“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science…” – Edwin Powell Hubble.
The natural world is full of amazing opportunities for exploration and creativity, and therefore an excellent platform on which to build and grow the scientific thinking, knowledge and confidence of young children!
In 2015, Te Papa is creating a teacher resource to support you to ‘do science’ in your own backyard/outdoor environments – with a focus on the invertebrates who make these places home. We are working with three Wellington region Early Childhood Centres to do this: Raumati South Kindergarten, Kiwi Kids Childcare Centre and Imagine Childcare.
Two weeks ago, my colleague Scott and I went to visit the centres to get the tamariki (children) and their kaiako (teachers) started on the project.
With so many living things in the world, it is important for scientists to have methods to sort one from another. Looking for similarities and difference in body appearance is a good place to start.
Many of the creatures living in our backyards belong to a group called invertebrates. This is because they all have no backbones. While looking closely at the selection of resin blocks, we noticed that there are many different types of invertebrates.
While the children came up with a few different ways that we could sort our invertebrates further into groups, we ultimately decided to group them based on the number of legs they had.
We discovered that those with 6 legs were called insects, and those with 8 legs were called arachnids (many of which are spiders)! There are a few invertebrates that have lots and lots of legs, like millipedes and centipedes, and some with no legs at all, like the huhu grub!
When we knew what type of invertebrate our creature was, it became much easier to find out more about it. The book The Life Size Guide to Insects & Other Land Invertebrates of New Zealand by Andrew Crowe proved to be very informative!
Scientists need to know about the environment they are working in so they can make the best use of their time in the field. As the children showed us around their spaces, they were asked to point out areas they thought would be best for finding invertebrates, and tell us why.
Invertebrates living in our backyards are often small, delicate, and quick! This makes close observation and collection rather tricky indeed. Luckily scientists know a range of field work techniques that’ll do the job, while still looking after the welfare of the creatures.
We practiced using magnify glasses correctly – putting the lens right up to your eye and bringing the object in closer.
We also explored drop sheeting (with a litter box tray), soil sampling, and sweep netting. Making and using pooters and pitfall traps was a highlight for many.
Scientists can’t take everything they see back to their lab, so they need to have ways to record what they see. On our visits we looked at two different ways to gather data.
In order to get a good overview of the invertebrates in our backyard, we made our own tally sheets. We thought about what creatures we might expect to find and then drew pictures of them in our tables. We then went exploring, marking each occurrence of the creatures with a line.
To get some more focused data, we also sat and watched some individuals we encountered, making observational drawings.
At its very core, science is about asking questions and building theories to explain the world. Putting on our best wondering faces (complete with finger and thumb on chin pose, and a resounding “Hmmm…”) the children thought about the invertebrates we had seen, and what they wanted to know about them. Those from Raumati South Kindy wondered if Monarch Caterpillars eat just swan plants. Those from Kiwi Kids wondered if spiders liked music and if they dance. And those from Imagine Childcare wondered how spiders made their webs.
We made some hypotheses too – or ‘I think’ statements. We thought that Monarch Caterpillars would eat other food too, that spiders probably don’t dance and that spiders make their webs with their legs.
Testing out their ideas is the next step, and the children were enthusiastic about designing investigations to do this. We are really excited to see where each centre takes this project over the coming weeks.