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Science in Action

Smithsonian scientists at work

If you're curious about how things work, being a scientist lets you explore the world as your way of life. Click on this link to see and hear Smithsonian scientists talk about what they do and why they love it.

Senses observation walk

What you do:

Go outside to an area with lots of trees and other plants.Take ten steps in any direction and then close your eyes.What do you hear? Smell? Feel? Record your observations in a journal.Take ten more steps in another direction and repeat questions. Compare and contrast the different observations you experienced.

Make a fossil

Leave your mark on the world (or at least on plaster) when you create your own do-it-yourself fossil.

What you need:

    • Small natural object (shell, leaf, bone, etc.)

    • Petroleum jelly

    • Plaster of Paris

    • Water

    • Small disposable dish (such as a margarine tub)


Fossils are imprints of plants and animals found in rocks. Here is one way fossils are made in nature: A leaf falls into wet, sandy ground. A flood deposits more sandy soil on top of the leaf, so that it is trapped there. Over thousands of years, the leaf decays and disappears. But as the sandy soil hardens into rock, the impression made by the leaf is left in the rock. You can see how fossils are created by making your own.


What you do:

1. Choose an object to make a fossil of. It could be a shell, a leaf, an animal bone, or another object from nature.

2. Coat the object with petroleum jelly.

3. Next, pour some plaster of Paris and some water in a small dish. Mix them together well. Let the plaster of Paris and water sit for a few minutes, without stirring them.

4. Press the object into the plaster of Paris and let everything dry. This will take at least one day.

5. When the plaster of Paris is completely dry, remove the object. The impression left behind is like a fossil.

More about fossils here and here and here

Collect meteorites

What you need:

• Large piece of white paper or plastic

• Magnet

• Magnifying glass (or a microscope)

• A clear sunny day


What you do:

1. Put the sheet of paper or plastic outside in the sun

2. Leave in place for 4 hours or more.

3. Carefully lift and tap the edges of the sheet so all collected material rolls into the center.

4. Hold the magnet against the bottom of the sheet and gently tilt it so the material which is not

    attracted to the magnet rolls off.

5. Look for dark round particles with pitted surfaces in the material under a magnifying glass.

6. You have found tiny extra-terrestrial rocks called micrometeorites!

Tons of these fine particles drop to Earth everyday! A lot of this material originated at the same time our solar system formed, about 4.5 billion years ago.


Find out more about meteorites here. or here.

It's time to nest!

Use your own backyard to gather the items you think a bird would use to make a nest. Using those items, try to make a bird's nest yourself! It may be harder than you expect but you'll better appreciate how hard it is to create something out of just what nature offers. If you want to use glue, too bad! This is a nature-only project!


What you need:

• Sticks

• Grass

• Leaves

• Pine Needles

• Newspaper

• Paper

• Pen/Pencil


What you do:

1. Write down the items you think a bird would use to make a nest.Think outside the box.

2. Go in the backyard and start scavenging for the items you wrote down. Think about what a bird has access to in the wild.

3. Bring in the items and place them on a newspaper.Try to move the grass, twigs and other items into a bird nest shape.The idea is to think about what kinds of things would make the nest hold that shape.

4. Try weaving items together, like the pine needles and grass. See if you can use just two fingers,mimicking a bird's beak, to get items to stick together.

5. Check out some books at your local library about birds native to your area. See what kinds of things they use to build a nest and how they put them together. Think about why they build them high up in a tree and whether that is a key element to keeping the nest together.

6. Display your nest outside in a tree! You never know, you might make a family of birds very happy to visit!


Find more about nests here and here and here and here

What other kinds of animals make nests?


Nature journal or ABC book

What you need:

• Notebook or journal

• Pencil

• Crayons

• Colored pencils


What you do:

1. Go outside, take a nature walk, explore, and observe.

2. If you choose to make a journal, sketch animals and plants that you see. Write about what you observe, and describe the plant or animal.You might want to write a poem.You can add to your journal each time you take a nature walk.

3. If you choose to make an ABC book, you will need to find something in nature for each letter of the alphabet (A-ant, B-butterfly, C-cactus, etc.) You can make a book with white paper and construction paper, or you can use a journal. Draw one object on each page and write about it.

4. Share your book with your teacher or someone in your family.


For more ideas about nature journals click here and here and here

Your head is in the clouds!

Have you ever stared up at the clouds and seen shapes or monsters? Have you ever heard “Get your head out of the clouds” while you were daydreaming? Well now's your chance to get your head in the clouds! Daydream a little and use your science and writing skills, too!


What you need:

• 3 pieces construction paper

• 1 pencil, 1 marker

• Cotton balls

• Hole puncher

• Glue

• Scissors

• Lined paper

• Yarn

• Pillow or blanket

• Folder or book


What you do:

1. On a sunny day with lots of clouds and blue sky, grab a pillow, blanket, pencil, and construction paper and head outside! Spread out a blanket and lay down, propping your head on the pillow and bending your legs at the knees so you can use your legs as a support for your paper and folder while you draw.

2. Look up at the clouds and draw pictures of what you see.Write a sentence at the bottom of each picture to describe what you think the cloud looks like.


More about clouds here and here and here and here

Science quiz

Take a quiz developed by the Pew Research Center to test your general science knowledge, then see how you fared compared to a random sample of other Americans. 

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