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?



November 1, 2017

Corn-- Thank you Native Americans

by Brandon Marie Miller

Activity: Make a Corn Husk Doll

Long before Europeans ever arrived on American shores Native American farmers had bred many varieties of corn. Farming was typically a woman's job-- a necessary part of her nation's survival. Corn served as an important food for native nations across the land.

 
Native American women planting corn, Theodore de Bry, engraver, 1591. [Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-31869]

The Indian nations of the Powhatan Confederacy were the first confronted by the arrival of English colonists in Virginia. Using tools made of clamshell and deer bone, the Powhatan usually planted corn in the same hole with beans and squash. The three crops, called "The Three Sisters," worked together. Corn stalks supported the climbing bean vines and the beans added nitrogen to the soil. The large spreading leaves of the squash protected corn from other plants. Powhatan women planted the rows in April, May, and June to ensure a long growing season.

"The Three Sisters" Native American life explored at Jamestown, Virginia

Corn was eaten fresh but the kernels were also parched (dried) then pounded and ground into a coarse whole grain flour-- involving a lot of muscle and hard work! The corn meal could be stored in baskets and pots for food during the winter months. Powhatan women wove corn husks into sleeping mats and shoes, children made corn husk dolls, and dried stalks and corn cobs were burned as fuel. Nothing went to waste.

The early Virginia colonists relied on corn from Native Americans. In times of drought and poor crops, when Indian nations had little to share, the English often took what they wanted with threats and a show of guns. When the English kidnapped Pocahontas in spring of 1613, corn was one of the ransom items they demanded from her father, the paramount leader of  the Powhatan Confederacy.

Pocahontas later married an Englishman named John Rolfe. She traveled with him to England in 1616 and sat for this portrait. To learn more about her remarkable life, take a look at my book Women of Colonial America, 13 Stories of Courage and Survival in the New World. [Library of Congress LC-USZ62-8104.]

Today, people all over the world benefit from the Native American nations that domesticated and bred corn.

Follow this link to learn how to make a corn husk doll.

http://www.snowwowl.com/naartcornhuskdolls2.html



September 1, 2017

Creative Playtime → Sail Your Skateboard!


I’ve been playing with collage. Our kitchen island is a mashup of canvas, papers, found objects, Modpodge©, and Fedex© printouts which don’t run when wet. I started with a rummage sale treasure, a metal world map which I glued to a long piece of canvas sprayed lightly in gold and silver.
I added papers of all kinds plus images: snaps from our Italian trip plus photos from my books on England's Queen Elizabeth I and Isaac Newton. I’m no artist, but this cutting and pasting is rather therapeutic, and my mind went on its own trip. A theme appeared: the moon (thank you #SolarEclipse2017) and sailing ships.


I got to thinking about the Spanish Armada, which the Kingdom of Spain launched in May 1588 in hopes of taking out Queen Elizabeth’s navy, invading England, and thereby asserting its standing as the world’s Supreme Power.
That didn’t happen, given a series of unfortunate (to Spain) events including superior seamanship on England’s part, plus the weather, which drove the Armada north when it wanted to go south. Eventually the Armada sailed into a storm off Ireland’s west coast that destroyed ships and left sailors stranded in Ireland. They mingled their genes among the local population, and their dark-haired, blue-eyed descendants are now the “Black Irish.”

Thinking about the Armada led to this blog post. See what you can do with an umbrella when the wind picks up. 

From Elizabeth I: the People’s Queen, "Sail Your Skateboard” (and learn a bit about the Spanish Armada.)

ps...I still have coats of gel and spray paint to add to my collage. That will be the hard part!

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


by guest-blogger Emily Morgan

 Click to buy!
Click to buy!
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:

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.