by David M. Schwartz
the amazing, engaging, math exponent
A light year is not a year that has gone on a diet. It is not a year that’s been trimmed to 300 days. It’s not a year spent under high-wattage lamps. A light year isn’t any kind of year.
A light year is a distance. It is a vast distance; the distance light travels in a year. To appreciate a light year, you have to understand how fast light travels.
The speed of light is truly mind-boggling: 186,000 miles per . . . second. That’s “per second,” not “per hour.” In one tick-tock second, light travels a distance of 186,000 miles. If it could go in circles, it could travel around the earth more than seven times in just one second! But light travels in straight lines, not in circles. Imagine something traveling that fast in a straight line—not for a second, not for a minute, not for an hour, not for a day, but for an entire year. The distance it goes in that year is called a light year.
A light year is a convenient unit of measure when distances are enormous. You could talk about the same distances in miles. It's about 5,878,499,810,000 (5 trillion, 878 billion, 499 million, 810 thousand ) of them. But these measurements are so large that they are unwieldy. It's much easier to just name that enormous distance with two simple words: a "light year."
The star closest to our solar system is Proxima Centauri. Some of the light that leaves Proxima Centauri goes to Earth, cruising along at 186,000 miles per second. At that speed, light takes about 4.2 years to get to Earth from Proxima Centauri So how far away is Proxima Centauri? It is 4.2 light years away.
To give you an idea of how far that is, imagine going to Proxima Centauri in a spaceship traveling at the speed of the space shuttle — about ten miles per second. (That’s much faster than airplanes can fly.) You would get there in about 70,000 years.
Our Sun is much closer than Proxima Centauri. It is 93 million miles away. There is another way to refer to the distance from the earth to the Sun. Light leaving the Sun takes about eight minutes to get to Earth, so we say the Sun is eight “light minutes” away. If you traveled at the speed of light, you could get there in eight minutes. Have a nice trip!
© David M. Schwartz, 2014
David Schwartz has been fascinated by big numbers and big distances ever since he was a little boy riding his bicycle, wondering “How long would it take for me to ride to Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light years away?” He wrote about light years in his math alphabet book G Is for Googol.
David is a member of iNK’s Authors on Call. He can visit in your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Learn more here.
MLA 8 Citation
Schwartz, David M. "What Is a Light Year?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/what-is-a-light-year.
Have you ever been asked to revise something that you wrote, but had trouble doing it? Maybe you didn’t know where to start? Maybe you thought you might actually make it worse than before? Maybe you thought it would be too hard?
Believe me, I get it. When I sit down to revise, I am often filled with fears about doing it. Over the years, though, I’ve come up with three simple steps that help take the fear out of revision. Let’s see how to use them when revising the most important chunk of writing—the paragraph.
When I revise a paragraph, my first step is to ask myself is “What’s this paragraph about?” Usually, I’ve already written a sentence that tells me. It’s called a thesis sentence. A thesis sentence can be something kind of loose such as “Skateboards rock,” or it can be specific such as “Yesterday, I had my best skateboard ride ever.” The point is that this sentence tells me what the rest of my paragraph needs to be about. When revising, I find it helpful to underline my thesis sentence.
Step Two is to make sure that my paragraph makes sense. Here, I check that every sentence helps prove or explain why my thesis sentence is true. I also make sure that none of my sentences are confusing. If they are, I revise them so they are easier to understand. I especially look for sentences that don’t really say anything, such as “Skateboards are, like, the best.” I’d either delete this sentence, or improve it to something like, “Skateboards provide great exercise.”
After my paragraph makes sense, I move on to Step Three: making my paragraph more fun. I replace boring verbs with more exciting ones. Instead of saying “My skateboard was fast,” I might write, “My skateboard hurtled down the ramp.” I put in better descriptions. I also might crack a joke, or throw in a simile such as “My skateboard carried me like a four-wheeled chariot”—or a metaphor, “My board launched me into the stratosphere.”
When tackling revision, I recommend having someone else read your writing aloud. That helps you spot problems. Even so, I don’t always nail a revision the first—or even the tenth—time. I revised this nonfiction minute more than a dozen times! The important thing is to not let your fears overwhelm you. Remember that revision is simply the process of you saying what you want to say.
What happens when a bestselling nonfiction children's book author pairs up with a nationally known writing teacher to discuss revision strategies? Magic.
Sneed B. Collard III and Vicki Spandel blow the roof off everything you thought you knew about teaching nonfiction writing and the purposes for revision. Dozens of strategy lessons pulled from Sneed's professional writing experience followed by Vicki's classroom-savvy tips and exercises give you the nuts and bolts of teaching revision to make nonfiction writing more meaningful, useful, and enjoyable for the reader.
Using a "big-to-small" process of revision, from Big Picture ideas down to individual words, Sneed and Vicki demystify revision and help students become clear, persuasive, compelling-even entertaining-writers. "With your encouragement and guidance," they write, "students will discover the joy of turning their first rough ideas into something readers cannot put down."
MLA 8 Citation
Collard, Sneed B., III. "Taking the Fear Out of Revision." Nonfiction Minute,
iNK Think Tank, 30 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
By Sarah Albee
Celebrating the History of Science and the Science behind History
Do you like ketchup? Maybe relish is your favorite condiment. Well, people in the ancient world had a favorite condiment, too. It was called garum. The ancient Greeks couldn’t get enough of it. Later, the Byzantines loved it, too. But garum was most popular during ancient Roman times. (The Roman Empire lasted from 27 BC to AD 476, so they must have gobbled down a lot of garum.)
The problem with garum was that making it could be an extremely stinky process. Garum makers were told to move their factories to the outskirts of the city, although probably no one enforced this.
The Romans dumped garum onto practically everything they ate. Should you be curious to try garum yourself, I’ve written out the recipe for you. You’re welcome.
Garum is actually quite nutritious—full of amino acids, proteins, and vitamin D from all that time in the sun. And the rotten sludge left at the bottom is also highly nutritious, so you can save that for another use. Try spreading it on toast!
(c) Sarah Albee, 2014
A Roman banquet
Sarah Albee's latest book is Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions and Murderous Medicines. You can read a review that gives you a dose of what's in this book.
MLA 8 Citation
Albee, Sarah. "Something's Rotten in Rome." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 15 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/somethings-rotten-in-rome.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature's Animal Ambassador
How often do you check your cell phone or email each day? Use Twitter or Facebook? Can you stand not to “stay in touch” for even one day? We’re used to being able to hear from people anywhere in the world at any time, with just a few taps on a keyboard or telephone pad.
Through most of human history people could only communicate when they were within shouting distance. When alphabets came along, our ancestors could create messages on stone or wood and later on parchment (made from animal skin), or paper, made from wood pulp. Then, of course, the message had to get from one person to another by way of a messenger. When public mail came along, it made that process much easier and more reliable.
That’s where things stood for a long time. Imagine being a soldier in 1804 joining explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their epic trek across the west to the Pacific Coast. This was territory almost totally unknown at the time to European Americans.
You’ve left behind your family and all your friends. Now you have no way of finding out what happened to those dear to you. Did your father or mother die? Did a sister get married? How many babies were born? Your loved ones get to be a bit luckier, since in the spring of 1805, the keel boat that carried the expedition to Indian villages for the winter is sent back down the Missouri River with a small crew, and you get a chance to write notes to your loved ones, reassuring them that you are okay.
A lot can happen during a 2½ year span like the one endured by members of the expedition! Finally, in September of 1806, you and your colleagues return to the St. Louis area and find out that most people assumed you were all dead. Now you must figure out as quickly as possible how to reconnect with family and friends. It won’t be easy, since they don’t know you are alive, and you don’t know where they are after so long. How can you even locate everyone you care about?
Think about it: If you didn’t have email or a phone of any kind, whose messages would you miss the most? And who would you most wish you could tell about these events in your life?
Dorothy has written about how the horse changed the lives of the Plains Indians and everything that followed.
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. "Keeping in Touch." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 4 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/keeping-in-touch.
So do I stick my head into that glass-enclosed rectangular box? Will it fry my brain? Or will the damage show up in 20 years? Will my head come out looking like those primitive shrunken heads that repelled and fascinated me as a child?
I’ve volunteered to have my head 3-D printed, and am checking out the equipment at the State University of New York. As it turns out—great relief—I don’t have to stick my head into the box after all; that’s where the “printing” occurs, not the scanning.
The professor tells me to just sit upright and stay super still on a chair for a little over a minute, while his assistant uses a hand-held scanner—making several passes of the sides and top of my head and neck from about 30 inches away.
In a couple minutes, the glass box starts to make noise and comes alive. The “printing” begins. For the color of my little sculpted head, I’m given a choice of red or white. Red seems a bit creepy, so I go for white. The plastic substance is long and cord-like, about 1/8 inch in diameter, and wrapped around a big spool at the back of the printer. One thin white layer after the other is laid down. It builds up, and slowly a tiny replica of my head begins to take shape. Half an hour, and it’s done.
Sure enough, this looks like a miniature Roxie, about 2 inches high, with a flat back where it lay down on the printer, although the machine appeared to have quit just before it reached the tip of my nose, which is kind of cut off.
So what can be done with this new kind of printing? Well, it is already being used in dentistry for making crowns. Jewelry can be created from metals, even gold. You can actually make plastic guns using this method. Unfortunately (or should I say fortunately), they don’t work very well—the plastic gets distorted rapidly from the heat and action of shooting a bullet.
But maybe the most fun is making food. Nursing homes in Germany are taking pureed food and making it into appetizing shapes. NASA is researching making 3-D pizza in space. Instead of white plastic maybe I should have asked for chocolate—and turned myself into a delicious dessert.
Roxie and her mini-me.
(c) Roxie Munro 2014
Using works from the National Gallery of Art by Vincent Van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, and others, Roxie Munro has created an innovative introduction to art. As an artist contemplates her next painting, she introduces genres and subjects, showcasing reproductions of great works. The sweeping painting she creates cleverly incorporates all 37 pieces she has considered.
Children can have fun finding the masterpieces in her painting and learn more about the artists in the notes in the back matter.
Read a review here.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "Getting Your Head 3-D Printed." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/getting-your-head-3-d-printed.