DID YOU KNOW? A polar bear has a double coat of colorless hair. But under that its skin isn't white--it's BLACK! Click on this photo for a free activity MARKLE'S BOOK SAFARI ADVENTURE on SANDRA MARKLE SPEAKS!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

BUZZ In For Fun!

Once children read this real-life mystery, they’ll be ready to dig deeper.  These activities will really get them buzzing!

What’s The Story?

Part 1

Pretend Dave Hackenberg is your grandfather.  Write a paragraph as if you were visiting him the day he discovered nearly four hundred of his beehives were nearly empty.

Part 2

Now pretend you’re a reporter for your local television station. Write a paragraph telling the breaking news story the U.S. is facing because honeybees are vanishing. Be sure to briefly share the following:
·      How big a problem is this?
·      Where is it happening?
·      What are the reasons scientists believe it’s happening?
·      What is offering hope for the future?

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.6 Compare and contrast a firsthand and secondhand account of the same event or topic; describe the differences in focus and the information provided.

Get The Buzz On Bees

Dig into books and search online to learn more about the lifecycle of a honeybee queen.  

Write a short story about one honeybee queen. 

Be sure to include an introduction that explains how a queen is different than the other bees in a hive. Next have a middle where something exciting happens, such as the queen leaves with workers to start a new colony or other bees trying to steal honey attack the hive. Then give your story an ending, including how long the queen lives and how many young she provides the hive every year of her life. Just for fun, draw and color pictures to bring your story to life.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

Buzzzz Hunter

Go on an information scavenger hunt using only the book’s photos and captions to answer the following questions.

  • 1.     Why are cornfields not good places for bees?

  • 2.     What requirement does a hive have to meet to be rented for work in the California almond orchards?

  • 3.     Why was a tiny device glued to the back of some honeybees?

  • 4.     Why are varroa mites nicknamed vampire mites?

  • 5.     Is the U.S. President a beekeeper? How do you know?

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.2 Paraphrase portions of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Be A Bee Friend

What can you do to help honeybees? 

Read “Help Your Local Honeybees” and “Global Rescue Efforts” at the back of the book. 

Next, choose one way to help honeybees. Tell what you chose and why, in your opinion, that will make a difference. 

Make a list, in order, of what you’ll do. And, after checking with an adult to be sure your plan is okay for you to do, go to work. Your local bees need you!  
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.4.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

BIG HAIRY DEAL--The Perfect Activities to go with WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL HAIR!?

WHAT IF YOU HAD ANIMAL HAIR!? lets you imagine what it would be like to have a wild animal's hair on your head. 

Wild Hairy You

What if you could have a wild animal's hair on your head for a day? What kind would you like to have? Why?

Write a short story about what happens to you on that day you have wild hair. Does it save the day for you? Get you into trouble? Make you wildly popular? What happens?

Now, jump into these activities to investigate human hair--what's really on your head.

Mane Line

Do blondes have more fun? No, but they definitely have more hair. If you're a natural blonde, you have about 140,000 hairs per square inch on top of your head. Brunettes have about 110,000 hairs per square inch. 

Redheads only have about 90,000 hairs per square inch. One reason for this is probably that blonde hairs tend to be skinnier than brown or red hairs.

Check out one of your hairs by gently tugging it free. Don't worry about losing this hair. Every day, you just naturally lose as many as a hundred hairs. Those are old hairs that are pushed out and replaced by new hairs.

Take a close look at your one hair with a magnifying glass. The shape of the shaft (main body of the hair) makes a big difference. If it's round, the odds are your hair is naturally straight. Wavy hair has an oval shaft. Naturally curly hair has a flat shaft.

Pulling Its Load

This is ancient rope made from human hair

Long ago, the people of Japan made ropes from human hair. They used these to lift heavy loads. 

So how strong is hair. Try this test to find out how much weight a single hair can support before it breaks.

First, check out your single hair's features. 
  • Does it feel like it can bend easily without breaking? 
  • Is it stretchy?

Compare healthy hair to hair that isn't so healthy. How are they different?
What happens to hair as it breaks?
Now, predict how many grams you think a single hair can hold without breaking: 1 gram, 2 grams, 3 grams or more.

Then test your prediction. You'll need one hair that's at least 6 inches long. If you have short hair, you'll need someone with long hair to give you one to test or visit a hair salon to ask for a test sample.

Next, Use tape to attach one end of the hair to one end of a ruler. Set the ruler on a table so the hair hangs over the edge. Anchor the ruler with a stack of books.

Use a second piece of tape to attach a paperclip to the free end of the hair. Then slip other paperclips one at a time onto the first clip so they're dangling down from the hair. Do this until the hair breaks.  Note: If the paper clip becomes full before the hair breaks, add a paper clip spread into a "V". Then add more paperclips to this clip.

Once the hair breaks, add up the number of clips the hair supported. Multiply that by 0.5.  That will tell you the grams of weight the hair supported.  To be sure what you discovered is likely to happen every time, repeat this test with two other hairs, one at a time. Then compare your results.

EXTRA fun!
OK--what if you wanted to lift a 100-gram candy bar out of a hole in the ground and you needed a rope? 

If you were going to make a rope out of hair, how many hairs would you want to use? 

Would you rather use blonde or brunette hair? Describe how you came to your conclusions

Did you notice the ancient Japanese made their hair ropes by braiding together clusters of loose strands of hair. Why do you think braiding hairs together made the rope stronger?

It's Hair Story

Here are some hairstyles that have been popular in the past. Read about them. Then pick one you think could be fun to have. Write why you chose this one.  Be sure to include why you think this would be just right for you.

Big Wigs: People in ancient Egypt who could afford to do so wore wigs. This usually covered a bald head because people shaved their heads to avoid head lice.

Corkscrew Curls: In ancient Greece, both men and women curled their hair using a hot bronze rod, the first curling iron.

Gold Tops: In ancient Rome, men and women colored their hair with gold dust or powders. 

Bowl Cut: During the Middle Ages many European men wore their hair cut short framing their face.

Pageboy: In 14th century Europe, men wore their hair rolled at the base of their neck.

Queue: In 17th century China, men shave the front of their head and twisted the long back hairs into a braid called a queue. Pulling someone's queue was an insult.

Fancy Do: In 18th's century Europe, women combed their hair over wire cages to create big dos. They decorated these with flowers, jewels, feathers and even models of things like boats.

Gibson Girl: During the late 1800s, women in Europe and the U.S. wore a hairstyle so distinct it had a name--the Gibson Girl. To create this look, long hair was combed over a pad, creating a wide frame for the face.

Bobbed: After World War I, women in Europe and the U.S. bobbed their hair by cutting it short. This was a drastic change from wearing long hair.

Beatle Cut: In the 1960s, the Beatles' shaggy hair caused a stir worldwide and created a new styling fad.

 Hair is something we all have. But it's one of those ways you can make yourself uniquely you. 
How would you describe this hair style?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Some animals can't wait for their world to be cold and icy.

Start with a winter scavenger hunt. Go outdoors and try to find one item for each category listed below. No fair using the same item for more than one category. This is great fun for groups to compete.

You might find maple seeds like these.

Try to find:
Something older than you are
Something younger than you are
A seed
Something rough
Something smooth
Something that will change in the spring
A bird feather

How wet is the snow? Find out. In an average snowfall, ten inches (25 cm) of snow melts down to one inch (2.5 cm) of water. How much drier or wetter is your current snowfall.

You'll need a can at least ten inches (25 centimeters) tall with straight sides. Try to collect your snow sample shortly after the snow stops falling. Fill your sampling can, but don't pack the snow.

Next, take the can indoors and let the water melt.

Try keeping a record of each new snowfall for the rest of the winter. Which months had the wettest snow? If you keep your tracking going, find out how one year's snowfalls compare to another.

By the way, I spent one winter at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. I'd always heard that, if temperatures were below -60F (-51C) boiling water thrown into the air would freeze before it hit the ground. I had a chance to test it because that winter the temperatures dropped as low as -129F. The boiling water immediately turned into tiny sparkling ice crystals.

This is a great winter time read--don't miss it.
The Winter of the Blue Snow

Have you ever heard of Paul Bunyan? He was a giant of a man--and I mean a real giant, so the stories go. There are tales about the lumber camp he ran in the far North.
One of those is about the winter of the blue snow.

Nobody knew why the snow was blue that winter. Some say it was because it was so terribly cold. How cold was it? It was too cold for thermometers to measure. The men each had sixteen blankets to sleep under, but they still couldn't keep warm. Shot Gunderson, the head woodchopper, slept under forty-two blankets one extra cold night. There were so many blankets he got lost trying to find his way out from under that huge pile. In fact, it took him three whole days to uncover himself. The poor fellow nearly starved to death before he made it to the cook shake.

Not that eating was easy once you got to the table. When Hot Biscuit Slim, the cook, set coffee out to cool, the steaming brew froze so fast that the ice was hot. The men had to eat with their mittens on because the hot biscuits froze solid before they went the distance from plate to mouth.

Conversations around the bunkhouse were slowed down mightily that super-cold winter. Words froze as fast as they were spoken. Piles of icy words had to be heaped behind the stove because nobody could tell what had been said until the words thawed out.

About the time summer was due, the weather got even colder and the blue snow kept on falling. Snowdrifts piled up two hundred feet (60 meters) deep. Elevators were built just to carry the men from the bunkhouse to the surface. To log the trees, Paul had to scoop out holes and lower his men down to the forest.

What you don't believe this wintery tale?
Make up one of your own packed full of all the things that might happen if it was super cold and the snow was super deep.

One of the most famous blizzards ever recorded was during the winter of 1888. Thirty to forty inches (75-100 cm) of snow and ice was dump on the Northeastern United States. That was before snowplows and entire cities were helpless for weeks. Before the blizzard was over four hundred people had died.

Collect Snowflakes

While no two snowflakes are ever exactly alike (as far as anyone knows), they are all hexagone--six-sided crystals. Snowflakes take several main shapes.

If you want to catch some snowflakes, chill a clean glass slide or a small mirror in the refrigerator. Take the cold glass outside and allow a few flakes to collect on it. You may need a magnifying glass to see the snowflakes if they are very small.

To preserve snowflakes so you can even take them inside with you you'll need a can of plastic spray--the kind artists use on chalk drawings.

Chill the spray along with the clean glass slide. Carry the glass slide outside on a piece of cardboard. This keeps your body heat from warming the glass. Spray the glass lightly with the plastic coating. Let snowflakes collect on the glass. Take the preserved snowflakes inside and let the plastic coating completely dry (about fifteen minutes).

Check out this book about Wilson Bentley.
His photos of snowflakes became world famous.

Now you can examine the snowflakes with a magnifying glass or a microscope if you have one. No need to rush. These snowflakes will stay crystal-clear forever.

Go Tracking
Duck Tracks

Rabbit Tracks

When the ground's covered with snow, it's the perfect time to collect animal tracks like these.

Take along an adult partner and a digital camera. Snap photos of any animal tracks you find. Back home, look on-line to match the prints you found to the animal. Google images is one good source to check out.

While you're at it try to decide what the animal might have been doing at the time it left its tracks. Was it running or walking? How do you think you could tell? Try making tracks of your own running and walking and observe the difference. It's even more fun if you find overlapping sets of tracks from different animals. Now, make up a story for what might have happened. Was one animal there first? Was one animal chasing the other? There's a new story in every set of snow tracks you find--even if they're people footprints.

Watch Birds Share A Treat

You can get a good look at birds that spend the winter in your neighborhood, if you invite them to dinner. An easy treat to make is a peanut butter pinecone. Loop a string around the top of a pine cone and tie a knot. Next, smear peanut butter on the cone and roll the cone in birdseed. Then have an adult partner hang the pinecone where birds will be able to perch and eat.

Now, keep watch. Use bird books and search on-line to help you identify the birds visiting your bird diner. Also, answer these questions:
1. What time of day do the birds come to eat?
2. Do the birds come more on stormy or sunny days?
3. Do the birds take turns and feed one at a time? Or do they compete to eat?
4. Which birds usually chase other birds away?

Create a colorful bar graph to share the data you collect about your dinner guests.

Remember, to replace your pinecone with a fresh treat from time-to-time to keep the dinners coming back for more.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Okay, here it is for all of you who've asked for it. The TWELVE ARACHNIDS OF CHRISTMAS! are back. And for any of you who are discovering this for the first time, ENJOY!

[Books mentioned below are from my ARACHNID WORLD Series by Lerner]

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave me to a black widow in a fir tree.

As I watched, that black widow spider dangled upside down from a silk thread. Next, its exoskeleton (armor-like covering) split open along the back. Then the spider pushed and pulled and crawled out of its exoskeleton.

What in the world just happened? To find out, read Black Widows: Deadly Biters pages 22 through 23.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two striped bark scorpions--one big female 3 inches (7.5 cm) long and a smaller male.

As I watched, the male grabbed the female's pedipalps (body parts near the mouth). He tugged her forward and then they turned around in a circle. They did this over and over for hours.

What was happening to my scorpions? To find out, read Scorpions: Armored Stingers pages 28 and 29.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three female
Carolina wolf spiders.

As I watched, a round ball about one-third as big as the spider and stuck to its spinnerets split open. Hundreds of tiny spiders crawled out and climbed onto the big spider.

What's likely to happen next? To find out, read Wolf Spiders: Mothers On Guard pages 26 through 29.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four wind scorpions.

Almost at once, one of the wind scorpions ran straight up a nearly vertical rock. How did it keep from falling off? To find out, read Wind Scorpions: Killer Jaws pages 24 and 25.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five tarantulas.

One goliath bird-eater tarantula was holding a gecko. As I watched it sank in its fangs and brought up digestive juices.

Why in the world did it do that? To find out read Tarantulas: Supersized Predators pages 32 and 33.

Then keep on reading quickly to let me know whether I should stay to watch or run away. Two of the other tarantulas have turned their hairy rear ends toward me and look ready to rub these with their hind legs.

Help me decide what action to take by reading pages 30 and 31.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love to me six female cross spiders spinning their webs.

As I watched, a fly landed on one spider's web. That female ran to the fly and shots strands of silk over it.

Why did she do that? To find out, read Orb Weavers: Hungry Spinners pages 24 and 25.

I kept on watching and saw a fly zip into another spider's web. I expected the web to break, but it didn't. Why not? To find out, read page 17 and page 22.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven fishing spiders fishing in a pond.

At just that moment, a bat flew past and all the fishing spiders dived beneath the surface. They stayed underwater for nearly thirty minutes.

How were they able to stay underwater for so long? To find out, read Fishing Spiders: Water Ninjas pages 22 through 23.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight crab spiders
lurking inside flowers.

Some goldenrod crab spiders were inside yellow flowers and they were yellow. Other goldenrod crab spiders were inside white flowers and they were white.

How were these spiders able to be just the right flower color to hide and wait to ambush insects? To find out, read Crab Spiders: Phantom Hunters pages 22 and 23.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine harvestmen packed close together and bobbing up and down.

Why were they doing that? To find out, read Harvestmen: Secret Operatives page 21.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten ticks-a-sucking blood from their host.

As I watched these female dog ticks over several days, their bodies swelled up until they were nearly six hundred times bigger.

How in the world could they swell so big? To find out read Ticks: Dangerous Hitchhikers pages 14 and 15.

Why can a tick's bite make people and animals sick? Read pages 28 through 36 to find out.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven jumping spiders jumping.

As I watched, one leapt from one leaf to another to catch an insect.

How could it possibly jump so far? To find out, read Jumping Spiders: Gold Medal Stalkers pages 22 and 23.

What's the record for how far a jumping spider can leap? Read pages 46 and 47 to find out.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve mites-a-multiplying
on a bean plant.

At first, I couldn't see the tiny two-spotted mites sucking on one of the plant's leaves. In less than a month, the plant was nearly covered with web strands dotted with tiny mites. They were sucking the plant's juices and producing even more two-spotted mites.

How did there get to be so many so quickly. To find out, read Mites: Master Sneaks pages 36 and 37.

Yes, my arachnid Christmas this year is one I'll always remember. After all, it's the year I received:

12 mites-a-multiplying
11 jumping spiders jumping
10 ticks-a-sucking
harvestmen bobbing
crab spiders lurking
fishing spiders fishing
orb weavers spinning
4 wind scorpions
3 wolf spiders
2 scorpions
And a black widow in a fir tree

And as he drove out of sight, Spider Claus called, "Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year!"

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Go Batty For Bats: Biggest! Littlest!

Reading BATS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST! is the perfect way to start getting to know these amazing animals.  Then keep on exploring and learning about bats as you have fun with these activities.

Mother and Pup Reunion

Mother Mexican free-tail bats leave their babies behind in a nursery cave. When they return, they always find their baby. How do they do it?  Play this game to find out.

Cut a sheet of paper into twenty pieces.  On each of ten slips, write the name of a sound, such as tweet or click. Copy the name of each sound onto a second slip of paper.  Next, have a group of twenty people gather together.  Pass out one set of sound slips. Those players are now the “Mother bats”.  Have them leave the room. Or they can go to one wall and turn their backs on the others.  Next, pass out the other set of sound slips.  These players are now the “Bat Pups”.   Have these bats stand close together.

Tell the Mother Bats that their job will be to find their baby, the Bat Pup making their same sound. On your signal have the pups start making their sounds.  Also have the Mother Bats move toward the pups while making their own sounds. Give the Mother bats just ten seconds to find their Bat Pups. Any Pup without a Mother dies.  How many of the Pups were lost?

Just Like Bats

You could say bats did it first. They make noises and listen to the echoes to find their way through the dark.  Now, human inventors are copying them to help people who are blind.

What they invented is called the “UltraCane”.

To build it, scientists first studied the way bats make ultrasonic (super high-pitched) sounds and listen for echoes.  Hearing these echoes alerts bats to things they might run into. It even lets them “see” when its pitch dark.  Then scientists made a cane that puts out ultrasonic sounds and picks up the echoes.   It has a short range mode that picks up things that are about 6 feet (about 2 meters) away.  It also has a long range mode. That picks up any object about 13 feet (4 meters) away.  This way it senses things a blind person might run into.

Then two buttons on the handle—one for things that are close and one for things far away—vibrate.  Being warned what’s coming up lets the person have time to change directions. Like a flying bat, they can move freely through their environment. The UltraCane limits the risk of bumping into things.

Can you think of anything you might invent based on what’s special about bats? Think about these things:

  • Backward facing knees to make it easy to hang upside down. Also help steer in flight.
  • Funnel-like ears for sharp hearing.
  • Leather wings can wrap up in to stay warm and protect against rainy weather.
  • Wings that let a bat flip and turn easily in flight.

Brainstorm to think what you might invent that mimics bats and would help people.

Visit My Cave

What's it like to live like a bat?  

Cover a table on three sides with a blanket or paper to create a cave.  Have your family or a group of friends crawl inside your pretend cave with you.  While you're there with this group, think about these questions.

  1. Why is a cave a good home for small bats, like Mexican Free-tailed Bats? 
  2. Why do you think big bats, like Grey-Headed Flying Foxes, camp in the open in trees instead?
  3. What are some problems to sharing a cave with other bats?

What Good Are Bats?

Check out the hand-like structure of a bat's wings.

Try this to find out.  

Take a large bowl of popcorn kernels to the gym or outdoors to a paved area of the playground.  Work with friends to scatter 50 popped kernels on the floor or ground.  Count to ten. Then have people place two more popcorn kernels next to each original kernel.  This is as if the insect pests have multiplied.  

Now pretend you are an insect-hunting bat. Have four others pretend they are too.  While someone counts to five, have each “bat” pick up all of the insects they can carry.  Then have other children place two popcorn kernels next to each remaining kernel.  

Repeat these steps two more times, having “bats” collect “insects”.   Then have any remaining “insects” multiply. 

Now look at the results.
  • How much of an affect did the “bats” have on the “insect” population?
  • What limited how much of an effect the bats could have on the insects? 
  • What do you think would happen to populations of insect pests if there weren’t any bats?

My Favorite Bat

Decide which of the bats you read about in Bats: Biggest! Littlest! is your favorite.  Tell why you like it best.  Read the section about that bat again. Also Go on-line to learn more.  Then write a short story about the life of your favorite bat. Be sure your story answers the following questions:

  • Where does it live?
  • What does it eat?
  • How is this bat different from other kinds of bats?
  • How does it care of its babies?
  • Does it have any enemies?  If so, what must it watch out for?

Bats for Good Measure

Again, here's a good chance to see the arm and hand-like structure of a bat's wing.

The wingspan of the largest flying foxes can be up to 6 feet (about 2 meters).  Take string that length. Find at least 5 things about the same length.  What are they? 

Now, measure each of these things.  Find out how longer or shorter each is compared to a large flying fox’s wingspan.

  • The teacher’s desk
  • The class’s two shortest students lying head to feet on the floor.
  • The classes two tallest students lying head to feet on the floor.
  • Your teacher’s armspan (from fingertip to fingertip with both arms stretched out)

The wingspan of the Bumblebee bat is 6 inches (15 centimeters).  Take a piece of string that length.  Find at least 5 things about the same length.  What are they?

Now, measure each of these things.  Find out how much longer or shorter each is compared to a Bumblebee Bat’s wingspan.

  • The smallest book in the classroom
  • Your pencil
  • The shoe of the student with the littlest foot
  • Your right hand span (from thumb to little finger with your hand spread wide).  Draw around your hand span on a piece of paper. Then compare to your bat wing measuring string.
I hope you've enjoyed this chance to dig deeper into BATS: BIGGEST! LITTLEST!  I'm sure you'll also enjoy the other books in this series: