Monday, March 14, 2011

Technological in Nature

A few weeks ago, we posted ideas for nature journaling and phenology. If you, your kids or your students are looking for some new spins on citizen science, check out some of these great academic and technological approaches to phenology and nature.

Combining research, technology and fun, many scientists around the world are tapping into kid power to conduct real fieldwork. We listed a few ideas already, and this post from MindShift talks about more of the great collaboration and opportunities that exist for kids and adults interested in getting real science experience through outdoor observations and data-collection.

Another great find is, an online community that allows you to interact with other techie naturalists, see what's been spotted in your area, search by species, and contribute your own observations. Plus, you can keep an online nature journal!

If you have trouble prying the smartphone from your kids' hands, see if you can interest them in SoilWeb, NRCS's Online Soil Survey Browser, a digital soil survey that gives you detailed information about the soil you're standing on. Knowing about the soil around you can help you determine what kinds of plant and animal species to look for. And yes, there's an app for that (available online, on GoogleMaps, or for iPhone or Android).

Another fun site (and smartphone app) is, serving as a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere. This interactive tool will help you explore and document wildlife, and also use your smartphone (iPhone and Android) to navigate, snap photos, and upload your observations! There are also links to ongoing science research you can contribute to.

The WildLab takes "tweeting" to a whole new level by using mobile technology to enhance birdwatching, allowing you to explore, discover, and share the natural world with your computer or smartphone.

You can also use your phone, computer or other GPS units to speak the "language of location." Groundspeak uses location-based technology to encourage outdoor activity. Check out their sites and resources and visit the Geocaching Blog!

UPDATED: Project BudBurst, the plant phenology site we mentioned a few weeks ago has just announced it has joined NEON, the National Ecological Observatory Network, Inc., to better capture user-collected data online through new tools and improved resources. An enhanced website and user-friendly mobile application are expected to be released by late spring. Read more here! Also, check out this great post from NWF for some updated app ideas!

From nature nut to tech-head, there is something out there for everyone. Matching your family's interests with the right tools and technologies might help you all engage in nature together. Plus, having more options makes it easier to navigate your way through the rainy/sunny/snowy/windy/muddy/melty/chilly fluxes of March in Wisconsin!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Earth Day Bouquet

Nature Net has just posted this year's Earth Day Bouquet - a listing of family events at Nature Net sites in celebration of Earth Day 2011.

If you are looking for something to do with your family during the weeks around Earth Day, Nature Net's "Earth Day Bouquet of Events" offers a variety of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, get involved in your local and natural community, and become motivated to make a difference in the health and sustainability of the environment.

From park clean-ups and hikes, to Earth Day festivals and vacation day camps and programs, there is sure to be an event suited for your family. Check the schedule for the free and low-cost events that interest you, and mark your calendar for a Bouquet of things to do, explore and learn about this Earth Day season. Events take place at Nature Net sites during the weeks of April 10-23 - with a bonus event on April 30! Registration, fees and details vary. Click each link for details and check back for updates!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March Nature Net News - Water Works!

Nature Net News
Your Source for Tips and Tricks for Exploring Nature with Your Kids

"We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one."
-Jacques Cousteau

Dear Reader,

This issue of Nature Net News is dedicated to the wonders of the water cycle--one of nature's recycling factories. From collection to condensation, this cycle is part of the natural wonder of this world that keeps us going!

So sit back with a tall glass of water and get ready to learn about the timeless journey of this precious resource.


Kathe, Sarah & Brenna
The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know...
There is no such thing as "new" water. All the water that ever existed on Earth still exists today and moves around the planet in an ongoing cycle. That means that the water you drink today could have been sipped by dinosaurs or dodo birds. It also means that the water around now is all we have, and it needs to be taken care of!

What to Do This Month
  • Watch icicles forming or melting.
  • Boil some water to see water vapor and then make tea with it.
  • Dance in the rain on a warm day.
  • Watch a rainstorm and then jump in its puddles. Try to find a rainbow!
  • Read the online stories of Drippy the Raindrop!
  • Sing some water cycle songs.

Tricks of the Trail for Parents
Water Works
It's perfectly fine (and fun!) to appreciate the water cycle first-hand, but do be careful if getting wet in chilly weather. Wear a raincoat, be prepared for winds, and always make sure to keep dry towels or socks on-hand for when you're done!

Instant Outdoor Expert
What Is the Water Cycle?

The Water Cycle is Mother Nature's original way of recycling one of her most precious resources!
The main stages are evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection.

Evaporation usually happens in nature when the sun heats up a body of water such as a lake, river, or puddle, turning the water into water vapor or steam. Steam also occurs at natural hot springs. Evaporation is also at play when humans sweat. The sweat meant to cool our bodies usually turns to water vapor after continued contact between hot skin and cooler air. Plants do not sweat, but instead transpire from their leaves, releasing water and water vapor back into the cycle.

After evaporation, water vapor floats upward in the atmosphere. The skies are the major setting for condensation, the next step in the process. Condensation happens when water vapor cools down and turns back into water. Instead of immediately falling in large drops, tiny water droplets gather into clouds. You can also see condensation on a hot day if you have a cold glass of water. The water vapor in the warm air will turn back into water when it touches the cold glass.

Once enough water has condensed in the sky, the clouds get too heavy to support themselves and begin to precipitate. Precipitation comes down to us in a number of forms, the most well-known including rain, hail, and snow.

Collection is when the precipitation falls back to earth and joins a body of water or soaks through the ground into groundwater reservoirs. Once the water is back in a lake, stream, ocean, puddle, or river, it is ready to restart the cycle by evaporating again.

Nature Craft
Water Cycle Bracelet

What you need: 12 inches of string or 1 pipecleaner, 1 bead of light blue, green, dark blue, yellow, clear, and white.

1. First string the dark blue bead. This bead represents water collecting in bodies of water.

2. Next add on the green bead on top of the dark blue bead. This bead represents the plants that use the water in the ground and then transpire it.

3. On top of the green bead, string the yellow bead. This bead represents the sun that provides the energy for water to become water vapor.

4. After the yellow bead, add the clear bead. This clear bead represents the air when the water vapor rises up, but has not become a cloud yet.

5. Next add on the white bead. This bead represents the clouds that form when the water vapor condenses.

6. Finally, add the light blue bead. This bead represents precipitation that falls back from the clouds.

7. After you've strung your beads, tie the bracelet in a circle to complete the cycle. Be sure it is a comfortable size around your wrist, and that you're able to take it off!

(Nature Craft from

Featured Nature Net Site

Cherokee Marsh, with 4,000 total acres, is by far the largest wetland in Dane County, created by former glacial Lake Mendota. Here you can walk in the midst of a cattail marsh. Or, follow the Yahara River boardwalk as it meanders through a sedge meadow, over peat deposits and past a fen - a distinctly different wetland from the cattail marsh. The park contains two observation platforms for wildlife viewing and several belly boards to encourage exploration of pond ecosystems. Other trails lead through prairie restorations, old field habitat, edge habitat, oak savannah, typical southern Wisconsin woods, over a glacial drumlin and to a glacial kettle pond.

Watch the water cycle in action! View the different ways and places water can be collected and see if you can observe any other stages of the cycle.

Suggested Reading
"The Drop Goes Plop" by Sam Godwin (preschool-6)
"Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water?" by Robert E. Wells (preschool-8)
"The Water Cycle" by Rebecca Olien (4-8)
"The Snowflake: A Water Cycle Story" by Neil Waldman (4-8)
"A Drop Around the World" by Barbara McKinney (4-8)
"Down Comes the Rain" by Franklyn M. Branley (4-8)
"The Magic School Bus Wet All Over: A Book About the Water Cycle" by Pat Relf (4+)
"Hydro's Adventures Through the Water Cycle" by Randi and Michael Goodrich (6-12)
"The Water Cycle" by Bobbie Kalman (9-12)
"The Life and Times of a Drop of Water" by Angela Royson (9-12)
"Water Dance" by Thomas Locker (9-12)