Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best of 2009 at Mama Joules

I've been reading a lot of "best of ..." lists for 2009 lately, so I thought I'd recap this year at Mama Joules. See what you think of these posts from 2009:

Best Ideas for Gardeners:
Grow a Science Garden

Heinz Wholesome Memories Intergenerational Garden Award

Take the Lead Out of Gardening

Best Ideas for Mixing Art & Science:
Join the Fun at One Million Giraffes


National Gallery of Art's Lending Library

Neuroscience for Kids (includes coloring pages)

Reuse Those Old Crayons!

Best Interview:
Meet a Beekeeper!

The Intelligence of Bees: Meet a Beekeeper! Part 2

Colony Collapse Disorder: Meet a Beekeeper! Part 3

Learning to Keep Bees: Meet a Beekeeper! Part 4

Best Invention:
Flying Car

Best Opportunities for Citizen Scientists:
Ancient Tree Hunt

FrogWatch USA™

North American Moths Backyard Inventory

Project BudBurst

Best Posts About Animals:
Cricket Ears are Amazing

Giant Frog Gets New Friend - Titanoboa

Venom & Vomit: Meet the Tarantula

Best Posts About Science Poetry:
Meet Scifaiku

Science Poem: Intrasolar Interloper

The Fibonacci Poem

Best Use of LEGO®s:
Kerm's Mars Rover

Little Brother's Mars Rover

Best Post of the Year
What is Global Warming?

Have a safe and wonderful New Year! Be sure to check out these fun ways to add science to 2010!

Photo credit: Gordana Adamovic-Mladenovic,
through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license via Flickr.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Little Brother's Mars Rover

Not to be outdone by big brother Kerm's Mars Rover, my four-year-old just shared his new LEGO® sculpture with me. Here is Little Brother's Mars Rover:

Personally, I think it looks a lot like the robotic bug he got for Christmas. ;)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Project BudBurst

Has the dreary winter weather got you down? Let's plan for a fun way to celebrate spring! If you're in the U.S.**, join Project BudBurst and record your observations about the yearly stages, or phenophases, of select plants in your area. Choose from one of these 75 plants to study. You can track things like the earliest date you see leaves, flowers, or fruits and then report your data online. (** Not in the U.S.? You can still have fun predicting the timing of next spring's phenophases and recording your observations.)

Dr. Kayri Havens, Lead Botanist, and Dr. Paul Alaback, Lead Science Advisor, are keeping a Project BudBurst blog to accompany the website. I thought this blog snippet from Dr. Kay covered the objectives of Project BudBurst quite nicely:
"Thanks to all of you who are watching plants and submitting your observations! These data are helping us get a much clearer picture about how plants are responding to different climates around the U.S. This will help us predict how plants will respond to a changing climate."
At Project BudBurst, you can learn more about phenology, the science behind this study, download teaching materials about plants and plant identification guides, browse the map of recent observations, and more! And be sure to upload your plant photos to the Project BudBurst Flickr photo pool.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reuse those old crayons!

Inspired by LuAnn Foty and her Crazy Crayons (more about her in a future blog post), the boys and I decided to melt down some old crayons and make our own version of reused/recycled crayons. I found a recipe for melting down crayons in the oven and we set to work.

I have a box of 64 crayons with no tips, courtesy of last year's Sunday school class. I had planned to take them home and sharpen them (ugh!), but decided to melt them down instead.

Here's what you'll need to make "new" crayons: unwanted crayons and aluminum muffin cup liners. (Don't use paper liners, we discovered that they leave a waxy residue behind in your muffin tin!)

First, we broke the crayons into small pieces and took off the wrappers. Finally, I got wise about the paper labels and scored them with a knife to make them easier to remove. (Kids, be sure to get adult help for this!)

We came up with all sort of crazy color combinations for our new crayons, like grey-black-yellow and orange-purple. Be sure to put the same number of broken crayon pieces into each muffin cup. We didn't do this and the contents of one melted after 10 minutes, while the others took considerably longer.

I suggest using a 250 degree F oven, like the online recipe suggested. Initially, I thought that sounded a tad high, but after 20 minutes at 200 degrees F, most of our crayons still hadn't melted. This is what they looked like:

After 25 minutes, though, our crayons had liquified! It was fun to see how they looked in the tray.

I stirred a few of them and then took the muffin tin outside in the snow to quickly cool them. At 32 degrees F, they cooled solid within a half-hour.

When I took them out of their wrappers, I found that they had edges, kind of like Reese's peanut butter cups, so I broke the edges off.

Little Brother agreed to test the new crayons for us. They were a lot of fun to use!

hoto credits: Mama Joules

Saturday, December 19, 2009


The view from my back door

Where I live along the Eastern seaboard in the US, we are in the middle of a record-breaking snowfall. For you folks out west or in other snowy climes, this storm wouldn't seem like much. But here, this quantity of snow is shocking!

Kerm and Little Brother went sledding today -- the first time ever for Little Brother. They had a wonderful time. :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Last year, I wrote a post about the joy of paper snowflakes, and how it was fun to make them both on- and off-line. One of the websites my kids and I enjoyed was Barkley Interactive's Make-A-Flake.

Little Brother made his own snowflakes this year!

Make-A-Flake is fun because you get to see how to properly fold (virtual) paper to make a six-sided snowflake. You can cut (and re-cut) with your virtual scissors to get the desired effect. A trip through Make-A-Flake's snowflake gallery reveals a wide range of artistry. Some snowflakes are very simple, others are truly amazing. Can you tell which cuts were needed to make them?

I can't visualize my snowflakes before they are unfolded to reveal their shape. Can you predict what yours will look like? I think it's an interesting test of spatial awareness. As person with only one working eye, I have some limitations in that area.

I enjoyed making some snowflakes, too. I think this one looks like six aliens around a campfire. What do you think?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hunting (and hugging) ancient trees

This wild olive tree from Italy is said to be 3800 years old!

Need a new family-friendly outdoor activity? How about an Ancient Tree Hunt?

If you live in the UK, join the Woodland Trust, "the UK's leading woodland conservation charity," in trying to locate and map "all the fat, old trees across the UK." Over 25,000 trees have been recorded since 2004. You can search for recorded trees by factors like location (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, etc.), species, and age.

Want to find your own tree to record? Ancient Tree Hunt provides these tips for getting started as you hunt "new" trees to discover. Keep in mind that Ancient Tree Hunt does not classify a tree's age by calendar years, but instead by its life stage. A tree must be old compared to others of its kind and in its final stage of life to merit ancient tree status (some younger trees can be listed as notable or veteran).

I found this interesting -- old trees are generally not the tallest. Ancient trees are commonly wizened and shrunken, much like very old people. As expected, though, old trees do have thick trunks. I love this about Ancient Tree Hunt: they suggest that you measure your trees by hugging them. I'm sure this is for practical reasons, but it seems awfully sweet to me. What better way to honor an ancient tree than by giving it a hug?

"The fattest oak tree in Britain would take about nine adults to hug it, finger tip to finger tip."
-- Ancient Tree Hunt website

I wonder if there's an ancient tree hunt in the US? I'll have to look into it ... and I'll keep you posted! In the meantime, I'll have to settle for visiting Ancient Tree Hunt to send tree-themed e-cards and set up a new desktop calendar for my laptop.

Photo credit: Babele Dunnit through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License via Flickr.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The view from my front yard ...

delicate snowflakes
dancing down the darkened path --
winter's arrival

Photo credit: Mama Joules

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Venom & vomit: Meet the tarantula

Are you looking for inspiration so that you can enter the American Tarantula Society's Kids' Poetry Contest? Let's meet the tarantula!

When I was a little girl, my parents and I lived in southern California. Once, while driving along a deserted stretch of highway, my dad saw something that made him slam on the brakes. A giant spider stood in the middle of the road. It was so big that my mom and dad just sat there in shock until it crossed to the other side.

Tarantulas, the giants of the spider world, are striking. The biggest is the South American Goliath tarantula. It can grow to be over eleven inches in diameter. This spider is so large that it preys on birds! Check out this great video about Goliath tarantulas from National Geographic.

South American Goliath Tarantula

Wade Harrell, President of the American Tarantula Society, was kind enough to answer my questions about these mammoth spiders. He describes the tarantula's dietary habits like this:
"Tarantulas, like almost all spiders, are carnivores. Tarantulas inject venom to kill their prey, chew it up with their chelicerae, and then regurgitate digestive [throw up] onto it. As with all spiders, they can only eat liquids, so after the soft parts have been liquefied, the spider sucks the bug soup out and leaves a crumpled ball of bug exoskeleton."
There are around 800 different species of tarantula, mostly living in the world's warmest climates.
"The majority of tarantula species live in the tropics and subtropics, although their are some in the temperate zones," says Harrell. "They are pretty shy for the most part; most will retreat into their burrows (or arboreal retreats in the case of tree-living species) at the first sign of trouble! In many cases, humans who live within tarantula habitats are totally unaware of their presence."
Please keep in mind that people don’t die from tarantula bites. I've read in numerous (credible) places that tarantula bites are no worse than bee stings.
"In the US," says Harrell, "tarantulas are most often seen when males leave their burrows to search for mates, a one-way journey for them!"
Girl tarantulas tend to be longer lived than the boys. In the wild, some female tarantulas can live up to thirty years!

Want to learn more about tarantulas or keep one as a pet? Be sure to drop by the American Tarantula Society. There's an active discussion board where you can ask questions. ATS President Wade Harrell offers this advice to potential new tarantula owners:
"My advice to the would-be tarantula enthusiast would be to research them before purchasing. There are many species available. Some are good for the beginner, some not. Our website and discussion forums are a good starting point, and there's even a free download-able care sheet. Tarantulas are easy to keep for the most part, but you still want to know what you're getting into! Also, pet store employees usually don't know much about them, so it's best to not rely on them for information, plus they may try to sell you expensive stuff you don't need. The ease of care is one of the great things about them ... they usually don't need heat, special lights, or very much space. They also don't eat much; most keepers feed once or twice a week, and they can go months without food."
Thanks for the advice, Wade! I may not want to personally own a tarantula, but I'm a little less afraid of them now.

(Note to self: The tarantula is an arachnid, not an insect.)

Photo credit: snakecollector (John) through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License via Flickr.


[Update: 12/3/09 -- Corrected the number of tarantula species to "around 800", instead of "over 100", thanks to Wade Harrell]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

American Tarantula Society's poetry contest for kids

Are you under the age of 18, living in the US or Canada? Do you like to write poetry about spiders and other creepy crawlies? Then I've got a contest for you!

I recently spoke with Wade Harrell, President of the American Tarantula Society, via email. He gave me permission to repost this information about ATS' current poetry contest for kids. This information comes from the ATS Discussion Board, a great resource for any tarantula enthusiast.

If you plan to enter, don't delay! The deadline for entries is December 10, 2009. If you have any questions about the contest, please direct them to Payton MacDonald (contact information below).

Good luck!

The ATS has received a generous donation to support more kids' contests ... The first contest is for original poetry. We seek two poems per entry, one a haiku and the other in a form of the applicant's choice. The content of the poems must relate to tarantulas, scorpions, and arachnids in general.

The winning entries will be chosen by a committee. The prizes are as follows:

First Place: A Nintendo Wii or Wii games
Second Place: A free year subscription to the ATS Forum
Third Place: A tarantula T-shirt

Each participant must be under 18 years of age (living in the US or Canada). Winners of an ATS contest in the last six months are ineligible. Multiple members of the same family may enter the contest. Please send submissions to the Kids’ Section editor via email if possible. Regular mail is also acceptable. Submissions must arrive by December 10, 2009.

Please submit entries to Children's Editor Payton MacDonald:
payton [dot] macdonald [at] gmail [dot] com

(replace the "dots" and "at" with the appropriate symbols)

Photo credit: Alvaro Guzman, through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License via Flickr.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Math trick for learning the nines times tables

My older son is learning his times tables. For me, this brings back painful memories of memorizing columns of data. Fortunately, Kerm has Itinerant Cryptographer for a father. My husband is something of a math junkie. He taught Kerm a little trick for multiplying by nines. It works for 9x1 through 9x10:

* The first digit of the answer is always one less than the number you are multiplying by,


* the digits of the answer have to add up to nine.

So, let's say that you are multiplying 9 x 3. The first digit of the answer starts with a "2". And 9 minus 2 is 7, so the answer is 27.

9 x 1? The first digit would be zero. Nine minus zero equals nine, so the answer is 9.

Isn't that neat? (Where was Itinerant Cryptographer when *I* was learning my times tables?

Photo credit: Paul Joseph, through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License via Flickr.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ugly Bug Contest 2009

Be sure to drop by Arizona State University's Ask A Biologist page sometime before December 15, 2009 to vote for this year's ugliest bug. Of the ten contestants, my bet's on the cockroach. How can it possibly be losing to the snakefly?

Photo of American cockroach by Drew Avery,
through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License via Flickr.

Last year's ugly bug contest winner was the tick, the blood-sucking frequent disease carrier, who won by a wide margin. You can learn more about the other six contestants from 2008, including the stink bug and weevil, here.

Get into the spirit with these bug-themed coloring pages, which include sheets on bat wing bones, a human skeleton, and the terrestrial ecosystem, in addition to ugly bugs. You can also download your very own ugly bug contest poster (this is a .pdf file).

(Note to self: Eew! They really *are* ugly!)

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Steven R. Kutcher's Bug Art

Friday, November 27, 2009

National Gallery of Art's lending library

I recently learned that the National Gallery of Art lends out educational materials through their Division of Education. Their Education Resources include over 120 items, including CD-ROMs, slides, DVDs, teaching packets, and videos. Topics range from broad-ranging surveys of art to profiles of individuals and specific artistic techniques. Some materials are available for an extended nine-month loan period, to coincide with the school year.

But you don't have to be a teacher or affiliated with a group to use the items. Anyone in the U.S. can borrow materials using the Loan Materials Finder (skip to the last paragraph of this post if you're outside of the U.S.). If you'd rather have a hard copy to browse the collection, request a catalog. More information about borrowing items can be found here. (In short, materials are geared for grades K-12. It takes at least a month to process your request, you can usually keep the materials for two weeks, and you pay return shipping at a reduced [media mail] rate.)

Among the many fascinating titles available through this service, I found several with direct ties to science:

Art + Science = Conservation: Learn about museum conservation techniques used by the NGA in this 19-minute videocassette. (Also available on DVD.)

Art&: A Teacher's Guide to Lessons and Activities for Fifth and Sixth Graders: This four lesson teaching packet includes a segment on Art and Ecology.

John James Audubon: The Birds of America: a 29-minute videocassette with viewer's guide showing his original drawings and engravings. (Also available on DVD.)

Leonardo: To Know How to See: a 58-minute videocassette discussing the works of Renaissance artist / inventor Leonardo da Vinci.

Masters of Illusion: a 30-minute videocassette examining how Renaissance artists changed the depiction of perspective and created illusions of space.

Seeing Color: Object, Light, Observer: a 27-minute video asks "artists, curators, conservation scientists, and science students" to define color. The DVD also includes an examination of pigments, optics, and color vision.

Thomas "Yellowstone" Moran: a 12-minute videocassette detailing his survey of Yellowstone and how that effort helped to found the U.S. National Park System. (Also available on DVD.)

Thomas Moran, circa 1883

Vermeer: Master of Light:
X-ray analysis, infrared reflectography, and computer analysis are used to examine the paintings of Johannes Vermeer in this 58-minute videocassette.

You can also visit the NGA Classroom for online lessons in art and NGAKids for more adventures with art. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Yellowstone National Park, National Park Service

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fingernails are like tree trunks

Little Brother's little hands

Ouch! In September, Little Brother caught two of his fingers in the door of our car. It was a horrible experience. He screamed, I panicked, and Kerm came to the rescue by opening the door. Two of Little Brother's fingers immediately turned purple, at which point I threw everyone back into the car and sped off to the Emergency Room.

But by the time we had arrived, Little Brother's fingers looked fine. Aside from a mild cut, there was no visible injury. I felt bad for bothering the ER staff. However, the medical personnel assured me that following up with a crush-type injury is important.

About a week later, we went to our pediatrician for a recommended follow-up. Again, I worried that I was wasting her time. I couldn't see anything wrong. But the doctor pointed out two very teeny tiny blue-black spots right at the base of Little Brother's nail beds. Those are the bruises, she told me.

Here is a picture of Little Brother's fingers today, over two months later. The color of the bruises has faded (from bluish-black to purple to red) as his nails have grown. The bruised part of his fingers seems to have spread, but in reality, the affected area has simply grown larger along with the nail.

In this way, fingernails are like tree trunks -- they mark the passage of time. When you count the rings on a tree stump, you might notice that some rings are closer together than others, indicating years when the tree grew less due to drought or other stressors. You can sometimes see damage from fire or insects, which can cause the rings to be lopsided.

Fingernails are much the same. They grow more slowly when people suffer from poor nutrition. Human fingernails can tell you something about the overall health of a person. Their color and texture can reveal systemic illness, nutritional deficiencies, or, as in this case, injury.

Luckily for us, Little Brother is healing nicely. But it looks like it will be another month or two before his fingernails go -- or I should say, grow -- back to normal.

Photo credit: Mama Joules

Friday, November 20, 2009

My ornamental corn has sprouted!

Recently, I purchased some ornamental corn and put it in my front yard. I figured that I would celebrate the fall season and maybe feed some neighborhood squirrels in the process. I wasn't expecting this!

My ornamental corn has sprouted! All of the little kernels are trying to make baby corn plants. Now I'm not sure what to do with my corn. I hate to throw out anything that is growing, but I wasn't really planning to raise corn. Maybe I'll toss the cobs out into the woods behind my house to give the seedlings a fighting chance. Given that winter is coming, though, I'm not sure how well they will do. We'll see ...

Photo credit: Mama Joules

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Butterflies on the International Space Station!

There are butterflies in space! Painted Lady larvae and three Monarch caterpillars are currently orbiting above us, after recently traveling to outer space aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The "butterflynauts" boarded the International Space Station yesterday.

You can track the progress of the Painted Lady butterflies via Twitter (@ButterflySpace). Teachers can download a free teacher's guide and register for email updates about the mission. There's also a specific thread for teachers on the BioEd Online web board devoted to this experiment.

From the Butterflies in Space website at BioEd Online:
"On November 16, 2009, Painted Lady butterflies [flew] aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis to the International Space Station (ISS). The butterflies will spend several months in space as part of an exciting experiment to observe their life cycles and behaviors in microgravity. We invite your class to participate! The butterflies will live in a special habitat, which provides a safe environment, food and water. Photos and video will be transmitted back to Earth and made available here ..."
But Painted Lady butterflies aren't the only insect space travelers this time. Monarchs are up there, too! Through Monarchs in Space, Monarch Watch is documenting the progress of the monarch larvae. You can download some wonderful instructional data from this site along with links to other fun stuff like these recent pictures of the monarch caterpillars in space.

This current set of butterfly experiments builds upon previous work by BioServe Space Technologies, which has designed experiments in space since the early 1990s (including space flights for spiders, ants, and silkworms).

This video describes some of the challenges that the butterflies may face in their new habitat:


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Discover the Nature Explore™ Families' Club

Do you enjoy sharing nature with kids? Why not start a Nature Explore™ Families' Club? This outreach project is a collaborative venture of the Arbor Day Foundation, Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.
"The GOAL of the Nature Explore Families' Club is to inspire children and their families to connect with the natural world and spend quality time together outdoors."
It's easy to get started. You can download a zip file from the Arbor Day Foundation. Along with copies of flyers and other promotional materials to advertise your new group, you will receive the Nature Explore™ Families' Club Kit. The kit includes facilitator notes and worksheets for the kids on nine topics like Get to Know a Tree, Animal Signs, and What Can You See in a Cloud?

These activities would be great for a group of young children. I have a friend who has been regularly taking a gaggle of preschoolers on nature walks and I think the materials would be perfect for her group.

Enjoy your time outdoors!

Friday, November 13, 2009

TOYchallenge 2010

Looking for a creative way to teach science to your group? How about TOYchallenge 2010? This toy design competition is for 5th to 8th graders in the U.S. and Canada, offered through Sally Ride Science. With an adult coach, each 3-6 member team of kids (half of the team must be female!) designs a new toy over the remainder of the school year. But you don't have be affiliated with a school to join in - homeschoolers, after-school clubs, and neighborhood groups are welcome.

Toys must be original and can not be built using pieces of existing toys. Each proposed toy must fit into one of three categories: Toys that Teach, Games for the Family, or Get Out and Play. After choosing your category, each team follows an engineering design process to prepare a written description and drawings of the proposed toy, due in the Preliminary Round Entry, which closes on February 12, 2010. Promising design teams are then invited to travel to compete in the Nationals (you can apply for travel assistance to off-set the cost, but all teams are expected to fundraise to offset their costs). Last year's competition was held in May at the United States Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, but previous competitions have been held in other locations.

Check out last year's winners for inspiration. There's even a page of ideas to get you started. But there's only a week left to register, so be sure to sign up now! (Note: there is a $65 registration fee.)

Photo credit: Kok Leng Yeo through a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license via flickr.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where were you when the wall came down?

Twenty years ago today, as a college student, I sat transfixed before my television. People were standing on top of the Berlin Wall, tearing it to shreds. It was an event that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. The wall went up less than ten years before I was born. As long as I could remember, the wall had always been there, immovable and permanent. But on November 9, 1989, the wall came down. Amazing.

Today, the Berlin Wall reminds me that some problems, though they seem insurmountable at the time, do eventually have solutions. It might just take some time for us to break through.

Photo credit: Mama Joules (This portion of the Berlin Wall is currently on display at the Newseum.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Win $500 in gardening supplies!

As a parent-volunteer, I've been busy this past week looking for grants and supplies for Kerm's school. Searching for grants is an interesting process. I like to web surf, so I just type various words into a search engine and let 'er rip. As I was looking for a free source of butterfly hatching kits, I wound up finding something delightful and unexpected. I just had to share it with you!

The National Gardening Association has a wealth of information on their website, including a section for gardening grants. The H.J. Heinz company (makers of Heinz® Ketchup) is sponsoring the Heinz Wholesome Memories Intergenerational Garden Award.

The cool thing about this grant is that you don't have to be an organization to apply for it - it's meant for families. All you need is an older generation that wants to garden with the kids in the family - like a Mom and her kids or a Grandpa and his grandkids. The application form isn't long, and you could win a pile of nifty gardening supplies like kids' tool sets, a composter, elevated planter, gardening journals, and more.

If your family likes to garden, this grant is for you! The application deadline is January 10, 2010. Good luck!

(I'm so excited about this grant that I've already downloaded the form and I'm planning to apply. Kerm and Little Brother would have great fun planting in our backyard.)

Photo by Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's time for a Green Halloween®

[Note: The following article, in slightly different form, first appeared at Natural Family Online in 2007. At that time, I was fortunate enough to interview Corey Colwell-Lipson as she began her adventure with Green Halloween®. Today, Celebrate Green! has nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter. Corey and her mom Lynn have been interviewed by such journalistic heavyweights as U.S. News and World Report, National Public Radio, and ABC News, along with many other media outlets. I remain awed and impressed with Corey and Lynn's perseverance and tenacity. Despite their new-found fame, the message of Celebrate Green! remains profound, yet simple: Let's create eco-friendly, sustainable holidays.]


It’s nearly dusk on Halloween and, once again, you’re running behind. You sprint into the nearest grocery store and scan the shelves, looking for something to hand out to your trick-or-treaters. You find your resolve weakening. Sure, you’d like to hand out treats with less packaging, something not laden with sugar. But the bulging bags of candy look so tempting …

Hold it right there. With a little help from Green Halloween®, an eco-friendly, not-for-profit movement, you can avoid this situation entirely.

What is Green Halloween®? Founder Corey Colwell-Lipson puts it this way. “Green Halloween® is a community movement to create child and Earth-Friendly holiday traditions, beginning with Halloween. Green Halloween® incorporates choices from at least one of three considerations: child-friendliness (including health), Earth-friendliness, and people-friendliness (the people who grow or make the products we buy or use). Ideally, Halloween choices and purchases would take all three areas into account but that is often hard to do. We suggest that families do what they can and what will make their Halloween and their consciences happy.”

Corey Colwell-Lipson was inspired to start this grassroots movement while taking her daughters trick-or-treating in 2006. While most houses handed out typical sugary Halloween fare, a few gave her daughters non-sweet treats like bubbles and stickers. As she recalls on her website, “I was so thrilled that someone thought outside the candy-box.”

She vowed to visit these homes the next year, but soon forgot which ones they were. An idea dawned. “I mentioned to a nearby parent, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there were a sign you could place on your door or window that notified trick-or-treaters that their upcoming treat would be healthy?’ This way, parents could seek out those homes and turn trick-or-treating into a scavenger hunt – a hunt for treasures rather than treats.” And thus, a community movement was born.

Green Halloween® launched in 2007 in the Seattle, Washington area. Local businesses jumped on the bandwagon, asking to use the Green Halloween® logo for their products. “[We want to] make our logo a recognized symbol which will be used on holiday products such as for trick-or-treating, birthday and holiday gift bags items, and stocking stuffers,” says Colwell-Lipson. “[In 2007, you saw] our logo on a few items. [Now], we hope that our logo will be meaningful to the masses: when parents see our logo, they’ll know that the item they are buying meets our standard of child/planet/people friendliness. In addition, whenever our logo is used, a portion of the sales of that product will go towards helping others and or our planet.”

Colwell-Lipson was encouraged by the response she’s received from other parents, local organizations and businesses. She decided to tackle other holidays next. She and her mother, Lynn Colwell, co-wrote Celebrate Green! Creating Eco-Savvy Holidays, Traditions and Celebrations for the Whole Family and launched the Celebrate Green! website in 2008.

“The use of petroleum, palm oil and non-recycled tree products are examples of unsustainable practices that we hope to change,” she says. “All traditional holidays, including Halloween, make ample use of products made from these unhealthy or environmentally unfriendly materials, and yet numerous alternatives exist. Our planet has a limited ability to regenerate itself. [We seek] to reduce our eco-footprint by using our collective creativity, flexibility and common interest in the planet to create new holiday traditions while maintaining the heart and soul of our holidays.”

She adds, “My broader goal is to integrate easy, affordable, fun, kid and Earth-friendliness into all holiday traditions such as birthdays and Christmas. I hope that being ‘green’ all year long will become a notion embraced by mainstream America.”

So, how can you get started this Halloween? Here are just a few ideas from Green Halloween®:
* Make your own bags to take trick-or-treating.

* If you are hosting a party, keep your focus on fun rather than treats. You might dunk for apples or build your own scarecrow.

* Hand out items to trick-or-treaters that are environmentally sustainable, healthy for kids, and made using fair work practices. Think spinning tops, stickers, or seashells over candy.

* If your heart is set on handing out candy, Colwell-Lipson suggests Endangered Species Chocolate (a portion of the proceeds go to charity) or Yummy Earth’s candy drops.
Colwell-Lipson says, “Putting some green into your Halloween does not have to be difficult or costly. In the continuum of being green, all families can hop on board! You can start wherever you already are. For example, if your family already eats organic and shops mostly locally, Green Halloween® offers additional ways you can make your holiday even healthier and more green … If your family has yet to try healthy alternatives, this is a great year to start!"

"The Green Halloween® website offers even green-newbies fun, easy and affordable ways to start new holiday traditions your whole family will enjoy,” says Colwell-Lipson. Visit Green Halloween® and download a Guide for Parents (this is a .pdf file) or stop by Celebrate Green! for other green holiday ideas. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wishing you a happy fall ...

Today, I watched my kids enjoy autumn. One of our little friends wanted to share and dropped a pile of leaves in Baby Princess' lap. It was fun to watch her lift each crisp leaf with an awed expression ... until she put one into her mouth! Oh, what a face she made! (Don't worry, I took the leaves away from her soon after.) Meanwhile, the boys were having "leaf fights" and enjoying burying each other and their friends in piles upon piles of fall leaves.

Little Brother buries Kerm in leaves

Wherever you live, I hope that you are taking the time to enjoy the season that you are in. Today was a good reminder for me that I don't usually take enough time to smell the roses ... or roll in the leaves.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Send your teacher to school!

Calling all 3rd to 5th grade teachers in the U.S.! This is the last week to apply for the free, all-expenses paid science training to be held at the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy next summer. One hundred teachers will get to spend five days at the Liberty Science Center networking and learning new ways to teach science using math. Send your teacher a note to let them know about the training! The last day for teachers to submit an application is October 31, 2009. Good luck!

Photo credit: Kristine Breen, (photo cropped by Mama Joules)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week!

What a busy week this is! In addition to being National Chemistry Week in the U.S. and Waste Reduction Week in Canada, my friends at the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning have reminded me that October 18-24, 2009 is also National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, "childhood lead poisoning is considered the most preventable environmental disease among young children" and yet it still affects over one-quarter of a million of kids in the United States. The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning says that "[l]ead poisoning is the number one environmental hazard threatening children throughout the United States."

Why is lead still a problem? I thought we banned it years ago.

Historically, lead was used in just about everything, including pesticides, pipes, gasoline, paint, and batteries. But two sources — leaded gasoline and lead-based paint — caused most of the remaining exposure risk in the U.S. today.

The U.S. government's ban on leaded gasoline in motor vehicles didn't fully go into effect until 1996. Prior to that time, exhaust from cars released lead onto roadways and adjacent soils.

Lead-based paint was banned from U.S. residential use over 30 years ago. But homes built before 1978 often contain lead-based paint. Home renovations can disturb lead paint lurking just below the surface. It is difficult to safely remove it. Traditional paint removal techniques, like dry sanding, are not recommended. Once released, lead dust can spread throughout your house, contaminating everything.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently passed a new rule requiring that contractors be certified in lead-safe practices before renovating or repairing buildings that may contain lead paint. This rule goes into effect next year.

How can exposure to lead affect me?

Our bodies mistake lead for the beneficial (and chemically similar) elements of calcium and iron. The human body can store lead in bones and teeth in place of calcium. Lead can be found in the bloodstream, substituting for iron. The effects of lead on the human body are most pronounced in the central nervous system.

The more lead in your system, the greater your risk for having adverse health effects, like cognitive impairment, headaches, irritability, stomach upset, learning disabilities, and seizures. These effects are most pronounced in children. Pregnant women exposed to lead can suffer from stillbirths and miscarriages.

I think my family may have been exposed to lead. What should I do?

Visit your doctor. Request a blood-lead test to put your mind at ease. Fortunately, the test is simple, involving a simple finger prick or blood draw.

Feed your family a good, nutritious diet high in calcium and iron. The more calcium and iron in your system, the less likely that your body will take up the lead.

Maintain your home.
If you think that your home contains lead-based paint, damp-mop areas that may contain lead dust, like windowsills or doorways.

Keep dirt outside. Have family members remove their shoes when coming in from the outdoors. Wipe the paws of your pets before they come inside. Wash your hands after gardening or playing in the dirt.

Avoid cheap costume jewelry. Some items, simply put, are frequent offenders of the lead paint ban. It is best to avoid giving them to children. If you have concerns about a toy, check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if it has been recalled.

For more information:

Visit The Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning for more tips on how to protect your family.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer these Lead Poisoning Prevention Tips.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an entire section of their website devoted to the topic of lead. They also have a nice page detailing different Lead Prevention Week activities scheduled across the country.

Portions of this post previously appeared in Blood Level Basics: What You Really Need to Know in the October 2006 issue of Washington Parent magazine.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Waste Reduction Week 2009

Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street has been spotted roaming the Great White North again, and you know what that means. It's time for Waste Reduction Week in Canada!

The beloved spokes-muppet was reported missing at the end of September, and video has cropped up on the Waste Reduction Week website indicating that Oscar is secretly learning about trash in Canada. So far, he has been spotted in Toronto and Vancouver.

You, too, can learn about the 3 R's -- reduce, reuse, and recycle. Visit Waste Reduction Week to download a resource kit for your school (this is a .pdf file) with forms to complete a waste assessment and ideas for a waste reduction action plan. You can also learn how to make recycled paper, build a composter, enjoy fun and games, and more.

(My thanks to The Muppet Newsflash for reminding me about this important annual event.)

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Waste Reduction Week 2008

Save Your Trash

Reduce comes first for a reason

Got waste? Check out TerraCycle!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Get ready for National Chemistry Week!

National Chemistry Week is a community-based annual event hosted by the American Chemical Society. The theme for this year's National Chemistry Week, running from October 18-24, 2009, is "Chemistry -- It's Elemental!" to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Periodic Table of the Elements.

The ACS has some great stuff on their website, including this free 12-page chemistry booklet, an interactive periodic table that can be printed in different languages, and October's issue of ChemMatters, which celebrates National Chemistry Week with games and articles (you can order a free copy using the “subscribe” link). For more fun, be sure to drop by ACS's Science for Kids section.

Looking for multimedia about chemistry? Check out Bytesize Science, over 40 short video and audio clips by the ACS on topics like honeybees, allergies, yak cheese (!), and the artificial mouth. Also, MEET ME AT THE CORNER has released a short video about perfume in honor of National Chemistry Week.

(My thanks to Donna Guthrie of MEET ME AT THE CORNER for letting me know about this event.)


P.S. I can't resist adding this. Check out this video and Meet the Elements!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What is global warming?

Climate change is impossible to avoid. Scientists know that the Earth has been both colder (think Ice Ages) and warmer (the days of Titanoboa) at different times in the past. When people talk about the problem with climate change, though, they are talking about the recent, rapid increase in temperature across the planet. The majority of scientists think that the rate of change is unnaturally fast because of things people are doing, like burning fossil fuels (such as gasoline and coal).

Why does burning gasoline make a difference to the planet? When talking about climate change, it helps to remember that the Earth is a closed system. We only have so much carbon on our planet. Some of it is in solid form -- carbon-based life forms like you and me and the trees outside -- and some of it is in the atmosphere in gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4).

When we burn fossil fuels, carbon that was in a solid form is released and enters the atmosphere. Atmospheric carbon can then be "breathed in" by trees, grasses, and other plants to enter a solid form again. This is a rather simplified version of the carbon cycle. (In the real-life model, there's a bunch of carbon "missing" -- unaccounted for in the cycle -- and no one knows exactly where it is going [although forests seem a likely place]. But that's a topic for another blog post!)

Image credit: NASA, revised version obtained through Wikipedia Commons

The problem with the carbon cycle is that we are changing the ratio of solid carbon to gaseous carbon. When we use drive a car, cut down trees, or burn coal to heat our house, we are moving carbon to the atmosphere. Carbon isn't leaving the atmosphere as fast as it's entering it. And that's a problem.

Carbon dioxide, along with other gases in the atmosphere, acts like a shield. The sun's rays deliver heat to the Earth's surface, but the heat gets trapped in the atmosphere. Just like in a greenhouse, this reflected heat bounces back down to the earth's surface. This warms the Earth, which is a good thing because it keeps us from freezing. But adding too much carbon dioxide to the mix makes the Earth's atmosphere trap too much heat, which causes temperatures to rise. This is known as the greenhouse effect.

Image credit: NASA (taken from a 2002 online press release)

Scientists that study the atmosphere can show that the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are steadily and rapidly increasing. No one knows for sure how the Earth will adapt to these changes.

Image credit: Dr. Pieter Tans, NOAA/ESRL (

Think of the earth as a big mixing bowl. The sun's rays are beating down on the Equator, heating up the middle of the planet, while the poles are cold and snow-capped. These differences in temperature drive our weather.

Now, let's say that global warming has increased temperatures around the world. This may not seem like much of a problem at first, especially if you hate winter. But here are three specific concerns:

1) The Earth's weather is going to change. The polar ice caps are melting. The mechanism that drives our weather -- these differences in temperature across the globe -- has been altered. The ratio of the earth's liquid water to ice has changed. These changes are affecting the world's weather. And we have little control over the changes.

South Cascade Glacier, Washington State, United States.

Photo on top taken in 1928, photo on bottom from 2006. Note that the lower part of the glacier has melted by 2006.

Photo credits: 1928 - USDA/USGS; 2006 - USGS, cropped by Mama Joules)

Weather is not easy to predict as it is. Adding more confusion isn't going to help us develop good climate models. Although we have ideas, we don't know exactly how the weather is going to change from increased temperatures. As anyone who's watched a weather forecast knows, climate models can only predict so much.

Sometimes, a model completely fails to guess what's going to happen. Climate models are at risk of failure because so many factors (even the amount of volcanic ash in the sky) drive climate change. We know that weather can cause big problems -- things like typhoons, tornadoes, flooding, and drought. If we can't plan for the future, we will be unprepared for disaster when it strikes.

2) Some plants and animals may face extinction. The rate of temperature change might be too rapid for some species on Earth to adapt. Animals that currently live in the coldest climates on Earth -- like polar bears and penguins -- have no where else to go.

Photo credit: Dave Olsen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

3) The composition of ocean water is changing. Melting polar ice caps create another problem -- they decrease the salinity of the Earth's oceans. The increase in planetary carbon dioxide is also changing the ocean's acidity. The plants and animals that live in the ocean are at risk from these changes. These changes may also affect the way that the ocean functions, like how it deals with pollution or how nutrients cycle through the marine ecosystem.

What can we do? These problems facing our planet can seem overwhelming. But here are some concrete things that you can do to make a difference:

Learn about the greenhouse effect and climate change. Over 7,000 blogs have chosen today, Blog Action Day 2009 to focus on climate change. Check them out!

Reduce your carbon footprint. Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gases (like CO2) that is being released into the atmosphere because of your behavior. If you carpool, turn off the lights, recycle, and shop locally, you will be reducing the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere.

Let your voice be heard! Join organizations that are working to understand climate change. As soon as you are old enough, vote! Support candidates that understand the environmental problems facing our planet.

Study science, math, and engineering. Scientists are already finding ways to sequester carbon (moving carbon from the atmosphere back into a solid form). Someone like you can invent a new and wonderful way to help address our planet's carbon problem!

(My thanks to Kerm and Itinerant Cryptographer for providing helpful comments on early drafts of this post.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change

Over 6000 bloggers have signed up (along with me!) to write about climate change on October 15, 2009 for Blog Action Day 2009. One of the goals of this campaign is to draw attention to -- and show support for -- the international United Nations climate change negotiations planned for this December in Copenhagen.

Want to add to the global conversation? Join me and sign up today!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Website of the Week: Neuroscience for Kids

I haven't posted a Website of the Week in awhile, but I couldn't resist this one. Alexandra at Happy Hearts at Home pointed me toward this great page of neuroscience coloring pages which are part of Neuroscience for Kids, the brainchild of Dr. Eric Chudler of the University of Washington.

The brains behind this site have thought of everything:
*Check out these experiments and lesson plans.

*Explore the nervous system.

*Color a neuron or brain online.

*Solve an online jigsaw puzzle and send the resultant wacky brain-themed postcard to a friend.

*Watch the BrainWorks TV show!


*Don't miss these brain-themed creative writing projects.

This year's drawing contest is over (check out the wonderful drawings of the brain!), but the Neuroscience for Kids Poetry Contest is coming in November 2009. (Yes!!)

Get a head start on next year's Brain Awareness Week (March 15-21, 2010) with these brainy lesson plans. And if you're near the University of Washington, mark your calendar now to attend next year's Brain Awareness Week Open House on March 11, 2010. Information about registration will be available soon.

If you've got a neurology question, head over to the question/answer page, where Dr. Chudler and his staff will pit their brains against your questions.

Does Neuroscience for Kids grab you, too? Sign up for the free newsletter to stay informed. (I think I'll do that now!)

Look! My synapses are on fire!

Image credit: (top) Neuroscience for Kids website, (bottom) titus tscharntke, through
Bad joke courtesy of Mama Joules

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Homeschooling & science

I found this article through Happy Hearts at Home and I thought it might be helpful to some of my readers. I was struck by Landry's comments about science education.


This article may be published on web sites and
in publications as long as it's reproduced in
its entirety, including the resource box at the end
of the article. Thanks!

College Professor Critiques Homeschoolers
copyright 2009 by Greg Landry, M.S.

I teach sophomore through senior level college
students - most of them are "pre-professional"
students. They are preparing to go to medical
school, dental school, physical therapy school,

As a generalization, I've noticed certain
characteristics common in my students who were
homeschooled. Some of these are desirable,
some not.

Desirable characteristics:

1. They are independent learners and do a great
job of taking initiative and being responsible
for learning. They don't have to be "spoon fed"
as many students do. This gives them an advantage
at two specific points in their education;
early in college and in graduate education.

2. They handle classroom social situations
(interactions with their peers and professors)
very well. In general, my homeschooled students
are a pleasure to have in class. They greet me
when the enter the class, initiate conversations
when appropriate, and they don't hesitate to
ask good questions. Most of my students do
none of these.

3. They are serious about their education and
that's very obvious in their attitude, preparedness,
and grades.

Areas where homeschooled students can improve:

1. They come to college less prepared in the
sciences than their schooled counterparts -
sometimes far less prepared. This can be
especially troublesome for pre-professional
students who need to maintain a high grade
point average from the very beginning.

2. They come to college without sufficient
test-taking experience, particularly with
timed tests. Many homeschooled students have a
high level of anxiety when it comes to taking
timed tests.

3. Many homeschooled students have problems
meeting deadlines and have to adjust to that in
college. That adjustment time in their freshman
year can be costly in terms of the way it affects
their grades.

My advice to homeschooling parents:

1. If your child is even possibly college
bound and interested in the sciences, make
sure that they have a solid foundation of
science in the high school years.

2. Begin giving timed tests by 7th or 8th grade.
I'm referring to all tests that students take, not
just national, standardized tests.

I think it is a disservice to not give students
timed tests. They tend to focus better and score
higher on timed tests, and, they are far better
prepared for college and graduate education if
they've taken timed tests throughout the high
school years.

In the earlier years the timed tests should allow
ample time to complete the test as long as the
student is working steadily. The objective is for
them to know it's timed yet not to feel a time
pressure. This helps students to be comfortable
taking timed tests and develops confidence in
their test-taking abilities.

3. Give your students real deadlines to meet in
the high school years. If it's difficult for students
to meet these deadlines because they're
coming from mom or dad, have them take
"outside" classes; online, co-op, or community

Greg Landry is a 14 year veteran homeschool dad
and college professor. He also teaches one and
two semester online science classes, and offers
free 45 minute online seminars..

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thinking about "improbable research"

Are you familiar with the Nobel Prize, that wonderful award which caps a great scientist's career? Well, how about the Ig® Nobel Prize?

Yesterday, Improbable Research awarded the 19th First Annual Ig® Nobel Prizes. How were the winners chosen? According to their website, "[i]mprobable research is research that makes people laugh and then think."

Improbable Research finds the most unusual studies in over 20,000 publications and summarizes those most worthy in the Annals of Improbable Research. The best part? Each magazine comes complete with this handy-dandy Teachers' Guide.

This year, one of the Ig® Nobel prize winners was a UK team that discovered named cows produce more milk than unnamed cows. I loved this researcher's response to finding out that her group was a recipient. As reported by the BBC, she said that she was a great fan of the prize. She then praised UK dairy farmers for their humane treatment of their animals. Finally, "Dr. [Catherine] Douglas dedicated the award to Purslane, Wendy and Tina - 'the nicest cows I have ever known'."

If you happen to be in Cambridge, MA this Saturday, head on over to MIT for free seating at the Ig® Informal Lectures and learn more about this year's prize winners.