Not too long ago I got a cool little photo gift–a small detachable macro lens for my iPhone. It has a little clip (kind of like a clothespin) that fits the macro lens right over my phone’s native camera lens. The fun thing about a macro lens is that it lets you get close up and magnify tiny things so you can really see them.
During Tuesday’s lunch break I decided to attach the macro lens to my phone and head out into the backyard in search of a photo subject. The milkweed is looking quite sickly. There are a few flowers, but the leaves have been stripped clean. Upon close examination, I did find a caterpillar–the monarch variety–cruising the stripped branches. I leaned in, took a deep breath, and held as steady as possible to snap a few photos of the yellow, white, and black crawling creature. It was a pretty big one, so I ended up with a head shot rather than a full body portrait.
Then I turned my attention to the lavender. I love the way that lavender has tiny blossoms that make up the bloom. I aimed the macro lens at the individual blossom–and then I saw them! The tiniest ants were crawling in and out of the blossom. I moved the lens away and looked closely. I could make out the tiny ants, just barely, without the lens. I snapped a few different shots of the tiny ants exploring the blossom and then my questions started emerging. Are these ants pollinators? Do they help or hurt the lavender? What about these tiny ants–are they a different species than the regular ants I’m used to seeing, just smaller?
I love the way taking photos also creates opportunities for research and learning, piquing my curiosity as I notice something new or unexpected. Photography keeps reminding me to look at the world through fresh eyes, changing my angles…or just the camera lens!
There were a lot of them. Gathered in a group, moving with purpose. Where did they come from and where are they going?
Seagulls are usual. They congregate, squawking and arguing over who gets the bag of cheetos stolen from the blanket. Shorebirds with their long thin beaks poke the wet sand in search of snacks. Whimbrels and godwits are shy, scattering as I creep near. I’m always on the lookout for egrets, tall and elegant with bright yellow feet. Sometimes they feed in pairs or triads, but mostly seem to lead a solitary life.
When the little girl approached the group, I expected them to take flight. Rise into the sky in unison. But they didn’t. As I got closer, I saw they were traveling together, one after the other like school kids heading from the classroom to somewhere. They were unperturbed when I came close with my camera from behind. And not concerned when I ran ahead and took my photos from the front of the line, in fact, the lead duck nearly walked right into me!
I’m still wondering about that sord of mallards (if they had taken flight they would have been called a flock). In all my walks on the beach over the years, this is my first sighting of mallards on a pilgrimage. Where did they come from? Where were they going?
With the school year coming to a close, I wanted to come up with an activity for students that felt like play–like a party–and still provide academic content to satisfy my ever-present need to make use of all available instructional minutes. (Yes, even in the last week of school)
So, when I came across a blog post about making giant bubbles and bubble art, I knew I could turn this into a meaningful day of learning and fun…all wrapped up in a soapy bubble! I’m pretty fascinated by bubbles. I’ve spent quite a bit of time photographing giant bubbles at the beach and I’ve written about the “bubble man” a time or two (or more). I know that the trick to great bubbles is the solution–so prior to having my students explore and experiment, my husband and I tried our hand at bubbles over the weekend.
The basis of all bubbles is soap and water. But if you want the bubbles to be big and to have a bit of staying power, a bit of corn syrup and some glycerin need to be added to the mix. Using smoothie straws and yarn, I created a bubble wand that my students would be able to make on their own and started dipping and waving in my own attempt to create bubbles. This bubble thing is harder than it looks! I didn’t immediately get big beautiful bubbles flying from the wand. But with some patience, some tinkering, and some exploration of how to get a thin film filling with air onto my yarn…bubbles happened. At that point, with bubble solution pre-made, I was ready for a day of bubbles with third graders!
We started with a very interesting TED Talk titled, The Fascinating Science of Bubbles, from Soap to Champagne. We learned about surface tension, the geometry of bubbles and so much more. (If I were to do this in the future, I think I might devote an entire week rather than a whole day to bubbles!) Then we made our bubble wands and headed up to the field to make bubbles.
In spite of warning students that making these bubbles would take patience and experimentation, there was plenty of initial whining that “it’s not working!” I reminded them to keep trying. And then it happened…the first child experienced success! Like wildfire, bubbles emerged, filling the air with irridescent spheres.
The soap solution ran out before student interest waned, which is probably the best possible result! We headed back to the classroom with soapy hands, happy hearts and filled with visions and language about bubbles.
These young scientists are also prolific readers and writers, so after studying Valerie Worth’s short poem, Soap Bubbles, we created a list of bubble words and a list of potential bubble metaphors and then set the magic 7-minute writing timer and started writing. Like bubbles, colorful, delicate, evocative poems floated up, emerging from the points of students’ pencils.
Here’s a couple:
To complement the poetry and the elusive, temporary soap bubbles, we got out paper, pencils, water-based markers and some water and created bubbles…as art! Each artist created their own composition, tracing round shapes, adding a space where a light source reflected off each bubble. Then they added marker and finally, using just water and a paint brush, urged the marker to follow the water, creating beautiful dimensional bubbles on watercolor paper.
There is so much more we could have done with bubbles–including exploring the mathematics of spheres. Overall, it was an amazing day. Students could not believe that an entire school day had passed before they even realized it. Engagement was high, work quality was inspiring…it was an amazing last Monday of the school year! Based on this success, I know I will be working some bubble science into future teaching and learning!