Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Desert Plant Adaptations

Adaptations are changes that happens over a long time which help organisms (plants or animals) survive in their environment. Adaptations can be behaviors or structures (parts) of the organism.
Plant examples: shape of leaves, thorns, spines, thickness of stems/leaves

  • Introduce/review the definition of adaptations with the students.
  • Discuss the desert climate.
  • Ask students the following question. "What behaviors or structures of desert plants help them survive in their environment?" (structures: stems, leaves, spines, roots)
  • What types of stems and leaves help desert plants survive? (Thick stems/leaves and waxy-coated stems/leaves help keep in water.)  (Sharp spines keep animals away.)

Try the following experiments.

Experiment 1 (Thick stems/leaves vs. thin stems/leaves)

  • Give each student/group 1 thin and 1 thick sponge.
  • Put each on a dish.
  • Pour equal amounts of water on each sponge.
  • Squeeze each sponge into a cup.
  • Compare.
  • Which sponge held more water?

Experiment 2 (Waxy coating vs. non-waxy coating) 

  • Give each student/group 2 sponges (the same size).
  • Place each on a dish.
  • Pour the same amount of water over each sponge.
  • Place 1 of the sponges in a zip-lock bag.
  • Squeeze each sponge into a cup.
  • Compare.
  • Which sponge held more water? (The plastic bag represents the waxy outer covering.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seed Dispersal

How do Seeds Travel?

There are 5 basic ways for seeds to travel:

Maple, elm, dandelion, and cottonwood seeds all can be carried by the wind. These seeds have wings or other hair-like structures. The dandelion often produces lots of seeds to make sure that some get to places where they will germinate. Some plants like the burr have barbs that get caught in animal fur.
Animals carry seeds in their fur/feathers and in their digestive tracts. Some animals like squirrels bury seeds for a later date but then do not return for the seeds.
Coconuts travel on the ocean by floating. Other seeds attach to logs or soil and float away. Some large and small seeds float.
People intentionally plant seeds in new areas.
Mechanical Means
Some fruits dry out and eventually become so dry that they explode or shoot out their seeds.

  • Read books that tell about seed movement/dispersal. For example: The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle 

  • Have children put an old pair of socks over their shoes and go for a walk around a park, garden, or the schoolyard. Back in class, have the kids examine the socks to see if any (and what kind of) seeds are stuck on their socks.

    • Have children drop seeds/bulbs into small plastic cups/bowls of water to see if they sink or float.

    recycled plastic egg carton container - sunflower seeds and bulbs float, bean seeds did not float

    • Have children observe various seeds (maple, dandelion, etc.) with a hand lens then drop the seeds and observe how they fall. Record the seeds' movement.

        • Wind Dispersal Experiment:  Give students a few different types of seeds. Have them observe the seeds with a hand lens and predict and record which seed they think would travel the farthest on a windy day. Talk to the students about safety issues around an electric or battery operated fan (keeping their fingers a safe distance from the fan.). Wearing safety goggles, have students drop seeds one at a time in front of a fan placed on the floor on low speed. All seeds need to be dropped from the exact same location. Have students observe the seeds being dropped and measure the distance each seed traveled. Students should record their data. A graph of the data could also be made.

        some clipart by

          Fun Tree Activities

          Learning about trees can be done as part of a plant unit any time of the year or in April (particularly the last Friday in April) on Arbor Day. Arbor Day is a nationally celebrated observance of trees that encourages tree care and planting of trees.

          Tree Activities

          Adopt a Tree

          • Choose a tree in your yard, in front of your house, in the neighborhood, in the schoolyard etc. that your family or classroom would like to "adopt".
          • Learn about the tree.  Observe it's bark, branches, leaves, and roots (if they are visible). 
          • Identify it with a field guide.
          • Keep a journal about the tree. Sketch it each season.  
          • Estimate its height and circumference. Measure its circumference.
          • Take pictures of the tree during the different seasons. 
          • Collect seeds, leaves, stems, and bark from the tree without damaging the tree. Often seeds, stems, and bark fall to the ground after windy days. 
          • Some students might like to "hug" the tree as a way of saying "hello". 
          • Don't forget to water the soil around the tree, if needed.

          Plant a tree.

          Read poems about trees

          Trees by Joyce Kilmer

          I think that I shall never see
          A poem lovely as a tree ...

          Write poems about trees.

          • Acrostic Poems
          • Couplets
          • Haiku
          • Free Verse
          • Etc.

          Sketch and draw/paint pictures of trees.

          Visit neoK12 to view a video on how to draw trees.
          Click here: How to Draw a Tree

          Visit neoK12 to view videos on trees and plants

          Click Here:

          Visit many of the Arbor Day websites...
                      to learn more about trees and gets lots of ideas for fun activities.


           Read About Trees

          National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Trees of North America

          Monday, March 28, 2011

          Pumpkin Fun

          Learning about pumpkins can be done as part of a plant unit, or with a unit about the seasons or holidays (they seem to be everywhere in the fall), or as a pi day activity (March 14).


           1. Do pumpkins sink or float? Have the children make a prediction before observing.
               Use a bucket, other container, or the sink and water to test.

          This bucket was bought at a Dollar Store.

           2. How much does a pumpkin weigh? Again have children make a prediction before
               weighting the pumpkin(s).

           3. How big is the pumpkin(s)? Measure its height and width. Measure the distance
              around the pumpkin.With older children ask, "What is its circumference? You
              can use string or yarn to measure the circumference, then measure the 
              string/yarn with a ruler or tape measure.


           4. Is the pumpkin a fruit?  (If it has seeds then it is a fruit not a vegetable.) Does the
               pumpkin contain a seed or seeds? If the children think it does contain seeds, have
               the kids make a prediction about the number of seeds and write down their
               prediction(s).  This data could be put into a graph.

           5. Clean out the pumpkin(s) and count the seeds! Compare to the students'
               predictions. Observe the pumpkin and its seeds with a hand lens.
               Sketch a picture of the inside and outside of the pumpkin and its seeds.

           6. Toast pumpkin seeds and/or make pumpkin pie.

           7. Describe a pumpkin using your senses. Write a poem about pumpkins.

           8. Compare/contrast a pumpkin to another fruit.


           9. Plant pumpkin seeds.

          10. Watch a video on the Life Cycle of a Pumpkin from Teacher Tube.
                Click Here: Pumpkin Life Cycle Video

          11. Draw and label the pumpkin life cycle.

          12. Read books about pumpkins and other fruit.

           Books 4 Learning has done a great job reviewing pumpkin books for you plus has a
           wonderful list of extension activities.

            The 1st link is non-fiction books. The 2nd link is fiction books.

          Click here:

          Click here:

          Saturday, March 26, 2011

          The Tropical Rainforest

          No study of plants would be complete without talking about the tropical rainforests of the world.

          The tropical rainforests cover only six percent of the Earth but about half of all the plant species in the world can be found in the tropical rainforest. There are over 150,000 known species of plants in the tropical rainforest.  Plus many other plants that live in the rainforest are still being discovered. Unfortuately many of the rainforest plants are endangered including the rosy periwinkle, one of the many plants in the rainforest used as medicine to treat cancer.

          Children are usually fascinated and excited to learn about this habitat. While older children can learn about biodiversity and the ecosystem, younger children continue to be enthralled in learning about the plants and animals of the rainforest.

          Listed below are three books about the tropical rainforests that I love and have read to children.

          • Welcome to the Green House by Jane Yolen is the simplest of the 3 books. It contains rhyming, repetition, and onomatopoeia and the illustrations by Laura Regan are stunning.

          • The Song of La Selva by Joan Banks is a story told by one of the inhabitants of the rainforest, a tiny strawberry poison frog. Children get a glimpse into the frog's life in the rainforest and begin to learn about nature's biodiversity.

          • The  Great Kapok Tree has become a staple in homes and classrooms since Lynne Cherry wrote the book. It explores the community of plants and animals that live in the tropical rainforest.

          Fun Activities To Do With Leaves

          Leaves are very important to plants! Leaves are the parts of the plants that make the food for the plant (photosynthesis).

          Here are an assortment of activities with leaves for different ages and ability groups.

           1.Collect leaves. Science

           2.Observe leaves with a hand lens. Science

           3. Count, sort (color, shade, texture, shape), and trace (real or cardboard cutouts)
               leaves. Do you have an even or odd number of leaves? Math & Science

           4. Describe the leaves. (color, size, texture, shape, symmetrical {yes or no})
                If the colors are the same are the shades the same? Is one green lighter or darker
               than another shade of green? Are the leaves small, large, fat, thin, rough, smooth, 
               waxy, prickly, etc.? Is the right side of the leaf the mirror image of the left side?  
              Math & Science

           5. Identify leaves.(Use a field guide, internet, etc.) Science

           6. Sketch and label leaves. (maple, oak, elm, etc.) Science & Art

          7. Measure leaves (length and width). Compare sizes. Math

           8. Find the surface area of leaves.
               Trace leaves onto centimeter graph paper and count the squares included in the
               drawing. Students may find it helpful to put a dot in each square or to mark an x
               in each square. They should label the data (their answer) as centimeters squared

           9.Press leaves.
               Place leaves between pieces of wax paper. Glue the edges of the wax paper together. 
               Place in old magazines or catalogs to flatten. Art

          10.Create leaf rubbings.
                Remove the paper covering from any crayons that will be used for this activity.
                Place a thin piece of white paper over a leaf (computer paper works great).
                Rub the crayon(s) in a back and forth motion on the white paper over the leaf.
                Try rubbing over other leaves in the same way. Kids can even overlap other
                leaves in their rubbings. Label the leaves. If desired, you can punch holes in
                the pages, add a cover, and tie together with yarn to make a leaf book/album
                to share with family and friends. Art

          11.Create leaf prints.
              Have students use tempera paint and paint brushes to paint the back of leaves
              (the bumpy side).  Next the students should  place their painted leaves (paint side 
              down) on white paper and press down gently. Then they should carefully remove
              the leaves and compare their prints to real leaves. What details are seen in the 
              print? Can they see the veins of the plant? (Younger students can use finger paint.)

          11. Create your own leaves with colored pencils, crayons, paint, charcoal, etc. Art


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