Digging into Plants and Animals: Videos for Middle and High School

A collection of links on for middle and high school students:


Science Out Loud (MIT)

Science Out Loud Video: Understanding Molecules in Plants

Materials Science

MITx Engineering Course: Mechanical Behavior of Materials, Part 1: Linear Elastic Behavior

How Woodpeckers Avoid Brain Injury

Part 1 The Question

Part 3: Why Peck?

Part 2: Woodpecker 1010

Part 4 Impact and Deceleration

Part 5: Measuring Speed and Impact

Part 6: Size Matters

Part 7: Scaling in Nature

Part 8: Hall’s Pond and Bird Conservation

This post was written by Julie Croston. If you use Instagram and Twitter, check out and use our hashtag #CambMAOutdoorLearning.

Junior Kindergarten: Learn Outdoors

If you want to continue your child’s education even when schools are closed, keep reading. You can help your Junior Kindergarten student learn science by going outdoors and learning. JK kids can directly observe plants and animals outside—in their own neighborhood, in a nearby park, or in a larger open space.

Student naturalists explore plants and animals in the classroom and outside. They ask questions and gather information about:

where animals live and why,

the parts of plants and animals, and what they do, and

the needs of living things.

Think of yourself as a guide, but not an expert or a teacher. Learning can be strongest when a child is allowed to discover and focus on something outdoors that captures their own interest. You can be the best role model for science learning by demonstrating your own curiosity and following up on it by making guesses and collecting data.

Try this :

Take a short walk and ask your child to describe three (or five, or seven) plants or trees on the walk. You can ask your child to draw them, or instead, just remember them. Together with your child, make up your own name for each plant or tree, if you want. You can use your own language or English for the name. You can write the names down if you want to, but that’s not necessary. If your child likes to draw, you can ask them to draw each plant.

Examples of names: “big tree with feather branches in front of the library.”

Ask your child to use as many ways of describing each plant or tree as they can think of.

Examples: “It is taller than our home, ” “I could fit three of me in the trunk,” “the tree’s bark feels rough.”

Take the same walk on a regular schedule. It could be Mondays and Thursdays, or just once a week, or at the same time every day.

TIP: Children are comforted by a regular routine, even if they don’t say so. School routines and schedules help them stay calmer and more focused and ready to learn. You can set up your own routines for home learning, if possible, but don’t worry if you can’t. Going outdoors for this activity will still benefit your child.

Each time you take this same walk during spring, ask your child, “What is different about this plant (or tree) since we saw it before? Let your child have time to think about shape, size, smell, color, or parts of the plant, and tell you about it. You can suggest some descriptive words, but let your child take the lead.

Observing seasonal changes in the environment is a great way to build vocabulary, and to build a set of observations that will naturally lead you and your child to form questions: why and how do plants grow? what do they need to grow and live? What is a flower, and what does it do?

EXTRA: If you want, take pictures (or draw) the plant weekly. You can go back and look at them arranged in time over the next few months, and use them to start a discussion with other family members. Learning words to describe the environment and seasonal change is an important part of science learning for a child at this age, and they can benefit from telling other adults what they saw (just like a scientist communicates to others!).

SCIENTIST: Adults and older children in the family may enjoy this interview with Dr. Segenet Kelemu, Director General of the  International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology.

Cambridge Outdoors is working to expand our existing library of resources for outdoor learning with this post and future posts. We hope these posts will address some of the needs of parents during school closures in March/April/May 2020. Come on over to our Facebook Page, and tell us what you like about it, and what kind of other posts you’d like to see here. And tell us about your outdoor explorations, too!

This post was written by Julie Croston. If you use Instagram and Twitter, check out and use our hashtag #CambMAOutdoorLearning.

Exploring the Urban Outdoors in Cambridge, Mass.: Events

 BOTANY WALK, April 26, 1 p.m.

Botanist Walter Kittredge is conducting a region-wide herbarium project to bring attention to the local New England flora, its presence and value, and is looking closely at vegetation at Alewife Reservation. Walter is Senior Curatorial Assistant at the Harvard University Herbaria, a world-wide research collection of over 5 million dried plant specimens.Participants will meet at the Alewife Brook parking lot at Cambridge Discovery Park at 100 Acorn Park Drive in Cambridge. Sponsored by Friends of Alewife Reservation. (usual time for this monthly event, beginning in June, will be the First Friday of the Month, 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm)

Call (617) 415-1884 for more information.


Maynard Ecology Center, lower level of Neville Place
650 Concord Avenue
When you and your dog visit Fresh Pond Reservation, your dog is probably far more aware than you are that the Reservation is the home of coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, and many smaller mammals. Sightings of wild animals, especially coyotes, are increasing and have raised concerns about what we should do when we encounter these critters. John Maguranis is the Belmont Animal Control Officer and the Massachusetts representative for Project Coyote (www.projectcoyote.org). He will share with us his knowledge and experiences, tell us about coyote behavior, and instruct us on pet and human safety.  After the formal presentation, we’ll walk outside (weather permitting) to look for coyote tracks. Please register. You will receive important information on parking after you register. E-mail Elizabeth Wylde at friendsoffreshpond@yahoo.com or call 617- 349-6489 and leave your name and phone number.



Join Anne Marie Lambert for a guided walk through Alewife Reservation with Poet Richard Cambridge and Frederick Law Olmstead re-enactor Gerald Wright.  Sponsored by Friends of Alewife Reservation and the Cambridge Citizens Forum.  Participants will meet at the Alewife Brook parking lot at Cambridge Discovery Park at 100 Acorn Park Drive in Cambridge. Families welcome. Call (617) 415-1884 for more information.


Nick Woebske and Galen Mook lead a bike tour at dusk around the perimeter of the Alewife Reservation.  Edible plant expert David Craft will educate riders on the vast amount of edible plants in the area at periodic stops.  Sponsored by the Friends of Alewife Reservation. Participants will meet at the at the passenger pickup of the AlewifeT-stop in Cambridge. Visit the Friends of Alewife Reservation’s site for updated information or call (617) 415-1884.