Great idea!

Benjamin Franklin
Photo Credit: Public Domain

My father is about to turn 94 and consequently, we go all out for his birthday parties! We have a tradition of having him tell us what he was doing at the present age of each member of the family. This past year the youngest among us was a great grandson just 13 months old. It was fun to hear my father speak about what he was doing when he was 13 months old. The oldest at the party was 68 years and that too was amusing!

We decided this year to list many of the things that had been invented in the years since our father (grandfather or great grandfather) was born. Each family member brought a description of the invention to the party. Wow! He has certainly seen many, many inventions in his lifetime!

Photo Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (Public Domain)

I think we take for granted some of the inventions he saw in his lifetime, such as the color TV or the black box flight recorder. Lithium batteries and the pocket calculator surprised all of us as just being invented in the 1970s.

Not only do I think we take these inventions for granted, but I think we also pay little attention to the people that invented them! Physicists, biologists, chemists, carpenters, farmers–you name it and you may find a profession that has an inventor. Where do these inventors come from? “From 1900 onwards, on average about 10% of Americans have been first-generation immigrants. Yet first-generation immigrants have won 33% of all American Nobel prizes in the sciences since the award began in 1900, representing thirty-five countries from six continents.” (

All this talk about past inventions got me wondering what is being invented (and patented) right now! I found out about The Lemelson-MIT Program which strives to celebrate  “outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.” It is so interesting to read about the most recent inventions that are being awarded!

Do you have something that you are working on that will one day be an invention that will benefit us all? Join an inventor’s club! Here’s a list of them by state:

Good luck!

Pi Day and Albert Einstein

“Wherever there is number, there is beauty.” – Proclus (410-485 A.D.)

Today, March 14, is Pi Day! It’s a notable event that is celebrated all around the world. Pi is a Greek letter and symbol that represents the famed irrational number 3.14 – the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

March 14 also happens to be the birth date of Albert Einstein, one of the most renowned physicists and mathematicians in history. Because pi is 3.14159…, many math lovers begin their Pi Day celebrations at exactly 1:59 p.m. You can make the day an extra special one by planning math challenges and creating math fun with your children. Here are some activities to help celebrate Pi Day.

Don’t forget to make your favorite pie (or pizza pie) in celebration of this special day!


Be creative in your lesson work by creating graphs to show your findings!images-1

Graphs can add strength to your research papers by displaying the information you find in an easy to understand image. There are many different types of graphs. Bar graphs, pie charts, line graphs and area graphs can be colorful ways to show facts and information that you’ve found. Each type of graph displays your information differently.

Bar graphs are really good for showing big changes over a period of time. For instance, if you wanted to visually show how much total snowfall there was in New Hampshire every five years between 1960 and 1980, then a bar graph would be perfect! A pie chart is very good for showing percentages of a whole. For instance, if you were doing some research on what percentage of cars sold in Vermont are electric, which are hybrid, and which are gas fueled, a pie chart would give a really nice picture of the percentages.

The website Create a Graph explains graphing really well and you can make some of your own. In your next research report, try using a graph to support your opinions and facts!

Fact or Opinion?

The Oak Meadow curriculum offers many opportunities to learn how to research and write reports. Note that I wrote LEARN, because most middle school students are just beginning to learn how to find appropriate resources for a topic and how to organize the information into an interesting, cohesive, and fact-filled report.

Finding a reliable source can begin with a trip to the library for magazines, encyclopedias, newspapers, biographies, and lots more! Some students don’t have a library nearby and so they use the internet for their research. Reliable sites are usually ones that end in .org, .net, or .edu. I like to use the Great Websites for Kids as a starting point. Their website notes that the site is an “Internet guide of child-safe sites selected by a committee of the American Library Association.” You can choose a subject such as “sciences” and then choose a specific subject of interest. Give it a try!

There’s a lot in the news these days about what is fact and what is opinion. When I read reports by students I often write, “Make sure you back up your opinion with a reliable source that explains the facts that you are basing your opinion on.” Some students are learning that an opinion can be based on fact, and they’re backing it up with a quotation from a reliable source. For instance, I received a research report on sound frequencies for an 8th grade physics lesson. I was impressed with the three sources and the examples that the student used for his research. However, most impressive was the use of quotations from his sources that added strength to his examples. Convincing a reader that what you’ve written is true, rather than just your opinion, is pretty important! When you use a quote from a reliable source you give your opinion validity. It allows the reader to trust that your opinion is based on fact.

Making facts louder than opinions is evident in this video from The Weather Channel. 

Exploring Science through Illustrations

“A natural science illustrator is an artist who works in the service of science, creating images of animals, objects and complex processes that teach, inform, and create understanding of our world.” Guild of Natural Science Illustrators:


From the Oak Meadow Archives

I’ve become fascinated with the illustrations my Oak Meadow students did this year in conjunction with their science lessons. Many were exceptional in the intricate details of the drawings and I could tell that a lot of effort, time, and research was put into them. In the 7th grade Earth Science, a student researched the structure of a leaf, found which part was responsible for transpiration, and drew a diagram of the leaf showing the process. Another student created an illustration of the ecosystem in which she lives that included the various habitats within her ecosystem. In 8th grade Physics I am continually amazed with the details students include in their sketches of wet cell batteries! In the study of color, 8th graders discover the shortest and longest wavelength of the colors of the rainbow and I receive the most beautifully illustrated and colored rainbows! Through artistic exercises students clearly depict scientific concepts in their intricate drawings.

As you explore and observe the natural world around you, take some time to illustrate what you see! It can become a most wonderful pastime, or even a career! The website of The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators explains: “The principle task of the scientific illustrator is to prepare accurate renderings of scientific subjects. These illustrations are designed for reproduction in professional or popular journals in the field of natural sciences, textbooks, as museum exhibits, web sites, and many other applications. Scientific illustrations in both traditional and digital formats provide a visual explanation and aid the viewer by clarifying complex descriptive information. The function of a scientific illustration, therefore, is essentially a practical one: to inform, to explain, and to instruct — in short, to communicate.”

 Below is a wonderful example of a scientific subject illustrated and then put into digital format. ENJOY the Metamorphosis of the Butterfly from

Writing a Biography

“When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”  George Washington Carver

A portrait of Marie Curie, taken about 1903 when she was awarded her first Nobel Prize. Credit: Public domain - See more at:
A portrait of Marie Curie, taken about 1903 when she was awarded her first Nobel Prize.
Credit: Public domain

I love reading biographies! I find it really amazing that people can do such constructive and creative things in their lives and in doing so make a huge impact on their surroundings. I found this interesting BBC website that has a “Famous People Index” which lists some very famous people from history. As I was scanning through and reading about the different people, it struck me that each entry is written in a way that I am often commenting on in a student’s writing about a person’s life and accomplishments. Why is the person famous? Where did he or she live? What did the person do? What time period did the person live in? Use the writing as a good model when you write a biography next time!

Let us know:

Is there a famous person you’ve especially enjoyed reading about?

Picture Books!

“For the rest of my life, I will reflect on what light is.”
~Einstein, c.1917

Hilarious! Not only was Einstein brilliant, he also had great sense of humor!

In the Oak Meadow 8th grade physics course, students study about light. The terms, incident ray, reflected ray, normal line, angle of incident, and angle of reflection are all principles that are studied in the lesson. The students are assigned the task of writing a short creative story using the principles of light ray reflection. It’s fun for me as a teacher to read the many imaginative ways that students find to do this assignment! In reading them I am often reminded of how powerful a simple story can be in teaching a scientific concept. Since I work in the youth department at our local public library, I run across many picture books that creatively depict scientific concepts. (Middle school students, don’t’ be afraid of checking out a good picture book!) I have lots that I love, but one of my favorites is Chris Van Allsburg’s Two Bad Ants. medium_jacket_two-bad-ants

Right from the very beginning, an ant discovers a crystal and when the queen ant gets to eat it, she asks for more. The worker ants set off to get more of these precious crystals for the queen. When they get to the place where the crystals are, two bad ants decide not to return with the other ants and they stay and eat the crystals until they are so full that they fall asleep! What happens when they awake is hilarious and the illustrations are all “ant-sized” and lead you on their journey. It’s the illustrations in picture books that depict the scientific concepts so well. The crystals that Van Allsburg illustrates are magnified sugar granules. There is the science of a sugar granule! There are many more picture books that depict scientific concepts. Have you run across any?


What's That Chirp Noise I Hear?

images-3I heard birds chirping outside my office window this morning and I acknowledged to myself what a sweet sound it is. Their twittering reminded me that as the Earth rotates, each of us hears the morning calls of birds. I thought of my students in far off places such as Australia, Costa Rica, and Italy and registered that they were hearing their birds at very different times than each other.

I like to sit back and dwell on the planet as a little spaceship floating in the universe. Here we all are, floating through space together, caught in an orbit of gravitational pull by our sun. I marvel at that! At the same time, I’m also in awe of the scientists that came before me with their observations and predictions about the Earth and the universe. It is because of them that I can even have these thoughts. My studies of their work has led me to know the universe. If you are in the middle grades of Oak Meadow , then you will study the concepts of meteorology and astronomy in 6th grade, to light and sound waves in 8th grade physics, that will serve as a foundation for your own viewing the universe.images-2

One exceptional and admirable scientist you will study about is Albert Einstein. His observations, predictions, and construction of theories continue to amaze us today. Just this month, one of his predictions made over 100 years ago was validated. Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves. Physicists at The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) located in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana have been busy for about twenty five years hoping to detect the sound of gravitational waves.

Then, on September 14, 2015, at just before eleven in the morning, Central European Time, the waves reached Earth. Marco Drago, a thirty-two-year-old Italian postdoctoral student and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, was the first person to notice them. He was sitting in front of his computer at the Albert Einstein Institute, in Hannover, Germany, viewing the LIGO data remotely. The waves appeared on his screen as a compressed squiggle, but the most exquisite ears in the universe, attuned to vibrations of less than a trillionth of an inch, would have heard what astronomers call a chirp—a faint whooping from low to high.

So the other “chirp” I am hearing isn’t the sound of birds! It’s the sound of gravitational waves!

To learn more about this, and to hear the chirp, go to

World Juggling Day!

imageWhat is World Juggling Day?

“To honor the founding of the International Jugglers’ Association in June 1947, the IJA annually declares a Saturday in June as “World Juggling Day.” This year it is inviting individual jugglers and juggling groups around the world to create events on Saturday, June 20, 2015, designed to spotlight juggling — a regional juggling festival, a teaching session in a school or park, a “Big Toss-Up,” juggling games or media related juggling stunts.

Teaching the art of juggling will also be a focus of World Juggling Day. Jugglers worldwide will be sharing their knowledge to teach the ancient art to as many would-be jugglers as possible.

Make your plans now to be part of something big in the world of juggling! Join up with your object manipulating friends across the globe for World Juggling Day!” IJA website

For Oak Meadow students looking for some new tricks or how to videos, be sure to check out the ezine eJuggle, the official publication of the National Juggler’s Association.

Exploring Symmetry

imagesOver the weekend we went on a long walk through the woods. Somehow through all the chatter as we walked (there were five of us) we came up with the idea to look for things along the way that were symmetrical. We only looked for items that had reflection symmetry. This is the type of symmetry where one half is a reflection of the other half. When we found something we thought was symmetrical, we took a picture of it. When we got home, we printed the pictures and cut them so that each half was a reflection of the other. After pasting one half to a piece of paper, we could draw the other half. The challenge was to make it look as exact a reflection as we could. It was lots of fun!

I was thinking that this would also be a fun activity for a lazy day at home. Instead of using photographs from nature, one could use old magazine pictures. Cut out pictures, then cut them along the line of symmetry, and attempt to draw the reflection. images-2

Try this activity!