Sunday, July 20, 2014

2nd Grade Clay Sculptures

I recently posted about some second grade "Mud Pony" sculpture projects. Some of the students chose to sculpt things other than horses. There are a few examples below:
 I didn't encourage snakes since I thought just making a coil was a little simple for 2nd grade, but this pink and orange snake was pretty cute. Students who did make snakes had to at least make them more interesting than a straight coil.
 Other sculpture choices were landforms such as islands or volcanoes, a table with a meal on top, a guitar, and a flower.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Raising Butterflies

Black Swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on fennel.
One of my favorite things about summer is butterflies! The first summer we were in our house, my landscaping priority was to create a butterfly garden. It's pretty simple to do- pick a few species you'd like to attract and provide nectar plants for the adults and host plants for the caterpillars. Most caterpillars can only survive on certain plants. The two species I decided to focus on because I think they are the easiest to attract, are Black Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies.
This post is mainly about black swallowtails because it's too early for peak monarch season, but let me talk briefly about monarch butterflies anyway. Monarch butterflies need our help! Monarch populations have been declining in recent years for many reasons, most notably loss of habitat. Monarch caterpillars depend on milkweeds for survival as they are the only host plant. Milkweed has a bad rap, I grew up with my grandpas telling me not to spread the seeds because it was just a weed. Now we know how important milkweed is for monarchs and other pollinators. If you have a garden, consider adding some milkweed. You'd be helping to support monarchs and their awesome migration (they fly south to Mexico every fall) which is at risk. If you want to learn more about it, check out Monarch Watch, a great educational site that even has information about free milkweed for schools and organizations. 
Click here for a Monarch lesson from a few years back.
Rethink weeds: Butterfly weed is a milkweed with beautiful flowers that will also host monarch caterpillars.
I've already had a bunch of black swallowtails. Host plants for black swallowtail butterflies include fennel, parsley, dill, and carrots. I started with parsley and dill but now that I have fennel, it seems to be the favorite. Some good choices for easy to grow nectar plants are coneflowers, black-eyed susans, sunflowers, cosmos, and zinnias.
Several stages of the Black Swallowtail caterpillar starting with an egg on the left and ending with a chrysalis on the right.
Black swallowtail caterpillars are really fun to watch because they go through so many changes. Black swallowtail caterpillars have 5 instars, or stages they go through when they shed skin they have outgrown and take on a new appearance. I've been trying to get a photo with a caterpillar at each instar and always seem to be missing one. Above is a sample of all the different stages I had a couple days ago. The two in the middle are in the same instar but the one on the right is a day or two older. On the far right is a chrysalis hanging on a twig. Black swallowtail can pupate into a bright green or a brown chrysalis. Some say it depends on their setting, they may turn the color most likely to camouflage them, but I've had both colors in the exact same setting.
Black Swallowtail caterpillar eggs
I started paying attention to my fennel and found my first caterpillar egg this year! Since then I've seen females laying eggs (see first photo) and have found several more to bring inside. I found 9 eggs alone this morning just perched on the edge of the fennel. Whenever I try to get a photo of eggs on the fennel outside, it ends up being too windy, so here is a picture taken in my small enclosure inside.
Black Swallowtail caterpillar stretching to enjoy some fennel.
I've brought a few caterpillars inside each year, but never as many as this year! My oldest son is old enough now, 3 1/2, to really appreciate what's going on. He checks on the caterpillars and talks to them all the time. This is a GREAT early science experience. He's been able to see every stage of the butterfly life cycle and can even tell you about the "chrysalis".
Let me tell you something REALLY cool about black swallowtail caterpillars. See that orange blob in the picture? It's called an osmeterium and the caterpillars push it out when they feel threatened. It also releases a scent. I don't think it smells bad, it's just noticeable. You can also see that the caterpillar above has just shed it's skin from the 4th instar (on the stick behind it) and is in the last stage before pupation.
Close up of Black Swallowtail Butterfly wing.
I've always just rigged something up to keep a couple caterpillars in, but this year I wanted to find something larger so I could raise more caterpillars. My grandpa had an old fish tank in his barn so my kind mother cleaned it up for me and it's currently housing my larger caterpillars, including one getting ready to pupate. It will be nice so that the butterflies have a bit more room to move around if I don't happen to be home to release them as soon as they emerge. Did you know that when a butterfly comes out of his/her chrysalis it has "eclosed"? I just learned that word. :)
After some time has passed (usually around 2 weeks) the chrysalis will turn black and you know that the butterfly will eclose soon. When the butterflies emerge, they hang around for a while, pumping fluid into their wings and letting them dry out. Once the wings are totally dry, it is safe to release the butterfly. I let this one go after my kids went to bed because I was afraid of waiting until morning, not having my larger enclosure yet. If a butterfly starts getting agitated and trying to fly away but it's not a good time- bad weather, etc., you can keep them in the dark and they usually chill out.
A Black Swallowtail butterfly at the top of a twig that also holds a chrysalis 
To finish off this post, I'd like to share my Top 5 Reasons to Raise Caterpillars, followed by a plea.
Top 5 Reasons to Raise Caterpillars
  1. Get your kids excited about science.
  2. Observe a miracle of nature.
  3. Photo Opps!
  4. Support pollinators. (butterfly gardens will also support bees and other pollinators)
  5. "Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar." -Bradley Miller
And now the plea. If you do find a caterpillar and decide to raise it, PLEASE identify it and make sure that you have the correct host plant. You can't get away with just throwing some random leaves in a jar with it and hoping it will make it. Your kids would be really disappointed to wake up to a dead caterpillar. Don't know what kind of caterpillar you have? Check out this FREE Caterpillar Identification Tool from Discover Life!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mud Ponies

Last school year we spent some time learning about Native American cultures for our district's Cultural Heritage studies. I came across the book "The Mud Pony" by Caron Lee Cohen and thought it would be a great starting point for a clay project. I didn't have my clay order in yet so I filed the idea away until spring. 
Here's a description of the story from Publishers Weekly:
"From the Skidi branch of the Pawnee Indians of the Plains comes this tale of a boy who achieves greatness in his tribe with the guidance of a pony he made out of mud. Too poor to own a pony like the other boys, he fashions a small mud pony and goes to see it every day. It is during one of these visits that the rest of the tribe moves west in search of buffalo, and the boy is left behind. Not only does the mud pony become a living, breathing horse, but she takes him to his tribe; later, she helps him become the chief of his tribe by giving him great power in battles. "I am here, your Mother Earth. You are not alone!" are the words he hears when the mud pony has once again gone back to the earth. Cohen retells this story with grace; Begay, a Native American artist, provides evocative paintings that derive strength and impact from the suggestion of action rather than fully detailed scenes. Ages 5-8."
I made a really awesome illustration (haha) to show the steps I demonstrated for sculpting a clay horse. I hope that it makes sense!
 This was a little tricky for a lot of the 2nd graders, who tend to either pinch too much and make legs too skinny to support the weight of the rest of the animal, or legs that are too short making the animal hard to identify. I think it would be easier for older students.
Since we are using choice based art, I didn't require that the students make a horse, just that they sculpt the clay. In my next blog post, I'll share some of the other sculpture projects.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Intermediate Choice

I have SO many photos of artwork to sort through from the end of the school year! With student choice there aren't always obvious themes to sort artwork by for blog posts. So here is a little sample of some intermediate grade choice projects.
 4th grade skateboard design and artist statement.
I can't remember what animal the gray guy is supposed to be. I think it looks like a sea sloth. :)
I wish I had copied down the artist statement that went with the painting above. A picture in one of my art books reminded the student of a guy on TV that balanced a lot of chairs and it inspired this painting. This is by a 5th grade student who usually really rushes through his work. He might have an awesome pencil drawing and then color it all within 5 or 10 minutes. I've been working on getting him to slow down since he was in 3rd grade. With this project he took his time a little more. Other than forgetting that he used watercolors on the first day and switching to tempera on the second, he did a really good job!
This student could make paintings and drawings like this all day long. I like some of her compositional ideas and that she worked in a series. This is a student who would get an idea and just do awesome work. She made my job pretty easy most of the time. I was able to help her develop more of a value range in some drawings and work on drawing hands and other body parts beyond faces .
We've had a couple tough years with 6th graders but looking back through artwork from this year reminds me that I'm going to really miss some of these students! We had a pretty good bunch this year with lots of creativity and not too much attitude. Just the way I like 'em!