High School SMILE Meetings
1997-98 -- 05-06 Academic Years

28 April 1998  Chris Raymond [Gallistel Language Academy]
Chris described a project in her school of raising butterflies from larvae, and observing their metamorphosis from the caterpillar [pupa] stage into full adulthood within a few weeks. There is a fairly large enclosed region [about 2 meters on a side] in her classroom.

One may order the butterfly larvae from the following supply house:

Insect Lore
P O Box 1535
Shafter CA 93263
Tel: 1 - 800 - LIVEBUG

Ever attentive to scatology, Fred Schaal asked for the word for butterfly droppings [frass, from German fressen = "devour"].

Comments by Porter Johnson:

  1. the word for "butterfly" is strikingly different in many closely related languages:

    Word for Butterfly Language
    vlinder Dutch
    papillon French
    flinter Frisian
    Schmetterling German
    petalouda (petalouda) Greek
    farfalla Italian
    papillo Latin
    lepke Magyar [Hungarian]
    motyl Polish
    babochka Russian
    mariposa Spanish
    fjäril Swedish


  2. Speaking of scatology, the English word "butterfly" is of uncertain origin, but may refer to the "buttery" character of the droppings [according to OED, there is an Old Dutch word "boterschijte"].  See http://www.bugbios.com/ced4/etymology.html.

28 April 1998  Fred J Schaal [Lane Technical High School]
Fred asked why slugs leave a trail of material [slime] when they cross the tennis courts, and why that trail is thicker in some spots than in others. The answer is that the leave as much slime as they must in order to proceed, and if their travel becomes more sluggish [so to speak] they leave more slime. Also, slugs respond to certain chemicals [NaCl: salt] by producing more slime.

01 February 2000: Therese Donatello (St Edwards School)
reviewed skeletal/bone issues; eg. hemoglobin from marrow, hinged joints (like a door), gliding joints (vertebrae), ball & socket (thigh/hip). They need attachment. How are they held together, and how do they work? (handout) We then used an index card, paper clip, two pieces of string and some tape to build a model of the leg/foot interaction. We discovered that when the muscle (string) in front of the "ankle" contracts, the one behind stretches (and vice versa). A simple but effective way to build understanding!

11 April 2000: Pam Moy (Morgan Park HS)
gave us a handout titled "All About Mike." Mike (circa 1945) was a chicken with its head cut off that didn't seem to miss his head, and behaved pretty much like any other chicken, except feeding and watering was done with an eyedropper. He lived 18 months in good health, going from 2.5 lb to about 8 lb! See the website http://www.miketheheadlesschicken.org for details. Interesting biology here, about how this was possible. Thanks, Pam!

05 September 2000: Lilla Green (Hartigan School)
brought bugs to class! She had crickets in a plastic box, along with a little lettuce and a leaf hopper (brought in by a student) and a fish in a small bowl. Lilla told us how these are examples that serve as a source of activities at her school resource center. The crickets are used for salamander food! An inspiration for each of us. It doesn't take much to involve our students. Thanks, Lilla!

12 September 2000: Glenda Ellis (Williams School)
marked a 30 meter course around the perimeter of the room, gave us stop watches, and we measured the time it took for each of us to walk the course. From this, the walking speeds for each of us were calculated and compared. Speeds ranged from 1.20 to 1.67 meters/second. Ken Schug recalculated the speeds in miles/hour! And we then had an interesting discussion about how our speeds compare with walking and running speeds of various animals: 

What a great way to get student's ego involved in an experiment, at the same time learning about the concept of speed and how it is calculated!

21 November 2000: Chris Etapa (Gunsaulus Academy)
brought us a surprise (something alive!) in a cardboard (Xerox paper) box. It was something from her "zoo" at home, and she uses it to teach geometry, observation skills, what animals want versus what they need, etc. She then introduced us to Pythagoras, a male, red-tail boa constrictor snake, about 5 years old and 6 feet long!! Chris said that if she would turn off the heater that keeps him warm, he would go into hibernation for about 3 months. He sheds his skin in one piece, and collecting and saving the shed skins provides a record of growth.

We discussed and examined Pythagoras, Chris described his habits/behavior. His skin patterns (diamond or rhombus - geometry!), and she also used him as a model for kids to calculate his volume (more geometry & algebra). He eats about one mouse per week, but he would eat more, given the chance. For more information see the website http://www.belizezoo.org/zoo/zoo/herps/boa/boa2.html.

PJ comment:  the original Pythagoreans were vegetarians; see the website http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Pythagoras.html.

What an exciting and interesting lesson; a sure fire way to get student attention, and create an interest in learning. Thanks, Chris!

19 February 2002: Fred Schaal (Morgan Park HS Math -- Visitor) Redwings and Grackles
On a long bike ride last weekend, Fred was surprised that he didn't see any Redwings and Grackles, which habitually arrive here in the early Spring.  Can anybody explain this?  [It may be that 15 February is still part of meteorological winter, and even though there is a warming spell here, that may not be sufficient to attract these birds.]

Note by PJ:  Check the website The Thoughts of Backyard Birds, by Mary S Van Deusen:  http://www.iment.com/maida/birds/, which also contains her poetry, including the following one:

Discovered Doves
They flock for safety, hiding here in secret refuge from the hawk,
while I, behind my bedroom blind, share unbeknownst their private talk.
-- Mary S Van Deusen

22 October 2002: Erma Lee [Williams School]    Animals or Whatever?
passed around a zoo book to groups of four teachers.  We each picked an animal (or whatever), and wrote down 3 facts about it gleaned from the book, which we shared with the class.  For example, elephants are the largest land animal, apes have arms that are longer than legs, skunks can spray 15 feet, and lions 12 feet in length became extinct in North America in 8000 BC, etc.  We will continue this exercise later in the term to learn and discuss interesting facts about animals as diverse as whales and butterflies.  Comment by Porter Johnson:  You can learn a lot at the zoo, as evidenced by these lyrics excerpted from the song At the Zoo by Simon & Garfunkel  http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/raisinghelen/atthezoo.htm.

"The monkeys stand for honesty, Giraffes are insincere, and the elephants are kindly but they're dumb.
Orangutans are skeptical of changes in their cages, And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.
Zebras are reactionaries, antelopes are missionaries, pigeons plot in secrecy,
and hamsters turn on frequently. What a gas! You gotta come and see at the zoo."

Interesting, Erma!

05 November 2002: Frana Allen [Skinner School]       SQUIRMY WORM
Frana Allen
(the inimitable) then led us through an exercise, starting with the culinary version involving gummy worms and "soil" made from crumbled OreosR she bought on sale. Then, having gotten us interested and having touched the gummy worms, she brought out the live night crawlers, with rubber gloves for the ultra-squeamish ("But the worms should be more afraid of us than we are of them", many of us thought.) We did two types of experiment with the live worms: reaction to different surfaces (sandpaper, waxed paper. white paper, brown paper, and warm wet cloth) and light (using a flashlight as our research instrument). There seemed to be agreement that the worms tried to leave the dry rough surface of the sandpaper, and seemed more relaxed on the wet towel -- which is consistent with their native underground habitat. Three cheers for your down-to earth, phenomenological activity, Frana!.

19 November 2002: Winifred Malvin [Carver Elementary]       Investigating Snails
passed around a handout Investigating Land Snails, which was recently developed by Gordon R Will, Science Consultant, Chicago Teacher's Center, Northeastern Illinois University. She applied some of the ideas in the handout, which related to the behavior of "land snails", whereas she used  "water snails".   Winnie placed one snail in each of 6 plastic dishes, which contained about 100 mL of water, along with a small patch of lettuce.  We added a small amount of crushed ice [20 mL, say] to stimulate the snails into motion.  However, we were unable to get these snails to "wake up", so that we were unable to perform experiments with them.  [Perhaps we should contact a snail personal trainer.]  The idea was to determine the strength of the snails, by seeing how much weight they could pull [determined directly  in "paper clip" mass units, which are easily convertible into grams].  Interesting topic, good ideas --- nice shot, Winifred!

10 December 2002: Jyotiben Desai [Du Sable HS]      Dinosaurs for Sale 
Jyotiben concluded our semester's program by telling us how to put together dinosaurs that are available from WalgreensR, as well as Dollar StoresR.  thin slabs of wood contain different parts of the dinosaurs, that have been stamped out, which can easily be pushed out and reassembled to make small standing figures.

That's good to know,  Jyothiben!

11 February 2003: Fred Schaal [Lane Tech HS, Physics]     Christmas Bird Count
Fred also reported data on the Christmas Bird Count:

species Percentage of decline
blue jays 60 %
chickadees 35 %
crows 80%
These figures, based upon averages over a ten year period, are believed to be a consequence of the West Nile Virus Epizo÷tic --- Epidemic of 2002. p>You helped us get around a difficult subject which is not just for the birds!  Interesting, Fred.

08 April 2003 Camille Jensen [Bloom Trail, Biology and Physics]       How Strong Are Beetles?
passed around a sheet prepared by Dr Robert W Matthews, Dept of Entomology, University of Georgia, Athens GA 30602.  She used that laboratory experiment as a guide for a fascinating demonstration of the strength of bess beetles, which are easily located on the floor of oak forests during the fall of the year.  Or, you can purchase a Bess Bug Penny-Pull Kithttp://www.shop-insectlore.com/Insects+Spiders/Bess+Bug+Penny-Pull+Kit.axd?cid=440 Camille rigged a harness for these beetles using dental floss, attached the other end to a petri dish, and put pennies in the dish to see how many pennies the beetles could pull while under harness.  It was important to have a rough surface [paper towels], so that the beetles could develop traction.  She described measuring the speed, amount of weight pulled, and the distance traveled, as well as computing the coefficient of friction, work done, and power.  This is quite a novel illustration of basic ideas of mechanics, using beetle power! Amazingly, the beetles could exert a force of more than 20 times their body weight in pulling this dish across the table.  For additional details see the website Tractor Pull: http://www.drwhitey.com/Ecology/BessBugs/BessBugs.htmBut, does this also work with cockroaches??

Thanks for this novel approach, which combines biology and physics, Camille!

06 May 2003: Ed Scanlon [Morgan Park HS, Biology]        Dissecting Owl Pellets
passed out a handout that contained the following information:

Owl Pellet Dissection
The Barn Owl (tyto alba) can be found living in barns or dark places in and around the forest. They are about 40 - 55 cm long and have a wingspan of just over a meter. It can be recognized by its pale color, long legs, and long, white, nearly heart-shaped face.  It lives in holes in trees, banks, buildings, etc.  It lays 5 - 11 white eggs when nesting. Its range includes Northern California, Colorado, Nebraska, Illinois, the Southern Gulf States, Southern Mexico, and Nicaragua.  They are nocturnal-feeding, and sleep during the day.  They prey upon almost any animal that is small enough to be swallowed whole.  Owls have a special structure that prevents the indigestible parts of their prey (fur, feathers, bones, etc) from passing into their intestines.  Instead, these indigestible parts are shunted to a storage pouch, where they accumulate.  A few hours after consuming a meal, the owl coughs up the accumulated indigested material, which has been compressed into a pellet.  A close examination of the pellet can reveal what the owl has eaten.

Ed obtained an Owl Pellet Kit, which also has explanatory materials, from Science Kit and Boreal Laboratorieshttp://sciencekit.com/owl-pellet-kits/p/IG0022657/Ed suggested soaking the owl pellets in water to soften them before dissection.  He also recommended gluing any complete or nearly complete skeletons on construction paper to display --- white school glue works well for this.  We found rodents, as well as one bird, in our examination. The posters provided in the kit were very helpful in the identification of bone fragments. 

Once you get used to the idea, this is really fascinating!  Thanks, Ed!

04 May 2004: Porter Johnson called attention to an article by Steven Schultz in the May 03 2004 issue of the Princeton University Weekly Bulletin [http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/04/0503/1b.shtml], titled Biologist Tracks Down Source of Birds' Reliable Navigational System, from which the following has been excerpted:

"Biologist Martin Wikelski is helping to settle a long-standing debate over how migratory birds manage to navigate for thousands of miles in darkness and bad weather.
With two colleagues in Illinois and Germany, Wikelski has found that birds rely on a built-in magnetic compass, which they recalibrate each evening based on the direction of the setting sun. The scientists published their findings in the April 16 issue of Science.
The research, which involved attaching radio transmitters to birds and following them by truck for hundreds of miles across the American Midwest, is the first extensive study of bird navigation in the wild. The results appear to resolve conflicts between earlier laboratory-based studies, which had identified several possible navigational mechanisms, but produced no consensus. Previous theories suggested that birds use some combination of magnetism, stars, landmarks, smells and other mechanisms as navigational aides."
Who would have guessed it?

14 September 2004: Walter McDonald passed around the article Internal 'clock' steers butterflies, scientists find by Mark Sappenfield (Christian Science Monitor).  For more information, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC24152/.

07 March 2006: Lee Slick (Morgan Park HS, retired)                        Cricket Temperature
described how to estimate the temperature (in degrees Fahrenheit) from the frequency of cricket chirps. (article by Tom Skilling in the Chicago Tribune, February 5, 2006).   Count the number of chirps  a cricket makes during  a 15 second interval, and add 39 to that number.  You get a remarkably accurate reading. This works because crickets are “cold blooded” (poikilothermic), so that their metabolism (and thus frequency of chirping) will increase as the temperature increases. For more details see the website Oecanthus:  Pulse Distribution and Temperature Effectshttp://facstaff.unca.edu/tforrest/ASA 98 Seattle/sld005.htm.
Keep on chirping!  Thanks, Lee!