Science, Technology, Engineering... and Mouse!

  So, there was this mouse in the house. Chicken
  feed seems to attract all sorts of little critters-
  squirrels, chipmunks, voles, and mice. (Well, the
  vole was in the compost.) The mouse was the only
  critter to make its way inside and Janie Kathryn and
  I were absolutely, positively against snap traps and
  poison. It's just so cruel!

  During my Gibson days, I used a live trap to catch a
  mouse in my office. It worked like a charm. Little
  Evander simply could not resist the temptation of
  Kix cereal. Note the hole in his little ear, hince the 
  name. (Also note that I have a photo of Evander,
  which should be indicative of my reluctance to kill
  such creatures.) So, I purchased another trap,
  confident it would do the trick.

Plan 1
As it turned out, today's mouse was much more cunning than sweet, little, holey-ear Evander. So, Janie Kathryn and I had to put our heads together and apply a little S.T.E.M. research to this situation. We decided on three alternative traps, set them up, and anxiously waited to see which one would work.
Trap #1 was the most intricately planned. Looking at our sketch, it seems very unlikely that this contraption would work. However, we found video footage of a mouse taking the bait. So, we were hopeful!

Plan #1 did NOT work!
...not even with a trail of peanut butter and cranberries leading up the yardstick bridge.

Plan 2
On to #2, the simple toilet paper roll trap- another google find. It was easy enough to set up, but I had my doubts. After all, our mouse showed no signs of elevating himself from the floor of the room where the chicken feed was stored.

Plan #2 was also a bust.
So, we moved on to Plan #3. Plan 3 was very Tom-and-Jerry, but it was all Janie Kathryn and she just knew it would work. We had walked in on the mouse several times, munching on chicken feed. Really, it was just a matter of getting him where we wanted him and yanking the string fast enough. We eventually took to yanking the string from another room, just in case he was in the box. He never was.

Plan 3
Plan 3 was a failure too.
I know what you're thinking if you've made it this far into our critter-catching calamity. Why didn't I just move the chicken feed to a rodent-proof location? Well, I could've done that, but not before I caught the little freeloader! If I took away the smorgasbord he might move into parts of the house that truly mattered, like my kitchen!

In the end, the mouse was caught. 
Though I feel accurate in saying that the mouse was caught by a "live trap," he didn't exactly live through his capture. He did die a very natural death and gave his life so that another Skeen House occupant could prove his value. That's right, Fritz the cat took care of business! He delivered his kill right to the end of the hallway, where we were sure to find it. 

Remember this?


Learning Through Theatre

  Wiley and the Hairy Man is an African American folktale that was retold orally for generations before it
  was ever written on paper. During the Great Depression, as part of FDR's New Deal, writers with the
  Federal Writers' Project recorded many oral histories from all over the United States. Wiley and the
  Hairy Man is one of those stories.

The folktale was first published as a play in the 70s and has been a popular production ever since. We were invited to attend a special performance for A.S.A.P. students at The Circuit Playhouse. I was not familiar with the story or its history, so I did a little digging to find all of this interesting information. I also found this really great Teacher Information Packet for extending the experience beyond the stage.

Showtimes for this play are limited, but it's well worth squeezing into the busiest of schedules.
I think its likely enjoyable at any age, but of particular interest for the elementary set. 
If you can't make it to the show, you can read the story. I'll be adding it to our library!

Grade 3 Reading Level {afflink}


Collecting Eggs and Data

I like to think I can turn anything into a learning opportunity. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea of how to transform something we already do into a teachable moment. It's a problem, I know. First and foremost, it's a problem because I need to remember to allow time for natural learning, sans lessons, goals, or outcomes. It's also a problem because I need more sleep! I'm going to place this teachable moment in the "huge success" column and pat myself on the back a little for not complicating it.

Our chickens recently began laying eggs. We are first-time chicken keepers and this is very exciting stuff. Collecting eggs might be the only task Janie Kathryn performs immediately upon request. Since we were only getting one egg per day, we decided to save them until we had enough for everyone to enjoy an omelet. In doing so, we discovered that the eggs were changing day by day. I thought tracking the changes might be a great way to practice collecting scientific data.

I started thinking... How can I tie in the scientific method? What could the hypothesis be? How long would it take to form a valid conclusion? And then I realized I was about to ruin the project. I was complicating it. It didn't need to be a science project. It could just be exploration for the sake of exploring. It could be collecting data because it's cool to see the changes on paper. Maybe the information would lead to something and maybe it wouldn't. It was going to be great practice and great fun either way.

I made a chart for keeping the data and gathered the necessary tools- scale,our Great Women Rulers of Science ruler, lighted magnifying glass, and fan deck of colors. How else were we supposed to document color changes?

She's two weeks into data collection and still going strong!

When writing this post, I recognized my continued use of Neil DeGrasse Tyson quotes. I can't help that the man says so many great things! I thought it fitting to finish the quote that began this post.

"This is the fundamental disconnect between what's going on in the educational system and what it takes to be a scientist. People who are scientists today are scientists in spite of the system, typically, not because of it."


That Guy on The Cosby Show

A couple of weeks ago, Janie Kathryn and I were browsing the Pink Palace gift shop when she spotted a book cover with a familiar face. "Mama, isn't that the guy from The Cosby Show." (I'll come back to this.) At the time, all I could think was that she needed to know who B.B. King is. Everyone in Memphis should know B.B. King!

I was excited to use our upcoming tour of the Gibson Guitar Factory as a little introduction. I wasn't kidding myself... I knew the child wouldn't be "into" the blues. Nonetheless, she was going to know about them! The Pandora station played the blues until our tour date finally arrived.

We arrived at Gibson and I squeezed in a little preparatory info before I lost her to her friends. I surrendered the teaching role to our tour guide after that, but not before ensuring our tour would include the story of how B.B.'s guitar got its name.

If you're reading this and you took the tour with us, the story of Lucille was flawed. If you're reading this and you had a part in conducting our tour of the factory, thank you so, so much. It was awesome, of course! But maybe I should include the more accurate story of Lucille, as I know it... for posterity. If you are interested in the more accurate story of Lucille's name, it's included at the end of this post.

Back to the Cosbys. After the tour, we walked down Beale Street, where I would have tortured my child with more music history had it just been the two of us. I admit that I was pleased when she pointed out signage featuring B.B. King and called him by name. I laughed and shared with a couple of other moms the bit about Janie Kathryn calling him "the guy from The Cosby Show." The reaction was a cross between absurdity and humor, which struck me later... when I realized I left off the part about B.B. King actually being on an episode of The Cosby Show. He played blues great, Riley Jackson.

So, yes my dear, sweet, show tunes-loving, jelly shoes-wearing, never-miss-a-beat, I-don't-wanna-sing-the-blues, child. 
That is the guy from The Cosby Show.

If you're not still watching The Cosby Show and interested in learning or sharing more Memphis music history, a 15-minute documentary overview highlighting the roots of the Memphis sound and the origins in country & western and blues music can be found here. It's a great start!

How Lucille Got Her Name
Way back when, perhaps the late 40s or early 50s, King was playing a juke joint in the tiny town of Twist, AR. (I have no idea where that is, but I remember the alliteration.) While he was playing a bar room brawl broke out, over a woman, and someone was pushed into a makeshift kerosene heater. (Apparently, this type of fire hazard was common back then.) The entire venue caught on fire and everyone had to rush out. I've heard varied accounts of fatalities, but the one thing that never varies about the story is that when B.B. King fled the fire, he failed to take his guitar. So, he ran back into the burning building to save it. After that night he named his guitar Lucille, after the woman over which the bar fight began. All his guitars were named Lucille, including all the models Gibson has made for him. He tells people that he chose that name to remind him to never be so stupid as to leave his guitar behind, never run into a burning building, and NEVER fight over a woman.


Equal Parts Day & Night

Today was the last day of summer!! 

We spent the entire day outside! It began with meeting new friends at the playground. I can't imagine a better way to end the summer. Throughout the rest of the day, several people corrected us by insisting that today is the first day of fall. Not the way we see it! Autumn Equinox occurs tonight at 9:29 PM (CST), when the sun shines directly on the equator. So, this day, during all of its hours of daylight, was officially the last day of summer.

"Equinox" derives from a Latin word meaning "equal night."

(Jackson, 2003)
On the day following the autumnal equinox, the sun will rise exactly in the east and set exactly in the west, resulting in 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime, all over the world ...equal parts day and night.

We enjoyed reading the one book we were able to find at the library, which enlightened us on the traditions surrounding the autumnal equinox.

I welcome recommendations for great books that highlight the science of this seasonal change or the various cultural celebrations with which the onset of autumn coincides.


Buttercup's Bionic Leg

This is Buttercup. Okay, maybe his leg isn't exactly bionic. It's probably more accurate to refer to Buttercup as having a prosthetic foot. However, Buttercup has a foot that was made by a 3D printer, so by definition, I think I can get away with my title.

We met Buttercup and his caregivers at the Hummingbird Migration Celebration, and it was the highlight of my day. Buttercup is not your average Pekin duck, though you wouldn't notice from his photo. He's a famous feathered friend because he and his 3D-printed foot have been featured everywhere from Mashable to HuffPost, even Fox News. You can google him. Buttercup was visiting from his home at Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary, where he lives with other domestic ducks and geese that have been tossed aside by irresponsible humans. Jennifer and Mike Garey are the hearts (and brains) behind this nonprofit, where their mission is to "help abandoned domestic ducks and geese with food, shelter, and veterinary care; and facilitate adoption into safe, loving homes."

Being that I have ducks in my own backyard flock, I was very moved by their mission! But the science and technology behind this benevolent endeavor is really just mind-blowing when you think about it.
A person... used a printer... to create a foot... for a duck.
When I made plans to go to this hummingbird fest, I was expecting a bounty of nature and conservation-learning opportunities. I wasn't expecting STEM to boot!

We're hoping to visit Buttercup sometime and meet his friends. I can't wait to learn more about the work the Gareys are doing. You can follow the links to learn more or follow Buttercup's Facebook Journal.

Buttercup's special foot

Buttercup has loved Teddy all his life.


Hummingbird Migration Celebration

Down in Mississippi, about an hour outside of Memphis is a piece of land "where nature and history meet," and each September the public can go there to celebrate the Ruby-throated Hummingbird... in a very hands-on way. The place is Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs. We attended the Hummingbird Migration Celebration five years ago, when the temps were scorching and the hummingbirds were scarce. This year, I decided to give it another go, though it wasn't really the hummingbirds that attracted me.

If you're reading this and wondering if it is worth the trip, I will tell you all you really need to know. Yes! Get there when they open to beat the heat and prepare to be amazed. You will have an opportunity to release a hummingbird or feel its tiny heart beating rapidly against your ear. I could give more detailed information about this event and its purpose, but this video does a much better job.

Note: The video states that Strawberry Plains is located 25 minutes outside of Memphis. Actually, it is 25 minutes outside the outermost boundaries of Collierville. It's closer to 45-50 minutes from Memphis.

Now, for the reason we made the (ahem) 50-minute trek to Mississippi... It was the live bat encounter with conservation biologist and bat expert, Rob Mies that really motivated us to risk a heat stroke. Really, it wasn't that bad because we got there when they opened! Rob offered a very engaging presentation about understanding bats. The photos I was lucky enough to get are of bats that are about 15 inches from my face. It was very cool! Rob answered every question from the audience. Afterward, he hung out at the Organization for Bat Conservation tent, where he autographed books that he has written, and sold other bat-related merchandise... all to support bat conservation and education.

In addition to releasing hummingbirds and getting face-to-face with the world's only flying mammals, we also took in a "Good Ole, Down-home Mississippi Snake" show.

All of that and I still haven't made it to my favorite part of the day! It involves one very cool husband and wife, a 3-D printer, and a one-legged duck named Buttercup. You can read more here.