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Prepping for the Great Backyard Bird Count

Birders of all ages from many corners of the world will participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count from February 13 through February 16, 2015.
Prepping for the Great Backyard Bird Count

STEMists can capture the exhilaration of discovery while bird watching this winter in preparation for the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Bird counters spend at least 15 minutes on one or more of the GBBC days counting birds.  Each day a completed checklist is electronically submitted through the GBBC web site. STEMists with photography skills should also check out the annual GBBC photo contest.

Below are tips for STEMists and other backyard birders to prepare for this year’s event.

Bird Identification

Winter is a good time to bird watch and become familiar with a variety of birds in your region.  STEMists and their families can plan a bird watching adventure at a local nature trail where there are feeding stations. It’s a good idea to visit your local library or purchase a bird guide book, such as “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America,” for your STEMists to familiarize themselves with the types of birds they may see out on the trail. This may make field identification easier.

The optimal time to watch birds is when they are active and hungry, which is early in the morning or late in the afternoon.  A nearby pond or lake is ideal for water bird sightings, such as ducks, geese, egrets or herons, depending on where you live in the world. And, if an outing isn’t possible, then STEMists can attract birds to their own backyard by setting out bird feeders.

Be sure to check out the National Geographic’s “What’s That Bird?”interactive bird identification search.  The site will ask your STEMists to answer four simple questions:

  1. Where did you see the bird?
  2. In what month did you see the bird?
  3. What color(s) was the bird? (11 options to choose from)
  4. What size was the bird? (5 options to choose from)

National Geographic What's That Bird

Through a comprehensive database, a pictorial listing of possibilities is displayed based on the selections made in the questions.  The results help the STEMists clearly match their backyard bird to one of the birds in the pictured results.

Bird Logging

STEMists and birders can make their own bird journal to keep notes and details of their bird sightings.  For younger STEMists, buggyandbuddy.com created a simple journal template  ready to print.  Many birders draw their birds in a sketch book and then write a short description of the bird. Others take photos and store them in their journals or a photo album, along with the detailed description, including the date, time and location of the sighting.  Also, STEMists can buy a Bird Log book that includes bird facts, games, projects and ways to help our feathered friends.

Bird Apps

National Geographic Bird LITE

If your STEMists own a smartphone, bird apps can be ideal in the field—whether they’re trying to identify a bluebird in their yard, an owl on a barn’s roof, or the sound of a gull on the Atlantic shore.  National Geographic’s Bird LITE offers a free guide to over 70 bird species with optional upgrades. The sound resources available on the upgrade feature songs, chip notes and geographical variation. Text describing similar-sounding species—with the similar species playable from the same screen—helps you explore possibilities when trying to ID a sound.

For fun, test your bird wisdom with Allo! Guess the Bird Type Trivia, an app that claims to be quite challenging for bird fanatics!

Bird Cam

Be prepared for unsuccessful bird watching adventures—where you see very little activity. If your STEMists are disappointed with the sightings of the day, a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s feeder cams web site can be a groovy way to cheer them up.  Your STEMists can observe, up close, red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, barn owls and more at their feeder stations! Feeder cams can be a fantastic educational experience for your STEMists as well as hours of entertainment.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology's feeder cams

For more birding activity and educational fun, check out “For the Birds” Groovy Lab in a Box! Your STEMists will continue to explore the wonders of birds through investigations and the Engineering Design Challenge: Can you design and build a bird feeder that meets the survival needs of local birds using upcycled materials?  Investigate types of birds in your local area, their drinking and feeding habits, and what types of bird feeder structures best suit them – all while recording results in their very own 20+ page custom Groovy Lab in a Box Lab Notebook.

5 Groovy Fall-Related STEM Projects

Crisp cool weather, spice-scented rooms, and fun fall-related activities are a sure sign of autumn.  Check out these five groovy STEM-related projects to kick off the start of your STEMist’s fall season.

5 Groovy Fall-Related STEM Projects

#1. Pumpkin Math

There are numerous activities that STEMists can do to hone their math skills.  STEMists can use estimation to compare pumpkins by weight.

  1. Gather three pumpkins that vary in size
  2. Lift each pumpkin and estimate the weight.
  3. Weigh the pumpkins on a balance.
  4. Record the actual measurements in a table.
  5. Graph the estimated weight versus the actual weight.

Are the estimated weights close to the actual weights of the three pumpkins?

Other groovy ways to build math skills with pumpkins: Measure the circumferences and compare them to the weights of the pumpkins.

#2. Metric Fun with Apple Crisp

Following directions to make a recipe is a tasty way to learn about units of measurement.

Metric Fun with Apple Crisp

Apple Crisp Ingredients – below the units of measure are given in both the Metric System (groovier) and the Imperial System.

      • 4 medium-sized apples, thinly sliced
      • 118 grams (1/2 cup) packed dark brown sugar
      • 30 mL (2 tablespoons) lemon juice
      • 80 grams (1 cup) Quick Oats
      • 188 grams (1 ½ cups) flour
      • 150 grams (3/4 cups) sugar
      • 2.84 grams (1/2 teaspoon) salt
      • 113 grams (1/4 lb. – 1 stick) butter, cold and sliced
      • 2.6 grams (1 teaspoon) cinnamon
      • 1.95 grams (3/4 teaspoon) nutmeg
  1. Mix apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon juice and arrange in a shallow baking dish.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, make a mixture of oats, sugar, flour and salt. Add cold butter slices and stir with a fork or use your hands to create a groovy crumb topping.
  3. Drop the mixture over apples in the baking dish. Melt a small amount of butter, then drizzle over the top. Sprinkle cinnamon evenly over the top.
  4. Bake the apple crisp in a 175 ºC (350 °F ) oven for 35 minutes, or until bubbling and golden brown.
  5. Serve warm and top it off with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, for a groovy fall treat.

Did You Know…According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, there are three countries which have yet to adopt the International System of Units (SI/metric system) as their official system of weights and measures in the entire world!  They are: Burma, Liberia, and the US. It’s important to remember, STEMists always use the metric system when doing STEM! 

Countries that have yet to adopt the metric system: Burma, Liberia, and the US

Countries that have yet to adopt the metric system: Burma, Liberia, and the US

For more measurement fun, have your STEMist convert other imperial units to the metric system here.

#3. Impressionable Leaves T-shirt

Materials:

      • T-shirt (any type, any color but white)
      • Small spray bottle
      • Bleach
      • Water
      • 2 tall buckets (tall to avoid splash)
      • Piece of large cardboard
      • Leaves

Procedure:

  1. Collect different leaves from a nature walk, or your own backyard. 2.
  2. Discuss the various leaves you and your STEMists collect, acknowledging their color-changing properties that occur during the fall season.
  3. Fill a bucket with some cold water (approximately 1/4 full), enough to rinse a T-shirt.
  4. Place a piece of cardboard inside your T-shirt and lay on a flat surface.  Then place your leaves on the T-shirt to create an artistic design.
  5. With the help from a groovy grown-up while using bleach, spray a solution of 3-part water, 1-part bleach over leaves; spray enough to lightly saturate the design.
  6. Let the bleach solution set for a few minutes, then carefully lift leaves from the shirt. Note the pigment change of the T-shirt from the bleach solution.
  7. Hand rinse in a bucket of water, and then soak the shirt in your second bucket of water for approximately 5 minutes.
  8. Remove the shirt from the bucket and squeeze out the water.
  9. Use a laundry dryer on a hot setting to dry your t-shirt. Then, wear your T-shirt design proudly!

GROOVY NON-BLEACH OPTION: Instead of bleach, use fabric paints and markers, and have your STEMists trace the leave onto the T-shirt.

#4. Flying Ghost Rockets

STEMists will love this groovy activity from Growing a Jeweled Rose blog that demonstrates science at its finest.

Flying Ghost Rockets

Materials:

      • Safety goggles (can be found at any hardware store.)
      • Film canister(s)
      • Corn starch
      • Water
      • Black marker
      • Alka Seltzer
      • Stir stick

Procedure:

  1. Place canister(s) top down.
  2. Use the marker to draw two eyes and a nose on the canister to make a face for your ghost.
  3. Remove cap and fill canister 1/3 full of water, add corn starch and stir.
  4. Break the Alka Seltzer and drop a piece into the canister.
  5. Quickly put the lid on, flip the canister upside down onto the pavement and move out of the way.

STEMists can watch science in action as the ghost launches into the sky!

#5. The Vampire Population

In celebration of Halloweens’ cast of characters, check out Do Vampires Really Exist?, a math and social sciences activity created by Microsoft.  In this activity, students work with an Excel spreadsheet template to determine the vampire population over a period of time, considering the legend that vampires bite, in relation to the current human population.

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For more groovy educational activities, check out the Groovy Lab in a Box monthly subscription Your STEMists will receive boxes full of everything you need to learn about and do hands on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) experiments.

Groovy Fun with Clouds

Most everyone at some point has looked up to the sky to admire the fluffy white clouds floating by, or have been threatened by dark, gloomy storm clouds preparing to soak the earth.  How often, though, have you and your STEMists thought about clouds, how they are formed and their purpose?

Groovy Fun with Clouds

Clouds have several important functions.  They provide rain and snow, and help the earth’s atmosphere retain heat, similar to a blanket keeping you warm.  When you look up to a clear starry night sky, you may find the temperature outside is cold, whereas if the night sky is filled with a blanket of clouds, the temperature may be warmer.  On the other hand, clouds keep you cool by providing shade as they block out the hot sun.

How do clouds start?

Clouds are formed when warm air, or heat energy, rises then cools as it expands into the atmosphere.  Water vapor in the air condenses on small solid particles like dust and sea salt, creating water droplets that form into clouds.  And, it is the temperature of the atmosphere and the height at which the clouds are forming that will determine if the cloud you are looking at is composed of ice or water droplets.

Types of Clouds

STEMists should be able to identify the three main types of clouds—Stratus, Cumulus, and Cirrus.

  • Stratus clouds are the lowest forming clouds and look like a crinkled flat sheet across the sky.  Stratus clouds often mean an overcast day, especially near coastal and mountain areas.  You can expect the air to be damp and a day of steady rain, or drizzles and mist.  These clouds can hang overhead for several days before dissipating or moving on.
  • Cumulus clouds are the fluffy clouds that look like puffs of cotton that sit on a flat base. They are the most common clouds and are some of the prettiest that form over land on bright sunny days.  Cumulus clouds form close to the ground, about 3,000 feet, and are the ones that you often feel you can reach out and touch.  Cumulus clouds grow upwards, but beware of cumulus clouds that grow tall, especially if they appear before midday.  These clouds can bring sudden rains, hail and thunderstorms. Shorter cumulus clouds indicate fair weather.
  • Cirrus clouds are some of the highest clouds in our atmosphere and look like wispy streaks of feathers.  These clouds are made of ice particles because they are so high in the sky.  Cirrus clouds scattered across a clear blue sky indicate fair weather.

Cloud Activities for STEMists

Cloud in a Jar

Items you will need for this groovy experiment are glass jar with lid (or small plate or bowl); ice; dark colored paper; aerosol air freshener or hairspray; and a flashlight is optional.  Fill the bottom of the clean glass jar with hot water (130-145 degrees) approximately 1 inch deep.  Swirl water in jar to warm the sides of the glass.  Place ice cubes in the lid (acting as a bowl) and place it on top of the jar.  Watch the condensation and notice the absence of a cloud.  Then, spray a small amount of your air freshener into the jar and quickly replace the ice-filled lid. Now hold up the dark colored paper to the glass and look for wisps of cloud to start swirling inside. You may also want to shine a flashlight inside the jar to see the cloud better. Finally, remove the lid and let the cloud rise out of the jar so that you and your STEMists can touch it.

Check out this video for an alternative way to do this experiment:

Edible Cumulus Sky

Use a Mason-type jar for this activity—small for individual serving sizes or a large jar for sharing.  Ingredients needed are whipped topping, like Cool Whip, blue-colored gelatin, ice and water. In a bowl, mix one small package of gelatin with one cup of boiling water.  Add one cup of ice cubes, and stir until the gelatin thickens to a consistency between liquid and firm.  Then begin to layer whipped topping and the gelatin.  Use a spoon to plop and push the topping along the side of the jar.  Continue to layer the ingredients until you have various shapes and sizes of white puffiness among a clear blue gelatin sky.  Let the gelatin completely set in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes or so.  Be sure to let your STEMists admire the shapes and remind them about the characteristics of the cumulus clouds. Bon Appétit!

Does your STEMist love science, math, engineering and technology? Order your Groovy Lab in a Box and get STEM fun delivered right to your doorstep!

12 Ways to Recycle a Groovy Box

What do you do with your Groovy Lab in a Box once your STEMists have completed the monthly themed activity?  Teach your STEMists about the importance of recycling and reusing materials by finding new ways to use the Groovy box.

12 Ways to Recycle a Groovy Box

Below are 12 fun and groovy ways to repurpose your cool retro-style Groovy Lab in a Box

1. Make a Diorama.  Use your box as a creative STEMist summer project by making a diorama using the theme, “My Summer Vacation.” Or, save your box for an upcoming school diorama project.

2. Use as a Shoebox.  Our Groovy Lab in a Box packaging is an excellent way to keep your STEMists’ shoes in tip-top shape and an awesome way to organize your closet!

3. Make Wall Shelves. Paint or decorate our packaging to create unique and inexpensive wall shelving that you can use to store light weight knick knacks such as a small picture frame or flower vase.

4. Create a Memory Box.  Cover the box with decorative scrapbooking paper, wrapping paper, or masking tape.  Then, when your STEMists experience something cool or unusual, ask them to write that event on a piece of paper.  The STEMist should then fold the paper and place it in the box.  At the end of the month, at the end of the year, or anytime your STEMists are in need of cheering up, recommend they pull out their memory box to read some of their favorite memories.

5. Make a Sailboat. Cut off the front flap of your groovy box, and then cut into thirds.  Take one of the third pieces and fold into the shape of a number 2. Tape the bottom edges of the 2 shape together, and then crinkle to make a C shape. Place a piece of tape down the back to hold. Place your groovy sailboat and let the wind blow.  Groovy Sailboat VIDEO: Groovy Sail Boat.  

12 Ways to Recycle a Groovy Box

 6. Gift Box.   Our boxes are great for packaging a gift.  Just place your gift in the box, and wrap it with wrapping paper or make it more fun and colorful with the Sunday comic strip section.

7. Covered Map Box.  Use an old map to cover the Groovy box to use as storage for your folded maps, or to store office supplies and other items.  This project is great for an office and a fun way to display a practical-use storage box.

8. Charging Station.  Cut several holes large enough to pull a charger cord through to connect with your mobile devices. Wrap the box with decorative paper or fabric for a more sophisticated look.

9. Photo Storage.  Decorate to your liking and use the box for storing and organizing your photo prints. Remember to label the box for easy identification!

10. Ribbon Dispenser.  Similar to the charging station (above), a ribbon dispenser is ideal for crafters or holiday gift wrapping.  Cut one or two holes, depending on the size of ribbon spools you have, on each short side of the box.  Starting outside of the box, insert the wooden skewers through the ribbon spools inside the box.  Then, cut holes and use grommets for decoration; thread your ribbons through the grommets for easy ribbon measuring and cutting.  Again, decorate the box to fit your room decor.

11. Sock Drawer Organizer. Use a straight-edge blade to cut the top off the Groovy box.  Then cut pieces to use as dividers inside the remaining box piece.  Insert the dividers and place pairs of socks in the box for easy access!  Save one divider space to add a favorite sachet or dryer sheet to keep your clothing freshly scented.

12. Store your Groovy Lab Notebook. Finally, for prosperity— keep one Groovy box to store all of your Groovy Lab in a Box custom designed lab notebooks that has all your STEMists’ engineering design challenges!

To encourage your STEMists’ engineering minds, become a Groovy Lab in a Box subscriber and receive your Groovy box that you can use to complete all the DIY projects mentioned above!

3 STEM Activities To Light Up Your Summer Nights

Dark and eerie nights can be turned into cool summertime memories for your STEMists with glow-in-the-dark activities.  To add an educational spark and light up their summer nights, check out these 3 glow-in-the-dark activities that you and your STEMists can create at home:

STEM_activities_light_up_summer_nights

Blazing Bubbles

Bubbles are fun for everyone, especially when they glow in the dark!

Materials you will need:

  • Bubble solution (store-bought, or make your own solution by mixing ½ cup dishwashing liquid, with 4 ½ cups of water and two tablespoons of glycerin).
  • Washable glow paint (can be found at any craft store)

To make your glow-in-the-dark bubbles, mix the bubble solution with the glow solution.  Start with a 50/50 mix; you may have to adjust this measure depending on the strength of your solutions to obtain the glow you desire.  Also note the glow-in-the-dark solution requires exposure to bright light before your bubbles will glow.  Groovy Lab in a Box recommends planning as an outdoor activity for easy clean-up.  STEMists will have fun chasing and dancing amongst the luminescent bubbles under a dark summer star-studded night sky.

Fun with Duct Tape

STEMists can experience triboluminescence, which is light triggered by mechanical energy or a mechanical action, such as friction with duct tape. This luminating experiment is perfect for a summertime sleepover. Press two pieces of duct tape, sticky sides together, and then turn out the lights. Wait until your eyes have adjusted to the darkness of the room before you quickly pull apart the two pieces of tape.  What will your STEMists witness?  They should see a streak of blue when the tapes separate.  Transparent Scotch™ tape works as well.  Results may vary with different brands and types of tape used.

At-home Cosmic Bowling

STEMists compete to see who can knock down the most pins in this nighttime cosmic-colored activity.  You can make the bowling pins yourself with water bottles and glow-sticks.

Materials you will need:

  • 10 glow sticks
  • 10 water bottles
  • 1 small-sized basketball

Your STEMists might have as much fun creating the game as they do playing it!  First, peel the labels from the water bottles and then remove enough water to leave approximately one inch of space from the top.  Next, open the glow-stick packaging and crack your glow-sticks (follow packaging instructions for cracking).  Then, add one glowing stick (the thicker the diameter, the better) to each water bottle and recap.  Set-up your glow-in-the-dark bowling game in a clear indoor hallway, or on a patio, driveway or clear patch of low-cut grass.  Cosmic bowling also works well at a nighttime beach or pool party. Don’t forget the pencil and paper to keep score (although, the true winner of this game is you for providing a unique night-to-remember idea for your STEMists)!

If you are looking for more ways to keep your STEMists entertained this summer, check out Groovy Lab in a Box There is no better way to educate your STEMist than to keep their minds working to create, design and solve, through the engineering design process and STEM-related activities.

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