaler Area Middle School students on Saturday, November 16th at 10:35 a.m. Check out the broadcast here.

The first challenge for high school students was to explore where their food comes from, plant to plate. Participants were asked to understand their food’s carbon footprint, considering everything from transportation to pesticides, and then use their knowledge to create a “low-impact” meal. Each meal consisted of a main dish and either an appetizer, side dish or dessert. Students were asked to creatively name their dishes and submit complete recipes, including information about each plant used. They also were required to submit a one paragraph explanation that compared their meal with an average American meal. Finally, before they turned in their submissions, each team of participants was required to prepare one of their dishes and serve it to classmates, who rated it on taste and creativity. These classroom rating were counted in each meal’s final score, along with overall judging done by food experts from the Chatham University Food Studies Program.

Local produce was the star of the primarily vegetarian entries, all of which impressed the judges very much. Meals ranged from simple to complex, but all showed a great deal of thought and effort in the preparation.

1st Place: Shaler Area High School, Pumpkin French Toast with Fried Apples
2nd Place: Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, Chicken and Vegetable Stew  with Homemade Apple Sauce
3rd Place: North Allegheny Sr. High School, Homemade Meatballs with Tomato Sauce and a Local Ingredients Salad

The judges also felt very strongly that the three following entries deserved Honorable Mention:

West Mifflin Area High School, Tomato Zucchini Skillet and Zucchini Salsa
Hampton High School. Pesto Pasta and Smoothie Pops
Shaler Area High School, Autumn Stew with Homemade Pretzels

While each challenge has a winner, all participating students are winners for learning more about the world around them!

The above photos were taken by Lisa Xu.

February 27, 2013

High School Internship Opportunity: Horticulture, Sustainability and Service

by Melissa Harding

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Do you know any students that would make strong and eager candidates for an extraordinary summer learning experience?

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is now accepting applications from highly motivated high school students with an interest in the well-being of the planet to serve as summer interns in our paid internship program which will run from June 24th through August 1st. To be considered for this internship, students must be at least 16 years of age by June 24th and must be eligible for the free or reduced-cost school lunch program.

Our high school internship provides hands-on experience working with our science education and horticulture staff, along with classes, service projects, and field trips that expose students to a wide range of “green” concepts and career options.

More information and a Phipps employment application and a supplemental application form, along with a flyer suitable for posting can be downloaded from the Phipps website.

In addition to the two application forms, applicants are required to submit:
• A brief essay explaining their interest in the Phipps internship
• A letter of recommendation from an adult non-relative

Application materials are being accepted now through April 1st, and should be sent to:

Kate Borger, High School Program Coordinator
Phipps Conservatory
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Phipps’ mission is to inspire and educate all with the beauty and importance of plants; to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research; and to celebrate its historic glasshouse.

To learn more, check out previous blog posts about last year’s internship here, here, and here and some pictures from it below:

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The above pictures were taken by Phipps Science Education and Research staff.

November 10, 2012

The Fairchild Challenge Begins!

by Melissa Harding

While it may seem that most of our programs are meant for elementary-aged children, there is one large segment of our department that hasn’t gotten much mention yet in this space: high school programs. Our High School Program Coordinator, Kate Borger, heads up the Fairchild Challenge, a year-long environmental education program for both middle and high school students sponsored through the Fairchild Tropical and Botanic Gardens in Miami, Florida. In this multidisciplinary program, older students participate in a variety of sustainability-based “challenges” that focus on art, writing, music, and more. Schools choose to participate in one or all of the seven challenges that take place over the course of the school year. At the end of the spring, monetary awards are given to the winning schools for use in their environmental science departments.

This year started off with over 400 middle and high school students participating in the first challenge. The first high school challenge was broken down into two separate components, Pollinators in Pencil and Frisbee Design. In the first component, students created a pencil drawing of a native pollinator and corresponding plant; in the second, they drew a Fairchild Challenge Frisbee design. Both parts of the challenge required students to write short essays explaining their choices and containing background information on the subjects of their drawings.

The first middle school challenge was Found Art Sculptures, in which students used found or recyclable materials to create a three-dimensional sculpture representing some aspect of nature. A second part of the challenge required students to write an essay explaining their material choices and the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling.

Check out the slideshow below to see examples of some of the entries; the quality and creativity is stunning!

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For a complete list of all of the entries, as well as information on the winners, check out the Fairchild Challenge blog!

Pictures of the entries were taken by Kate Borger.

October 19, 2012

Home Connections: Nature Weaving

by Melissa Harding

As the foggy mornings and frost advisories have finally confirmed, it is indeed autumn. Even if you have been hoping summer would return, there is at least one great reason to embrace the new season: autumn colors. There is no more beautiful time of the year than the oranges, yellows, reds, and browns of fall; trees are dropping jewel-toned leaves, goldenrod and blazing star cover the roadsides with yellow and purple, and milkweed is sending soft, floating seeds into the air. There are many fun ways to capitalize on this gorgeous display of nature, especially with your children. One way to get them outside and practicing their observation skills is to create a nature weaving.

Nature weavings consist of two parts: the loom and the weaving material. A loom is just something that supports the weaving materials and provides a structure to weave on. It can be made out of cardboard, sticks from the backyard, a wooden frame, or anything else you can think of. The easiest material to use is a cereal box.

How to make a cerealbox loom (Source)
You will need:  front side of a cereal box, twine or yarn, scissors, craft glue

1. Cut your cereal box just a little larger than the size of the weaving you want to make. Cut a row of slits in the top and bottom ends, making each slit one-fourth to one-half inch apart.

2. Tie a knot in your string, slip the knot into one of the slits to anchor it, then run the string to the slit on the opposite side.

3. Slip the string behind the cardboard to the next slit on the same side, bring it through, then run it across the board again. Keep going until the whole piece of cardboard is strung like a guitar.

Now that you have your loom strung, you are ready to look for materials! Materials to weave inside the loom are anything you can find outside: leaves, sticks, grasses, flowers, feathers, tree bark, pine needles, and feathers, to name a few. Nature weaving is a great activity to do with children of all ages; while the act of weaving can be difficult for young children, they can still put their findings into the loom any which way and create something beautiful. Most importantly, these materials can be found outside on a nature walk.

A nature walk during autumn can be an incredibly sensory experience, from the earthy smell of damp ground to the beautiful colors and the sounds of falling leaves. Evidence of animals gathering for the winter is everywhere and the wet ground means that you will most likely find their tracks. All of this is great to observe with magnifying glasses and, even better, a place to take your nature journals. Encourage your child to note what is different about the changing season and to use his or her senses to explore your surroundings while you gather objects.

Assembling your weaving is as easy as ‘over and under’. Your loom provides you with all of the strips going one direction; all you need to do is to weave your found objects in the other direction. Weaving moves objects alternately over and under the pre-strung strips of material. If your child has trouble with this, he or she can still put objects into the loom; just give him or her a bit of help to make sure that the materials in the weaving are secure.

Want to embellish your weaving? Try adding bits of ribbon, colored string or yarn, pipecleaners, fabric or other colored craft materials around your found items. You can also yarn or ribbon to create a loop and hang your creations on a door or window. Nothing will help you usher in the new season like a beautiful nature weaving!

For more resources about weaving with children, try these websites:
Scholastic Books (this website also has great book ideas related to weaving)
Let the Children Play (both natural and non-natural weaving activities)
Michelle Made Me (weaving paper plate suns)

Do your children enjoy making any other crafts using natural objects? Share them in the comments below.

The above images were taken by Christie Lawry and Amanda Joy.

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.

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