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.