Crocodiles vs. Alligators + Handling Science in a Pandemic

Little Fox wanted to know about the differences between crocodiles and alligators this morning. Since our science lately has been predicated on whatever he’s interested in at the time (and searching immediately for information and doing related projects), I pulled up some articles to answer his initial questions.

We read about the basic biological differences, but he also wanted to know which one was more dangerous, so he could determine which one he wanted to be.

“Typically, crocodiles are more aggressive than alligators, which makes crocodiles more dangerous than alligatorsAlligators are opportunistic feeders, meaning that they’re not likely to chase you down unless they’re provoked.”

–via Everglades Holiday Park

After pretending to chomp on my arm for a bit, I pulled up a cute, short video with a biologist to further explain the matter:

These last several months in lockdown, filled with Zoom classes and meetings (I read excerpts of my work via Zoom for a convention I’d never have been able to attend otherwise!) and isolation from all our loved ones, we’ve spent a lot of time restructuring how we approach all subjects, but especially science, since we’re not going on long explorations far outside our house right now.

We have stacks of science kits and partially completed Kiwi Crates and books on home experiments, but Little Fox’s favorite method for exploration is to ask a question and head to resources he can read, view, or watch. Even if the questions were sparked by something tangible on a walk or at the local park, he wants to come home and read about it and watch a video.

We signed up for Curiosity Stream, which has been hit or miss as far as usability and documentaries on offer, but their natural science and biology videos tend to be decent. He adores orcas since our trip to Friday Harbor last year, and we’ve watched almost as many whale videos as I used to watch sustainable farming videos.

While I’d normally have packed us up this week to visit the Reptile Zoo after his questions, we’re having to rely on multimedia to be enough for now. We’ll pet those semi-aquatic reptiles when the lockdown ends.

But today, after all that talk of alligators and crocodiles, we rocked out to this:

Preschool Books about the Human Body

We’ve wrapped up our human body unit for the season, and as I’d said in a previous post, I overdid the materials.  After a couple of weeks wading through lots and lots and LOTS of books (at least three dozen), here are the ones we liked the most.

0064435962_intFrom Head to Toe by Eric Carle – Not only is it a Carle book with his classic, distinctive style of art, it also encourages children to answer the question, “Can you ___?” by acting it out with their bodies.  Every movement is followed by, “I can do it!”  This is a message I definitely want to sink in with my son, who often claims he can’t do simple things he’d already conquered.

My Bodyworks by Jane Schoenberg – Loved the movement inspiring lyrics of this book of body songs.

Human Body by Dan Green – Though this book is intended for older children, our family loves this series of books, and owns all of the ones related to Chemistry and Physics from my daughter’s middle school years.  The content is frank, the pictures are cute, and you can choose what parts of it you wish to share as you go.

1dd301fa720fdfdf5a0dae8851760cdb-w2041xHere Are My Hands by Bill Martin – A simple, colorful book of diverse children excited about all their body parts can do for them from hands to feet and beyond.

Our Blood by Charlotte Guillain – My son selected this himself.  The book contains clear, textbook styled explanations with photographs about blood and its purpose in the body.  We read it three times.

Inside your outside! by Tish Rabe – Tish Rabe uses familiar Seuss characters to look inside the human body and explain how organs work.  A little weird, a lot of rhyming, and not quite Seuss, but definitely eye-catching for a Seuss-obsessed preschooler.

We all move by Rebecca Rissman – Another photographic book containing a diverse selection of people engaging in varied activities.

51b2bt78qaol-_sx258_bo1204203200_Busy body book by Lizzy Rockwell – I love the art in this book.  Lots of color, lots of kids, all celebrating their bodies.  There’s more text than Here Are My Hands, but it has a similar feel to it.

Foot book by Dr. Seuss – Oh, the joys of feet, as told by Seuss.

Teeth by Sneed B. Collard – Not entirely about human bodies, but a great book full of colorful sketches of animals (including humans) and their teeth, contains some good beginner information.

In addition to reading all of these books (and many more):

We sang songs that involve movement each day, like “Head, Shoulders Knees, and Toes,” and “The Hokey Pokey.”

We watched a Sesame Street video called “Happy, Healthy Monsters,” which proved to be mostly jumping and watching funny sketches, rather than actually moving our bodies.

We made paper organs and added them to a paper body, using a large sheet of rolled drawing paper (from IKEA).  I wanted my son to lie on the paper so I could trace an outline of his body, but he was convinced the marker would hurt (even after touching it to my finger and then his), so he laid next to the paper, and I made a hasty approximation of his body and size.

Then we used various colors of construction paper.  I drew rough shapes of the organs in the approximate size they’d be in his body, and he used safety scissors to cut around the shapes.  He cut through his brain, his kidneys, and his lungs, but tape made it all better.  Our Little Fox paper model had a brain, two blue eyes, lungs, a heart, kidneys, a stomach, liver, pancreas, diaphragm, gallbladder, large and small intestines with appendix, and spleen.  As we placed them into the body shape on the paper, we discussed what each one did.  I kept the systems together, so we could talk about the body in small bursts.  We did brain and eyes first, then lungs, heart, and diaphragm, and finally the digestive system.  Here are a couple of the models I used (found on Google Image Search) to help remind me where to put everything:


Dynamic Diagram of the Solar System

The Little One's Due Date

The Little One’s due date using the dynamic diagram.

This dynamic, moving model of our solar system is incredibly elegant and allows for a great many options including phase of the moon on a given day, going forward or backward in time, selection of a specific date, and placement of the major constellations related to astrology for those who wish to see the relationships between astrology, the ancient divination tool, which is a precursor to today’s science, and astronomy.

As I’ve said before, one doesn’t need to put faith into astrology to appreciate the historical contributions it made to modern day astronomy.  It took us several thousand years of celestial observation and questioning to come to the point we’re at now, and I wish I could see what the next several thousand years might show us about our universe as we continue to strive to understand it.

OMNI Magazine — Free Online!

Those who remember OMNI Magazine, a science and sci-fi publication that spanned two decades, you’ll be happy to know you can find the full archives online at to share with your children as they explore not just science, but recent history and can explore the development of the last decades of innovation, as well as some incredible science-fiction shorts!

Science Discussions

(Photo by: Mohamed Babu) “Ring of Colour”

We look to the world and current events often for discussion topics in science.  It helps that we have a group of friends with diverse interests who share what they’ve found with others.  A simple article about ants eating sugar water with food coloring brings up questions about biochemistry, nutrition, and even branches out into art (this wasn’t a specific scientific experiment, but one intended to produce amazing photographs by someone fascinated by nature).  Mystyrica sent us the Rolling Stones’ article titled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math“.  It will soon be the basis for a Willow & Birch group discussion about politics, scientific relevance, and the very real threat to our survival as a species, including ways in which we may or may not be able to mitigate the damage already and soon to be done.  And of course, we’ve already been talking about the Higgs Boson, what it is, why we went searching for it, why some people insist on calling it the “God particle”, and the political relevance to it being named such.

What scientific discoveries or wonders are being talked about in your home or among your friends?  We’d love to hear about them, so we can talk about them, too!

FoldIt – Solving Puzzles for Science


Image via Wikipedia

RawStory featured the story about online gamers who helped crack enzymes in the same family as the AIDS virus. It refers to a program called FoldIt, still in beta at the time of this post, that I had never heard of before. Apparently, my partner had tried it for a short time, but hadn’t mentioned it. This sort of gaming is a new and growing phenomenon wherein gamers used their problem-solving energy in virtual worlds to help solve real world problems.

I mentioned this before when I first heard about Evoke. After nearly a year, I still haven’t received confirmation from them, but my status still reads as pending approval. In the meantime, I’m going to give FoldIt a shot, and encourage my daughter–and her 11 year old, elastic brain–to do the same.  Even better, FoldIt works with Windows and Mac platforms, so we can both play on our respective laptops.

Vanished! Mystery Science Project from M.I.T.

MIT in conjunction with the Smithsonian and other museums will be holding a two month project/interactive game with students online* between the ages of 10 1/2 – 14 (on the Smithsonian web site, it says 11-14).  The sign up page reads:

An environmental disaster has taken place on Planet Earth and we need your help.

The Smithsonian Institution and the MIT Education Arcade invite all scientists-in-training ages 10 ½ to 14 to log onto VANISHED and help decipher clues that unravel one of the world’s biggest mysteries.  An online/offline interactive event, VANISHED is an eight-week episodic quest that will transform you into principal scientific investigators who must collaborate to find the answers.  You will race against time as you solve games, puzzles, and other online challenges; visit real museums; collect samples from in and around your homes; and even partner with some of the Smithsonian’s world renowned scientists and investigators, to help unlock the  true secrets of this catastrophe—before it’s too late.


I just helped Daughter sign up for this interactive science mystery project which begins on April 4th, and wanted to get the word out to any other parents or teachers who work with children around these ages.  It does appear, based on the FAQ after sign up, that younger and older participants are able to sign up, but it will primarily be geared for those within the specified age range, and their work will be what provides researchers with the data they need.

For more information or to sign up visit

*The online forums and games will be linked with real life activities to do around the home or school, and to optional live events held at select museums.

James Burke: Connections Free!

Mystyrica’s husband pointed out that James Burke: Connections (all 30 episodes) are now available online for free.  Though I haven’t seen them, the way Mystyrica explained it, it’s rather like the Kevin Bacon game of History.  Here’s a description of one of the episodes:

3. Something for Nothing & Echoes of the Past – How do shuttle landings start with the vacuum which was forbidden by the Church? Burke takes us on an adventure with barometers, weather forecasting, muddy and blacktop roads, rain runoff, sewage, a cholera epidemic, hygiene, plumbing, ceramics, vacuum pumps, compressed air drills, tunnels in the Alps, train air brakes, Tesla hydroelectric power, electric motor, Galvani’s muscle-electricity connection, Volta’s battery, and gyroscopes.

Fearing Chemistry

So, I’m not very good at Chemistry.  The only reason I got a passing grade in high school was for inappropriate reasons I won’t go into here, but with a semi-drunk teacher and an expectation to just “get” the formulas in the book and come back and produce results in the lab, I floundered a great deal.  I would have taken Biology for my science requirement, but I’d heard my high school spent the first month entirely on plants, and half the school year dissecting worms and other tiny critters.  I’d already run through a genetics course and dissected a fetal pig on my own in 7th grade, so I wasn’t too keen on taking several steps backward.

Instead, I ended up in a class where once in a while, whatever was in our teacher’s mug would push him past some line, and he’d say something like, “Everybody put your pencils down.  I’m going to tell you why nuclear power is the future . . .”  And we’d have to listen to him for 50 minutes as he droned on in some not-quite-coherent ramble about his opinions of politicians, the way things ought to work, and what would save our sorry asses.

To add to the confusion and the drunken slurs, during at least half the labs I felt either queasy or dizzy or both, and ended up being hauled off to the nurse’s office.  One time our principal was monitoring the class, and she escorted me herself. Having never been in trouble at that school (we won’t go into Holy Innocents’ Episcopal here), we didn’t know each other too well, and I could pass myself off as something other than what my classmates called me.  It was an awkward, touching, and anxious time as I tried to walk down the hall with her and not vomit on her school’s lovely carpet.

So when Squirelflight told me this summer that she was interested in studying Chemistry, I really, really wished she’d said she’d seen the light, and was ready to go back to Anatomy.  Because, I get anatomy, even if I’m rusty on all the terms and placements and such.  Heck, my co-teacher knows a great deal, having a keen memory from her studies and current work as a massage therapist. We have a copy each of the Anatomy Coloring Book for the four of us (two oldest children, two mothers) . . . but no.  And my step-father, the one with the doctorate in Chemistry, by the gods, is a good third of a world away from us and can’t be here to tutor and instruct.

Thus, we have books.  Books on experiments, a teacher’s guide, and a whole lot more.  And we have charts and tools and lab kits.  What we don’t have–or didn’t–was a me who was willing to get over her fear of this gaping ignorance, the fear that I’ll never be able to get Chemistry on a more-than-basic level in order to teach it.

But I think I’ve figured out a way to structure it so that we can learn together, and it’s all thanks to this video:

With a handy table of elements, a working knowledge of subatomic particles, molecules, and the atomic structure, and a wealth of knowledge of inventions, history, and uses for each element, I think I’ve come up with a plan.  If I can take one element at a time, link it with something manifest in the world (hydrogen bomb, matches, dirigibles/balloons (and the Hindenberg), table salt, breathable atmospheres, et al), we can get through this.  The basic physics of chemistry are easy enough for us to go through, and once we get to through the chart, linking things to real world objects and history, we might get ourselves to a place where we can look into experiments and understanding them.  Maybe even as we go along. “We learned about element X before, and now we’re learning about element Y, and I have this fun experiment for combining the two . . .”

Like all homeschooling, it’s a rather organic process, and this will be one of the biggest learning experiences in what works for us that I’ve yet to take on.  Linking things will make it easier for both of us to see how these elements impact our world, our societies, and what they can mean in a more tangible way than the theories of higher chemistry can offer beginners like us.  The real-world applications of chemistry, especially in fuel cell technology (a field my step-father sorely wants to be a part), can mean greater efforts for a more sustainable future, and hey, she’s the one who’s going to be living on this planet longer than me.  I’d like her to understand how to help it out.

I figure, if I can make it possible for me to see the relevance, then I can make it possible for her.  And heck, I always thought alchemy was cool, perhaps if I just view this as a more precise form .  . . it’s not like we’re trying to make gold from iron and sulphur.  Right?  😉