31 May 2013

Making a Splash!

Great Science Books for Kids!

While all of us who contribute to this blog, create books for children, I would like to share two titles with you that you might not yet have seen.

Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau was was a French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, and author. He also became a world renowned scientist. As if that wasn’t enough, he co-developed the Aqua-Lung, enabling scuba diving, and pioneered marine conservation. Cousteau left his mark for ever on the planet. When Cousteau and his teams embarked aboard his ship Calypso to explore the world, no one yet knew about the effects of pollution, over- exploitation of resources and coastal development. The films of Calypso's adventures drew the public's attention to the potentially disastrous environmental consequences of human negligence. Cousteau, through his life and his work, was a major player in the environmental movement.

Now his grandson Philippe has taken up the cause and is following in his grandfather’s footsteps by bringing awareness about oceans to young readers. “Everything you do makes a difference,” he says, “What can you do to make a positive difference?” Together with renowned educator and award winning author Cathryn Berger-Kaye, this dynamic team has produced two recent books with Free Spirit Publishing. Make a Splash, a Kid’s Guide to Protecting Oceans, Lakes, Rivers and Wetlands is aimed at ages 8-12. It gives crucial information and ideas through bright photos and activities. The book features kids who have made a difference and offers tools to kids who are interested in doing the same.

www.freespirit.com/splash offers an online guide to parents and educators.

Going Blue is the accompanying title aimed at teens in grades 6 and up. The book encourages investigation into problems, demonstrates how to prepare for action, how to reflect on results and how to actually make a difference in protecting the environment.

Water is the most important substance on Earth, the authors state; and go on to explain that it is also the most threatened by climate change, trash, and pollution (such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico). Young people across the globe are responding to the world water crisis by transforming their ideas and energy into action and participating in service learning. The call to service is being sounded by world leaders such as President Barack Obama, Jane Goodall, and by Philippe Cousteau. Teens are answering the call to help our environment by being green, and to rescue our oceans and waterways by going blue.

Going Blue vividly presents facts and statistics about Earth’s oceans and waterways and information about the issues surrounding our current water crisis. Readers will find a wealth of strategies and examples that help them see themselves as change agents and move forward to complete an effective service project. The book is divided into the five stages of service learning:

STAGE1: Find Out - Investigate
STAGE2: Dive In - Prepare
STAGE3:  Get Going! - Act
STAGE4: Think Back! - Reflect
STAGE5: Tell It! - Demonstrate

Using real case studies, this book gives teens tools to tackle their own concerns and raises environmental awareness to a whole new level. Know a kid who likes to dive? Give them this book!

Go to this website: www.freespirit.com/goingblue- scroll down to the PDF’s of several chapters and print off activities.

Also by Cathryn Berger-Kaye: A Kids’ Guide to Climate Change & Global Warming, How to Take Action!

19 May 2013

Welcome Back, Commander Hadfield!

When I was a child, the Apollo space missions were taking place. My brother wore a home-made space-suit for Hallowe'en, and we learned everything we could about the American space program. It was exciting to see the formation of the Canadian Space Agency and to find the CSA's Facebook page. I've even been lucky enough to meet two Canadian astronauts, Marc Garneau and Bob Thirsk. But for a couple of months now, I've had an astronaut in space as my Facebook friend and Twitter contact!
This is astronaut Chris Hadfield's profile photo from Facebook!

For the past five months, it's been fascinating to follow the activities of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield in orbit aboard the International Space Station. Space fans and science fans around the world have been able to keep track of Hadfield's journey in many ways. The usual news reports on television, radio, and in the newspapers -- usual for any space program -- have been supplemented with an amazing number of updates directly from Hadfield.

With the help of his grown son back on Earth, Hadfield has sent a series of Twitter updates that give readers an interesting perspective on the life of astronauts aboard the space station. Many of these Twitter updates have a photograph or a short video attached! You can see an album of fifteen of these photographs at The Guardian newspaper's website. The same website has a three-minute video with a few highlights of the many videos Hadfield has shared.

My friends and I are currently having a friendly argument about which video is our favourite. One space fan likes the haircut best of all -- in this sequence, another astronaut is trimming Hadfield's hair back to a short brush-cut, using an electric clipper hooked up to a vacuum hose so the bits of hair don't drift around and make a hazardous mess. Several of us were fascinated to watch Hadfield doing a simple experiment at a Canadian student's suggestion: what happens when you wring out a washcloth, in space? When Hadfield co-wrote a song with Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies, there were several recordings made so that Hadfield could sing in real time with both this Canadian music group and with choirs from Canadian schools.

One of the most popular videos is Hadfield's version of a song by David Bowie, called "A Space Oddity."

Hadfield's current video interview is posted here on YouTube. It takes almost an hour -- something that might be nice to listen to while getting homework books organized, or doing some sketching, or washing dishes. (Can you tell that I like to multi-task, and also to integrate my science interests into the rest of my day?) An additional bonus for Canadians is that Hadfield speaks in French for portions of the interview; if you're an English-speaker who is learning French, this video is a good opportunity to practise picking out words in your expanding vocabulary of science words.

10 May 2013

Save the night

by Joan Marie Galat
Author of the Dot to Dot in the Sky books - blending astronomy with ancient mythology

While delivering astronomy presentations at schools in southern Alberta a few weeks ago, I took advantage of the opportunity to ask my elementary age audiences two simple questions. How many of you have heard of a supernova? How many have heard of a black hole? While I was surprised to see how many hands went up in the Kindergarten to grade three groups, I was not surprised to see their interest in the night sky.  Exploding stars are exciting! Black holes fill imaginations with "what if" questions.

Although exploding stars are rarely seen and black holes are invisible, there are many other objects in the night sky to enjoy. You can see the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye, as well as Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the 88 official constellations.

Unfortunately not everyone can enjoy the celestial wonders that should be visible on a good dark night. Those living in brightly lit cities and towns face light pollution strong enough to make dim stars less visible, constellations difficult to identify, and dark sky objects impossible to see. Even those in rural communities may find their night sky lit by yard lights, traffic, and nearby communities.

You can help reduce light pollution in a number of ways:
-stop using lights to decorate outdoors
-never use more light than you need
- choose lower wattages whenever possible
-close curtains at night to prevent light from trespassing outdoors
-consider whether you can be more selective about when you use outdoor lighting
-ensure outdoor lighting only illuminates the area you need lit
-turn off lights when they are not needed
-encourage others to be aware of their use of lighting.

Discover more strategies to reduce light pollution from the International Dark-Sky Association.

Earth at night
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC

9 May 2013

The Bionic Science Writer

I am old and until recently I wore glasses with very strong progressive lenses- better known as “trifocals”. Without glasses I was myopic meaning I could not see things far away.  I was also hyperopic, meaning could not see things close up. And I had astigmatism, meaning my oval shaped corneas gave me blurred or distorted vision.  I couldn’t see my fingers if I held them at an arm’s length from my body. I could not walk across the room without my glasses. Even with glasses, my eyesight was so bad I begged my husband to buy a 70 inch TV so that I could see the screen from 10 feet away on the couch.

When I saw my friendly ophthalmologist, for my yearly exam he informed me that due to many years of reading books, while sitting in the sun, I had damaged my already bad eyes to the point where they had developed cataracts. Really, I’m practically blind and now I’m going to be even blinder? Thank you so much.

Cataracts are a very common, and not the worst thing that can happen to your eyes as you age. Your eyes have a lens, and it works like the lens on a camera. Basically light comes into the eye through the cornea. Behind the cornea is the lens which focuses the light on the retina. This results in an image being sent to the brain. A cataract clouds the lens, which in turn cuts down on the light and images being sent to the retina. If you want to know what a person with cataracts sees, smear a thin layer of Vaseline on a pair of 3-d movie glasses and walk around the house.  You’ll get the idea.

When you have cataracts the world is a strange looking place.  Snow white colored objects appear to be ivory and bright colors are dull.  Your life looks like a laundry detergent commercial, where clothes fade. Not only are colors not the same, but everything is just slightly out of focus even if you are wearing prescription glasses.  You  don’t want a person with cataracts to drive you anywhere after dark. It’s downright scary as night vision is a problem.

If you’ve ever seen a person or even a pet that has a milky colored eye, you are probably looking at a cataract. The clouding is sadly just a part of growing old.  While it is a common problem for people in their 60’s, you can develop cataracts at a younger age.

If you wear glasses with transitional lenses, the kind that change color in the sun, these glasses are not dark enough to keep you from getting cataracts.  You’d have to have frames with very dark colored UVA, UVB, polarized lenses that wrapped around your face and kept all light out in order to have some level of protection and even then, it might not be enough. Most doctors believe that to shield your eyes and skin from the harmful rays of the sun the appropriate face wear is a welder’s helmet.

My doctor said that having cataracts wasn’t bad news because he could fix my sight while he was scraping out the clouded lenses.  Now this is the interesting part: he wasn’t going to laser my eyes, but was instead going to put in intraocular lens or IOL.  Let’s put that in more layman terms: implants.

Those of us of a certain age might remember the 70’s series, The Six Million Dollar Man and his girlfriend, the Bionic Woman.  After the surgery, that would be me! I would have bionic eyes. My husband was very excited when he learned that I was going to have implants.  He was very disappointed when le learned they were those kinds of implants.

If you are faint- hearted, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs.


The doctor schedules operations so that you have your left eye done on say, a Monday, and your right eye done a week later.  The waiting room is full with standing room only. The operation is about 10 minutes, meaning they can move 50 people through in a morning.   Based on the number of people in the room, cataract surgery is very common and very popular.

The admitting nurse asks each patient to describe their level of anxiety.  Wizened old ladies with canes, calmly replied, “I’m fine, deary.” When they asked me I told them I was having an anxiety attack and that I wanted to run from the room screaming.  They offered me a 5 mg or 10 mg Atavan. I asked for both. They gave me the 10 and as it is fast acting. I immediately discovered that 10 mg was a bit too much for a woman my weight.  I proceeded to pass out.  The nurse caught me and put me into a bed. I woke up to find they had put ice packs on my head and neck, and they were taking my vitals, while putting stinging drops into my eye. The doctor walked by, took one look at me and said, “She’s just a drama queen, bring her in next.”

As they are wheeling me into the operating room, the nurse starts squeezing ice cold gelatinous goop into my eye. I’m still having an anxiety attack, but now am too stoned to be able to run from the room. I have to lie there as they position a light strong enough to reach from earth to the moon over my eye.  Next the doctor puts a thick white sticky diaper over my face, presses into place and cuts a hole into it over the eye on which he is operating. He puts more goop into my eye. They now start pumping oxygen under this shield to keep me from passing out again.

 If you’ve ever had a cavity filled at a dentist, you are probably familiar with a rubber dental dam they clamp onto your teeth.  The surgeon uses something similar on your eyes and it’s very Clockwork Orange in feeling.  So now I’m wide awake, still filled with panic as the doctor begins to cut a slit in my eye.

Dr. F, only cut a tiny opening in the eye and used a delicate instrument to scrape away or remove the clouded part over my lens. I know it was only a small cut but it felt like he was removing my eyeball from the socket. And he wanted to have a conversation while he was doing this.  The reason you are awake for the procedure is that you have to try to move your eye into different positions and not roll it back into your head.  Good luck with that.  After the cataract was gone, the doctor inserted an artificial lens through the slit and placed it behind my iris.

Safe to read now

I have an Acrysof  IOL tm multifocal lens in both my eyes. Thanks to these lenses I can now see everything perfectly. I can read the newspaper without glasses. I can drive without glasses. I can use my computer without changing the font to 14. I now can wear fashion sunglasses, which I have never been able to do for lo these 50 years  The downside is that I am still very light sensitive so I wear said fashion sunglasses all the time, even when I’m at the movie theatre or while I’m in a meeting.  Driving at night is not wonderful and all lights have a large “halo” around them. When the light hits my eyes at a certain angle, I’m told that the implants “sparkle”.. No idea if that’s true, but apparently it looks really interesting.


3 May 2013

Sci/Why Parteeee!

By Claire Eamer

We usually celebrate science on this blog, but this week we decided to celebrate ourselves. Just a little bit.

Here, in their own words, are a few highlights from some of the Sci/Why bloggers and our fellow Canadian kids’ science writers over the last few months.

Helaine Becker:
  • My newest picture book, Little Jack Horner, Live from the Corner (Scholastic Canada), illustrated by the incredible Mike Boldt, came out in January. A sequel is in the works.
  • The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea (Kids Can Press) won the Outstanding Youth Book Award from the Canadian Science Writers’ Association and was longlisted for Information Book of the Year by the Vancouver Children's Roundtable.
  • Alphabest (Kids Can Press) has been shortlisted for Best Book Illustration for Dave Whamond’s glorious and hilarious artwork by the National (US) Cartoonists Society.
  • I’ll be presenting at the Kids Can Press 40th Anniversary party to be held on May 16th at the Forest of Reading Celebrations at Toronto's Harbourfront. Watch for wild squirrels and rampaging turtles at this not-to-be-missed partay!
  • Last but not least, the TV show I write, Dr. Greenie’s Mad Lab, has been renewed for a fourth season. I’ll be writing that this summer. You can see the trailer here.

Paula Johanson:
I've just defended my Master's thesis. While completing my MA, I also wrote four books:

Marie Powell
  • I was runner-up in the 2012 Lush Triumphant Literary Awards with my short story "Grid Lines," and the story was published in subTerrain magazine, Issue #63 (Winter).
  • My YA fantasy novel Hawk won a fully-funded Creator-in-Residence mentorship from CANSCAIP in January. 
  • I  also wrote six juvenile beginning readers for Red Line, which are scheduled for publication in September.

Lindsey Carmichael:

ABDO Publishing released two of my books this January:

Adrienne Mason:

Shar Levine:
I’ve been collecting award nominations this year (but no wins, I’m afraid), including:
  • The NSERC award for Science Promotion for the creation of Celebrate Science ( joint nomination with Jo-Anne Naslund)
  • The University of Alberta Alumni Honor Award, the Queen's Jubilee Medal ( joint nomination with Leslie Johnstone)
  • The Lieutenant Governor’s Award-BC-Community Involvement for science promotion (joint nomination with Leslie Johnstone)
  • The Knight Science Journalism Fellowship - Food Boot Camp

Kari-Lynn Winters
  • My book Buzz About Bees will be on the shelves in May. The publisher is Fitzhenry and Whiteside. This science book looks at the ways bees are disappearing worldwide and some of the things kids can do to advocate on behalf of the bees.

Claire Eamer