Monday, October 31, 2022

When Socks go Missing

The average person loses 15 socks a year. That’s 1,264 over a lifetime! At the average cost of $2/sock, that can really add up. 

The mystery of sock disappearance is so perplexing, that in 2016 Samsung commissioned psychologist Simon Moore and statistician Geoff Ellis to figure out why our socks go missing in the wash. After surveying about 2,000 households in the UK, they developed the Sock Loss Index (SLI): 

In the formula, 'L' stands for 'laundry size' which is calculated by multiplying the number of people in the household (p) with the frequency of washes in a week (f).

'C' stands for the 'washing complexity.' This includes how many types of wash (t) households do in a week (darks and whites) multiplied by the number of socks washed in a week (s). Although, who among us counts the number of socks we toss into the hamper?

The second part is the product of the “positivity” (P) of doing the laundry times the degree of attention (A). Positivity is measured on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being “hates doing the laundry” to 5 being “loves doing laundry”. To calculate Attention, add how many of these things you do at the start of each laundry. Do you check pockets? Unroll sleeves? Turn clothes right-side out? Here’s a video of the scientists explaining how they calculated the SLI.

Then there’s the completely different problem of where socks go when they disappear. Here are some locations people often find lost socks: one sock still in the hamper; dropped by or between washer and dryer; under the bed or couch; in a shoe; in someone else’s drawer; in a toy box; outside (taken by pet or fallen off a line); clinging to another piece of clothing (we once found a sock weeks later stuck in a sleeve!); or in the lost socks box. Where do your lost socks go?

Drop by on Wednesday for some Sock Science!

Much of this post comes from my "Archimedes Notebook" column in Ithaca Child, 2017.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Vampire Worms! The perfect Halloween reading

Who needs a scary Halloween book about zombies when there are true stories that will make your skin crawl and give you the heebie-jeebies? 

American Murderer is one such book. Subtitled “The parasite that haunted the south,” it’s the most recent in Gail Jarrow’s Medical Fiascoes series. Just released last month from Calkins Creek, it's the perfect scary read for kids 10 and older. 

The first book in the series, Blood and Germs follows the advances in medicine during the Civil War. Twice as many men died from microbes and parasites as were killed by battles. While it begins as a medical fiasco, the war ended with advancements in surgical techniques and medical care that set the bar for decades. 

In the second book, Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield, Jarrow details the medical mistakes made in the aftermath of Garfield’s assassination. A series of faulty diagnoses and outdated treatments eventually led to the president’s demise.

American Murderer hits closer to home – the backyards and school yards of the American south. It focuses on microscopic worms living in the soil. Invisible vampires that enter your body through your bare feet, travel to your intestines, and stay there for years sucking your blood and draining you of energy. 

Yes, there are gory photos of the victims! 
Yes, there are gross diagrams and photos of the vampiric worms! 

But mostly it’s a story about the scientist who discovered the worm and played a role in educating the public on treatments and eradication: Charles Wardell Stile. As a boy, Charles was a curious naturalist. Like other boys in the second half of the 1800s, he collected specimens for his bedroom nature museum. I enjoyed reading about the time he decided to boil the flesh off a dead cat so he could add the skeleton to his museum – a time-honored way of cleaning the bones… as long as you remember to take the pot off the stove before it burns into a stinky mess (and I say this from experience).

Separating people’s bare feet from the microscopic worms sounds easy: have people wear shoes, and provide outhouses that don’t leak. But in the late 1800s and early 1900s, that was easier said than done. For one thing, shoes cost money. For another, people wondered who were those know-it-all Yankees coming down to tell them how to live? Fortunately, there was medical treatment – if doctors could reach the people who needed it most. 

These days, there is very little risk of getting hookworm disease in the United States, due in large part to the advances in sanitation and waste control. Unfortunately, according to new research, we are not rid of that blood-sucking vampire worm just yet…

You can find out more about Gail Jarrow and her books at her website, Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

And remember to wear your shoes when you head out on Halloween night…. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Becoming a Skeleton


I usually find leaf skeletons in the spring, after months of rain and snow has mouldered away the tender parts, leaving the vascular tissue (the "bones"). But sometimes I find the occasional leaf turning to skeleton before leaving home - helped along by fungi, I'm sure.

This week, head outside and look for leaf skeletons. If you don't want to wait around for spring, you can make your own. It is fun for kids, but adult supervision is needed. Here's how.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Stories This Rock Could Tell


Every rock has a story.

For this rock, it could be the story about how it used to be a chunk of shiny fool’s gold until it got covered by the gravel from Lake Bonneville. That gravel was heavy, and compressed the rock into a matrix of limestone. Over time, limonite replaced the beautiful pyrite crystals, turning them brown. Eventually the water receded, leaving the rock high and dry, allowing opportunity for wind and rain to erode the limestone.

Or it could be the story about one city car, two cowboys, three girls and their parents, and four stuck tires. A story that begins with dad packing the car for a grand adventure and mom packing sandwiches and kids arguing about who gets to sit where. A story that wonders why a car that had no business being there, found itself stuck in a creek bed that, in drier weather, passed for a road. And honest-to-god cowboys with strong quarter horses and thick ropes who rescued said vehicle and then offered the girls a ride to the quarry because they were heading that way anyway to check on the herd.

It could be a story of who, what, when, where, how, and why. For example: why would someone carry that rock across the entire country, twice, when there are other, smoother, prettier rocks to tuck into a pocket? Or a story that has no grounding in our shared reality.

On the other hand, it could be a story about a rock that remembers those cowboys, and the lake, and the time it was new and shiny and had great expectations for the future.

Next time you find a rock, sit down with it and ask its story. You'd be surprised how much a rock has to say.

Friday, October 21, 2022

You can Make a Mountain!

How to Make a Mountain: in Just 9 Simple Steps and Only 100 Million Years! 
by Amy Huntington; illus. by Nancy Lemon 
68 pages; ages 5-8
‎Chronicle Books, 2022

theme: mountains, geology, biodiversity

Let’s make a mountain, a big one with steep cliffs, boulders, streams, and waterfalls.

It’s a big job, but you’re up to it, right? First, we need a rock. Not that one – a bigger one. No, REALLY BIG! And we need some wind and rain, some freezing temperatures, maybe a glacier, then some warming… but most of all we need time. Lots of time. And snacks. You did pack snacks, right? Because we’re going to be here for a while.

What I like about this book: This is such a fun introduction to geomorphology, the study of landforms and landform evolution. Mountain-building certainly falls into that category. I like how Amy Huntington divides her book into nine easy steps, beginning with “crash and crumple” – a great way to describe tectonic plates colliding. There are a number of steps that contribute to weathering the rock and creating soil. Which is a slow process, so she suggests that readers “brainstorm a list of plants” they want on their mountain. 

After adding plants and animals, you might think the job is done. But no, there is one last step: Care. I love that Amy added that last step. Because, although mountains are low-maintenance, they need help keeping the streams clear and the trees healthy.

And then there is back matter! If you’ve made a very tall mountain, you might have alpine meadows. Or maybe you want to add some hiking trails and, if you’ve ever hiked Straight. Up. A. Mountain you know that there are probably better ways to make paths for people to walk. She suggests artistic touches, such as striations, ponds, and vernal pools. Definitely a handy guide for any kid heading out to make mountains out of … well, whatever.

Beyond the Books:

Visit a mountain, preferably one with a trail you can walk up. Most geologists classify a mountain as a landform that rises at least 1,000 feet (300 meters) or more above its surrounding area, so it doesn’t have to be very tall! 
  • When you get there, draw a picture of what your mountain looks like. 
  • If it doesn’t have a name, give it one. 
  • What sort of plants do you see at the bottom of your mountain? 
  • What kinds of animals do you see or hear? 
  • What does the air feel like? 
  • When you get to the top, look at the plants and animals. Do you notice any differences?
  • Make a map to show where your mountain is (in case a friend wants to visit it).
Make some mountains. All you need are three towels of different colors, and a friend. Here’s a video about how to do it.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Once these were Roses


Now they are rose hips... the fruit produced by this multiflora rose. Multiflora rose is an invasive plant, taking over fields and requiring constant cutting where you don't want them. But, the US Forest Service notes, multiflora rose hips provide food for grouse, wild turkeys, cedar waxwings and robins, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, opossums, coyotes, black bears, beavers, snowshoe hares, skunks and mice. 

This week look for the fruits left behind by summer flowers. Places to find fruits: trees, shrubs, rosebushes, and flowers. What do you see in your neighborhood?

Monday, October 17, 2022

Make the World a Better Place for Wild Things ~ by Lisa Kahn Schnell

I write and make art to make the world a better place. To me, that means protecting wild creatures and wild places, connecting people with the non-human natural world, and deepening and sharing those connections. That’s part of what made me curious to learn more about Rosalie Edge. 
Lisa's sketch of tree at Hawk Mountain

Mabel Rosalie Barrow Edge founded Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in 1934 as a response to the annual shooting of migrating raptors that passed along the main ridge that runs through southeastern Pennsylvania. Because hawks, eagles, falcons, and other birds of prey were considered vermin at the time, whole families gathered on rocky outcrops on Sundays each autumn to shoot the birds as they flew by. Rosalie, who by that point had dedicated her life to protecting wildlife of all sorts (not just the cute and cuddly kind), was horrified. After many ups and downs and a whole lot of work, she raised enough money to purchase the land and create the world’s first sanctuary for migrating raptors. 

I had worked and volunteered at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for over ten years before I dove into the details of Rosalie’s story. Big posters of her greeted me every time I walked into the visitor center, and I had given presentations about her to tour groups and sanctuary visitors. But with her tidy suit, fancy hat, and heels, I always found her a bit intimidating. Her face did not just look out from those posters. It implored, with the fierceness of one of the raptors she so loved.

Red-tailed hawk sketch by Lisa
I have come to understand that fierceness as devotion to the causes she cared about. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary was definitely one of those causes! But her reach was broad, and whatever the topic, Rosalie took every opportunity to speak up—and encouraged others to do the same. By creating Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, she also made it possible to start collecting data about migrating raptors. This data set has continued to build to this day, and has been used by scientists far and wide (including Rachel Carson) to monitor raptor population trends. Rosalie listened to her heart, and her actions sparked great changes.  

But Rosalie hasn’t gotten as much attention as other environmentalists. I’m excited to share her story, both as a way to give back to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary—a place that has meant so much to me—and also to inspire others. By learning about her struggles and creative solutions, I hope that more people will use their own skills and ideas to make the world a better place for wild things and the humans who love them, too.     

Lisa at Hawk Mountain
One way you can help make the world a better place for wild things is to ask someone to tell you about an experience they had with nature. A lot can happen if you listen. However big or small the story—or the teller!—listening is a great reminder that these experiences and relationships with wild things are important. And who knows what good things will come of that. 

Lisa Kahn Schnell is the author of High Tide For Horseshoe Crabs and other books for young readers. She has worked and volunteered at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for over 20 years. This year, Lisa has been sketching a tree every day. She’d love to hear your stories about a special tree you know, or other moments in the natural world. You can find her online at and @lisakschnell. 

Friday, October 14, 2022

Meet some Peculiar Primates

Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures 
by Debra Kempf Shumaker; illus. by Claire Powell 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Running Press Kids, 2022

theme: nonfiction, animals, adaptations

 All primates climb and breathe in air. 

To be a primate, you have to have certain traits: hands, hair, lungs, and a big brain. But there are so many kinds of primates, and they are all different. In this companion to Freaky, Funky Fish, Debra uses rhyme to show the diversity of primates and their behaviors. Some primates live alone, while some live in groups. Some build nests and some sleep with their family on bare branches, with their tails twined together.

What I like about this book: I love so much about this book that I’ll just start from the outside and move in. First is the jacket: so many different primates swinging, perched on limbs, grooming, hooting, leaping! And then, the actual book cover beneath the jacket. It’s a field notebook – which adds context to the endpages: a map taped to a page, a packing list, and some reminders clipped to the list. The title page is fun, as is the dedication page… and we have yet to reach the meat of the book!

I love the couplets – rhythm is spot on, and the rhymes are fun to read out loud. Primates featured on the spreads are identified, so curious young primatologists can learn their names. And some receive Peculiarity Department Ratings (on a scale of 1-10)

And there is back matter! Three pages of more info about the primates featured on each spread. Plus websites and books and videos. There’s a lot here for parents and teachers – and older kids who want to explore the field of primatology.

But what I loved the most was the last spread featuring young primates playing and building things. You don’t even have to go to a zoo to see one – just look in the mirror!

Beyond the Books:

What traits do you share with other primates?

If you live near a zoo, visit all the primates there. Spend some time watching them (are they watching you?). Write down what you observe.

Some primates use tools. What kind of tools do you use? Here’s a video of chimpanzees using tools.  

Debra is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. You can find out more about her at her website,

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Gold Falling from the Sky


Early in the morning, the first rays of light turn the trees brilliant gold. It's like the leaves are burning with a fire inside of them. They may look like gold on the trees, but close-up you can see they've been battered by wind and pests. They also have their own personalities.

This week, get to know a leaf or two.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Finding Fungi in Alaska ~ by Alisha Gabriel

 In June, I was very fortunate to take an Alaskan cruise with my husband. We saw beautiful mountains, waterfalls, eagles, glaciers, and…fungi! On some of the hiking trails, I couldn’t seem to walk more than a few feet without stopping to photograph something – usually some type of fungus, of course. My husband was the same way, but his passion is sound. He’s an audio engineer and works on video games. He brought along a hand-held recorder and kept stopping to record nature’s ambience. Isn’t great to walk with someone who doesn’t rush you?

The fungi that I found along Alaskan trails were a far cry from the fungi in my backyard in central Texas. Since the trip, I’ve tried to identify a few of the things I photographed. One favorite includes Fomes fomentarius, also known as tinder fungus or amadou. Sue and I highlighted it in chapter 8 of Funky Fungi: 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More in a section titled “From the Fungus Files.” And do you know what kept going through my head as I photographed them? I wish I could have used these photos in our book! By then, though, our book was already printed and about to be released to the public. 

But I can share them with you now. Just a few feet away from the tinder fungus was another type of polypore. I think they might have been red-belt conks (Fomitopsis pinicola).

As I walked alongside a trail in the Sitka National Historical Park, a beautiful lichen caught my eye. Nicknamed the “fairy barf” lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum), it was growing on a fallen log stained a blue-green color. I called out to my husband, “Spalted wood!” There are several types of fungi that discolor wood (one type of spalting), but it was the first time I had found one. 

Speaking of lichens, there are many diverse species in Alaska and it’s possible that I saw a few without realizing they’re lichens. When I began sorting through my photos and trying to figure out their names, I came across this PDF of Lichens of Alaska’s South Coast provided by the USDA Forest Service. If only I had researched some of the fungi before the trip! 

One of the coolest lichens I photographed would normally be dangling from a branch, but I found it crumpled on the ground. This stringy, mossy-looking lichen is probably Usnea longissimi, nicknamed Methusula’s beard. 

You don’t have to travel halfway across the country to find fungi, though. You can find lichens and mushrooms and other funky fungi in your own backyard! The more you look, the more you’ll find. Back in May, Sue and I wrote about how and where we find fungi in our backyards, and (of course) you can always check out the activities in our book. If you’re looking for more books, I’ve created a list of “fun”-gi books at, so check it out! 

In addition to writing books, Alisha is an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor at Southwestern University. Not only has she used her writing skills to win four grants to benefit her students, but she’s played flute and piccolo for  video games – and even a TV commercial! You can find out more about her books here.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Build a House, a Bridge, and More...

Last week it was all about beaver building a lodge. So this week I’m sharing books about engineering and architecture. Because… building!

themes: building, engineering, STEM

Bear Builds a House 
by Maxwell Eaton III 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Neal Porter Books, 2022

(Bear has been) caring for a friend’s house, but now it’s time to build one of her own.

First, thought, she needs to find a good building site. Then she needs to plan the house and hire some help: Beaver to saw and mill trees, Woodchuck to excavate, and some other woodland crafts-mammals. This book provides a great overview of what goes into building a house. We see the site plan and architectural drawings, complete with elevations (drawings that show what the house will look like from each side). Bear has many things to do: source building materials (local lumber), put in a foundation, install water and sewage systems, frame the house, cover the roof, put in some solar panels and a woodstove, and insulate the house against weather extremes.

What I like about this book: I like the way Maxwell Eaton uses labels and lists to show what is being done and what materials are used. I love the introduction to the house-building crew, and the undercurrent of “is it done yet?” and the final scene when everyone enjoys the housewarming party. Back matter includes a note from the author, in which he points out the environmental costs of various inputs in the construction project. And I like the duck.

How Was That Built?: The Stories Behind Awesome Structures 
by Roma Agrawal; illus. by Katie Hickey 
80 pages; ages 7& up
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2022

Though there are plenty of illustrations in this book, it feels more like an illustrated nonfiction book for older readers. Author Roma Agrawal is a structural engineer. She has designed bridges and skyscrapers, and spent six years working on The Shard (the tallest building in Western Europe). In her book, Roma shows how engineers and architects approached a variety of challenges: how to build a dome, how to build underground, how to build on ice, in space, in the sea. 

What I like: I like the detailed illustrations, with explanatory text. I like the diversity of engineering problems addressed. And I really like the occasional “try it at home” activities.

Working With Buildings and Structures (Kid Engineer series)
By Izzi Howell; illus. by Diego Vaisberg
32 pages; ages 9+
Kane Miller Publishing, 2022

From sketches to physics to materials selection, this book provides kids a great introduction to building things. With plenty of hands-on activities, this is a perfect book for the kid who wants to explore engineering and architecture. Using nothing more than paper and tape, can you build a structure sturdy enough to hold your math book?

Beyond the Books:

Design and build a house using materials you have in and around your house. You might have blocks, or Legos – but remember to check what’s available in the recycling bin and outside. You might want to use twigs to frame a dome…

Build a bridge out of paper. Here’s a video showing some engineering ideas, and here’s some more bridge-making ideas.

Try making your own mud bricks. Here’s how.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Fall Colors

 Most folks, when they think of Fall Colors imagine the scarlets and fiery oranges of maple leaves, the deeper russets and shades of brown of oaks, the sunshiny yellows of aspen. Flowers have fall colors, too. If you watch a roadside or hayfield - or even the back edge of a park or playground - you might notice that the flowers you see this month are different colors than those of summer.

Six weeks ago, the flowers along our roadsides were orange daylilies and blue chicory. Now we've got an abundance of goldenrod and purple asters. 

What colors are the flowers in your neighborhood?

Monday, October 3, 2022

Building Children’s Science Identities One Notebook at a Time ~ by Jessica Fries-Gaither

 I’ve loved the natural world my entire life. Thanks to a childhood full of hikes in metro parks, afternoons splashing in creeks, and workshops at a local science center, I grew into an adult who enjoys sharing these wonders with others. Becoming a science teacher was a natural step after I decided that the research life wasn’t for me. And eventually my other lifelong love—reading—caught up and led me to extend my influence beyond the walls of my classroom by writing my own books. 

In my 23 years as a science educator, I’ve become increasingly convinced that simply teaching science content is not enough. Rather, we need to help children build identities as scientists themselves. Being able to recite all the concepts and vocabulary in the world means little if kids can’t see themselves in science and see science as relevant to their lives. 

Here's something else I know to be true: while children don’t bring the traditionally accepted body of scientific knowledge to their interactions and explorations with the natural world, they are indeed scientists. Spend any amount of time with a curious preschooler and you’ll witness many sophisticated science and engineering practices at work: asking questions, testing variables, and iterative problem solving. 

Sadly, traditional means of schooling can drum the curiosity right out of kids. And the problem is only compounded when science is presented as the domain of dead white men. How can we better structure experiences both in and out of school to help students bolster their scientific identities? One of the most powerful practices I’ve discovered to link students to scientists is keeping a science notebook.

Anyone who pursues science for a career or a passion keeps records of some sort. Chemists, molecular biologists, geneticists, and others keep lab notebooks which record their experimental methodologies, data, and analysis. Ecologists, paleontologists, and geologists keep field journals which detail observations and findings on location. Even citizen scientists and hobby birdwatchers document their findings in notebooks or digital apps. The documentation of procedure and findings is an essential practice of science for a variety of reasons: archiving results for future reference, replicating experiments, and sharing findings with others.

Science educators often have students keep science notebooks as well. But simply requiring the notebook isn’t enough. To maximize on the identity-building potential of a notebook, students must understand that they are engaging in the same practice as that of professional scientists. Want students to record observations through sketches? Read about John James Audubon, Beatrix Potter, or Charles Darwin and view samples of their notebook pages before starting on your own. Need to focus on modeling? Galileo’s notebooks might hold inspiration. Planning experiments? Read about Charles Henry Turner’s groundbreaking work with insects. 

The recent explosion of picture book biographies provides a terrific opportunity to help kids make connections between their own work and that of scientists. I created a [partial] list of picture book biographies and their correlations to science and engineering practices from the Next Generation Science Standards on my own blog and try my best to keep it updated.

Additionally, my first picture book, Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Writings (NSTA Kids 2016), profiles a diverse group of historical and contemporary scientists and engineers for whom notebooks are an essential tool. There are some recognizable names (Galileo and Newton, for example) mixed in with unfamiliar ones (Lonnie Thompson), and ones that you might not have known were scientists at all (Beatrix Potter). Linda Olliver’s beautiful illustrations make the scientists come alive, and the addition of photographs of actual notebook pages are sure to intrigue readers. In one of those “I can’t believe this is my life” moments, my book was sent to the International Space Station and read aloud by astronaut Joseph Acaba through the Story Time from Space program. The video is available on the Story Time from Space website and is perfect for sharing with children at school or at home.   

For teachers looking for more guidance in this area, I published a book on the topic this year. Science Notebooks in Student-Centered Classrooms (NSTA Press 2022) is a practical and research-based guide to implementing a notebooking practice and a testament to how science notebooks support a sensemaking culture in elementary classrooms. 

It’s worth noting that science notebooks aren’t just for school. Explorations of science and nature happen outside of the classroom, and parents can encourage children to keep records of what they are doing and learning. Homemade notebooks with a few pieces of paper stapled together work just as well as a notebook purchased from the store. Read Notable Notebooks together, talk about the ways that scientists use notebooks in their work, and then put it into practice. Sketch the worm wriggling through the garden, or write the steps for creating that perfect batch of slime. Take that notebook on a visit to a local park or the beach, and encourage kids to draw, describe, question, and investigate. Give them time to share their work and reinforce the idea that by keeping their notebooks, they are, in fact, acting as scientists.

The notebook pages featured in this post come from Jessica's students. 

Jessica is an experienced science educator and an award-winning author of books for students and teachers. Her 20+ year teaching career spans elementary school through middle school science and math. She also spent five years in the College of Education and Human Ecology, School of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University where she directed NSF-funded projects and provided professional development for elementary and middle school teachers. She is currently the Science Department Chair and Lower School Science Specialist at the Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, OH. You can find out more about her and her books at her website,