School of Rock (Cycle)!

When most people look at rocks they see….well, rocks. Lumps of soil and hard chunks of earth of different shapes and sizes. Maybe you collect them, or climb them, or use them in your garden. But geologists know the hidden truth about rocks – they help tell the earth’s history!

There are 3 types of rocks: Igneous, Sedimentary, and Metamorphic. Rocks can change from one type to another through different processes like melting or pressure.

Igneous rocks are usually associated with volcanoes. They are formed deep in the Earth’s surface by the cooling and solidification of molten magma or lava.  Examples: basalt, pumice, granite

Sedimentary rocks can take thousands of years to form. Layers of gravel, silt, sand, and even dead plants and animals are slowly deposited on top of each other. As layer after layer pile up, the bottom layers are pushed down and become tightly compacted together into a rock.  Sedimentary rocks can be identified by their layered appearance and will often have fossils in them. Examples: limestone, sandstone, coal

Metamorphic rocks are formed by both heat and pressure deep within the Earth’s surface. They can take up to millions of years to form! Like sedimentary rocks, they may have some layers but they will appear bent, curvy, or molted. Examples: marble, slate, schist

Earth recycles and reuses it’s rocks. Nothing is lost – it is just reformed. Through eorision, weathering, melting, cooling, and lots of pressure, old rocks are broken down and new rocks are formed. We call this type of recycling the Rock Cycle! Check out the diagram below! Image result for rock cycle
Our novice geologists this month had a special appearance by paleontologist Dr. Neal Immega from the Houston Gem & Mineral Society. Dr. Immega taught the students about the rock cycle, let them examine a variety of rocks, and showed the students some really cool petrified turtle poop!

Dr. Neal Immega teaching the students about the rock cycle.
Petrified tortoise poop!!
Checking out the rock samples!
Dr. Immega teaching about the rock cycle
Checking out the rock samples!

Questions: How well did you pay attention?

  • What are the three types of rocks?
  • How are each types of rock formed?
  • Name at least two types of processes that change rocks into different rocks.

With your parent’s permission, research the following rock formations.

  • The Arbol de Piedra, Bolivia
  • Immortal Bridge, Mt. Tai, China
  • Kannesteinen Vågsøy, Norway
  • Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
  • Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, USA
  • Painted Cliffs, Tasmania
  • The Wave Rock, Arizona, USA
  • Split Apple Rock, New Zealand

What types of rocks are they? How were they shaped in their current form? What type of processes did they undergo?

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Geology Rocks!

What exactly is GEOLOGY? Geology is the study of our Earth. Scientists, called geologists, study different rocks to learn what the earth is made of, how it has changed over time, and what natural processes has it been through.

Rocks come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. We can identify what type it is based on it’s physical properties. Physical properties are the characteristics that make a rock unique. No two types of rocks are the same – which is why rock collecting so much fun! Here are some questions that will help you identify different rock samples:

  • What color is it?
  • What is the level of hardness?
  • What type of cleavage does it have?
  • Luster – Is it shiny or dull?
  • Streak – Does it leave a streak behind? What color is the streak?
  • Does it have crystals? What shape are they?
  • Does it float?
  • Is it attracted to magnets?


Geology Activity

Collect rock samples from around your area. It can be from a gravel path, a garden, or a local park, or visit a nature shop or rock collecting store. Using a geology kit (you can find them online or in our Nature Gift Shop!), test each rock or mineral sample. See how many different types of rocks you can identify!

Don’t have any rocks to test? Check out this fun game from Science Kids. You can test the properties of rocks such as slate, marble, chalk, granite and pumice. Remember to ask parents permission to use the computer!


We use things made from rocks everyday! Did you know each person will use an average of 3 million pounds of rocks, minerals, and metals in their lifetime? Whoa – that is a lot of rocks! Rocks are used in bricks to build houses and pathways. Ceramics made from clay make dishes and vases and even piggy banks! Sand can be used to build castles, or melted down to make glass! Metal is made from melting down certain rocks (similar to the way volcanoes do!) and shaping them into products we need. Even the lead in our pencils come from rocks!

Geology Scavenger Hunt: Home Edition

Want to know just how many rocks and minerals you have around your home? Grab a pencil and a piece of paper and start searching! Go to each room and see just how many different items you can find. Challenge a friend to make a list and see who can find the most things! Don’t forget – anything made from glass, ceramics, and metal count. And check outside your house for bricks and sidewalks!

Bonus: See if you can figure out what type of rock it came from! For instance, aluminum foil is made from aluminum. Ceramic tiles are made from clay. Glass is made from quartz or silica.

Need a little extra help? Check out this interactive website by One Geology Kids to learn more about geology! There is a picture of a kitchen that can give you some help in exploring your own home.

Quickles!

Quick pickles?? Quickles!

What do you do if you have too much food from your garden and you just can’t eat it all? One fun way to preserve that food is by pickling it! Pickling is a process of preserving food by immersing it in either vinegar or a salt brine to prevent spoilage. The idea of pickling has been around for centuries.

This quick recipe is perfect to do with kids because it does not require cooking or any fancy equipment. Just prep, mix, and refrigerate! These pickles, or quickles, taste great on burgers, with sandwiches, added to a cheese or charcuterie board, or just as an afternoon snack!

Our recipe is for a 2 or 3 quart jar but you can also use several pint size jars. For Home School we used 75 jars!

75 jars cleaned and ready to go! Thank you to everyone who donated jars to our Home School Program!

We washed, peeled, and cut our cucumbers, carrots, and onions. Then we layered them into the jars.

Carefully cutting our vegetables.

 

Layering our vegetable slices in our jars

Then we added our spices! We used dill weed, whole peppercorns, and dried minced garlic. (Thanks to Bolner’s Fiesta Spices for the donations! Check out their Facebook page for recipe ideas and product updates!).

 

Next, we mixed together the vinegar, sugar, and pickling salt. We poured the mixture over our vegetable slices and gave it a good stir!

Stirring it all up!

Last step – refrigerate for at least 24 hours! Then eat! Be sure to eat them within two weeks.

Making our quickles!

Download the recipe we used here:  Quick Pickles and Carrots

Once you have eaten all your pickles – reuse your jar to make more! What else can you pickle? Try beets, zucchini, okra, or eggs! Experiment with different herbs and spices to see what new flavor combinations you can come up with next!

Ladybugs and Squirmy Worms!

Now that you have your garden planted you have to maintain it! The 6/7 class read the book “Water, Weed, and Wait” by Angela Demos Halpin and Edith Hope Fine to learn what it takes to keep a garden healthy and growing. We need to make sure to water the plants (but not too much!), give it lots of sunlight, and keep the weeds from overtaking the flower beds. 

Making worm composters and ladybug habitats_Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

We also learned about garden bugs! Some insects, like ladybugs, honeybees, butterflies and assassin bugs are great for our gardens! They help to pollinate our flowers and they keep out the unwanted bugs (like grasshoppers, snails, and aphids). Each student created a ladybug habitat to take home. They added fresh plant material, water, and soaked raisins for food. They are going to observe the ladybugs and then release them into their gardens at home! The best time to release the ladybugs is in the evening when it is cooler.

Labybugs! Great garden helpers! _Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

 

Another great garden helper are squiggly, wiggly worms! Earthworms break down dead plant matter which provides nutrient rich soil for the plants. They also help to loosen the soil as they dig tunnels underground. We made a compost starter of soil, dried leaves, and water and added a red wiggler worm to it. Make sure the soil stays damp so the worm doesn’t dry out. When you are ready, put the worm and the compost directly into your garden!

Red wigglers are perfect for gardens!_Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

This Week’s Take Home Activity:

Observe your garden helpers and be sure to release them into your garden soon. If your plants have already started to grow strong roots, they are ready to be planted into the ground or into a larger container. Make sure your garden stays watered and has plenty of sunlight.

Happy Gardening!

Making worm composters and ladybug habitats_Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

 

 

Urban Farming and Gardening

It is Urban Farming time at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center!

So you may be wondering “Why should we have an urban farm?” Well, for a variety of reasons! You know where your food comes from, it will save you money, is environmentally friendly, helps you and your children connect with nature, helps to add a little nature in an otherwise concreted city area, and the gardens help to clean the air and water around you. You can even make a little money by selling products like goat cheese, honey, or selling your extra produce.

We planted seeds, bulbs, and even vegetable scraps in our containers!

This month, Home Schoolers are learning how to add a little greenspace to their urban surroundings. We started by planting our very own container gardens. Our plantings included radishes, lettuce, wheatgrass, spearmint, lavender, and onions! We also potted green beans and tomatoes as a class.

Planting in our peat pots!

Don’t forget to put your plants in a sunny place inside like a windowsill. Check the soil to make sure it stays damp but too soggy. Once the plants start to grow and the roots are showing, you can transplant them into a larger pot or directly into the ground. You don’t have to remove it from the peat pot! It is made from peat and wood fibers so it makes a great compost for your garden. 

Don’t forget to add a plant marker so you remember what you planted!

This Week’s Take Home Activity:

When planning your garden it is best to start with research.  First, you need to find out which plants will grow best in your environment. Then look to see when the planting season is. Some plants need to be planted in early spring, while others are fall and winter plants. Find out how much space, sunlight and water each plant requires. Sketch out your garden on a piece of paper showing where each plant will go. When you are ready, head to the nearest garden center to get your supplies! Remember, you don’t just have to plant just vegetables. Herbs, fruit trees, and flowers make great additions to your garden area!

(Check out websites like Urban Harvest for information on local plants.)

Busy Beekeepers!

The Home Schoolers were all abuzz this week learning about urban farming and BEES! Not only are bees superb pollinators, they also  make the most delicious honey! Backyard beekeeping has become popular among urban farmers and it is easy to see why. Who doesn’t love their sweet honey?!

 

Photo Credit: Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

The students saw a fantastic presentation by Uncommon Bees! They brought tools and gear for the students to see, talked about the bees make honey, and how Uncommon Bees process it! They even brought yummy samples!

Mason Bee_Photo Credit: Houston Arboretum & Nature Center

For more information about Uncommon Bees, including where you can buy their products, visit them on Facebook here. Check out their pictures below!

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They brought some really cool tools!

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Learning about hives and honeycombs
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Check out that beekeeping outfit!

Heart Smart!

The heart is a pretty amazing organ! Did you know your heart is actually a muscle? In fact, it is one of the strongest muscles in your body! To keep your heart healthy you should eat healthy foods, drinks plenty of water, reduce stress, and exercise.

Some of my favorite workouts include hiking (at the Houston Arboretum, of course!), swimming, dancing, and yoga. What is your favorite way to exercise?

Here is a fun way to exercise – download and assemble this Healthy Heart Spinner! Follow the instructions for some heart-pumping fun!

Here are some other awesome facts about hearts:

  • Your heart is about the size and shape of your two hands clasped together
  • It beats approximately 100,000 times per day! Whew!
  • It can pump 1.3 gallons of blood every minute
  • The heart is actually a muscle
  • The blue whale has the largest heart – it weighs about 1,500 pounds!
  • A fairy fly has the smallest heart of any living creature
  • Laughing is good for your heart! It helps to reduce stress!

 

Check out this video about the circulation system!

 

Our Amazing Body

Review of Systems

Our body is comprised of eleven different systems, each with it’s own function to help keep our bodies healthy and moving! Can you name all eleven systems and their functions? Here is a review of the systems we are studying in our Amazing Body Systems Units. (Review of Body Systems).

Circulatory – Pumps blood carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, and carries waste and carbon dioxide back out.

Respiratory – Inhales oxygen into the body and expels carbon dioxide.

Nervous – Sends and receives messages from throughout the body about how to react.

Muscular – Allows movement for our bodies.

Skeletal – Gives our bodies shape and structure, protects our organs, and allows for movements.

Digestive – Breaks down food for our bodies to use as energy.

Endocrine – Controls body functions by the use of hormones.

Excretory – Cleans the blood system and rids the body of waste.

Immune – Fights disease.

Integument – Skin covering our bodies that help cool us down, warm us up, and protect us from invaders.

Reproductive – Produces cells and hormones necessary for reproduction and to create new offspring.

 

NPS Junior Forest Ranger Program

You are on the way to becoming an official Junior Ranger! Your goal for this month is to finish the Junior Ranger booklet we gave you in class today. When you complete all the activities, mail in the postcard on the back of the booklet and they will send you the Official Junior Forest Ranger pin! You will also receive a membership card to gain access to the JFR Clubhouse!

Did you know there are even MORE Junior Ranger badges you can earn? Did you know many of the National Parks and Monuments also have Junior Rangers programs, including several here in Texas? Click on the link here to check their website for more information.

 

Junior Forest Ranger BookletWe would like to thank the National Park Service for sending us the booklets, and encouraging kids to “Explore, Learn, and Protect!” 

Who Ate Our Food?

As part of our Mammal Study this month we learned that we don’t always get to see the animals in the wild. Sometimes we have to look for the signs an animals has been in the area. One of the easiest ways is to look for animal tracks! So, we set up a field experiment to see if we could identify which animals live in our forest. Grab your Wildlife Tracks Field Guide and see which ones you can identify!

First, we set out bait to attract animals to the area. The bait was placed in the middle of a pile of smoothed sand to make it easier to see the tracks. Then we left it overnight and checked it again in the morning. What foods did we use? Why did we use both meat and plants?

First animals to arrive on the scene! Unfortunately, they aren’t mammals!

Here is the 5 year old class site. The food is gone! The sand has been dug up. And notice the hula hoop? It was missing! It was dragged into the woods about 7 feet away. I wonder if the mammal was hula-hooping in the woods? 🙂

The 6-7 year old class only had one piece of carrot left on it. Check out all the tracks!

 

The 8-9 class added acorns to their bait. These tracks appear to be smaller. You can clearly see toe marks.

Last site belongs to the 10-12 year old class. In addition to turkey meat and carrots, they added peanut butter and granola bars! There were tracks every where!

The 10-12 year old class set up a game camera to see if we could snap a picture of our late night visitors. Our camera is motioned sensored and has night vision making it perfect for our bait sites. And guess who we saw on it?

Coyotes!! We were so excited to see them checking out the area. But, we wondered who else was coming to dinner? There were lots of prints of different shapes and sizes that we still needed to identify. So, we moved the game camera over to the compost bin nearby. What mammals do you think came to snack on leftover food?


Possum!

Coyote!

Squirrels!

Wait? Mr. Justin?!? Well, he is a mammal!