Ideas for Elementary Science Stations
February 25, 2015 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to set up a number of "stations" at home for long-term observation and record keeping. The observers are ages 3-7, but I'm not looking for crafty or disposable, cheap science projects or stations like they sell at hobby stores. These stations can be built all at once, or assembled over time (as the kids get older).

They can just be built for a few months or a season, or for years. So far I'm working on assembling a weather station, a bird station and garden seedlings to observe and care for (in months Feb-May each spring).

Weather Station: Thermometer, barometer, hygrometer, rain gauge, weather vane and recording book (plus cloud observations)

Bird station: four kinds of seed mixes for different species + suet mix, Audubon guide of N. American Birds, sketchbook/notebook to record different species they see, maybe eventually charts to keep track of how many of whatever bird per month to see if align with migration patterns

Seedlings: growing our own tomato plant seedlings to plant in May. We already do this every year, but I might have my kids do my record keeping of how many of each variety survive, etc.

Any other ideas?
posted by katyh to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Mushroom spawn in logs: divide into a few logs and compare moisture, shade, growth rate, harvest, taste, even different types of wood that they are grown in, etc. Our family does shiitake.

I love this long-term observation concept. Good luck to you!
posted by rabidsegue at 3:10 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you are doing this anyway, you may consider getting connected with the Phenology network and have kids observe things like bud burst, flowering dates etc. Link here:
posted by Toddles at 3:16 PM on February 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

For the weather station, they might have fun swinging around a sling psychrometer to gauge relative humidity. As an adult, I find it fascinating to correlate humidity with how I feel. For that matter, teach them how to empty the dehumidifier and they can see how much water gets sucked out of the air in winter vs. summer.
posted by PSB at 3:25 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Small creature station.

I collect "at risk" frog eggs every year and hatch them and release. This is only for a couple months. We do earth worms, triops and "sea monkeys", too. I've considered adding to the table Hissing cockroaches and snails.

In addition to seedlings - kitchen foods..pineapple top, beans, avocado seeds, lemon seeds, etc.

Rock tumbler. Fun to collects rocks at beach and on hikes. The process takes a month.
posted by beccaj at 3:26 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Butterfly conservatories are fairly easy to get, as are ant farms. Both can take weeks of observation, plus releasing into the wild in the case of butterflies.
posted by Mchelly at 3:28 PM on February 25, 2015

If you have a lake or stream nearby, you could do some observations of water quality. Depending on how fancy you want to get you could do easy stuff like temperature (lab thermometers are cheap) and turbidity (using a Secchi disk) or you could get more involved and measure water chemistry (using a probe to measure pH and simple kits to measure nitrate, ammonium, phosphate, etc.) or monitor biological things, like stream bugs.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:38 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by Ms Vegetable at 3:48 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

What about preservatives? My HS biology teacher had one of those pink marshmallow snowballs nailed to his wall for 20 years. Powerful stuff, enough to remember it years later.

You could have a series of quart-sized mason jars with foods of kinds inside and a basic wall calendar for tracking and monitoring.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 3:54 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Solar observation; possibly a sextant or just a gnomon.

Sextant would just let you measure the vertical angle of the sun-- you'd rotate it to aim at the sun and the point on the horizon directly beneath it. You could also capture that angle of rotation. Ideally this would be done at noon, but any other time would also work. A sextant like this could also capture moon positions for daytime moons. If the sun's angle was checked daily (when visible, of course) at the same time every day, you can observe the changes over the year. I think grade schoolers, except for the occasional bright-and-interested bulb, won't be up to actually calculating the latitude of your location (or true longitude) but that could possibly demonstrated.

On the other hand, you could just have a gnomon-- that's the name of the thing that points upward and cast a shadow on a sundial. The surface of the sundial should be markable and maybe have some concentric circles serving as graduations. Sundial data points captured at the same time of day every day will form a kind of figure-8 pattern over the course of a year-- this shape is called an analemma.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:51 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Do you have an old camera that you could use to take a picture of something every day? It might be fun to look at a year's worth of pictures of the yard to see changes in the sunlight, plants, etc., or do a time-lapse movie.

You could also chart when different tree species are budding/leafing/blooming/fruiting, depending on what you have in your yard or neighborhood.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:11 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is probably one for the kids as they age, but there are certainly parts they could do now:

I am a fan of Brad Lancaster's One-Page Place Assessments. They are short, but in-depth looks at the physical geography of a place, all fit on one page. Here is an example from the upper midwest-- La Crosse, Wisconsin. And here is a page on how to make your own One-Page Place Assessment, summarized into a sample with advice on localizing your own data.

It is the kind of thing that can anchor a whole physical and life sciences curriculum, as well as getting kids thinking about the specific features of the place where they live. For a certain type of involved parent and curious kids, it has my strongest recommendation. It is also the kind of project that will tie together all of the other "observation stations" you already have or are thinking of creating, and unify them into a cohesive educational objective.
posted by seasparrow at 11:03 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Learn the names and habits of the local trees, wildflowers, animals. Depending on where you live, create habitat for monarch butterflies, birds, bats.
posted by theora55 at 2:25 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sunrise, Sunset. Even if they miss a bunch of days observations, if they make an observation a week, they'll see the trend.

Their own height, weight (maybe take this measurement at school, and transfer it to a logbook at home).
posted by at at 3:18 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Set up microenvironments such as a cluster of nettles, a garden of phacelia and sunflowers and other pollinator attractors, a small pond (big tub of standing water), a pile of logs, and some large rocks. Observe what happens on a tiny scale at the edge of two environments, such as on the land and in the water, in the air and under the water, under a stone but not under the ground, inside a rotten log. There are lots of interesting creatures in these marginal places. See who is eating the nettles, who is harvesting the pollen from the phacelia, who is munching inside the rotten log, who is crawling in tunnels under the stones, who is swimming up from the murk in the bottom of the pond to eat the water , etc.

The bird station you have covered. Various bird-feeding spots -- a seed tray, a bath, a ball of suet, etc. -- and maybe food to attract other creatures on the ground. That's fine.

Get a child-proof low-power digital microscope. I have had good luck with the Zoomy. USB it to your PC and examine bugs, worms, their own tongues and ears, etc. You can take samples into the house in jars or take the microscope outside plugged into your laptop. If you guard the laptop from crashes and spills and dirt and rain, the microscope itself is safe, simple, sturdy, and droppable.

And get a child-proof camera or two. Something small for small hands, with an easy zoom. Best if you can get it with a remote and a tripod. Then they can set up a camera very near things like bird feeders and get pictures they wouldn't normally be able to capture. Maybe you can get a trail/game camera to get pictures of beasts at night. See who is sneaking around your garden while you're asleep.

When they have digital pictures, they can figure out the species, sex, and age of the creatures they are looking at and they can add those pictures to observational reports they can present. Maybe put their stuff online for all of us to admire.
posted by pracowity at 6:42 AM on February 26, 2015

One other thing that might be fun (although not on a months-years schedule, but more like days--weeks) would be to grow some crystals. This book (I had and still have the 1963 edition) is a great introduction and lets you do projects ranging from the very simple to the fairly sophisticated.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 3:06 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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