Spring Equinox

The March equinox is when the days and nights are of equal length as the days get longer and the nights get shorter in the northern hemisphere and vice versa in the southern hemisphere.  This change in the angle of the sun is the result of the earth’s orbit, which causes its tilting axis to point in a different direction.  And it means that spring is starting in the northern hemisphere and fall is starting in the southern hemisphere.  In 2017, the vernal equinox falls on Monday, March 20th.

Learn more about how the earth’s orbit and axis tilt work in WorldView Software’s World Geography Chapter 2: The Earth.  For example, you can use this graphic (with introduction and questions) to spark class discussion, or as a starting point for a demonstration:

Screen grab from World Geography

The equinoxes (like the solstices) are events that have huge impacts on life on earth (think: growing food).  And given that importance, they’ve had a tremendous impact on the development of methods to keep track of and predict their occurrence: mathematics.  For example, it’s thought that Stonehenge’s purpose is tracking solar and lunar movements:

Screen grab from World History A

WorldView Software’s World History A also has a terrific series of tutorials explaining how mathematics based on observance of astronomical phenomena developed in different civilizations:

  • Ancient Chinese Science, Technology, and Mathematics
  • Ancient Indian Science and Mathematics
  • Greek Accomplishments in Science, Technology, and Mathematics
  • Math and Technology in the River Valley Civilizations
  • Science, Mathematics, and Technology in the Islamic Caliphates
  • Technical Trends in Pre-Columbian Latin America

Use the equinox as a springboard into history!

BulbgraphOnOffUse the chronology entries to gain context for an event or an era, or as a starting point for further research.

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Famous Women Inventors for #WomensHistoryMonth

For Women’s History Month, check out one of the inventors profiled at Famous Women Inventors.  For example, Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr (pictured above):

Although better known for her Silver Screen exploits, Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) also became a pioneer in the field of wireless communications following her emigration to the United States. The international beauty icon, along with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a “Secret Communications System” to help combat the Nazis in World War II. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.

Lamarr is a great example of someone who doesn’t fit the geek stereotype, which can lead to a fruitful classroom discussion.  And hat tip to Gringa of the Barrio for alerting me to this resource!

[Image is a publicity still from the movie Comrade X (1940). By MGM / Clarence Bull – eBay item 262147225708 – Archive copy at the Wayback Machine (archived on 18 November 2015), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45092010%5D

At the Intersection of Math, Geography, and Politics

Which would you rather have, a town council made up of at-large members or a town council made up of representatives from specific districts? The first is where each one is elected by the entire town and the second is where a council member is voted for only by residents in that district. If the answer is the latter, then you need to consider how the districts should be drawn.

That’s the work that Professor Moon Duchin at Tufts University is doing: applying research in the field of metrical geometry on mathematical measures of compactness to the problem of drawing political districts. She says:

People just have the idea that it means the shape shouldn’t be too weird, shouldn’t be too eccentric; it should be a kind of reasonable shape. Lots of people have taken a swing at that over the years. Which definition you choose actually has stakes. It changes what maps are acceptable and what maps aren’t. If you look at the Supreme Court history, what you’ll see is that a lot of times, especially in the ’90s, the court would say, Look, some shapes are obviously too bizarre but we don’t know how to describe the cutoff. How bizarre is too bizarre?

When districts are drawn compactly, they are fair.  When they aren’t you get gerrymandering, as in this example:

map showing two discontiguous areas making up one district
Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, 108th Congress

Learn more about redistricting (also known as reapportionment) in WorldView Software’s U.S. Government Map: Massachusetts 4th Congressional District.

[The featured image is the original cartoon of “The Gerry-Mander”, the political cartoon that led to the coining of the term. The district depicted in the cartoon was created by Massachusetts legislature to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists in 1812. By Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835) and originally published in the Boston Centinel, 1812.]

BulbgraphOnOffWhen assigning students an internet project, remind them they can refer to the “Internet Research Primer” tutorial for help.

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Tiny Fish Brain GPS

What’s the value of discovering that fish larva, about the size of my thumbnail, has a compass in its brain?

Source: Tiny Fish Brain GPS

[Great post that ties together basic and applied scientific research, and the importance of both for policy.  Recommended for starting discussions for civics, U.S. government, and economics classes.]

Top Ten Posts in 2016

These were the posts on WorldView Software’s blog that were most popular over the past year:

  1. Home page / Archives – See the latest post here
  2. American Ancestry in Maps – there are LOTS of people with German ancestry
  3. Transgender People in History – definitions, historical examples, and more
  4. The Museum of Lost Objects – documenting antiquities lost to war
  5. How Do Polls Work? – when is a poll a valid measure of public opinion?
  6. Economic Indicators – non-traditional indicators of economic well-being (or not)
  7. Phases of the Moon – why we keep track of the moon
  8. Could You Come up with $1,000 for an Emergency? – a personal financial literacy issue
  9. Secular Homeschoolers – why WorldView’s materials are a good fit
  10. Using Pokémon Go to Teach Local History – how to work the fad into your lesson planning

Have a happy new year, and thanks for reading!

BulbgraphOnOffAlmost any current browser can be used with WorldView Software, making it accessible from a wide range of devices.

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STEM Connections: Glowing Soldiers and Pharma Bros

Social Studies doesn’t happen in a vacuum; problems from history, politics, economics, and geography can inspire the research that leads to insights and discoveries in science, technology, engineering, and math.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh, there were so many wounded soldiers that it took days to get them all off the battlefield, during which time they lay in the rain and mud.  And then a strange phenomenon occurred. As The Historical Diaries tells it:

The men who lay beaten, bloody, and dying on the ground began to glow. Well… their wounds began to brightly shine a luminous greenish blue color. What was causing such a strange thing to happen? This is the part that gets even stranger, not only did some of the soldiers gaping wounds glow, but it seemed that these glowing men’s injuries healed much faster and cleaner than the wounds that did not glow.

Because they healed, the radiance was called Angel’s Glow.  The spooky story was dismissed as folklore legend, and the mystery would have to wait almost 140 years to be solved.

Two high school students, William Martin and Jonathan Curtis, visited the site of the battle with Martin’s mother Phyllis, a microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland working with bacteria called Photorhabdus luminescens.  They asked her if the bacterium could have caused the glowing wounds, and she challenged them to find out.  They did, and won a first award in the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for their research. (To find out their results and how that explains the mystery, read the HD post here. There’s also a good post on Mental Floss about the story.)

And while there are historical mysteries galore, your students don’t have to limit themselves to the past for inspiration.

The astonishingly astronomical cost of pharmaceuticals in the United States has encouraged equally astonishingly greedy behavior.  The poster boy for this is Martin Shkreli, the “pharma bro” who raised the price of an anti-malarial drug called Daraprim more than 5000 per cent in 2015.  His actions inspired a group of high school students in Australia to work on alternative ways to synthesize the drug, and they succeeded last week.  (Shkreli’s response is here.)

Making the connections between humanities, social science, and physical science academic disciplines can make for powerful learning in more ways than one.  But possibly the deepest lesson it teaches is that it empowers students to interact with and alter their environments rather than passively accepting them.

BulbgraphOnOffTo print out a test with mini-lesson answers, choose “practice test,” then the type and number of questions. Arrow to the end, then click “Print/Export.”

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Anyone Can Be A NASA Scientist

Who could be a citizen scientist and participate in scientific service to their community?

Source: Anyone Can Be A NASA Scientist

This post at Gringa of the Barrio is about citizen science programs through NASA, but  there are programs at all levels of government (or not government at all) and in all regions.  For example, there are projects through universities like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, through states such as NY’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and through nonprofit environmental organizations like Seatuck Environmental Association.

And it’s called “citizen science” for a reason — citizens make the best advocates.  The NY DEC has a wealth of information on how to get involved politically as well as scientifically, including downloadable handbooks.