Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Recycled Art

I love winter holidays - there's candles and greenery and presents. But what do you do with all the ribbons and wrappings?

A few years ago I started collecting bits of tissue paper and gift wrap too small to re-use. They make great paper for collage art. All you need is glue (half water/ half white glue), a paint brush, and something to glue everything onto - a cereal box will do.

So this season let the environment around you inspire some recycled art. It doesn't matter whether it's the trees outside your window, the lost ladybug wandering around the kitchen counter, or the perfect snowflake stuck to the screen.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cool Robots

Cool Robots (series)
by Kathryn Clay, Erika L. Shores
24 pages; ages 4-7
Capstone, 2015

Got a robot-crazy kid? Then this just might be the perfect collection of books for her (or him). The Cool Robot series looks at robots used on earth, in space, and underwater.

 Animal Robots
Some engineers get their robot-inspiration from animals. For example, fins and fish tails might be the perfect thing to help steer an underwater robot. Some animal-robots are toys, while others are working bots, like a robotic fish that searches for pollution in the ocean.

Robots in Space
You already know one robot that works in space: the Mars rover "Curiosity". But did you know that astronauts use robotic gloves to help them grip tools better? And all those unmanned probes flying though space to Mercury, Pluto, and beyond – they are robots, too. Soon there might even be a robotic astronaut.

Robots on the Job
If you’ve watched car ads, you’ve seen factory robots. There are even restaurant robots that make sushi. But did you know there are robots that work in hospitals?

Tiny Robots
Remember that science fiction book where people are shrunk and sent inside the human body in a tiny submarine? We’re not there yet, but scientists are working on a pill-sized robot that can be swallowed and will take pictures inside the human body. They’re also working on nanobots – robots too tiny to see. Someday nanobots might be used to fight disease.

Today is STEM Friday. Head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other bloggers are reviewing. Review copies provided by publisher.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature
By Sarah C. Campbell; photos by Sarah and Richard Campbell
32 pages; ages 7 - 10
Boyds Mills Press, 2014

themes: math, nature
If you’ve never heard of a fractal, then this is the book for you. Sarah Campbell begins by looking at simple shapes around us:  cones, cylinders, spheres, rectangles. Then she moves on to things in nature that don’t have perfect shapes.

“Instead of being straight, smooth, and flat, many natural shapes are rough, bristly, and bumpy,” she writes. True enough when you’re looking at a head of broccoli, a fern, or even a tree.

Before 1975 no one really had a name for these shapes. Then, a mathematician named Mandelbrot noticed something interesting: these shapes had repeating patterns. For example,. A tree starts with a stem that divides into branches, which each divide into branches, until the very last and smallest split into twigs. He called these patterns “fractals”.

In her book, Campbell provides photos of different kinds of fractals. Then she provides a DYI “make your own fractal” activity and ends with a biographical sketch of Mandelbrot.

What I Like: The explanations are straight-forward and the photos really help illustrate her points.

Beyond the book: Are snowflakes fractals? After the Nor’easter this week, I’ve got snowflakes on my mind. And on my boots and the porch and the roof of the garage. But, although they have patterns, the snowflakes falling out of the sky aren't necessarily fractals.

Make your own snowflakes - all you need is paper and scissors. And these hints.

Go on a Fractal Hike. If you're wondering what sort of fractals you might find in nature, check out this video. Remember to take your sketchbook and some pencils so you can draw any fractals you dome across.

Make a Koch Snowflake Fractal - start with an equilateral triangle. Then add equilateral triangles on the sides - and keep adding more. Like this.

  Today is STEM Friday - head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other bloggers are reviewing. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Eyes Wide Open~ Going Behind the Environmental Headlines

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines
by Paul Fleischman
208 pages; ages 14 +
Candlewick, 2014

Growing up with the first Earth Day, the birth of the EPA, and an emerging corps of environmental journalists it was no surprise that I ended up writing about science and environmental issues.

But now, concurrent with a growing awareness of climate change and increased protests against drilling, there's an ever-decreasing number of environmental journalists on staff at news organizations - even as Congress whacks away at EPA (telling the agency it can't use scientific data to base its findings on!)

This book could not come at a more critical time!And Fleischman does a great job of wrangling a huge amount of information into six readable chapters (plus scads of material at the back). Science is only part of the environmental story, he warns us. Turns out money is just as important. Where science tells us what nature is doing, money explains what people are doing. And "power and politics are bound up with money".

Fleischman discusses Vested Interests, power, and politics.He talks about complexity and uncertainty, and how lobbyists can use those to sow doubt and prod people into denial about environmental problems. He shows how groups pouring money into pro-polluting campaigns can hide their identity and how language is used to instill fear. Take, for example, the labeling of protestors as "eco-terrorists". With the use of one word, people peacefully protesting pollution are suddenly stripped of their rights to protest and treated as criminals.

One issue Fleischman raises is conflict caused by environmental stress. Climate change can bring too much rain and flooding to one place, too little rain to another. Drought-induced food shortages can create political conflicts as people leave their farms and try to move elsewhere. As arctic ice melts, the Arctic Sea could become a battleground between nations vying for oil and gas or other minerals now accessible.

Understanding the problems is important - but learning how to judge the media and weigh the information you uncover is vital. Fleischman includes a great guide on how to judge websites, print media, books - and even the journalists publishing the news. He gives readers the same tips editors give their cub reporters: Follow the money; beware of "mental" vested interests; and check for fallacies. The camera can lie, he says.

Back matter includes source notes, bibliography, resources, glossary, and a handy index.

 As a press-card-carrying environmental journalist, I give this book my MUST READ recommendation. Today is STEM Friday - head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other bloggers are reviewing. Review copy provided by publisher.