Polar Bear Structures

Children learn through experiences, and the earlier they are exposed to STEM-based hands-on learning experiences, the better.

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Engineering activities, by their nature, are an inquiry-based pedagogical strategy that promotes learning across disciplines.  Engineering curricula introduces students of all ages to everyday applications of science, mathematics, technology and engineering that match their values and view of the world.

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This, and many of our other activities are designed to engage students in hands-on STEM experiences in order to improve their understanding of fundamental concepts in a way that capitalizes upon their design, visualization, creativity and teamwork skills and yearnings.

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For this STEM activity, students created white structures out of cups. These structures symbolized glaciers and other snow-topped bodies of land that surround polar bears. Using their hands, they stacked the cups in various formations and then stuck their bears into the middle. It was so much fun seeing what everyone came up with!

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Polar Bear Skin

A polar bear’s fur is made up of two layers – an outer layer, with long ‘guard’ hairs, and a thick undercoat, with shorter hair. The outer layer of hair is clear – and a polar bear’s skin is black.  Polar bears evolved to have black skin, as the color is the best for absorbing energy from the sun.

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This is because objects that appear black don’t reflect any light – and as polar bears are found in countries around the Arctic Circle – Canada, Russia, Alaska in the US, Greenland and Norway – the colder conditions require as much sunlight as possible to be absorbed when it’s available.

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The clear fur allows this sunlight to get to the skin – but it still looks white, so that the bear can blend in with its environment of ice and snow. To learn about this phenomena, we conducted a science experiment with black play dough, straws, and flashlights. Using their fingers, students manipulated black play dough with straws. They then shined their flashlights directly onto the straws. Doing so enabled them to see that even though the play dough was black, the light against it made it look white!

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Fault Block Mountains

Fault block mountains are distinguished by great sheer rock faces.

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These form when enormous underground pressure forces a whole rock mass to break away from another.

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The line at which this break takes place is called a fault. On one side of this break the rocks rise; on the other side they sink down.

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Some of the most spectacular mountain scenery anywhere are the great rock walls of the Sierra Nevada which are actually the sides of huge tilted fault blocks. The Sierra Nevada are in fact the broken upper edge of a huge plate that tilts down toward the west to nearly five miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

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To help us further understand these magnificent structures, we created our own fault block mountains using artificial grass, styrofoam blocks, and regular blocks.

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Combine Harvesters

A combine harvester, or combine, is the tool of choice for harvesting corn and other grains.

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The reason this piece of equipment is called a combine is simply because it combines several jobs into a single machine.

 

Combines cut the crop and separate the grain from the plant while processing and spreading the remaining material over the field.

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The invention of the combine was a major moment in human history (with some debate about who really invented it!) that revolutionized the way grain crops were harvested.

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To help us understand this amazing machine, we combine tractors and corn kernels to harvest corn!

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With their friends, your little one moved corn around sensory tubs, laughing as they planted their “crops.”

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Creative Foxes

When creativity is fostered within the preschool classroom, children thrive. They thrive because of art. The use of art and other creative activities are important because they enable your little one to benefit across many domains. For example, art may boost young children’s ability to analyze and problem-solve in myriad ways. As kids manipulate a paintbrush, their fine motor skills improve.

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By counting pieces and colors, they learn the basics of math. When children experiment with materials, they dabble in science. Most important perhaps, when kids feel good while they are creating, art helps boost self-confidence.

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And children who feel able to experiment and to make mistakes feel free to invent new ways of thinking, which extends well beyond the craft room. For this activity, we created fennec fox burrows. Using paint, glue, and woodchips, students painted cardboard tubes to create the perfect home for their foxes. Following this, students participated in a sensory activity with their new burrows. Once completed, students were able to take their burrows home!

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Stacking Tortoises

The desert tortoise is a species of tortoise that is endemic to the Sonoran and Mojave deserts of northwestern Mexico and southwestern United States.  There are only two species of desert tortoise and their hardiness lies in their ability to dig burrows underground. Desert tortoises are herbivores, capable of living in extreme weather conditions.

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They are able to do this by escaping into underground burrows during hot days. To help us connect with this creature, we stacked tortoises made out of egg cartons. Using their fine motor skills, students practiced stacking tortoises on top of one another. This fostered their cognitive skills as students concentrated on balancing their tortoises without allowing them to fall! Once finished, students were encouraged to count their tortoises and start all over again!

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Build a Burrow

The materials we choose to bring into our classroom reveal the choices we have made about knowledge and what we think is important to know.

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How children are invited to use the materials indicates the role they shall have in their learning.

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Materials are the text of early childhood classrooms.

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Unlike books filled with facts and printed with words, materials are more like outlines.

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They offer openings and pathways by and through which children may enter the world of knowledge.

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Materials become the tools with which children give form to and express their understanding of the world and the meanings they have constructed.

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It is for this reason that we are constantly interacting with several different substances, all of which serve a learning purpose! During the month of August, we learned all about the desert. During our fourth week of instruction, we talked all about the fennec fox! Three primary activities dominated our week. For these three activities, we utilized a variety of materials to construct fennec fox habitats.

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Before we began, we read a story called Fenny the Fox, by Hans Baumann. From this book, we learned that fennec foxes live in burrows.

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At the start of the week, we created these burrows by painting cardboard tubes.

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We then added wood chips and sand to them, and later placed them into our sensory tables.

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Students were invited to play and explore the different materials used.

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During the middle of the week, we constructed burrows out of bamboo flower pots.

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Students enjoyed creating scenarios with their friends as they interacted with desert vegetation, rocks, and sand. Lastly, we constructed burrows out of sand blocks.

 

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Using their thinking minds, students created burrows using sand blocks and a few other materials. It was exciting to see the combinations of materials they came up with, as many tried to build the biggest burrows they could!