Skype a Scientist

With Earth Day just around the corner (April 22, 2021), one idea you may want to consider is to “Skype a Scientist.” Using this website, you can browse through a list of hundreds of scientists, or search for them based on keywords such as their specialties. Once you find one you would like your class to converse with, follow the instructions for getting in touch with the scientist through the organization so you can arrange your meeting. (Though I haven’t used the site, I am guessing you can use the video conference tool of your choice, and are not limited to Skype.) Another way to use this resource is to take a look at scheduled events hosted by scientists, and register for free through EventBrite.

person holding container with seaweed
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To connect with more scientists for Earth Day, register for NASA’s free virtual Earth Day Event. (Of course, NASA is on my mind after yesterday’s review of Astronauts Zoom!) For even more ideas on how to spend Earth Day – and the days leading up to it – be sure to check out my brand new Wakelet of resources curated just for the occasion.

Astronauts Zoom!

I’m excited to announce a new nonfiction book by Deborah Lee Rose, author of Scientists Get Dressed and co-author of Beauty and the Beak. The latter will always be near and dear to my heart because Rose first contacted me when she saw the connection between the story of Beauty, an eagle who received a 3d-printed prosthetic beak, and articles I had posted about my students’ adventures with 3d printing back in 2016. With her new book, Astronauts Zoom!, Deborah Lee Rose continues along her path of providing first class STEM materials for young children.

Persnickety Press/WunderMill Books is publishing ASTRONAUTS ZOOM! in celebration of 20 years of astronauts living and working on the International Space Station (ISS). This “Astronaut Alphabet” features high-quality photographs of male and female astronauts from several countries so that children of any gender and race can see someone reflective of them representing this incredible career. One unique aspect of these pictures, as Rose pointed out to me, is that “you can rotate the book fully, and the photos taken in space will still be correct because there is no true “upside down.”

public domain photo from NASA

With age-appropriate – yet challenging – vocabulary as well as inclusion of both the technical and entertaining aspects of spending time in microgravity, Astronauts Zoom! will be an excellent addition to any classroom library or child’s reading collection. Though it is a picture book, there are many levels to approach it from, so re-reading it is definitely a pleasure.

There are informational pages in the book that expand on the simple sentences used for each letter, list the vocabulary, give additional facts, and name the astronauts who are pictured along with their countries of origin. In addition, you can download this free Educational Guide to accompany the book:

In the past couple of years, we have watched the first all-female spacewalk and the first African American astronaut to spend an extended period (longer than a few weeks) in space. On April 9, 2021, the station is scheduled to have 10 people aboard as crews rotate in and out. With all of these historical events, as well as excitement over Perseverance and its implications for humans to make trips to Mars in the future, Astronauts Zoom! is the perfect book to share with students to garner enthusiasm for STEM and reaching for the stars.

Click here for more information!

Peep Your Science

I must admit that I enjoy a good pun every once in awhile – though some may argue that “good pun” is a contradiction in terms. Regardless, the people at The Open Notebook appear to have a sense of humor along with an appreciation for science, prompting them to host a “Peep Your Science” contest for 3 years in a row. Inviting entrants to submit science-themed dioramas featuring something nearly as passionately loved or hated as puns – marshmallow Peeps – this contest demonstrates how enthusiastic creators of all ages are about science and/or dioramas and/or sugary, pastel-colored candy.

You and your students can see the 2021 entries in all their glory (and vote for your favorites), from Jane Goodall Studying Chimpeeps to the Peeprona-19 Vaccination Clinic by clicking on the links near the bottom of this page. Challenge your students to see what they know about each scientific reference, to make a timeline of Peep-o-ramas, or to design their own. I think we all need a tad more light-heartedness right about now, and a glimpse of a Peepriodic Table is just what this not-a-medical-doctor-in-real-life-or-any-parallel-universe-ever has ordered.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Life Stages of the Brain

I have fought with depression since I was in college. I’ve been on and off different anti-depressants, changed my diet and exercise routines, and been to therapy. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that I started feeling completely hopeless. Nothing was working, so I thought my teaching job was the cause. I changed jobs. But my depression persisted and worsened, as well as other symptoms.

Anyone who has dealt with depression or any kind of illness that is difficult to diagnose while trying to teach will understand that I didn’t have the time or the desire to seek out medical help. Past experience had shown me that it would be time-consuming and the doctors’ diagnoses would be as effective as a guess and check approach. Our school had difficulty finding substitutes (even pre-COVID) and my duties were usually from 7:15am to 5:30pm – so skipping around from specialist to specialist was not an option.

I didn’t love my job anymore. In fact, I didn’t love anything at all. Life had become a series of things to get through, and just brushing my teeth seemed insurmountable. It was difficult to get up in the morning, even on weekends and holidays. I dreaded being awake.

I decided my only option was to retire.

It was the most excruciating decision I have ever made. Teaching had been my identity since I was a child giving the neighborhood kids voice lessons. I cared deeply about my students. But I didn’t feel like I was serving them or anyone else in my life properly.

A few months after retiring, I finally had time to go to doctor’s appointments. One doctor ordered a full blood panel, even though I told her that I had one around 5 years before because of my depression and everything came back normal.

This time, there was a surprise. “Did you know you’re in full-blown menopause?” she asked me. I did not. The estrogen levels that had been completely normal a few years before were nonexistent. My FSH levels were through the roof.

I nearly kissed that doctor. Most of the symptoms I had been experiencing could be explained by menopause and another blood test that showed I was not absorbing my medication correctly. We had to be careful about hormone treatment because of my family’s medical history. But now I knew that I was not at fault – at least not for everything.

I’m telling you this because I know many of the readers of this blog are female. As an intelligent, well-read woman, I knew about menopause – but had no idea how stealthily it could creep up and take over my life. How was a woman who had always suffered from depression supposed to realize that she was more depressed? Or, who was sweating all of the time as she simultaneously gained weight supposed to recognize hot “flashes”?

It turns out there is lot more to menopause than moody women who fight with their husbands about the house thermostat on sitcoms. If you want to hear or read about how menopause affects our brains, this 12 minute clip from the latest TED Radio Hour may give you some insight. Maybe you’re not at that stage yet (are you sure?) or maybe you want to know more about the human brain at different ages, so,here are some other segments from the full TED episode: How Does Family Income Affect Child Brain Development, How Does the Teenage Brain Make Decisions, and How Can Adults Grow New Brain Cells.

Quite honestly, I think women have been taking menopause a little too well over the years – quietly suffering its symptoms just as we endure many other of life’s injustices with pained smiles on our faces. MENOPAUSE SUCKS! And men don’t have to go through it – WHICH MAKES IT SUCK EVEN MORE!

I guess I’d rather be a live, menopausal woman than a dead woman not going through menopause.

But, for sure I know that I would rather be a woman who is alive going through menopause than a man living with a woman going through menopause.

I guess it’s a toss-up for who has the better end of that deal.

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Find That Lizard!

If you’ve got a budding herpetologist at home or in your class, I would recommend you turn them on to the #findthatlizard challenge on Twitter or Instagram. Self-proclaimed “lizard lassoer,” Earyn McGee produces this visual puzzle on Instagram and Twitter under the handle, @afro_herper. She posts pictures of various lizards in their environments with a few facts, and invites followers to find the lizard in the photo. Since these little guys are so good at camouflage, it’s often not easy. But it’s quite satisfying when you discover them! You can read about the origin story of this friendly competition here. There are also some coloring pages and even cute merch!

McGee, who hopes to host a television show about natural history one day, also has a YouTube Channel. To learn more about Earyn McGee and her important work on conservation and increasing diversity in science careers, read her bio.

And tell me if you legit found the lizard in the above Tweet – because I had to look at the thread for some hints!

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Oh Say, Can you See That Sound?

Synesthesia, a biological phenomenon that causes some people to sense objects and experiences in a different way, always fascinated my students. People who associate colors with different numbers or scents with specific sounds might be accused of making up these unusual perceptions, but scientists have proved that this genetic trait does exist. In fact, some famous musical and visual artists may have had the benefit of synesthesia in their creative endeavors.

In this lesson plan from Google Arts and Culture, “Seeing Sound with Kandinsky,” students can learn about the painter Wassily Kandinsky’s relationship with music and its affect on his art. (Slide 8 specifically refers to Kandinsky’s synesthesia and offers links that elaborate on it.)

According to the TED Ed video, “What Color is Tuesday?” around 4% of the population are synesthetes. Students will, of course, want to know if they are possible synesthetes. They can take a quick test like this one, but I always caution them that this is just for fun and not at all scientific. For a simple paper and pencil task, there is a fun example on the Neuroscience for Kids site.

This lesson plan from The Art of Education includes several more activities and links, including one to a site where you can type in your name to find out the color palette one synesthete, Bernadette Sheridan, would visualize. And, way back in 2015, I wrote about a site where you can type in your own message and generate music with the letters. (It still works!)

If you’re interested in literature for children in which characters have synesthesia, here is a good list. One of the choices is The Noisy Paint Box, a book about – you guessed it – Kandinsky as a young boy.

Whether studying neuroscience, art, music, or gifts that make us different, you will find that synesthesia is an intriguing topic for any age level.

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