Science Books

For STEM Friday we have a middle grade title  Cool Plastic Bottle and Milk Jug Science (Recycled Science) by Tammy Enz.

Tammy Enz has come up with nine intriguing science activities that reuse plastic containers. It's a win-win scenario because plastic containers provide inexpensive containers for science projects, and finding new purposes for water bottles or milk jugs keeps them out of the landfill.

The instructions for the activities are short and clear. There's a list of materials you'll need, step-by-step instructions how to put it together, photographs showing the set up, and a brief explanation of what's happening. Activities range from making a cloud in a bottle in a few minutes to a longer term composting worm farm.

Cool Plastic Bottle and Milk Jug Science is perfect for a busy educator who needs a science activity fast. The best part is the materials are inexpensive and generally readily available. If you are doing science with kids, it's a great book to have on hand.

Age Range: 8 - 14 years
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1515708624
ISBN-13: 978-1515708629

Related Activities:

This video shows an easy demonstration of air pressure using plastic bottles.

Who needs expensive glassware when you can replicate many of the same containers using plastic bottles. Here are two ideas to get you started.

  1. Gravity Filtration

When you separate solid particles from a liquid by pouring the mixture through a filter, it is called gravity filtration. Generally filtration in chemistry involves special glassware, but for simple experiments at home you can use a large plastic soda bottle cut in two, with the top inverted into the bottom. Most soda bottles can be cut with household scissors.

soda-bottle-filter

Place a coffee filter into the inverted top of the soda bottle, with the cap off. Fold or cut the top so it fits smoothly. Pour the liquid to be filtered through the filter. Larger particles will be trapped in the filter, and the liquid and smaller particles will pass through into the catchment container. Remove the filter and invert into a dish. Scrape off the solids with a spoon, if necessary.

Certain brands of paper towels will also work as filters, but coffee filters are inexpensive and easier to work with.

2. Distillation

Distillation is a way to separate mixtures that takes advantage of differences in boiling point. The liquid leaves the mixture via evaporation and then the gas/vapor is captured again via condensation.

bottle-distillation-apparatusNote:  This activity works best outdoors on a hot, sunny day.

You can set up a simple distillation apparatus using a soda bottle that has been cut in half. Leave the cap on.

Place the mixture in the bottom of the soda bottle. Place an empty glass in the center. Invert the top of the soda bottle (with the cap left on) into the bottom half. Press down so it fits tightly and doesn’t allow gases to escape. Fill the top of the soda bottle with ice. Cover with newspaper (insulation) and then aluminum foil. Set in the sun. Visit regularly over the day and replace the ice as needed.

The water should evaporate from the bottom, condense on the top and then run into the cup.

Related: Previous review of Build It! by the same author, Tammy Enz.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher/author for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

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Many people have heard about the plight of polar bears, having to swim farther and farther to find food because of the melting sea ice in the Arctic. Professor Scott Mills is studying the effects of climate change on a smaller, cuter animal:  the snowshoe hare.

For STEM Friday we have Hopping Ahead of Climate Change by Sneed B. Collard III, which chronicles Professor Mills's studies.

Have you heard of snowshoe hares? They are one of a small number of animal species that have different colored fur in the summer versus the winter. In the summer they are brown and look very much like a cottontail rabbit. In the winter, their fur is mostly white.

arctic_harePublic Domain Photograph By Unknown retrieved from Wikimedia

How is climate change a threat? As with other animals that change from brown to white, the hares are triggered to molt their hair by changes in day length rather than temperature. That means when the nights start to get longer, the hares change to white, regardless of whether it has started to snow or not. Recently, the snows have been coming later and later in the season where snowshoe hares live. As you might imagine, a stark white hare is probably more vulnerable to predators on bare ground than on snowy ground. Professor Mills and his students test that hypothesis.

The book is illustrated with color photographs of hares and their habitats, as well as helpful graphs, charts, and maps. Although it may look superficially like a picture book, this is a solidly middle grade title for readers 10 years old and older.

Pick up Hopping Ahead of Climate Change for students interested in environmental issues, animals, or science. You will be glad you did.

Activity:  Create a Chart of the Characteristics of Hares versus Rabbits

Why are the animals called hares rather than rabbits? In Arizona we have both types, so here are some differences:

Hares:

  • Babies born with fur
  • Larger, longer hind legs and often have longer ears (although not snowshoes)
  • Ears with some black fur
  • Live on the surface
  • Haven't been domesticated

Rabbits:

  • Babies born without fur
  • Shorter hind legs
  • Most live in burrows in the ground, but not all
  • Burrows are often near other rabbits, more social
  • Some varieties domesticated

Gather some images of hares and rabbits and create a chart. See if you can find even more differences between hares and rabbits.

This video shows some of Professor Mills's students research. Note:  There are scenes of animal fur left behind by predators and also of animals in live traps. You should always preview videos to make sure they are appropriate for your child.

Related:

  1. Camouflage-related science activities at PBS Parents.

2. Review of Sneed Collard's Fire Birds at Wrapped in Foil blog. See other books by the same author, such as

Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts by Sneed B. Collard III, in which he describes his adventures growing up during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly when visiting his dad who was a biologist.

 

Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Publisher: Bucking Horse Books (November 1, 2015)
ISBN-10: 0984446060
ISBN-13: 978-0984446063

3. Growing list of children's books about polar habitats

polar-habitats
Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher/author for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

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For STEM Friday we are featuring the new middle grade nonfiction book Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner and photographs by Andy Comins, which chronicles Dr. Gavin Hunt's intriguing research into tool use and learning by New Caledonian crows.

 

Why New Caledonian crows? It turns out they have a lot going for them. They are pretty smart. Not only can they use sticks as tools to pry their food- in this case large beetle larvae - out of wood, but also they can fashion new tools by shaping and modifying twigs and stems. As more sophisticated experiments have shown, they have a remarkable ability to solve problems (see some of the videos below). They also have bigger eyes than other species of crows and their eyes are closer to the front of their head, which means they have better depth perception.

Although the special crows are fascinating enough, author Pamela Turner's discussion of Dr. Hunt's research is written with just the right touch of humor to keep young readers fully engaged. For example, she notes one of the crows is named "Crow we never got around to naming." Many of her observations are highly entertaining.

Andy Comins's amazing birds-eye-view photographs (see the one on the cover above) help us see the crows as individuals. It isn't easy to photograph active birds in the wild, and he makes us feel like we are right there studying the birds, too.

Whether you have read all of books in the Scientists in the Field series or none of them, you are going to want to pick up this one. Perfect for anyone interested in learning, animal behavior, birds, tool use, or science in general.

Below are some bird science activity suggestions that could be used to accompany the book.

Activity Suggestion 1: Building a Bird Blind

Dr. Hunt knows he might change the crows' natural behavior if they knew he was watching them, so he uses shelter to observe the crows unnoticed. The camouflaged shelter is called a "hide" or a "blind." In the field he uses a portable tent as a blind (photograph page 12 of the book), but children can design and build their own bird blind.

Gather:

  • Sheet, large piece of cardboard, or cardboard box
  • Twine, cord, rope or painter's tape
  • Twist ties
  • Paints in camouflage colors (optional)
  • Paint brushes (optional)
  • Scissors (craft knife for adults only)
  • Markers
  • Birdseed (optional)
  • Birdwatching supplies:
    • Notebook
    • Pens and pencils
    • Field guide for identifying birds
    • Binoculars (optional)
    • Clock or watch
  1. Find a location to set up the blind, either indoors or out depending on the weather and other factors. If you already have a bird feeder near a window, setting up a blind inside the window would be ideal.  Outside, look for areas where birds are active on a regular basis, such as in shrubs, trees, or near a food source.
  2. If you choose to, paint the sheet or cardboard with camouflage colors (investigate what colors birds can see and plan accordingly). Allow to dry.
  3. If you are setting up inside, cover the window with a cardboard box with the bottom facing out or tape up the sheet with painter's tape. Outside, tie the twine or cord between supports such as poles, fences or trees. Drape the sheet over the cord, or lean the cardboard against the cord, and fasten with clothespins or twist ties.
  4. Have the children stand or sit in a comfortable position. Using the markers, mark where the eye holes should go. The holes should be a small as possible so they aren't obvious to the birds, but large enough to allow for comfortable viewing. Cut out the holes.
  5. If you choose, sprinkle some birdseed in the viewing area or feed the birds to attract them (optional). Sit or stand quietly behind the blind and view the birds. Younger children may simply draw a picture of a bird they see. Older children may want to keep a more detailed record of what kinds of birds visit, what time of day, how long they stay, which direction they go, etc.
  6. Suggestion for experiment:  Do blinds really work? Design an experiment to test whether birds behave differently when observed through a blind versus when viewed from similar distances and circumstances without a blind.

Activity Suggestion 2:  Watch some videos/bird cams of the behavior of crows and other birds.

Even if you don't have the opportunity to observe bird behavior in nature, learn more about birds by watching videos like the one below and/or by visiting bird cams online (The Lab of Ornithology has a number of ongoing bird cams to get you started.)

Check Pamela S. Turner's website for many more videos of crows doing funny and amazing things.

Related:

childrens-books-for-young-birdwatchers
We have a list of children's books about birds at Science Books for Kids.

scientists-in-the-field-series-book-reviewsAlso, see our growing list of books in the Scientists in the Field Series.

Visit our birdwatching Pinterest board for many other bird-related science activity ideas.

Age Range: 10 - 12 years
Grade Level: 5 - 7
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (August 2, 2016)
ISBN-10: 0544416198
ISBN-13: 978-0544416192

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher/author for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.