In which Miss Molly weaves a web.

Miss Molly and her Mangled Messers are back! This time to talk about spider webs.

In continuation with the library’s one town, one book program, I took a look at flies. At least, that’s how I started.

What are flies eat by? Spiders.

How do spiders catch flies? By weaving or building webs.

How can I make this a Mangled Messes program? By making the Messers web engineers.

I started off the program by talking about spiders. In the last MM, we talked about insects, so I wanted to see if they kids knew the differences between insects and spiders, what sets them apart. We did a bit of a compare and contrast, looking at the benefits and weaknesses of each class. I always find it really fun talking with the kids about what they know, challenging their assumptions, and bringing new facts to the table.

For instance, while the Messers knew that spiders weave webs out of silk, they didn’t know that that silk is made up of proteins, or that when a web is no longer useful, often a spider will eat the silk and internally recycle it. Stuff like that is both interesting and really gross, so it draws them in.

We talked about why spiders don’t stick to their own webs, but why insects and other spiders will. We talked about the math and patterning behind a web’s design. How the pattern and placement of each thread is crucial to catching prey. We talked about strength, weight bearing, and weaknesses in the web. About how some spider webs grow stronger if strands are broken (up to a point) and about how that could be.

I showed the Messers some videos about spiders and their webs in action. One was a spider versus an assassin bug, and the second was a small cellar spider versus a much larger and fiercer  white tailed spider. It was just the right amount of information, mixed with action, combined with the gross-out factor.  It also sparked a discussion about seemingly ill-equipped spiders beating their Goliath opponents. Obviously it won’t be the case every time, but it is interesting to talk about.

Then it was testing time.

For our first experiment, I had the kids weave their own webs with a paper plate and string. Each paper plate had 7 holes punched into it, with the center cut out. Their task was to weave a web that would trap the most objects dropped into it.1 I had a variety of shapes, sizes, and textured objects for testing. Once the webs were weaved, I dropped the various objects from a 2 foot height, and we recorded whether the web caught the object or it slipped through.5

As you might guess, some webs were much better than others. Rather than be discouraged, the Messers went back to the drawing board to bolster their webs, talking with those who were more successful about what they did differently.

Next we made kirigami spider webs, or cut paper spider webs. I used a paper folding technique from the Origami Resource Center, and had the kids design their own cuts. Every web came out differently, even if they cut them in the same manner, which was great. 4We then tested the paper webs with the objects–because the Messers wanted to.

All in all, it was great fun!

Check us out next time to see what else we’re up to!

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