Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category

On Raspberries and “Failure”

I have a black thumb. Although I like planting things, maintaining the order in the garden, and harvesting the strawberries the squirrels haven’t eaten, I’m just not very good at remembering which things need pruning (and when), the types of soil and light that are best, and the over-wintering care, despite a large 3-ring binder of notes.

The over-zealous raspberry bush, which was only a 2-leaf stick last fall, is now a massive, creeping bundle of canes. So, when I pulled out some of the running shoots, I figured we could try to grow them indoors in a cup of water. Z (age 3.5) was pretty stoked to try an experiment with plants! I poked about 7 shoots through some plastic wrap (for vertical support), and left a hole open for watering.

The cup sat undisturbed on the window ledge. I figured that a couple shoots would sprout roots, and then Z and I could then plant them somewhere else in the garden. He was pretty excited for the first couple of days, but then quickly lost interest as the plants did virtually nothing. Imagine our surprise when about three weeks later, they looked like this:

Apparently, growing raspberry plants in this manner doesn’t work. Z said that our experiment failed. Also, he thought the filmy, moldy stems were pretty gross (okay, he’s right on that part).

But failure is a tricky word. For both Z and my students, I try to instill the idea that the experiment may not have worked in the way expected, but that’s not where to stop: there is still some kind of result to learn from. Clearly, raspberry plants aren’t propagated in the manner I used. Instead, I’d probably do much better by reading any outside information before trying again. Similarly, unexpected lab results in school shouldn’t be regarded as failures, but a need to explain how the results came to be. Clearly, from skimming those links about growing plant cuttings, I did just about everything wrong, starting with not-cutting the stalks.

It was strangely difficult to talk to a 3-year-old about something that he didn’t expect. The growing raspberry plants of his visions didn’t appear, and he dismissed my attempts to change his words of “failure” to “yay growing mold”. I guess mold isn’t on his success list.


Sick Day (With Yeast!)

What do you do while stuck at home with a sick three-year-old? Bake bread! Well, okay, I did the baking, but Z requested a science experiment. Who am I to pass that by?

Because he so loved the baking soda and vinegar stuff, I gave Z some yeast, water, sugar, a funnel, cups, and balloons. First, we took a look at what yeast does with cold, warm, and hot water. IMG_0833

Then, he (mostly carefully) scooped some yeast and sugar into balloons, and added different temperatures of water to each. Check this out! The green balloon is cold, pink is warm, red is hot. In Z’s words, pink wins! Yeast must like warm water. (The blue balloon is a whole bunch of everything.)

This was more interesting to me. About two hours later:
Green and pink are now basically the same size. The red (hot water) balloon must have killed a lot of the yeast.

Motivating Curiosity with Turtles

Today at my in-law’s house a turtle was laying eggs at the end of the driveway.

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I knew this was a great opportunity for doing science with my kids, but I didn’t have much of a thought for how to approach it. So I put the question to twitter, and got this awesome insight from Adam;

This opened some doors. I did a quick internet search and found this article, which I skimmed, then this one, which was written in a language that my kids could better understand. We read the second article together. Particularly interesting was learning that for turtles, and apparently many reptiles, the sex of the hatchlings depends on the incubation temperature! The kids also liked that the baby turtles were going to be only an inch long and hatch in 9-18 weeks (likely longer in our northern climate, so probably in October; I hope to report back when that happens).

In reflection I realized that my kids wouldn’t have cared much if I had just read them the web page. The real-life event of watching the turtle laying the eggs motivated their curiosity about turtles in general.

Next we talked about how to protect the eggs since they are in a driveway, and Grandma Sue took over. She’s also going to take over the narration here to describe how she and the kids approached this task.

Unbeknownst to the turtle, she laid her eggs in the middle of our shared driveway. We started watching her at 6:30 AM and she did not leave her mission until 9:30 AM! My granddaughter did the subtraction (editor’s note: talking math with your kids!) and realized it was a 3 hour project!  The kids and I decided that was way too much energy spent to let the neighbors run over the eggs with their cars…I suggested we could make some signs and tape them on chairs to put over the ‘egg nest’. They were all over it! They decided what message they wanted on their signs to keep the eggs safe and asked me how to spell the words, using permanent marker so the message would not be ruined in the rain.

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We taped the signs to two chairs and set them over the nests. Challenge in this whole do we keep chairs in the middle of the road for 9-18 weeks?!?!

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All in all a great learning experience for the kids where they did some science, a bit of math, reading, and writing. Thank you turtle!