Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Children Standing In Front Of... Rocks

Looking for the A To Z Challenge? That's not on this blog. It's on lit, a place for stories. Click the link to go there. But feel free to read this post!

Today, I take a brief detour from my ongoing like's work, "Children Standing In Front Of Art" (TM), to show you what the title promised:

We took a field trip, with Mr F's and Mr Bunches' first grade classes, to the Geology Museum at the UW-Madison downtown, and while I was skeptical that the museum would hold anything of interest to me (Quote: "Rocks. Eh.") I was wrong.

Partially, I was wrong because I forgot that the category "Things That Are Rocks" includes "Fossils," and "Meteorites" and partially I was wrong because even things that are very obviously rocks turn out to be pretty cool.

We began with a talk from the college guy at the left in front of a large globe the guide assured us was one of "5 or 6" in the United States" that are that big.  This guy kind of talked over the kids' heads (Quote: "Right, what you have is a political map, while this is geographical") and then warned the kids not to touch any glass because "It'll break," but he warned them so much and so direly that I began to feel that perhaps this glass was extra-fragile.

Then we divided up into groups. Our group started with fossils, like this:

Which you might take for a mere rock but which is actually billions of tiny fossilized microorganisms that piled on each other, died, and then were fossilized. That rock is about the size of me, curled up, and is 450,000,000 years old.

Also in that category was the picture at the top of this post, which is a segment of rock from the seabed, and which is 100,000 years old.  We showed that specifically to Mr F to see how interested he would be in it.

He looked at it.  Which for him is something, at least.

Mr F was more interested in the lab where they work on fossils, cleaning them and doing the mind-numbingly boring work to prepare them for display:

"Children Standing In Front Of Science."

Then the fossils got more fossil-like and less rocklike:

"Dads Standing In Front Of Rocks."


is a fossil of an early shark, and included in there are fossils of early turtles, etc., that had been in the shark's stomach and which were also fossilized.

Another fossil was even better:

"Tour Guides Standing In Front Of Fish Heads."

The tour guide was pretty up on what is a shark and what is not: she knew, for example, that the Whale Shark is a filter-feeder and not technically a shark, so these kids were learning a LOT today.

This was a big (5'x6') hunk of rock consisting of hundreds of fossilized Sea Lilies:

But when someone says fossils nobody really thinks "sea lilies and shark stomachs," right? They think:

Sadly, that is a reproduction and not the original bones, although I'm not sure why that matters. Is it better to see the actual rocks that are shaped like what a dinosaur's bones are, than a fake rock shaped the same way? It is, but I'm not sure why.

Let's see a kid standing in front of that!

They had a bunch of partial and whole skeletons of dinosaurs and other massive animals:

"Blurry Children In Front Of Out Of Focus Rocks"

"Technically: People Standing Under Rocks"

And I learned that the large animal is a pteranodon, not a pterodactyl, and I also learned that pterodactyls were only the size of chickens.


I wish we had chicken-sized pterodactyls still flying around. I wish ALL these things were still around. Stupid dinosaur-killing asteroid*

*assuming that is still where science is on that.
From there, it was back to "Things We All Instinctively Recognize As Rocks," like quartz and pyrite and other cool rocks.  This is where the SINGLE BEST QUESTION AND ANSWER EXCHANGE EVER happened.  I will give it to you verbatim:

Guide: Are there any questions?
Little boy *raises hand eagerly*
Guide:  Yes?
Little boy:  Once, I saw a movie, and there was this shark, he was a hammerhead shark, and he fought an octopus.

NAILED IT.  You just know that kid had been waiting to fit that story into something for a while now, and couldn't hold it back anymore.

Mr Bunches had earlier participated, too, during the original rock part where we learned about meteors, etc.  The guide had asked whether the kids knew if there were any rocks on Earth from other planets and the kids all agreed, yeah, of course, let's get on with it we know how the universe works, etc. and the guide said:

Who can name another planet that rocks are from?

And Mr Bunches raised his hand and said:

"The moon."

BINGO. He is right.  We know of about 1,000 pounds of moon rock that are present on Earth. (800+ brought back by the Apollo missions. USA! USA! We are the leading importer of Moon Rocks on EARTH. GO TEAM!)

But the guide was looking for Mars, as the answer, and got us there, and pointed to a tiny rock that I did not take a picture of out of deference to my skepticism, and here is why:

For a MARS rock to be on Earth, the following has to happen:

1. Something has to blow up on Mars sufficiently explosively to launch rocks out of the Martian atmosphere.
2. At least one of those launched rocks must then intersect with Earth's orbit.
3. Said rock must then fall to Earth without being burnt up.
4. Someone must find it.

Those are all VERY VERY improbable things.  VERY VERY VERY.  I googled the question "Has anyone ever witnessed an explosion on Mars launching rocks into space" and found no articles showing that this has ever been observed in the history of history, while there is evidence of such a thing happening on the Moon (the most recent was September 11, 2013, when a boulder-sized meteorite struck the moon at 37,900 miles per hour.

So I am not convinced that these are Mars rocks, despite what "science" says, and before you jump all over me as being unduly skeptical: brontosaurus.


The "basic" rocks were anything but -- they had a pretty good collection of interesting-looking things, and the kids were allowed to touch some of this stuff, stuff like:

A 1,300 pound slab of copper:

And a 320-pound meteorite:

"Children Actively Touching Space Rocks"
Although blurry, I included this because the kid on the left was being nice to Mr Bunches (on the right) and taking him to see "gold" (pyrite, but I didn't tell them that) AND the nice kid is the kid who told the hammerhead/octopus story.
He is an American hero.

From there, we moved to the "Rocks That Glow" room, where the guide explained that the reason white shirts glow under blacklight was because detergent uses things like phosphorus (a rock!) to get them white, and phosphorus glows under blacklight.  

Again, I was skeptical, mostly because nowadays many detergents are not white- or color-only, and we don't even separate our whites and colors anymore.  I didn't challenge the guide or anything, and having just looked it up, "How Stuff Works" says that really is how that part of stuff actually does work, which still leaves all kinds of unanswered questions, namely:

1. So why don't the phosphors in detergent make my blue jeans or whatever glow?

So, really, just ONE unanswered question.

The final thing was a cave. We were given a big talk about caves and how not to touch them in real life but you could touch this one and talk about stalactites and stalagmites and etc etc and then finally FINALLY were allowed to walk through the cave...

...which was like four feet long and contained very few of the things we had been warned about /promised.

With that, it was time for group photos of Mr F's class:

Mr F is in the orange. He is too cool to pay attention in photos.
 And Mr Bunches' class.

"Children Standing In Front Of A Scale Depiction of EVERY ROCK IN THE WORLD"

Monday, March 31, 2014

When letters collide...

Read the first installment of my story

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVW    YZ... a story on lit, a place for stories! also, there's a free book available!

I get asked to make a lot of things out of blocks... (Life With Unicorns)

and tonight, we are working our way through the book "Let's Go," featuring various forms of transportation. We made it through cars and trucks and are now onto Cycles. 


is a 10-speed bike.

Say what you want, but Michaelangelo didn't have to work with plastic blocks.

Anyway, my tricycle was a little better:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

So I am not the ONLY one who thinks things can only get better when you can instantly look up who played that one role in that one movie and then spend an afternoon reading Wikipedia before realizing you are two hours late for a meeting.

The other day, I read XKCD and found this comic strip awaiting me:

Which was exactly the same sentiment as the one I expressed in last year's For Some Reason I Am Absolutely Convinced That Kids Have Tiny Sentient Robots To Play With (And I Am Jealous), which you can read here (I bet you won't click on it, don't feel bad I know you have things to do, just try to give me a call some time *plays Cat's In The Cradle, stares off into space over a half-empty cup of coffee*) and in which I said:

Here is how you played Superball Baseball: You and another person -- let's say, your brother, or Paul, the kid from next door who sometimes seemed a little weird but mostly was okay -- would get a superball, one of those tiny plastic balls that were all the rage in the 1970s and 1980s, too, and let me take a moment here to just go back to an earlier point that I will elaborate on now:


People sit around fretting about kids playing video games and reading books online and having webpages and never getting outside and reminisce about the "old days" when parents played, apparently,mumblety-peg, and yet every single thing I write about what we did when we were kids involves saying stuff like

"tiny plastic balls that were all the rage"

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, life sucked so hard that people got excited when superballs were invented.  Which is to say: people got excited when plastic got a little more dense.  VIVA LA 1980s!

I have some good memories of childhood, and had some fun playing games, but the thing is: all the fun stuff that I did when I was a kid, like taking inner tubes to the Bark River and floating them down to Nixon Park, or sledding down Kill Hill, or bike-racing -- all of that can still be done today (albeit by local ordinance it all must be done in the form of "organized soccer" on Saturday mornings, and Tom has to bring the donuts this week) -- but everything else has become one hundred quintillion times more awesome, because if you don't feel like doing one of those things, nowadays you can go to a playground that is not just "a couple of swings dangling from rusty chains" and you can go play video games that let you explore whole worlds, and you can download every single book ever in about 30 seconds per book and read it and you have movies at your fingertips and kids have tiny robots, probably, so let's have an end to all this "boy things were better back when I was a kid" nonsense because it was not.

You want your kids to go out tubing on the Bark River? Take them.  Then let them play their iPads on the way and on the way home and everyone's happy and nobody had to hear you drone on and on about life back when people knew what "Kajagoogoo" was (but they didn't like it.)


If you DIDN'T click the link, or if you'd already read that post, you could always:

Check out my short story "Sea" on Inky Magazine, or read the brief short story "A Work In Progress" on lit, a place for stories.

Or, you know, just ignore me.

When you comin' home son I don't know when... we'll get together then, Dad. You know we'll have a good time then.

I'll... be okay.