March 31, 2011

Cesar Chavez Day – California

To learn about Chavez, check out last year's post.

Also, Happy Birthday, Robert Bunsen

This was a guy who liked to blow things up!
A guy who knew his chemistry and made some inventions and discoveries.

Born in Germany on this day in 1811, Robert Bunsen invented the Bunsen burner. This piece of laboratory equipment uses gas to produce a single open flame that can be used to sterilize instruments and to heat or burn substances. He also developed some ways to analyze gas and a method of using a spectroscope to identify elements. With Gustav Kirchhoff, he discovered cesium and rubidium.

Celebrate... burning things or blowing things up—but only if you have an adult and a safe lab or outdoor area in which to do your chemistry experiments!!!

Here and here and here are some more great experiments.

If you don't have a safe place and a helping adult, watch some episodes of Mythbusters. Those guys are ALWAYS blowing stuff up! 

March 30, 2011

Van Gogh

Happy Birthday, Francisco Goya and Vincent Van Gogh!

What a great day for art! Goya was born March 30, 1746, and Van Gogh was born March 30, 1853.

Goya was a Spanish Romantic-era painter who became a favorite of nobles and royals and, in 1789, was made court painter for Charles IV of Spain. Most of the art he produced at that time was portraits, but in his later years Goya experimented with other subjects, making prints of The Disasters of War, for example, and of bullfighting. 

One of the most disturbing things that Goya painted, to my mind, is the portrait of the Roman god Saturn devouring his son—partly because Goya painted it straight onto the walls of his own dining and sitting rooms! Yikes! How could anyone eat while staring at that mural????

Van Gogh was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter. He is well known for his use of bright colors, his contributions to the foundation of modern art, and for his depression. He severed his ear and even painted some self-portraits with his bandaged ear (he painted 37 self-portraits during his life!), and he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest (although he did live two days after he shot himself!). 

Van Gogh's work include some of the most recognizable and expensive paintings in the world.

Celebrate today by painting a picture.

You might like the inspiration found on KinderArt.

Or try these other art-oriented activities:
  • Read some bios, see some paintings, and do some puzzles on the Garden of Praise website. Goya and Van Gogh are both represented. 

March 29, 2011

Niagara Falls Stop Falling! – 1848

What happens to a great big river and a mighty waterfall when an ice floe blocks the water?

The water flow of Niagara River was stopped for a few hours on this day in 1848—so much so that people actually walked out onto the riverbed and recovered artifacts!

Still, the Falls didn't technically freeze over.

This is an "ice bridge" under Rainbow Bridge.
Apparently “ice bridges” sometimes form on the Niagara River, below the Falls, during really long, cold winters. Until 1912, visitors were allowed to actually walk out on the ice bridge and view the Falls, but in 1912 the ice bridge broke up and three tourists died.

Did you know...?

  • The Niagara Falls are 176 feet high (but there are rocks at the base, so the fall is just 70 feet), and an amazing 150,000 U.S. gallons of water pound down the Falls EVERY SECOND!!!

  • There are two hydroelectric plants that harness power from some of this falling water to make electricity.

  • About 12 million visitors view the Niagara Falls every year.

For more on the Falls, check out the Facts About Niagara Falls website, plus this and this earlier post.

To build your own waterfall, try the instructions found here

March 28, 2011

Ragnar Lodbrok Day – Scandinavia

On this day wayyyyy back in 845 A.D., Viking raiders under the leadership of Ragnar Lodbrok sacked Paris. This means that they stole all the valuables they could find.

In other words, the Vikings looted. They pillaged. They plundered. They robbed and stole and took booty.

Paris was ruled at the time by Charles II “The Bald,” who paid Ragnar lots of money to just take the spoils and leave, rather than destroying the city—he paid the Viking 7,000 pounds of silver to go along with all the rest of the loot, just so the raiders wouldn't burn everything down!

Ragnar did leave Paris, but he continued to attack France all the way up the coast.

By the way, Ragnar was nicknamed “Hairy Breeks” (or “Hairy Breeches”) because he is said to have wooed his second wife by wearing thick, hairy leather pants in order to protect himself as he killed poisonous snakes that were infesting part of Sweden. Strangely, he eventually died because of snakes: when he went to Britain to pillage and loot, the Northumbrian king captured him and put him to death by throwing him into a pit of venomous snakes.

Much of what we “know” about Ragnar and the sacking of Paris comes from Old Norse poetry and legendary sagas. In other words, we only know what this Viking was like from Viking poems and tales. Naturally, the sagas made Ragnar sound better than he really was—stronger, more daring, more clever. But he just sounds like a bully and a thief, to me!

Explore the Viking Age

There are several good links to be found at the BBC website, including a Viking Quest game.

Listen to an illustrated Norse creation myth and other stories of the Vikings here

To learn more about Vikings, check out this and this earlier post.

March 27, 2011

Happy Plant-Cells Day!

On this day in 1776, Charles-Francois Brisseau de Mirbel was born in France, and on this same day in 1817, Karl von Nageli was born in Switzerland.

They both grew up to be scientists who study plants (who are called botanists), and they both added to our knowledge of cell biology (which is called cytology).

Mirbel is actually considered a founder of the study of plant cells. He observed that each plant cell has a continuous membrane. Von Nageli studied cell division and pollen formation, and he may have been the first to describe chromosomes (which he referred to as “transitory cytoblasts”).

By the way, von Nageli was a bit of a mystic who, some science historians say, did a lot of harm by dismissing Gregor Mendel's work on genetics—even going so far as to discourage Mendel from experimenting further in the area.

Learn about plant cells!

Plant cells, just like all other cells, have many parts. Check out the cell parts at the Cells Alive website: move the mouse over the interactive diagram to see the various names for cell parts, and click one of the organelles (or its label) to find out more about that part.

Wait! Here is another interactive diagram that I like even better!

Do some puzzles with a cell theme. 

You can make an incredible edible cell with instructions found here. Or make a not-so-edible cell-in-a-baggie with instructions found here

Find more cell-model websites here.

March 26, 2011

Earth Hour Tonight!

At 8:30 p.m., more than a billion people in thousands of towns and cities around the world will ignite some candles and shut off the lights for one hour.

Check out this environmental event here. Be sure to watch the official video!

Happy Birthday, Conrad Gesner

Before there was Wikipedia, there were encyclopedias—printed books, multi-volume works that organize knowledge in alphabetical order. An early encyclopedist named Conrad Gesner was born in Switzerland on this day in 1516.

Gesner set out to collect all the world's recorded knowledge, and he presented this knowledge with elaborate illustrations. In addition to general encyclopedias, Gesner tried to connect ancient knowledge about animals with then-modern science, plus his own observations of animals, in a 5-volume natural history encyclopedia of animals. This was his most widely-read encyclopedia, and it was also the most widely-read of all natural histories of his time—so it is considered his magnum opus (masterpiece, or great work).

Encyclopedias and Wikipedia

Encyclopedias are generally created by editors who have experts in each field write entries about that field. The experts are paid for their writing, and the editors are paid to edit and smooth out the writing. These editors care about the accuracy of the finished, published encyclopedia because they care about its reputation.

In contrast, Wikipedia is written by anybody who wants to contribute—and these volunteers do not get paid for their writing. It is edited by whoever wants to make a change, for whatever reason—and sometimes that means vandals who put up mis-information, funny stuff, or outright lies. Dedicated contributors watch for vandalism, and much of the deliberate misinformation is taken down immediately—but some errors do of course slip through and may linger for months before they are caught and removed.

(But some errors slip through to print in the case of encyclopedias, as well. And these errors are not so easy to correct once they are printed and distributed around in libraries!)

In Russian
Wikipedia has information on far more topics than do encyclopedias—including “fun” (some would say unimportant) topics, local topics, and very current topics. My local shopping center, my friend's son's rock band, and the earthquake that hit Japan last week are all covered by informative articles on Wikipedia, for example...try finding that stuff in Encyclopedia Britannica! As for fun stuff, I bet most encyclopedias don't have articles on pirates vs. ninjas, Krusty the Clown, and Silly Bandz! But Wikipedia does.

If you want to know how reliable Wikipedia is...consult Wikipedia

This article explains how bad “info” is cleaned up from Wikipedia. 

Here is another article about the reliability of Wikipedia—from someone else, independent of Wikipedia. (It basically agrees with Wikipedia.)

No matter what source you consult, remember—take things with a grain of salt, don't believe everything you hear or read, and check multiple sources!

March 25, 2011

Independence Day – Greece

Today is a national holiday for Greece, celebrating winning independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. Greek people celebrate with parades—a school flag parade in every town and village, plus a big armed forces parade in Athens.

Check out the parade photos here

One of the beauties of Greece...Melissani Lake

Explore some more...

  • Many times, when we learn about Greece, we learn about Ancient Greece. That's lots of fun to do (and there are some links about that here)...but modern Greece is fascinating, too!

  • Above is a photo of Shipwreck Beach. Hmmm...I wonder why they call it that?
  • Here is the National Geographic Kids site, with some pretty spectacular photos of Greece and info, too. 

  • And here are some more photos of modern Greece—including tons of photos of an Independence Day parade! 

March 24, 2011

National Tree Planting Day – Uganda

Trees are super important for many reasons. Depending on the tree, they provide shade, shelter for animals, wood and paper, and food for humans and animals. They take carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas—out of the atmosphere, and they put oxygen into the atmosphere. They hold soil in place and therefore prevent erosion. They are beautiful!

Many countries have an “Arbor Day” or Tree Planting Day that urges people to plant and care for trees. Today is the Arbor Day of the African nation of Uganda.

Learn more about Uganda

This east African nation is landlocked, which means that it doesn't border on an ocean. However, it does border on the largest tropical lake in the world, Lake Victoria. It is sometimes called the Pearl of Africa.

Uganda is a great place to go on safari and see chimpanzees, elephants, hippos, lions, buffalos, more than a thousand species of birds, and maybe even a leopard or cheetah. Of course lots and lots more animals live there, too! Go here and click “View Gallery” to see some great photos! 

Here is a great Uganda tourism video. 

March 23, 2011

America's “Greatest Word” is Born – 1869

What, you may ask, is America's greatest word?

Okay, I guess I can answer that. As a matter of fact, I can answer with just two letters: OK.

According to Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word, the word okay (also known as OK) is the most frequently spoken and typed word on the planet. It is ubiquitous—which means found everywhere—and therefore almost unnoticed.

By the way, has anyone else noticed that these days, with twitter and texting, ok is just too long? It's often shortened to just k!

Did you know that this worldwide word started off as a newspaper joke?

On this day in 1869, the Boston Morning Herald included in one article the acronym O.K. to mean “oll korrect” – a supposedly humorous misspelling of “all correct.” Acronyms were becoming a fad at the time—including acronyms no longer in use, such as R.T.B.S. (remains to be seen), and those still used by some, such as P.D.Q. (pretty darned quick).

The acronym O.K. would probably have died out were it not for the 1840 presidential election. President Martin Van Buren, who was running for re-election, was called Old Kinderhook after his birthplace in New York, and in his support many people started O.K. clubs and wore O.K. buttons. By the time the incumbent president lost the election, the word O.K. had won the hearts and minds of Americans.

Eventually OK caught on so big-time—worldwide, as I said—that we have almost stopped noticing it. As a matter of fact, there is a campfire game that depends on how little people notice the ubiquitous word!

Play a Game

The campfire game is called “The Stick Game.” Sit in a circle around the campfire, and show a stick to the others. Say, “I'm going to show you by example how to correctly handle the stick. All you have to do is copy me, and, if you do it right, I'll tell you.” Then you say, “Okay.” Start moving the stick in some way as you say, “I can play the stick game, the stick game, the stick game. I can play the stick game. Can you?” Pass the stick to the next person. He or she will try to move the stick in the same way and say the same words. If and only if the person says “Okay” at the beginning is it deemed correct. No matter how carefully a player copies your movements and words, if he or she doesn't say “Okay” at the beginning, you say, “No, that's not right.”

Hint: Each time the stick comes back to you, you can vary the movements you make with the stick. It's probably best to use the same words but of course IMPERATIVE that you start with “OK”!

March 22, 2011

Abolition Day – Puerto Rico
a.k.a. Emancipation Day

Although free men from Africa accompanied the Spanish Conquistadors when they invaded the island of Puerto Rico, the Spanish soon started bringing over slaves from Africa. The ugly reason was that the Spanish mining and fort-building operations depended on slave labor, and all the native islanders, the Tainos, died.

Eventually the gold mines of Puerto Rico were depleted, and the island became a garrison for naval ships. Slavery continued. As early as 1789, a Spanish decree allowed slaves to buy their freedom—but this decree didn't help most slaves. Over the years and decades, there were many slave revolts, and an abolition movement grew among free Puerto Ricans. Many slaves joined in the short-lived rebellion against Spanish rule in 1868. Finally, fear of more slave rebellions leading to more uprisings against the Spanish crown, added to the very good case made by abolitionists—and slavery was abolished on this day in 1873.

(Puerto Rico became independent of Spain in 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American War. The island became a protectorate of the United States—and it remains one today!)

Abolition Park in Puerto Rico
It's cool that the anniversary of the emancipation of the slaves is a holiday in Puerto Rico! Apparently people enjoy music, dancing, and special foods on this day. Some people honor famous black Puerto Ricans or teach about the history of slavery, abolition, and black people in Puerto Rico.

Explore some more...

Learn about Dr. Jose Celso Barbosa, a medical doctor and political leader, here.  This black Puerto Rican worked to make all Puerto Ricans citizens of the U.S.

Learn about Sylvia del Villard, an actress, dancer, choreographer, and Afro-Puerto Rican activitist, here

Enjoy a photographic tour of Puerto Rico here

Learn about the Puerto Rican coqui, a tiny frog, here

March 21, 2011

Moondog Coronation Ball – 1952

Did you know that the first Rock and Roll concert ended after just one song?

A concert was organized by Alan Freed, the disc jockey who coined the term Rock and Roll, in Cleveland, Ohio. The date: March 21, 1952. The acts: Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams, the Dominoes, Tiny Grimes and the Rockin' Highlanders, Danny Cobb, and Varietta Dillard.

The problem: about 20,000 tickets were sold, even though there were only about 10,000 seats. This was apparently due to counterfeiting. But the overflow crowd had paid good money to be inside, and was still outside—and, well, there were a few problems.

Like people crashing the closed doors and breaking glass. Like a few fights among upset-and-squashed-together people. Like the cops coming and shutting down the event.

Only one song had been performed by the time it was over!

Of course, since then rock concerts have always gone off without a hitch...(ha!)

Did you know...?

Alan Freed used to call his listeners at WJW Radio “moondogs,” and he would howl into the microphone.

There are Moondog Coronation Ball concerts nowadays, also held in Cleveland—with vintage 50s bands playing, attendees often dressed in 50s styles, and WMJI Radio sponsoring the events. Ticket sales match the number of seats, attendees behave well, and all the performers get to perform.

Learn some more...

If you want to know about the history of rock music, check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website  and “Rock Revolution,” brought to you by Team 18249 (whatever the heck that is!). 

March 20, 2011

First Day of Spring!

Uncle Tom's Cabin Published – 1852

Can fiction inspire people to do what's right?

You bet! A white woman from Connecticut and Ohio, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote a novel about a slave—and it became the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century, and the second best-selling book of all types (fiction and non-fiction) of the century, as well. (The Bible was the top seller.) Although the book had already been published in serial form in a magazine (each month a new chapter), when it was released in book form on this day in 1852, people snatched up copies, and the first printing of 5,000 books sold out in just a few days. An unprecedented 300,000 copies sold in the first year of publication.

The book was sentimental but realistic in showing the horrific nature of slavery, and it made many people into abolitionists—that is, people who believed that slavery should be abolished entirely. Of course, many people in the South hated the book and protested its publication.

Some years later, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln met Stowe and (at least supposedly) said, “So you are the little woman who started this great war.”

Uncle Tom's Cabin was the right book at the right time, and it inspired people to care about the rights of others.

March 19, 2011

Electric Eels Discovered!

On this date in 1800, two scientists captured and studied some eel-like fish in a swamp in South America. They received massive shocks for their trouble!

Alexander von Humboldt and Aime Bonpland, German and French biologists, were on a 5-year expedition in the jungles of South America when they happened on the “electric eels” (which are not actually eels, but rather knifefish).

Electric eels have three pairs of organs that produce electricity. They can generate low-voltage and high-voltage charges, producing electricity in a similar way to a battery. The shocks produced can go as high as 600 volts, enough to kill a human adult. These fish deliberately use lower voltages when hunting but sometimes use the higher voltages when defending themselves.

Surprisingly, the fish use electricity in other ways, too. They use low voltage charges to sense prey and other objects in muddy streams, and to communicate with each other.

I have read that the electric organs are “only in the tail” of the electric eel. But the tail is four-fifths of the critter's body!

Males of this species make nests out of their saliva, into which the females lay their eggs. Each nest contains up to 17,000 young.


Watch this bit about people harnessing the power of the electric eel to light a Christmas tree. 

Get crafty! Here are instructions to make an “electrifying eel” out of a paper plate. 

Find out more here or here.  

March 18, 2011

Men's Day – Mongolia

After International Women's Day  on March 8, Mongolians celebrate Men's Day on March 18. This used to be just for soldiers serving in the military—for those who “defend the fatherland”—and in some lists it is still called “Men and Soldiers Day.” However, these days it is a time to honor all men.

Learn about Mongolia!

Way back when, Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire. Since that time, the landlocked country of Mongolia has been ruled over by various empires and nations, and, even when it finally became independent in 1921, it was heavily influenced by the nearby communist nations of the Soviet Union and China. Since the 1990s, however, Mongolia has become a democratic republic with a market economy.

  • Mr. Donn has a great many things to read and do to learn more about the ancient Mongol culture.  Don't miss the Kid Links here. 

  • Trek Earth has some amazing photos of Mongolia. 

  • Here and here are YouTube videos of Mongolian throat singing. It's amazing—I've really never heard anything like it before! Be sure to check out the first link—you will immediately realize that one person—you know, with just the one mouth and tongue and throat—can make more than one sound at a time! The second link is longer and talks a bit about musical instruments and musical training, as well as throat singing.

These homes are called yurts. I have a friend who lives in a yurt right here in California!
Here is a closer-up view of a yurt.