Category Archives: Learning Opportunities

#73 Codes

01000011 01101111 01100100 01100101 01110011 00100000 01100001 01110010 01100101 00100000 01000011 01101111 01101111 01101100 00100001

in English, Codes are Cool!

Do you have your own secret code that you use with your friends?  Do you like writing notes to people?  Do you like to write in a diary?  Do you like solving puzzles and finding patterns?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might want to check out this Math Minute!

  1. Go to and type in a sentence in English.  Then tap the convert button to translate your message to binary.
  2. Learn about the Pigpen cipher (also known as masonic cipher, Freemason’s cipher, Napoleon cipher, and tic-tac-toe cipher) by watching this video: Then, write a message using what you learned.
  3. Watch this video about the Enigma Machine at Numberphile: Post a comment about something new you learned.
  4. Learn about the Caesar Cipher by watching this video: Then create a message for someone else to figure out.  Be sure to include the shift number!
  5. Find out how a code was used to catch someone red-handed!

Social Studies Enrichment #32: People vs. Snow: A Love-Hate History

The Beginning:  Paleolithic Era – Skiing for Survival

Today, skiing is a fun activity winter-lovers can’t wait to take advantage of at the first sight of freshly fallen snow, but it was originally invented thousands of years ago as a means of survival. The first use of skis can be found in a cave painting dating back to the Paleolithic Era’s final Ice Age. The sticks that were used as the first prototype were not only helpful for traveling over frozen terrain, but also for hunting prey.

1565: Snowscapes in Paintings

Commonly seen as the first winter landscape painting, Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted “Hunters in the Snow” during the brutal winter of 1564-65. It was the longest and most severe winter Europe had seen in more than a century, kicking off what some called the “Little Ice Age.” If you can’t beat them, join them, right? After his first snow-scape Bruegel couldn’t stop painting ice and snow—he also painted the first scene with falling snow, as well as the first nativity scene with snow—and his work started a winter-themed trend among Dutch painters that lasted for some 150 years.

1717: “The Great Snow”

Events occurred either before or after “The Great Snow” of 1717 for generations of New Englanders. Starting in late February of that year, a series of storms dumped up to six feet throughout the region, with drifts as high as 25 feet! New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut got the worst of it: Entire houses were completely covered with snow, livestock perished and even Boston Puritans canceled church services for two weeks. But one intrepid postman refused to lose the battle, reportedly leaving his horse behind and donning a pair of snow shoes to make the arduous trip from Boston to New York.

Early 19th century: A New Word is Born—Blizzard

The exact origins of “blizzard” are unclear, but it appears to have emerged as a non-snow-related noun. An 1829 article in the Virginia Literary Museum, a weekly journal published at the University of Virginia, defined the word as “a violent blow, perhaps from blitz (German: lightning).” In his 1834 memoir, Davy Crockett himself used the term to mean a burst of speech: “A gentleman at dinner asked me for a toast; and supposing he meant to have some fun at my expense, I concluded to go ahead, and give him and his likes a blizzard.” The first use of the word in reference to a severe snowstorm apparently came later. Eytmologist and lexicographer Allen Walker Read believes the earliest such usage of “blizzard” was in an April 1870 issue of the Northern Vindicator, a newspaper in Estherville, Iowa.

1862: The Rise of the Snow Plow

Today snow can mean long delays and canceled flights, but it used to be a positive thing for travel. When the main mode of transportation was the horse-drawn carriage, having packed snow on the roads made things easier, switching out their carriage’s wheels for ski-like runners when the snow piled up. Foot traffic was a different story, however, and by the mid-1800s several different inventors had patented their version of a horse-drawn snow plow to clear the alleys and walkways of America’s cities. In 1862, Milwaukee became the first major city to use such a plow, and its popularity spread quickly throughout the Snow Belt (the area stretching across the Great Lakes from Minnesota to Maine).

1878: Shakin’ It Up—The Snow Globe

Indicative of the winter wonderland that fills the hearts of many each holiday season, the snow globe was first seen in France at the 1878 Paris Universal Exposition. The trinket gained little attention, however, and only found its way into the hearts and minds of holiday holiday-goers thanks to Edwin Perzy I. The mechanic accidentally created a snow globe in 1900, when he was asked to fix a dim light bulb. After noticing that water-filled glass globes would fill the entire room with light when placed in front of candle, he tried the same technique with a lightbulb but didn’t get the same results. Next he filled the globe with semolina flakes with the hope that they would help reflect the light, but instead it inspired him in a totally different way—the flakes reminded him of snow. Perzy patented the snow globe and the novelty caught on like wildfire.

1888: The Blizzard That Ate the Big Apple

Paralyzing the Northeast for over three days with snow, wind and freezing temperatures, horse-drawn plows stood no chance against the Blizzard of 1888. New York City was inundated with 50 inches of snow, along with high winds causing drifts of up to 40 feet—it was as snow-pocalypse. The city’s elevated railways—usually the only transport option during storms—were blocked leaving travelers stranded for days. The 1888 blizzard claimed 400 victims. It also did some good, however, by prompting cities to improve their snow removal procedures, including hiring more plows, assigning routes and starting the plowing process in the early phases of storms.

1920s: Snow Removal Goes Mobile

When automobiles replaced horse-drawn carriages on the roads, clearing the roads of snow became a big priority. Mechanized salt-spreaders helped, but weren’t sufficient. As early as 1913, some cities had started using motorized dump trucks and plows to remove snow. Chicago took it one step further in the 1920s, debuting a contraption called the “snowloader.” Equipped with a giant scoop and a conveyor belt, the device forced plowed snow up the scoop, onto the belt and into a chute that dropped it into a dump truck parked beneath. The snowloader revolutionized urban snow removal, making it a lot less labor-and time-intensive.

1952: Introducing Your Very Own Snow Blower

Snow blowing got personal in the early 1950s, when a Canadian company called Toro released the first human-powered snow blower. Other companies produced their own models during the 1960s, ushering in the age of modern snow removal. Around the same time, satellite weather technology was making it easier than ever to predict and prepare for storms, and widespread use of TV and radio helped keep the public aware of impending hazards caused by snow and wind.

Today: An Ode to the Humble Snow Shovel

Odds are the snow removal tool most people are familiar with is also the one that’s been around the longest—the shovel. Thought to date back some 6,000 years, the old-fashioned snow shovel remains one of the most effective tools for digging out of a blizzard, no matter where you live. Since the 1870s, more than 100 patents have been granted for snow shovel designs, as various people try their hand at improving on the time-honored classic.


Reading Enrichment #43: Snow Days!

With winter comes cold, snow, and ice! Sometimes, that cold, snow, and ice can lead to a snow day for students! What do you like to do on a snow day?
Go to Wonderopolis to read the article, “What’s the Best Thing to do on a Snow Day?”. Then, in the comments below, write what you like to do best on a snow day.

After you’re done with Wonderopolis, click on the video at the bottom to listen and read along with The Cat in the Hat to see what Sally and her brother do on a rainy day!

Facts about snow, then make your own snowflake!


Did you know that snowflakes come in all sizes?

The average snowflake ranges from a size slightly smaller than a penny to the width of a human hair. But according to some unverified sources they can grow much larger. Witnesses of a snowstorm in Fort Keogh, Montana in 1887 claimed to see milk-pan sized crystals fall from the sky. If true that would make them the largest snowflakes ever spotted, at around 15 inches wide.

Did you know that snow falls at 1 to 6 feet per second?

At least in the case of snowflakes with broad structures, which act as parachutes. Snow that falls in the form of pellets travels to Earth at a much faster rate.

Did you know that a little water can add up to a lot of snow?

The air doesn’t need to be super moist to produce impressive amounts of snow. Unlike plain rainfall, a bank of fluffy snow contains lots of air that adds to its bulk. That’s why what would have been an inch of rain in the summer equals about 10 inches of snow in the colder months.

Did you know that the snowiest city on Earth is in Japan?

Aomori City in northern Japan receives more snowfall than any major city on the planet. Each year citizens are pummeled with 312 inches, or about 26 feet, of snow on average.

Finally, did you know that snowflakes aren’t always unique?

Snow crystals usually form unique patterns, but there’s at least one instance of identical snowflakes in the record books. In 1988, two snowflakes collected from a Wisconsin storm were confirmed to be twins at an atmospheric research center in Colorado.

Now that you’ve learned all kinds of facts about snow, let’s use the “A” in “STEAM” to make some snowflakes! Watch the video tutorial below and then try to make your own!

Reading Enrichment #42: Ancient Origins of Halloween

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago, mostly in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1.

This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes.

When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the 400 years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of bobbing for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

Based on this information, you can see that traditions cover centuries and adapt to the changing times.

What Halloween or Fall traditions does your family practice?
Share in the comments below!


Early Enrichment #41: Spooky Halloween Tongue Twisters!

Tongue twisters are a great way to practice and improve pronunciation and fluency. They’re not just for kids, but are also used by actors, politicians, and public speakers who want to sound clear when speaking. Below, you will find some spooky tongue twisters. Say them as quickly as you can.

Spooky Halloween Tongue Twisters

  • He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.
  • Creepy crawler critters crawl through creepy crawly craters.
  • Dracula digs dreary, dark dungeons.
  • Ghostly ghouls gather gleefully to golf on ghostly golf courses.
  • Gobbling gargoyles gobbled gobbling goblins.
  • Horribly hoarse hoot owls hoot howls of horror in Halloween haunted houses.
  • If big, black bats could blow bubbles, how big of bubbles would big black bats blow?
  • If two witches would watch two watches, which witch would watch which watch?
  • Professional Pumpkin Pickers are prone to pick the plumpest pumpkins.
  • Transylvanian Tree Trimmers are trained to trim the tallest Transylvanian trees.
  • Several spooky, slimy spiders sulkily spun by the sea.
  • The ochre ogre ogled the poker.
  • Which witch wished which wicked wish?

Now that you’re an expert at saying them, can you write your own Spooky Tongue Twister?

Add it to the comments section!

Social Studies Enrichment #31: Jack-O’-Lanterns! Did you know the tradition came from Ireland?

I’ll bet many of you out there carved into a pumpkin this week!  I just learned today that the tradition of carving Jack-O’-Lanterns comes from Ireland! (Should’ve guessed that – O’-Lantern!)

Did you know that they didn’t use pumpkins? When the tradition first originated, in the 1400s, they used turnips or potatoes!

The name jack-o’-lantern comes from an Irish folktale about a man named Stingy Jack.

According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.

Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack-o’-lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack-o’-lanterns.

Did you carve a jack-o’-lantern this year? If you did, share a picture of it in the comments section!




#72: Palindromes

Guess what!  The 2019-2020 school year contains 21 VERY SPECIAL days!  Ten of those dates are listed in the picture above.  Can you figure out the additional 11 days that will occur in 2020?

How can you spend your Math Minutes?

Social Studies Enrichment #30: Fifty Stars!

We’ve all heard the legend of Betsy Ross. But, who created and designed our current American flag?

Believe it or not, the designer was a 17-year-old boy from Lancaster, Ohio, who did it for a school assignment!

Yep, the year was 1958, and at that time, there were only 48 states. Robert G. Heft was riding the bus home from school one day that year. He was thinking about the assignment his history teacher, Mr. Pratt, had given the class—a project that demonstrated their interest in history. Something visual. Something original. By Monday.

As Robert rode through downtown Lancaster, he saw the flag on top of Lancaster city hall. “That’s what convinced me,” he said. “I would design a new flag.”

Robert was interested in politics. He knew that Alaska was likely to soon become the 49th state. “But I knew that Alaska was heavily Democrat,” he says. “The Senate would have to approve the addition, and it was dominated by Republicans at the time. Everyone was saying that they would be adding another state to balance it out.” He had a hunch that then-Republican Hawaii would soon become the 50th state.

At home that night he sketched out a grid for 50 stars. “I couldn’t just throw them in anywhere.” So he came up with a design. Five rows of six stars with four alternating rows of five stars. He even went so far as to sew a flag with the new design!

You would think he earned an “A”!  “Not on your life,” he said. “My teacher, Mr. Pratt, was a taskmaster. He looked at what I’d done and said it wasn’t the real flag. Not with 50 stars. I explained my reasoning, and he still just barely gave me a passing grade, so for the first time I really spoke out. I told him I deserved better. I had a friend who’d done a collage of leaves and got an A. What I’d done showed a lot more imagination. Mr. Pratt looked at me coolly and declared, ‘If you don’t like the grade, go get the flag accepted in Washington!'”

And that’s exactly what Robert Heft set out to do. He biked over to the home of his congressman, Walter Moeller, knocked on the door, gave him the flag and explained what it was for.

“I asked him if he would take my flag to Washington, and if there were ever a contest to determine the design for a 50-star flag, would he present mine? He was so bowled over that he agreed, probably just to get rid of me.”

Two years went by. In January 1959 President Eisenhower signed a proclamation announcing the admission of Alaska as the 49th state. As with all new states, the star would be added on the following July 4th.

That 49-star flag—seven rows of seven stars—was almost immediately obsolete. Because in August 1959, just as Robert had expected, Hawaii became the 50th state.

He’d already graduated from high school by then, the woeful grade still in Mr. Pratt’s book. Robert was working as a draftsman for an industrial firm and going to college at night. Whatever happened to my flag design? he wondered.

He’d heard that thousands of new designs had been submitted. A special commission of congressmen was screening them and choosing five for submission to President Eisenhower.

In early June, Congressman Moeller called Robert and said,  “Son, I’m proud to tell you that President Eisenhower has selected your design for our nation’s new flag. Congratulations.”

Robert flew to Washington to see his flag flown over the Capitol for the first time. Thousands of others had submitted the same design, but Robert Heft’s had been the first. Moreover it wasn’t just a sketch. It was an actual flag. That was a big plus.

What did his high school teacher, Mr. Pratt, think? “The day I returned from Washington, Mr. Pratt changed my grade. But you know,” Robert mused, “if I hadn’t gotten that bad grade in the first place I wouldn’t have given the flag to Congressman Moeller. And if I hadn’t done that, I never would have gone to Washington….”

For more than 40 years, longer than any other, his design has been the one we know. “But I’ve got a good design for fifty-one,” he said, “in case we add another.”

It’s good to be reminded that Old Glory is a work-in-progress. Always has been, I guess. From the 13 original Stars and Stripes to the star-spangled banner of today, long may it wave.

Your task: There has long been talk of adding another state – Puerto Rico.

Draw a design for an American flag that would include Puerto Rico with 51 stars.

Take a picture of your design and email it, or turn it into your EY teacher.