October 31

Fire Ants

When I moved to Atlanta from Maryland, I learned about fire ants, an invasive species, the hard way. Although these ants are tiny (2 to 6 mm), their stings burn like fire! Just touch their nest, and they rapidly emerge, aggressively looking for the intruder. Children who live in the South quickly learn to recognize the large mounds, usually found in open fields or along paved areas. These ants are known to be resilient and can survive cold temperatures.

Like all insects, adult ants have three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), six jointed legs, and antennae. They move through metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, and adult) during their life cycle. Ants are social insects, like bees, and live in colonies in which each member (queen, drones, and workers) has a role.

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October 27


Zinnias are one of my favorite flowers! This annual plant produces excellent cut flowers, comes in a variety of bright colors, blooms profusely, and are easy to grow from seed. Look at them closely. What do you notice?

Yes, there are small flowers in the center of each!

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October 25


I was hoping the annuals that I have on my deck and patio would last a little longer, but temperatures have dropped below normal, and we have our first freeze warning tonight. In Atlanta, when temperatures are between 34 and 37 degrees, summer plants are susceptible to frost damage, especially tropical plants. The extent of the damage will depend upon how heavy the frost and the amount of wind. Hardier annuals and vegetables will have less damage and may possibly rebloom. The real danger to plants occurs when temperatures are 32 or below.

I saw this spectacular photo of the first frost in the North Carolina mountains.

What is frost? Click here to view full screen.

Click here for a favorite frost lab.

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October 24

Apple Study

Fall food is my favorite – apples, pumpkins, and butternut squash! North Georgia mountains are well known for their apple orchards and my family visits an orchard annually. Click here for an apple orchard field trip with my first-grade botanists.

There are numerous ways to integrate the study of apples with other subject areas. Click here for an oxidation experiment with apples.

Integrate math with science and weigh apples and other objects with a balance scale. Click here for directions.

Then explore the concept of balance using the story, Ten Apples up on Top. Place an apple on a child’s head and direct him or her to balance it as he or she walks across the room. How many apples can you balance on top of one another like the characters in the story? Ask your students to work in small groups or create a balancing apples center. Use this rhyming story to introduce or practice the concepts of more, less, and equal, as well as addends that equal 10.

Love this musical version! Click here for full screen.

Taste a variety of apples or a red, yellow, and green apple and create a tally, pictograph or bar graph of your students’ favorite apples.

Celebrate apples with an apple tasting party (apple butter, apple pie, apple sauce, apple cider, apple turnovers, and apple muffins). Make apple sauce or apple crisp.

Estimate how many seeds are in an apple, and then cut the apple to reveal the star inside. Cut several more and count the seeds. Do all apples have the same number of seeds? Does one variety of apples have more seeds than another? Be sure to use the correct terms to describe the parts of an apple – skin, core, seeds, stem, and flesh. Of course, apples can be used to introduce fractions.

There are many engaging apple stories! Use The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree to learn about the life cycle of an apple tree. Sequence the life cycle. Click here to watch full screen.

Click here for the Safeshare link for Bad Apple, A Tale of Friendship.

See the source image

Use the following song/fingerplay with your youngest scientists to introduce subtraction and the concept of less. Write a subtraction sentence each time an apple is taken away. Click here to watch full screen.

Apple Trouble is an ideal story to identify story structure Рcharacters, setting, problem (conflict), and resolution. Identify the steps the main character attempts to resolve the problem. Click here to watch full screen.

October 20

Hello Autumn! Goodbye Summer!

It’s really beginning to look and feel like Autumn around Atlanta, especially with temperatures below normal! Ask your children or students to list the changes that happen during this season and the cause of each. The foliage in the North Georgia Mountains was especially vibrant on a recent visit!

Click here to watch the Safeshare link. A great story to work on the concept of compare and contrast.

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October 18


Leaves aren’t the only things falling from the trees around my house. The oak trees are also dropping acorns. Not only are acorns the seeds of the oak tree, but they are also food for animals, such as deer, mice, wild boar, squirrels and opossums.

The hundreds of species of oak trees result in a variety of acorns. Just look at the diversity-color, shape, and size!


If you see small round holes in acorns, acorn weevils are present. In the fall, the fully grown acorn weevil larva chews a hole in the side of the nut and emerges.

This story illustrates the interdependence of living and nonliving things in creation. Also, a great lesson for cause and effect and sequencing. Click here to watch full screen.

Sing The Acorn Song with your students. Instead of clapping, make a clicking sound with your tongue. Click here for the tune.

I’m a little acorn brown,
Lying on the cold, cold, ground.
People always step on me,
That is why I’m cracked you see!
I’m a nut (clap, clap),
I’m a nut (clap, clap),
I’m a nut (clap), nut (clap), nut, (clap, clap).

I’ve been watching the acorns grow on oak trees around my home since spring. Just think, everything the tree needs to grow is inside the acorn! Acorns don’t appear on an oak tree until it is mature, usually around twenty years old.

Acorns change from green to brown and their caps (cupules) fall off.

Collect acorns and try to germinate them. Do a little research before you begin. Some acorns should be stored in the refrigerator first, while some species of acorns can be planted right away. Place the acorns in water. Floating acorns will not sprout and should be discarded and composted. Why?

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The Golden Acorn is a humorous tale with lessons about teamwork and friendship.
Click here for full screen viewing.

Use this entertaining story to introduce character traits. Click here for full-screen viewing.

Another beautifully illustrated book:

See the source image

Click here to view full screen. Use this story to introduce journal writing.

Play “Where is the Acorn?” as you teach positional words. After giving each student an acorn, give them commands. Suggestions:
Put the acorn in your left hand.
Hold the acorn behind your back.
Place the acorn between your fingers.
Lay the acorn under the table.
Hold the acorn in front of your face.

Progress to multi-step directions.
Turn around, jump two times, and balance the acorn on your head.

Play the following game to develop self-control and observational skills:

Choose one student to be the squirrel. Other students (squirrels) sit around the selected student in a circle. The teacher places an acorn behind the squirrel while the squirrel’s eyes are closed and then points to a child to quietly take the acorn and hide it in the student’s lap. All students also pretend to be hiding the acorn in their laps. Children repeat, “Squirrel, squirrel, look and see. Someone took your acorn. Who could it be?” The squirrel is given three chances to guess who removed the acorn without leaving the center of the circle.

October 17

Grasses and Seeds

Everywhere I walk, I see grasses showcasing their seeds. The diversity of seeds is an interesting study. Most elementary science classes study and plant seeds in springtime, but autumn is the ideal time to observe, collect, and dry seeds to plant later. Click here to go to the Forks in the Dirt blog to learn how to dry seeds. (It’s a fun to site to explore.)

Most grass seeds are dispersed by wind. Can you list other ways that seeds travel?

Click here to watch full screen.

Miss Maple’s Seeds is a fantasy story about seed dispersal Click here to watch on Safeshare.

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October 13

Leaf Hunt

My first-grade science classes traditionally went on a leaf hunt to learn how to identify the leaves (trees) around our school campus. Click here to see the leaves we investigated before we searched for them around our grounds. Create a scavenger hunt to identify the leaves that grow on the trees around you.

Click here to view full screen. A fun parody to dramatize!

Learn to identify leaves with Fall Walk too.

See the source image

October 12

Thermal Energy

One of the most impressive sights in Yellowstone National Park are the geothermal features. Walking through them is a sensory experience!

Yellowstone is an active super volcano and the magma close to the surface supplies the heat necessary for these elements. Hot springs are the most common hydrothermal features in Yellowstone. Steam also rises from vents in the earth called fumaroles, the hottest features in the park, and mudpots bubble with gases and look like pools of bubbling mud.

There are over 1000 geysers on Earth and 500 of those are in Yellowstone. The Upper Geyser Basin, home of Old Faithful, has the greatest concentration of active geysers. Old Faithful shoots water more than 100 feet in the air. (See my photo below.)

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My favorite area during our visit to Yellowstone was the Midway Geyser Basin where you find Excelsior Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone’s largest hot spring. The colors are created by heat loving bacteria (thermophiles), not minerals.

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When I taught science, one of my third-grade units was thermal energy. Click here and here for some of my favorite thermal energy labs.

Click here to go to a volcano lab.

October 10

Caves and Caverns

When I was growing up in Kentucky, my family visited Mammoth Cave and when I was teaching science, I chaperoned field trips to the Dahlonega Gold Mines. Click here for further information and photos of this field trip.

Because my husband and I couldn’t continue our journey to Glacier National Park, we explored some sights near Bozeman, Montana. One of those day trips led us to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.

The Lewis and Clark Caverns, Montana’s first state park, became federal property in 1908. Although they never entered the caverns, the park was named after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark whose expedition passed through the area as they explored the western portion of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase. These caverns are unique because they are high in the mountains.

What is the difference between a cave and a cavern?  Caverns consist of a series of caves connected with one passage, while caves tend to consist of only one hollow.

We hiked to the entrance of the caverns. Although the outside temperature was nearly 80 degrees, the temperature remains approximately 48 degrees Fahrenheit inside the caverns.

The cathedral room was spectacular! The most common features were dripstone (soda straws, stalagmites, stalactites, and columns); flowstone (canopies, waterfalls, and cave bacon); and seepstone (cave popcorn and helicities).

I was hoping to see the resident Townsend’s big eared bats, but no luck on this visit.

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Click here for full screen viewing.

We had fun spelunking!

Click here for full screen. Try this experiment:

The following humorous story can be used to teach prediction and persusaion, as well as the danger of making assumptions.

Click here to watch full screen.

Construct a cave inside or outside like the children do in the following story. What materials could you use-boxes, bed sheets…? Young children will enjoy the repetitive language in this imaginative text.

To watch full screen, click here.

Look at what this teacher did to transform her hallway and classroom! Crumbled brown paper makes it appear as though you are inside caverns. Use a cave unit to kick off a study of bats or bears. If you want to integrate art into a cave unit, make cave paintings

Photo credit: wwv.group.com