Category Archives: Science

Speaking of Migrations: Project FeederWatch

This is the first year in seven years that my kids and I haven’t signed up for Project FeederWatch, a birdwatching-and-counting program sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. In New York and Virginia, we spent every winter spying on chickadees and juncoes out our kitchen windows. In fact, when we moved to Virginia in January of 2002, the very first box I unpacked was the one marked BIRD FEEDERS.

This year, I figured we were too busy settling into the new California life (after all, at the time of that last move, there were just three tiny girls to keep track of), so I let the FeederWatch deadline come and go. Besides, our Eastern Birds poster won’t help us here in the land of scrub jays and parrots.

But I woke up this morning missing the fun of our Counting Days, and I popped over to the FeederWatch site to see if it’s too late to join the project this year. Turns out you can sign up through February 28. And this year, it appears the good folks at Cornell Lab have tumbled to watch a fantastic match Project FeederWatch is with homeschoolers. They now have a whole page devoted to the connection.

Your $15 registration fee gets you a nice little package of materials:

  1. Welcome Letter
  2. Instruction Booklet
  3. FeederWatcher’s Handbook, full of information on birds and bird feeding
  4. Full-color poster of common feeder birds with paintings by noted bird artist, Larry McQueen
  5. Bird Watching Days Calendar, to help you keep track of your Count Days
  6. Data forms—ten Count Forms for your region, one for each Count Period, and one Count Site Description Form
  7. Envelope for returning data forms to FeederWatch

(You can also eschew the paper data forms and submit your data online instead. You’ll still get the handbook, poster, and calendar.)

Like Journey North, this project is a wonderful way to bring living science (not to mention math!) into your home and homeschool.

Saturday Science: In the Kitchen

I seldom cross-post, but I posted this on the bread blog today and thought it might be of interest to my Lilting House readers too:

Jane and I are exploring the science behind the sourdough loaves we’re baking. Found this fun site: The Science of Cooking. An excerpt from the sourdough page:

In addition to flour, water, and yeast, your starter also contains
bacteria. When these bacteria feed on the sugars in flour, they produce
acidic by-products. This is what gives sourdoughits sour taste.

Actually, all doughs contain at least some bacteria. So why aren’t
all breads sour? In doughs made with bakers’ yeast (the kind you buy in
the store), the yeast outnumber the bacteria. Since both compete for
the same sugars, the yeast win out, and the bacteria don’t have a
chance to produce their acidic by-products. In sourdough, yeast and
bacteria are more closely balanced, so the bacteria have a chance to
add their flavors to the bread.

Sourdoughs and other raised breads also differ from one another
because of the eating habits of the yeasts that make them rise. The
predominant yeast in sourdough, Saccharomyces exiguus, cannot
metabolize maltose, one of the sugars present in flour. Baker’s yeast,
on the other hand, has no trouble feeding on this sugar. Since the
bacteria that give sourdough its taste need maltose to live, they do
much better in the company of sourdough’s yeast because they don’t have
to compete for this sugar.

Other links:

Wikipedia on sourdough

How Stuff Works on sourdough

The history & microbiology of sourdough

That Science of Cooking site has a lot of other neat stuff. The candy page is especially interesting. We might just have to do a unit study on candy one of these days…chemistry AND physics! (And with sourdough we’ve got biology too.)

A Girl, a Book, and a Camera

Yesterday I mentioned how much my kids like the Usborne Science Activities books. This morning I was uploading some baby pictures off the camera and found a bunch of photos that Rose had taken a day or two ago. I forgot I’d turned her loose with the camera. I’d been nursing the baby when the girls asked if they could do an experiment from the Usborne book. Here’s Rose’s view of the moment.




Bananas in Lilliput?

It is possible that I and everyone I know have been peeling bananas from the more difficult end all these years. Monkeys, it seems, peel from what we humans call the bottom end. This article by an economist tackles the issue. (Calling it an “issue” tickles me just as much as the article did.)

An excerpt:

Petal’s method is counterintuitive and thus instantly appealing to economists, who love nothing more than to overturn conventional wisdom. Multiple experiments (well, two experiments, actually, since we only had two bananas) quickly convinced a majority of the department that Petal’s way is—surprisingly—easier than the traditional method, though the econometricians thought you’d need to test at least 30 bananas to report that result with confidence. The labor economists immediately resolved to apply for a grant.

So what are you: a Top-Endian or a Bottom-Endian?


Diseased Rabbit Trail

Jane has a request. She read an article about the British doctor who tracked down the source of a cholera infection in London in 1840. This has sparked her interest in (and I quote) “germs, bacteria, diseases, microbes, and things I can watch wiggle under a microscope.” We have a couple of books on Louis Pasteur somewhere around the house, but before I launch a library and Google search I thought I’d ask the question here. Got any favorite bacteria-themed resources?

A kind neighbor surprised us with dinner the other day and mentioned that she’d been running flu tests at the pediatric clinic where she works. Jane’s eyes bugged out with awe and longing. Some people, you could see her thinking, have all the luck.

Ah, disease…exactly the sort of soft and snuggly unit study a nesting mama yearns to arrange in the final days before the baby arrives.