The “Julia Child” of kids’ hands-on science
Ever notice people wearing headsets to keep out noise? Check out the workers on the tarmac of airports, or gardeners with their leaf blowers, or road workers breaking up blacktop with a pneumatic drill. They wear these headsets to protect their ears from damage caused by persistent loud noise.
Loudness is measured in decibels, dB for short. Complete silence is 0 dB, a whisper is 10 dB, normal conversation is 60 dB or about 10,000 times louder than a whisper. A lawnmower is 90 dB, about 1,000 times louder than a conversation and a jet engine is 120 dB about 1,000,000 times louder than a conversation. Anything over 85 dB does damage to our ears. That’s because sound traveling through air is a force beating against delicate eardrums. Yes, rock concerts damage ears.
Performing musicians often have tiny earpieces in their ears. This way the sound engineers can send them the sounds of their own voices or instruments, so that they can hear themselves over the other musicians. Those pieces are not for protection. So the dB level of rock concerts can affect those musicians’ hearing. There is even a name for it: Noise Induced Hearing Loss or NIHL. Rock musicians are the top profession to suffer NIHL later in life.
But there is a new threat to hearing loss—the earbuds people use to listen to music from their electronic devices. They are fine if you keep the volume down. But if you’re hooked on loudness that invades all your senses so that you can’t “hear yourself think” and you listen for several hours a day, you’ll pay the price down the road.
Your ability to hear high tones is the first to go. Here’s a quick and easy hearing test you can use on yourself and your family: Turn on the TV and hit the “mute” button or turn the volume all the way down. Lean over the back of the set and listen for a very soft, high-pitched whine. If you can hear it, you are listening to the highest sound the human ear can hear. (Dogs, of course, can hear much higher sounds, hence the dog whistle, which people can’t hear but dogs can.) Walk away from the set to find the distance when you can no longer hear it. Do the same test with your parents. Bet your hearing is better than theirs.
Try listening to some old-fashioned, melodic, soft popular music that came before rock and roll. You just might like it.
From School Library Journal--
"Fun!" comes through loud and clear in this energetic exploration of hearing and auditory perception. Cobb gets the anatomy lesson out of the way, then moves on to a series of simple activities to help kids experiment with their own sense of hearing. Students investigate sound conduction, perception of pitch, echolocation, and range of hearing by doing such things as sticking fingers in their ears while they talk."
Available for download at the i-Tunes store -- click here.
Vicki Cobb 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
Cobb, Vicki. "Banging on the Ear Drum." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 30
Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Banging-on-the-Ear-Drum.
Science through the lens
A long time ago in a land far, far away…
The climate suddenly changes. It’s May, and a “Great Fog” appears in the sky. During the day it blocks out the sun and acts like a blanket trapping heat near the ground. A ten-year old boy notices that temperatures spike and sunsets are a spectacular display of colors. He doesn’t know that volcanoes in the “Ring of Fire” are spewing ash into the atmosphere creating massive clouds and causing the strange weather. All he knows is that he can’t take his eyes off the sky. The boy’s name is Luke Howard. The year is 1783, and his location is the English countryside. Luke records his observations in a journal. Although he doesn’t know it yet, he is on his way to becoming the “Father of Meteorology.”
Flash forward twenty years. It’s 1803, and Luke Howard is a successful businessman. But in his spare time, ever since the summer of 1873, he’s been watching the clouds and thinking up new ideas about the weather. He writes and publishes a scientific paper and presents his ideas to a group of fellow amateur scientists. His article, “On the modification of clouds, and on the principles of their production, suspension and destruction,” classifies clouds into groups using Latin words: heaped (cumulus), layered (stratus), fibrous (cirrus), and rain (nimbus). By combining terms into names such as Cirro-cumulus, which he describes as "small, well-defined roundish masses, in close horizontal arrangement," Luke identifies many kinds of clouds.
Luke’s passion for clouds inspires him to make watercolor sketches and write a book called The Climate of London, which introduces new ideas about lightening and the causes of rain. In 1864, Luke Howard dies at the age of ninety-two, leaving behind a cloud naming system that is still used today.
A long time ago in a land far, far away, Luke Howard names the clouds—and in our imagination we see him turning to a friend and saying, “May the clouds be with you.”
To see photos of many kinds of clouds go to NOAA Sky Watcher Chart
Spidermania: Friends on the Web debunks myths about spiders and takes an extremely close look at creatures that have both fascinated and terrified humans. An introduction explains what makes spiders unique. Then ten species are highlighted with incredible electron micro-graph images and surprising facts. From diving bell spiders that live in bubbles underwater, to spitting spiders that shoot sticky streams of spit at their prey, to black widows and wolf spiders, this unusual book will intrigue readers and help cure arachnophobia. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Siy, Alexandra. "Luke Skywatcher." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Apr.
Celebrating the History of Science and the
Science behind History
The insect pictured is called Paraponera clavata, commonly known as a bullet ant. It can grow to be about an inch long.
They’re among the world’s most venomous insects, and are supposed to deliver the most painful sting of any insect, according to J.O. Schmidt. He’s an entomologist who’s been stung by pretty much every hymenopteran possible and who developed a pain scale rating that lists the relative pain caused by insects. His ratings go from 0, where the sting is as mild as the little zap you might feel while walking across a carpet in your socks, up to 4, where you might as well just lie down and scream. Bullet ants get a 4+. When he later revised his index, he described bullet ant stings as “pure, intense, brilliant pain, like walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail in your heel.”
But wait, it gets worse.
The ants have abdominal stridulatory organs—that means they can shriek at you when threatened, which alerts the rest of the group to come boiling up out of the nest to help impale you.
There’s a tribe of people in Brazil, deep in the Amazon forest, the Sateré-Mawé, who use bullet ants as an initiation rite to manhood. Boys have to slip on gloves that resemble oven mitts. Live bullet ants are woven into these gloves, with the stingers pointing toward the wearer’s hands. The boys have to keep the gloves on for ten minutes. Evidently paralysis of the arms sets in rather quickly, so it’s after the gloves come off that the real pain and convulsions begin—and they last at least 24 hours.
Did I mention these ants also shriek?
Did you know that bugs played a role in history? Sarah’s book Bugged: How Insects Changed History tells the story.
MLA 8 Citation
Albee, Sarah. "Bites of Passage." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Apr.
Who doesn’t like penguins? Their waddling gait is fun to watch. They have little fear of humans so it’s easy to get next to them. Penguin movies such as Happy Feet and The Penguins of Madagascar are box office hits.
World Penguin Day on April 25 focuses attention on these loveable flightless fowl. Some people dress up in black and white clothing. Many read books about penguins or watch penguin movies.
I was fortunate to get up close and personal to thousands of penguins during a trip to Antarctica. As our ship neared the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula—the closest point to the southern tip of South America which had been our departure point—we marveled at how effortlessly they skimmed through the water beside us. Soon we marveled at another characteristic. We were at least two or three miles offshore when the harsh odor of the poop generated by all those penguins wafted over the ship.
We relished the opportunity to go ashore and wander through their rookeries. There were lots of juveniles, covered with gray fuzz that would eventually fall off and be replaced by their characteristic black and white plumage. None of them seemed to mind our presence.
But we had several harsh reminders that we weren’t in a zoo. Several century-old stone huts provided shelter for explorers who slaughtered hundreds of penguins to eat during the long, harsh Antarctic winters. Skuas, nasty predatory birds, routinely feed on penguin chicks. We saw the discarded remains of several skua meals. Danger can also come from the depths. A couple of times we observed large seals relaxing on ice floes with bright red stains next to them.
The saddest sight came one afternoon when we took a Zodiac inflatable boat to shore. A penguin stood forlornly on top of a small ice floe, a leopard seal thrashing the water next to it. We asked our guide if we could rescue the doomed bird. He shook his head. “The water is too rough,” he said. “Too much chance of falling in if anyone tried to step out onto the floe. And you don’t want to be anywhere near an angry half-ton leopard seal that feels his dinner is being taken away from him.”
On our way back to the ship, there was no sign of the lone penguin. We had to accept that we couldn’t interfere in the natural course of things.
All images ©Jen Goode
Jim Whiting has written more than 100 titles and edited another 150 or so, with subjects ranging from authors to zoologists and including classical musicians and contemporary pop icons, saints and scientists, emperors and explorers. Many of his books have received glowing reviews.
He's also ventured into a number of classrooms and served as a presenter at writers' conferences, conveying the enthusiasm for writing and for a good story that still animates him. Check out his work here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "World Penguin Day." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 25 Apr.
Earth has a problem. The sun creates hot spots over land, in the air and in the water. That’s why there are winds, weather, and currents in the ocean as Earth tries to even out the heat, moving warmer masses of air and water to cooler areas.
During hurricane season ( from June 1-November 30), only 10 or 11 of the 80 tropical disturbances off the west coast of Africa (where most of our hurricanes originate) become large enough storms to be given a name. Only two or three of them hit the United States. They are not frequent but they are massive wind storms that can destroy life and property.
Do they do anything good at all? As far as the Earth is concerned, these largest of all storms are a safety valve to rapidly move heat that has been accumulating in the oceans up to the stratosphere (from 7 to 31 miles above the Earth’s surface). From there it will be transported through the air to over the North Pole. It’s the way Earth stops a fever.
Once a hurricane forms, it must have an ocean surface that is at least 80°F to keep moving and to grow. Under the storm, huge amounts of warm water become water vapor. Warm moist air rapidly rises through the spinning winds of the hurricane, up to the stratosphere. When moist air reaches the frigid (-70°F) stratosphere the water vapor quickly condenses to liquid water (rain) releasing its heat. This heat makes surrounding air molecules move faster forming winds.
How do hurricanes cool off the oceans? How do they move the heat? Here’s a clue: Wet your finger and wave it in the air. How does it feel? Pretty cool, I bet! That’s because the heat from your finger changes liquid water into water vapor (a gas) as your finger dries. Water vapor molecules store this extra heat. They rise because they are lighter than other air molecules.
So, a hurricane is a heat engine that moves water vapor from the ocean’s surface high enough to condense back into liquid water and release heat safely to the stratosphere forming rivers of wind that move it to the poles.
Scientists predict that global warming will increase the number and the power of the hurricanes as the ocean surfaces become increasingly warmer during our summers.
This diagram of the anatomy of a hurricane shows the direction of the winds. The blue represents cold air descending while the pink shows warm moist air rising. The outflow surface clouds form as water condenses into a "table-top" cloud, releasing heat that becomes wind. Kelvinsong via Wikimedia
Hurricane Isabel (2003) as seen from orbit during Expedition 7 of the International Space Station. The eye, eyewall, and surrounding rainbands, all characteristics of hurricanes, are clearly visible in this view from space. Image courtesy of Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center
Vicki Cobb's How Could We Harness a Hurricane? offers questions and provides new points of view that may just change peoples' thinking by showing young readers the work scientists and engineers are doing to avoid future disasters. The book includes hands-on experiments that make science fun, be it at home or in the classroom. Here's a link to the book' s Trailer.
How Could We Harness a Hurricane was named a 2018 Best STEM Book K-12 by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council.
Vicki is a member of iNK's Authors on Call so you can invite her to your classroom via iNK's videoconferening Zoom Room. Click here to find out more:
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "Earth's Emergency Heat Valve: The Hurricane." Nonfiction Minute,
iNK Think Tank, 24 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/