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Seems like it has been too long since we've done any science activities, so let's share a book for STEM Friday that is sure to get the scientific inquiries flowing. Explore Gravity!: With 25 Great Projects (Explore Your World series)  by Cindy Blobaum and illustrated by Bryan Stone explore-gravityis a new children's project book that helps budding physicists learn about why gravity is important and how it works. The best part is that it is filled with hands-on projects that can be done with easy-to-obtain objects, mostly from around the house.

What to like:  The instructions are clear and easy to follow. New vocabulary words are highlighted with bold font, and then defined in sidebar glossaries. There is also a complete glossary in the back, as well as an index (great for finding projects fast). Plus the projects are fun and some, like the marshmallow trebuchet, are sure to "launch" new projects

Studying the effects of gravity and weightlessness can be a blast for adults, too. Check out scientists investigating fluid movement in weightless conditions in this video from Science Friday. Note: some mention of the adverse effects of nausea are discussed briefly.

For a more advanced discussion of how gravity works and what it is, check out this video at How Stuff Works.

You can also do this by stretching out a bed sheet.

Explore Gravity!: With 25 Great Projects is a perfect way to investigate how gravity works and to inspire budding scientists.

Related activities:

At the Nomad Press Explore Gravity page, select activities in the lower left sidebar (you will need to scroll down to see it) and a link will come up for you to download free instructions to make a balance sculpture (mobile).

Making parachutes is a good way to explore the forces of gravity.

Making siphons is another way to explore gravity (Growing With Science Water Cycle, second activity).

Age Range: 7 - 9 years
Series: Explore Your World series
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Nomad Press (November 1, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1619302071
ISBN-13: 978-1619302075

Disclosures:  The book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


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


Today for STEM Friday we're featuring the beginning reader Tarantulas (Pebble Plus) by Jeni Wittrock.

The sight of a tarantula is likely to evoke strong reaction in people, either because they are fascinated by these large spiders or because they are extremely fearful. No matter what the reaction, this book will help young readers learn more about the anatomy, life cycle and behaviors of tarantulas. With carefully controlled vocabulary and short sentences, the child can gain confidence reading while at the same time increasing their understanding of the natural world.

Here is Arizona, it is not uncommon to spot large tarantulas wandering around at certain times of the year, particularly in September and October.


(Photograph by Jason van den Bemd)

Typically the wanderers are male tarantulas out looking for females. The females mostly stay in their silk-lined burrows and are rarely seen. How can you tell it is a male? The males have thinner bodies and have black on their legs and abdomen. The females have thicker bodies and are mostly light brown.

One of the first questions most people have is whether tarantulas have a poisonous bite. Generally tarantulas are not aggressive, but will bite if unduly alarmed. Like other spiders, tarantulas have a venom that is harmful to the insects and other small animals that they feed on. It isn't thought to be unduly harmful to humans, but any time an animal bites and injects proteins into a wound, there is a chance for the susceptible recipient to have an allergic reaction to those proteins.

Surprisingly, tarantulas' chief defense isn't their bite at all, but something that looks harmless:  their bristles! The bristles on the back of their abdomen are urticating (cause an itching, stinging sensation). When stressed, tarantulas kick the bristles into the air. The bristles have barbed ends that can irritate the eyes and nose, and if they get on the skin they can cause an itchy rash.

Tarantulas may also use special bristles on their pedipalps and/or legs to stridulate. Stridulate means they rub the bristles together to make a buzzing or hissing noise. Some types of tarantula do this when they are scared or startled. In this video a pet owner provokes his pet to get it to stridulate. He writes that the tongs he used only startled the animal and it was not harmed.

Why would such large spiders need to defend themselves? It turns out a number a different animals catch and eat tarantulas. One of the showiest in the desert is the tarantula hawk wasp (Pepsis sp.).

tarantula-hawk-waspThe tarantula hawk is a large wasp that catches and stings tarantulas. While the tarantula is still alive, the adult wasp drags it into a burrow it constructed. There the wasp lays an egg on the spider. The egg will hatch into a larva that will eat the tarantula as a leisurely meal, eventually growing up and turning into a wasp itself.

Activity 1. Anatomy of a tarantula.

Obtain a photograph of a tarantula like this one.


(Photograph by Jason van den Bemd)

Find the legs and count them. Are there eight legs?

What are those two appendages in front of the spider?

Can you find the eyes? Do you know how many eyes a tarantula has? Is this more than, less than or the same number as other spiders?

Where are the spinnerets to make silk?

Is this a male or female spider? How can you tell?

Edit: The answers are now posted.

Activity 2. Construct a tarantula-based food web.


  • Paper
  • Drawing materials, such as crayons and markers
  • Photographs of animals (optional) - the Arizona-Sonora Desert has a digital library of desert images for kids
  • Glue (if you are using photographs -optional)

Step 1. Find out about animals that eat tarantulas.

Animals that catch and eat other animals are called predators. Look in books about tarantulas for information about predators. Pick a particular kind of tarantula and find out where it lives. Start a list of predators of that tarantula.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has a fact sheet that includes animals that eat desert tarantulas.

Step 2. Find out what tarantulas eat.

Now find out what tarantulas eat in the wild. Depending on what kind of tarantula it is, it may eat different kinds of small animals. Once again, take notes and make a list.

Step 3. Construct a food web with an image of the tarantula you chose at the center.

Draw or place images of all the animals the tarantula eats below the tarantula. Link the images with arrows going to the tarantula. Then draw or place images of tarantula predators above the tarantula. Draw arrows from the tarantula to the predators. The arrows represent the movement of nutrients and energy from one organism to another.

For ideas for drawing animals for the food web, see Amsel, Sheri. “Food Web Activities.” Drawing Food Webs with Own Animal Art. Exploring Nature Educational Resource.

For a concise introduction to food chains and food webs for young kids, try the book  Who Eats What? Food Chains and Food Webs (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 2) by Patricia Lauber and Holly Keller.

Additional resources for information about tarantulas:

Cornell University has more information, as well as the pros and cons of having a tarantula as a pet.


Tarantulas (Pebble Plus) by Jeni Wittrock.

Reading Level: K-1
Interest Level: PreK-2
Series: Pebble Plus
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1476524580
ISBN-13: 978-1476524580

Disclosures:  The book Tarantulas was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


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

While hosting STEM Friday last week, Natalie from Biblio Links told us about a new children's picture book she found, Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine and illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth. Even though I thought maybe it would be dry and static as a pile of old bones, Natalie made it sound so good that I decided to get an electronic review copy at NetGalley to see for myself. bone-by-bone

This really fun book is not dry at all. It starts with a question, what would we be like without our bones? The answer is shown in a silly illustration:  a pile of smush!

Using a roughly question and answer format, Levine takes the reader through some of the more skeleton types, like bats with long finger bones for wings and the large neck bones of a giraffe. The author also spends some time explaining the skeletal systems (or lack of) found in invertebrates. Sprinkled in are important vocabulary words that kids will absorb without even realizing it and a glossary if they need some additional help.

Bone by Bone features one of my pet peeves, which is a mix of fonts in a book for young children. Usually I would say big jumps in fonts makes it very hard for struggling readers, but for this particular book the differences in the fonts were mild, so it actually works just fine. The varying fonts make the text seem like a conversation.

Understanding bones and skeletons is important not only for scientists, human health professionals and veterinarians, but also artists and those interested in sports. Let's "face" it, virtually every child could benefit from learning more about anatomy, including the skeletal system and how it compares to other animals. Bone by Bone is definitely a book you will want to have on "hand" for children grades K-4.

Related activities:

1. Take a field trip to a natural history museum

Many natural history museums feature assembled skeletons. Use Bone by Bone as a guide to compare the structures found in the different animals.

2. Check for open houses or exhibits at local medical and veterinary schools.

When I was a child, our 4-H club went to the Cornell University Veterinary College Open House almost every spring. It was absolutely fascinating, and a great place to learn about anatomy.

3. Owl pellets

Dissecting owl pellets for bones is another way to find out more about skeletons.

Owls can not digest the fur and bones of the animals they eat, and instead of passing through their bodies, the remains are regurgitated back up in the form of an owl pellet. Collectors go to old barns and other areas where owls live and pick up the pellets (google for a Dirty Jobs episode about this if you want to learn more). Students can then dissect the pellets and discover what the owls have been eating.

You will need a owl pellet for each child participating, trays, forceps or pointy probes to poke through the pellet, and bone charts to help sort out where each bone belongs. Rather than go into it in great detail here, see Alison's Owl Pellet Page for a lesson and bone charts. (Please leave a comment if this link breaks).

Owl pellets and owl pellet dissection kits are available from various sources and at various prices. For example:


4. Skeleton models

Having a model of some sort that they can touch and manipulate can really help children remember how the bones go together and work. You can find plastic models of both humans and other animals in a wide range of prices and styles to suit your budget.

human model

dog model

Discuss the names and functions of the different bones and label them.

Some students learn the names more easily if they know the word origins or derivatives. The UT Health Science Center has a lesson on the origin of bone names and activity cards to download.

Please let us know if you have an ideas for activities to accompany Bone by Bone.

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine and illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth

Library Binding: 32 pages
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group (August 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0761384642
ISBN-13: 978-0761384649

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


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