Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Over the Moon

Do you believe there is a man on the moon?
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Did your grandma tell you “the cow jumped over the moon?” Do you believe that there is a man on the moon? On July 20, 1969, do you remember seeing the first man step on the moon broadcast on television?
From ancient times to the present, people have been fascinated with that continuously changing, orb in the night sky. Scientists have given us more understanding, but it retains its mysterious qualities, too. In 1988, people who were surveyed believed that the moon was made of cheese.
Early Babylonians thought that women were more fertile during the time of the full moon, and today people continue to think that more babies are born during that phase. The word “lunacy” comes from the Greek word “lunar” meaning moon, and some maintain that crimes, murders, and suicides increase at that time.
Mothers used to be afraid to hang diapers out to dry in the moonlight because it was bad luck. Curtains were drawn in bedrooms because moonlight shining on a person was considered bad luck too. Some farmers still gage when to plant crops, and others decide when to start a new business or to begin a courtship on the phases of the moon.
There is a man on the moon, so to speak. Dr. Eugene Shoemaker was the geologist who educated the Apollo Mission astronauts about the geology of the moon. It was his lifelong wish that he would go to the moon, so when he died, his ashes were placed on the Lunar Prospector spacecraft in 1999. When the spacecraft was deliberately crashed into a crater in order to see if there was water on the moon, his remains were left there.
The moon is a satellite of the Earth, and we only see 59% of it because of the rotations of the two bodies. Forty-nine moons would fit inside of the Earth, but sometimes, it appears much larger because of its closeness to our planet.
This year we have seen several blue moons, blood red moons, and super moons. Blue moons occur when a month has two full moons, and the second one is known as a blue moon.
In April and October of 2014 and then again in April and September of 2015, super moons or perigee moons will occur because the moon’s orbit will bring it closer to earth than usual.
We will see the stunning blood red moons twice when the earth passes between the sun and moon causing a lunar eclipse. The sun’s rays will be blocked but some will make it to reflect off the moon causing a brilliant, reddish-orange color. This phenomenon is also known as the harvest moon.
Over the centuries, observers have made countless predictions about the future including the end of civilization bases on the appearance and events related to the moon. I prefer to accept and enjoy it as another of nature’s magnificent gifts.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Children are Changing

Technology can be a wonderful thing, but it has drawbacks

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
For 44 years, I have taught children, and as Oprah says, “This I know for sure... .”
Technology is changing children and not always for the better. That’s my opinion, and last week I read an article published on RealSimple.com, “The Alarming Truth About What Smartphones Could Be Doing to Your Kids” by Samantha Zabell —  which I believe supports what I think.
From ages 8 to 18, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that children spend more than seven hours per day using media outside of school. From 2011 to 2013 the percentage of children with access to smart devices has grown from 52 percent to 75 percent.
The University of California at Los Angeles wanted to investigate the real cost of the technology time.
The researchers decided to work with sixth graders in a public school who had reported using technology including texting, video games, and television for more than four hours per day. They gave the kids a test to evaluate their emotional intelligence or their ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions.
Then, they divided the subjects into two groups. One went to Pali Institute in California, a nature and science camp, where the students were immersed in outdoor activities and were unable to use electronic devices of any type for five days.  On the first test, the camp group averaged 14.01 errors when judging emotions, but on the second test they made 9.41 errors.  Students who remained at school did not show any significant improvement when retested.
So is emotional intelligence really important? Leaders in the field of psychology like Edward Thorndike, David Wechsler, Abraham Maslow, and Howard Gardner worked with measuring intelligence as related to learning potential. With the publication in 1995 of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Matters more than I.Q. by Daniel Goleman, people started to understand the impact of E.I. and the best seller brought the topic to the forefront.
Plato said, “All learning has an emotional base.” If a child has a less than average ability to evaluate emotions, will it affect learning and also social adjustment?  If our kids are not learning to properly relate to each other because of lost time with people, will there be consequences for teaching and society in general?  I believe that we are already seeing the results.
Over the past 20 years, scientific research in the fields which focus on learning like psychology, cognitive science, and psychobiology have revealed information which have had significant effects on teaching and learning. As parents and teachers, we should study the research and not be charmed by the lure of technology to seemingly make everything better.
Limiting the use of technology is a responsibility of adults.  It can be a wonderful tool for learning for all of us, but it can also have its drawbacks.
Child development must be nurtured and protected.  Too much time with technology can be harmful to the child as a learner and as a developing adult.

(Source: www.globalstudentnetwork.com)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fostering the Gift of Curiosity

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager

You can see it in their eyes.  It sparkles and lights up their faces.  It’s curiosity, and it must be cultivated and nurtured, or it will die. 
            Eleanor Roosevelt said, “…at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”  Curiosity might be the mother of invention, but it is also the mother of learning.
            Some children seem to lose some of their drive to learn and explore as they approach the middle school years, and teachers and parents become anxious to get back that childhood enthusiasm for learning.  Where did it go?
            Many books have been written, teaching techniques explored, and countless hours of research spent in the quest for the answer to what keeps the desire for learning at its peak. 
Of course, there is no simple answer, but after many years of teaching, I believe that parents and teachers must continuously act as facilitators for learning.  They should be relentless in their efforts to follow the interests that the child expresses and to provide materials and experiences in those particular areas of interest.
 A child is his or her own best teacher.
 Childhood is full of opportunities for exploration through toys, games, books, movies, television, and countless child centered activities.  Places like the Museum of The Albemarle, Arts of the Albemarle, and Port Discover are settings where kids can experiment and find their personal interests.
 For all of the criticism directed at media, they also provide many golden sparks for kids’ curiosity.   Finding Nemo, the Ice Age series, Madagascar series, Wall-E, Lorax, Rio, Bambi, and 2001, A Space Odyssey all cause kids to wonder about the world of science. 
Although the science is not always the most accurate in such programs as Sponge Bob and other cartoons, they still might cause the child to ask questions and become interested.  
That’s when the parent can seize the opportunity to acquire books, magazines, and materials from the library, take the child on a field to a museum or science program, or just probe for questions that the child might be wondering about and try to answer them.
One avenue that can be helpful is keeping up with current science events.  Just this summer there have been so many topics to explore like global warming, drought, flooding, space exploration, archeological discovery, and the list goes on and on. 
  One of my newest discoveries is www.neok12.com  which is a treasure house of free online videos, lessons, quizzes, games, and puzzles for kids, teachers, and parents.  Organizations such as the British Broadcasting Company offer documentaries on a variety of topics such as prehistoric America, dinosaurs, and the Ice Age.  
Remember that a child’s first question is usually “Why?”  As their first teacher, you can easily become equipped with all that you need.  You will probably learn something together, and that’s the fun of it.  
(Source: www.nature-reserve.co.za)


Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer's Love Bugs

Summer's Love Bugs
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Just the mention of the word “bug” makes most people start scratching.  However, there are insects that people, especially kids, love.   For grown-ups, they bring back nostalgic memories of summers during their childhood.  Who doesn’t remember the glass jar at the foot of the bed with those sparkling, enchanting lightning bugs flickering off and on?
            Actually, lightning bugs aren’t bugs at all.   They are part of the beetle family.  While they appear all over the world, various cultures have attached myths to these magical creatures.

            Aztecs thought they brought a spark of knowledge in a time of ignorance and darkness.  Europeans believed that a person would die if a firefly flew in the window.  Native Americans caught them and smeared them on their faces and chests as decoration.  
            Today, the firefly is the state insect of Pennsylvania and Tennessee.  They are used for medical research in the areas of cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and heart disease.  Fireflies are truly beneficial and don’t bite, have no pincers, don’t attack, don’t carry disease, and are not poisonous.  Their larvae feed on the larvae of snails and slugs. 
            If you are really ambitious, you can become part of a lightning bug network and help with research.  The Museum of Science in Boston allows you to sign up and send them data about the lightning bugs you observe once a week in your back yard.
            So the big question is why do lightning bugs flash anyway?  As you might guess, they are trying to attract a mate.  The females perch close to the ground while the males fly around flashing, and then a dialogue soon begins.  Each species of lightning bug has a unique flash pattern.   
            Bioluminescence is the ability of a living organism to give off light which is referred to as “cold light” because no heat is present.  The firefly is the most common land animal that has bioluminescence, but certain types of worms, fungi and mushrooms also display light.    
            Fireflies are most often found around low, wooded areas that retain moisture like ponds and marshes.  Adults sometimes feed on pollen and nectar.  The female lays her eggs in the ground, and they hatch in about 4 weeks.
             If you want to try to attract the golden creatures, there are several things you can do.  Try to reduce the amount of light on your property so there will be no interference with the signals they are giving each other.  Instead, install lights that are low to the ground and point straight down.  Don’t use bug zappers or chemical pesticides.  You could enhance the moisture available by adding more birdbaths.  Allow for some tall grass in the yard where the males can rest during the day.
            Take your children and yourself back to a slower, more beautiful time and have a lightning bug night often.  The summer is short and so are childhoods.  If you want to learn even more about fireflies, go to www.squidoo.com and research with your children. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Looking for an ancient species

Looking for ancient species? You might find one here
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
As an adult, he weighs about 800 pounds, is 13 feet long, and has 75 teeth. It’s the teeth that worry me.

I have visions of one of the monster reptiles crawling up the bank of the canal in our backyard to look for a snack.

After reading that a 12 foot alligator was run over and killed by a minivan in Dare county in May, I figured that they are headed my way, too.

e victim, “Cheeseburger,” was so nicknamed by the locals because he especially liked that delicacy fed to him by Dare residents. Apparently, he was just lying on the highway when he was struck and killed.

Because he had been fed by people, he saw no need to protect himself.

Previously, a 12-foot alligator killed an 80-pound Siberian husky near Jacksonville. It is illegal in North Carolina and many other states to feed alligators because it causes them to lose their fear of people. Generally, they prefer to stay away from humans.

Alligators survived an extinction that killed 75 percent of the life on Earth 65 million years ago and are sometimes described as living fossils. There are only two species of alligators.

The Chinese alligator lives in the Yangtze River and only ten to fifteen are known to be surviving. They are much smaller than the American alligator which lives in the south-eastern United States including Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and North Carolina.

In the spring, female alligator move into areas where decomposing vegetation creates more heat for the eggs. The sex of the offspring is determined by the temperature of the nest. Males are produced in the warmest areas and females are hatched in the cooler nests.

The mother looks after the young for a year, and they are considered mature when they are about six feet long.

Because their nests leave deep holes, they contribute to the ecology by providing habitats for other animals. They also help plant diversity in these areas, thus contributing to the ecological balance in the wetlands, rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps, and marshes where they live.

Although they are known for their powerful bite, the jaw muscles are relatively weak. A human can hold the jaws shut with little effort. The reptile’s preferred meal includes small animals such as fish, birds, turtles and small deer.

How many alligators are there in North Carolina? A study sponsored by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has recently tried to estimate that number. The last study was done in 1980.

The results concluded that the highest concentrations were still around Wilmington, the Croatan National Forest, and south of the Albemarle Sound. In our area, alligators have been spotted in a pond near Morgan’s Corner, in Merchant’s Mill Pond, and other isolated areas.

Because North Carolina is cooler, the reptiles are more vulnerable to predators all year long.

Be aware, don’t feed them, and never let them see you smile.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Goat farming gaining in popularity

No kidding, goat farming is gaining popularity in the US
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
Down the road from my home lives a precious, small herd of goats. When our grandchildren come to see us, we usually take them to visit the goats and feed them crackers or carrots.  
Every day when I ride by, they bring a smile to my face. Sometimes, when one gets a horn stuck in the fence, we have to stop and perform a rescue. They are fascinating creatures.  
Goat farming is rapidly increasing worldwide, especially in the U.S. where it is the fastest growing segment of agriculture. The price for goat products is rising to meet the demand of the increasing population of Hispanics, Indians, and Muslims who each view goats as part of their cultural traditions.
In fact, American ranchers are having a difficult time filling the need. Farmers in some parts of the country have used government money to replace their tobacco growing with goat production.
Texas has the most goat farms, and North Carolina is among the top ten producers. Across the world, China and India lead in goat farming and goat meat is the most consumed meat per capita worldwide.   
Growers also cite the benefits of eating and showing goats in comparison to other animals. Many people believe goats have more personality than sheep. They require less land on which to live than cows do.  
Their main enemies are coyotes and foot-and-mouth disease. Goat meat has more protein than beef and is lower in fat than chicken.
Humans first tamed and herded goats 9,000 years ago. They can be taught their name and will then come when called.
A mother goat, called a doe, can recognize her kid’s scent and call from birth, and she usually has two babies a year.  Male goats are called bucks. Domestic goats are called a billy and a nanny.   
Contrary to popular belief, goats are very picky eaters and will refuse anything that they do not consider suitable.  Because they are foragers, not grazers, they are useful in land clearing, and in some areas, herds are rented out for that purpose.
Goats have four stomachs. Food first goes to the rumen from which it is regurgitated for “cud chewing” and then it moves to the reticulum, the omasum and finally to the abomasums. A mature goat can hold four or five gallons of chewed plant material, which then ferments causing loud burps to come from the animal.
There are six recognized dairy breeds in the U.S. which are the Alpine, LaMancha, Oberhasli, Nubian, Saanen, and Toggenburg.  Oberhasli gives the milk that tastes most like cow’s milk, but they each have a distinctive flavor.
Fainting goats only appear to faint.  When they are frightened and panic, a condition of their central nervous system temporarily paralyzes their legs, and they fall over.
Most goats are curious and take objects into their mouths to investigate them, but do not eat them. Legends of Ethiopia give the goat credit for discovering the coffee bean by chewing it and finding it eatable.
No kidding!
(Source: www.glenisk.com)

Monday, June 30, 2014

"In Nature Nothing Exists Alone" R. Carson

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
After dinner, she was having one of those terrible moments that five year olds have when they miss their mother.  I decided to whisk my granddaughter off to the pier for an “I spy nature” diversion. 
            We sat there quietly listening to birds singing as they looked for a place to spend the night and watching water bugs surface on the glassy river.  I told her about the dove’s call, the whippoorwill’s song, and the wren’s chirping.  Her mind was calm now, but the sight and buzz of a pesky yellow fly chased us back into the house.
What if the birds’ songs were silenced? 
            Last month, Rachel Louise Carson was the subject of a Google doodle.  Maybe you looked at it as I did and asked, “Who is that?”  The sketch was of a woman standing beside a body of water with a notebook, binoculars, and backpack as she observed the swarm of wildlife around her.

            The doodle commemorated the 107th birthday of the eminent scientist, author, and activist.  Her book Silent Spring was published in 1962 and led to the global environmental movement and in 1972 the banning of the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane).  A global ban soon followed.
            Carson was born in 1907 on a small farm in Springdale, PA and grew-up as a keen observer of nature who developed an early talent for writing.  Among her favorite authors were Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote novels about the sea.  She became a marine scientist and published a trilogy (Under the Sea, The Sea around US, and The Edge of the Sea,) of books about the sea. ‘
             Then she turned her attention to conservation and the widespread use of synthetic pesticides and their effects on birds and wildlife.  Silent Spring’s publication in 1962 caused a public outcry for control of all pesticides and chemicals.  
 She was viciously attacked by the chemical industry, and the New Yorker Magazine called her “an alarmist” and accused her of “overstepping her place as a woman.”  After a year, the protests from citizens overcame the detractors.  When the American Bald Eagle was found to be a victim of the chemicals, the tide turned.
            One million copies of the landmark book were sold before her death of cancer in 1964.    President John F. Kennedy was an avid supporter and had her claims investigated for further proof. 
            The furor that began in the sixties gave rise to the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1980.  President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded Carson the Medal of Freedom.  Recently, TIME magazine named her one of the most influential people of the 20th Century.  
            Protests of the ban continue today in third world countries where the mosquito population which carries malaria has continued to rise.  Today, researchers work to find ways to control the insect population without harming wildlife and people.
            As Carson said in her landmark work, “Chemical war is never won, and all life is caught in its crossfire.”

Monday, June 16, 2014

Belief in Science

Don’t take my word for it, but scientific method is sound
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
What is the truth?
Do you know it when you hear it?
Can you believe it when you see it? Does it even exist?
An ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes, reputedly wandered the land carrying a lantern looking for a truly honest man. His quest was the beginning of cynicism.
A 2012 survey published by the National Science Foundation revealed that, “4-in-10 American adults doubt evolution, over half are confident that the Big Bang took place, just under 40 percent don’t believe that pollution is causing climate change, and 15 percent don’t believe in the safety of vaccines.”
Why do Americans sometimes reject scientific theories?
Perhaps people have become more cynical because they are bombarded with shocking news every day which is presented as factual. Last week there was news that the sweeteners made from stevia might have an organism that might be harmful to humans. There was no data, no studies that followed the correct protocol, and no information on who put forth the findings.
Science started out as stories which were told in an attempt to answer the question “why.” Much later, thinking became more sophisticated, and as observations became theories, testing, experimenting, and exploration followed.
Science gained respectability in some circles, but there have always been people who have fought new ideas. Fiction favorites like “Frankenstein,” “2001 A Space Odyssey,” and “The Andromeda Strain” suggested that science might one day take us a step too far.
Of course, there is what is known as “junk science” which is presented as authentic science. Usually, the information touted by those presenting these types of studies is not sound and has not adhered to the tried and true scientific method. Rejection of scientific findings can be based on religious, political or personal beliefs.
Students and parents both complain about the yearly school mandated science project which requires that students learn and follow the scientific method. However, knowledge of the process is a tool which can be valuable throughout the student’s life.
The steps of questioning, hypothesis, procedure, experimentation, data analysis, and conclusion are a sound method for analyzing many of life’s problems. The process is orderly and based on logical, time-tested reasoning.
How do we tell the difference between junk science and authentic science?
There are several questions to be considered:
• Is a reputable organization such as a university presenting the information?
• Who will benefit from the general public believing the conclusions?
• Who paid for the research?
• Was the scientific method followed?
• Were there sufficient trials to make the study valid?
• Were the groups being studied large enough?
• Are there words like might, possibly, and could in the presentation?
As consumers of information, we must be extremely critical of what is given to us. Junk science is often the type of science practiced when politics and business enter the picture. The result is that the facts desired by one group or another get emphasized over others.
Like Diogenes, we must seek the truth.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Birds bring beauty and superstitions into our lives

Birds bring beauty and superstitions into our lives
By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
One of the delights of retirement is that you have time to notice things in nature that escaped you when you were working.
We’ve been feeding two goose families that regularly visit our backyard and have made themselves quite at home. After their dinner, they just sit down in the grass, and the babies snuggle up under the mother’s wing for a rest.
Being a witness to nature is addictive, and it makes you think and then draw conclusions about what you observe. Sometimes, those conclusions can be more superstition than fact.
People have often viewed birds as messengers with news about future events, and they have tied their appearance to spiritual things. If a death occurred after seeing an owl during the daytime, people wondered. If it happened again, it became a superstition. No doubt you have heard several myths about birds that you might have repeated.
Author Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in 1797. In the narrative poem, a haunted seafarer tells the tale of his horrifying experience on a doomed ship. It involves an albatross that is killed, thus bringing bad luck to the vessel and its crew.
Some people believe that albatrosses contain the souls of sailors and bring bad weather and high winds.
Legend tells of robins trying to remove the thorns from Christ’s crown at his crucifixion, and the result was that blood stained their breast red.
If you make a wish when you see the first robin in spring, you will have good luck. Something of yours will be broken, if you break a robin’s egg. You will marry a sailor if the first bird you see on Valentine’s Day is a robin.
Peacocks, though beautiful, are considered by some to bring bad luck because of the evil eye at tip of their feathers. In the theater world, costumes adorned with peacock feathers or set decoration including them are believed to bring bad luck to the production, so they are avoided.
Owls are well-known for their symbolism. Mythology claims that the hoot of an owl occurred before the deaths of Agrippa, Julius Caesar, and Augustus Caesar.
Screech owls supposedly bring bad news. An owl skin nailed to a barn wards off bad luck. Eating owl broth will help with whooping cough, and eating their eggs improves vision, epileptic seizures, and drunkenness.
Doves are viewed as spiritual in nature. Because they mate for life and carry the spirits of lovers, they are often released at weddings to ensure a long and faithful marriages. Old timers believe that the dove is the one bird that the devil cannot change into, and miners worry if they see doves at the opening of a mineshaft.
Chickens have many beliefs attached to them. Bringing eggs into the house after sunset causes bad luck, while a chicken entering a house means a visitor is coming.
All of these beliefs bring new meaning to the practice of bird watching.
Source: “Eerie Bird Superstitions,” by Emma Springfield, Nature Center Magazine. www.superstitionsof.com

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New taste treat for all

Insects are a culinary delicacy around the world, but will we bite?

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover: Visitor Services Manager
You will not believe this; I didn’t.  On Amazon, you can find new mealtime delights like Fluker’s Gourmet Canned Crickets, Ultimate Insect and Bug Candy, Larvets (BBQ), Edible Pupae, and Crickettes in sour cream and onion and bacon and cheese flavors.  They can be delivered right to your doorstep for your pleasure.
            Often, when I am enjoying a dinner of shrimp which is one of my favorite foods, Hubby says, “You know that you’re eating bugs.” Of course, he’s kidding, and he knows better, but they do resemble bugs so I always wonder a little.  Some people even refer to them as the “cockroaches of the sea.”

            People of western European decent who now inhabit places all over the earth are generally not too keen on eating bugs.  In Asia, China, Africa, South America, and many other areas, insects are a daily part of the diet and are often considered a delicacy.  Two billion people consume insects as part of their diets.
            Early Europeans were farmers who quickly recognized that insects were fierce enemies of the crops they tried to raise.  Killing the creatures was their goal, not eating them.  Our innate belief is that we should not eat anything that our mothers did not feed us.  To go against that belief is a giant leap for most people.
            Entomophagy is the practice of eating bugs for their nutritional value.  Insects are a readily available, natural source of carbohydrates, protein, fats, minerals, omega-3s, and vitamins.  As the world population approaches eight billion people, scientists say that there will be little choice but to use insects to stop starvation.
           The United Nations is promoting a campaign to make this cultural shift happen. The International Society of Sports Nutrition is enthusiastic about the use of insect protein products to enrich the food of athletes.  Bodybuilders are often on the leading edge of progressive nutritional trends, and if people see them consuming insect protein supplements, the tide might turn.
One way to assist people in rising above the disgust factor is to make them believe that the food has a high status by labeling it a delicacy and charging more for it.  Lobster was once plentiful along the eastern coast of the U.S. and Canada, but it was considered a poor man’s food.  Today lobsters are the most expensive item on the menu.
Pound for pound insects have a greater concentration of life sustaining protein and other nutrients than chicken, pork, or beef.  Insects also contain less saturated fat and their production is more environmentally friendly than other meats.
           What if you are stuck on an island and the only food includes bugs?  Which ones would you choose?  It is best to avoid the brightly colored ones, but there will be plenty to select from since there are fifteen orders of edible insects.  They include lice, grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, bees, ants, flies, mosquitoes, dragonflies, and termites.
Get your frying pan out and give them a try!
(Source: www.theblaze.com)
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