Time to revive this blog! I’m going to start with a series of posts inspired by some awesome new children’s STEM books, starting with Junk Drawer Ecology: 50 Awesome Experiments That Don’t Cost a Thing by Bobby Mercer.
Do you enjoy themed collections of hands-on experiments and activities that can be done with little preparation time using stuff from around the house? Then check out the newest in the Junk Drawer Science series which delves into ecology.
First of all, what exactly is ecology? It is the study of the relationships of living things to one another and to their physical surroundings or environment. It encompasses concepts like habitats, food webs, and also human activities such as recycling. The book covers all those aspects.
High school Physics teacher Bobby Mercer has organized instructions for 50 activities into 4 general categories: “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle”, “Animals and Plants”, “Water and Land”, and “Air.” Each activity has a brief summary of the project and the ecology concepts it covers. Next is a list of the materials needed “From the Junk Drawer.” Once you have gathered the materials, the instructions are given step by step, illustrated with black and white photographs (Note: if you are used to full color, professional images in children’s books, you might be put off by the quality of the photographs. But remember, smaller gray scale photographs have kept down the cost of the book, part of the effort to keep things inexpensive.)
Included with each activity is a discussion of “The Science Behind It” and ends with “Science for the Ages”, a description of the age requirements for that particular project — based on safety concerns — plus ways to extend learning. Although the reading age is listed as 9-12, most of the experiments and activities could be used as is or modified for a broader age range.
One activity that caught my eye was making your own paper straws — so you don’t have to use as many plastic ones. How can a paper straw be used in a liquid? The solution is dipping it in wax! Mercer also suggests using the paper straws for craft projects. For example, a bundle of un-waxed paper straws might make nests for wild bees if you used sturdy paper and put them in a sheltered location (previous post).
Many of the activities in Junk Drawer Ecology could also be extended and expanded to follow a child’s interests. Using inexpensive household items to do hands-on science that has potential to grow with the child? It doesn’t get any better than this.
1. Plant Ecology: Grow sunflowers
Want to study the relationships between living things? Planting sunflowers can be a great place to start. Larger varieties do well in the yard or garden. Smaller varieties can grow in a big pot on the patio.
Plant seeds in the spring. You can either start the seeds indoors about four weeks before the average last frost date for your region, or your can plant into a pot or the ground outdoors after the last frost date.
Sunflowers provide food for insects, small mammals, and birds. Spiders may use them for a home while catching insects for food. Visit your sunflower plants every day and keep a record of what you see. Keep an eye out for smaller insects, like aphids and small caterpillars, as well as flying pollinators that visit the flowers for pollen and nectar.
If you would like, come up with an experiment to test how the physical environment might effect the plants or their visitors. For example, you might plant some seeds in big pots and some of the same variety in the ground nearby and see how the plants grow under the different conditions.
Sunflowers are very popular with flying pollinators, like this honey bee.
Aphids on sunflowers might attract other living things, for example parasitic wasps, lady beetles, or insect-eating birds.
At the end of the year, make a food web diagram of all the living things that depend on sunflowers for food. For example:
Remember: birds that eat sunflower seeds are also herbivores.
2. Check out our previous ecology-related posts:
3. Want more hands-on STEM? See our growing list of experiment collections at Science Books for Kids.
Reading age : 9 – 12 years
Publisher : Chicago Review Press (December 14, 2021)
Paperback : 262 pages
ISBN-10 : 1641605499
ISBN-13 : 978-1641605496
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