mystery The answer to the clues may be found at the bottom of this column.    Teachers and Parents: Enter to win an entire set of Dawn’s nature books of one title for your home or classroom. It's fun and easy!
Just read the clues below. They describe an aspect of nature—a plant, animal, mineral, habitat, or natural process.
When you're ready to make your guess about who or what I am, click ENTER NOW.
Who Am I?
spacerglass1 Clue 1:  I'm a member of the "dog family."
glass1 Clue 2:  I live throughout North America in deserts, prairies, forests, and even in towns and cities.
glass1 Clue 3:  You might hear me howling at night to communicate with my pack.
glass1 Clue 4:  Don't let me trick you—I am NOT a wolf.
Do you think you know who I am? ENTER NOW.
Entries should be submitted no later than noon on Friday.
If you guessed correctly, you’re automatically entered into the monthly drawing for a set of nature books from Dawn Publications.
A contest winner will be announced at the end of September.
Throughout the school year, clues for a new Who Am I are posted no later than Sunday night, so you can use them with your class on Monday morning.Good luck!
The answer to last week's mystery was: SEASHELLS Although Inside Outside Nature blog is changing it's focus, this weekly "Who Am I?" will remain the same! Teachers, click here to get ideas about how to use the contest with your students.  

Monthly Archives: February 2013

Catching Bugs!

Brian_FoxThis week’s guest blogger is storyteller, environmental educator, author, and museum consultant, Brian “Fox”  Ellis.

(Scroll to bottom to view complete bio.)



Dragonflies really are my favorite insect, including the Green Darner Dragonfly (Anax junius) that is illustrated in my book The Web at Dragonfly Pond. I often say that a dragonfly taught me this story…because it is true! It was while watching dragonfly metamorphosis that I was inspired to write The Web at Dragonfly Pond.

While researching the book I learned lots of cool facts about them. Dragonflies are the hawks of the insect world. They can fly 60 miles per hour, or hover in the same spot. About 200 million years ago, there was a super-sized dragonfly with a wingspan of nearly two feet across, about the size of a hawk today.botm_greendarner_main

The dragonfly is also an “Indicator Species.” Indicator, what do they indicate? Certain species will tolerate more or less pollution. To put it quit simply: the kinds of bugs you find in your local creek or pond indicate how clean the water is or isn’t. Bio-diversity is a good thing! If you find dragonfly nymphs and stone fly nymphs then the water is clean. If you find no bugs in the water, it could be polluted.


Outside: Go Catch Some Bugs!

By Brian “Fox” Ellis—In this activity you and your students become watershed detectives.



  • net for collecting (a kick-net or d-shaped net works best)
  • bucket for collecting the specimens
  • ice cube tray for sorting the specimens
  • magnifying glass or field microscope for observation
  • field guide for identification
  • large waterproof boots for wading in water



  1. Visit a creek or pond and look for bugs. Put whatever you catch in the bucket. Download a pdf of BUG COLLECTING TIPS.
  2. Sort your specimens into an ice cube tray.
  3. Analyze what you’ve found using the Macro-invertebrate Field Guide by answering the questions below. Generally speaking, the fewer kinds of insects you find the more polluted it is. The more different species you find the cleaner it is.
  • How many species can you find that are near the top of the list and indicate clean water?
  • How many species can you find in the middle of the list indicating not so clean water?
  • If you only find species at the bottom of the list this indicates polluted water. How many?

3425220858_9f73440519Optional: Compile your information into a report on water quality that includes:

  • The date and time you completed your study
  • The name of the body of water and if a creek or stream what is the watershed
  • What kinds of life forms you found and in what numbers
  • And your conclusion about the evidence you found
  • The names of the people involved in the study
  • An address or e-mail, contact information

Send this vital information to the state or local environmental protection agency. Green Rivers is a web site that allows you to upload information about macro-invertebrates as well as other water quality tests.


More Fun and Facts about Indicator Species

by Brian “Fox” Ellis—These are some my favorite web sites about indicator species:



Inside: Dragonfly Life Cycle

Even if you’re inside, you might feel like you’re at the pond when you see the illustrations in these books. Each one teaches about the life cycle of  dragonflies in a fun and interesting way:

imagesThe Web at Dragonfly Pond—a true story from the childhood by Brian “Fox” Ellis. Go to the Kidzone website for a handout of the Life Cycle of a Dragonfly.



ELIZA_StoreEliza and the Dragonfly—a young girl learns that dragonflies are “magnificent!” Written by Susie Caldwell Reinhart. Go to Dawn Publications Downloads for Teachers/Librarians to find classroom activities for Eliza created by the author.



CATTL_COVER2Another great book about wetland bugs, including dragonflies, is Near One Cattail:Turtles, Logs, and Leaping Frogs by Anthony Fredericks.




More Fun and Facts About Dragonflies

by Brian “Fox” Ellis—These are a few of my favorite websites:


More About Brian “Fox” Ellis

foxheadshot1Brian “Fox” Ellis is a professional storyteller, environmental educator, museum consultant, and Riverlorian for the Spirit of Peoria riverboat. His love for nature, fishing, and Midwest farm ponds grew from many adventures with his father such as portrayed in his book, The Web at Dragonfly Pond. After listening to kids at camp whine about mosquitoes, he started telling this story in order to convey on a visceral level how all things in nature are important and how we humans are actively engaged in the web of life, even being food for mosquitoes. Fox still loves to fish on farm ponds near his home in Peoria, Illinois, along with his two daughters. This is his first book with Dawn Publications.

For information about inviting Fox to your school, library or conference please visit his web page Fox Tales International:



Cosmic Current Events

imagesTwo monumental cosmic events happened last Friday, February 15th.

One event was the fly-by of an asteroid close to the earth. How close? 17,100 miles above our heads, so there was never any danger of a collision. Nevertheless, this was closer to the Earth than many artificial satellites.

The asteroid, named 2012 DA14, was relatively large (about half the length of a football field). When images of it were shown live online, viewers around the world eagerly watched a tiny blip of light passing through the starry sky.

Scientists are eager to study asteroids because they reveal so much information about the early formation of our solar system some 4.6 billion years ago.

images-1The second cosmic event, a meteorite coming into the Earth’s atmosphere, was much closer to home. It was about 19-31 miles overhead as it exploded over central Russia 950 miles east of Moscow. The explosion caused a shock wave that smashed windows, damaged buildings, and injured over 1000 people. The fireball, traveling at a speed of 40,000 miles per hour left a long white trail that could be seen as far as 125 miles away. This was the largest meteorite to affect Earth since 1908.meteors+nasa

According to NASA, “the trajectory of the Russian meteorite was significantly different than the trajectory of the asteroid 2012 DA14, making it a completely unrelated object.” Information and graphics of both events are available at the Telegraph online newspaper website.

People all around the world have been captivated by these cosmic events, and news reports continue to reveal more details about the meteorite.  You can use these events to capture the interest of your students too!


Inside: Asteroid or Meteorite—What’s the Difference?

Asteroid or meteorite—how are they the same? How are they different? Have your students graph the similarities and differences using a Venn diagram.

  1. Explain how a Venn diagram works and pass out blank copies.  Note that shared characteristics are listed in the overlapping section, allowing for easy identification of which characteristics are similar and which are different.
  2. Have students read descriptions of both an asteroid and a meteorite and then create their own Venn diagrams. (You may need to adjust the vocabulary for your age group.)

GOING_COVER2For younger students, create a Venn Diagram of the planets:

  1. Read aloud Going Around the Sun: Some Planetary Fun by Marianne Berkes. Review the glossary after you have read the story, noting that the illustrations give you an idea of the sizes of the planets. Then have students choose one of four “inner” planets that they would like to compare with one of the four “outer” planets. Use the information in the back of the book as a resource


Outside: Night Sky Wonders

Looking up at the night sky is a pastime that can provide unlimited entertainment for all ages. Consider making the experience even richer by working storytelling into your night sky plans. Ancient Greeks, Romans, and people from other cultures around the world made up tales to explain many night sky phenomena. You can discover their mythology and lore in the Dot to Dot in the Sky series published by Whitecap Books. A blend of sky science and stories, these books introduce the characters associated with the constellations, planets, and Moon.

Zodiac+book+cover+compressedDot to Dot: Stories in the Stars and Stories of the Zodiac show how to find constellations by leading readers from one constellation to another. (Note: these are not “connect-the-dots” drawing/coloring books.) Young children can look for different colors of stars, make up their own constellations, or look for pictures on the surface of the Moon. Dot to Dot in the Sky: Stories of the Moon explores the stories people from around the world have told when gazing up at the Moon. Older children and adults will enjoy using binoculars to observe Moon craters. The details you can see are quite incredible and may just spark an interest in all things celestial. Remember to pick a night when the Moon is not full so the light through the lens is not too bright.


You can also watch the night sky for movement. Look for satellites and meteors—commonly called shooting stars. These bright streaks of light are caused by bits or rock and dust in space, often as small as a grain of rice. A meteor the size of a pebble can make a streak of light brighter than the Full Moon. Light from a large meteor is called a fireball, while a rock from space that actually strikes the Earth is a meteorite. Meteors are best spotted after midnight, facing east. Showers occur at the same time every year.

[Thanks to author Joan Marie Galat at Sci/Why for these night sky ideas.]


More Fun and Facts about the Universe

UNIV1_CoverRead the Born with a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story, by Jennifer Morgan, and the two sequels From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story, and Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story.




TREX_StoreChildren are fascinated by the idea that an asteroid hitting the Earth may have caused dinosaurs to become extinct. Read If You Give T-rex a Bone by Tim Meyers to introduce kids to all types of dinosaurs in a quirky sort of way.




images-4Compare the relative sizes of the planets using common fruits and vegetables. First, draw a circle (60 inches in diameter) on the board to represent the sun. Place the fruits and vegetables on a table or series of desks coming out from the sun in the following order.

  • Mercury–one pea
  • Venus–small grape
  • Earth–small radish
  • Mars–blueberry
  • Jupiter–cantaloupe
  • Saturn–grapefruit
  • Uranus–orange
  • Neptune–small peach or plum.

For more ideas go to the Teacher/Librarians downloadable activities for Going Around the Sun: Some Planetary Fun on Dawn’s website.


Igniting a Spark

Do you have a special pastime? Is your idea of fun taking photos, going hiking, or digging in the garden? Did a parent or teacher spark this interest when you were a child?

I’m always interested about how people have discovered their passions. Not surprisingly,  many nature authors had early childhood experiences that set them in the direction of learning about specific aspects of nature.

BUG_SHOPI got my first look at  Noisy Bug Sing Along this week. Reading about author John Himmelman I learned that he was just eight years old when he started his first “Bug Club” in a friends’ garage, and he’s been playing with insects ever since.

Jeannine Atkins was a girl who looked under rocks. Particular trees and stones outside her house were as familiar to her as her bedroom and made good spots to wonder. She now writes books about amazing women, including her book Girls Who Looked Under Rocks.BABY_Store

Fran Hodgkins’ mother taught her to love nature, and how to watch and “really see.” An early memory of Fran’s is watching for hours as a spider built a web on her tire swing. Fran’s books include If You Were My Baby, inspired by her daughter’s questions, and Earth Heroes: Champions of the Ocean.

Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini first connected her love of art with her concern for the rainforest when she wrote and illustrated A Walk in the Rainforest for her mom’s preschool class when she was a freshman in high school. Since then, she has written and illustrated The Forever Forest and four other environmentally-focused books for children.FOREV_Store

We never know when something we will say or do will spark a child’s interest and get them stated in a direction that will last a lifetime. It’s good to remember that books are our wonderful helpers for introducing children to a world of possibilities.


Inside: The Pages of a Book

Spark some interest about nature by reading stories in the Earth Heroes series. The early childhood experiences of these great naturalists shaped their lives and their contributions to the environment.

EHWAN_COVER41Roger Tory Peterson painted his first bird when he was in seventh grade. He credits his teacher, Blanche Hornbeck as giving him a start in his future career as the world’s preeminent bird illustrator.

As a little girl, Jane Goodall read The Story of Dr. Doolittle, which sparked her desire to talk to the animals in Africa. Her discoveries with chimpanzees changed the face of wildlife research.

EHOC_StoreOceanographer Sylvia Earle fell in love with the ocean when she was knocked down by a wave at the age of three. She was named by named by Time Magazine as the first Hero for the Planet.

After reading about a few earth heroes, ask your students what they wonder about, then bring in books to support their interests.


Outside: The Great Backyard Bird Count

Maybe this is the week one of your students will get interested in birds! It’s the Great Backyard Bird Count!

Snowy Owl, Jen Howard, ON, 2012 GBBC

Snowy Owl, Jen Howard, ON, 2012 GBBC

It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds. You simply tally the number of individual birds of each species you see over a 15-minute period on one or more days between Feb. 15-18. Then post your results online. These results will help scientists understand what’s happening with bird populations nationwide. Get more info about the GBBC for kids online.

Birders of all ability levels are asked to participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. My 92-year-old mother isn’t going any further than her window—she’s counting the birds at her backyard feeders.


Red-bellied Woodpecker on suet feeder.

Counting feeder birds is also a great way to involve children in the GBBC. They’re the easiest birds for children to identify because they’re somewhat stationary and kids can see them without binoculars. Use this recipe for Marvel Meal to entice the birds into your backyard or schoolyard and start counting!


More Fun Ways to Create a Spark

Go to to get suggestions to Spark A Child’s Interest in Science. The article includes a list of classroom materials to invite scientific investigation.

images-3“Children in the earlier years are already deciding what they have a passion for, and in some ways are making an emotional commitment to it,” says Lisa Henson, chief executive of The Jim Henson Company, which produces “Sid the Science Kid,” a PBS science program for 3- to 6-year-olds. Check out the Sid the Science Kid website.