Created: 12/6/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
A couple of years ago, I taught a lesson about Midwest ecosystems in a fourth grade classroom on the far south side. Two weeks later, I returned to the same classroom, but before I could make it through the door, several students began excitedly shouting, “We saw a wetland! We saw a wetland! It’s right behind the school!” (And I’m not talking about moderate excitement; they were “I just won a million dollars” excited!) They couldn’t believe that the wetlands they had learned about in the classroom – cattails, ducks, and all – could be found right here in their neighborhood. Just behind their school, stuck in between the busy city streets, here’s what they had found:
Over the past several years, we’ve ramped up our efforts to connect students to the nature in their neighborhoods. Last month, as part of these efforts, I traveled around Chicago to photograph wetlands in different areas of the city. We know that many teachers aren’t able to take their students to visit wetlands, so we wanted a chance to bring those wetlands – the ones right in their neighborhoods - into the classrooms.
Can kids who live near McKinley Park learn to appreciate that their local wetland supports living things that aren’t found on most city blocks?
Can students in Lincoln Park get excited about turtles sunning themselves near their school?
Can school kids on the northwest side learn about bird migration by studying a Green Heron in Humboldt Park?
We think we have the answers to these questions: YES! ABSOLUTELY! OF COURSE! But let’s not forget that these connections to nature are always there, waiting for people to experience them, and not just in schools. Get out there and find out what’s going on with the nature in your neighborhood, and when you find something cool (which you certainly will!), we want to hear about it!
Kristi BackeView Comments
Created: 11/29/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
Home weatherization is one of the fastest and easiest ways to save money year round, especially in the winter. The average un-weatherized house in the United States leaks air at a rate equivalent to a 4 foot hole in the wall. This is money and natural resources literally going out the window and through the roof.
On November 7, the Chicago Conservation Corps and the Nature Museum came together to change that for 3,500 homes in the city of Chicago. Thanks to a grant from the city of Chicago, People’s Gas and ComEd, 3,500 weatherization kits were installed and distributed all over the city in November. But, it took a lot of work to get these kits to the Community Weatherization Action Teams (CWAT).
It started out in mid October when Chicago Conservation Corps Coordinator Kristen Pratt jumped into action creating supply lists, surveying the Museum for storage and kit building space, and recruiting volunteers.
In less than a month we received supplies, trained volunteers to install the weatherization materials, and were ready to build kits. The kits each consist of weather stripping, caulk, window film, and tape. 3,500 kits with 7 items each results in 24,500 items to be placed into bags along with installation instructions and a CFL light bulb. That is a lot of material – enough to fill three 25 foot long storage containers!
What we found out is that if you want to build it, they will come. We had over 120 volunteers attend the kit building event. What we expected to take over 5 hours was finished in just over 3! Rafael Rosa, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's Vice President of Education, commented that: “... in the span of 3½ hours, we packed over 3,100 weatherization kits – that’s about 1,000 per hour, 16 per minute, 1 every 3-4 seconds!. When I looked at all the materials that came in during the week before, I couldn’t envision getting this job done in just a few hours. But thanks to 20 or so staff and over 100 volunteers we got it finished quicker than projected...”
Next, we had to get the kits into large plastic totes (or toters as we like to call them) to be delivered to schools and C3 Leaders for distribution and installation. After being packed with kits, each toter was put back in the storage pod by what seemed to be an army of strong and enthusiastic student volunteers. At about 3 pounds per kit, 10 kits per tote, 350 toters - thats about 30 pounds each. If we extend that math further, thats about 10,500 pounds of weatherization supplies - but who is counting?
What started about 4 pm in the afternoon was completed by 8:30 pm that night! Chances are that as you read this blog post the pods are gone, the toters are distributed, and the weatherization kits have been delivered to the leaders for their groups to distribute and install. Thanks to all of the volunteers and staff that made this project possible!
Want to learn how to weatherize your home and get a free kit? Sign up for one of our free weatherization trainings being held this week at the museum.
Barbara PowellView Comments
Associate Director of Education Operations
Created: 11/29/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
Do you know the difference between a mount and a study skin? Or what a bird's nest can tell us about the birds who live in it? Or what's with those honeybees that are always in the news? Well, your kids just might!
Our newest education program, Nature on the Go, connects students to real specimens from the Museum’s collections, answering these questions and delving into other exciting science and nature topics! If you wonder how we do this, take a look at some of the specimens that were prepared just for this program:
Nature on the Go allows us to bring the rich, 155 year history of the collections of the Chicago Academy of Sciences into Chicago area schools to showcase how specimens can tell us about the lives of local animals. Think about your own visit to a museum: you don’t just want to see each piece of art, set of bones, historical artifact, or plant or animal; you want to know its story! This program teaches the students we serve how to read these stories. Because the program features local animals, students will continue to make connections between what they learn in the classroom and the nature they see right outside their doors in their own neighborhoods.
We know that teachers need choices and flexibility, so we’re excited to give Nature on the Go teachers a choice for the second part of the program, which takes place after a Nature Museum educator visits the classroom. Some teachers may choose to receive funding to bring their students to the Museum on a field trip, giving the students an opportunity to connect what they learned in the classroom to the world outside of school.
Other teachers might choose to visit (with a guest) our offsite collections facility to learn more about the 95 percent of our museum collections that aren’t on display in the Museum. These teachers can learn more about the important role specimens play in scientific research and talk with our expert biologists about the stories these specimens can tell. Of course, the teachers will leave the collections facility excited to share their new knowledge with their students! We love that we can share the history of the Chicago Academy of Sciences with teachers and students.
Developed as a true collaboration between the Education and Biology Departments, this program is on its way to a school near you!
Student Programs Coordinator
Nathan ArmstrongView Comments
Created: 11/27/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
The simple answer is, baby squirrels don't leave the nest until they are fully furred and can survive on their own so, without seeing the mother right next to the babies, they all look about the same size.
Most babies leave the nest in April or May. At this point the babies are fluffy and fat but the parents have exhausted their winter fat and are beginning to shed their winter fur, so look relatively small. A second litter of babies may leave the nest around September. At this point the parents have begun putting on fat and winter fur, so the apparent size difference can be greater. Because of this, it may be easier to identify babies born late in the year.
Although baby squirrels have been recorded in almost every month of the year, these two litters, early spring and late summer, are the norm. Typically the early spring babies have the highest survival rate, especially in areas where it snows, since a small squirrel has to expend more energy than a large one to stay warm and find food.
I managed to take a few pictures of a baby and a young adult male that were foraging near each other in the same park. Unfortunately, tree squirrels aren’t very social so I couldn’t get any useful pictures of them near each other, but they found my pen interesting so there is some scale. The pen is about 16cm long.
A baby grey squirrel.
An adult grey squirrel from the same population as the baby in the previous photograph.
Another view of the adult. Note the more “mature” features.
Even with the specimens in-hand, assessing age can be somewhat qualitative but when the babies are very young, they are simply more cute than the rest of the population.
If you're a squirrel watcher, like me, I hope you take the time to record your observations at projectsquirrel.org . Your data, combined with that of others around the country, helps us understand more about squirrels and about the nature in your neighborhood!
Created: 11/22/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
One of my fondest childhood memories is of visiting museums with my mother. It was a great girls' day out; riding the train together, having lunch and exploring every corner of whichever Chicago institution we chose to visit for the day. The choice might be made based on the featured exhibits or whatever my interests were at the time. During one of these outings, we saw an exhibit about Pompeii. My mother prepared me with some facts the night before so that I could better understand the exhibit the next day. I arrived with a connection to the subject matter before I even saw the exhibit.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a wonderful institution for families with children of all ages. Between my museum experiences with mother and my employment here, I have learned some great tips to maximize a family museum experience and would love to share them with your family.
- Discuss general nature subjects with your children before your visit to the museum- animals, ecosystems, green living, etc -- this will help develop a connection with the content you’re about to see.
- Check out the calendar of events at the museum for the day of your visit. The museum often has extra activities in which your family can participate- many for free. These include crafts, animal interactions and story times.
- Read the signs in the exhibits. Let the children operate the interactive components. Share the information you learn as a family. There is relatable content for every age in every exhibit.
- Give your family enough time to enjoy the exhibits at a comfortable pace and keep the focus on your museum experience the entire time you are here.
A day at the museum can build memories of family fun and learning experiences for the rest our lives. (Thanks Mom!)
Laura SalettaView Comments
Public Programs Educator
Created: 11/20/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
Chicago is a birding hotspot especially in spring and fall during migration. The Chicago Ornithological Society lead morning bird walks around North Pond every Wednesday which start and finish here at the Museum. The list of species they have observed right outside our windows is very impressive. We are always looking for new ideas for public and school programs so a few years ago when the idea of a bird watching program was suggested we installed some bird feeders at the north east corner of the building.View Comments
Even we couldn’t have imagined just how successful they would be. We have recorded the first ever sighting for Lincoln Park of a Yellow-headed Blackbird and when an extremely unusual Cinnamon Teal blew in one winter it too paid a visit to our feeders.
Last winter we had a regular Red-headed Woodpecker adding a splash of colour outside our window.
And this spring we were inundated with Baltimore Oriole’s draining the nectar from the hummingbird feeders.
Now fall migration is upon us again and the Red-breasted Nuthatches are making the most of the peanut feeder.
And of course there is always that endearing year round favourite, the Downy Woodpecker.
Depending on the time of year we have a constant parade of colourful species so next time you are at the Museum be sure to visit the North Terrace, you never know what you might see.
Created: 11/15/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
Autumn in New York
Why does it seem so inviting?
Billie Holliday sang the praises of fall in the Big Apple, and if a recent weekend was any indication, it would be hard to disagree (though some might this year, thanks to hurricane Sandy.) There is something agreeably evocative about brownstone stoops strewn with cast off foliage and planetree leaves chattering down the sidewalk on a fresh breeze. On the way to JFK after a weekend with family, I took a detour to Brooklyn Botanic Garden to revel in the sunshine and autumn color, and while the grounds had sadly suffered a number of tree falls from the storm, it was nonetheless a lovely afternoon.
The Garden was quiet and felt particularly dignified, perhaps due to the somber hues of drying leaves and the lack of energetic floral activity. However, one stop on my circuit of the Plant Families Garden sent me into fits of decidedly indecorous laughter. A grand, gnarled old tree – perhaps the largest and oldest on the grounds, and a species I was previously unfamiliar with – was earnestly labeled with its scientific name, Pterocarya fraxinifolia, and its common name, Caucasian Wingnut.
While “Caucasian Wingnut” is a label some might choose to apply broadly, it seems a bit unfair to condemn an entire species to derogatory snickers and finger pointing. But at least the CWs, as I will mercifully abbreviate them, have plenty of company. Many a plant has endured a lifetime of awkward introductions at cocktail parties. Pity the poor Mountain Misery, Midnight Horror Tree, Beggar’s Tick, Corpse Flower, Mal Mujer, Crybaby Tree, Lousewort, Fly Poison, or Pleuro amparoana, also known as the Toilet Bowl Orchid.
Deservedly or not, other species have fared quite well in the name game, such as Balm of Gilead, Fairy Petticoats, Sorrowless Tree, Enchanter’s Nightshade, Venus’ Looking Glass, Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, and a favorite here on the Museum's grounds, the Rattlesnake Master. Euphorbia leucocephala has it particularly good. Its many common names include Snows of Kilimanjaro, Christ Child, and Little Christmas Flower. Other plants must get a lot of confused stares from doormen and receptionists: Ramping Fumitory, Moses in a Boat, Napoleon’s Hat, Monkey Puzzle, and Rat Stripper to name a few.
There are scientific names – always Latinized – that take the cake in both lyricism and absurdity. Consider the poetic qualities of words such as Dasylirion, Mandragora, Bauhinia, Ipheon, and Vitex agnus castus, which translates to “chaste lamb of life.” Dread the doubtless horrors of Dracula nosferatu and Monstera deliciosa. Or, try some lingual calisthenics with a couple of cactus species, Weberbauerocereus cephalomacrostibas and Austrocephalocereus dolichospermatichus. Quiz tomorrow. Spelling counts.
But back to New York and our dear CW. No matter how ridiculous its name, the tree I visited that afternoon was remarkable – venerable, steadfast, antediluvian. Perhaps we should thank Sandy for sparing it, but then, the tree has surely stood strong in the face of many storms. And perhaps, with maturity, it’s learned to laugh at its awkward moniker and even appreciate the chuckles of passersby. They say laughter is the secret to long life. Maybe this Wingnut is living proof.
Created: 11/15/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
The education department at the Nature Museum logged in just over 67,500 contact hours last year. Here is a breakdown of some of those hours:
Sharing our knowledge about science at 137 Science on the Go! classrooms.....
Conducting 627 student workshops for visiting school groups right here in the Nature Museum science labs.....
Visiting over 100 schools with in class workshops to 124 classrooms.....
Leading camps both on site and off that included over 375 children in the Chicago area.....
Supporting teachers while conducting 19 teacher professional development workshops that featured activities and strategies for hands on, inquiry based learning.....
And having fun the whole time we are doing it!
We are lucky to have this opportunity and are working very hard to make this year memorable for another 67,500+ students, teachers, parents, and others. Thanks for stopping by and letting us visit you at school!
Barbara PowellView Comments
Associate Director of Education Operations
Created: 11/6/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
1. You’ll become a nerd. This is a good thing! In this day and age, nerds reign supreme. Volunteering allows you to immerse yourself in a cause and learn everything there is to know about it. Here at the Museum, our volunteers are always delving deeper into their interests. We have all kinds of nerds – types you never knew existed. Butterfly nerds. Vermicompost nerds. Taxidermy nerds, for goodness sake. They’re all here, and our lunchtime discussions are often just an opportunity to see who can out-nerd the others.
2. People will find you intriguing. Those cocktail parties you always dreaded? Now you’ll have cute stories, fun facts, and sage philosophies on life to fill the awkward pauses. It’s endearing when someone gives their time to a cause they believe in without the expectation of a paycheck. Who knows, it may even score you a phone number or two.
3. Mom and Dad will be proud. So you didn’t become a doctor or a lawyer like they always dreamed. Next time they call, tell them you’re volunteering for a Nature Museum. They’ll be dying to get off the phone so they can call their friends to brag.
4. Your network will broaden and deepen. You’ll meet friends with similar interests. You’ll meet experts in the field. You may even meet someone who will hire you one day. They say that most people get jobs through personal connections. Volunteering is a genuine and effective way to cultivate those connections.
5. You’ll start to fill the void. You know the one I’m talking about. After work or school, when you come home, flip on the tv, and just zone out. What if, instead, you spent time talking to kids about nature and science? You could teach them, for example, that a turtle’s shell is made of the same stuff our fingernails are made from. It will blow their little minds and spark a lifetime of scientific curiosity. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in a three-hour volunteer gig. And it’s not just about the kids either. It’s about you, and how you make the most out of the time you have.
6. Food and praise will be lavished upon you. This is not an exaggeration. Volunteers are major contributors to an organization’s bottom line. Here at the Museum, volunteers put in over 10,000 hours each year. In purely financial terms, that time equates to a little over $250,000. That’s huge! It’s the least we can do to keep the snack drawer stocked and the thank-yous flowing. And every April, we gather for a delicious catered dinner and awards ceremony. Seriously - how thrilled would you be to win something called the Tiger Salamander Award?!
7. Social change will start to happen. When you volunteer, you help your community. Not just in the obvious quantifiable ways – like you taught 82 kids how to recycle, or you fed 14 turtles a salad. There’s something immeasurable, but very real, that happens in a community when its members are engaged. Others see the volunteer efforts and feel glad. They start to do a little volunteer work of their own. And pretty soon, things are getting done that we never thought we had the resources to do. Warm fuzzies (and vibrant communities) all over the place!
Feel the urge to volunteer yet?View Comments
Manager of Volunteers and Interns
Created: 11/2/2012 Updated: 8/10/2016
What do oil, humidity, and Hibiscus plants have in common? Turns out they may be part of the keys to success with one of our latest additions to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. As the Living Invertebrate Specialist it is my job to make sure our adopted leaf cutter ant colony thrives in their new home. While they are currently making their debut in the Backyard Monsters Exhibit running through January 22, 2013, they will become a permanent part of our exhibits after that, so this is a long-term commitment.
Who knew that caring for a bunch of ants would take me back to caring for my own children? Thankfully the later are grown and successfully on their way so I no longer have to worry about their every need on a daily basis. Instead I’ve been worrying about a colony of highly developed, highly active, highly demanding ants.
I recently spent a week with the ultimate ant “parenting” support group at the Cincinnati zoo where colonies of countless kinds of ants from around the world have been maintained and displayed for over 25 years. Randy Morgan and his staff are like a living version of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, or “Dr. Spock” for first time ant parents.
Lots of leaf cuttings by one of the largest Cincinnati Zoo colonies. We hope our girls can make this big of a mess someday.
This is what a happy fungus garden looks like. You can see the ants, ready to protect their handiwork.
Winton from the Cincinnati Zoo demonstrates how to get them to start expanding the gardens. You may notice, he’s bleeding from his finger. They’re not afraid to use those mouthparts for defense!
So what do oil, humidity, and Hibiscus plants have to do with all that? Well, a barrier of oil helps to keep them where we need them to stay, humidity is critical to the health of the fungus gardens they depend on, and Hibiscus plants may be one of the best sources of leaves in the winter when we have to provide for them by growing indoor plants. We have had quite a time finding leaves they will happily cut and use so this is no small challenge.
I'll share more about the incredible relationship the colony has with the fungus, the leaves, and each other as we progress but in the meantime, I look forward to moving beyond my own toddler stage with our ants and enjoying a more mature relationship.
I hope you’ll get a kick out of watching the colony grow and letting them teach you a thing or two as well.