March 1, 2010

Happy Birthday, Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the world. Established on this date in 1872, it features a beautiful lake, forests, a “Grand” canyon, waterfalls, exciting wildlife such as bison and bears, and lots and lots of fascinating thermal activity. There are rainbow-colored hot springs, steaming rivers and lakes, mud volcanoes, several thousand steam vents, and from 300 to 500 geysers— more than half of all the geysers in the world! 

Yellowstone is mostly in the state of Wyoming, but parts spill over into Idaho and Montana. It is well worth even a long trek to see it! Yellowstone Caldera is the largest supervolcano in North America and one of the largest in the world. A caldera is a large crater formed by a volcanic explosion or by the collapse of a volcanic cone. Most people think of a volcano as a mountain that sometimes blows its top; Mount Saint Helens in Washingon with its 2-square-mile crater is a good example of that “typical” volcano. Yellowstone Caldera, which hasn't had a major eruption for hundreds of thousands of years, is a giant depression—but it, too, can be defined as a crater—all 1,500 square miles of it! According to the U.S. National Park Service, fully half of the world's geothermal features (such as mud pots and geysers) are in Yellowstone. With 10,000 different features, no website can possibly show them all, but Terra Galleria has a lot of beautiful images. (After enjoying the thumbnails, and perhaps clicking your favorites to see a larger version, be sure to explore all the pages, especially the “large format photos” and “panoramic photos” pages!) There are several so-called virtual tours of Yellowstone on the internet. Mountain Visions' virtual tours have 360-degree views and sound. The National Park's website has an informative slide-show type “virtual tour” of one of the geyser basins. Watch geysers erupt on Yellowstone's webcams. Make a “geyser” at home! has an activity with soda and Mentos. Be sure to point out to your kids that what is going on in this activity is in no way related to actual geysers, which are created by hot water under pressure! (Also, the article says that diet soda works better than sugary soda; I wanted to add that diet soda is also FAR less sticky than “regular”!) Watch an animation about geysers. More than just geysers! Other features at Yellowstone include hot springs and fumaroles. A fumarole is a hole from which steam and other (sometimes stinky) gases escape. At the Home Science Tools website, there are experiments to find out more about hot springs and fumaroles. BE SURE to read the entire instructions and follow those instructions carefully WITH AN ADULT! (Scroll down around halfway down the page to see the instructions.)

February 28, 2010

Andalusia Day (Dia de Andalucia) – Spain

This regional holiday celebrates the day in 1980 when Andalusia became an “autonomous community” of Spain. This is a political division rather like a U.S. state, but with more power to make decisions and spend money. Spain is more decentralized than the United States, which means that there is less power at the center (the national government) and more power in the various autonomous communities.

On this day, Andalusians fly their green-and-white flag, put up green-and-white bunting, and hold cultural competitions.

Andalusia is
in the south of Spain. It is the most populous and the second largest of the 17 autonomous communities. Andalusia is the home of flamenco dancing, bullfighting, the painter Pablo Picasso, and (of course) the Andalusian horse. When Christopher Columbus sailed away from Spain on the fateful journey that would result in Europe's discovery of a “New World,” he sailed from a town in Andalusia.

The Gateway

Part of Andalusia is a really important part of the globe, for it is the closest part of Europe to Afric
a, separated by only 7 miles of water. This narrow gap between two continents is called the Strait of Gibralter, and it is the gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. That is one reason why Andalusia has been the location of war and conquest—not only have people wanted to control this area, but some people have entered Europe from Africa there (or vice versa). As a matter of fact, scholars think that Andalusia may be the first place in Europe that was ever settled by humans, since the origin of humanity was Africa.

Here are just some of the empires who have ruled Andalusia. See if you can match the picture to the name:

1.the Moors, or Muslims from North Africa

2.the Roman Empire

3.the Byzantine Empire

4.Carthage, including
the famous military commander Hannibal

5.Castille and the worldwide Spanish empire

2.B 3.C 4.A 5.E

Paint like Picasso

Picasso is the first name many people think of when discussing modern art. Born in Malaga, Andalusia, Spain, Picasso drew and painted in many different styles.

Take a look through Olga's Gallery (scroll down, and click any picture that you want to see in a larger format), being sure to go to Picasso's later pictures, (such as the last batch, 216-260).

Mr. Picasso Head is a create-a-cubist-face website. You choose the face and features, the color, and so forth. Pretty cool!

Now try to do your own original Picasso-esque portrait.

More on the Moors

Moorish architecture and decorations have a lot of symmetry—that is, they are the same on both sides of a dividing line (reflective symmetry), or the same if you turn the shape around a central point (rotational symmetry). An example of the latter is shown here, left.

Here are some examples of the symmetry found in Moorish tiles.

Hop's page has some very bright, very cool tessellations taken from Arabic tiles. (Tesselations are when shapes are put together side-by-side so that they fill up a space.)

Now use this computer program to make your own tessellations. I chose "Click here to start Taprats" (under "The Applets" heading), then just fiddled around, trying things out, clicking everywhere. It was fun!

Also on this day...

Happy Not-Leap-Day

This is the day on which most people who were born on February 29 celebrate their birthdays all those years that there isn't a February 29! (Ditto anniversaries and commemorations and memorials.)

February 27, 2010

Science Celebrations Today! On this date in 1813, President James Madison signed into law a Congressional “Act to Encourage Vaccination.” On January 21, we commemorated the introduction of the smallpox vaccine and mentioned that Edward Jenner, whose work led to the eradication of smallpox, is credited by some experts with saving more lives than anyone else in history. Well, today we celebrate government support of vaccinations (and other preventative health care measures that really work!). This act was the first U.S. program in the young nation's history to improve the health of the general populace. It not only “encouraged” people to get vaccinated against the dreaded disease, it established a safe, uncontaminated supply of vaccine, subsidized distribution of the vaccine, and appointed a National Vaccine Agent. Virtual Vaccination! Someone in charge of the Preteen Vaccine Week of 2008 created a Microsoft Word document that details an interesting simulation activity about vaccines. There are a few aspects that are a bit cheesy, but the discussions and decisions suggested here seem very valuable. Since it's a document, I couldn't seem to link directly to it...but you can download the document by choosing the first item in this Google search.
On this date in 1932, Dr. James Chadwick discovered the neutron. This is the particle in the nucleus (center) of atoms that is similar in size (mass) to the positively-charged proton, but that has no electrical charge. (Chadwick named it neutron because something with no charge is “neutral.” In the diagram here, the neutrons are green.) His discovery was no accident, no surprise. Chadwick reviewed others' work and thought there must be a particle as large as a proton but electrically neutral, and he ran experiments specifically designed to detect it. Chadwick won a Nobel Prize for his discovery. Charge up with Math! A proton is made up of 2 Up quarks and 1 Down quark. A neutron is made up of 2 Down quarks and 1 Up quark. An Up quark has a 2/3 positive charge. A Down quark has a 1/3 negative charge. Can you come up with equations that shows how much charge a proton has, and that shows why a neutron has no charge? Learn more about atoms at the Jefferson Lab website. Older kids might enjoy a more detailed look provided by Particle Adventure.
On this date in 1940, Martin Kamen and Sam Ruben discovered carbon-14. A carbon-14 atom is a rare variation (or isotope) of carbon that has two more neutrons than the usual carbon atom. It basically behaves like normal carbon but is a little bit heavier. It's also radioactive, and it slowly decays, changing into nitrogen-14. There is always a tiny amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere, along with a whole lot of normal carbon, in a gas called carbon dioxide. As long as plants are alive, they take in carbon (a tiny amount of carbon-14 and a whole lot of normal carbon) and use it to make leaves and fruits and seeds and roots. Animals, including people, eat plants or the animals that eat the plants and get carbon in their bodies, too (a tiny amount of carbon-14 along with a whole lot of normal carbon). This means that, as long as plants and animals are alive, they have in their bodies carbon-14 in about the same proportion to normal carbon as every other creature. But when a plant or animal dies, the proportion changes. Remember, carbon-14 slowly changes into nitrogen-14. A dead animals isn't breathing or eating, so it doesn't get any more carbon-14, and the carbon-14 that is already in its body starts to break down, or decay. Measuring the amount of carbon-14 that is still left is key to using carbon-14 to figure out about how long ago organisms died. See the diagram at “How Stuff Works” for a more detailed explanation. Notice that carbon-14 dating only works to figure out dates of biological things like bones, wood, fabric—things that were once living or that were made from once-living things. Also, carbon-14 dating only works to figure out ages of items that are 50 thousand years old or younger. That means it's useful to figure out how old early cave-dwelling human remains are, but it cannot be used to test anything dinosaur-related, since dinos died out about 65 million years ago! Carbon Dating...Simplified This lesson plan uses fun things like gummy bears and popcorn to explore concepts such as half-life and the process of carbon dating. It's written for an entire classroom but could be modified to work with individual students, too. It's high-level stuff but designed to be accessible to Grades 3 to 6.

February 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Levi Strauss AND Buffalo Bill Cody!

The West (and the world) would never be the same again!

On this date in 1829, Levi Strauss was born in Bavaria, Germany. (His first name was Löb back then.) At age 18, this German-Jewish fellow came to America with his mother and sisters. They arrived in New York, where his brothers had earlier immigrated and opened a successful wholesale dry goods store. (Dry goods are fabric and clothing and other non-perishable items such as combs, purses, and bedding.)

A couple of years later, gold was discovered in California, so Strauss went by steamship to the isthmus of Panama, crossed the jungle t
o the Pacific side, and caught another steamship to San Francisco. There he opened a west coast branch of the dry goods store.

According to Mary Bellis's “The History of Blue Jeans,” a miner asked Strauss what he had to sell. One thing S
trauss offered was canvas for tents and wagon covers. The prospector said, “You should have brought pants!” He told Strauss that he couldn't find any work pants that held up to rough conditions.

So Strauss began to make the canvas into pants. They held up great, but they rubbed and chafed. So Strauss imported some fabric from Nimes, France, to make more comfortable—but still sturdy—pants.

A Reno, N
evada, tailor named Jacob Davis (born Jacob Youphes, an immigrant from Latvia) did a lot of repairs on work pants. He did so many repairs in the same spots on the work pants, he got the idea of using copper rivets to strengthen pockets and other easily-torn places. He asked Levi Strauss to help him take out a patent and manufacture the riveted pants—and soon double-stitched, riveted denim work pants were being manufactured by Levi Strauss & Co.

Of course, those pants were Levi's blue jeans!

Why are they called “jeans”?

Jeans are made out denim, as we just
mentioned. This sturdy fabric was invented in two different places in the world (independently of each other). The first place was the French town of Nimes; we probably got the word denim from the name of the cloth: serge de Nimes. The second place was in India, where the sailors of Dhunga wore them; we get the word dungarees from that.

A similar sturdy cloth was called jean. This cloth was made in what is now Italy and was sold through the harbor of Genoa. The French referred to the fabric as bleu de Genes (“blue of Genoa”). So the word jeans comes from the French name (Genes) for Genoa, Italy! Who knew?

(Actually, Levi Strauss & Co. didn't originally call their denim pants jeans. Instead, they called them waist overalls. It wasn't until the 1960s and the baby-boomer generation that these popular pants were commonly called jeans.)

  • Jeans are traditionally dyed blue using indigo dye. About 20 million tons of indigo are produced each year just to dye jeans—even though only a few grams of dye are needed for each pair of pants.
  • In 1885, blue jeans could be purchased for $1.50 U.S.
  • In the U.S. alone, in just one year (2004), more than $14 billion was spent on jeans.
A Quick Modern History of Blue Jeans
1800s to early 1900s – jeans used for work
1930s – cowboys in movies wore jeans, which became popular with movie goers
1940s – U.S. soldiers introduced jeans to the world
1950s – jeans popular with teens and a symbol of rebellion

1960s to 1970s – different styles such as embroidered or painted jeans, bell bottoms...

hard to get in Soviet Union, but very sought after
1980s – designer jeans and high fashion

1990s – a downturn for denim and jeans among youth and fashion

2000s – upturn again – but lots and lot
s of variation...
slashed and distressed, acid-washed, feathered, beaded, stretch, skinny, etc.
Also on this date...
In 1846, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody was born in Iowa. He joined the Pony Express, riding horses cross-country to carry the mail to far-away settlements, when he was just 14 years old. During the Civil War he acted as a scout and a soldier on the Union side, and later he continued to scout for the army. “Bill” is a common nickname for “William,” but this particular Bill hunted so many buffalo (really, American bi
son), that he was nicknamed “Buffalo Bill.”

Cody began his famous Wild West Show in 1882. His outdoor show featured various acts, including sharpshooter Annie Oakley, hunts, racing, historical reenactments, roping, riding “broncos” (unbroken horses) and so forth. The three- to four-hour show was meant to teach people as well as entertain them. There were hundreds of people in the cast (at times more than a thousand performers at once!), but there were also live animals, including buffalo, elk, horses, deer, bears, cattle, and a moose.

Buffalo Bill's show glamorized the Old West and got a hyper-adventurous picture of the frontier deep into the psyche of people who didn't live in the West.

Did you know...?
  • The Wild West Show used to begin with a parade on horseback, and some of the performers were “the Congress of Rough Riders,” which included the then-future President Teddy Roosevelt.
  • Buffalo Bill's show toured every year for 30 years! It even went to Europe for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887. It took several ships to carry 297 passengers, 18 buffalo, 181 horses, 10 elk, 4 donkeys, 5 longhorns (cattle), 2 deer, 10 mules, and a stagecoach. It toured Europe until 1892, visiting England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
  • In 1893 the show performed at the Chicago World's Fair. There were 18,000 people in the crowd watching!
  • The legacy of the Wild West Show includes the Westerns of TV and movies, modern rodeos, and even modern circuses.
  • Even though Buffalo Bill had to declare bankruptcy and close the show in 1913, the show still exists today! Since 1971, Montie Montana, Jr., has been holding auditions and staging the show in 26 countries on 5 continents.
Wear blue jeans.

Watch an old-fashioned Western.

Recycle your old jeans
with a sewing project.
There are lots of ideas on the Artists Helping Children website (scroll down).

Color a “wild west”

Hold a “wild west” party.

The Coolest Kid Birthday Parties site has some good ideas.

February 25, 2010

National Day – Kuwait

This holiday celebrates the beginning of the country in 1961. But this small country on the Arabian peninsula actually declared its independence from Britain on June 19, 1961.

So why is National Day celebrated in February?

Apparently, Abdullah Al-Sale
m Al-Sabah, who was the ruler of Kuwait from 1950 to his death in 1965, is seen as so important to ending the British “protectorate” of Kuwait, and the independence of the country, that the nation took as its national holiday the date on which Abdullah took the throne, February 25 (1950).

Kuwait is classified as a constitutional monarchy, with an elected parliament that makes laws but a head of state more like a king than like an elected official. This head of state used to have the title Sheikh, and is now titled Emir. Therefore, Abdullah can be considered the last Sheikh of Kuwait and the first Emir of Kuwait.

On this na
tional holiday, the people of Kuwait will get together to eat, drink, sing and dance; at night there will be fireworks displays.

  • Kuwait has a lot of oil, and it is ranked the 11th richest nation in the world.
  • Although for decades only a tiny portion of the people who lived in Kuwait were allowed to vote, in 2005 several rules changed. Women, new citizens, and citizens who serve in the military are now able to vote. In 2009 four women became Kuwait's first female lawmakers.
  • One reason so many people living in Kuwait can't vote is because so many people who live in Kuwait—almost 70%—are not citizens but rather are “expatriates.” That is, they are people who were born and brought up in another nation, and whose legal residence remains that other nation. Kuwait rarely grants citizenship to “foreigners.”
  • About 57% of people who live in Kuwait are Arab, including Egyptian, Syrian, and Iranian nationals; and 39% are Asian, including a lot of Indian nationals.
  • Kuwait has been ranked first in the Middle East and the Arab League for its freedom of press.
Check out the Arabic keyboard!

..............................................and Arabic Coke!

Meet Kuwait
Check out this small, hot country on the AMIDEAST website.
(Be sure to click “Photos” at the bottom of the page.)

The official website for Kuwait is pretty glitzy. Take a peek at the sections called “Kuwait at a Glance,” where you can hear the national anthem and see photos of the islands (“General Information”) and see a short video (“A Trip Through Time”).

Mostly Muslim
A majority of the people in Kuwait are Muslim, which means that they follow the religion called Islam. Here is some info on this religion, written for kids.

Islamic playground has some games and activities, such as this matching game and this coloring activity.

Yummy Hummus
One food that has been enjoyed in many different Arab nations in the past has
now become popular all over the world: hummus. This food is made from chick peas, also known as garbanzo beans. Get a great recipe for this tasty dip, along with other Arab and special Kuwaiti dishes, here.

February 24, 2010

Día de la Bandera – Flag Day – Mexico
Mexico's first national flag was created in 1821. The three colors, green, white, and red, are the colors of the national liberation army in Mexico.

At the time of adoption, the Italian tri-color wasn't in use (although variations of tri-color flags had been used before Italy's unification); however, there are three differences between the Italian and Mexican flags:

  • the Mexican flag uses darker shades of green and red.
  • the Mexican flag is slightly skinnier, which gives it a longer look.
  • the Mexican flag has the coat of arms of the nation.
The coat of arms, which depicts an eagle with a snake in its beak, sitting on a cactus, represents an interesting legend. At the time that the Spanish conquistadores first came to the area that is now Mexico, the Aztecs ruled a powerful empire with a grand capital city called Tenochtitlan. (This was located where Mexico's capital, Mexico City, is now.) According to an Aztec legend, a prophesy told them to build their city wherever they saw an eagle eating a snake while perched on a cactus. The vision they watched for finally appeared on a small, swampy island in Lake Texcoco.

Build a great city on a swampy island in the middle of a shallow l

The Aztecs did build there! But they cleverly dried and expanded the island using ch
inampas, that is, by building artificial mini-islands. First, they fenced off a rectangular area of the lake bed, using woven wooden slats daubed with clay. Each fenced-off area was layered with mud from the lake bottom and decaying vegetation until it rose above the level of the lake. Strategically planted trees helped to secure the corners of the chinampas, which were separated from each other by channels so that canoes could be used to navigate along the grid. With this construction method, Tenochtitlan was greatly enlarged, in part because very fertile chinampa farms surrounded the city. These farms grew maize (corn), beans, squash, tomatoes, chili peppers, and flowers—providing half to two thirds of the food needed by the city dwellers.

Because it was situated on an island in a lake, Tenochtitlan was a bit more secure than a city on a dry plain. The connections to the mainland were three causeways that could be well guarded. Each causeway was interrupted by a bridge so that canoes and other watercraft could pass underneath—and these bridges were designed to be removed if the city was in danger.

With all the canals and bridges in the city, Tenochtitlan could be called the American Venice—except, of course, that Hernan Cortes and the Spanish army he led destroyed much of the city.

A small portion of the ruins of Tenochtitlan have been found and excavated, includ
ing the Aztec sun stone (shown above) that was once located halfway up a great pyramid.

Learn about the Aztecs

Mexicolore has a great site! Scroll down to try the Puzzles and Challenges, or to listen to Music. Or check out the info pages listed in brown on the right...They cover everything from “The two-toned tongue drum” to “Who were more barbaric, the Spanish or the Aztecs?”

Aztec Math

Check out the Aztec number system here.
Then try out your understanding of the system by figuring out the numbers on this worksheet. Do you think our modern number system is better in any way than the Aztec system? Why or why not?

ANSWERS: (Linked number worksheet) First line: 25, 55, 40, 39. Second line: 50, 83, 95. Third line: 400, 100, 8000, 8800. Fourth line: 600, 462, 1000. Fifth line: 9000, 16000.
(Question) Our modern number system is better because the numerals are much easier to write and about the same size as each other. Also, we have place value and the numeral zero, which makes operations much easier.

Tenochtitlan—bigger, grander, cleaner?
Hernan Cortes arrived in Tenochtitlan in late 1519. Population estimates range from 200,000 to 350,000 people; even the more conservative estimates make it one of the largest cities in the world at that time. Some sources claim that the city was the cleanest in the world; that may well be true, as about a thousand men worked at keeping the streets clean at all times.

In Tenochtitlan there were eating houses, hairdressers, and a huge market where people could find herbs and medicines, paints, food of all kinds, pottery and mats. Cortes estimated that 60,000 people were using the market on any given day, although Bernardino de Sahagún urges that 20,000 to 40,000 traders per day is a better guess. I use the world “traders” because no money was used. Instead, people bartered for what they wanted, and small differences in value were made up by with cocoa beans (the stuff that's used to make chocolate!)

Take a brief photo tour of the ruins of Tenochtitlan. Remember, the city was leveled by the Spanish, so most of it is gone forever. However, there are some remnants left; see some here, here and here.
Watch and Learn!
This multi-part video is available on YouTube.

February 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, W.E.B. DuBois

On this date in 1868 in Massachusetts, William Edward Burghardt DuBois was born. A mixed-race son of a poor single mother, he was very intelligent an
d used his gifts to become a sociologist and historian and a famous civil rights activist.

W.E.B. DuBois was the first black person to earn a PhD from Harvard University. He taught at several schools and universities, but primarily he wrote—scholarly papers, books, newspaper columns, a magazine that he formed, and so on. DuBois also helped form several organizations, most notably the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

DuBois traveled a great deal. He went to a university in Berlin, Germany, and he traveled all over Europe. He visited Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, Communist China, and Russia (or the Soviet Union).

In his nineties, DuBois and his wife were invited t
o visit the African nation of Ghana. When the couple were denied U.S. passports, they became citizens of Ghana. W.E.B. DuBois died in Ghana, at age 95, one day before Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech.

Words of Wisdom from DuBois:
  • “The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame.”
  • “A classic is a book that doesn't have to be written again.”
  • “The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.”
  • “One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner . . . and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect man and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.”
  • “To stimulate wildly weak and untrained minds is to play with mighty fires.”
This YouTube video tells about DuBois's life but also the things that occurred in the world, during that life, with a focus on black rights. Two warnings: while I found the video highly interesting, the volume of the background music (John Coltrane's “A Love Supreme”) seemed a bit high and therefore a bit jarring. Also, since this video focuses on race relations in America, there is necessarily some upsetting content, including mentions and a photo of lynching.

PBS Kids has a one-page bio on DuBois.

To Africa

It is interesting that DuBois immigrated to Ghana, Africa, so late in life! Learn a little more about Ghana and the continent of Africa: Can you find Ghana on an interactive map?

Now do a map puzzle from the same website. Notice how many landlocked nations there are—and how many very small nations live side-by-side with (or even surrounded by) much larger nations.

Here are some photos o
f the continent of Africa on a very browse-able, click-able website.

Here is a photo essay writt
en by school children in Ghana.

How about bananas cooked with hot pepper, garlic and onions? Try the kelewele recipe found here!

February 22, 2010

Happy Birthday, George Washington AND Ted Kennedy

On this
day in 1732, George Washington was born in Virginia.

Washington worked as a surveyor and a planter, as a young man, before he became involved with the military. Of course you know that he eventually led the Continent
al Army against the British in the American Revolutionary War, and that after the United States became a country, he served as the nation's first president under the Constitution.

But you may not know these facts:

  • Washington was NOT the first president of the United States of America. Before the Constitution had been written, the new nation had been organized under the Articles of Confederation. This document was signed in 1781, and Congress (which included George Washington) elected John Hanson to be the first president. ...Hanson served a one-year term, and there were six other U.S. presidents under the Articles, before the Constitution was written and ratified.

That's why I said that George Washington was the “first president under the Constitution.”

  • The Electoral College elected Washington unanimously in both 1789 and in the 1792 election. He's the only U.S. president to have received 100% of the vote.
  • The Precedent President – Washington very deliberately set precedent—that is, acted in a way that would serve as a good example to future presidents—in his brand-new job as president. For example, he wanted to turn down the large (for the time) salary of $25,000 a year, but he didn't want future presidents to have to be wealthy enough to work for free, so he changed his position. He refused to run for a third term as president—and that customary policy of only serving for two terms lasted for many years and is now codified in the Constitution. Washington wouldn't allow kingly titles or trappings, preferring a simple “Mr. President” over flowery honorifics.
And, exactly 200 years later...
On this day in 1932, Edward Moore Kennedy – known as Ted – was born in Massachusetts.

He was one of the younger brothers in an extraordinarily influential and important
family. You surely know that two of his brothers—John F. Kennedy, who became U.S. President, and Robert F. Kennedy, who became U.S. Attorney General and presidential candidate—were assassinated. You probably also know that Ted Kennedy served as senator for Massachusetts for 47 years and died in August, 2009.

You may not know these facts, though:

  • As a child Ted Kennedy lived, not just in MA, but also in Florida, New York, and London. He went to 10 different schools by the time he was 11.

  • His brother John, who was his godfather, wanted him to be named George Washington Kennedy because of the shared birthday.

  • Ted Kennedy climbed the Matterhorn while in the Military Peace Corps, stationed in Europe.
Did Washington chop down a cherry tree?
More importantly, did he confess the act to his father, saying, “I cannot tell a lie”?

Almost certainly not. This story was written—and, scholars say, invented—by a pastor and book seller named Mason Locke Weems. He first printed his biography of George Washington in 1800; this first biography of the first president was entitled Life of George Washington; with Curious Anecdotes, Equally Honorable to Himself, and Exemplary to His Young Countrymen.

Do a Washington word search puzzle from Apples 4 the Teacher. Or do you prefer jigsaws?

Read the book George Washington's Teeth
, by Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora. The PBSKids site has some ideas for activities that go along with the book.

Watch a YouTube video
about Washington.
Speaking of YouTube videos, you gotta see this one: “From Washington to Obama in less than 4 minutes!”

Check out Ted Kennedy's Life in Pictures.

Ted Kennedy's Words

  • “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

  • “My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.” (About Robert F. Kennedy)

  • “...[W]hen John Kennedy called of going to the moon, he didn't say, 'It's too far to get there. We shouldn't even try.' Our people answered his call and rose to the challenge, and today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon.”

February 21, 2010

International Mother Language Day

Called Martyrs' Day (Shaheed Dibash) in Bangladesh, this day commemorates a very sad event. In 1948, when Bangladesh was called East Pakistan, the Governor G
eneral of Pakistan declared that the only official language of the entire country would be Urdu. This sparked a lot of anger among the Bengali-speaking majority of East Pakistan. A Language Movement began; in response the government chose to outlaw public meetings and rallies. However, this repressive law was ignored. On this date in 1952 a peaceful protest was organized at the University of Dhaka and other sites. Police fired on the protesters, and a number of students were killed.

To the left is a memorial built for the martyrs.

The result o
f this horrific event is that protest spread quickly all over East Pakistan. By 1956, the Pakistani government finally relented and made Bengali a fully equal official language. However, nationalistic seeds had already been sown, and a desire to have a nation independent of Pakistan began to grow. A rebellion in 1971 finally won independence for Bangladesh.

UNESCO (a part of the United Nations) declared February 21 as International Mother Language Day, not only to honor the student protesters who died, but also to promote the idea that multiple languages and cultures are treasures to be enjoyed and protected.

A Bit about Bangladesh
Bangladesh is almost entirely surrounded by its neighbor, India, and was first created when “British India” was partitioned along religious lines, with Muslim majorities in Bangladesh (known then as East Bengal or East Pakistan) and Pakistan, as opposed to the majority in India being Hindu or Sikh. Bangladesh is one of the most crowded countries in the world, and it also struggles with poverty. However, the country has
been making strides in improving its economy.

Did you know...?

The Taj Majal (pictured here) is considered by many people to be the most beautiful building in the world. Located in Agra, India, it was built in the 1600s as a tomb for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan's beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal. Every year it attracts millions of visitors.

Well, somebody's gone and built another one!

A Bangladeshi film director named Ahsanullah Moni wanted his countrymen to be able to see this world's wonder “on a budget,” so he spent about five years and a lot of money rebuilding what he says is a life-sized replica, using marble and granite from Italy and diamonds from Belgium. He is charging people the equivalent of 73 cents U.S. to see his new tourist attraction. To see photos of the replica and to read about how hard it is for tourists to find, check out this interesting international travel blog.

The Longest Beach...

The longest natural sandy beach in the world is in Bangladesh. Called Cox's Bazar, this beach features a health resort.

Play a Bangladeshi game.

Check out the Child Fun website to learn about Bung Guli, a kids' game that is a cross between golf and softball.

February 20, 2010

Frederick Douglass Day

We often celebrate historical people on the anniversary of their birth (AKA, their birthday!), but Frederick Douglass never knew what day he was born. It wasn't even certain exactly what year he was born. His best guess for his birth year was 1818.

Why didn't he know his birthday? He was born a slave (in Maryland in the U.S.) with the last name Bailey. He never knew his father, and he was separated from his mother when he was just a baby.

Douglass ran away from slavery when he was around 20 years old. He changed his name and settled in Massachusetts, where he made it his lif
e's work to work for the abolition of slavery. He worked for human rights of all sorts, including women's right to vote, and equality for Native Americans and recent immigrants as well as for blacks. Douglass spoke and wrote about his ideas and informed white audiences of the horrible realities of slavery.

rick Douglass's words:
"I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.”

“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

(When asked to describe what it felt like when, as a runaway slave, he reached the North and freedom):
“Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted; but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”
– Thanks to Brainy Quote and Wikipedia!
What happened to Frederick Douglass after the Civil War?

The Good:
  • Douglass's speech honoring the slain Abraham Lincoln was so moving to the president's widow, apparently, that she gave Douglass Lincoln's favorite walking stick.
  • Douglass worked as president of a freedman's bank, a U.S. Marshall and a diplomat; he also continued on the lecture circuit, speaking at universities and emphasizing voting rights and other civil rights.
The Bad:
  • Douglass's house in Rochester, New York, was burned down in 1872, possibly because of arson. The family moved to Washington, D.C.
  • Douglass's wife died in 1882, which made him quite depressed; later, when he married a woman who was working for women's rights, the new couple met up with a lot of hatred and anger because she was white.
The Odd:
  • In 1872, Douglass became the first black person to be nominated as Vice President of the U.S. This would be in the “good” list, except for the fact that nobody consulted Frederick Douglass before nominating him! He was on the ticket, along with Victoria Woodhull as the presidential candidate, for the Equal Rights Party, and not only did Douglass not campaign, he never even acknowledged the nomination.

Read the book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
This book is short and easy to understand, but be forewarned: Douglass's account of the horrors of slavery is pretty vivid.

Watch some videos.
Each short video about Frederick Douglass (available on the Bio Classroom Video site) tells about a portion of his life.

There is a coloring page about Douglass on the Apples for the Teacher website.

February 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Nicolaus Copernicus

This Germ
an/Polish polymath (a person who is learned in many different fields) was born on this day in 1473. He was a mathematician, astronomer, doctor, translator, artist, Catholic clergy, jurist (one who studies, develops or applies the law), governor, military leader, diplomat and economist. He was a polyglot as well, speaking German, Latin, and Polish with equal fluency and also Greek and Italian.

During his lifetime, Copernicus
might have been known to many as his powerful uncle's personal secretary, perhaps, or as the published translator of some poems written in Greek. However, we know him today from his contributions to astronomy and, more generally, to science.

Even though astronomy was just a sideline for Copernicus, he was able to work out the heliocentric, or sun-centered, model of the solar system.

For thousands of years it was thought that the Earth sat still at the center of the universe, and everything people could see in the sky, from the Moon and Sun to the planets and stars, circled around it. People thought this was true because we experience the world this way—as we stand on the Earth, we do not feel as if it is in motion, and we clearly see the Moon, stars, and Sun moving in our skies.

However, in order for our observations of the observed movements of the planets to make sense, we cannot suppose their paths around the Earth to be simple circles. Instead, thinkers like Ptolemy invented little circles cycling around larger circles—epicycles, deferents, and equants—in a very complicated system.

Copernicus demonstrated that, by simply moving Earth out of the central spot and supposing that it was in motion, too, most of those complications fell away.

Copernicus's system started with the idea that the Sun is the unmoving center of the universe. Mercury and Venus circle the Sun in closer orbits than the Earth's, and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn circle the Sun in farther orbits. According to Copernicus's model, the firmament doesn't move; this outermost celestial sphere was pictured as a sort of rigid shell onto which the unchanging stars were attached.

The fact that the unmoving sun and firmament (the stars) seem to move around the Earth once per day was explained, in the new Copernican system, by the idea that the Earth itself is spinning around like a top, rotating on its axis once a day. So the Earth has two motions—spinning on its axis and revol
ving around the sun.

You probably noticed...

...Hopefully you noticed that Copernicus wasn't entirely correct in every aspect of his heliocentric model of the universe.* However, he was correct that the sun was the center of the solar system, and this Big Idea was so important to astronomy, science and philosophy, that scientists have credited him with starting a scientific revolution!
*The sun is not actually the center of the universe. It's pretty far out from the center of the Milky Way galaxy, even, hanging out in an obscure corner of one of the spiral arms. Nor is the Milky Way galaxy the center of the universe. As a matter of fact, the phrase “the center of the universe” might not even make sense.

Also, there is no firmament. There is no solid
shell or sphere onto which stars are glued. Instead, the stars are much larger and much farther away than they seem, great balls of burning gas similar to our sun, and they are at all different distances away from us. Stars—even our sun—are in motion, too, revolving around the center of their galaxies even as the galaxies rush away from each other. Also, the stars certainly aren't unchanging—new ones are born, older ones die.

Finally, of course, there are many bodies in the solar
system that Copernicus didn't know about, most noticeably two more planets, Uranus and Neptune.
Ahead of His Time
Big Idea was a bit too radical for most people of his time, and for more than a century, most people didn't accept it. Remember, some of Galileo's findings confirmed the Copernican system, but he was put on trial and then under house arrest because of it—and that was 100 years later!

Watch a short video about Copernicus.

With the animated sequences about orbits, this one makes Copernicus's Big Idea easy to understand.

Read more about Copernicus's Big Idea.

This website explains the Sun-centered system with words and diagrams.

Copernicus has been honored
with many memorials, with his face on Polish money, with a crater on the moon named for him, and most recently with a new element (atomic
number 112) named copernicium.