Monday, May 30, 2011

EARLY INDICATORS - Think Like a Scientist

Recently, our clothes dryer began to squeak loudly.  The repairman stopped by and told us the squeak was an “early indication” that the drum bearing was wearing out.  Since we called him quickly, he was able to make a minor adjustment and avoid a more costly repair.  Sometimes there are clear signals or “indicators” that provide advance warning of a problem and it may give us an opportunity to address an issue before it becomes a major problem.  As scientists, we want to be especially aware of "early indicators".
Denver Holt is a researcher who is making his 20th journey to Alaska this summer to observe the predator-prey relationship between the lemmings (small rodents) that crawl across the tundra and the white owls that hunt them from above.   He says that the snowy owl has a role to play in understanding ecological changes in one of the fastest changing places in the world. “When lemmings are doing well, everything is doing well — eider ducks, sandhill cranes, arctic fox and weasels,” Mr. Holt said. “If climate change results in habitat changes and it affects the lemmings, it will show up in the snowy owls because 90 percent of their diet is lemmings. The owls are the key to everything else.”  Changes in the owl population or behavior could flag changes in the global arctic ecosystem even without other indicators.
John W. Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, at Cornell University says, “Systems are complex, and if we have an easily accessible barometer for the system beneath it that’s a really good thing, because we can measure cheaply and easily how an ecosystem is doing. It gives us a quick handle.”
Amazing….. the white owl may be an EARLY INDICATOR of the health of our eco-system.  Think of some other early indicators that are helpful in your life – post them to the comments section if you like.
Thanks to the NY Times for this story - read more at this link:    NY Times - Snowy Owl

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Baby Chicks are Here!!

This week we had 11 baby chicks hatch in our incubator.  Checkout the link below to see a YouTube video showing one of the chicks hatching and listen to the reaction of some of our 5th graders.  It is truly an amazing experience to see the young chicks emerge from those eggs and in minutes, tranform to active little birds.  Thanks very much to Bullock County 4H for loaning us the incubator and to Chase Phillips' family for providing the eggs.
Chickens Hatch - 5th Grade GW Long

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Baby Chickens - Right on Time !

Sunday evening - Mrs D stopped by to check on the chicken eggs and to move them from the egg turner.  She was excited to see that several of the eggs were beginning to have cracks, some eggs were moving, and you could even hear one or two baby chicks chirping.  Looks like we will absolutely have some baby chicks this week - what a great way to finish up the school year!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Watch Shuttle and Space Station Flyover While Docked

The second to last of the shuttle missions, STS-134, is underway right now and the Space Shuttle is currently docked with the International Space Station.  We have a great opportunity (in the Dale County area) to view the two as they pass overhead next Wednesday, May 25th.    At 5am that morning, look for the Shuttle/ISS to appear in the northwest sky (316 degrees) and almost directly overhead (80 degrees).  As you are facing northwest, it will appear to move from left to right.

If you are not in Dale County, Alabama, check the following link to find good viewing times for your area.  Real Time Satellite Tracking

Moving Day for our Classroom

As we wrap up the school year, we are making some changes - one of those is moving to a new classroom.  Thanks to the staff members, fellow teachers, and students who pitched in to help with the move.  Our new classroom looks great !

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Your Own Birding Laboratory !

Want to learn more about birds and improve your observation skills?  Set up one or more bird feeders that are easy to observe from your porch or a window at your house.  You may already have feeders in your yard – if not, you can make one from a used 32 oz plastic bottle using plans at this link:
Plastic Bottle Bird Feeder
Sunflower seeds are a popular treat for backyard birds but you can use other types of bird seed as well.  If your feeder is new, it may take a few days before the birds begin to visit.  Be patient – they will come.
Here are some simple observations that you can begin immediately:  (1) How many different types of birds have you observed at your feeder? (2) What is the maximum number of birds you have seen at the feeder at a same time?  (3) When birds visit, how many seconds do they typically stay at the feeder?  (4) When a male and female bird visit at the same time, which one usually arrives first?  
Want to learn more about bird identification?   There are some outstanding websites that can help you get started.  Checkout these:  WildBirds - Birding for Beginners  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Son Graduates from Univ of Arkansas

On Saturday, Mrs Durrance's son Josh graduated with a degree in AgriBusiness from the University of Arkansas.  Here's a picture of one proud graduate and one proud mom !

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bird Migration – Hummingbirds Will Amaze You !

Some great info from website "Hummingbird Journey North"
A hummingbird flaps its wings 75 times per second during flight. Flying burns so much energy that a hummingbird typically eats every 15 minutes!  Hummingbirds spend warm months in the areas of North America shaded red.  They fly to Central America (areas shaded green) during the cooler months of the year.  When hummingbirds migrate, do you think they fly over land and feed on flowers along the way? Or do they fly over open seas, where there's no place to find food or rest? Look at the map, make your prediction, then check out these websites to learn the answer!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Scientists must make accurate observations and measurements about the world around them.  Many of the tools that scientists use are intended to help them observe details more carefully.  Some of these are complex, high-powered instruments; others are simply diagrams that help make better observations.
Roger Tory Peterson published field guides to simplify bird identification for others.  Of his work he said, "I grouped birds that look alike and therefore might be mistaken for each other, instead of grouping them by species," he remembered years later. "I made my paintings schematic and two-dimensional, and I drew little arrows to point out the 'field marks' that are the main information you need to identify a bird. Those arrows were my invention."
Finally, Peterson included brief, no-nonsense bird descriptions that were as minimal and sharp as his illustrations. One of his most famous captured the male common goldfinch: "The only small yellow bird with black wings." Commit that to memory, and no male common goldfinch flying by will ever again go undetected.
Excerpts taken from Time Magazine, Aug 12, 1996

EARN A REWARD!!   Answers are due by class on Friday.
1) Name at least five tools that scientists use in order to make more accurate observations.
2) When did Roger Tory Peterson publish his first field guide and what was its title?
3) Think you are a good observer?  Take out a sheet of paper and draw two large circles.  Now, within those circles, draw the front and reverse sides of a Lincoln head penny FROM MEMORY!  After you have finished, compare your drawing to a real penny and make a list of things that you forgot.  Be ready to show your work on this.
4) When you visit the doctor, what are some of the observations or measurements that the doctor or nurse do every time you visit? Provide a list of at least three of these.  Tell why you believe each of these observations/measurements is important.
5) Check out this web page about a bird-bander from Montgomery, Alabama.  What is Fred trying to observe or measure by banding birds?  List two locations Fred does most of his work.

Monday, May 9, 2011

EGG CAM - this is cool !

We are watching our eggs each day and so are some 4H students in Lancaster County Nebraska.  They have even set up an “Egg Cam” to allow you to view the eggs around the clock and they’re expecting to see chicks on May 17th.  Checkout their website ! Egg Cam

Embryonic Development - Eggs to Chickens

This week our classroom is monitoring more than 24 chicken eggs in an incubator.  (Thanks very much to Bullock County Extension Office for loaning us the incubator and to Chase Phillips’ family for plenty of fertile eggs!)  We believe that our eggs are at DAY 5 of development and are expecting them to hatch around May 25th.   Here is a link to a great website which shows photos for each day of embryonic development.  (This set of photos was developed by researchers at Auburn University and it’s used by 4H students all over the country.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

WOW - REAL BEES IN OUR CLASS ! Thanks Horton Honey Farms

Many thanks to Mrs Roslyn Horton from Horton Honey Farms in Echo.  Mrs Horton visited our class on Thursday to talk about honeybees and she brought an observation hive with live bees!  This was a great time for us to learn from a beekeeping expert about how a bee colony functions, the different roles of the bees, construction of the honeycomb, and the keen sensitivity that bees have to ensure the recipe for honey is tightly controlled.  We even talked about why “killer bees” are a threat and some of the measures that experts are taking to slow down their entry into our region.
Horton Honey Farms has a great website – check it out !  
Mrs Horton and her family are beekeepers, they sell honey and honey related health products, they teach others about beekeeping and are involved in Christian ministry in the Wiregrass area.
Did you get any disappearing honey?  Mrs D took some Horton’s Honey Farms honey to her family and it began to disappear immediately !

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Waggle Dance - Amazing Bees !

Bees communicate with one another using the Waggle Dance.  When one bee finds a source of flowers, it returns to the hive and performs a dance that communicates to other bees where these flowers are located.  The dance actually gives the direction and the distance from the hive!  The importance of the dance was discovered in 1947 but even today, researchers at Georgia Tech are studying the Waggle Dance of bees, and the way other animals communicate with each other.  They hope to use their findings to enable robots to communicate with each other.

Researchers at Georgia Tech's Robotics Lab have produced a fascinating video about the Waggle Dance.  It is 7 1/2 minutes long but very informative.  Here is the link to the video on YouTube: Ga Tech Robotics Lab Video on Waggle Dance

Looking for something shorter ?  This YouTube video is less than one minute but it shows the Waggle Dance of the honeybee!  Here is the link: Waggle Dance of Bees - Short Video

EARN A REWARD!!   Your answers are due to Mrs D by class on Friday.
(1) Do some research to find out who discovered the Waggle Dance and what country he/she is from. 
(2) Print out a copy of a world map and circle the country where this researcher is from.   (Page 2 of the Blog has a link to a world map if you need one.)
(3)  Be a scientist!!!  Think of two other types of animals that may have communication methods that would be very interesting to study and understand.  Do not select domestic animals such as cats, dogs, or horses.
(4) Describe an experiment or an observation that you would perform to better understand communication methods of the animals you selected.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Two Great Opportunities to See International Space Station This Week

Been wanting to get a view of the International Space Station ?  Or maybe you've already seen it and want to show your friends?  This week there are two great viewing opportunities (from Dale County area) on Thursday evening and Saturday evening.  Times and viewing locations are listed below - Good Luck !!

Thurs, 05 May - at 8:58pm, ISS will be in NE sky (30 deg azimuth) and almost directly overhead (83 deg elevation).  It will be flying from left to right.

Sat, 07 May - at 8:10pm, ISS will be in NE sky (28 deg azimuth) and almost directly overhead (83 deg elevation).  It will be flying from left to right.

Want to check satellite flyover times for yourself?  Check out this link - you can give it your location then get a 5-day forecast on satellites that are bright enough to see without a telescope.

Buzzing about Honeybees! - Special Guest on Thursday

This week we have a beekeeper coming to our class to teach us about honeybees!  You might be familiar with the pain of a bee sting but how much do you know about these fascinating insects?  Did you know that without bees, many of our crops would fail and food production would drop to critical levels?  Bees are responsible for pollinating the flowers and blossoms of the fruits and vegetables that we enjoy.
We’ll also learn about honey production when our guest visits later this week.  Did you know that honey made in different areas looks different (in color) and even tastes different?  Why do you think this is true?
To earn a reward, provide answers to these two questions: (1) Why do you think that honey made in different areas looks and tastes different?  (2) What are the three main types of honeybees?  Your answers are due by class on Thursday.