Ideabox: Seeds

"Tangle" by Beth Galston, featuring thousands of acorn caps.  Now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum.

“Tangle” by Beth Galston, featuring thousands of acorn caps. Now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum.

We’re down to the last days of seed-pods before winter settles in and gets comfortable in our neighborhood, but if you’ve got a pocket full of acorns from your last nature walk, this post is for you.  Since we’re on quite a tree-kick here at the Art & Nature Center, I’m focusing on tree-seeds for this Ideabox:.  However, if you have great seed-based activities for other kinds of plants, please do share them in the comments below!

ideabox seeds

Visual Art

Seeds in homemade paper, seeds glued to burlap for a plant-able ‘mosaic,’ seeds preserved like jewels in resin (See more of Beth Galston’s works)–there are a lot of cool options for making art with seeds!  My favorite is below:

Creating seed and nut sculptures (click for source, warning, it's in Dutch!)

Creating seed and nut sculptures (click for source, warning, it’s in Dutch!)

Science

Take a sock-walk!  Collect seeds from trees (and other plants) by putting an old fuzzy pair of socks on *over* your walking/hiking shoes.  Head to the nearest green space/meadow/park/forest preserve/backyard/hiking trail and see what you pick up from the sides of the trail.  Pair this with a seed identification book and see how many species you collected.

Seed identification kit from Nature Watch.  Also great for observational sketching! Click for source.

Seed identification kit from Nature Watch. Also great for observational sketching! Click for source.

Plant a tree!  Fruit trees are a great option for trying some sprouting experiments, because it’s easy for kids to relate to them.  Here are a few sets of recommendations for sprouting trees from your lunchtime leftovers:
Apples
Peaches
Lemons
Cherries

Math

Combine some hands-on, soil-on botany with math by measuring, tracking, and graphing your seed-germination experiments!  What percent of seeds planted sprouted?  What is the average sprout height after two weeks’ growth?  If you give each plant pot a half-cup of water (or considerably less, depending on the size of your pot!) how much water is that in milliliters?

Literature & Dramatic Arts

There are lots of good stories out there about famous tree-planters (Wangari Maathai, Johnny Appleseed, etc.) but here are a few other ideas for talking about tree seeds through literature and dramatic interpretations:

Creating planting pots with a Lorax theme!  This link leads to a whole Lorax-themed party post, but a number of the ideas there could translate to the classroom/art studio/museum.  Click for source.

Creating planting pots with a Lorax theme! This link leads to a whole Lorax-themed party post, but a number of the ideas there could translate to the classroom/art studio/museum. Click for source.

Good for young readers and as a read-aloud to the littlest listeners, this book about seed dispersal has beautiful images to accompany the fairly simple text.  Click for Powell's link.

Good for young readers and as a read-aloud to the littlest listeners, this book by Jerry Pallotta about seed dispersal has beautiful images to accompany the fairly simple text.  Very fun for drawing those animal/plant connections or as an intro to taking a seed-walk.  Click for Powell’s link.

A nature fantasy about a seed guardian who shepherds her charges through the winter and safely out into the world to sprout in spring.  Very sweet book by Eliza Wheeler.  Click for Powell's link.

A nature fantasy about a seed guardian who shepherds her charges through the winter and safely out into the world to sprout in spring. Very sweet book by Eliza Wheeler, could be fun as a kick-off to a seed-collecting expedition. Click for Powell’s link.

seeds - up close

Beautiful photography of tree elements, including amazing seed images of sorts familiar to a New England audience in several stages of development. By Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn. Click for Powell’s link.

What did I miss?  Share your favorite seed activities, stories, and more in the comments below, or explore other tree-related posts.

You may also like:

Ideabox: Bark
Ideabox: Leaves
Ideabox: Twigs
Trees in the News

Ideabox: Leaves

ideabox leaves

The August blog vacation is over, September is here, and with it comes the opening day for Branching Out, Trees as Art.  So I’ve been compiling cool tree-related links and activities for you for months now, and have a set of companion activities to my earlier post, Ideabox: Twigs.

Leaves are awesome, when you stop to think about them, and this is, quite frankly, the best time of year to think about them if you are lucky enough to live in New England.  Foliage season is as exciting as flowering tree season if you’re me.

Fall Foliage by Dori, Creative Commons license.  Click image for source.

“Fall Foliage” by Dori, Creative Commons license. Click image for source.

We have a number of cool leaf-based artworks going into Branching Out, including work by Joan Backes, Steve Hollinger, and Adrianne Evans, among others, and here are some fun interdisciplinary ways of exploring leaves this fall (and beyond!).

Science: The Chemistry of Leaves

Leaf pigment chromatography is a staple in science classrooms this time of year, but in case you’ve never tried it, here’s a great breakdown of the experimental process from Scientific American, and a fun explanation of the phenomenon from Chemical of the Week.

Adrianne Evans does some very cool works with leaf pigments as well, using the leaves like photographic paper and allowing the sunlight to essentially make a print.

Colored Leaves by Adrianne Evans, on view in Branching Out starting Sept. 27

Colored Leaves by Adrianne Evans, on view in Branching Out starting Sept. 27

Try this yourself with cyanotypes, always fun on a sunny fall day!  Sun print or other sun-sensitive paper is available from a variety of sources including Dick Blick, Teacher Source, Steve Spangler and others.

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins, 1850, from SFMOMA via Creative Commons.  Click for source.

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins, 1850, from SFMOMA via Creative Commons. Click for source.

Health

There are always new trends in health recommendations, but I can’t argue with the idea that walking in the forest can help with stress levels.  I traded a forest preserve for a coastline when I switched jobs from Acton to Salem, but this is still a good suggestion for oneself, one’s class, or one’s family: Go “Forest Bathing!”

Need more information on how hanging out with trees improves your health?  Check out “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.”

Literature & Drama

Lois Ehlert’s Leaf Man and Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf are early childhood classics when it comes to leaves, but what about combining your ‘forest bathing’ with a reflective writing activity, as in the haiku below?

Haiku by Artsyville, click for source

Haiku by Artsyville, click for source

And how about a few classic poems to go with the (many) cool children’s books that are out there about trees?

Fall, leaves, fall

By Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

 

On First Seeing a U.S. Forest Service Aerial Photo of Where I Live

By James Galvin

All those poems I wrote
About living in the sky
Were wrong. I live on a leaf
Of   a fern of   frost growing
Up your bedroom window
In forty below.
I live on a needle of   a branch
Of   a cedar tree, hard-bitten,
Striving in six directions,
Rooted in rock, a cedar
Tree made of other trees,
Not cedar but fir,
Lodgepole, and blue spruce,
Metastasizing like
Bacteria to the fan-
Lip of a draw to draw
Water as soon as it slips
From the snowdrift’s grip
And flows downward from
Branch to root — a tree
Running in reverse.
Or I live on a thorn on a trellis —
Trained, restrained, maybe
Cut back, to hold up
Those flowers I’ve only heard of
To whatever there is and isn’t
Above.

 

Art

Leaf box by Steve Hollinger

Leaf box by Steve Hollinger

If you’re not up to acid-washing your leaves like Steve Hollinger (though you can get small leaves pre-treated through Dick Blick), how about some pressing, painting, punching and patterning?

Leaf Type by Mei Linn Chan.  Click for source.

Leaf Type by Mei Linn Chan. Click for source.

 

Painting patterns on leaves with watersoluble crayons.  Click for source.

Painting patterns on leaves with watersoluble crayons. Click for source.

Leaf printing with splatter technique.  Click for source.

Leaf printing with splatter technique. Click for source.

Leaf punching and patterning.  Click for source.

Leaf punching and patterning. Click for source.

Looking for more? Check out some previous Ideabox posts:

Ideabox: Sand
Ideabox: Altoid Tins
Ideabox: Dough

A Smattering of Science Poetry

Collage by Serena Epstein, click for source

“Prufrock” Collage by Serena Epstein, click for source

In high school I had a chemistry teacher who had once taught literature, and he had a tendency to quote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at inexplicable times (usually when despairing over the state of our latest test grades).  I still hear “I grow old, I grow old,  I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled and walk along the beach” in his voice, in fact, and while I learned to love poetry long before sophomore chemistry, I think he’d be pleased that science and poetry have such an unbreakable covalent bond in my brain.

If you have a hankering for the poetry of the universe, the folks over at Brain Pickings have a great assortment for you, including the first poem to be published in a scientific journal, 30 Days of Quantum Poetry, Diane Ackerman’s poems of the planets, and more.

From Quantum Poetry by Joanna Tilsley

From Quantum Poetry by Joanna Tilsley

And if you’re looking for science poetry that works in a classroom, I highly recommend the humorous stylings of Doug Florian, the thoughtful works of Joyce Sidman (who has some great teacher resources on her author page!), and the beautiful compilation The Tree That Time Built, with works from a wide variety of poets on an assortment of natural themes and CD included so you can appreciate the poems read aloud.

Do you have a favorite science poet?

From Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman

From Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman, an exploration of the colors of seasons

Varying your Information Diet

Photo by Nevit Dilmen.  Creative Commons license.

Photo by Nevit Dilmen. Creative Commons license.

Remember that post I made a few weeks ago about Creativity in the Workplace?  Authors Rainey Tisdale and Linda Norris ran a related networking and creativity event at the USS Constitution Museum last week in cooperation with the NEMA-YEP group.

With the blood-and-attitude-shifting assistance of music and a dance circle, Tisdale and Norris led participants in a speed-networking creativity discussion, challenging each of us to consider and then share what we were passionate about, what we wanted more of from our jobs/careers, what we were good at, and how we could implement and incorporate into our daily routines elements of their steps to creative thought processes.

River tributaries, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain)

River tributaries, courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (public domain)

One of the steps they list to help prepare your mental ground for creativity is to vary your information diet.  With the easy availability of tailored information streams now (everything from RSS feeds to Twitter streams to Pandora channels), it’s easy to wrap yourself in a comfortable bubble of information you’ve essentially pre-selected.  One solution, of course, is to vary the tributaries that are feeding into your stream.  Here are a few quick and easy ways to do that:

Have a Tumblr? Freshen up your Dashboard!

A lot of museums and libraries have gotten into publishing fun stuff from their archives and collections, visitor images and videos, and even staff-created music videos on tumblr.  I recommend just poking around the museum tags until you find some that appeal.  Who doesn’t want neat and beautiful art and animals and whatever on their screen every day?

NPR has thoughtfully collected a list of their own and other public media tumblr blogs, featuring news, science, arts, politics, history, food, all of the above, and more.

The fun and passionate folks over at We Need Diverse Books are doing a summer reading series, where they recommend books by diverse authors and/or with diverse characters that share elements with better known works, ie ‘readers of Harry Potter will probably like Nnedi Okarafor’s Akata Witch.’  They’ve just started, so you have a whole summer of fun kids’ and YA lit recommendations ahead of you.

Looking for a few more ‘grown up’ reads? Try the folks at Go Book Yourself, where real live readers recommend 4 books you might like that have similar characteristics to a book you’ve read and liked.  (They also have a Twitter feed.)

Interesting Stuff in 140 Characters

I have such a love/hate relationship with Twitter.  People post all these cool links and then I end up with roughly a bajillion tabs waiting to be read.

Yes, thank you, New Scientist, exactly what I mean.  (You might want to follow that link, by the way, it leads to some really interesting book reviews!)

Aside from New Scientist, here are a few other feeds I follow that promote the kind of brain-popping curiosity experience I love:

  • Think Progress – lots of interesting and occasionally fairly terrifying news about global environmental, political, and other newsworthy news
  • Creative Nonfiction – for those of us who like our true stories to sound like stories
  • Education Week – largely, but not exclusively, an aggregator of news from all over US school systems
  • Crossed Genres – speculative fiction publishers with an emphasis on diverse story telling, in all the ways that can be interpreted
  • American Museum of Natural History – fun science facts, all the time!
  • Two Nerdy History Girls – a pair of authors who are also amateur historians.  Highlights the hilarious, wacky, and cool bits of history
  • Future of Museums – Some very museum-focused information, but also wide ranging idea pulling from other fields

There are, of course, many more, and if you have suggestions for me, feel free to add them in the comments!

Meanwhile, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by information overload, either, and remember to give yourself time to reflect and ponder and daydream and make those brain-popcorn connections between information and ideas…or in Norris and Tisdale’s term: Incubate.

 

The PEM contingent at the #creativemuseums DIY photobooth.  Yes, I'm the one with the sword.

The PEM contingent at the #creativemuseums DIY photobooth. Yes, I’m the one with the sword. Naturally. Don’t you think better with a lightsaber in hand?

 

Ideabox: Twigs

It seems like Spring’s only just decided to stay, but at the museum we’re already looking towards the fall and the September opening of Branching Out, Trees as Art.  I’ve been gleefully anticipating this show for a while now, and it’s finally getting close enough to start telling you about it!

ideabox twigs

As we’ve been investigating artists who work with assorted tree materials in surprising ways, I’ve come across some fun interdisciplinary ideas for exploring trees (especially twigs) in and out of the classroom.  Here are a few of my favorites!

Science

Winter twig study – Indoor and outdoor ways to explore what trees are ‘up to’ in winter

Identifying parts of a tree (foldable) – A good way to practice scientific drawing and make an interactive vocabulary flashcard, from the Inspired Classroom blog.

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

A magnifying glass or dissecting scope will only get you so far, but check out these amazing photos of slivers of branches thin enough to distinguish the layers of cells:

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker

Math

Twig math?  Really?  Yes, really.  Check out this astonishing set of directions on how to make Skewer Hyperboloids – and then try it with twigs of the same approximate size!

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Literature & Drama

From "Not a Stick" by Antoinette Portis

From “Not a Stick” by Antoinette Portis

Paeans to imagination are always a hit in my book, and Not a Stick is a  great option for dramatic play as well.  Round up a few helpers and one of the world’s simplest props to act out the scenes imagined in Not a Stick, then challenge your audience to do the same with some other every day material–blankets? Paper plates? Cardboard tubes?  See what other suggestions they come up with for imaginative play.

 Book buying options for Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis0
Pinterest collection for Not a Box/Not a Stick activities

Art

twig painting

Twig or branch, individual or collaborative, painting can bring out natural bark patterns, and encourage close looking at details like knots and buds

A few weeks ago during the Mass Poetry Festival, we had a guest calligrapher, Elissa Barr, who demonstrated brushwork with a variety of natural materials as well as traditional ones.  One of my favorites was using a pine twig with needles still on as a great variegated brush.

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

Poetry Constructions

Poetry works its way into many of my postsNational Poetry Month is one of my favorite times of year, and every year I find something new to get excited about.

This year it’s building blocks and poetry.  Not in the form of stanzas, rhyme schemes or metaphors, but creative ways to inspire, actual physical ways to randomize words, create sequences of ideas, and give poetry a visual heft that matches its presumptive mental and emotional ones.

Shape poems

ee cummings 'i carry your heart' as laid out in Festisite

ee cummings ‘i carry your heart’ as laid out in Festisite

I’m not a huge fan of concrete poetry in general, because I’m not always convinced by the whole form/function connection when it comes to text.  However, if you’re looking for a new way to *present* a poem and hand written calligraphy is not your top choice, you might want to try Festisite, which has a handful of pre-selected forms you can use to plunk any text into for a graphic twist, as I did with ee cummings’ ‘i carry your heart’ above.

Poetry pebbles 

Poetry Pebbles from Kitchen Counter Chronicles

Poetry Pebbles from Kitchen Counter Chronicles

Story stones of all sorts are fun, assembling petroglyph-like images and then inventing the connections between each concrete object depicted.  Over at Kitchen Counter Chronicles one family used pre-created stones as poetry starters while outside on a nature walk: I think with older kids it could be as much or more fun to collect stones and decorate them along the way, to help spur further writing once back indoors.

Book spine poetry

The Convivial Museum: Art is Every Day, Shapes & Sizes & more Surprises, The Intelligent Eye Made to Play!

A museum book spine poem, by me and my bookshelves

I love Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books Project, and so do the folks at the Association for Library Service to Children, who recommend this as a great way to get kids to explore a library during National Poetry Month.  Sign me up!

Haiku calculator

Haiku calculator by Eugene Parnell, sample text by me.

Haiku calculator by Eugene Parnell, sample text by me.

Eugene Parnell describes his “Wheel O Matic Haiku Calculator” as ‘pure cogs-n-wheels fun, a machine-age Nirvana of Modernist production-line assembly techniques applied to to the emerging meta-industry of cultural production.’  That’s a little wordy, but it is, in fact, a fun spin-the-wheel-get-a-random-poem-bit, and could be easily recreated in an analog version.  The digital version was a little buggy when I tried it–precreated wheels of poetry options didn’t seem to be loading, but you could create your own easily enough.

Word wheel templates here and here for kick-starting an analog version.

Assorted other National Poetry Month resources:
Lesson plans for K-12 on ReadWriteThink
Lesson plans, videos, and printables on Scholastic
NaPoWriMo (write a poem a day challenge)
Interdisciplinary resources for teachers and parents on Reading Rockets

Past National Poetry Month posts on Brain Popcorn:
2010: Popping with Poetry
2011: Poetry and Puddles
2012: It’s the Most Wordiful Time of the Year

Check back in a week or two for a sneak preview of May MA Poetry Fest activities at PEM, as well!

Nature in the Neighborhood

It’s still a little cold to get super excited about a long ramble in the woods, but I like to think ahead, and the teachers from the Salem State Pre-K program and I had a great time a few weeks ago looking at ways to incorporate art and nature study into their year long theme studying neighborhoods.

As a librarian’s daughter and former English teacher, I believe strongly in centering lessons around stories.  Great stories make great hooks to engage learners of all ages!

Fiction and nonfiction related to local MA history and natural history

Fiction and nonfiction related to local MA history and natural history

So we started the day with a read aloud of MT Anderson’s The Serpent Came to Gloucester, which I love, not only because it’s based on actual history, but because the illustrations and sea-chantey-esque text are captivating.  We then made sand paintings, with glue, sand, sea shells and sea glass (some courtesy of the local beaches, some thanks to Christmas Tree Shop).  People made some beautiful designs!  I only wish I had thought to have related music playing in the background while we worked.

Inspired by the Delft tile-styled end papers in The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Inspired by the Delft tile-styled end papers in The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Mixed media sea serpent!

Mixed media sea serpent!

Sand Castle inspired by The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Sand Castle inspired by The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Next we moved on to oral history techniques that are useful with pre-k and other young students.  Download the discussion notes here: Oral History Projects with Pre-K  As part of this activity, we also worked with Twisteez wire to make a representation of our favorite toy from childhood, and talked about 2D and 3D ways of working art into story telling and personal history.

Recreating a childhood memory in wire.

Recreating a childhood memory in wire.

Art & Nature Center director Janey Winchell made a guest appearance to talk about great ways to get young kids involved in and actively observing on a nature walk, complete with a suggested Nature Walk scavenger hunt.

School Programs manager Emily Scheinberg also led teachers on an investigation of Salem  history in PEM’s collections.

What clues to Salem's past does a fire bucket hold?

What clues to Salem’s past does a fire bucket hold?

Finally, we wrapped up the day with a pair of observation activities: examining and understanding beach erosion via milk and cookies, and creating ‘viewing frames’ to take on a walk through the neighborhood to encourage close looking, thinking about perspective, and even the basics of composition.  These two activities were inspired by Corinne Demas’ The Disappearing Island and Dr. Seuss’ To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street.

Download activity directions erosion and frames

What do you see on the street?  In the sky?  On the buildings as you pass by?

What do you see on the street? In the sky? On the buildings as you pass by?

Decorating frames with a few of our favorite things.

Decorating frames with a few of our favorite things.

Sandstone and conglomerate...aka ginger cookies and chocolate chip.  Which will stand up to milk's erosive force?

Sandstone and conglomerate…aka ginger cookies and chocolate chip. Which will stand up to milk’s erosive force?

The beach before the milky waves, representing several kinds of rock!

The beach before the milky waves, representing several kinds of rock!

Want more?  Other classroom activities, read alouds, resources etc available for download here: handouts 2014