A big part of my job as an environmental educator is taking kids outside and teaching them new things. Some times we just observe things, but other times we do experiments–asking a question, and then testing variables to find an answer. We always have a great time, and the kids learn a lot from the process. It got me thinking, though–for most of us, the act of experimenting stops forever once we get out of high school. This is really a shame–why do the kids get to have all the fun?? Why does exploration stop after a certain age? Curiosity is a wonderful gift, and we should all take advantage of it in order to learn new things about the environment.
There are plenty of questions we can ask about the natural world around us, and lots of exciting ways to find the answers! For example, can your local birds see and recognize colors? You can test this by putting different colored bowls out on your balcony/deck/yard with bird seed in just one. After a week or two, switch the order of the bowls and see if the birds still come to the color with the food in it, or if they come to the place where that certain bowl used to be.
You can also see what is in your local stream by simply scooping up some mud and water in a clear jar, placing it in a sunny window, and seeing what grows in it! I have one that I made one winter for a “biogeochemistry” class from almost frozen mud and water that now has moss, small plants, and purple and green bacteria all growing in it.
Finally, here is one ‘experiment’ that I saw this weekend when I went home to visit my parents. I mentioned before that my parents recently built a pond in their backyard. They have some koi fish and my father has been training them to respond to the sound of him banging their food container on the deck that overlooks the pond. This seems pretty unbelievable but take a look:
These fish definitely know that that sound means food! I originally thought that the fish couldn’t hear, but were rather feeling vibrations coming down through the wood of the deck and into the ground around the pond with their lateral line system, which is a sense organ in fish that help them detect vibrations and changes in the water around them. I did some more research, though, and it seems that koi fish can actually hear after all! Apparantly they can hear more frequencies than the average fish due to an extra bone in their ear.
What a fun experiment! My dad has turned a task as simple as feeding the fish into a new learning experience, and a chance to answer some questions about the animals around him.
What kind of questions could you ask? Too often we leave these interesting experiments for middle school grade science fairs, when we could instead make them a part of our ongoing education about Life and all of nature’s mysteries! I recently mentioned asking a kindergarten class if the yellow flowers in the school yard were all the same kind of flower or different flowers (there were 2 kinds–buttercups and dandelions), but why only ask this question of young kids? This knowledge would enrich all of our lives! So take a look around–put that scientific method to work! Make an observation, ask a question, and then test it to see what happens! Would the fish in your fish tank have the same reaction as the koi if you tapped on the glass before you fed them? What does your tomato plant do if you turn it on its side?
There is so much to see and do! Let’s all see what we can learn this week. If you try an experiment and learn something new, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org–I would love to hear about it!