Monday, March 29, 2010

Three Cheers for Curious George!

When PBS began airing a new show for children about Curious George, I had my doubts. After all, Curious George, the wonderfully mischievous monkey behind Margret and H.A. Rey's books, is a beloved iconic character.

But I've been pleasantly surprised. The Curious George television show introduces children to the scientific method in very simple terms -- by doing. George gets his hands dirty (sometimes literally!) in every episode.

On a recent show, George was recording sounds around the yard and taking pictures of each noise-maker. I've heard of audio maps, but a picture book of sounds is a clever idea.

In the same episode, The Man with the Yellow Hat was participating in a moth inventory and conducting a study of the nocturnal feeding habits of raccoons. These activities weren't central to the storyline, but I thought that was pretty cool. Scientific explorations are just normal background "noise" in George's home.

You can visit the PBS Kids Curious George website to play online games, print coloring sheets, and watch science-themed video clips. The Parents and Teachers section includes teaching activities and a science & math themed family activity booklet.

Drop by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, publisher of the Curious George series of books, to see their Curiosity Day website for kids and families. You can download a complete list of Curious George titles, a writing-themed activity book, a list of suggestions for hosting a Curious George party, and more!

Image credit: Houghton Mifflin Trade and Reference Division - "Distinguished book publishing since 1832"

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Earth Hour 2010

Join the global movement known as Earth Hour today - Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 8:30 pm (your local time). We'll be right there with you. Our family has participated for the last two years and it's interesting to see how momentum is growing for this little movement. Over 25 state governments across the US are participating this year (I wish I could say that it was all 50!).

How do you join? Simple. Just don't use any electricity for one hour. Spend the time talking to your family, playing board games by candlelight, noticing how quiet things are when we don't use so much electricity. This year, there's even an Earth Hour Kids webpage to help get you started.

Does an event like Earth Hour have an impact? Does it really save energy?

The first Earth Hour, celebrated in Sydney, Australia in 2007, had around two million participants. Last year, "[n]early one billion people turned out for Earth Hour 2009 – involving 4,100 cities in 87 countries on seven continents," according to the Earth Hour website.

Despite this wonderful outpouring of support, the overall effect of Earth Hour on energy usage has not proven to be significant. (As I wrote in my Thoughts About Earth Hour last year, some cities only reported a 1% decrease in power usage during the event.)

However, I think Earth Hour does two things extremely well:

* Before and after pictures taken of participating cities show us, in vivid detail, the extensive and sometimes devastating impact of light pollution on our society (speaking as someone who can seldom see the stars where I live!).

* More importantly, participation in Earth Hour makes us -- individually and collectively -- stop and think about what we are doing, how we are living, and why we are making these choices. To me, this is the most important reason to participate: to join in the global dialogue.

* * *

If you liked this post, you might enjoy:

- Earth Hour 2009

- Earth Hour 2008

- Thoughts About Earth Hour

Friday, March 26, 2010

Go Fly a Kite This Week-End!

This Saturday, March 27th, marks the 44th Annual Smithsonian Kite Festival in Washington, DC. Come to this free event on the Washington Monument grounds from 10 am until 3 pm (schedule here). Kids can make a kite at the festival, view handmade kites from all over the world, and watch - or enter - the kite-flying competitions (adults can compete, too!). You could win an award; every child who competes will receive a participation ribbon.

Despite the "official" designation of February 8 as Kite Flying Day here in the U.S., celebrations involving kites are popular during the windy month of March. Washington, DC, isn't the only place you can see kites this week-end. South Korea is holding an International Kite Flying Contest at Dadaepo Beach in Busan and the Midland Kite Flyers are hosting Kite Flying Day at Calke Abbey near Ticknall in Derbyshire, England.

Let's hope the weather is nice and windy this week-end!

Photo credit: Smithsonian Kite Festival

Kerm's Sea-Monkeys®

My older son received a Sea-Monkeys® kit for Christmas. Unbeknowst to me, he opened the package. After pouring in half of the recommended amount of water into the tank, he added the water purifier, eggs, and double the suggested amount of dried food. Nothing happened.

When I found the little tank, it was a murky green mess. I comforted Kerm and told him that we could contact the company and try again. I intended to dump out the water and clean out the tank. But, as it sometimes happens with busy moms, I promptly forgot all about it ... until a week later, when Kerm came running in to find me.

"Mommy! They hatched!"

Yes, we have a tank of Sea-Monkeys® living at our house. I think we might be on our second generation, since we have some large ones (and a couple that appear "stuck together"!) and some very teeny tiny dots that look like swimming periods.

What are they? Sea-Monkeys® are a modified species of brine shrimp designed to grow and thrive in the home. This species undergoes crytobiosis, which can be defined as a "reversibly suspended metabolic state." In short, their eggs are nearly indestructible. At this stage in their life cycle, they can survive for long periods of time without water or food.

I have mixed feelings about engineering animals for human use, particularly as novelty items. But I have to admit that, so far, I like the Sea-Monkeys®. These little guys are easy to "grow" and appear to be robust. After all, ours easily tolerated the odd conditions that Kerm threw at them.

I hope that our tank thrives for a long time. In fact, the Sea-Monkeys® website claims that a colony like ours might live for up to two years!

Photo credit: Mama Joules (Note how small they are -- that's my thumb in the bottom of the picture. The critter that you can see looks bigger than it really is because it was swimming very quickly when I took the photo.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Space is goop!

Last week, Kerm was working on a project for school about the Native American Cheyenne Indians. As a family, we learned all sorts of nifty things about the Cheyenne, like how their famous leader Dull Knife designed their flag. While working on this presentation, I took Kerm to Michael's to buy posterboard.

Once in the store - not to be outdone - Little Brother decided that he needed to complete a project. I told him that he had to pick a theme, like space or animals. After he chose his theme, we picked out stickers and stiff cardboard for his poster presentation.

When we got home, I needed to take care of the baby. So Kerm and Little Brother got out their supplies and set to work. Little Brother designed this piece all by himself. Now, remember, he's only four, so numbers and letters sometimes get reversed. I'm not quite sure why a website is mentioned, but the boys told me that "ww" refers to the World Wide Web. The take-home message - the theme of his collage - is that space is "good."

Photo credit: Mama Joules. Collage artist: Little Brother.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Happy World Weather Day!

Well, it turns out that today, March 23, 2010, is full of special events -- it's Free Pastry Day at Starbucks (print out the coupon quickly & rush to order your coffee, the offer ends at 10:30 am!), Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry's (good from noon until 8 pm, head there after you get your pastry at Starbucks!) and it's also World Meteorological Day 2010, as proclaimed by the World Meteorological Organization.

Sadly, apart from the kind folks on Twitter who alerted me to this special day, there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for World Weather Day -- no mentions on The Weather Channel or WeatherBug and not many hits on Google either.

That is just sad. Let's face it, no matter where you live on the globe, weather affects your daily life. Even the folks up on the International Space Station have to worry about weather when it's time to come home!

Yesterday's World Water Day received far more press, and water is just one component of weather. Weather is bigger than water! So, in honor of World Weather Day, let's start some new traditions:

* Visit a weather-themed science exhibit, like the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry's Science Storms, described by Kara Spak of the Chicago Sun-Times as "a science lab on steroids."

* Take a minute to look up at the sky. Is it partly cloudy or partly sunny? "Meteorologists like to say that the difference between 'partly cloudy' and 'partly sunny' is the forecaster's mood," according to this fun set of questions & answers from

* Watch Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

* Browse the weather-themed topics on this blog. Don't miss The Science of Snow and How Big are Raindrops?

* Make your own book of weather words! How would you draw smoggy or snowy?

* Remember special weather days in your own history. Has weather played a crucial role on certain days of your life? I know it has for me! On the night before I married Itinerant Cryptographer, we had a big stormy cold snap. In the morning, there were no flowers (save some leftover funeral bouquets!) in the church where we were to be married. The florist's excuse was that the doors to the company van had frozen shut. They couldn't deliver the flowers until they'd warmed up the van -- and until half of our wedding pictures had already been taken.

However, you choose to celebrate, enjoy the weather today!

Photo credit: Bex Ross, via flickr //CC BY 2.0

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy World Water Day!

Thanks to Jason at CephalopodCast, I learned that today, March 22, is World Water Day. This annual global observance started in 1993 through the work of the United Nations. Over 35 countries around the world have special water-themed events planned to mark the occasion.

Why have a special day about water? With nearly 3/4 of the earth's surface covered in seawater, it might come as a surprise that fresh water is a scarce resource on our planet. According to the US World Water Day website, "nearly one billion people around the world don't have clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion still lack basic sanitation."

What can we do about it? Remember that fresh drinking water is precious -- some people don't have any! Try your best not to waste water:

* Don't leave the faucet running when you brush your teeth.

* Be sure to fix leaky faucets and running toilets.

* Try to take less time showering. Use a timer and challenge everyone in your family to beat your time.

* Don't flush the toilet unless it's truly necessary.

* Don't dump medicine down the toilet. Some medicines are not easily removed by sewage treatment plants and these chemicals can wind up in our water supply.

Enjoy the water that you drink today!

Photo credit: Alberto P. Veiga, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hydroponic Gardening at Epcot

Last week, our family traveled to Walt Disney World in Florida. One of my favorite exhibits at Epcot is Living with the Land, a slow-moving ride that explores the future of farming and gardening. One focus of the exhibit is on hydroponic gardening - growing crops in a water and nutrient solution without soil, often using limited space. I wish that I had found the time to take the Behind the Seeds gardening tour!

dcJohn, who captured the wonderful image above in 2005, wrote this note along with the photo: "One of the few (only?) places that's actually doing any research at EPCOT, which was the original dream Walt had for the park." I have to agree. Since the last time I visited, I can tell that Epcot's focus is moving away from science and more toward theme park, which seems a shame. Why not continue to meld the two?

But I digress. I am fascinated with hydroponic gardening. One of the crops exhibited was grown along a vertical coil, kind of like a large hollow spring with holes cut out of it. You can see that the winding arms provide a lot of surface area upon which the plants can grow.

Brad Jones, who took the Behind the Seeds tour in 2009, captured the wonderful photograph above. Check out his Behind the Seeds Tour photo set for great images of vertical gardening, including hanging winter melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and more. Note how little ground space is taken up by these planting systems.

Photo credits: (top) dcJohn and (bottom) Brad Jones, via flickr // CC BY 2.0.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Website of the Week: Let's Paint Nature!

It's been a while since I've written up a Website of the Week, but Let's Paint Nature! deserves a special nod. I love the topic -- combining nature and art -- and I think it's great that the artist, Christine Kane, donates 10% of her artwork sales to a local food pantry.

The best part about Let's Paint Nature!, however, is the juxtaposition of nature photography with nature painting. Christine doesn't just show you her work. She lets you in on the creative process. You get to see the image that inspired the art, along with photos of the artwork in progress.

Let's Paint Winter Woods! is quite striking. I was fascinated by the artist's use of deep blues and purples early in the work, which faded to shadows later when she covered them up with snow.

Check out the Learn How to Paint page for more detailed step-by-step instructions of how to paint landscapes, wildlife, and plants or head to the gallery to buy a pastel or watercolor for your wall.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's Time to Read!

March is time for Read Across America here in the United States, when the National Education Association encourages us to celebrate reading. The kickoff date for this annual event was March 2nd, which is also Dr. Suess' birthday.

Reading Rockets is a wonderful reading-themed website to visit, with a wealth of information for launching young readers. You can also pick up some nifty widgets, like this one:

and this one:

PBS KIDS Island is another good destination. This interactive website promotes early reading. First, you set up an account. This allows you to keep track of how you (or your child) are progressing through the games. The website keeps track of which games you play and how well you perform on each type of game. The summary data can help to pinpoint any problem areas with reading comprehension. And, you get to collect points and earn rides, games, and virtual prizes along the way. Little Brother loves it! He built up his whole island and we had to create some new identities for him so that he could have the fun of working through it all over again.

Whatever you choose to read this month, or however you might celebrate, happy reading, everyone!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Get Ready for Pi Day!

Math lovers, rejoice! Pi Day is almost here.

Pi Day Countdown

Pi (π) describes the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, a number that's awfully close to, but not quite 3.14. Since Pi is an irrational number, the digits of Pi never end and the pattern of numbers doesn't repeat. According to the Pi Day website, "With the use of computers, Pi has been calculated to over 1 trillion digits past the decimal."

The concept of Pi has fascinated people for thousands of years. Now, you can join in! Watch Pi-themed YouTube videos, send e-cards to your friends, or sign up now to solve logic puzzles on March 14th at the Pi Day Challenge.