Friday, April 4, 2014

Website of the Week: The Brothers Brick

Are you an AFOL who has been living in the Dark Ages? 
(Translated: Are you an adult fan of LEGO who has been busy with real life for far too long?)  

Looking for some LEGO inspiration? Check out The Brothers Brick, a blog dedicated to these addictive and ubiquitous, brightly-colored building blocks. There's even a glossary to help translate some of the most commonly used lingo. You can suggest your own creations - include a photo and building instructions - for consideration as blog posts. Follow the instructions for submitting your awesomeness here.

Although this is primarily a blog for adults - and some content may not be wholly appropriate for all ages - kids can find inspiration here too. There are YouTube links to get you started with your builds and extensive links to Flickr photos of amazing LEGO creations. (Personally, I wandered off into Andrew Somers' amazing Flickr photo set of Year End Reviews - news events of the year captured in LEGO format.)

Enjoy and happy building!

Photo credit: C. Slack, via Flickr

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Adopt-a-Physicist: Spring 2014

I just received the following information from Kendra Redmond of the Education Division of the American Institute of Physics. I like to forward these invitations because I know how valuable these sorts of connections can be. Many years ago, I participated as a volunteer scientist in an adopt-a-scientist program called Science-by-Mail.

Register now for the spring session of Adopt-a-Physicist!

If your students ever ask...
  • What do physicists do?
  • What does this have to do with the "real world"?
  • Has anything new been discovered in physics since Einstein?
Then consider participating in Adopt-a-Physicist, a free program for high school physics classes, hosted by the physics honor society Sigma Pi Sigma.

Adopt-a-Physicist connects high school physics students to real physics graduates who are eager to share their stories. Working in areas ranging from particle physics research to freelance writing, the participating physicists embody a huge range of careers, backgrounds, interests, and educational levels. Adopt-a-Physicist connects classes with the physicists of their choice through online discussion forums that are active for a set three-week period. Each physicist can only be "adopted" by up to three classes, making lively, in-depth discussions possible. Click here to learn more. For more details on the program and ideas for incorporating it into your physics class, browse the resources for teachers.

Spring 2014 Schedule
  • Teacher Registration: Now - April 3 (or until full)
  • Teachers adopt physicists: April 15 - April 18
  • Discussion forums open: April 22 - May 9
Visit Adopt-a-Physicist for more information, or send us an email at

Photo credit: Daniel X. O'Neil, via Flickr.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The States of Matter

My son recently came home with a corrected test which covered three states of matter: solid, liquid, gas. His frustration with the test was evident, as you can see in this photo.

The essay portion of the test asked, "Describe how you use the three states of matter in your life every day." He re-wrote the question so that it read, "Describe how you use three of the states of matter in your life every day." To his teacher's credit, she gave him full points for his answer.

It baffles me that we still teach that there are only three states of matter, when clearly there are more. However, this is not a new problem. Years ago, my husband got into trouble with his high school chemistry teacher for arguing (correctly) that plasma - much of the sun is in this state - is a fourth state of matter. Bose-Einstein condensate, a fifth state of matter, was first created in 1995, and a sixth, fermionic condensates, was produced for the first time in 2003.

Less than a month after this test was returned, a possible new state of matter was described in chicken eyes: disordered hyperuniformity. I thought back to my son's answer(s) for question 2 on his recent test: How many forms of matter exist on Earth? He circled three, the expected answer, but then added his own response: "no one knows."

Friday, March 14, 2014

Craters of the Moon

My daughter came home from preschool with this art project. To make the moon, the kids used paper towels cut into circles and hand-painted them gray.

Macaroni pieces were placed underneath the paper towels to create craters and give the moon a rough textured surface. How clever!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Patterns Everywhere!

My daughter is in preschool now and her class is studying patterns. Her homework this week is to draw an A-B-A-B pattern. As I helped her out of the bath, I thought of a fun way to teach it to her.

(She wasn't as impressed as I was!)

Do you have a creative way to teach kids about patterns? Share it in the comments!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

At Twilight

even in this light
the grove of barren oaks
retains some magic

[Full disclosure: Are those oaks in my photo? I have not keyed them out yet, so I'm not sure. I wrote this poem a while back - and when I took this picture the other night, it was the first description to pop into my head.]

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Choose a Field Guide for a Young Child

A couple of days ago, I went to a nature store to purchase a field guide for my youngest, who is fascinated by butterflies. The store had a terrific selection, so I asked the clerk where I could find field guides for little kids.

"How old is the child?"


"Oh, we don't carry field guides for children that young."

I thought this was a bizarre response. At its most basic level, a field guide is a collection of pictures or drawings of a given set of plants, animals, or other natural features (rocks and clouds are among my favorites). Sure, you can buy guides with lots of text and exposition about various features, but you don't have to.

Here are some basic guidelines for buying a field guide for the very young child:

  • Choose a guide that is small enough for little hands to hold. Make sure the book isn't too heavy or too thick. I like Stokes Beginner's Guides
  •  Pick a guide where the specimens are arranged by color. This type of grouping is easy to explain and understand. Pictures will capture the attention of a little one better than drawings. My daughter, for example, loves the section of her new guide devoted to swallowtails. "We've seen that one, and that one, and that one!" she said.
  • Choose a book with common specimens over rare ones. Let's face it - little kids are noisy and boisterous and will scare away much of the wildlife you are trying to study. Pick a field guide that is heavy on natural things that are common for your area since you are far more likely to see them.
  • Less is more. Pick a guide with just a few features on a page. A large picture of the specimen coupled with a map showing its range is ideal. Symbols for common features are better than words. For example, it's better to show one star out of five to indicate a rare species than the word "rare."

Regardless of which guide you choose, make sure to have your child take ownership of the new book. Write his or her name on the cover - or let your child do it - and find a special place for it on the bookshelf. When you go outside for a nature walk, take your comprehensive guide along with your child's smaller one, and you can have fun discovering nature together.

Princess likes her new field guide.