Have you seen the scene in ‘Men in Black’ where Edgar the Bug Man metamorphoses into a larger-than-life creature that is a little bit like a giant cockroach that can talk, except with more slime involved? My ex-animator friend reliably informs me that real life insects are often used as a starting point for drawing anything intended to be alien or creepy. Just looking at this picture of an American cockroach makes me feel creeped out, to be honest.

American Cockroach, from Wikipedia.
American Cockroach, from Wikipedia.

You don’t need to invoke interstellar travel in order to meet these weird creatures. Insects make up a huge proportion of the animal world here on Earth and as BuzzFeed and similar sites are fond of reminding us, many of them have looks and habits that seem extremely alien to humans.

Insects can be extremely annoying, dangerous and also useful.

Braconid wasp by Katja Schulz on Flickr. Braconid wasps are parasitic wasps that can be used as biological control of aphids.
Braconid wasp by Katja Schulz on Flickr. These parasitic wasps can be used to control aphid populations.

This term, weather permitting, the children in my classes will be venturing out into different environments to collect and categorise insects, to learn about insects that endanger us and insects that help us and to find out exactly what entomologists do.

I hope the children have fun this term. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

The Built Environment

In Term 3 this year I took a break from running face-to-face science classes. Instead I trialled a new course on The Built Environment. I worked on this course with a friend of mine who is an architect.

July is winter in the Southern Hemisphere but this didn’t stop us from going outside for most of the classes. We went out into our local area to look at functions of buildings and take pictures of some details.

We saw how buildings that have the same function (e.g. a home) can look very different from the outside.

A home near ours Another home near us Concrete home

A portaloo on a building site prompted a discussion about the design of toilet blocks.

portable toilet

We went to a local community garden to investigate interactions between people and the environment.

Manly Vale Community Garden

My husband took the children to a local shopping mall to talk about systems in the built environment. At home we thought about how buildings have changed over time, and how we can plan sustainable, energy efficient buildings for the future.

Together with a few other Nurture Learning guinea pig families, we went on an outing into the bush. We looked at structures in nature, an old Aboriginal habitation, and the children built ‘fairy houses’.

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A few weeks later, we visited the Sydney Opera House. The children thought about compass direction, where the wind was coming from, the sun and shade and how this changed throughout the day. As they went through the activities they drew clues on a ‘mud map’ – a large site plan of the Opera House. We looked at the windows in the Opera House, the tiles, and thought about the materials that were used in the construction.

Opera House       Opera House excursion

As a follow up to all these activities, my children are designing their own built environments and learning about how the design process works in practice.

In the process of designing and trying out these activities, I have learned plenty about architects and the work they do, and structures both in nature and in the built environment.

I am very pleased with the way the trial classes and outings worked out, and only want to make a few minor changes before we offer this course more widely.

If you’re interested in your children taking this course, I plan to repeat it around the same time next year, i.e. Term 3: mid July to mid September 2016.