No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.  ~Proverb

Happy March Equinox Everyone!

Humankind’s imagination is as vast as the solar system we live in! Out of our imagination comes tools for working, farming, and building. If we let our imaginations soar we become inventors. In fact, inventive thinking and problem solving is something we do everyday. We see a problem and come up with a solution. In the Oak Meadow 5th grade science curriculum, students study technology and design and work on their own inventions.  It’s so much fun to see what they imagine and bring into the world! They construct things that help with a job around the house, create toys for pets, and design many other practical and useful items. Humankind just seems to long for answers to questions!
Long ago astronomers sought answers to the many questions about the universe. When an answer wasn’t in sight, they imagined and created stories or guidelines for their lives. They imagined stories about the stars they saw in the night sky, imagined the sun went to sleep each night, and imagined the world was flat. In future years we have come to understand more about the universe through observation. In observing the rising and setting of the sun, astronomers imagined a great dome over the Earth’s sky and called it the celestial sphere. They imagined the celestial equator as being in the middle of the north and south poles and right above the Earth’s equator. 
During the March equinox, when we have twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness, “the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. No matter where you are on Earth (except the North and South Poles), you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator, the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth. And that’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west, for all of us, at the equinox. The equinox sun is on the celestial equator. No matter where you are on Earth, the celestial equator crosses your horizon at due east or due west.”
Photo and quote reprinted from EarthSky, written by Bruce McClure in Tonight
So get outside on March 20th and find due east and due west in your environment! It’s the first day of spring!

The Nobel Prizes

In November of 1895, Alfred Nobel passed away and left a very large amount of his money to go toward a variety of prizes. The prizes became known as the Nobel Prizes. It was a generous beginning to yearly honor work in the sciences, literature, and those people working for peace throughout the world.
I am always most interested in The Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel’s will stated that the Peace Prize would go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
The 2017 award went to an organization, rather than one person. The Nobel Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This is a world-wide partnership of organizations dedicated and focused on a nuclear weapon ban treaty for the world. What an honorable intention to free the world’s people from the use of a nuclear weapon.
In 1904 Ivan Pavlov won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Some of you may have already studied about him and his ideas. You may be studying Pavlov’s work in the Oak Meadow curriculum. On the Nobel Prize website there are educational pages that have some fun facts and games to play. The one about Ivan Pavlov is great!
It is also fascinating to watch the lectures and the award ceremonies. You can view them at: http://www.nobelprize.org/

Great idea!

Benjamin Franklin
Photo Credit: Public Domain

My father is about to turn 94 and consequently, we go all out for his birthday parties! We have a tradition of having him tell us what he was doing at the present age of each member of the family. This past year the youngest among us was a great grandson just 13 months old. It was fun to hear my father speak about what he was doing when he was 13 months old. The oldest at the party was 68 years and that too was amusing!
We decided this year to list many of the things that had been invented in the years since our father (grandfather or great grandfather) was born. Each family member brought a description of the invention to the party. Wow! He has certainly seen many, many inventions in his lifetime!
Photo Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (Public Domain)

I think we take for granted some of the inventions he saw in his lifetime, such as the color TV or the black box flight recorder. Lithium batteries and the pocket calculator surprised all of us as just being invented in the 1970s.
Not only do I think we take these inventions for granted, but I think we also pay little attention to the people that invented them! Physicists, biologists, chemists, carpenters, farmers–you name it and you may find a profession that has an inventor. Where do these inventors come from? “From 1900 onwards, on average about 10% of Americans have been first-generation immigrants. Yet first-generation immigrants have won 33% of all American Nobel prizes in the sciences since the award began in 1900, representing thirty-five countries from six continents.” (https://m.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/science-in-america/10155202535296613/)
All this talk about past inventions got me wondering what is being invented (and patented) right now! I found out about The Lemelson-MIT Program which strives to celebrate  “outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.” It is so interesting to read about the most recent inventions that are being awarded!
Do you have something that you are working on that will one day be an invention that will benefit us all? Join an inventor’s club! Here’s a list of them by state: http://www.freeinventorshelp.com/Organizations.html#states
Good luck!

Pi Day and Albert Einstein

“Wherever there is number, there is beauty.” – Proclus (410-485 A.D.)
Today, March 14, is Pi Day! It’s a notable event that is celebrated all around the world. Pi is a Greek letter and symbol that represents the famed irrational number 3.14 – the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.
March 14 also happens to be the birth date of Albert Einstein, one of the most renowned physicists and mathematicians in history. Because pi is 3.14159…, many math lovers begin their Pi Day celebrations at exactly 1:59 p.m. You can make the day an extra special one by planning math challenges and creating math fun with your children. Here are some activities to help celebrate Pi Day.
Don’t forget to make your favorite pie (or pizza pie) in celebration of this special day!

Fact or Opinion?

The Oak Meadow curriculum offers many opportunities to learn how to research and write reports. Note that I wrote LEARN, because most middle school students are just beginning to learn how to find appropriate resources for a topic and how to organize the information into an interesting, cohesive, and fact-filled report.
Finding a reliable source can begin with a trip to the library for magazines, encyclopedias, newspapers, biographies, and lots more! Some students don’t have a library nearby and so they use the internet for their research. Reliable sites are usually ones that end in .org, .net, or .edu. I like to use the Great Websites for Kids as a starting point. Their website notes that the site is an “Internet guide of child-safe sites selected by a committee of the American Library Association.” You can choose a subject such as “sciences” and then choose a specific subject of interest. Give it a try!
There’s a lot in the news these days about what is fact and what is opinion. When I read reports by students I often write, “Make sure you back up your opinion with a reliable source that explains the facts that you are basing your opinion on.” Some students are learning that an opinion can be based on fact, and they’re backing it up with a quotation from a reliable source. For instance, I received a research report on sound frequencies for an 8th grade physics lesson. I was impressed with the three sources and the examples that the student used for his research. However, most impressive was the use of quotations from his sources that added strength to his examples. Convincing a reader that what you’ve written is true, rather than just your opinion, is pretty important! When you use a quote from a reliable source you give your opinion validity. It allows the reader to trust that your opinion is based on fact.
Making facts louder than opinions is evident in this video from The Weather Channel. 

Picture Books!

“For the rest of my life, I will reflect on what light is.”
~Einstein, c.1917

Hilarious! Not only was Einstein brilliant, he also had great sense of humor!

In the Oak Meadow 8th grade physics course, students study about light. The terms, incident ray, reflected ray, normal line, angle of incident, and angle of reflection are all principles that are studied in the lesson. The students are assigned the task of writing a short creative story using the principles of light ray reflection. It’s fun for me as a teacher to read the many imaginative ways that students find to do this assignment! In reading them I am often reminded of how powerful a simple story can be in teaching a scientific concept. Since I work in the youth department at our local public library, I run across many picture books that creatively depict scientific concepts. (Middle school students, don’t’ be afraid of checking out a good picture book!) I have lots that I love, but one of my favorites is Chris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants. medium_jacket_two-bad-ants
Right from the very beginning, an ant discovers a crystal and when the queen ant gets to eat it, she asks for more. The worker ants set off to get more of these precious crystals for the queen. When they get to the place where the crystals are, two bad ants decide not to return with the other ants and they stay and eat the crystals until they are so full that they fall asleep! What happens when they awake is hilarious and the illustrations are all “ant-sized” and lead you on their journey. It’s the illustrations in picture books that depict the scientific concepts so well. The crystals that Van Allsburg illustrates are magnified sugar granules. There is the science of a sugar granule! There are many more picture books that depict scientific concepts. Have you run across any?
 

GO FLY A KITE!

images-1Imagine you’ve gone back in history and it is the year 1899. You are with the Wright brothers at their bicycle shop, the Wright Cycle Company. They’ve been making, repairing, and selling bicycles at their shop since 1892. As they work, you hear them talk freely about their new passion of flying. Orville and Wilbur have been observing birds in flight and they’ve noticed that birds tilt their wings to one side or the other depending on which direction they want to go. So now the brothers are talking and thinking about some experiments they are going to try. That’s when you notice they’re not working on bicycles; they’re building kites! Yep, kites! You try to follow their conversation about how they are building a kite with wings that can be controlled by strings, just as birds control their own wings in flight. Jump ahead 5 years and all their observing, questioning, building and experimenting with kites resulted in the first piloted glider and then the first powered aircraft!
Each year there is a kite festival in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the Wright brothers experimented with their kite flying. It looks like great family fun and The Wright Brothers National Memorial Park grounds there would be wonderful to visit.
APRIL is KITE FLYING MONTH! Make some kites! Try some of these: http://www.bigwindkites.com/20kids/

What's That Chirp Noise I Hear?

images-3I heard birds chirping outside my office window this morning and I acknowledged to myself what a sweet sound it is. Their twittering reminded me that as the Earth rotates, each of us hears the morning calls of birds. I thought of my students in far off places such as Australia, Costa Rica, and Italy and registered that they were hearing their birds at very different times than each other.
I like to sit back and dwell on the planet as a little spaceship floating in the universe. Here we all are, floating through space together, caught in an orbit of gravitational pull by our sun. I marvel at that! At the same time, I’m also in awe of the scientists that came before me with their observations and predictions about the Earth and the universe. It is because of them that I can even have these thoughts. My studies of their work has led me to know the universe. If you are in the middle grades of Oak Meadow , then you will study the concepts of meteorology and astronomy in 6th grade, to light and sound waves in 8th grade physics, that will serve as a foundation for your own viewing the universe.images-2
One exceptional and admirable scientist you will study about is Albert Einstein. His observations, predictions, and construction of theories continue to amaze us today. Just this month, one of his predictions made over 100 years ago was validated. Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves. Physicists at The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) located in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana have been busy for about twenty five years hoping to detect the sound of gravitational waves.

Then, on September 14, 2015, at just before eleven in the morning, Central European Time, the waves reached Earth. Marco Drago, a thirty-two-year-old Italian postdoctoral student and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, was the first person to notice them. He was sitting in front of his computer at the Albert Einstein Institute, in Hannover, Germany, viewing the LIGO data remotely. The waves appeared on his screen as a compressed squiggle, but the most exquisite ears in the universe, attuned to vibrations of less than a trillionth of an inch, would have heard what astronomers call a chirp—a faint whooping from low to high. http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/gravitational-waves-exist-heres-how-scientists-finally-found-them

So the other “chirp” I am hearing isn’t the sound of birds! It’s the sound of gravitational waves!
To learn more about this, and to hear the chirp, go to http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/02/gravitational-waves-einstein-s-ripples-spacetime-spotted-first-time

What Happened?

images-1This week my father turned 91 years old. (Happy Birthday, Dad!) We always enjoy birthday parties with my Dad! We have a tradition of having him tell us what he was doing at the present age of each member of the family. This year the youngest among us was a great grandson just 13 months old. It was fun to hear my father speak about what he was doing when he was 13 months old! The oldest at the party was 68 years and that too was amusing!
We decided this year to list many of the things that had been invented since our father (grandfather or great grandfather) was born. Each family member brought a description of the invention to the party. Wow! He has certainly seen many, many inventions in his lifetime!
images
I think we take for granted some of the inventions he saw in his lifetime, such as the color TV or the black box flight recorder. Lithium batteries and the pocket calculator surprised all of us as just being invented in the 1970s.
All this talk about past inventions got me wondering what is being invented (and patented) right now! I found out about The Lemelson-MIT Program which strives to celebrate  “outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.” It is so interesting to read about the most recent inventions that are being awarded!
Do you have something that you are working on that will one day be an invention that will benefit us all? Join an inventor’s club! Here’s a list of them by state: http://www.freeinventorshelp.com/Organizations.html#states
Good luck!

Brower Youth Awards

If you are interested in environmental studies, you may be interested in reading about the Brower Youth Awards. The award is named for David Brower. You may not recognize his name, but you may recognize some of the organizations he has founded: The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the John Muir Institute for Environmental Studies, and the Earth Island Institute. He is quoted as saying, “I love to see what young people can do, before someone old tells them it’s impossible.”
Each year six students who are making strides in the environmental movement are recognized by the Brower Youth Award. They are students that have a passion for making the world a better place and have the will power to put their words into actions. The winners “demonstrate excellent leadership as well as a commitment to the communities their work serves. The recipients of the Brower Youth Awards receive a $3,000 cash prize, a professionally produced short film about their work, and flight and lodging accommodations for a week long trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. Youth environmental change leaders ages 13 to 22 (as of July 1, 2015) living in North America (including Mexico, Canada, some Caribbean Islands) and US Territories are encouraged to apply in our next cycle. Applications will re-open in early 2015. ” From the Brower Youth Awards website.

Here are the winners from this year (2014) and those from other years, too. If science is an interest of yours then I think you will enjoy reading the inspirational stories that brought these young people the awards.
 

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