Top Ten Facts I Learned in the MITS (Museum Institute for Teaching Science) Summer Institute Plus A Book Giveaway
The book giveaway was made possible by the following generous creators and their publishers: Amy Sarig King, Anita Sanchez, April Pulley Sayre, Cindy Jenson-Elliott, Debbie S. Miller, Karina Yan Glaser, Kate Narita, Margi Preus, Melanie Linden Chan, Melissa Stewart, Nancy Castaldo, Nicola Davies, Rebecca E. Hirsch, Sarah Albee and Shennen Bersani. The books correlate with the lessons that you can download at the end of the post. To enter the giveaway leave a comment on the blog or retweet and follow before August 31st, 2018.
The Video Transcript
Top Ten Facts I Learned in my MITS Science Course and Book Giveaway
Just so there is no confusion, MITS is an acronym for Museum Institute for Teaching Science, it is not MIT—Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to the MITS website, “MITS’ educator workshops and programs increase awareness of and improve the quality of teaching inquiry-based, minds-on, hands-on STEM education.” I had an amazing experience working with scientists from Mass Audubon, Tower Hill Botanical Garden and WPI. I’m sharing the top ten facts I learned and the lessons I developed, one along with fellow educator Tiffany Davis, with you. Please note that any errors and misunderstandings are my own.
TEN-There are 4,000 species of bees including bumblebees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, mining bees, plasterer bees, resin bees, mason bees, digger bees, sweat bees and of course honey bees. Almost all of their populations are declining, not just honey bees which by the way are not native to the United States. Native bees coevolve with native plants. If a species of bee goes extinct, the plant that has coevolved alongside that bee will go extinct as well. This is because plants evolve to attract specific pollinators, not a wide variety of pollinators. No bees, no flowers.
NINE-Bumblebee species fall into three categories: short-tongued bumblebees, medium-tongued species and long-tongued species. Tongue length determines which flowers bumblebees can pollinate. When many people think about a bumblebee pollinating a flower, they envision a composite flower such as a daisy or an aster. Composite flowers work for short-tongued bees, but not longer-tongued bees. Complex flowers, such as wild columbine, can only be reached by long-tongued pollinators, usually long-tongued bumblebees.
EIGHT-You can identify bumblebee species by looking at a bumblebee’s abdomen. Well, that’s the first step at least! Is it mostly black, half black and half yellow, or mostly yellow? Then proceed to look at the thorax. Finally, check out the head to determine if it’s male or female. If it has a yellow face, it’s male. The best part is you don’t have to remember any of this. Just use the app WPI Professor Robert Gegear developed to help people identify native bumblebees. Here’s a link to an article about the Bee-cology smartphone app http://www.telegram.com/news/20170618/smartphone-app-tracks-identifies-bee-plant-interactions
SEVEN-Did you know insects have learned behaviors? Not everything they do is instinctual. Check out this incredible butterfly video created by WPI Professor Robert Gegear that shows a butterfly learning which color flower will reward it with nectar. For more information on how to bring pollinators into the classroom, please contact Dr Gegear at firstname.lastname@example.org
SIX-Milkweed species have their own ecosystems. It’s not just monarch butterflies that depend on milkweed plants. Some beetle species rely on milkweed plants as well. I caught and released this red milkweed beetle. Just like the monarch butterfly, the red milkweed beetle ingests and incorporates milkweed toxins which turn the beetle red. The red color warns predators that the beetle is poisonous and that the hungry predators should look elsewhere for a meal.
FIVE-Common milkweed plants are clonal. Common milkweed rhizomes, underground horizontal stems, are capable of producing new roots and new plants. But in order for milkweed pollination to be successful, milkweed needs to receive pollen from a plant that is not one of its clones. Plant diversity aids reproduction. This link provides excellent free information about milkweed. https://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Milkweeds-of-Central-US_plus-vendors_XercesSociety.pdf
FOUR-Hand pollination of milkweed is extremely difficult and time consuming. Unlike most flowers, milkweed doesn’t have individual pollen grains. Milkweed has pollen pockets that are hidden in teeny tiny crevices called stigmatic slits. Successful pollinators of milkweed, such as bumblebees, inadvertently stick their legs inside the slit and the pollen packets attach to their legs. Then, when they fly to another milkweed plant, they accidentally stick their leg into the new flower’s stigmatic slit and pollination occurs. Well, we used thin watercolor paintbrushes to mimic pollinators’ legs and tongues. Some of my classmates were successful and joyfully announced the transfer of the packet every now and then. Meanwhile, I was unable to extract any pollen packets. Let’s face it. Humans are not efficient plant pollinators. If we want plants to survive, think about all the fruits and vegetables we eat, we need to protect pollinators. No pollinators, no produce.
THREE-Springtails. Yes, you read that right, springtails. Before taking the class, I never even knew they existed. Here are a couple of facts that I learned about springtails. In larval form, they live underground. This is true of many, but not all, larval insect forms. However, springtails are no longer classified as insects. They are classified as hexapods, which are pretty similar to insects except that hexapods have an upper lip that covers their mouthparts. My first exposure to springtails in class was looking at this larva which our instructor felt was a springtail. Here it is. I admit, this was not my favorite part of class, but it was still interesting. But this video captivated me. Check it out to see springtails in action and learn lots of cool information about them including the fact that their jumping ability is the equivalent of a human being jumping over The Eiffel Tower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=27&v=OwOL-MHcQ1w
TWO Full disclosure. I did not learn this fact in MITS. But I did learn it just a few months earlier during a field trip to Wachusett Meadow which is also where the third day of our MITS class took place. From doing research for 100 Bugs! A Counting Book, I knew how to identify and differentiate between the adult forms of dragonflies and damselflies; however, I did not know how to identify or differentiate between the larval forms of dragonflies and damselflies until my fourth graders and I ponded at Wachusett Meadow. Although dragonfly and damselfly adults look very similar, their larval forms look nothing like each other. The dragonfly larva looks wide and squat like a beetle while the damselfly larva is long and thin, which is how it looks in its adult form as well.
ONE Dragonfly nymphs are stunningly gorgeous. Wait a minute you say. That’s not a fact, it’s an opinion. True. But you’ll see as I describe my experience that a fact will be revealed. I haven’t had many out of body experiences, but when they occur, they’re unforgettable. One happened to me while looking at Botticelli’s The Crowning of the Madonna in the Uffizi in Florence, Italy—thousands of miles from home. But this out of body experience happened less than five miles from my home at Wachusett Meadow. Once again I was ponding. But this time, I didn’t have to worry about my students falling into the water. This time I was a student, and I could immerse myself in the experience and not worry about other people. My group took a water sample and placed it in a white tub. Then, we used yogurt containers to scoop out creatures. I scooped out a dragonfly nymph. I was surprised because it was much smaller than the one I scooped above, but it had the same wide, squat body. This time, I had access to a microscope. I admit it. Prior to this experience, I’d always felt a bit inept using a microscope. But this time, I was able to focus the microscope. When the dragonfly nymph came into focus, the world faded away. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Dragonfly nymphs are striped—completely. Every part of their body from the tip of their antennae to the tip of their legs is striped which helps it camouflage itself in the pond’s leaf litter. Camouflaged dragonfly nymphs. The world is full of surprises!
Surprise. It can come from inquiry-based science lessons rooted in the natural world. We have the opportunity to expose our students to wonder every day. Please click on the pdf files below for copies of three inquiry-based lessons, complete with teacher and student instruction sheets, that I developed for the class. If you teach in Massachusetts, please consider taking a MITS course. It will change you and your students’ lives.
In the meantime, here’s a book giveaway to get you started. Leave a comment on the blog to be entered into the raffle. These books will all be in my plants and animal bin for our first trimester. Anytime a student finishes a science lesson and wants to know what to do next, he or she can peruse one of the phenomenal books in the bin.
Perfect Pairs by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley is a superb resource for teachers. Stewart and Chesley pair a fiction and a nonfiction picture book to help teach life science to third through fifth graders.
One of Stewart and Chesley’s lessons, How a Tree’s Structures Help it Survive feature these two books: The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin, and Are Trees Alive? by Debbie S. Miller, illustrated by Stacey Schuett. The Promise is a gorgeous fiction book about the power nature has to transform individuals and communities while Are Trees Alive compares a tree’s structure to the structure of the human body. I’ll be using part of Stewart and Chesley’s lesson as an attention getter in my first lesson which focuses on woody plants otherwise known as trees.
Full of Fall is lyrical and beautiful as are all of April Pulley Sayre’s books and has scientific information in the back explaining why deciduous leaves change color in the fall.
Your historians will love perusing Celebritrees: Historic & Famous Trees of the World. The amazing Margi Preus highlights fourteen different trees around the world and how they have affected the people around them.
Some students are much more interested in reading about people than plants and animals. So, there are two biographies included in this book giveaway. The first, Karl, Get Out of the Garden by Anita Sanchez describes how Karl Linnaeus developed the system biologists use today for scientifically naming plants and animals. This biography is cool because when students see the scientific names in some of the other books in this set, they’ll know how and why plants and animals have scientific names. The other biography, Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean written by Sigrid Schmalzer and illustrated by Melanie Linden Chan is interesting because it features a person in another part of the world, Chinese scientist Phu Zhelong, and focuses on sustainable farming in China.
Achoo! Why Pollen Counts by the generous Shennen Bersani will appeal to students who like anthropomorphized animals. A mama bear explains to her cub all the reasons why pollen is important. This book is a nice segue into lessons two and three which start to look at pollinators.
Not everybody likes to read nonfiction, so I’ve included two outstanding novels in the giveaway. The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden is the second book in the Vanderbeekers’ series by Karina Van Glaser. Readers will love accompanying the Vanderbeeker siblings as they turn an abandoned lot into a community garden. This book is brand new and won’t be out till late September. So, Karina Van Glaser will send this book to the winner separately. Me and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King is one of my favorite middle grade novels. Students will appreciate how the main character, Obe, is able to get his family to spend more time outside and utilize the land that’s left that’s been in their family for generations. Plus, there’s a new, cute animal. Who can beat cute animals?
The Story of Seeds by Nancy Castaldo is absolutely fascinating. This will appeal to your voracious readers who are interested in absolutely everything: history, science, biography and so on. Hand them this book and they’ll be busy for a while. Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee is an irreverent counterpart to The Story of Seeds and will appeal to students with a sense of humor.
There are six groups of insect pollinators: bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, flies and beetles. Which ones are represented in 100 Bugs! and which ones are not? Ask students why they think this is? An interesting fact, unless a bug’s name had three syllables, I didn’t include it. But, still, there are probably insects that have three-syllable names in each category. So, why aren’t they all there?
Finally, Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Carolyn Fisher and Plants Can’t Sit Still by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrated by Mia Posada, are beautifully written and illustrated books that both dispel the myth that plants are still and stay in one place. Students will get lost in the lyrical words and lovely art and emerge with a new understanding of the plants around them.
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