September 1, 2017

It’s Not Too Late to Explore the Wonder of the Great American Eclipse


by guest-blogger Emily Morgan

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The excitement and wonder of the Great American Eclipse can last long past August 21st. It's an event that many students will remember all their lives and provides marvelous learning opportunities that we can take advantage of in the days and weeks to come. I visited a local school to watch the eclipse with students and have been following up with some modeling activities and a read aloud. It’s been over a week since the eclipse, but the excitement of it all is still with us!

Here’s what we’ve been doing in the days after the eclipse:

Observations: First, we discussed our observations – the orange and black circles overlapping in our solar eclipse glasses, the sky getting darker, the air around us getting cooler, and so on. We talked about how the Sun looked was a crescent shape during the eclipse, which then led us into a discussion about the Moon’s different shapes, or phases.

Click to go to view video on YouTube.
Modeling the Moon Phases: Next, we introduced the question, “What Moon phase must it be for a solar eclipse to occur?” In order to answer, we first explored the Moon phases with a modeling activity using white Styrofoam balls represent the Moon, a lamp to represent the Sun, and students’ heads representing Earth. Through this activity, they learned that the Moon’s phases are caused by the Moon’s orbit around Earth, that the Moon phases occur in a pattern, and that the phases have names – New Moon, Quarter Moon, Gibbous Moon, and Full Moon. A full description of this modeling activity and a YouTube video showing the activity can be found at this link. I like to show the beginning of the video to students first, pause it at about 1:47 and stop to do the activity. Then, we watch the rest of the video. 

Read-Aloud: After the activity, we read the book Next Time You See the Moon and refer to the Styrofoam ball modeling activity throughout the read-aloud. The book explains that the Moon’s phases are caused by the Moon’s orbit around the Sun – that half of the Moon is always lit by the sun, and we see different parts of the side reflecting light as the Moon travels around our planet.


Modeling the eclipse.
Modeling the Eclipse: After the read-aloud, students were challenged to use the same Sun-Moon-Earth model to represent a solar eclipse. Students were given time to figure out that the Moon must be positioned between the Sun and the Earth during a solar eclipse and that in order for the Moon to be in that position, it must be a New Moon. We also observed the circular shadow of the Moon on Earth (our faces) during a solar eclipse and discussed the fact that the solar eclipse was not visible to everyone on Earth, just those of us in the shadow. Finally, we watched satellite footage of the Moon’s shadow moving across the United States on August 21st and related that footage to our model.

More Questions: As always with science, the more you learn, the more questions you have, so we generated and explored more questions like:
• Why don’t we have a solar eclipse at every New Moon?
• How often does a solar eclipse happen?
• How does the size of the Moon compare to the size of the Sun?
• How far away are the Sun and the Moon from Earth? 
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I hope you will consider trying this modeling activity with your students, and I hope that the wonder of the Great American Eclipse stays with you all for a very long time.

If you'd like a complete 5-E lesson (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) about the phases of the Moon, see Chapter 17: The Changing Moon in Picture-Perfect Science Lessons from NSTA Press.

August 2, 2017

7 Tips For Visiting Civil War Battlefields

by Brandon Marie Miller

I'm working hard on a new middle grade book about Robert E. Lee! As part of my research, this past spring I visited Lee sites across Virginia including four Civil War battlefields. I've visited many such places over the years and find them beautiful and haunting. Today, it's difficult to remember the suffering and carnage that happened on these battlefields. They are lovely places to stroll or hike. But let's not forget the real stories of what happened.
Pondering things at the McLean House where Lee surrendered.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

Manassas National Battlefield Park where two major battles took place.

Here are a few tips for taking in the history of these national treasures.

  • Before you go, check out the park's website for plenty of information, including things you can do with your kids. Search the calendar for special events like living history demonstrations and meeting historic interpreters.
  • Start at the visitor center. Stroll through the museums, watch the orientation films about the events that took place all around you, engage with fiber-optic maps.
  • Talk to the park rangers at the desk. Pick up a map, get downloadable apps. Find out what programs and ranger-led walks are happening that day. These ranger programs and walks are excellent ways to learn the stories of the battles and the people involved, both soldiers and the civilians. There are also science and nature related things to do at the parks.
  • Take a self-guided car tour. In some places you can purchase a CD for this. The battlefields are big and spread out-- thousands of men camped, fought, and died at these places. Stop at designated spots along the driving route. Take a walk, read the markers that show what happened right where you are standing. You'll get a sense for how troops moved through the day, how armies clashed on multiple fronts, and how battles ebbed and flowed as reinforcements arrived or armies fell back.
  • Before your visit, you can also book a personal tour guide for several hours or for most of the day. Check the parks website. Guides can be found through outside groups or booked through the museum shops at the park. You can really immerse yourself in the tour which can often be tailored to fit your interests, so it is well worth the money.
An example of the trenches at Petersburg National Battlefield Park.
Thousands of Confederate paroles were printed after Lee's surrender.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
  •  Visit the museum shop and book store at the Visitor Center. Books cover an amazing range of Civil War subjects-- there is something for everyone's interests.
  • Find the donation box and slip in a few dollars. Help support these important sites of our nation's history! What Civil War battlefields have you visited?

July 1, 2017

Un BEE-lievable! Learn about the Buzz.....

The bee hive that hung off my floorboard.....

The bee holding box is on the far right.
The vacuum doesn't harm them!


Last month I noticed what looked like bees floating in and out of a hole in my house. I called a friend who happens to be a bee expert. Sure enough, these were bees, and I hired him to take a look and see what was abuzz.
These snaps and videos show what he found in the floor of my daughter's old bedroom--a hive about six weeks old. It took all day for two men to tear up the rug, listen for bees with a stethoscope,  smoke the bees to make them sleepy, trim away the floor, and then remove the hive.

The bee vacuum you see gently swept the bees into a holding box to keep them safe. Wow...I was blown away!

The background noise is the bee vacuum. Even during lunch break, the vacuum ran in order to keep them air-cooled in their holding box.

The hive was shaped exactly to fit a space under the floor. Birds had pulled away insulation and nested in there last year or so -- thanks to a hole made by a woodpecker sometime before that!  Mother Nature at work in my house....
Once the hive was collected and all the bees removed, the beekeeper drove to another neighborhood where the hive found its new home. Isn't that cool?


The damp stuff is nectar in the hive! 

Blogger Jeff Bogle has a fun "Honeybee Smelling Activity" to do with youngsters at PBS Kids... http://www.pbs.org/parents/adventures-in-learning/2015/05/honey-bee-smelling-activity/  

What's more, check out this colonial pastime developed by my co-blogger Brandon Marie Miller for George Washington for Kids!





June 5, 2017

Backyard Nature Science Activities for Summer Fun

The following is a guest post post from author Colleen Kessler.

Getting your kids outside as often as possible can go a long way towards improving moods, creativity, and can even make them smarter. For real! In his books, Last Child in the Woods and Vitamin N, Richard Louv shares research that details the innumerable benefits of getting outside and enjoying nature.

Summer is the perfect time to get outside with your kids.

The cool thing is that you don’t have to take your kiddos hiking in the woods, riding the rapids, or climbing mountains to give them the benefits of nature. You can do so many thing with them in your own backyard — yes… even if you’re a city family and backyard means the lot behind your apartment building.



There are always things to explore.

In my new book, 100 Backyard Activities That Are the Dirtiest, Coolest, Creepy-Crawliest Ever! I share super-simple ways that your kids can become backyard biologists and learn loads and loads about the nature found all around them. Most of the activities can be done with simple things you’ll easily find around your house, and the kids can even do them themselves — giving you time to catch up on your summer reading while they’re happily engaged.


Check out some of these fun ideas from the book:

Those are just a small sampling of the activities your kiddos will find to keep them busy all summer long in the book. They’ll spend a chapter learning all about being a backyard biologist and what it means to observe carefully and engage in the scientific method. Then, they’ll become backyard entomologists, learning about bugs of all sorts. They’ll try their hand at backyard herpetology, ornithology, and ecology too.




Seriously, hand them this book, give them access to a bunch of recyclables, and then sit back while they learn all about biology without leaving their own backyard — summer fun AND learning all rolled into one.

May 1, 2017

Plant a Garden

by Brandon Marie Miller

Ah, spring. Trees bloom and leaf out, flowers dot gardens with color. Thunderstorms rumble and sometimes, even a bit of late snow flies. As life renews itself in spring, my mind jumps ahead to summer gardens-- Flowers, fruits and veggies.

When I researched my biographies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson I learned how much both men loved their gardens. They ordered bulbs and seeds from Europe, traded plants with friends and grafted plants together to create new ones. Both GW and TJ grew a huge variety of vegetables and herbs. Jefferson experimented with 330 varieties of more than 70 types of vegetables. Washington planted cherry, fig, apple and pear trees as well as trees of pecan and hickory nuts.
Kitchen garden at George Washington's home, Mount Vernon