Wandering and Wondering

Exploring the wonders of Science in everyday life!

Happy Anniversary!


One year ago today, I was fortunate enough to marry my best friend in the whole world. We have had an amazing year, and I hope we have many more to come! We got married on a ranch outside of the Sequoia national park on a slightly gloomy (but cool!) June day. It was a perfect day, and I could not have asked for more!

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about an anniversary present…my husband is lucky. Mother’s Day, my birthday, and our anniversary are all within 3 weeks of each other so he has rolled it into one holiday- “Mother-birth-iversary”. I, however, do not have that luxury.

I started looking into anniversary presents, and came across something I hadn’t thought of in years…my mom used to have an address book that also listed all the traditional gifts for an anniversary. Silver, gold, china, etc.–all great presents! However, for the first year present? Paper.

Yup, paper. I guess it could be worse, 11 years is steel. This started me thinking, where did all of this come from? I completely understand the big-ticket items like silver for the 25th, or diamonds for your 60th. But paper?

I did a little digging, and found out the origins of this blessed tradition. Apparently the anniversary gift movement began in medieval Germany where friends and family of a couple would make the wife a silver wreath on their 25th anniversary, and a gold wreath on their 50th anniversary. The traditions have changed over time, but in 1937 the American National Retail Jeweler Association (Jewelers of America) published a comprehensive list of gifts for anniversaries every year until the 20th, and every fifth anniversary after that.

I suppose giving paper for a first anniversary gives ample opportunity for creativity. Scrapbooks, novels, photo albums, and…money 🙂 Thankfully, for “Mother-birth-iversary” he went against tradition and really splurged on a beautiful Tiffany necklace!


For him? We are celebrating “Father-versary”…he’s getting a grill.


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Memorial Day Weekend

What does Memorial Day mean to you? For some people, it is a three-day weekend that usually marks the beginning of pool parties, barbecues, and summer vacation. Since my birthday is on May 26 (I’ll be 30 on Saturday–yikes!), it has always been my birthday weekend. However, what is Memorial Day? When was it established? Why is it important?

Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day and started soon after the Civil War as a day to honor the men and women who died during the Civil War. After WWI, Decoration Day was changed to honor all men and women who have died serving the U.S. Military.  It became an official federal holiday in 1971 for the last Monday in May, which created a three day weekend for all federal employees.

Memorial Day today is usually spent barbecuing with friends and getting together as a family, but there are also many parades across the country in cities and towns that serve to honor those who have fallen in the line of duty. Many Americans also mark the day by visiting cemeteries and memorials.


What will you be doing for Memorial Day?

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Waste not, want not

My husband sent me an article the other day with the headline “Plastic-Eating Fungi Found in the Amazon May Solve World’s Waste Problem“. Immediately, my thoughts turned to a B-movie type blob fungus oozing down the street, devouring giant plastic garbage cans and children’s toys. However, as I followed the links from the website to the actual published article, I found that this fungus actually has the potential to help manage one of the major contributors to our trash problem–polyurethane.

Have you ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? This is a huge, I mean HUGE, area of waste and litter that has accumulated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It has gathered there because the currents and tides in the North Pacific are circular and the garbage gets caught in a type of vortex. The garbage has collected in the “Convergence Zone” just north of the Hawaiian Islands, making a huge mass of plastic waste, chemical sludge, and other debris.

While some people describe it as an “Island of Trash”, it isn’t quite that simple. If it were one solid mass, it would be mush easier to clean up. However, it is actually made of many smaller “islands” of trash that are constantly shifting and moving with the currents. About 80% of the garbage comes from land sources, and about 10% comes from marine sources.

What does this mean for the wildlife in the Pacific Ocean? Well, it means that many more animals have been suffering and dying because of our waste. Sea turtles and other large marine animals can become entangled in the debris or eat plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. Both situations can cause the animals to drown or suffocate and die. Smaller animals can eat small plastics and feed them to their young. The plastic can rupture organs or even cause the animals to die of starvation.

So, how do we fix this?

It’s actually quite difficult. A cleanup operation would be astoundingly expensive, and would likely harm many animals in the process. The best thing to do right now is to educate the public about proper waste disposal. Don’t litter! Here in Los Angeles, all the storm drains and manhole covers say “No dumping…Drains to ocean”. It’s a nice, friendly reminder to us to remember that all of our trash and waste has to go somewhere!

This discovery of the plastic eating fungus has the potential to help get rid of  at least some of the plastic debris that is clogging up our oceans and killing our marine life. While this may put a dent in the problem, we cannot pin all of our hopes on to this one organism. The solution to a problem like this is often to stop the source of the problem at the beginning. Recycle! Reduce! Reuse! Going back to the lessons we learn in elementary school, we can hopefully make this planet a little cleaner and greener than it is today.




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Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…no! It’s a Supermoon!

What is a “supermoon”? One of my friends posted a link to this article today (http://yhoo.it/Kt5iZE), and it got me thinking….what is a supermoon? I had never heard about this phenomenon, so I decided to do a little digging. Here’s what I found out:

Comparison between a supermoon (right) and an average full moon (left). Source: Wikipedia

  1. The technical name for a supermoon is perigee-syzygy (good for Scrabble!), because perigee is the term for the moon’s elliptical orbit.
  2. Because the Moon’s orbit is an ellipse, it moves slightly closer and slightly farther away from the Earth as it revolves. The distance varies between approximately 222,000 miles and 252,000 miles from the Earth.
  3. A supermoon is when a full moon coincides with the closest approach the moon has with Earth.
  4. There is some speculation about whether a supermoon causes an increase in natural disasters, but the evidence suggests there is not a link.

So, as you can see, while the moon is going to be closer and appear bigger than ever this weekend, it’s really just a coincidence. Just like a blue moon isn’t actually blue, it’s just a rare event where you have two full moons in one calendar month! Want to find out more about the moon and space? Check out Wonderopolis (www.wonderopolis.org)  to find out all sorts of cool things!




TED Talks…in the classroom

Recently, I have been showing quite a few TED Talks from various years and by various people to my various classes. I have found that they are an enormously useful tool to bring the “real world” into the Science classroom. They are short enough and entertaining enough to keep the kids engaged, which is something that you can really fight for while showing a video in class!

The first video I showed was to demonstrate the importance and WAY cool ways that cephalopods (“head foots”) like cuttlefish and octopus are able to camouflage themselves in the shallow seas. The talk that I showed was by David Gallo, who discussed the amazing design of these animals in the ocean.

Just this morning, I showed my AP Biology students a talk that was given by Dr. Quyen Nguyen, on color-coded surgery. We were talking in class about Biotechnology and how advances in genetic technology has paved the path to make cancer surgeries a little clearer for the surgeon. Her theme was “Shine the light on surgery.”

These talks are completely accessible and FREE (hooray!) at the website: http://www.ted.com “Ideas worth spreading.” They are not only science and technology, but also about entertainment, history, math, and really anything you can think of! Look into using them in your secondary classroom, or even with older elementary kids–they also have a great iPad app!

Have you used any of the TED Talks in your classroom? What’s your favorite? Leave me a comment below!

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Discover the Space Shuttle

On Tuesday, April 17, the space shuttle Discovery made its final flight from Florida to Washington, D.C.. The NASA program officially retired all of its space shuttles in 2011, after Atlantis completed the final space shuttle mission. Since I went to college in Virginia, a lot of my friends still live in northern Virginia and were able to take some amazing pictures of the space shuttle flying over the different landmarks and monuments, while strapped to the back of a jumbo jet.

When did the shuttle program start? Why did it start? These questions started popping up in my science classes this week, and I decided to write them all down here.

The space shuttle Columbia took its first flight in 1981, and lasted for 37 orbits. NASA had decided to start the shuttle program to allow for longer flights and the ability to carry large satellites and telescopes (Hubble!) up into Earth’s orbit. The shuttle was for long-term flights, unlike the pods and modules that had been used in the Mercury and Apollo missions.

I wonder how astronauts will travel in space in the future…check out Wonderopolis: http://bit.ly/JbGrhz

The space shuttle program had some very high points, like bringing the Hubble telescope into orbit, and for allowing spacewalks outside of the shuttle. However, two of the lowest points for the shuttle program came on January 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded during its ascent into orbit, killing all aboard. Another blow to the shuttle program came on February 1, 2003, when the shuttle Columbia broke apart on its reentry into the atmosphere, killing all aboard.

The space shuttle Discovery that was flown to Washington, D.C., was the first shuttle to fly a mission after the Challenger disaster. It flew more than any other spacecraft, completing 39 successful missions over 27 years of service. It will be put on display at the National Air & Space Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institute.

Would you like to see how they made the space shuttle Discovery? Check it out! http://bit.ly/J15N2B

Also, watch the final launch of the Discovery space shuttle:

Do you have any questions about space shuttles or space travel? Did you get to see the shuttle flying up to D.C.? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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Technology in the Classroom…Part 2!

As you know, my school is part of a 1:1 laptop program, and soon to be a 1:1 iPad program. Since I got my iPad, I have been working hard to find some great apps that go along with my teaching. A few weeks ago, I attended a professional development seminar on using iPads in the classroom. Here are some of the awesome apps that I have found to be worth a few bucks (or free!):

Virtual Frog Dissection: http://bit.ly/HL5SoC

Get the app, save a frog! A lot of my students have trouble with doing an actual dissection, and I have always struggled to come up with an alternative assessment for the activity. Also, if a student is absent, it is difficult and time-consuming to have them “make up” the dissection. This app allows the student to go through the same motions as the other students, and it even aligns with the frog dissection packet I use–they can still answer the questions and fill in the diagrams as if they were present for the actual dissection!

Color Uncovered: http://bit.ly/HzRWiM

This app is amazing. I always loved looking at optical illusions when I was little, and that is what this app is all about! Not only does it show the students many different optical illusions, but it also tells the students what is going on with their eyes and how the optical illusion works. And….it’s free! Definitely a great app to have for “rainy days” or when you have a few minutes to kill.

Smithsonian Channel: http://si.edu/apps/si-channel

The Smithsonian Institute has really hit a home-run with this app. Think of it as a kind of “YouTube”, but only for Smithsonian videos. You can watch videos, find a show, or even create a channel that helps you create a lineup of your own, based on your interests. Again, it’s a great app for rainy days, if a kid finishes a test early, or you have a few minutes.

This is all still a work in progress, and I am always on the lookout for new apps to put on my iPad to use in my classroom. Any suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!

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Llamas, goats, and sheep! Oh my!

Yesterday’s Wonder on wonderopolis.org was “Do Llamas Really Spit?” (http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/do-llamas-really-spit/), and I can answer this one from personal experience–YES!

My aunt lives on a farm up in central Oregon, and she has a Llama named Vicki. Llamas are usually kept on farms with sheep and goats to keep watch over the flock. They are very alert and strong, and will help the flock avoid coyotes and other things that might gobble them up.

Llamas can be really nice, but Vicki is not one of those nice llamas…except with my aunt. She will spit and hiss at you if you get too close! However, she does a great job of protecting the flock and keeping her “babies” safe.


My aunt raises goats and sheep primarily for their fiber. She is an avid knitter and even dyes and spins her own wool to make yarn! We are heading up to her farm next week for Spring Break, and I can’t wait to see all the creations she has made!


How about you? Do you know anyone who lives on a farm? What kind of animals have you seen on a farm other than llamas, goats, and sheep? Leave me a comment and tell me about it!


La Brea Tar Pits!

Over the long weekend, my cousin Angela came down from Reno with her husband and two kids, Parker and Tabitha, to go to Disneyland. Before they went to the Magic Kingdom, they came to spend the day in Los Angeles with me and my husband! We started out the day at one of my favorite places, the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum.

The La Brea Tar Pits are teeming with fossils from 10,000-40,000 years old. There are no dinosaurs at the Museum, but there are some amazing skeletons of mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and dire wolves! These tar pits are some of the richest fossil deposits in the world, and they are actively excavating and unearthing new specimens every day.

The tar pits were first excavated in 1901, although there had been reports of the tar deposits since the mid-18th century. Between 1913 and 1915, 96 sites were excavated, yielding over 750,000 specimens of plants and animals!

impact Episode 49: Tar Pits from USC Impact on Vimeo.

The Page Museum has a very cool feature, known as the “Fish Bowl”, where you can watch actual volunteers and scientists methodically clean the fossils. Since we were there on a holiday, there wasn’t anyone working in the fish bowl, but Tabitha was wondering how they cleaned such delicate animals like insects. On the LBTP website, there is a great feature on excavation that talks about how they clean all their specimens. http://www.tarpits.org/la-brea-tar-pits/excavation-101


Bring on the technology!

I got an iPad! As I mentioned before, my school is on a one-to-one laptop program with Apple, and all of our students from K-12 have their own laptops. Now, we are moving forward into the wild and wonderful world of iPads!

The main reason we are bringing iPads into the middle and high school is so our kids won’t have to lug those giant textbooks around all day. Also, the textbooks that are being developed for the iPad are amazing! Interactive review quizzes, videos, and images that you can manipulate. Check out this video from the Apple website: http://www.apple.com/education/#video-textbooks

Especially in Science, I have found that it is very difficult to convey to my students the motion of a process that is occurring. For example, an impulse traveling down a neuron is very difficult to draw on a white board. However, with some of the apps and in the textbooks on an iPad the students are able to not only watch the impulse travel down, but they are able to move the image, zoom in, zoom out, and pause the process at any point.

I can’t wait to see what these new iPads in the classroom will bring, and I am very excited to share my experience with you! Do you have an iPad that you use in learning or teaching? Which apps should I definitely check out? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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