September – October 2018
Have you heard of the “Wood Wide Web?” How trees are able to communicate beneath the soil with the help of friendly fungal root connections? (Yay mushrooms!) Trees communicate with us above the ground in many ways as well…they are nature’s clock revealing the time of year, and trunk growth and bark patterns divulge age and histories. Trees are generous, giving us all and other life on earth the gift of clean air to breathe, shade and shelter, food, medicine, wood for many useful things as well as for a cozy fire to keep us warm! How can we follow their lead and be more like them, generous, kind and caring for our community? How can we take better care of them? This was the theme that STPS students explored this fall, both inside our steam classroom and out on our church campus. We took full advantage of the numerous beautiful, mature and diverse trees gracing our hillside and observed and listened to the stories they were speaking! Did you know that the amazing tree on our Two’s playground is the same species alive when the dinosaurs roamed on our planet?
Here are a few of our favorite related books:
- A Tree is Nice
- Little Tree
- Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf
For grownups: A fascinating TED talk by Suzanne Simard “How Trees Talk to Each Other”
November – December 2018
Just before our holiday break, STPS students rolled up their sleeves and jumped whole-heartedly into the world of making paint with natural items such as colorful edible berries, spices, wood ash, vegetables, and even mud! Why, you ask?
If we lived as native people in our area did many, many years ago, we respected and observed our wild animals and nature carefully. They would teach us ways to gather food, to create warmth and shelter and help us to discover how to use what we could find in our surroundings to celebrate the seasons and special occasions. Each team of four or five students investigated a distinct “mystery item from nature” before poking, crushing and pulverizing it with a willow branch tool; transforming it into sublime colors then painted onto watercolor paper with feathers, moss and pine branch brushes. The result was a beautiful mosaic of native paintings (hanging in the school hallway), each a work of art on its own and together a masterpiece. Just like our STPS students!
A special note: The younger classes enjoyed mixing their own two shades of paint and had the extra fun of cooking and eating their own wild blueberry jam!
Here are a few of our favorite related books:
- Thanks to the Animals
- Wild Berries
Shhhhhhh……our seeds are sleeping….snug inside their seed coats, just waiting for spring to awaken them!
This is the fun the S.T.P. students engaged in during their May steam adventure. To the tune of “Peanut, Peanut Butter and Jelly,” we all sang and danced the Earth’s special recipe for our food: Soil, seed, sun and water.
Using “A Seed is Sleepy,” a wonderful and beautifully illustrated book by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long, we investigated the many unique qualities of seeds….their various shapes, sizes, colors as well as how adventurous they are, how far they are able to travel, how inventive they are in hitching a ride on our shoe laces or in other ways… As soil scientists we got down and dirty and dug soil samples as a team from different areas around our school and took a close look at what each team found. Worms, mealy bugs, larvae, rocks, sand, clay, sticks….we discovered that soil has many components and needs many of them to be healthy and feed our seeds and plants. Using strips of recycled newspaper, we made decomposable plant pot homes for our mammoth sunflower seeds which we planted with the recipe we learned: soil, seed, sun and water! The tiny pots, watered and ready to go into the garden accompanied each student home during the last few days of school. Fingers crossed we did a thorough job of waking up our seeds…if we did, there will be lovely 8 foot or larger sunflowers smiling in many family gardens at the end of summer!
“We hummed, we buzzed
We waggled, because…
As honeybees we shared
Where the best pollen was!!!”
In April the Steam room was transformed into a buzzing honeybee hive where each colony: yellow, red, purple, orange, blue and green groups were busy as bees performing the many vital jobs honeybees do each day, We collected pollen from the stamens of lilies, alstroemeria and other actual wildflowers with cotton balls before putting our proboscis to the test as nectar collectors!
We used pipettes to collect water (our version of nectar) from paper flowers blooming throughout the room to fill our egg carton honeycomb. Fanning our bee wings, we demonstrated the miracle of how honeybees turn nectar into honey. We waggled to our sister bees to communicate where to find the best flowers to visit. We were nurse bees feeding the growing larvae while our brother drone bees assisted our queen in laying 2,000 eggs as queens must lay every day! We investigated a honey super section of a box hive borrowed from a beekeeper and marveled at the perfectly formed hexagons of last seasons’ honeycomb. We concluded our “un-beelievable” adventure by wearing a beekeeper’s helmet and netting and calmed our colony with a smoker as beekeepers do to extract honey from their hives. “Hive Five” to the honeybees, the pollination sensations who help put the fruit, vegetables and much of the food we love on our table!
Want to learn more about honeybees? There are many terrific books and resources, a few favorites are:
STEAM was on the move during the month of March! Kirby, the French lop-eared rabbit, paid a surprise pre-Easter visit to each classroom to share warm, furry springtime joy to all. He brought with him a “wild bunch” of rabbit knowledge and lovely paper eggs for each student to decorate. If you are feeling “crepuscular,” as rabbits do, in the early morning or as the sun is setting, ask your S.T.P. scientist what a male and female rabbit are called. “Hoppy” Spring!!!
LOVE is the answer! The consensus among the S.T.P. students was that we should celebrate love 365 days a year, not just on February 14th. We began our STEAM adventure with some fresh air and silly exercise…to love our hearts too…before we settled into our theme on a warm and fuzzy heart filled polar fleece blanket. All agreed, while feeling the blanket, that love makes us feel warm and fuzzy too! We sang a love song the Purple Owls were so kind to share and brainstormed the many ways we can show love to each other. From hugs to kisses and holding hands to helping hands, the responses were many and creative, which was the perfect way to introduce our activity of making homemade paper for love notes.
Using our paper from our class recycling bins we shredded, stirred in water, and got our hands into the wonderful soggy mess of “paper soup.” Each team added their own bit of colored construction paper (from our recycling bins too!) to the mix to see if they could create a color tint. We then blended each groups mixture into an amazing colored pulp “smoothie” before putting our hands back into it to feel the texture, add dried flower petals and flower seeds. Using a a round splatter screen, the teams then spread their paper pulp into a “pizza” before flattening it with towels to squeeze out the excess water. The fully dried and beautiful paper was delivered to the classrooms a few days later!
The students also designed a school wide love note displayed in the hallway, reminiscent of Robert Indiana’s LOVE statue in Love Park in Philadelphia. We studied a handmade poster in its image to guide us in positioning cardboard letters on watercolor paper and sprayed liquified paint, blending colors to create our own LOVE image. Together we dreamed of visiting the statue and its sister statue, AMOR (love in Spanish, located just across the street), on a fun train adventure to the city with our families!
Where do you go when it starts to snow?
This was the question we explored in the STEAM room in January. It launched our investigation into hibernation and the subnivean zone, the secret kingdom under the snow!
Each class added their own cotton snowballs to our winter wall mural…filling the brilliant blue “sky” with soft flakes of snow. We played a hibernation game where each student uncovered an animal, bird, reptile or insect from under our indoor snow blanket and decided whether it hibernated below the snow, adapted for winter or migrated to a new climate. We compared the animals’ behavior and adaptations to our own in winter and how we adjust to the colder temperatures, shorter days and the challenges posed by the arrival of snow and ice!
The Yellow and Red group created whimsical winter wonderland scenes with glittered homemade snow paint (glue, shaving cream and crystal glitter, a favorite) on paper, foil and recycled cardboard for a variety of textures. It resulted in the sparkling sky, reflective snowflakes and birch trunk look-alikes that frame our hibernation mural in the main hallway.
The Purple, Orange, Green and Blue groups experimented with vegetable shortening to determine if an additional layer of blubber or brown fat helps insulate animals bodies and organs in winter when their body temperatures drop close to freezing during periods of hibernation. There was a flurry of excitement when all classes created a snowstorm in a jar with baby oil, white paint dissolved in water and Alka-Seltzer tablets! It was a snow day for sure!
Please stop to enjoy the winter hibernation mural all the classes creatively contributed in making. Ask your hibernation expert to teach you who adapts above, who goes below and who decides to go, go, go when it snows!
Full Steam Ahead!
The Blue and Green Group Lenni Lenape searched for native woodland animals in our “indoor forest” outside the S.T.P. steam room. Sitting on furs and carpets around our “campfire,” we brainstormed what we could learn from observing animals around us in nature. We then used our animal instincts to find berries and other found-in-nature items to create a collection of subtle natural paints. (berries, wood ash, mud, spices such as turmeric) We crushed, pulverized, stirred, mixed with flour and water and strained in teams of four to produce beautiful colors. White pine “paint brushes,” bark and sea sponges in hand, we created our native paint masterpiece hanging in the hallway of S.T.P.!
In the spirit of Jan Brett’s wintry classic Animal Santa, the Orange Tigers enjoyed their first steam adventure this December. We dipped our hands deep in bird seed of various sizes to get a feel for how we might be able to construct ornaments to feed our feathered friends,. Adding corn syrup, gelatin and warm water to the seed, we concocted a goopy substance we predicted would harden overnight after we scooped it onto our favorite shaped cookie cutter. The following day we searched for a tree “just right” to hang our edible ornaments for our birds to enjoy from us, their animal Santas!
The Blue and Green Pre-K classroom chromatographers “brought the outside in” to explore why leaves change color.
After moving and stretching our bodies like tall, majestic oaks and swirling leaves in the autumn wind, we muddled our favorite color leaves in a mason jar with rubbing alcohol using scissors and nature tools. We folded a coffee filter to place into our jars and made predictions on a blank filter of what we thought might happen after leaving one end of the filter to soak in our leaf liquid overnight. Would we find a pattern? Colors? What would that tell us? Would it be a clue that the trees are “going to sleep” for the winter and making less food?
We wrapped up our first steam adventure with the book “Little Yellow Leaf,” a fall favorite. Ask your chromatographer what appeared on his or her filter!