This weekend my village is having a safari walk in aid of our local school, after school club and preschool, whose premises were sadly destroyed in a fire this summer, and lots of equipment and resources have been lost.
I’m taking part and providing a bit of a science education trail along the way!
Children and adults follow the map to find all of the houses taking part and to spot animals along the way! Can you find my round-the-world safari?
In normal times, I deliver fun and engaging, curriculum-relevant, hands-on science workshops, as well as posting lots of science activities on social media, creating video lessons and running online science clubs.
I’ve tried to pick animals from different parts of the world. Here’s my fun animal facts from the trail if you can’t come and see them in person:
Here are just a few pictures of some of the other displays:
and there’s even a treasure hunt trail around the village, supported by local businesses too:
If you live near Cambridge and fancy joining in, the Duxford Safari Walk takes place on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th September 2020 and more info can be found by clicking on the link. Slots for the treasure hunt must be booked in order to ensure social distancing, but you can just come along and wander around the village to admire the 60 different displays! Donations to the fund would be very welcome, although I’m not affiliated in any way.
Among the farmers’ fields of my local corner of agricultural East Anglia, are reclaimed chalky grasslands. Aswell as roadside and field-side verges, there are also entire swathes of land turned over to meadows, providing essential havens for biodiversity. Grasslands rich in wildflowers provide cover, shelter and food for a wide range of invertebrates and other animals, including amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and ground-nesting birds. Meadows (as well as wetlands and peat bogs) should be a nature conservation priority; nearly all have been lost in the past century.
A grassland field near where I live was given back to meadow 10-12 years ago, and was seeded with wildflowers at the time. It is now rich in a plethora of species of plant life and home to innumerable vertebrates and invertebrates.
I’ve spotted the early colonisers such as fireweed, as well as succession plants, field scabious, knapweeds, alfalfa, and sainfoin.
Red and white clover, ragwort, hogweed, yarrow, wild carrot, wild parsnip, plantains, barnyardgrass, and vervain.
I’ve also found creeping thistle, hawkweed oxtongue, vetch and mallow, and shrubs such as brambles, vibernum, guelder rose and dogwood.
Butterflies have been abundant there this year, as well as woodlice, crickets,snails, ladybirds and soldier beetles. Skylarks shelter in the brush.
It is a truly glorious, rich, important, scruffy looking piece of land with secrets and new detail revealed at every turn. I was also lucky enough to meet an older lady out walking one day who shared my affection for this place and told me that this gently sloping hill towards the river used to be a medieval settlement. I love it all the more now and am so grateful for that chance encounter.
I love the seasons. I love living somewhere there is always seasonal change on the horizon. Tomorrow is the start of meteorological autumn. I tend to feel slightly sad at the passing of one season, but excited for the next. Spring and summer hold so much promise, but the shorter days and longer nights of autumn and winter help us to value them all the more.
As summer starts to drift to a close, my sadness is tempered by the signs of the changing seasons and the promise that has been growing for half the year. There are signs all around: harvest in the fields, brambles in the hedges and fruit ripening on the trees. The evenings are getting shorter and darker. There will soon be crisp autumn days, glorious colours on the trees and crunchy leaves underfoot.
I’ve been spotting burgeoning blackberries on the bramble bushes for a few weeks already, which seems very early this year (some have even been and gone).
The apples are growing on the trees (below left) and sloes appearing on the blackthorn bushes (below middle), although it will still be a while before either are ready for picking. Take extra care with sloes: they should be picked after the first frost (or popped in the freezer before using to flavour gin!) but you should only collect them if you are absolutely sure of what they are. There are impersonators which are not edible! Similar, but larger fruits also with a white matte surface are Damsons, and care should again be taken before picking and eating these to ensure this is what they are. The fragrant elderflowers of late spring have made way for the dark elderberries (below right) which can be used in jellies, cordials and to flavour fruit crumbles.
Of course, other animals also enjoy many fruits and berries and we should ensure that there are plenty left for them.
The guelder rose (below left) berries are an important food source for many birds (but can be mildly toxic to people!). The berries of the white beam tree (right, related to the rowan) are eaten by woodpigeons, crows and thrushes and are edible by humans but must be cooked first.
Whilst the haws (below) of the hawthorn tree look like berries they are actually pomes, like apples and pears. Haws are also an important food for birds and are edible in small quantities by humans when cooked, although the seeds are poisonous (haws are often made into a jelly) – but they don’t actually taste very nice!
When foraging, always ensure you have permission and take a responsible and knowledgeable grown-up with you to make sure you don’t pick anything poisonous. There are many plants with similar looking berries and fruits which could make you very ill. If in doubt, don’t eat it!
The end of summer usually also brings excitement for a new school year, although that is going to look a little different this year. The uncertainties of the world around us are balanced by the comforting familiarity of the turning of the earth and the changing of the seasons as nature continues to get on with life.
What signs of the changing seasons and the end of summer can you spot?
Although the changing seasons are marked by the changing colour and dropping of leaves (more on this in a future blog post!), it’s still summer and yet many leaves are already turning brown…
There are actually a few reasons why leaves may turn brown, especially in the horse chestnut (conker) tree.
A fungus, Phyllosticta paviae (syn. Guignardia aesculi), causes Horse Chestnut leaf blotch – irregular patches of brown on the leaves, sometimes with yellow edges, usually during summer. Severe attacks can cause the leaves to shrivel completely. Leaf blotch isn’t usually seriously damaging, despite looking unsightly.
Leaf Mining moth
Something I’ve spotted a lot more of lately is not leaf blotch, however, but smaller brown lesions, usually sitting between two lateral leaf veins – so often more elongated in shape – which are caused by the horse chestnut leaf mining moth larvae (Cameraria ohridella). It has spread widely in England since 2002 (RHS) and the effect on leaves in late summer can be quite dramatic! Due to the damage to leaves, the plant may have a reduced ability to photosynthesise and this could impact energy stores and resources. Although trees may drop their leaves early, the leaf miner blotches don’t seem to have much effect on the health or growth rate of trees but may affect developing conkers.
The Horse chestnut leaf mining moth larva lives between the top and bottom surfaces of the leaf, so it is hidden and protected from potential predators and can feed undisturbed. The small blotches are pale when they first appear between the leaf veins but turn brown as summer progresses. You can peel the top layer of the leaf away and reveal the larva (caterpillar) hiding beneath:
There may be several generations of horse chestnut leaf mining moth during a summer. The adult moths lay eggs on the surface of the leaf and the caterpillars then hatch and burrow under the surface to feed. The moth can overwinter in the leaves as pupae and so collecting and burning the leaves may help to stop the spread.
There is a citizen science project (conkertreescience.com) finding out more about the horse chestnut leaf mining moth and scientists are also looking at ways of controlling the pests with biological control – using other insects to control the population.
Of course, caterpillars (and other animals) often feed on leaves and we are all familiar with leaves with holes in like these (gardeners especially!).
The caterpillar ate through one nice green leaf, and after that he felt much better
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
You can also see evidence of caterpillar feeding on leaves with these tracks or mines left by moth larvae of the stigmella genus:
Brown leaf edges
You may also spot leaves with brown edges. This could be due to drought stress, but there’s also an unknown condition affecting horse chestnuts resembling this too.
These maple leaves have brown edges, which could be maple leaf scorch, caused by drought stress.
One of my science clubbers recently sent me some photographs of some thirsty acer leaves that they managed to rescue this summer:
Other evidence of insect damage to leaves are galls, including (left to right) the acalitus gall mite, the red gall mite on sycamore leaves and the characteristic circular dots on oak leaves caused by the common spangle gall moth.
Fungi may also be evident on leaves, including the black tar spot (Rhytisma acerinum) on sycamore or maple leaves in later summer and autumn. This is a minor, localised infection which doesn’t cause long term issues for the tree.
These are just a few incidences of the many plant pests, pathogens and disease which afflict trees and leaves. Damaged leaves or stems could also lead to the leaf tissue dying and turning brown. This is different to the slow change of colour and eventual dropping of leaves we will soon see in deciduous trees in the autumn (more on that later). Autumn is on its way, but not quite yet!
In my latest newsletter for primary teachers and science leads, I’ve tried to signpost some really useful information on science planning, curriculum and practicals for the new term.
A helping hand
Looking forward to September, with all children set to be back in class but with some social distancing measures and bubbles still in place, practical science might look a little different, but will also be starting to look a little more normal than the summer term.
If you’re looking for different ways to do things, or maybe even considering a blended approach, you may find some useful ideas collated in the resources area on my website.
Practical Science and Curriculum Planning
Some quick links to help:
CLEAPSS have updated their Primary Science, Art and DT guidance for the new school year and current situation:
The Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT) have produced a CPD video on recovery planning:
The Primary Science Teaching Trust (PSTT) have also created some great resources for socially distant or home based science investigations with Science For One, which have recently been updated in light of new CLEAPSS guidance:
I’m delighted to now be able to offer teacher CPD online. I am a STEM Learning Associate Facilitator and PSQM Hub leader as well as being a Great Science Share for Schools Regional Champion and an Explorify Champion. Just ask to find out about more about remote and in-person training and support opportunities.
Dr Jo Science Workshops
At the moment, I’m not sure when Dr Jo Science workshops will be back in schools full time but if you’re looking for a hands-on science day do get in touch and we can discuss how to make it work. My priority is everyone’s safety. All activities are risk assessed and extra precautions taken in line with Government and CLEAPSS Health & Safety guidance to be as safe as possible in the current covid-19 situation with a flexible approach to suit your school, including new ‘virtual visits‘ comprising live online sessions and follow-up investigations, planning and resources.
This blog post first appeared as a guest article on the fabulous Science On A Postcard blog on the 22nd May 2020. Scientist, Science Communicator and Creative, Dr Heidi Gardner, curates a fantastic space for breaking down those barriers in science. Do go and have a look at her website as there are fabulous science-themed products to buy too, including postcards!
It feels like a good time to look back on the journey that my working practices took at the start of lockdown. Here’s my piece….
“This post is written by Dr Jo Montgomery, a qualified teacher and research scientist who usually spends her days delivering fun and engaging hands-on science workshops in schools. Here, she explains how her working life has changed since the coronavirus outbreak started, and how she’s trying to make the best of a difficult situation. Find out more about Dr Jo on her website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages”.
Science On A Postcard
Hi, I’m Jo. I’m normally found delivering fun and engaging, hands-on science workshops in schools, after school clubs and teaching home education groups, as well as supporting teacher development in primary science. These activities are all housed under the umbrella of my business, Dr Jo Science Solutions. I’m a research scientist and qualified teacher and I’ve spent the last 20+ years in this portfolio career of teaching, training, outreach and public engagement.
I’m usually found juggling multiple projects, but the last two months have seen a major pivot in the way that I’m working. Since lockdown, it seems that my entire life (as is the case with many people) operates online. Between work, family quiz catch-ups, coffee or drinks with friends and virtual university open days with my teen, I’ve been experiencing unprecedented screen time!
During the pandemic I’ve been increasing my online presence and provision for Dr Jo Science activities. Firstly, I spent a few weeks publishing free content to help teachers navigate their new ways of working, to help them find resources and activities suitable for home learning, and to help families educate and entertain their children at home. I’ve also been posting daily science activities to do at home every day since the partial school closures, take a look here.
I run a science club with my local school, which I have now moved online via interactive Zoom sessions. I’ve changed the things that we do to incorporate everyday household equipment; we’ve investigated mixtures, solutions and separation by filtering muddy water using sieves and cloths; explored sound vibrations and pitch with glasses and bottles of water; dissected plants from the garden; delved into plastics and recycling using household waste; and made our own toothpaste.
A few times I’ve actually used my daily exercise allowance to cycle round and safely deliver bits of science kit like copper tape, batteries, LEDs, and UV torches to add some excitement to our experiments! My science clubbers are always excited to receive a special delivery just for them and to use real science kit at home. I’ve also extended this home learning provision to other families via an online science club; I record an interactive video each week and prepare a bumper activity pack of related investigations which appear in inboxes up and down the country.
I’ve also been getting to grips with filming technology and have been recording remote science lessons for STEM Learning UK. I don’t think I’ll be challenging Maddie Moate for her TV job anytime soon, and it’s quite odd delivering a lesson with no interaction, feedback or interruptions(!) from the children, but it has been great to have another platform for teaching while we are all apart.
Of course, the situation beyond my makeshift office walls is a tricky one – in terms of health, emotional wellbeing, the economy and beyond, but there are certainly positives to come out of this situation, both for science communication and for the community connections we are seeing daily.
The greater need for understanding science is helping to fuel more science communication, which is leading to:
More resources being produced.
Many of them are excellent and being pulled together by big players in science education but quantity doesn’t always equal quality so it’s good to know where to look. I wrote a blog post for Nexus Education that’s packed with ideas, and my website has a list of resources too.
Increased opportunities for home-learning.
My work has been maximizing these opportunities, by linking with children’s interests, not being constrained by the curriculum and involving parents and carers in their investigations
There’s more opportunity for increasing science capital.
Science capital can be defined as the sum of all the science-related knowledge, attitudes, experiences and resources that an individual builds up through their life. It’s not just about what you learn at school, but is based on attitudes and experiences and conversations at home.
There are more CPD opportunities for teachers and science communicators and they are more easily accessible without time, transport and teaching cover constraints
STEM Ambassadors can get involvedwith more activities by engaging with online platforms such as “I’m a Scientist”, which means they can reach students outside their local area.
The online world is quite different to the real one, however. I miss the real life, human interactions that you get when introducing someone to a new scientific concept or subject, especially with children who never fail to astound, challenge, enthuse and entertain. Digital training and teaching can be hard when there’s limited feedback from visual, physical and verbal cues, and spending your life on Zoom is quite tiring. That said, I’m enjoying learning and working in new ways and looking forward to bringing all I’ve learned back to face-to-face interactions when I can.
A review of a new STEM Railway magazine for young people
World of Rail: A mix of rail news and great articles
Science, Engineering, technology and much more for enquiring young minds
Whilst a slightly niche subject area, World of Rail is a new, small-scale special interest publication with the potential to include wider science and engineering appeal.
“Welcome to the first issue of World of Rail, a magazine that explores the fascinating and exciting world of railways. It looks at the science, technology and engineering feats that have shaped, and continue to shape, the railways from around the world. In this first issue, the topics include how Japanese train technology has given the UK a fleet of fast and stylish trains, including a behind the scenes look at how they are built in a factory near Darlington. We also look at how trains are controlled and the quest for speed. In addition, there are news pages to keep you up to date with railway developments and a puzzle page”.
Jonathan Webb, Editor, World of Rail
What the slightly amateur layout lacks in polish, it makes up for with great photographs and abundant articles with general and specialist appeal, from cutting edge maglev and bullet trains to historical trams and steam engines and even rescuing animals on the line!
Following a popular format for young people’s magazines of interesting and informative articles, news, readers’ contributions and puzzles, the magazine also seeks to highlight and promote women and girls in STEM in particular, and is a source of informal careers information. World of Rail is aimed at 9-15 year olds, and whilst the writing is accessible – explaining complex concepts in a simple way – it doesn’t dumb down the content. The magazine is also peppered with extra interest fact boxes. Articles are comprehensive and would easily appeal to adults as well.
This new magazine will definitely appeal to young people interested in trains and railways, but it also includes lots of STEM in a relevant and recognisable context which could be of wider interest. There are a number of STEM Ambassadors in the rail industry who also volunteer their time to share their skills and knowledge and enthuse children and young people about careers in engineering and technology. World of Rail is packed full of information and, whilst the subject matter might not be for everyone, it will entertain enthusiasts for hours!
World of Rail is available as a one off or subscription from Chime Whistle Publishing – who normally publish railway books and calendars. School subscription discounts are also available. www.chimewhistle.co.uk
Having spotted my Best Magazines for Children blog post, I was sent a digital copy of this first issue of World of Rail magazine and asked to review it, but this post is #NotSponsored.
Whilst I normally only review things I have come across myself which I think may be of use, if anyone would like to send me wine or chocolate to review I would happily oblige! (other science-related paraphernalia also considered!).
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time but things keep getting in the way! Now the end of term is well and truly here, I’m running out of excuses. If your little scientists are starting to get a little bored, these may make some great summer entertainment. This will be a useful review for teachers, parents and children alike, although they are just my opinions!
My Top 3
I can’t separate these into gold, silver and bronze podium positions as they tick different boxes, so in no particular order….
Whizz Pop Bang
This colourful, engaging monthly magazine has an endearing cartoon style with facts and activities to do at home, making it accessible to younger readers but also includes relevant content extending up to key stage 3 (so suitable for 5-14 year olds, but probably aimed at the primary market).
There are themes to each issue, with multiple articles and hands-on investigations to try, recurring cartoon characters and the ubiquitous back page with readers’ contributions in the form of questions, photos and pictures.
These are ever popular with children at home, in book corners and are great to send home with a laboratory notebook (and maybe even a few resources) as an alternative enriching treat to the class bear!
Available as a subscription as well as being able to purchase back editions and optional extras, including a binder to house them all in. Also available direct to schools as multiple class or group copies, including lesson plans and a special teacher area on the website including science club resources.
This magazine really does have something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in medicine, animals, conservation, space or materials science, each issue is packed with interesting articles and great photos to inspire and educate.
Accessible without dumbing down, in true The Week Junior style, it informs without condescending and tackles difficult topics with sensitivity. Including information and ideas, experiments, posters, puzzles and readers’ questions are answered by expert scientists.
Available to buy individually and as subscription. Aimed at slightly older children (8-15 year olds).
This one is definitely aimed at older children and teenagers, and grown-ups could learn a thing or two as well! It’s billed as an action-packed science and technology magazine and it doesn’t disappoint. Tackling topics from building super structures to gene editing and explaining CRISPR and CAS9 (a cutting edge technique only just being introduced as a topic at A level), it doesn’t shy away from the complex, but makes it accessible to interested older children. If they’ve grown out of children’s magazines but aren’t quite reading the journal Science yet, then this is thoroughly recommended for a wide range of interesting topics.
Available as a print or digital subscription. You can also purchase individual copies.
Aquila magazine is available as a subscription only, direct from the publishers (although you can also buy back copies). Aquila is not strictly a science magazine, which is why it didn’t make the top 3! It is full of interesting science, history and general knowledge for inquisitive 8-13 years olds. Each issue has a theme and includes informative articles, investigations to carry out and things to do. It is not only well written but also beautifully curated.
Nat Geo Kids is full of articles about the natural world, much like it’s grown up counterpart. It appeals to children curious about animals and the world around them. Full of quality photographs and interesting, informative articles. Not quite in the top 3 due to not covering such a broad spread of STEM topics.
There are also loads of facts and resources to access for free on the website.
This is not even a magazine, but I absolutely love what founder, Renée Watson, and her team are doing at Curiosity Box so I had to include them. Available as one-off or subscription Science Boxes for individuals and schools, with fab investigations and hands-on opportunities. During lockdown, the team have even been finding ways to get boxes to disadvantaged children in innovative ways to try to level the playing field and bring some equality to the world.
As well as collating a collection of excellent websites, activities and resources for parents and teachers during the corona virus pandemic on the resources page of my website, I have also been posting daily science or STEM activities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I have posted ideas seven days a week, through the easter and half term holidays too, because science fun is for every day 😀.
Here are the posts from weeks fifteen, sixteen and seventeen all in one place! This is the final blog post in this series and marks the end of 4 months, 17 weeks, or 121 days, of lockdown science activities!
Although I won’t be posting daily science activities during the summer holidays, there is still plenty of summer science to get involved with, including the Dr Jo Summer STE(A)M Club combining science with some added creativity for the holidays.
Here’s another #KitchenScience investigation, this time looking at dancing raisins Confuse the rules of floating and sinking and watch bubbles at work. What’s happening? Why? Observe closely and let me know what you find.
WOW! 100 days of lockdown science! Let’s celebrate with some chocolate 🍫 and make a model of the rock cycle Schools may be out in Scotland and NI but we’re still here in England and Wales so the science continues!
Invite butterflies into your garden or windowsill and provide a vital food source with this simple butterfly feeder ideas!
Create a playdough maze or marble run in a box or tray. Have a competition to see how quickly you can get the ball from one end the other. Could you use other materials? Or Add Letters or numbers to indicate a sequence or points scoring?
Take a closer look at garden soil. Soil is made from rock and organic material. Can you take a look and see if you’ve got a sandy, chalky, clay or rich soil. Observe closely, put a small amount in some water and leave to separate
Investigate magnets! Find magnetic and non-magnetic materials. Got a fridge magnet? See how many different things you can find that it sticks to. What materials are and aren’t magnetic? Make a list.
Here’s some more #KitchenScience to make the best bubbles! Can you make square bubbles? Big bubbles? Small bubbles? Long lasting bubbles? Lots of bubbles? #BeCurious and have a go!
Explore one of the 5 enquiry types with a pattern seeking investigation: Do bigger hands hold more? Measure hand span and grab a handful of sweets/beads/blocks. Repeat 3 x to get an average result and compare.
Create a home for wildlife with this mini wetland activity from @WWTworldwide 🐸support biodiversity 🌍help slow down climate change 🕊️create networks for migrating species 💦essential for clean water https://youtu.be/hzuG0MPv9YI
Explore the structure of DNA with this sweet model of the double helix, pairing A & T and G & C bases represented by jelly sweets! https://www.yourgenome.org/activities/yummy-gummy-dna Then look up the discoveries of Rosalind Franklin, James Watson and Francis Crick.
Weigh some things! Estimate and then measure the mass of a variety of objects from around the house. Can you predict which will be the lightest and heaviest?
Investigate static electricity by rubbing a balloon! What happens if you rub two balloons on a wooly jumper and then bring the balloons close together??
Head to the kitchen today to investigate the wonder of a little microorganism that makes a huge difference to bread, beer, wine, champagne and (love it or hate it!) @marmite Observe the effect of respiration – add yeast, water and flour.
The BigBang Fair has gone digital this year. Check out lots of workshops, live polls and Q&A sessions throughout the day www.digitalbigbang.co.uk
Combine some STEM and Geography skills by observing, measuring, drawing to scale, finding North and creating a map of your local area, garden, park, school, classroom or bedroom!
51 years ago today, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Centre. To celebrate, here’s a stop motion video recreation of the moon landing using Oreos 🌕🚀👨🚀 Why not create a stop motion video or comic to describe some science today?
And for the grand finale……let’s celebrate the end of term, the end of 4 months – or 121 days – of daily lockdown science activities with a bit of exploding fizzy drink! You could try different types, different temperatures and different sugar contents too. Does it make a difference?
And that’s a wrap! I hope you’ve enjoyed these science activities. Keep investigating and stay safe!
As well as collating a collection of excellent websites, activities and resources for parents and teachers during the corona virus pandemic on the resources page of my website, I’m also posting a daily science or STEM activity on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I’m posting ideas seven days a week, through the easter holiday too, because science fun is for every day 😀.
Here are the posts from weeks twelve, thirteen and fourteen all in one place!
Part 3 of the #KitchenScience#ScienceFromHome series of activities. Revisit relative densities in this activity to float different liquids on top of each other. Then, can you find objects which will float on each layer? Can you predict what will happen?
Can you build a strong bridge from a single piece of paper? Try folding, rolling and twisting to see how shape affects strength and rigidity. Test your design by placing toys, weights or coins on & see how much mass your bridge can hold!
Discover the best biscuit for dunking!🍪☕ Carry out your own investigations or join in with funscience.org.uk/bigexperiment to be part of a giant experiment this June including guide, worksheets and a dunk-along video!
Working scientifically: In a fair test, we only change one variable at a time. Take a look at what happens when you change one thing in this curious play dough investigation from @SciJem twitter.com/scijem/status/1260147762232020993?s=21 Could you change one thing in a recipe?