Investigation Nature

Investigation Nature is ALT’s youth programming for students in grades 3rd-8th with expansion capabilities up through 12th grade on some programs. All our programs are written with STEM and the PA Education Standards in mind and are designed to run 45-60 minutes.  These programs are a great for community groups, after school programs and classroom visits.

Contact Julie to learn more about this programming.

Grades 3 – 6:

  • Animal Athletes: Who can hold their breath longer, you or a turtle? Students will compare their skills to some Pennsylvania animals to see how they stack up!
  • Apex Animals: What does it take to be on top? Students will explore some animals that reside on the top of their food chains and learn why they’re so important.
  • Butter: How did we make butter a hundred years ago? In this lesson, students will help to hand churn butter and compare it to a store-bought variety.**
  • Can You Plant a Pizza?: How does a pizza come from a plant? Students will explore the origins of pizza ingredients before making and enjoying “pizza on a stick”! They will even plant their own pizza garden!**
  • Cold Concoctions: Students will explore the origins of ice and a few different ice types before using science to create homemade ice cream in a bag!**
  • Critical Critters: What is the difference between endangered, extinct and extirpated? In this conservation minded program, students will learn what these terms mean and how and why a creature may become endangered, extinct or extirpated.*
  • Footprint Forensics: What creatures have been bounding or waddling when we’re not around? Students will learn the different gaits and strides of Pennsylvania animals, as well as learn some basic track identification skills.
  • Geocaching 101: Geocaching is an outdoor “treasure hunt” that has become a very popular hobby! Exactly what is it and how do you start? Learn the basics of geocaching and even use a GPS unit to find your first caches!*
  • Lollipop Lab: Are there plants in lollipops? Students will learn how the ingredients used in making lollipops are harvested from plants! Students will then become “flavorologists” and create a brand-new lollipop flavor!**
  • Macro Mayhem: What tiny creatures lurk in our rivers, creeks and ponds? In this lesson, students will explore live macroinvertebrates, or “mini beasts”!
  • Nature Games: How can games teach us about important processes and systems in nature? Find out in this activity and game based lesson.
  • Orienteering: Where are we going and how do we get there? Students will explore how to read maps and compasses and complete an orienteering course!
  • Organic Fiesta: What does it mean to be organic? In this lesson, students will help to create organic salsa and compare it to a store-bought variety.**
  • Owl Pellet Lab: An owl pellet can tell a story about a day in the life of an owl! What creatures did the owl have for dinner? Students will dissect owl pellets and identify the bones and fur left behind to determine what creature the owl devoured!
  • Pennsylvania Natives: What plants and animals call Pennsylvania home? Students will identify and explore some common flora and fauna of Pennsylvania.*
  • Solar Snacks: How can we harness the power of the sun to cook a snack? Students will learn how solar cooking can be useful in a survival situation and they will even create their own solar oven from a pizza box!**
  • Starry Skies: What stories do the stars tell us? Students will learn the folklore behind some commonly seen constellations and have the chance to create their own constellation and folklore behind it!
  • Sticky Science: How does a bee make honey? Is all honey the same? Students will learn how honey is created by bees and processed by humans. Then they will enjoy taste testing processed verses raw honey.**
  • The Big Squeeze: What fruits make the best juices? Do these fruits grow in Pennsylvania? Students will learn how fruits are juiced and compare how fresh squeezed fruit juice compares to juices found in the grocery store.**
  • Traditional Native American Games: What games did Native American children enjoy long ago? Students will participate in traditional games played by Native American children. Some of the games are still enjoyed today!
*Denotes the need for a projection space for a PowerPoint
** Denotes lesson that is part of the Snack Science series

Grades 6-12:

  • For an Inch of Soil: Students will recreate the thousands of years that it takes for nature to create top soil and understand the importance of retaining this nutrient rich layer for biodiversity. Utilizing nature materials and mallets students will act as the sands of time wearing away at the biotic and abiotic factors comprising soil, they will determine particle size and infer if their soil creation will support life. Although a bit noisy this lesson drives home the idea of how soil effects everything from which life is found in an area, food supplies and the economy and that life on Earth relies on a minute layer without which we would be left with desolate wastelands.
  • GPS Technology and Geocaching in the Field: Nearly everyone has a smartphone these days and by tapping into the need to be connected to our technology this lesson uses a popular international game called Geocaching to introduce students to the idea of GPS technology and its applications in research, citizen science and conservation. Students will learn the basic principles of triangulation in relation to GPS technology and how that can in turn be utilized to accurately pinpoint things such as collection sites, habitat boundaries and even individuals of a particular species.  Using the game parameters of Geocaching students will locate a variety of objects and boundaries on their school grounds simulating actual data collection techniques of field scientists.
  • Mighty Mighty Marcos: Using live specimens collected by ALT educators prior to the program, students will use dichotomous keys to correctly identify and sort macroinvertebrates by their pollution sensitivity to determine the biological health of a given collection site. Collection sites will vary making this an ever-changing experience based on site location, weather conditions and time of year.  Once the biological health is determined students will then infer an additional level of biodiversity in the waterway.  Is the waterway in need of environmental action and/or conservation efforts?  And what next steps could be taken to see this waterway preserved.
  • Model My Nest: During this two-visit program, students will be presented with a set of problems various local bird species must overcome to fledge a brood of young. Each student will then come up with their own version of a nest based on the materials available in each species’ habitat.  During the second visit, natural materials such as sticks, twigs, moss, lichen, grass and seed down will be brought in by ALT staff and the budding engineers will create their nests utilizing a small wire nest frame as a base.  Nests will then be tested for size, strength, durability and structural integrity after which students will have the opportunity to redesign their nest based on their initial data.  This program can be run as young as 2nd grade!
  • Phytoremediation: The Filtering Power of Cattails: An amazing feat of nature, this freshwater wetland indicator species is a natural filtration devise that scientists are tapping into to aid in the cleanup of waterways. Students will understand the biology of the cattail which gives it this wonderful ability while modelling its various functions and adaptations utilizing self-made stream table models and other everyday materials.  Students will then determine the best placement of cattail stands to aid in water conservation in their stream table.
  • Riverton: A Watershed Redevelopment Project: Incorporating the technology based scavenger hunt model of Geocaching, students will be given the opportunity to redevelop their dying river port town by making seemingly small choices first as small groups and then defending their choices to a town council. Each decision has an impact on their local watershed and will be depicted visually in a watershed puzzle.  Upon coming to an agreement on their small decisions students will determine if their decisions, although small, had a positive, negative or null impact on their watershed as a whole, and locally at their port site.  A group discussion on their choices and impacts will help students realize their influence on the environment through everyday decisions.  Best for students grades 4 and up.
  • To Drink or Not to Drink: Is that really water?: Students will be given a variety of clear liquids that could possibly save their life in a space traveling scenario; however, they are not told anything about the liquids. Using scientific principals and an understanding of the chemical and physical properties of water, students with test each sample to determine which, if any, of the liquids is water and can save their research party.  Once their experiments are complete students will evaluate their methods of inquiry to determine how conservationists can use the same tests to determine water quality of a stream.
  • Water Rights & Wrongs: Pittsburgh is fortunate to have access to so much freshwater, but what happens when the water runs out?  Students will be introduced to the concept of water rights through hands-on water activities.  This is an active program contains two intertwined lessons that are best run together but can be divided or run individually.  In the “As Our Town Grows” lesson students will demonstrate the strain on water resources of a growing town from settlement to current day.  The second lesson “If We All Need a Cup” has students actively moving through their watershed as the water is consumed and passed downstream.  During and after each lesson student evaluate their town’s water use and discuss who has the right to the limited natural resource that everyone needs.

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