Our science activities and lessons today are inspired by the children's picture book Groundhogs (Pebble Plus: North American Animals) by Chadwick Gillenwater. With Groundhog Day just two weeks away (February 2, 2013), it would be a great time to learn more about groundhogs and do some science activities relating to shadows and weather. For more about the book and other books for the celebration of Groundhog Day, visit Wrapped in Foil.
1. Learn about groundhogs or woodchucks and create an age-appropriate fact sheet.
Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are rodents belonging to the marmot family. Their scientific name is Marmota monax. They live throughout the eastern and northern parts of North America, all the way north to Alaska.
Groundhogs live in burrows they dig in the ground. They come out of the burrow to eat plants during the summer. Often you can see them alongside highways grazing on the road banks or sitting up looking for danger. Sometimes they climb small trees or shrubs to escape from enemies or to explore new types of food.
In the winter groundhogs hibernate deep underground. Sometimes they will come out of hibernation to search for food. This has become part of the Groundhog Day story.
Groundhogs are also called whistle pigs because they whistle to communicate with each other. The Marmot Burrow website has a recording of a male groundhog whistling.
In this video, you can see a young groundhog and learn more about their habits.
For a longer and more extensively narrated video about a woodchuck family, see Groundhogs 2005-2008 An uncommon look at a common animal. The link takes you to the video at YouTube (sharing has been disabled). Update: See the videos on the new website.
You also might want to read some of the books listed below. When you are done, create a fact sheet about groundhogs to share what you have learned. Include drawings of the animals and their homes.
2. Science of Shadows
A. Preschool-K Level: Exploring Shadows
- bare, light-colored wall in a darkened room (ceiling is fun, too)
- assorted objects to cast shadows, including a wide-toothed comb or hair pick, and a ball
Darken a room somewhat and then use the flashlight to explore shadows. Move an object closer to the flashlight and then farther way. Move the flashlight closer to the object and pull it away. What happens? What happens when you hold the comb in front of the flashlight? Now turn on a second flashlight. Shine the two flashlights on an object. Slowly move the flashlights apart. What happens to the shadow(s)?
Older children will enjoy making shadow animals and/or shadow puppets.
How about a groundhog shadow puppet to celebrate Groundhog Day? Cut out a groundhog shape and glue it to a craft stick with white glue. Now take it outside and see if the groundhog will see its shadow.
B. Elementary: Chasing shadows
- Hard level surface out of doors large enough for each participant to record their shadows
- Sidewalk chalk of different colors
- Yardstick or measuring tape (optional)
- Compass (optional)
- Sunny day
Start by going outside in the morning. Have the children chose a place to stand. Draw a circle of chalk around their feet and then write their initials inside the circle. Now, have them stand with their back to the sun. Have a helper draw a line around their shadow. Measure the length of the shadow. Check the direction of the shadow using the compass (optional).
Return and repeat the process around noon and later in the afternoon. How have the shadows changed? Discuss how the shadows might be different in the different seasons as the sun appears to be higher or lower in the sky due to the Earth's tilt.
C. Older: Make a sundial
There are many great websites that show how to make an explore a sundial. Here are just two:
- The BBC has instructions to make a sundial.
- Sunshine in your pocket! Making a sundial for the Northern Hemisphere.
D. Older: Use a shadow to measure a tree.
To find out more about Groundhogs, try these nonfiction children's books:
Groundhogs (Pebble Plus: North American Animals) by Chadwick Gillenwater
Library Binding: 24 pages
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2012)
Orphan The Story of A Baby Woodchuck by Faith McNulty
For more about Shadows, try these nonfiction children's books:
What makes a shadow? (Let's-read-and-find-out science) by Clyde Robert Bull and illustrated by June Otani
Publisher: Scholastic; Revised edition (1998)
Shadows by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Harvey Stevenson
Light: Shadows, Mirrors, and Rainbows (Amazing Science) by Natalie M. Rosinsky and illustrated by Sheree Boyd
Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Paperback: 24 pages
Publisher: Picture Window Books (January 2004)
Light and Shadows (Science@School) by Brian J. Knapp
Moonbear's Shadow (Moonbear Books) by Frank Asch (One of our favorite fiction books about shadows).
Publication Date: 3/1/2000
Reading Level: Age 5 and Up
Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.