Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nature Study: Bats (Much to the Dismay of My Husband)

We didn't plan on studying bats. At least not on that particular day. However, how timely was it that Barb just published "May Nature Study: Bats, Revisited" on The Handbook of Nature Study, just days before.

We had spent the day cleaning and doing inside stuff (which is an issue fellow gardeners can probably relate to, when gardening beautifies the outside of your home, but keeps you from getting the inside of your home up to speed). My husband and youngest son had long since retired, and I was trying to get some end-of-the-day paperwork done before going to bed (but my eyelids kept getting in the way). At about 10:00, I gave in, and went to bed.

At about 10:30, our 7-year-old flew into our room, yelling "There's a bat in my room! It was just hanging on my light, and now it's flying around!" And, indeed, it was. But when you live in a house that was built in 1896, you expect it to have cracks and critters, on occasion.

Meanwhile, the dog was trying to nip the poor fellow ("fell-ette?") out of the air as it swooped by. Here's how Malik told the story, in his nature study notebook:

The bat I saw was big. I was terrified of it. My mom said it only ate mosquitoes, but I didn't believe her, when I found out about vampire bats. Vampire bats are small, blood-thirsty, glow-in-the-dark-eyed devils. But this was a brown bat, not a vampire bat. The bat eventually flew out the back door. My mom turned on all the lights and that drove it crazy. Do not read this if you're under 5 years old.

We followed up by following some of the links from Barb's May newsletter (above), by some notebooking and research (using pages from the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog), and by making a flip book of the anatomy of a bat, from Enchanted Learning, which has lots of bat activities and notebook supplements. We need to return to the May newsletter, because there was so much to do, that we ran out of time!

For more information on the mosquitoes that the bats love to snack on, check out The Notebooking Fairy (click on the icon on the sidebar for freebies).

As luck would have it, while we were working on bats, we went on our weekly trip to the public library, which has been tempting me weekly with a summer book sale. I picked up a beautiful book, Wild Science (Victoria Miles), which had a 4-part chapter on bats:

  • I. "From the Field: Bat-tized" (about how researchers study the habits of bats using mist nets, radio transmitters and reflective wing tags) [see video]

  • II. "The Scientist: Janet Tyburec" (about a field biologist working on a National Geographic study on bat nurseries and how we can protect them) [An article on the major groups of bats, featuring Janet Tyburec; a great kid vid on the secret life of bats, from National Geographic for Kids]
  • III. "The Science: Echolocation: Seeing in the Dark" (the manner in which microbats find their food) [How Stuff Works has a great article on echolocation: "How Bats Work"]
  • IV. "The Animal Notes: Silver-haired Bat" (a close-up look at one of the more than 1,000 bat species in existence today) [Defenders of Wildlife has an article showing the distribution of bats world-wide, and much, much more]

For more animal fun, take my animal tracks quiz ("Follow Those Tracks! Take an Animal Tracks Quiz") and see the new animal updates on How to Teach Everything Through Nature: Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo ("Follow Those Tracks!").

Follow our family's outdoor adventures in our family journal, "The Urban Farmer" -- our most recent entry is on the Third Thursday Street Festival in Willimantic, Connecticut.

Looking for resources to use for summer learning, homeschool or summer school classes? Check out CurrClick for free and low-cost materials on all kinds of topics. Subscribe for free weekly updates, links to online clubs, and much, much more!

Sample "freebie" - Project-based Marine Biology (live class recording)

Happy Father's Day to All Our Dads!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Mathematics of Nature: Fractals

Our garden is beginning to bust at the seams. The roses are wonderful, as they always are, and the peonies are gargantuan this year. Coreopsis and asters, honeysuckle and coralbells are all in bloom, and so many things are right behind them: hydrangea, lamb's-ear, pincushion flower,  to name a few. Even the eggplants and potatoes don't want to miss out on the action, with their pretty flowers.

We have been examining the geometry of living things for our math studies. And we wanted to share a fun math exploration that you can do, right in your own backyard. And we owe it all to Leonardo di Pisa.

Leonardo di Pisa lived in Italy in the 12th century. His father's name was Bonacci, so he was nicknamed, "Fibonacci," which means "Son of Bonacci." He was a mathematician who was fascinated with patterns in numbers, especially as they could be observed in the natural world. He discovered that there was a special set of whole numbers which described just about every living thing in the world. This set of numbers has been called the "Fibonacci Series."

The Fibonacci Series is easy to calculate: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, etc., with each new number in the series being the sum of the last two. We stopped at 89 -- what do you think the next 4 numbers in the series would be?

Fibonacci discovered that, if you closely examine things in nature, most things existed in these numbers. To test this out, we dissected some of our flowers, to look for Fibonacci numbers in our garden.

First, we started with something simple: Yellow wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta) (lots of people mistake it for clover, but it has yellow flowers, and tastes sour like lemons if you nibble a leaf). When we dissected the leaves into leaflets, we found these numbers in the Fibonacci series:

  • 3 leaflets per leaf
  • 2 lobes on each leaflet
I wonder what we would have discovered if we had counted the number of leaves on the whole plant. Do you think it would have been a Fibonacci number?

Does this work with more complicated flowers? Well, we next tried a flower from Lanceleaf tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata). Being a member of the Composite (daisy) family of plants, the "flowers" are really clusters of many flowers. The "petals" are ray flowers, whose real petals are fused together; in the center are the disk flowers, making the "eye" of the daisy flower head. So there was a lot to look at!

We found lots of Fibonacci numbers here:
  • 8 ray flowers ("petals") per flower head
  • 3 points on each ray flower
  • 8 sepals in each calyx (i.e., the green bracts behind the flower head)
We didn't count the disk flowers -- what do you think we would have found out?

Feeling very confident, we began to eye those roses that I told you about previously. That's a lot of counting to do...

Imagine our surprise, to find that there really weren't as many petals on a rose as it appears ...
  • 21 petals
  • 5 sepals in the calyx 
You can find Fibonacci numbers in things besides flowers and plant parts. We decided to look for other living things and explore them for these special numbers...

Sea scallops:
  • 2 shells on a scallop
  • 8 ridges on each shell
  • 2 "wings" on the "hinge"
  • 1 muscle hinging the two shells together

Our dog, Lucky, was watching this process, so we decided to use him as a test subject, too:

  • 2 each (eyes, ears, nostrils, front legs, back legs)
  • 1 tails
He got bored with the activity after awhile, and went off to chew on his Nylabone...
Where is the "3"? What about "5?"  Leonardo di Vinci did a study of the human body (The Vitruvian Man), and found all kinds of Fibonacci numbers:

  • There are 3 parts of each arm (hand, lower arm, upper arm)
  • There are 3 parts of each leg (foot, lower leg, upper leg)
  • There are 5 "points" to the body (head, arms, legs)
  • These also are in a special proportion, called the Golden Ratio (we'll talk about that later).
Questions for YOU!
  1. What natural objects are in your yard that you can explore for Fibonacci numbers?
  2. Why do you think so many natural objects exist in these numbers?
  3. How high can you extend the Fibonacci series? Does it ever end? Why do you say this?

As we slide into June, here are some resources for keeping reading alive and thriving, in the dog days of summer:

-Why not enroll your kids in a summer reading program? Check out "Summer Means... Summer Reading Programs" for links to 10 of the bigger programs available nationwide.

-For more ideas to use as follow up activities to summer reading, check out "Keep Kids Reading All Summer Long," by Scholastic.

To more activities for math and art, using number patterns in nature, check out my article, "Fractals in Nature: Where Geometry Meets Nature Study" -- I've added new links and activities!

Thinking of doing some online summer activities with your kids? Check out CurrClick for free and for fee online courses and downloadable resources -- a ton of stuff is available!