INK authors and editors wishing you a joyous romp into a new season. We'll be posting our next set of Minutes on Saturday, April 7, 2018
Nonfiction is the New Black
Baseball fans were fascinated by an article in Sports Illustrated magazine just before the start of the 1985 major league baseball season. It profiled Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch, a rookie pitcher who was in spring training with the New York Mets. According to the article, he could throw a baseball at a top speed of nearly 170 miles per hour. That was twice as fast as many other pitchers. Photos accompanying the article showed Finch with his excited teammates. Teams that would be playing the Mets contacted the league office. They feared that their batters would be in danger when Finch was on the mound.
There was, however, a problem with the article. “Finch” in the photos was actually Joe Berton, an Illinois junior high school art teacher. The article’s subtitle provided a clue about its real purpose: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga —and his future in baseball.” The first letters spell “Happy April Fool’s Day—ah Fib.”
The issue was dated April 1.
The Sidd Finch saga is one of the best-known hoaxes that occur every year on April Fool’s Day. It’s not clear when the custom of playing tricks on this day originated, or even why. The first clear reference seems to come in 1561, in a work by Belgian poet Eduard De Dene. A nobleman orders his servant to run silly errands on April 1. De Dene was almost certainly making a reference to a custom that was already well-established.
By the end of the following century, it had spread to England. In 1698, a London newspaper reported that “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” This was a prank that city dwellers played on bumpkins from rural areas. There were no lions, nor was there any washing.
In Scotland, April Fool’s Day actually became two days. The first day was “hunting the gowk” (a gowk was a cuckoo bird, a symbol of fools), sending people on ridiculous errands. Then came Tailie Day, which involved pinning tails or “kick me” signs on people’s butts.
It’s not clear when April Fool’s Day came to the United States. But today Americans love “celebrating” it. So if someone tells you a story that seems like a hoax or a joke, check the calendar. If it’s April 1, someone is probably fooling you.
Crack! It's going, going, it's gone! Professional players make it look easy to hit a home run. But without science, they’d be left in the batter’s box. In The Science of Hitting a Home Run, you can take a closer look at the science that makes a home run possible. Check this and Jim's many other titles out at his website.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "April Fool's Day." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 30 Mar.
Science through the lens
Do you know about the “birds and the bees?” If you don’t, don’t worry. You will learn soon enough.
When it comes to flowers there’s nothing to hide. There’s just no way around it—flowers are sexy. Their colorful, curvy petals are soft as velvet and as fragrant as the most expensive perfumes. Their nectar is as sweet as…well, honey. Besides being pretty, flowers have power. Their pollen is packed with protein. No wonder the birds and the bees, and insects of many kinds, find them so irresistible.
Pollen may be the perfect food for bees, but it is also the way plants get together. Think about it. Plants can’t walk, crawl, swim, or fly. So, how does boy meet girl?
In order to reproduce, the pollen from the male has to have direct contact with the female (and I don’t mean texting). Pollen grains are carried on the legs of bees and in the beaks of birds, from one flower to another. A few grains become engaged, hitched, and literally stuck on the sticky female flower part called the stigma. Sugar from the stigma fuels the pollen grain to sprout a tube. This pollen tube grows downward through the female part called the pistil and into the chambers that contain tiny bubble shaped eggs. When the tip of the pollen tube finally reaches an egg chamber it releases a male sperm cell. The sperm and the egg unite, and a brand-new cell is formed. This is the beginning of a seed.
Picture an apple. Before the apple was a fruit containing seeds, it was a very sexy flower. So the next time someone asks you if you know about the birds and the bees, tell them about flower power. They might be surprised how plants get together to make baby plants, which in scientific terms is an interesting example of the process called sexual reproduction.
Pollen is contained in the anthers, which are the six slipper shaped sacs at the end of the stamens. The female stigma is the rounded tip located at the top of the style. The pollen tube is a microscopic tube that grows through the style and into the ovary, which is hidden inside the base of this flower. Hanging down, at the lower right side of the photo are the remains of another flower. The petals and stamen have fallen off revealing the entire pistil: the stigma, style, and the ovary (green structure), which holds the eggs. Photo credit © Alexandra Siy
Why not watch some web-spinners do their thing with the help of this stunning and superlative book by Alexandra Siy? You can read more about it here.
Alexandra Siy is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
As any paper airplane pilot knows, getting into the air and staying up in the air are two different things. An out-of-control, unstable paper airplane quickly ends up on the floor—no matter how powerfully you threw it. Controlling an airplane was the problem yet to be solved in the late 1890s. Many of the inventors racing to be the first to build a powered flying machine didn’t understand that controlling an airplane is different from controlling other vehicles of the time. But the Wright Brothers did.
Unlike a car or boat, an airplane moves in three directions: pitch, yaw, and roll. Stable flight takes correctly controlling all three.
When you steer a boat, you move a rudder to go left or right. This is yaw. Turn a rudder on its side and you get an elevator, which controls a submarine as it dives and surfaces. This is pitch. Airplanes also have elevators and rudders. But flying takes more than up-down and right-left control. An airplane also tilts side to side, in a motion called roll. Think of a jet tilting its wings as it changes direction. Or a little kid zooming around with tilted arms spread wide.
Controlling the roll of an airplane was the secret to stable, sustained flight. And this is where the Wright Brothers had an edge. They built bicycles. A bicycle is an unstable vehicle when it isn’t moving. In fact, it falls over. A moving bicycle is much easier to balance than a stopped one. And steering a moving bicycle is more than just turning the handlebars right or left. The rider must lean into turns, tilting his body to keep balanced. Sound familiar? It’s the same kind of motion as roll.
Orville and Wilbur Wright knew about roll and worked on a way to control it even while experimenting with gliders. They controlled roll through wing-warping, a system of cables attached to the wings that twisted their shape, like twisting an empty aluminum foil box. The pilot controlled which way the wings warped by moving his hips as he lay on the airplane in a kind of cradle. Soon ailerons, those flaps on the backside of airplane wings, became the controller of roll. But the brothers of the Wright Cycle Company figured it out—and flew—first.
If you look at pitch, roll and yaw together you can see that each type of motion helps control the direction and level of the plane when it is flying. The ailerons raise and lower the wings. The pilot controls the roll of the plane by raising one aileron or the other with a control wheel. The rudder works to control the yaw of the plane. Pressing the right rudder pedal moves the rudder to the right. This yaws the aircraft to the right. Used together, the rudder and the ailerons are used to turn the plane. The elevators which are on the tail section are used to control the pitch of the plane. Lowering the elevators makes the plane nose go down and allows the plane to go down. By raising the elevators the pilot can make the plane go up.
First successful flight of the Wright Flyer, by the Wright brothers. The machine traveled 120 ft (36.6 m) in 12 seconds. Orville Wright was at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with his hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright ran alongside to balance the machine. Library of Congress
Mary Kay Carson's The Wright Brothers for Kids: How They Invented the Airplane, 21 Activities Exploring the Science and History of Flight tells the amazing true story of how two bicycle-making brothers from Ohio, with no more than high-school educations, accomplished a feat on the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, that forever changed the world.
MLA 8 Citation
Carson, Mary Kay. "How Did Building Bikes Help the Wright Brothers Invent the
Airplane?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Mar. 2018,
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
Have you heard about the “butterfly effect,” the idea that one small change can bring about big changes over time? This idea is important in the study of ecology, which deals with the interactions of living things and their environments. Each element of an ecosystem has its place. When one element is eliminated, it affects everything else.
The Yellowstone ecosystem centered in Yellowstone National Park provides a great example. Late in the 20th century, biologists were worried about the aspen trees there. Aspens occur in clusters that are actually clones growing up from shared root systems. Some of the Yellowstone clones were hundreds of years old, but the old, dying trees weren’t being replaced by strong young shoots. It looked like they might just die out, and no one was sure why.
When a severe drought in 1988 led to big wildfires in the park, the idea that fire might stimulate aspen growth proved wrong. Perhaps the elimination of wolves from the region in the early 20th century was to blame. Wolves? New trees? How could that be? Without wolves, the behavior of the Yellowstone elk had changed. No predators. No worry. So the elk became lazy, acting like cows, lying around in shaded areas along the rivers and creeks, munching contentedly on the juicy fresh growth of the willows and aspens.
In 1995, after much political battling, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone. The wolf population grew and the elk learned to be on the alert. As the wolves’ favorite food, the elk had to change their behavior to survive—no more relaxing by a stream where wolves could easy sneak up and make a meal of them! They had to move around and spend more time in open places where watching for hungry wolves was far easier.
The wolves are changing the Yellowstone landscape in positive ways. The aspens and willows are coming back. Beavers, which had almost disappeared from some parts of the park, are returning. These rodents feed on aspens and willows and use them to build their dams and lodges. Beaver dams create ponds, and the ponds provide homes for hundreds of species of plants and animals, from algae and water striders to ducks and muskrats. The willows and aspen trees around the pond are nesting sites for songbirds and homes for insects and spiders, all thanks to the wolf.
Welcome back, wolves!
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent's book, When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone, is an IRA/CBC Teachers' Choices book, an ALA Notable Children's Book, A Book Sense Pick, and an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children, as well as receiving the Orbis Pictus Honor Book Award. Booklist calls it "A great choice for elementary units about science and environmental protection," and Kirkus gave it a starred review. Click here to read the reviews.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "Everything Is Connected: The Butterfly Effect and the
Wolf." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Mar. 2018,