Friday, October 25, 2013

Just in Time for Halloween: Vampire Moths!

Butterflies have scratchy feet, but they don't bite. At least that's what my lepidopterist friend tells kids before she puts a monarch butterfly on their hand. Except... it turns out that there is a moth that bites. The (scary music) Vampire Moth!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bedtime Math - what an excuse to stay up late!

Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late
by Laura Overdeck; illustrated by Jim Paillot
ages 3-8; 96 pages
Feiwel & Friends, 2013

Laura Overdeck loves numbers. Granted, she's got a degree in astrophysics, so she gets an automatic pass into the math world.... but numbers shouldn't be scary, she thinks. To anyone, whether they're a teacher or a parent or a kid. So when her first child was two years old, Laura and her husband started counting out stuffed animals and creating bedtime riddles. It was when their third child demanded math problems that they realized they were on to something: a flashcard-free home where math had become a favorite bedtime activity, much like reading a story is.

Now Laura's pulled some of her favorite problems into a book, Bedtime Math. I posted a review of the book over at STEM Friday, but here's a sample of one of her problems - a seasonal one at that:
 If you have giant pumpkins that weigh 1,000 pounds each, and your car weighs 4,500 pounds, how many whole pumpkins do you need to outweigh your car? For big kids she asks: what weighs more, 4 of the 900-pound pumpkins or 5 of the 700-pound zucchinis?

A few weeks ago Laura graciously answered a few questions about why Bedtime Math is so important. It started back in college when she was figuring out such things as how much the universe weighs and whether the universe is growing or collapsing. Astrophysics, says Laura, is a lot of math!

Laura: I took a teacher prep class, and that got me thinking how math and science are taught - and how we make this stuff approachable. Years later, as a mom, I see how math anxiety pervades our society. There are elementary teachers who are afraid of math, and parents. We need to break this cycle. (check out Laura's TED talk below)

Archimedes: In your book you mention that math literacy is every bit as important as language and reading.

Laura: Yes! Parents read to kids all the time, and children have a positive view of reading. So why not math? Even if parents don't love math, they can weave it into daily life in a way that makes math fun. That way children can see that math is fun before they set foot into their first classroom. The thing is, we use math every day, and it shouldn't be relegated to the "homework" category. We can play with math while in the car, or before breakfast or any time that is not school - and that way the message becomes "math is not homework; it's part of everyday life."

Archimedes: Aside from never saying "Oh, I never did well in math...", how can math-phobic parents help their kids fall in love with math?

Laura: There are so many simple things. When playing with toy trucks you can ask: if the truck drives 2 feet this way and then 3 feet that way, how many feet does it drive? There are so many ways to draw children into mathematical thinking, and the more you explore, the more likely a child can find a math area where he or she has strength. Children have different math intelligences- some have an easier time with geometry and spatial orientation, while another might be more inclined towards engineering and another more in tune with the language of algebra.
Head over to Laura's website,Bedtime Math - and sign up to get a nightly problem. Today's review is part of the STEM Friday round-up. Check out the other science books and resources reviewed this week. Then on Monday, we're joining Abby the Librarian for Nonfiction Monday.
 Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Wacky New Animals

Wild Discoveries:
Wacky New Animals
by Heather Montgomery
64 pages; ages 7 - 10
Scholastic, 2013

I can't pass up a book with a frog on its cover - especially one this unusual. It's a Condor Glassfrog from a forest high on an Ecuadorian mountainside. And it's a new species - at least "new to us". Because, while it's been around for years decades centuries, scientists only "discovered" it within the last half-dozen years.

Heather Montgomery gives us a round-the-world tour of new animals (and a couple non animal species) discovered between 2007 and 2012.  For each, she includes its scientific name (genus and species) - the Latin label that allows it to be identified by scientists no matter what language they speak when they order take-out. She also lets us know its role in nature (carnivore, decomposer) where it was found, how big it is, and a little about its life or behavior.

There's a brilliant pink Dragon millipede, a cat-sized Titi monkey, a 7-inch long crayfish with hairy antennae, and a Pygmy seahorse that measures a half inch. Scientists have bestowed some of their new discoveries with humorous names: "Tarzan chameleon" for a chameleon that climbs trees; "pancake batfish" for a fish as flat as a pancake; and Spongiforma squarepantsii for a brand new fungus that resembles... a sponge. Every now and then Montgomery tosses in a magnifying glass icon with an "unsolved mystery" question.

Heather was kind enough to answer three questions about her new book.

Archimedes: What drove you to write this book?

Heather:  While researching other projects I had been corresponding with several scientists who had discovered new species of insects. I became fascinated with the process of discovery and wanted to write a book that followed an entomologist and his team through the process. When an editor at Scholastic asked me for a proposal I realized that a long narrative was not the right approach for that kind of book. I began digging, and digging and discovered a vast number of organisms being discovered (even on a daily basis!) and decided to approach the topic by using an abundance of examples. When I found things like a hot-pink millipede and slime-spewing worms which had never been known to science, I knew this would be "wacky" examples to illustrate the diversity of life.

Archimedes: Can you describe how long it took & the kinds of  research you did?

Heather: I LOVE research! For this book I read extensively - many, many news releases and scientific papers. I interviewed many scientists, by phone or email - they were exceptionally helpful! Unfortunately time and resources prevented me from visiting the amazing places on the planet where these animals were found (miles deep in the ocean, high in the cloud forests of South America,...) -- except for one peaceful creek where a bottlebrush crayfish was recently discovered. That creek happens to be about an hour away from my home. In my many paddling trips via canoe or kayak, how did I manage to miss discovering that 11-inch, blue-blooded beauty?

Archimedes: What new animal discovery surprised you the most?

Heather: That's kind of like asking a parent which is their favorite kid.  A see-through frog, the longest insect in the world, a worm that eats whale bones, and a 2-foot monkey that no one knew about?!?! But, if I had to pick, it wouldn't be a particular animal - but instead, the fact that animals that live basically in my back yard have never been described by scientists. That blows my mind!  It makes me want to get outside and see what I can find!

OK eco-explorers...  let's head outside and see what new animals - and plants - we can discover. Even if they are just "new to us".
Check out other cool science posts and STEM resources over at STEM Friday. Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Fungus Among Us

The other day I was walking about the lawn looking for a mushroom. It had rained a lot, so I figured that mushrooms should be sprouting all about. I nearly stepped on these little guys ... no larger than acorn caps.

Turns out, fungi come in all sizes and shapes, from what we think of as a "normal" mushroom - with stalk and cap - to things that look more like corals.

I could probably put this "coral fungi" in my small plastic aquarium and glue hang some paper fish from the top and fool my friends.

Fungi are not plants. In fact, they have their own kingdom. And one of the biggest questions is: how do I pronounce "fungi"?

Some folks (mostly those across the pond) say "fun-gee".  Most folks I know say "fun-guy" - as in: why would you invite a mushroom to your party? Because he's a fun guy! Others say "fun-ji".

Like icebergs, there's more to fungi than what you see. But I'll let the "naked scientist" explain, with her awesome sketchbook. Then, why not grab your own sketchbook and head out to see what fungi are lurking in your lawn?

This is part of STEM Friday. Check out the STEM Friday blog for book reviews and resources.