May 1, 2018

Thanks for all Planets, Kepler!

by Mary Kay Carson

Kepler is dying. NASA's famed planet-hunting space telescope is running out of fuel and will soon stop functioning. The workhorse has been discovering planets beyond our solar system for the past nine years. But nothing lasts forever. Once Kepler uses up the last of its fuel, the spacecraft's orbit around Earth will begin to decay. Until then it soldiers on collecting data.

As of today, Kepler's confirmed exoplanet discovery count is 2,343. Nearly as many remain unconfirmed. That's right, we now know about thousands of planets circling other stars that no one knew existed until the small space telescope went to work in 2009. As impressive as the number of new exoplanets is, the stunning variety of these new worlds is just as impressive. There are planets orbiting two stars, hot gas giants like Jupiter orbiting near their suns, and lots of small rocky places, too. Surely one or two are Earth-like.

Kepler's successor is already up and running. A small refrigerator-sized satellite went into orbit in April. It's called TESS, short for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Like Kepler, it will search for exoplanets by looking for telltale dips in light that occur when planets pass in front of their star. But it will do so much faster and with better cameras. Good hunting, TESS!

Students and educators can model how Kepler and TESS search for alien worlds circling distant stars in this activity from my book, Beyond the Solar System. Enjoy! And thanks, Kepler, for all the planets.



April 6, 2018

Make and Play a Board Game!

by Brandon Marie Miller

We toss dice, spin a wheel, draw a card. Pieces move around a decorated board. People have played board games for thousands of years. Most of us grew up playing them. Each year, new games are invented and  old favorites get updates.

Playing a board game in Ancient Egypt



Versions of chess, checkers and backgammon have been around hundreds of years. Fans have played  games like Monopoly and Sorry for over 80 years now. Candy Land, introduced in 1946, has been updated many times for new generations of kids.


Monopoly, 1930s



And from Trivial Pursuit, to Hungry Hungry Hippos and Settlers of Catan, people enjoy the shared experience of sitting around a game board in competition. The Game of Life, first created in 1860, was one of my favorites as a kid. You spun a wheel, moved little cars around the board, earned a salary and faced setbacks. Once when our spinner stuck, my sister and I greased it with a little butter and kept playing!




You may not have heard of the board game, The Royal Game of the Goose, but the game has been played since the 1500s. I included this game in my book THOMAS JEFFERSON FOR KIDS, HIS LIFE AND TIMES. Below are instructions to make the board and the rules for play. Enjoy!





February 3, 2018

Chinese or Not, Newton's Laws Rule!


My very first book is for sale in Taiwan! Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids now appears in traditional Chinese.

Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids (Chicago Review Press, 2009), now appears in English, Croatian, Japanese, and traditional Chinese—with plans for publication in China.


Newton wrote science’s most important book, the Principia, to roll out twenty years of thought about the universe. He established three laws of motion, steppingstones to the biggest idea in the Principia: the Law of Universal Gravitation.

When Isaac Newton looked at the night sky, he grasped that earth, moon, planets, and stars all moved according to the same formula.  Isaac Newton “got it”—“it” being gravity. In the Principia, Newton did the math to prove how gravity works.


As I thumbed through, I checked the activities I wrote to accompany the text ten years ago, including three that demonstrate Newton’s Laws of Motion. Even in Chinese, nothing has changed, just as gravity still holds me in my writing chair and the moon hasn’t crashed into earth. J








As they’d say in Taiwan, “Wo hun gowshing geo neemun goongshiahng Heiden goongkuh.”  (“I’m pleased to share this lesson with you.”)  From Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids: His Life and Times....






December 31, 2017

Stuck Indoors? Play Blindman's Bluff!



Folks have played blindman's bluff for hundreds of years!



Too much winter break? Looking for something to do with your crew? Play a game of blindman’s bluff – much as kids have for years.


Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an American suffragist and woman of letters, wrote about her girlhood in upstate New York in the 1830s. “The winter gala days,” she said, “are associated...with hanging up stockings and with turkeys, mince pies, sweet cider, and sleigh rides by moonlight.”

Stanton also played a crowd favorite, blindman’s “buff,"  “almost every evening during the vacation.” So can you!

From Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote comes this active activity!



December 1, 2017

Winter (Precipitation) Is Coming!


Winter is coming, folks! Depending on where you live, it may already feel wintery, but its official start is December 21st at 10:28 am CST. Living on a tilted planet means those of us in the Northern hemisphere are deprived of the Sun's warmth for three months. Earth's top half leans away from the Sun, making its path across our sky short and shallow. Brrrr!

Winter storms bring some of the worst weather around—snow, sleet, freezing rain, fierce winds, and plunging temperatures. Confounding the misery of winter storms is the fact that they are difficult to forecast. The heaviest snowfalls often occur when the air temperature is hovering around freezing. If air the snow falls through changes temperature a few degrees one way or the other, it could end up as rain, sleet, or freezing rain (see diagram below). A mixture of different kinds of precipitation is in fact very likely because the storms that bring snow are often caused by warm fronts sliding over cold air near the ground.


Heres a fun and simple activity you can do with students to help them explore winter precipitation. It's from my book, Weather Projects for Young Scientists.

-------------------------  Sleet vs. Snow -------------------------------------
Snow and sleet are both frozen precipitation, but they fall very differently from the sky because of their differences in weight and shape. Snowflakes are large crystals of ice that float down slowly because their large flat shape makes for air resistance, like a parachute. Sleet is bits of heavy solid ice that speed towards the ground like tiny rocks. In this activity, you can discover how weight and shape affects the speed of falling.

Get Together:
Buy me!
  •   uncooked rice
  •   rice (or corn) flakes cereal
  •   chair
  •   newspaper
1. Spread newspaper on the floor and set a chair on it.
2. Mix a 1/2 cup of rice and a 1/2 cup of rice flakes in the cupped hands of your friend.
3. Ask the friend to stand on the chair, carefully holding the cupped cereal and rice. You need to stand back five or so feet from the chair.
4. Have your friend raise her or his hands up high and then let the rice and cereal fall while you watch. Which hit the ground first—the snow-like cereal flakes or sleet-like rice grains? Why?