Monday, February 16, 2015

Communication Today

We're read about a lot of different ways to communicate throughout history, and the first one that was mentioned is still in use today. Writing a letter. When was the last time you wrote a letter? Not an email, not a note left on the kitchen counter, not a secret message passed to your friend in the next desk, but a real, honest letter sent in the mail?

Now we have things like Facetime and Skype that allow us to talk face to face with people who are far away.

We can send texts with our phones.

We can send mail electronically.

But maybe, just maybe, we should write more letters. What do you think?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Your Parents: 1975

There isn't a lot new in today's reading. It talks about many of the same ways to communicate in 1975 that were used in the past, ways we have already read about, like letters sent in the mail and telephone calls.

One big change is that most people now had a TV and most of those TVs were in color. The first coast-to-coast TV broadcast in the United States was in 1954 and color was used more and more through the 1960s until it became more used than black and white TV. So by 1975 color TV had been used in the United States for over 20 years already.

From what I could find, the following video from 1958 is the oldest color TV broadcast that was recorded. (Sorry it's not a Super Bowl or baseball game or SpongeBob or something more exciting.) You may want to jump ahead to 1:10. Then when it switches to color, imagine people seeing it for the first time being completely amazed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why Are Rain Forests Important?

Even though we don't live in one, rain forests are still important to us in our daily lives. Many medicines come from plants in the rain forest. Our reading says that half of all plants and animals live in rain forests.

Think of all the food that comes from rain forests. The reading mentions oranges and nuts, but what about all the other fruit? And cocoa beans grow in rain forests. Without cocoa beans there'd be no - gulp! - chocolate!

The sap from the rubber tree is used to make rubber. Think about your life with no tires or kickballs or other things made from rubber.

Take a look at these amazing rain forest facts from and National Geographic Kids.

This video also has a bunch of great facts about rain forests.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Your Grandparents: 1945

The next reading on communication moves to the 1940s. We will read about the pens used at that time (people didn't need to use quill pens or fountain pens anymore). The reading also includes how mail delivery had changed and how people used telephones,

The most interesting part of the reading might be how people got some of their news. Today we can look on the Internet for news or choose from a variety of TV news shows and 24-hour cable news channels. But at that time, television was just beginning to be used and many people didn't have a TV in their house. How did they get their news?

Here is a major news story from 1941. This is from YouTube, but how did people hear it then? Did they watch it? (Look at the title.)

The Toucan's Bill

Today's reading first mentions the parrot, a bird that lives in the rain forest, and talks about its green, yellow, and red feathers. Then the reading changes to the toucan whose feathers have fewer colors. However, the toucan has a really large and brightly colored bill.

Scientists think the toucan's bill might be that big to help protect it from other birds. The bill also helps it reach food from farther away. Scientists have also discovered that the large bill helps regulate the bird's body temperature.

Here's some footage of toucans in their natural habitat.

Did you know toucans can be pets?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Your Great-Grandparents: 1915

Fountain pens are similar to quill pens in that they both have a metal nib that lets ink flow down to the paper. But fountain pens are different because you don't have to dip the nib into ink after every one or two words. Fountain pens store ink inside them.

Here is an example of writing with a fountain pen. Notice that the harder the writer presses down, the wider the line. Also look how long the ink stays wet.

Next, here is a demonstration of filling and cleaning a modern fountain pen.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Orchid Plant and Insect

Flowers are bright and colorful and have strong smells to attract insects. When insects go from flower to flower to get nectar, the insects transport pollen which then helps new flowers grow.

So what if a bigger insect wants to eat the smaller insects that come to the flowers for nectar? How about a disguise?

Interestingly, this next video has the exact same narrator but different pictures. (It's still pretty cool.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How Much Rain Falls?

How much rain do you think falls in the Amazon rain forest in a year? Put it this way: compared to this picture, how much rain do you think falls each year in parts of the Amazon rain forest?

Some places in the Amazon rain forest get nearly twice as much as the southeast corner of Florida in a year. How much is that?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Changes in How We Communicate

Today we start a new unit on ways to communicate. We will start in history and move toward the present to see how communication has changed and improved over time.

The first way to communicate mentioned in our reading is the feather or quill pen. This video shows you how it works. How are these pens different from the ones we use today?

Here is a closeup of the nib of a quill pen. (These pictures are from this site which talks a lot about how these pens are made and used.) How does it work?

The nib of a pen.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What is a Rain Forest?

When I was a kid I love to go exploring in the woods. That meant going in my backyard. There were a lot of trees, but there were also neighbors and if you walked like a minute straight back from my house you'd hit a road. It wasn't really "the middle of nowhere."

Not my backyard.

But rain forests are much cooler than my backyard as a kid. There is an amazing variety of plant and animal life, it's always warm, and it rains a lot. Check out some of these links to learn more about rain forests.

What are rain forests?
When is a forest considered a rain forest?
Explore the canopy of a rain forest.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Looking Good in Ancient Egypt

Our reading today talks about fashion styles in ancient Egypt. The first paragraph is about makeup. Both men and women wore makeup, and one main part was paint around the eyes.

Next the reading talks about jewelry, especially the importance of gold jewelry.

The reading finishes by talking more about necklaces made from stones, glass, and clay. It says that men, women, and children all wore necklaces. What do you think? Would you wear necklaces like these? 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Oceans and Weather

Did you know that Mr. W. is a big soccer fan? Two of his favorite teams are the United States National Team and Southampton FC. The US National Team sometimes plays games in Denver, Colorado. Southampton is across the ocean in England, and England is much farther north than Denver.

You would probably expect a place that is farther north to be colder, but take a look at both teams' stadiums in the winter.

The US National Team playing in Denver in winter.

Southampton playing in England on January 1, in the middle of winter.

Why the difference? Why is it so much warmer in England where it's so much farther north? The grass is green! Shouldn't it be freezing there too?

Take a look at these two maps. What do you notice about where these two stadiums are compared to oceans? How do oceans affect the weather?

The Pyramids

The Egyptian pyramids are probably the most well-known part of ancient Egypt. Maybe that's because they are still standing today and you can go visit them! This video gives a short description of what you would see if you visited the pyramids today. (To skip the long, talking introduction, go to the 0:30 point in the movie.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Our reading today talks about the ocean's coastlines and it describes different kinds of coasts. One coast it describes has high cliffs that come right up to the ocean. Can you see how the water has begun to break the cliff into smaller rocks?

Over a long time the water breaks the stones into smaller and smaller pieces.

Finally, after a really long time, the ocean breaks the rocks down to sand making sandy beaches.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Mummies are much more than strips of cloth wrapped around a body. You know, like this:

There's also much more to mummies than horror movies. You know, like this:

There were many steps to making a real mummy. Today's reading goes through some of them, but not in too much detail. This video does a good job of giving a step by step description of what happens to a person from when they die until they are officially a mummy. After watching the video, ask yourself this: do you think everyone in ancient Egypt was turned into a mummy? Why or why not?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Writing in Ancient Egypt

I couldn't find anything short on YouTube or on other websites to teach more about hieroglyphics. Everything I found is very detailed and complicated.

Basically, Egyptians used pictures instead of letters. Pictures could stand for what they looked like (so an eye might mean "eye") or a picture could stand for a sound (like an owl could stand for the /m/ sound). One site said that there were over 7000 glyphs. (A glyph is one picture.) We have only 26 letters. They had 7000 pictures!

So instead of trying to show you something seriously educational, here's this:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Egypt in Ancient Times

The Nile River plays an important role in Egypt, both in ancient times and today. The first topic today's reading talks about is how the river floods each year. (But that has changed a lot since dams were built.) This image shows the difference between the Nile River when it is normal and when it is flooding.

The second paragraph talks about how important the Nile River is to transportation. People have settled along rivers all through history because they could ship things easily from place to place. This picture shows Egypt at night. Look where all the people have settled. 

Finally, the Nile River is still important to Egypt today. This map shows where the Nile River flows in Africa. (The size of the river has been made bigger just to make it easier to see.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Coral Reefs

Today's reading is about coral reefs. Corals are small animals, about the size of the tip of a pen, and they never move. When they die their hard shell is left behind and a new coral attaches itself to the old shell. In this way coral reefs are slowly built up over time.

What our reading does NOT talk about is all the other animals that live in and around coral reefs. In this video you'll see all sorts of fish and crabs and super-scary things and creepy-crawly things. None of those are corals, but they all rely on the coral reef to survive. Where is the coral in this video?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Can Sounds Hurt?

"Turn it down!" If you are like I was as a kid, your mom probably tells you to turn down the TV or the radio or the video games sometimes. It's true: sounds can sometimes be too loud, and sounds that are WAY too loud can hurt you. Loud sounds can damage the inside of your ears and your sense of hearing won't be as strong.

This first video explains what happens when your ears are exposed to sounds that are too loud.

This second video gives some examples of sounds, how loud they are, and how loud they need to be to do damage to your ears and your hearing.

The Ocean Floor

It's hard to see in our imaginations what today's reading is about. When we look at a globe, the ocean looks smooth and level. But under the water there are mountains, valleys, and plains just like on land.

What would the earth look like if all of the water was drained away? This video gives us an example of what the ocean floor looks like without the water covering it up.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sound Effects

Today's reading talks about two ways that sound effects are made for movies. Think about it. If your movie has a scene with a storm in it, can the actors and everyone just wait around for a storm to hit to film that scene? No! They might wait for days or weeks! So they film the scene, add some flashing lights for lightning, and then add sound effects to make it sound like a real storm.

Today movie-makers can use computers to add sound effects, but before computers they used everyday objects. This video shows what happens when kids are put in charge of the sound effects in some famous movies. The kids are using balloons, pots and pans, bags of chips, garbage can lids, a rolling pin, and tons of other crazy stuff to make movie sound effects. Check it out.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Ocean

Today's reading gives us some basic information about the oceans, but it only scratches the surface of all the cool information scientists have learned about the oceans. Check out these amazing facts about the oceans, and we'll take a moment to discuss each one as we watch.

Hearing It Two Times

We learned that sound travels in waves. Just like a ball, sound waves can bounce off smooth objects. If sound waves bounce back, then you hear them twice. This is called an echo.

Here's a guy in the mountains:

Here are some people in a tunnel.

The Hindenburg Disaster

I have to admit, even though 36 people lost their lives in the Hindenburg tragedy, this would make for an eye-opening science lesson, especially with an explosion caused by the same gas (hydrogen) created right in the classroom. Mr. Maxwell certainly prepared a good lesson, even if Mark gave away the ending to his classmates. 

This is the original footage including what has become very well-known commentary from a man named Herbert Morrison on WLS radio.

This is a colorized version of the same footage.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Learning About the Solar System

Our eyes are pretty amazing. According to this site, our eyes can see the light from one candle from 30 miles away. But the objects in our solar system are much farther away then that, and objects outside our solar system are even farther away!

Scientists use telescopes to see objects in space that are much farther away. Telescopes that are in space, like on satellites, can see an incredibly long distance and can also take some spectacular photos.

The Speed of Sound

Why can you see something before you hear it? Today's reading compares the speed of sound to the speed of light. Light travels faster than sound. This video is a great example. The person with the camera was 10 miles away from the launch of the Space Shuttle. They could see the Space Shuttle launch immediately as it happened because light travels so fast. But since sound travels about 1 mile in 5 seconds, it took about 50 seconds for the sound of the launch to travel to their ears.

Here's another example created by someone using a video game. A rocket is launched at the ground far away. You can see the explosion before you hear it.