photo of young girls looking through microscope

Microbe Art

I have long been fascinated with the intersection of math, nature, and art. From Fibonacci to fractals, I find it intriguing to recognize patterns and similarities in natural objects and animals that also appear in those created by humans, and that we can imagine wildly creative innovations from very logical, patterned, or symmetrical visions. When I came across this video of the “Art of the Microcosmos” by Emily Graslie, I had a feeling that it would lead me down a rabbit hole of Fibonaccian proportions, and I was correct. Her interview with James Weiss made me wish I had him as a Biology teacher in high school, or that I had even once gotten the chance to observe the incredible microscopic animals shown in the video. Of course, I’ve known about the tardigrade (also known affectionately as “water bear”) for a few years, so I definitely have no problem imagining it or any other of the strangely beautiful creatures in this video as artistic inspiration.

Following Emily’s film, I had to look up Klaus Kemp, who creates diatomic art, and then I made the mistake of Googling “art made with microbes” and found an entirely different branch of scientific art grown in petri dishes.

After a couple of hours of being transfixed by so many things I had never seen or even known about before watching Graslie’s video, I finally had the wherewithal to drag myself away and try to do something somewhat productive (though not even minutely creative). I started a new Wakelet of “Math, Art, and Nature,” and I even used Wakelet’s new layout option of columns to attempt to organize it a bit. (You may need to scroll horizontally to see all of the columns, and scroll vertically within a column to see all of the links.) This is, of course, separate from my “Math Sites That Won’t Make You Fall Asleep,” collection, but I went ahead and added a link to it in that one, too.

Just a reminder that, even though fancy microscopes might be nice, you can always get your students started with observations of that microscopic world with an inexpensive Foldscope. You might be surprised at the incredible images you can view with this simple tool.

microscopic shot of a virus
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Child cutting play dough with plastic knife

Playdough Surgery

I couldn’t believe the brilliance of the Twitter account of @TheBreakfasteur when I came across it during a late night of doom scrolling. According to the bio, the author is a “doctor mom feeding little bodies and brains.” This physician creates elaborate playdough models so that her child can practice surgery. When you listen to the little voice during the videos, you can hear the curiosity and interest as well as the precise vocabulary that rolls off the child’s tongue. It makes me wonder if I had experiences like that as a child if my path in life would have been completely different (doubtful – the “Force” was always strong in me to be a teacher). Watching the child use two spoons as a defibrillator to get the heart pumping after a coronary bypass was almost as inspiring as watching an episode of The Good Doctor — and far less traumatic.

You can see everything from a tonsillectomy to a kidney transplant by visiting The Breakfasteur’s YouTube channel. The videos are short (about 2 minutes or less), and include text showing the proper names of the anatomical parts. The notes in the description often give you references to real surgery videos you can watch, as well as some ideas for recreating the surgical tools with household items. If you have a child intrigued by science, or want to arouse a child’s interest in science, these videos are a fabulous way to do so.

Ada Twist, Scientist is Now a Television Series!

It has been five years since I first reviewed Ada Twist, Scientist on this blog, and I even recommended it back then for my Gifts for the Gifted list in 2016. The book, which is one in a series of collaborations between author, Andrea Beaty, and illustrator, David Roberts, in the Questioneers Series, is a delightful story about a young girl who embodies the curiosity and experimental personality of a S.T.E.M. hero in the making. Now, Ada and her friends (Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck, who also star in their own books by the dynamic duo of Beaty/Roberts ) are featured in a new animated series on Netflix that officially drops on September 28, 2021 — but don’t despair if you don’t have a Netflix subscription. You and your students can watch two episodes right now on YouTube: “Cake Twist” and “Garden Party.” The adorable cast of characters plus the real-life scientists who appear at the end of each episode will engage pre-school and lower elementary students while showing them how to brainstorm, problem-solve, and deal with mistakes. This mixture of fictional and authentic role models that are brought to you by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, are the perfect inspiration for our next generation of change-makers!

Ada Twist, the book, has a website with teaching materials. (Hey, Netflix or Higher Ground, if you want a teacher to write some materials for the animated series, reach out!) And, don’t forget that I have a Wakelet collection of books for Maker Ed and Design Thinking in case you are looking for more resources!

crop chemist holding in hands molecule model
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Vacation Vibes!

With most schools out, and many states opened up after a year of pandemic lockdown, I’ve been seeing a lot of pictures on social media of people enjoying vacations, especially outdoors. We were fortunate enough to visit Colorado in early May and spent some time in The Garden of the Gods and Rocky Mountain National Park. After that break, I wrote about our fabulous visit to part makerspace/part game store, PlayForge, in Littleton, Colorado. While we were there, we purchased a couple of things, and one of them was National Parks Scrabble. My daughter and I are Scrabble fiends, and we were curious to see how this could converge with our adoration of National Parks. I did not expect how much we would enjoy the game! It includes cards that name different national parks (many that I had never heard of!) and a little bit about each one. The fun part is that you can use the cards to do previously prohibited actions in Scrabble, such as spell a word backwards or make any tile on your rack into a blank. It really makes the game far less predictable, and way more fun. If you are anywhere near Littleton, Colorado, head over to PlayForge and get this game. (Also, check out their Maker Camps!) If you are not near PlayForge, find an independent store near you to see if they carry it. As a last resort, you can get it online, but do your best to support an indie store if you can.

Think you know something about the United States National Parks? Try this quiz to see how much you really know!

While we’re talking about vacations, remember the Virtual Vacation website I mentioned back in March? I focused on the City Guesser game (btw, Esther Park has a free template you can use for this game — go to this link and look for the “Travel Around the World” template), but there are several other virtual vacation activities on there, including VidEarth, where you can click on a blue dot anywhere in the world and watch a video that was uploaded, and my personal favorite, Virtual Window, where you can get a “window” view of places.

For some ways to enjoy the great outdoors while learning, scroll down a bit on this page for the 4-Week Summer Camp Guide from Nature Lab. It includes hands-on activities for families. While you’re outside, encourage children to take amazing nature photos with these tips from National Geographic. Or, adapt some of these ideas from their Planet Possible Challenge.

No matter what you decide to do during vacation, don’t forget this wonderful message from Kid President way back in 2015!

Rocky Mountain National Park, May, 2021

Reimagine, Recreate, Restore

The beautiful poem, “Reimagine, Recreate, Restore” was written and performed by Jordan Sanchez for World Environment Day this month. You can’t help but feel inspired to get up each day and do something positive to preserve our beautiful world. I will be adding this to my poetry Wakelet, which also includes this blog post on Spoken Word poetry. To learn more about Jordan Sanchez, visit her website where you can also find other examples of her incredible work.

Image by ejaugsburg from Pixabay
camping tent on grass lawn

Camp WeWow

I recently authored an article for NEO about using podcasts in the classroom, but that certainly isn’t the only place educational podcasts can be enjoyed. One podcast for kids and adults to listen to together, Wow in the World, is embarking on a special summer edition beginning next week. On June 14th, the podcast will begin streaming daily through the end of July. Each week will have a theme and the episodes will encourage interactivity with STEM projects and “bonkerball antics galore!” Click here to find out more about Camp WeWow, and mark your calendars for this summer (or winter – depending on which part of the world you live in!) activity the entire family can enjoy.

family of four walking at the street
Photo by Emma Bauso on Pexels.com