Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Gardening with kids? Apply for a grant!

Fall is the right time to plan a community-based garden for the following spring. Why? With your plans in mind, you can apply for a gardening grant. There are many grants available for all types - and stages - of gardens, but these programs all have one thing in common: they want detailed information about you and your proposed garden. If you have your plans at hand, filling out grant applications like these will be a snap.

Some gardening grants accept applications on a rolling basis, but several recur yearly with a spring or fall deadline. Here are two with fall deadlines for my U.S.-based readers, presented by the National Gardening Association. Both require that your garden will be tended by 15 or more children between the ages of 3 and 18:

The 2010 Subaru Healthy Sprouts Award provides 30 schools and/or organizations with a $500 gift certificate for gardening supplies, along with additional gardening and nutritional information. If you are using your garden to teach "about our environment, nutrition and hunger issues in the United States," be sure to sign up! The application deadline is October 1, 2010.

One hundred Youth Garden Grants are available to gardening groups for 2011. Five recipients will win educational materials and $1000 in gift cards to purchase gardening supplies; ninety-five groups will receive half of this amount. For the best chance of success, your garden should tie in with education, environmental awareness, leadership, and community building. The application deadline is November 1, 2010 (postmark).

Good luck and happy gardening!

Photo credit: woodley wonderworks via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrate World Car Free Day

Since 2000, World Car Free Day has been regularly celebrated each year on September 22. According to the World Carfree Network:
"World Carfree Day is an annual celebration of cities and public life, free from the noise, stress and pollution of cars."
I don't know about you, but where I live, life without a car isn't practical. That said, I think World Car Free Day is a wonderful opportunity to examine society's over-dependence upon the automobile. If you - like me - can't eliminate car usage entirely, try to reduce your dependence upon automobiles and learn to use them more efficiently. Some ideas to consider:

  • Sit down with your family and look at a map of your neighborhood. When running errands, is there some way to make one loop around town instead of zigzagging back and forth?
  • The next time you go shopping, is there a place to park your car that allows you to walk from store to store instead of parking - and driving - to each?
  • Have you looked into all types of public transit offered in your area? Would these travel options - buses, monorail, trains, etc. - work for anyone in the family?
  • Are you missing opportunities to get to know classmates or co-workers by carpooling?

Serious about going car free? Green LA Girl has ideas for renting out your car, supporting public transit, biking, and more. Check out Car Free Mondays, a series of interviews with women living (happily) sans automobile in Los Angeles.

Photo credit: Anuradha Sengupta, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Sunday, September 19, 2010

OT: It's Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Yes, this is off-topic, but I wanted to share this with you. Do you have pirate-lovers at your house, too? Today, September 19th, is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Planning a pirate-themed party to celebrate? Add your event to the official map. Browse through the link list and you, too, could wind up with a cool pirate name like mine. :)

My pirate name is:

Bloody Jenny Rackham

Every pirate lives for something different. For some, it's the open sea. For others (the masochists), it's the food. For you, it's definitely the fighting. You have the good fortune of having a good name, since Rackham (pronounced RACKem, not rack-ham) is one of the coolest sounding surnames for a pirate. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from piratequiz.com.
part of the fidius.org network

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Happy World Water Monitoring Day!

According to my handy-dandy, newly compiled Calendar of Science Holidays, today is World Water Monitoring Day. According to the World Water Monitoring Day website, the purpose of this day is to encourage people to identify their local water bodies (like rivers, lakes, streams, oceans) and take steps to protect them by conducting basic water monitoring.

The World Water Monitoring Day website tracks water quality monitoring data from around the world. Local groups upload their findings by geographic location. The basic water monitoring measures tracked for this website are pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), temperature, and turbidity. These measures are important for many reasons, but here's some information on how they affect aquatic life:

pH tells you if the water is acidic, basic (alkaline), or neutral. Water with high acidity or high alkalinity is not healthy for aquatic life. Natural waters should have a pH that is roughly neutral.

Dissolved oxygen tells you how much oxygen in the water is available to aquatic life. For example, if lake water has low dissolved oxygen, the fish won't be able to breathe. In general, water bodies that are in motion (streams, rivers) have higher dissolved oxygen than stagnant water bodies like lakes and ponds.

Temperature is a useful measure of a water body's resilience to atmospheric temperature changes. Let's say that one day, the temperature outside is 90 degrees F and the next day it drops down to 40 degrees (this can happen where I live!). If water temperature in lakes and streams followed those extremes, most - if not all - aquatic life would die. But water generally heats and cools more slowly than air, which allows lakes and streams to withstand daily atmospheric temperature fluctuations. When you monitor water temperature, you don't want to see rapid changes over short periods of time. If a polluter suddenly dumped a large volume of hot wastewater into a small stream, for example, you would see a big temperature difference from one day to the next and you might see lots of dead fish floating on top of the water.

Turbidity looks at the amount of suspended material in the water. Very turbid water can look green from high concentrations of algae or brown from suspended sediments. Often, pollution increases turbidity. Crystal clear water, however, doesn't guarantee that a water body is healthy. Sometimes, it means that the water is "dead" and that no aquatic life is living there. Fish need algae and other suspended materials for food.

A Secchi disk is used to measure the turbidity of your water. You basically drop it down into a water body until you can't see it any more and measure at what depth that occurs.
Photo credit: Secchi Dip-In | Biological Sciences Department Kent State University

To learn more about these four water quality measures, check out this page of World Water Monitoring Day handouts or visit EPA's Volunteer Monitoring Program. In the US, you can find local monitoring clubs at EPA's Surf Your Watershed. Check with environmental groups in your area to see if they offer water quality monitoring classes. Getting to know your watershed is a great way to get acquainted with your local environment.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Calendar of Science Holidays

Each year holds a wealth of weird, wacky, and interesting -- yet under-celebrated -- days for science, like World Weather Day and World Water Day. I decided to put together a calendar of annual science holidays and special events that celebrate science so that we could enjoy them together.

National events listed here refer to the United States, unless otherwise noted. Of course, if you live outside of the US, you are more than welcome to celebrate with us! (And I'll admit, some of these holidays are a little less "official" than others.) I expect to update this post in the future, so feel free to send me your special day and I'll add it to the list. Thanks!

* * * *

5 - National Bird Day
17 - Kid Inventors' Day
Last Saturday of the month - National Seed Swap Day

2 - World Wetlands Day
11 - National Inventors' Day
12 - Darwin Day
mid-month - Great Backyard Bird Count (four days)
third week - National Engineers Week (includes Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day)

12 - National Agriculture Day
12 - Plant a Flower Day
14 - Pi Day
22 - World Water Day
23 - World Weather Day
on or near Spring Equinox - Sun-Earth Day
National Wildlife Week

12 - Yuri's Night (The World Space Party)
13 - International Plant Appreciation Day
22 - Earth Day
the week before Earth Day - National Environmental Education Week
second full week - National Robotics Week
Earth Month

4 - Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you!)

8 - National Rain Day (Australia)
12 - National Lab Day
22 - International Day of Biodiversity
23 - World Turtle Day
third Friday - Endangered Species Day
first full week - National Wildflower Week

5 - World Environment Day
6 - National Butterfly Awareness Day
8 - World Oceans Day
first Saturday - National Trails Day
National Pollinator Week

20 - Moon Day

fourth Sunday - World Kitchen Garden Day
National Water Quality Month

14 - Protect Your Groundwater Day
18 - International Observe the Moon Night
18 - World Water Monitoring Day
25 - Nature Rocks Day
26 - World Rivers Day (Canada)
third Saturday - World Tree Day
last Saturday of the month - National Public Lands Day
24-30 Take a Child Outside Week

10 - Powers of Ten Day

14 - No Child Left Inside Day (new!) (date varies, part of Earth Science Week)
15 - National Fossil Day (date varies, part of Earth Science Week)
17 - Geologic Map Day (date varies, part of Earth Science Week)
20 - World Statistics Day
23 - National Mole Day (celebrating Avogadro's number)
4 - 10 World Space Week
week containing the 10th day - National Metric Week
second full week - Earth Science Week
third full week - National Chemistry Week
Waste Reduction Week (Canada)

15 - America Recycles Day
30 - Computer Security Day


(No listings yet.)

[Last updated - 3/28/14: Added Star Wars Day and No Child Left Inside Day, corrected dates. 10/20/12 - Added Geologic Map Day.  1/29/11 - Added National Seed Swap Day; edited link for Sun-Earth Day. 10/4/10 - Added World Space Week. 9/17/10 - Added International Observe the Moon Night, National Metric Week. ]

Photo credit: SantaRosa OLD SKOOL via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I received this Email yesterday from Kendra Redmond, Program Coordinator of the Society of Physics Students at the American Institute of Physics:

Registration is open for fall Adopt-a-Physicist!

Adopt-a-Physicist connects high school physics students to real physics graduates who are eager to share their stories. Working in areas ranging from particle physics research to freelance writing, the participating physicists embody a huge range of careers, backgrounds, interests, and educational levels. Adopt-a-Physicist connects classes with the physicists of their choice through online discussion forums that are active for a set three-week period. Each physicist can only be "adopted" by up to three classes, making lively, in-depth discussions possible. Learn more at Adopt-a-Physicist.

Fall 2010 Schedule
*Teacher Registration: Now - September 28 (or until full)
*Physicist Registration: September 29 - October 4 (or until full)
*Teachers adopt physicists: October 5 - October 15
*Discussion forums open: October 19 - November 9

Years ago, when I worked at a state environmental agency, I participated in a program with a similar idea: Science-by-Mail. At that time, I was "adopted" by several classrooms of gradeschoolers. The kids worked through a specific set of problems and sent me their findings. I wrote back and tried to be encouraging and helpful. One year, they worked on pinhole cameras, which I remember distinctly because I knew next to nothing about the subject and had to hit the reference books. Another time, we discussed the science behind making gingerbread houses. It was a fun and worthwhile project. I'm sure that Adopt-a-Physicist will be a rich and rewarding experience for physicists and students alike.

Who knows? You could connect with the next
Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, or Albert Einstein!

Photo credit: Jeremy Banks, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

National Costume Swap Day

Cute Kids in Children's Costumes

My friends over at Green Halloween®, together with KIWI magazine, have come up with a new idea for greening the holidays: National Costume Swap Day! On October 9, grab a group of friends and trade Halloween costumes. It's that simple. Don't have friends with kids your age? Can't find folks who want to swap? Head over to Green Halloween and search for a swap in your area. Or, if no swap is listed, you can start one! Just register your event as a public swap.

But maybe swapping isn't for you or you don't have a costume to share. Never fear! Astrid Van Den Broek of Green Living Online suggests visiting free online classified sites such as craigslist, eBay Classifieds, or The Freecycle Network to search for your next costume.

Reusing costumes can also be fun. One year, I combined a Captain America costume with a Superman costume for Kerm. We re-worked the cape and attached some sticky letters to the back that read: Super Big Brother! I also put "SBB" over his Superman belt buckle. The costume was a hit! Since Princess was born, Little Brother has also been known to borrow the Super Big Brother cape.

Enjoy a Green Halloween this year!

Photo credit: epSos.de via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Saturday, September 11, 2010

World Water Monitoring Day - What's Your pH?

In honor of World Water Monitoring Day, which occurs on September 18, let's talk about pH:

A pH test lets you know if your water is acidic or basic. The scale runs from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very basic). Natural waters, according to the EPA, usually have a pH between 6.5 and 8.5. On this scale, 7 is the midpoint and it is considered neutral (neither basic nor acidic). Values at either end of this scale (like battery acid, with a pH of less than one, or lye, with a pH of greater than 12) are very hazardous to people.

Image credit: Environment Canada
(who had nothing to do with this blog post but kindly made this nice chart available for reprint)

pH can be measured in different ways, but test strips are commonly used because they are inexpensive and easy to read. You just dip the strip into the water and the strip will change colors. Then you compare the new strip color to a chart of different shades. The color that matches best is a rough guess of your pH. You can pick up pH test strips at your local pet supply store in the aquarium department.

What do the results mean? Let's say that you measured the pH in a stream in your neighborhood and it was below 6. This acidic water might be causing stress to aquatic life like algae and fish. The acids in water might be reacting with metals (copper, lead) in the sediments, causing these substances to enter the water column. Since natural water wouldn't usually have a pH that low*, you'd have a pretty good idea that the water was polluted. Maybe a chemical plant upstream was dumping their effluent - treated wastewater - into the stream and causing these changes. Reporting your findings to a local environmental monitoring agency could lead to finding and stopping the source of the pollution.

Although pH test strips are usually used to check the water in streams, ponds, or your own drinking water supplies, you can test any fluid or even moist solids, like soil. One day, when I was working in a laboratory at college, I stuck one into a can of soda. I remember that my drink had a pH of 3 and I wondered if I should be sticking something so acidic into my body on a regular basis. For reference, the pH of lemon juice is around 2 or 3. Can you imagine drinking a can of lemon juice?

Now, to be fair, lemon juice and soda aren't as close as they seem on the pH scale. The pH scale is logarithmic. With 7 as neutral, that means that a fluid with a pH of 6 would be a 10 times stronger acid than neutral, one with a pH of 5 would be 100 times stronger than neutral, and so on. This image gives a nice sense of the logarithmic nature of the values.

Note to my friends in Texas or New Mexico: In honor of World Water Monitoring Day, Chazimal National Memorial is providing free water testing kits for classes in your area. Each kit has 50 pH and oxygen tests. From their newsletter: to receive your free test kit, contact Chamizal staff at 915-532-7273 ext 130 or email cham_education (at) nps (dot)gov.

* Keep in mind that some areas have acidic water due to naturally occurring conditions - maybe the bedrock or soils near the stream are naturally acidic. If you want to monitor surface water in your area, it's always good to check with your local water quality monitoring groups. They can tell you what values are considered normal for where you live. Check EPA's Volunteer Monitoring page to find a group in your area.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Win big at the fair!

During the last school year, Kerm had to build a colonial ship and create a three-dimensional butterfly sculpture. What can you do with school projects once they've been graded and returned home? This year, we're going to enter them as a "model boat" and "miscellaneous model" in our local community fair.

I've written about county fairs and how they can be fun places to learn about science. But if visions of ribbons motivate you, competing at a fair can also be a great way for you to learn something new and share your knowledge with others. With categories like home-grown fruits and vegetables for green thumbs, collections of shells or rocks for budding naturalists, and educational exhibits tailored to your favorite topic, everyone can find something to fit their interests. You might even win a ribbon!

Photo credit: Benny Mazur, via flickr //CC BY 2.0