December 1, 2009

Rosa Parks Day

On this date in 1955, Rosa Parks was riding home from work on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, as usual—and bus driver James Blake asked her to give up her seat to a white male passenger. Sadly, that was usual, too, for the Montgomery bus system.

According to Wikipedia, the bus segregation rules were capricious as well as deeply unfair:
In Montgomery, the first four rows of bus seats were reserved for white people. Buses had "colored" sections for black people—who made up more than 75% of the bus system's riders—generally in the rear of the bus. These sections were not fixed in size but were determined by the placement of a movable sign. Black people also could sit in the middle rows, until the white section was full. Then they had to move to seats in the rear, stand, or, if there was no room, leave the bus. Black people were not allowed to sit across the aisle from white people. The driver also could move the "colored" section sign, or remove it altogether.
Rosa Parks was not sitting in the “white section” of the bus. Instead, she and three other black passengers happened to be in the first row of the "colored section" when the white section filled up. The bus driver directed the four to get up and move back. The other three complied, but Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. She was arrested, fingerprinted, and jailed by the police, and fined $14.

Rosa Parks was not the first black passenger to refuse to give up her seat. As a matter of fact, this was not the first time she herself had made such a refusal—twelve years earlier, she had refused to give up her seat to a white passenger and was forcibly ejected from the bus.* Several other women and girls had refused to give up their seats, including a 15 year old right there in Montgomery.

However, it was Parks' refusal and arrest in 1955 that led to the Montgomery bus boycott and brought national attention to the civil rights movement. That is why Congress called Rosa Parks “the Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement.”

Why her? Why this particular act?

Rosa Parks was the spark the lit the successful bus boycott and furthered the civil rights movement because she was the perfect person to become a symbol of the movement. Unlike that 15-year-old girl mentioned above, she was married, employed, and politically knowledgeable. She was quiet and dignified. She was the secretary of the Montgomery NAACP and was already involved with the civil rights movement, although she had acted that day just as an individual, with no plan in mind.

She was courageous.

Rosa Parks became a powerful symbol, in the U.S. and even internationally, for righteous resistance against racism and discrimination.

She said...
“People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Read and watch an interview with Rosa Parks here.

Draw faces inside the bus on this coloring page.

Listen to Rosa Parks at the History Channel website.

* Rosa Parks had also had a previous run-in with this particular driver, James Blake. One time when she entered the front of the bus and paid, he didn't want the white people sitting in the front to have to tolerate a black woman walking by them, so he told her to get off the bus and walk to the back entrance before she could sit down. Again, this was a pretty normal as well as completely unreasonable request. She started to obey but dropped her purse, and as she picked up her purse, she sat for a moment in one of the “white only” seats. Blake was furious and, after Parks got out of the bus, he didn't wait for her to get back on through the back entrance—he just sped off. That meant that Rosa Parks had to walk home—more than five miles, in the rain—even though she had paid the bus fare!

November 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain!

On this date in 1835, Samuel Clemens was b
orn. In his lifetime, writing under the pen name Mark Twain, Clemens became one of the best and most popular American writers in history. Mark Twain left school at age 11 because his father died; he needed to earn money and so became a printer. He continued his education on his own, reading books at nearby public libraries.

After a decade of work as a printer, Mark Twain earn
ed his steamboat pilot's license, which is hard to do—he studied 2,000 miles of the Mississippi for two years before he got the license. He was only able to be a pilot for two years because the Civil War broke out and cut down on steamboat travel/shipping.

What's Its Name?

Fill in the blanks below with consonants to spell out the names of some of Twain's most famous books:

1. ___ ___ E *** A ___ ___ E __
_ ___ U ___ E ___ *** O ___ ***

___ O ___ ***
___ A ___ ___ E ___

2. A ___ ___ E ___ ___ U ___ E ___ *** O ___ ***

___ U ___ ___ ___ E ___ E ___ ___ ___
*** ___ I ___ ___

3. ___ ___ E *** ___ ___ I ___ ___ E *** A ___ ___ *** ___ ___ E ***

___ A U ___ E ___



ANSWERS: 1.The Adventures of Tom Sawyer 2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 3.The Prince and the Pauper

Quotes from Twain

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
“Our Civil War was a blot on our history, but not as great a blot as the buying and selling of Negro souls.”
“Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.”

Celebrate Twain!

Read from
his books. The famed whitewash-fence scene from Tom Sawyer is a perennial favorite.

Watch a movie. Tom Sawyer and The Adv
entures of Huck Finn have both been made into movies (in 1973 and 1993, respectively). The Prince and the Pauper has been filmed in 1938 and, in a modernized version, 2007. The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944 and 1986) is another possibility.

Check out the materials on the PBS Mark Twain sites. The interactive scrapbook is pretty fun!
There are some lessons on writing, language, and humor at another PBS site.

November 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Christian Doppler

On this date in 1803, Christian Doppler was born in Salzburg, Austria. The son of a stone mason, Doppler became a mathematician and physicist. He is known for his explanation of the phenomenon called the Doppler effect.

When a tr
ain is approaching you and blowing its whistle, the whistle sounds higher-pitched than it does as it passes you and starts moving away. That's because of the Doppler effect.

Most of us have the opportunity to hear the Doppler effect in action when an emergency vehicle approaches and passes us—the siren seems higher as it nears us, then slides to a lower pitch as it passes and recedes.

Listen to the Doppler effect on a car horn here.

Why does the Doppler effect occur?

As an ambulance approaches us, emitting the siren at the same steady pitch (or frequency), the the ambulance's motion puts it closer to the sound wave that is traveling away from us. In other words, the sound waves bunch up in the direction that the ambulance is moving, and stretch out behind the ambulance. The bunched-up waves hit our ears more often, so the sound is higher. The stretched-out waves hit our ears at a lower frequenc
y and sound lower.

Some animations on this site shows how it works.

And this animation actually shows an ambulance and should be easier for young children to understand.

Note that the sound being emitted doesn't change in pitch—it just SEEMS to change to you, the listener, standing still by the road. If you were IN the ambulance, the sound would be steady and unchanging. If both you and the ambulance were still, the siren would again sound like a st
eady pitch.

The Kettering University website also has (lower down on the webpage
) an animation to explain a sonic boom. A sonic boom is made when a plane travels faster than sound—the plane passes us before the sound reaches us, and all the bunched-up sound waves sound like a single thump. (Well, okay, a double thump, one for the nose and one for the tail of the plane. Usually the two thumps are so close together, most people hear them as one.)

Here is another Doppler-effect animation—and this time, YOU control the direction and speed of the movement. Try moving it slowly at first to see the waves bunch up and stretch out. Then try moving it quickly to see what happens when a plane moves faster than sound.

And here is a YouTube video about sonic booms. Did you know that y
ou can SEE as well as HEAR a plane break the sound barrier?

The Doppler Effect in Astronomy

Christian Doppler first explained the phenomenon of the Doppler effect, not for sound, but for light waves. He had been studying binary stars; as they circle each other, each star seems to approach us slightly and then recede again, rhythmically. We see the approaching and receding motions as shifts in the star's spectrum; as a star comes closer, its light is blue-shifted, and as it recedes from us, it's red-shifted.

The Doppler effect is one tool we use to find out about the structure, history, and future of the universe—including the facts that there was a Big Bang and that, billions of years from now, the Andromeda galaxy will collide with our Milky Way galaxy!

November 28, 2009

Magellan reaches (and names!) the Pacific Ocean (1520)

In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, launched an expedition that ended up being the first to sail around the world. Although he himself was killed before the expedition returned to Spain in 1522 and 1525 (in two different ships), Magellan had in an earlier voyage sailed eastward from Europe as far as the Malay Peninsula; between the two voyages, he could be said to have sailed all around the world.

On this date in 1520, Magellan's was the first European e
xpedition to reach the Pacific Ocean through straits at the southern tip of South America. Magellan named the Pacific Ocean “peaceful” because, when he first entered the waters from the treacherous straits, the ocean seemed still and calm. Magellan also lived long enough to be credited with leading the first European expedition to cross the Pacific. He died in the Philippines in 1521.

So...What's a “strait”?

A strait is a narrow channel of water that connects two larger bodies
of water. Note that the entire idea of a strait is that ships can navigate through it, so a really shallow bit of water between two land masses would not be called a strait. Magellan did not, of course, have a map of much of the area he explored. When he carefully sailed through the Strait of Magellan—a journey that took almost a month—he was looking for a safe passage through unknown waters.

This map was created by Battista Agnese
in 1544, probably based on the descriptions and maps made by survivors of Magellan's expedition. Notice that there is no clear indication of where the land masses end—because the explorers didn't know. Were the cliffs and lands they saw parts of continents, peninsulas, islands?

This moder
n map shows the reality of the situation. We are lucky enough to have explored the world pretty thoroughly, not just by land and sea, but also by air. We even have satellite images!

More maps: Looking at old maps of the Strait of Magellan, we can see a progression of knowledge gained from further exploration.

these famous straits to their descriptions:

1. Strait of Gibraltar

2. Bering Strait

3. Dire Straits
A. between Alaska and Siberia, connecting the Arctic and Pacific Oceans
B. between Spain and Africa, connecting the Atlantic and the Mediterranean
C. British rock band between stadium rock and punk rock, connecting the 70s to the 90s

ANSWERS: 1.B 2.A 3.C


All through history, names of things and creatures and places and even people change, which makes names very tricky things. One reason for this trickiness is that there are a lot of different languages in the world, so different peoples have different names for the same food, say, or animal.

Or ocean! We can be downright certain, when we hear that Ferdinand Magellan named the Pacific Ocean in 1520, that many, many other names for the same ocean existed, and continue to exist, in the many different native cultures and languages of the world. For example, Japanese used to call the Pacific Ocean Tokai, which means “East Sea” (because the Pacific borders the eastern coast of Japan, of course), and the Maori natives of New Zealand called it Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, or “the great sea of Kiwa.”

Magellan's name is attached to the strait that he used to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but he himself gave it another name: All Saint's Straits. This name commemorated the fact that the expedition entered the strait on November 1, All Saints' Day.

Magellan's name is also given to a kind of penguin (the Magellanic Penguin) that lives in South America and to two small, irregular galaxies (the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds) that can be seen from the Southern Hemisphere. More recently, the Magellan probe mapped the planet Venus in the 1990s, and there is a GPS unit named Magellan.

Finally, we know Magellan (and honor him by naming things) by the English version of his name rather than his actual name. He was born Fernão de Magalhães, in Portugal, and when he renounced Portugal and became a Spaniard, he became Hernando de Magallanes.

November 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Anders Celsius

Born on this date in 1701, Celsius was a
Swedish astronomer who ended up immortalized because of the temperature scale he proposed. He made great efforts to very accurately measure the temperature of freezing water and of boiling water. He called the temperature at which water freezes 100, and the temperature at which it boils 0, and he then divided this amount into 100 small, equal steps (or “centigrade,” which is what he called his scale). He presented his scale to other scientists; for years, his thermometer was called the Swedish thermometer, although some used Celsius's term, centigrade. Now, of course, this scale is used worldwide in science and in many countries for all temperature measurements—and it is named after Celsius.

Did you catch what I said in the first paragraph?-- Celsius's system went from a low of 100
to a high of 0 !!!—so, when the temperature got hotter, it was going down! This was so counter-intuitive that, almost as soon as Celsius died at age 43, scientists reversed his scale. Now 0 degrees Celsius is the temperature at which water freezes, and 100 degrees Celsius is the boiling point.

Ahhh...much better!

(Of course, temperatures do get colder than 0 degrees C. (we use negative numbers for these measurements), and temperatures do get hotter than 100 degrees C., too.)
  • Here is a simple algorithm to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius or vice versa:
First, whether your original temperature is Celsius or Fahrenheit, add 40.

Second, if you started with Fahrenheit, multiply by .55555 (a decimal point followed by 5 fives). If you started with Celsius, multiply by 1.8.

Third, subtract 40.
(1) Start with 32 degrees F. Add 40. You will get 72.
(2) Multiply by .55555. You will get 39.9996. Round up to 40.

(3) Subtract 40. You get 0 degrees C. – which is correct.

A Celsius/Fahrenheit converter can be found here.

Activities and games about weather can be found here.

November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day (U.S. , Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands)

In 1863...Thanksgiving Day became a regular observance.

  • George Washington declared a day of Thanksgiving in 1777 (in December), 1789 (it happened to be on this date, November 26!), and 1795 (in February).
  • John Adams declared days of fasting and prayer (not actually called Thanksgiving) in 1798 and 1799.
  • Thomas Jefferson didn't make any Thanksgiving proclamations.
  • James Madison declared a Thanksgiving in 1814 (January), and TWO days of Thanksgiving in 1815 (neither during the fall harvest—one was in April).
Various U.S. governors proclaimed various days as Thanksgiving Day, as well—but the holiday wasn't the regular, annual observance it is today until Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November, 1863, as Thanksgiving Day. The holiday has been celebrated every year since then.

And, in other places...

ation Day in Mongolia

This commemorates the 1924 declaration of the Mongolian People's Republic.
This photo shows a yurt on the steppes of Mongolia.

Do this puzzle in order to learn more about Mongolia:

1. A famous emperor of Mongolia was named ______ Khan.

6. One of the arm bones is named ______.

7. Mongolia lies between
Russia and ______.
9. A close relative of the frog is the ______.

10. The grassland plains in Mongolia are called ______.

12. We say that someone who is very funny has a sharp ______.

13. A place to keep and exhibit animals is a ______.

14. An important animal in Mongolia, for milk and hauling and riding.

16. Mongolia is the ______ crowded country on earth.

17. ______ riding is so important to Mongolians that this animal is pictured on the nation's coat of arms.

1. The largest desert in Mongolia is the ______.

2. Opposite of “meanest” is ______.

3. A bit of water that is connected to an ocean is called a ______.

4. Traditional tent-like homes in Mongolia are called ______.

5. This is a term we use to describe Mongolia because it does not border on any ocean.

8. Frozen water is called ______.

11. A traditional Thanksgiving dessert is pumpkin ______.

12. Chinese emperors built the Great ______ to protect their empire from the Mongols.

13. A striped animal that lives in Africa is the ______.

15. A lot of Hollywood types ______ for a living.

ANSWERS: Across -- 1. GENGHIS 6. ULNA 7. CHINA 9. TOAD 10. STEPPES 12. WIT 13. ZOO 14. CAMEL 16. LEAST 17. HORSE Down -- 1. GOBI 2. NICEST 3. SEA 4. YURTS 5. LANDLOCKED 8. ICE 11. PIE 13. ZEBRA 15. ACT

November 25, 2009

Independence Day in Suriname

On this date in 1975, Suriname became a fully independent country.

Random Interesting Facts

  • Suriname is the smallest independent nation in South America, but it is more than four times larger than the country that ruled it for centuries, the Netherlands.
Although Suriname is much bigger in area than its colonial ruler, its population is much smaller. The Netherlands has a population of about 16 million people, and Suriname has fewer than half a million people.
1. If Suriname has an area of 163,821 square kilometers and 472,000 people...
and the Netherlands
has an area of 41,526 square km and 16,558,674 people...
what is the population density of each nation?
  • Suriname is one of the few places in the world that has a (Muslim) mosque and a (Jewish) synagogue next to each other. This is in the capital city of Parmaribo, and the mosque and synagogue often shares a parking lot that lies between them.
2. What is another place in the world that has a mosque next to a synagogue?
a. Australia
b. Bulgaria

c. France

  • According to Wikipedia, about a quarter of the population lives on about $2 (U.S. dollars) a day.
3. How much does it cost to survive in most cities in the U.S.?
  • Suriname lacks a true national culture but instead is very ethnically diverse. The capital, Paramaribo, has a mixture that includes Caribbean natives, black people descended from former slaves, Dutch and English people descended from former colonizers, and Indonesian people. (Indonesia was also once a Dutch colony.)
4. Which of these languages is Suriname's official language?
a. English
b. Arawakan
c. Hindi
d. Dutch
  • Galibi Nature Reserve is famous for its sea turtles, which come to shore to nest in the springtime.
5. Sand temperature of the beaches where sea turtle eggs are laid determine...
a. the sex of the
developing turtles
b. the number of eggs laid

c. the number of eggs that hatch

  • Maroon cultures have been created by runaway slaves in many parts of the Americas, including Suriname. One language spoken by Maroons in Suriname, Saramaccan, is a creole language--that is, a mixture of two or more languages.
6. What languages does Saramaccan combine with Dutch?
a. English
b. Portuguese
c. African, such as Akan
d. all of the above

ANSWERS: 1. Suriname's density is about 3 people per square kilometer (almost 8 people per square mile), and the Netherlands' density is about 400 people per square kilometer (more than 1,000people per square mile)! 2. (b) Bulgaria 3. It costs about $100 a day to survive in many places in the U.S. 4. (d) Dutch 5. (a) the sex of the developing turtles 6. (d) all of the above

Learn about sea turtles here.

Play a map game about the Americas.

Print free outline maps.

November 24, 2009

150th Birthday of The Origin of Species!

This has been the year of Charles Darwin, British naturalist and author of The Origin, because this year marks his bicentennial birthday as well as the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of his most famous book.

On this date in 1859, the first printing of The Origin of Species went on sale. Priced at 15 shillings each, the 1,250 copies immediately sold out, and 3,000 more copies were quickly ordered. According to the Word Wench's blog, “Swordplay,” “British conservatives were shocked: this heretical pop science book was being read in the drawing room, in the high street!”

Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection is a primary foundation of biology. According to Wikipedia, “Darwin's book introduced the theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. It presented a body of evidence that the diversity of life arose through a branching patt
ern of evolution and common descent.” Natural selection, which offers the explanatory power of Darwin's theory, states that, of those traits that can be inherited, the traits that make it more likely that a creature will live longer and reproduce more successfully tend to become more common in populations over subsequent generations.

In simpler terms, lifeforms change over time. Traits of creatures that succeed in having lots of babies are, of course, the traits that are passed down to those babies.

Darwin's book was meant for the general public as well as for other scientists. Darwin was a very good writer and tried hard to be understood. The end of The Origin has been quoted often this year, for good reason:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
  • The Tree of Life web project aims to “contain a page with pictures, text, and other information for every species and for each group of organisms, living or extinct.” It is being compiled from experts and amateurs. Browse around—there are dinosaurs and jellyfish and all manner of other creatures here!
A simpler website with a browse-able “tree of life” can be found here.
  • .There are lots of other sorts of activities here.

November 23, 2009

Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan
Today is Kinro kansha no hi, a day for honoring labor and production, and a day to give other people thanks.

This is a new, modern version of an old holiday commemorating the rice harvest—giving thanks for the harvest and acknowledging all the hard work that went into the crop. The new Labor Thanksgiving Day also emphasizes considering the environment, human rights, and peace. Children sometimes give drawings and gifts to kobans, or police stations.

Learn about Japan. At this website, you can see Japan through young eyes. And here is a way to take a sort of virtual tour of Japan.

Enjoy rice. Japanese recipes can be found here.

Props for
cops. Take the time to thank police officers, fire fighters, and other people in your community who provide services. For example, you could make a nice thank you card and drop it off at the police or fire station.

Give thanks
. Focus on noticing little things that people do for each other. Use the Japanese word for “thank you,” which is arigato. (A more formal “thank you,” which might be used when someone gives you a gift, is domo arigato. And a very informal “thanks” is domo.)

Match these other words for “thank you” to the languages they represent:
1.merci A. Arabic

2.danke B. Navajo

3.shukran C. Spanish

4.grazie D. Italian
5.aahehee E. French

6.spasibo F. German

7.gracias G. Russian

ANSWERS: 1-E 2-F 3-A 4-D 5-B 6-G 7-C

November 22, 2009

Independence Day in Lebanon

On this date in 1943, France accepted the independence of Lebanon; before that, Lebanon had been under the control of France for about 20 years, and the Ottoman Empire about 400 years before that. Even earlier, the region had been taken over by a number of other forces and empires, including the Crusaders; the Arab, Roman and Persian empires; even Alexander the Great. Unfortunately, since 1943 the country of Lebanon has continued to experience periods of war, including civil war, between outbreaks of peace.

A long, long time ago, the ancestors of the Lebanese were powerful because of their sailing knowledge and experience. These people, known as the Phoenicians, established a trading empire and colonies all around the Mediterranean Sea.

One thing that the Phoenicians spread around the area was their alphabet, which evolved into the Arabic, Hebrew, Brahmi (used in parts of India and elsewhere), and Greek alphabets and eventually to the Roman (Latin) alphabet that much of the world uses today.
Like the Arabic, Hebrew, and Brahmi alphabets, the Phoenician alphabet had no vowels; Greek and Roman alphabets do.

This comp
arison chart shows some of the alphabets that came from the Phoenician system. They are (left to right) Roman (or Latin), Greek, Pheonician, Hebrew, and Arabic.

You can see this chart in a larger size here. Maybe you can use the Pheonician alphabet as a secret code!

Did you know...?
  • The word alphabet comes from the first two letters in the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta. Those letters, in turn, come from the first two letters in the Phoenician alphabet, aleph and beth.
  • A map and pictures of ancient Phoenicia can be found here.

November 21, 2009

World Television Day In 1996, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed November 21 to be World Television Day to “encourage global exchanges of television programmes focusing on peace, security, economic and social development and the enhancement of cultural exchange.”
Source: UNESCO

Use this opportunity to discuss or even debate the issues surrounding TV.
  • Does it offer relaxing entertainment, or make us into couch potatoes?
  • Is it educational, or brain-deadening?
  • Is it a powerful way to communicate news globally, or easily manipulated into a propaganda machine?
  • Is it a way to build understanding and empathy for far-flung cultures, or a source of temptation and a showcase of immorality?
If you answered “Yes” to all of the above, of course you're right, because television is a tool that can be used and abused every which way. Different families will take different nuanced views about the role of TV in their lives, and will choose to have one, two, many, or no TV sets in their homes; in many areas, people also choose between cable or satellite TV, are able to watch TV shows for free on on their computers, and can use TiVo or other digital video recorders. Other, competing technologies such as YouTube and the internet in general, NetFlix and other DVD-delivery systems with huge catalogs of entertainment and educational discs, broadcast and satellite radio, and all the print media keep the world more or less informed and entertained.

Did you know...?

  • Amateur or ham TV were on the air in many cities before commercial stations were.
  • TV partly works because our brains are able to “see” a group of dots as a picture. There is a nice illustrated explanation of this here.
Some artists count on our ability to mentally assemble dots into meaningful images, because they make pictures out of dots. One artist who does this is Chuck Close. Check out his work here. (Be sure to watch the website at least a few moments—the artwork sample will show closer and closer up, or further and further away. Then the display changes to a new art piece for the same close-up/far-away treatment.)
  • TV also works because our brains are able to combine lots of still pictures into motion pictures—the same brain feature that allows us to enjoy and make sense of animation and movies. You can make and share animations here.

November 20, 2009

Countdown to turkey! (U.S. meat-eaters)
AND Happy “Happy Inventions” Day

First, the inventions. Two fun things got US patents on the same day—November 20, 1866. One was the rotary-crank bicycle (patented by Pierre Lallemont of Paris, France), and the other was the yo-yo (James L. Haven and Charles Hittrick of Cincinnati, Ohio).

They weren't patented under these familiar names, however. Instead, they were patented under the names velocipede (the name bicycle was also invented in the 1860s) and bandelore (yo-yo was a Filipino term, probably from the Ilokano and Tagalog languages, and was brought to the U.S. by Filipino-American Pedro Flores in 1928).

By the way, that doesn't mean that bikes and yo-yos were entirely invented for the first time on that day in 1866. Bicycles had been invented and reinvented and improved upon since at least 1817—and of course continue to be improved upon today. And yo-yos have been around since at least 500 B.C.!

Now let's talk turkey. In about a week many families in U.S. and its territories will be celebrating Thanksgiving, many by eating traditional meal of roasted, stuffed turkey (or deep-fried turkey, turducken, or some other turkey-based meal). Here's a few turkey activities to get you ready:

Create a pine-cone turkey. Use a twist of paper or a sewn, stuffed bit of cloth to make a head; attach the head to a pine cone “body.” Or draw a turkey head on paper, and glue the “chips” or “petals” of a pine cone in fan shapes behind to make the body and tail.

How's your turkey talk? Fill in the letters to spell out these turkey terms:
      1. a male turkey T ___ ___
      2. a female turkey H ___ ___
      3. a young turkey P ___ ___ L ___
      4. a turkey's “speech” G ___ ___ ___ ___ E
      5. a turkey's covering F ___ ___ T ___ ___ ___ ___
      6. a turkey's neck skin W ___ ___ ___ L ___
      7. a turkey's foot C ___ ___ ___
      8. where they're born H ___ ___ C ___ ___ ___ Y
      9. where they're raised F ___ ___ M
      10. a group of turkeys F ___ ___ C ___


November 19, 2009

Discovery Day in Puerto Rico and
Garifuna Settlement Day in Belize

When Christopher Columbus sailed westward for Spain and discovered the islands and lands of Latin America, he set into motion a chain of events that would drastically change the world. On this day are two Latin American holidays that are celebrated with food, dance, and parades, but which commemorate historical realities both good and bad.

Discovery Day:
In 1493, on Columbus' second voyage to the New World, he landed on a beautiful island he named “San Juan Bautista “(Saint John the Baptist). Later the Spaniards, with the help of the native Taino Indians, found gold in the rivers of San Juan and dubbed a particular bay “Puerto Rico,” or “Rich Port.” Years later, the two names switched, and we call the entire island Puerto Rico and the city by the bay San Juan. (The original Taino name for the island was Borikén. It is still often called that Puerto Ricans, although they have made the name more Spanish: Borinquen. Names are complex, slippery things, aren't they?)

How did the Spaniards reward the Taino for their help in finding gold? Perhaps you have already guessed that they enslaved the peaceful, friendly natives. That's a pretty bad reality.

Still, modern Puerto Rico celebrates Discovery Day. There are five little towns that claim to be the spot on which Columbus first landed, but since nobody knows for sure, everybody participates in the festivities. Businesses are closed, there are parades with floats, speeches, food and dancing, and even a reenactment in which children dressed as Indians greet a man dressed as Columbus as he steps from a boat modeled after the old-time Spanish boats.

Garifuna Settlement Day:

Many years after Columbus' “discovery,” British and Spaniards had colonized the Carribean and Central America and had brought many African slaves to work on sugar plantations and other locales. Two slave ships were shipwrecked near the island of St. Vincent, and the African slaves who escaped the ship and swam to the island were welcomed by the Carib Indians who lived there. The intermarriage between the two people created the Garifuna people, who spoke the Carib language but had African musical and religious traditions.

In 1795, the Garifuna rebelled against the British and were punished by being taken to a more desolate island, Roatan, off the coast of Honduras. According to legend, the Garifuna hid cassava, an important food source, as they were exiled to Roatan, and they and the cassava plants survived and flourished on the island. In 1832, the Garifuna traveled by boat to Dangriga, in what is now Belize, where they settled. Garifuna Settlement Day has been celebrated since 1941.

The festival is celebrated all over Belize, but especially in Dagriga. There is traditional Garifuna and Belizean food, including fish, chicken, pork, coconuts, corn, and manioc or cassava. There are also games and shopping for original art, palm crafts, handmade dolls, and calabash maracas and drums. There is live punta music and Jonkunu dancing. Finally, like Discovery Day in Puerto Rico, there is also a reenactment of “The Landing”: locals on boats ride the surf onto shore, waving palm fronds and banana leaves.

Try these activities:

  • Print an outline map of Central America and the Caribbean islands. Use an atlas or globe to find and label Belize, Puerto Rico, and other nations.
  • Puerto Rico is a self-governing unincorporated territory of the U.S. Take an electronic field trip to “America's rainforest” (the Caribbean National Forest in Puerto Rico).
  • Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world. Watch a short video on this reef.

November 18, 2009

Celebrations in Uzbekistan, Morocco, Latvia, Oman, Haiti, and the Wonderful World of Disney!

Flag Day – Uzbekistan
– This country is doubly landlocked.
What does that mean? Well, a landlocked country is one that does not border on any ocean or non-landlocked sea. A doubly landlocked country is a landlocked country that is bordered only by other landlocked nations. In other words, those in a doubly landlocked country must pass two national borders before they reach a coast...There is only one other doubly landlocked country in the world. What is it? (Answer at the bottom of the posting.)

Independence Day – Morocco – This African country was the first nation to recognize the United States as an independent nation, in 1777. The leader of Morocco declared that all American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate; this is the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty.

National Day – Latvia – This Baltic country in Northeastern Europe has a rich traditional folklore with folk songs that date back over a thousand years. More than 1.2 million texts and 30,000 melodies of folk songs (dainas) have been identified. Some of the songs have to do with Latvian mythology and The Godskeepers (Dievturi) religion. Latvians dainas often feature a droning singing style and zithers.

National Day – Oman – This Arab country is home to Wattayah, which is a Stone Age settlement around 10,000 years old. Scientists discovered stone tools, animal bones, shells, and fire hearths at this site.

Vertieres' Day – Haiti – This day commemorates the last large battle of the Haitian Revolution (or War of Independence) against French troops, in 1803. Haiti is the first Latin American country to become independent, and it is the only nation on earth to win its independence in a slave rebellion. It's also one of only two independent nations in the Americas that has French as one of its official languages. What's the other country?

Mickey Mouse's Birthday – The Wonderful World of Disney – Born in 1928, Mickey Mouse is 81 years old today! (His first cartoon with synchronized sound, Steamboat Willie, was released on 11/18/28.) Mickey was almost named “Mortimer,” but Walt Disney's wife suggested “Mickey.”

Celebrate today by...

  • Finding Uzbekistan, Morocco, Latvia, Oman, and Haiti on the globe.
  • Making a Mickey Mouse cake. (Split one of the two layers of a round cake in half, and arrange as ears above the the uncut circle / head.)
  • For teens and adults, watch the movie Casablanca (Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco) and listen to “The Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills and Nash (Marrakesh is the third largest city in Morocco). (By the way, the lyrics to the song mention djellabas, which are traditional Moroccan hooded robes.
  • Aside from Antarctica (which has no countries) and Australia (which is a single country), there is only one continent that does not have any landlocked nations. Which continent?...Try to find at least one landlocked nation in each of the other four continents. (Suggested answers at bottom of post.)
  • Enjoy folk songs. Some can be heard here.

Liechtenstein in Central Europe is the other doubly landlocked nation.

Canada is the only other country in the Americas that has French as one of its official languages.

North America has no landlocked countries.

Bolivia and Paraguay, both in South America, are landlocked.

Nepal, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Laos, and Mongolia, all in Asia, are landlocked.

Central African Republic, Chad, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Ethiopia, all in Africa, are landlocked.

Switzerland, Luxembourg, Andorra, the Czech Republic, Armenia, Belarus, and Hungary, all in Europe, are landlocked.

Other countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe are landlocked as well as those listed; as of 2008, there were 44 landlocked nations in the world.