Nonfiction is the new black
Chances are you are eagerly looking forward to the last day of school and nearly three months of free time.
Chances are also that you heard that this nice long summer vacation is somehow connected to the early years of the country when agriculture was the most important industry and kids had to help out on their farms during this time. If so, you heard wrong.
For starters, there wasn’t much to do on farms in the summer. The busy times were spring (planting) and fall (harvesting). As a result, most farm kids went to school during the summer and winter. At best they spent a total of six months learning the three Rs.
It was a very different situation in cities as the country became increasingly urbanized. Big-city kids might spend as much as 48 weeks in class, with a week off every 12 weeks. Since attendance wasn’t mandatory, though, they probably only attended school about as much as they do now.
But if so many kids were playing hooky, reformers said, why bother keeping schools open all year? Some doctors backed up the idea of closing for a period of time, saying that keeping kids cooped up for most of the year wasn’t good for their health.
So education officials decided to eliminate the summer quarter. The first reason was that schools were not air conditioned back then and almost unbearable during heat waves. Also, there was also a strong belief that summer was the time when epidemics of serious diseases such as polio got started. Many people thought having so many children packed so close to each other in classrooms helped spread the illnesses. Third, upper-class and middle-class families often took vacations during the hot months.
With increasing mechanization on farms and many farm families moving to the cities, helping with planting and harvesting wasn’t as important. Farm states added those spring and fall months to the school year and gave kids the summers off, just like big-city folk.
However, some research suggests that the “summer slide” causes students to lose an average of a month of learning. Students typically don’t do as well on tests in the fall—after the long summer break—than in the spring when they’ve been in school for several months. Most other developed countries spend more time in the classroom and generally do better on standardized testing. As a result of these factors, a few states are considering lengthening the school year from the current 180 days to 200.
What do you think?
Jim Whiting hopes all of you have a wonderful summer and that you can carve out some time to read! Your local library may have some of his books, as well as many by the other wonderful authors who have made the Nonfiction Minute such a great success. And be sure to check out Jim's updated website, www.jimwhiting.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Why Do We Have a School Summer Vacation?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 15 June 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
All of the iNK authors will be working over the summer to create new Minutes for next year. We hope you will become a member of iNK Think Tank. On July 1, 2018, only iNK members will be able to have access to all the Nonfiction Minutes and our archives and the Transfer2Teaching. The public will still be able to see 10 FREE Minutes.
Become a Charger Member of iNK and let us know what else we can offer as our paid membership grows.
celebrating nature, inspiring good writing
This summer, you may be able to observe an amazing event in nature. You can watch a small animal build a structure much bigger than itself, using materials from inside its own body!
This is what happens when a spider spins a web. Inside a spider are glands that can produce seven different kinds of silk. The silk comes out of little spigots, called spinnerets, at the rear of the spider's body.
A strand of spider silk is stronger than a similar strand of steel, and spiders use this amazing material in many ways. If they catch an insect, they may wrap it in silk, to eat later. Female spiders enclose their eggs in a silken sac to protect them. And some spiders—almost always females—make webs that are death traps for insects.
Webs can be in the shape of funnels, sheets, or domes, but the best-known are called orb webs. From an orb web's center, lines of silk radiate out in all directions, like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. After building this basic structure, a spider goes round and round, laying down ever-bigger circles of silk. Some of the silk threads have sticky glue to catch a moth or other prey. A spider can create this whole complex design in an hour or less.
When an orb web is complete, some kinds of spiders wait right in the center. Others hide at an edge. Either way, the builder keeps a front leg in touch with the web. Vibrations from the threads tell a spider whether prey has been caught.
Spiders often have to repair their webs, and some species routinely build a new one every day. And they recycle! They eat most of their old web. After digestion, it becomes brand new silk for the next construction job.
You may be able to watch a spider on the job. Look for webs in a field, park, or backyard. Also look for webs near doors, windows, or on a porch. The nighttime lights from such places attract night-flying insects, and spiders often build webs there. They may or may not be orb webs, but watching any kind of spider at work on its silken insect-trap can be fascinating fun.
And remember: the spider wants nothing to do with you. It is just trying to stay safe and catch some food.
This video was shot by Ingrid Taylor, " I shot this a few minutes after the rain subsided, when the City of Spiders outside the door came to life. Mass web-building and repair going on..." wikimedia commons
.To learn more about the lives of spiders, and see spectacular realistic illustrations, see Laurence Pringle's book:
MLA 8 Citation
Pringle, Laurence. "Watch a Webmaster at Work!" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 14 June 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Have you ever heard the proverbial saying, “every cloud has a silver lining”? Well, this was certainly the case for the accidental paleontologist, Mary Anning.
Mary Anning was born May 21,1799 to a working-class family living on the southern coast of England. Life was tough for the Annings. Short of food and creature comforts, they also suffered through frequent storms so severe they sometimes had to climb out the second-floor windows of their home to escape flooding.
The Annings weren’t the only things displaced by the angry sea. Over the centuries, rain and wind had washed away layers of earth on the cliffs near their home, exposing petrified bones as well as animal skeletons imprinted in stone. At just 12 years old, Mary found a four-foot skull. Within months, she’d uncovered the entire creature. It turned out to be the fossilized remains of an Ichthyosaur and when a London collector bought it for 23 pounds (more than $2K today!), she was hooked.
Mary even prospected for fossils in winter, when storms raged. It was dangerous work. She narrowly missed being crushed by landslides many times. (Sadly, her trusty terrier Tray was not so lucky.) She found fossils of ammonite and belemnite, which she sold to summer tourists, possibly inspiring the tongue twister, “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”
But it was Mary’s keen eye for the unique and remarkable that caused her reputation to grow. She constructed the first complete Plesiosaurus as well as a flying reptile called Pterosaur. Despite her limited education, she kept up with all the scientific journals and often wrote to them, challenging findings she did not agree with. Famous archaeologists and paleontologists from Britain and Europe flocked to her Dorset doorstep. But being a woman and working class, Mary never gained acceptance within the all-male, upper-class scientific circles of her day.
Though she did not receive the recognition due her in life, Mary Anning is regarded today as one of the most influential women in the history of science. Her contributions to the field of paleontology remain unsurpassed.
It is said that every cloud brings a silver lining. And, indeed, the wind and rain brought fortune and fame to this accidental female scientist and fossil hunter of the Victorian era.
This YouTube will share some of the interesting information Mary Anning was able to learn by the study of dinosaur poop!
Sarah Towle is an award-winning digital storyteller of immersive tales for educational tourism. With her latest project for secondary school students—the History Hero BLAST—she puts the Story back in History, bringing a fictional flair to factual tales of inspirational figures from around the world and throughout time. A blog and future podcast, the HHBLAST welcomes the participation of published and aspiring authors, including young writers. Click here to find out more about how to bring the HHBLAST—and Sarah—to your school!
Kerrie Logan Hollihan
Teaching the Power of Wonder
So what’s a knot garden?
Knot gardens first caught my eye when I was a kid and visited Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. When I later visited England, I saw how our first president had carried on a long-standing tradition. Knot gardens, edged with tight growing shrubs like boxwood, wound across the property of kings and queens and lords and ladies.
Sometimes herbs or flowers were planted inside the rows of shrubs, which twist and turn to form shapes that look like fancy knots. England’s Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed strolling through such gardens with her ladies-in-waiting. Certainly the queen’s knot gardens were among the finest in her day.
In Washington DC, we Americans have a knot garden inside our National Arboretum, an outdoor museum of plants and trees. Small evergreens form the knot. Visitors stop to sniff the fragrant herbs planted both inside and outside the knot of evergreens.
It can take years to establish a knot garden, but you can create an updated version that will grow in just one summer. All it takes is a little space, a variety of marigold plants, a digging tool, a bit of water-soluble fertilizer, and regular care.
Plan your garden to be three feet by three feet. Look at knot gardens online for clues and make a simple design. Marigolds come in many colors, sizes, and shapes. Think about how tall and wide they’ll grow. Do you want tall flowers in the corners?
Now plant your plants. Carefully pop the flowers from their packs and transplant them into roomy holes so they’ll grow well. Plant the inside garden first. Then move to the outside. At first your garden might look skimpy, but in a few weeks it will fill in.
Mix fertilizer with water in your watering can and give the little plants a good drink. Marigolds are heavy feeders needing regular watering and fertilizer. Every few days, stick your fingers in the dirt to check for moisture. When the soil’s getting dry, it’s time to water— early in the morning or late in the day.
Check this blog for more details!
Kerrie Logan Hollihan's lively biography of one of England’s greatest monarchs includes a time line, online resources, and 21 activities to offer readers hands-on experiences with life in the Elizabethan Era. Kids can create costumes for the queen’s court, including a knight’s helmet, a neck ruff, and a cloak, play and sing a madrigal, create a 3-D map of an Elizabethan town, stitch a blackwork flower, design a family coat of arms, play a game of Nine Men’s Morris, grow a knot garden, and much more.
Kerrie 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
Hollihan, Kerrie Logan. "Knot Gardens." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 17
May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Knot-Gardens.
The Explainer General
On May 24, 1883, The Brooklyn Bridge was opened to the public. It took 14 years, $15 million and many lives to link Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Before work was begun, its designer, John A. Roebling, was making final surveys of the site. A docking ferryboat nudged a piling near him, driving a dirty nail into his foot. He died of tetanus 24 days later. His son, Washington Roebling took over the engineering project.
To sink the bridge tower foundations down to bedrock, workers excavated river silt inside two open-bottomed 3000 ton iron bases, caissons. High-pressure air pumps kept river water out. As the caissons were dug deeper beneath the river surface, air pressure grew higher; work became more dangerous. When they were digging near seventy feet deep, a few workers walked through the caisson air-lock at the surface, across the street to the tavern, and dropped down dead. The cause: nitrogen embolism—gas dissolved in blood under high pressure expanding rapidly at normal pressure. Scuba divers call it “the bends.” Washington Roebling, himself, was crippled this way but monitored the project through a telescope from his bed upriver. His brilliant wife, Emily Warren Roebling, managed construction on-site. Twenty to 30 bridge workers were killed in construction from nitrogen embolism, being struck by falling material, and by falls from the towers.
It was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a river-span of 1595.5 feet. Anyone could cross: 1¢ for a pedestrian, 5¢ for a horse and rider, 10¢ for a horse and wagon, 5¢ for cows, 2¢ for sheep or hogs.
Only six days after its opening, the bridge was crowded with walkers when a rumor started that the bridge was collapsing! Strollers stampeded, killing 12, injuring 35 in the panic. Was the great bridge safe?
Months later, May 17, 1884, the great huckster and self-promoter P. T. Barnum set out to prove the solidity of the bridge “in the interest of the dear public.” Across the broad bridge paraded 21 elephants with Barnum’s famous African elephant Jumbo in the rear. They were followed by seven Bactrian camels (two-hump) and ten dromedaries (one-hump). Since elephant and camel fares had never been specified, no tolls were paid. The New York Times reported “…it seemed as if Noah’s Ark were emptying itself over on Long Island.”
If any doubts remained, Barnum’s ballyhoo proof put them to rest.
The story of how Jumbo was brought from Africa to the United States is a fascinating one -- Google it. In the meantime, you might want to have a look at Jan Adkin's fascinating description of how people often have to use brains rather than brawn to move heavy items.
Jan Adkins 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
Adkins, Jan. "Proof Positive: Ballyhoo Confirms the Safety of the Brooklyn
Bridge." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 7 June 2018,
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council