#Pumpkins… What are pumpkins?

This week I became aware that pumpkins are NOT a universal “thing”. As I was making a cup of coffee (I know big surprise and in no way specifying my time line) in the student lounge at Warner I overheard three students having a conversation about pumpkins. They were all international students and each from a different place. They were talking about pumpkins and what they could figure out about them. It was a great conversation to eavesdrop on; first they each talked about what they thought a pumpkin was, then they moved on to showing pictures on their cell phones of what the closest thing to a pumpkin was back home, and sharing what it would be called there. The three students then went on to a discussion on why these pumpkins have such a cultural significance here. After a quick round of each not really knowing why they even mattered they went on to help one of them figure out how to cook one that she had purchased at the farmers market that week. (if it sounds like I was standing around forever listening in I was but not by choice, the Keurig in that lounge was taking FOR…EV…ER.

Anyway…why am I reflecting on this conversation about pumpkins? As a life long citizen of the United States culture completely understand most of the cultural significance and meaning behind pumpkins this time of year, I mean really who doesn’t? Oh thats right people that are not part of that community don’t have this tacit knowledge. In the science everything is like a pumpkin to most people. Its different and strange and why should anyone care about it at all? Those questions can make science uncomfortable and scary. But if you allow learners to interact with each other they can share their background knowledge and construct some sort of meaning that may allow a pumpkin of science knowledge to fit into their existing schema. And if the learner is really lucky they will decide to cook the pumpkin, eat it and enjoy it for some personal reason, as opposed to just learning to accept it as something that those whack-a-doodle scientists seem to think is important. I think its important for us to all let learners go through this process and cook their own pumpkins so that they can give science a personal value and meaning to the weird gourds we try to tell them are the most important things ever.

Now usually I would end up telling you what a pumpkin really is here, and boy am I tempted but I think instead today I will just share my favorite pumpkin recipe so that you can try pumpkin for yourself, that way you’ll really know what it is and why I personally love pumpkins so very much!


Pumpkin Crunch

16oz solid pack pumpkin

12oz evaporated milk

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

1+tsp each: nutmeg, cloves, ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1 pkg yellow cake mix

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup melted butter



Preheat an oven to 350 F and grease the bottom only of a 13″x9″ cake pan. Mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Pour mixture into bottom of greased pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix evenly over the top of the pumpkin mixture. Top with chopped pecans evenly. Drizzle the entire 1 cup of melted butter over the top of everything. Bake on center rack at 350 F for 50-55 minutes or until the topping is golden. Remove and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. Can be served with whipped cream and you should refrigerate the leftovers if there are any.


#Thats what pumpkins are!


#Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep

Its almost halloween and the seasonal science continues this week with a look at the science behind everybody’s favorite monsters these days: Zombies. The book Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep takes a scientific approach to why zombies might be the way they are. Now before you think I or the authors of the book really think zombies might come scratching at the front door any night soon let me explain. The authors, Bradley Voytek and Timothy Verstynen, take a Neuroscientific approach to explaining the classic behaviors exhibited by zombies in popular culture. They explore many of the typical behaviors and provide plausible causes for said behaviors in the form of various neurological maladies.

In addition to talking about zombies this book is really a wonderful primer for how the brain functions, what the different parts are, and how they work together to support normal function and behavior as well as abnormal conditions.

Another great seasonal science story is I am Legend by Richard Metheson. Now technically this story is about vampires but if you read this book and immediately watch Night of the Living Dead you can figure out where George A. Romero, the father of modern zombies, got his ideas from. I am legend a man ends up being the sole survivor of what turns out to be a viral outbreak that has lead to the transformation of every other human being on earth. One of the best parts of the book is that a guy, just an everyday joe, ventures to the library to learn how to be an imunologist who studies a disease and attempts to find a cure. Can there be a better get real science message than “if you act like a scientist you become a scientist and can change the world!”? (I don’t think so)

So remember everybody whether  you are trying to do your Earth Science homework or save the world from the impending un-dead all you have to do is be a Scientist and DO SOME SCIENCE!

#Sky Sight

This week at my school we had the chance to collaborate with Oregon Artist Daniel Dancer. He travels the world creating giant images that can only be appreciated from the sky. The medium that Dancer works with is people, and he uses that experience to teach collaboration and teamwork. We worked together as a school k-12 and all of the faculty to create an image of a Great Blue Heron.

Dancer also teaches a message of environmental awareness. His message to everyone is that if you want the earth to last for our future generations that we all need to consider the big picture when we make decisions and take actions that could impact others.

Environmental conservation is a very real science that has moved into the front lines of politics today. As soon as our collaborative assemblies would finish students would rush up to me to ask questions about the things that Daniel Dancer had said. Many of them have strong beliefs that they have learned from their parents and families that went against some of the things Dancer was saying. I have not gotten to the point in my curriculum where I teach about environmental issues but students wanted to learn about that now so we had some good discourse about what we know and have learned about the environment and global warming. While I didn’t really tell them anything this week I gave them the opportunity to share their ideas with each other (and me) which has given me a good idea of where I need to start when I do get to that unit later on in the year.

Regardless of student’s personal beliefs I told them all that Mr. Dancer’s message of thinking about the consequences of your actions before you take them is un-arguably a good one, so keep thinking everybody!

#Halloween Science

Ok, well it isn’t quite halloween yet but autumn is in full swing and winter is coming! I can prove it, we had sleet on our porch this afternoon. Sleet forms when water drops fall through a cold layer of air that causes those drops to freeze into little ice pellets. As long as the lower atmospheric layers are not warm enough to melt the ice before it hits the ground we get sleet. If the ice melts before it hits the ground we just get a regular old cold november rain. (Yes I just used an allusion[not an illusion]) image2 2015101395171454

Back to the good stuff, that is, the science of the week;Osteology. Deer hunting season has begun with a bow and will soon be open for firearms. I have never had enough land that I needed to worry about someone hunting in my back yard but with our new house that was something I was warned about. To try to let people know where they could or could not go my son and I put up POSTED signs. While we were walking around the front of our property we found something AWESOME in a drainage ditch…a clean deer
skeleton. My son immediately asked, “Dad CAN I BRING IT HOME?!?!?” and I said sure, just run back and grab a box and some gloves. He quickly got back and started carefully picking up the bones and examining them as he put them in the box. Unfortunately the skull was missing as were the femurs, but one of the mandibles with teeth intact was still there. This lead my son to the question where did the other stuff go? I’m not sure but from some scratches on a humerus we think that a coyote might have had a chance to chew on this deer which would explain why the skull and femurs were missing. Those bones hold some ofimage1 the most fatty parts of a deer, marrow and brains (Yummy brainz).

an osteologist studies bones, how they go together, and can even get involved with forensics like in the popular show BONES. Its a pretty ghoulish science but fun if you aren’t to squeamish to play with skeletons.

#Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink

This week was a wet one. Water made the news as we found evidence of liquid water on Mars recently. Why was it a big deal to find water? Because its critical for life on Mars or here on Earth.

Not only was ground water found flowing they also found evidence of ancient lakes!

It rained last weekend quite a bit and again last night and today; now that I mention it this time of year often has a lot of rain associated with it. But where does all that water that falls from the sky come from and where does it go after it falls? Well this week I had to consider some of those questions when the water well in my house stopped working the way it usually does. These questions led me to researching water and how it moves around the earth, this study is called Hydrology. (I also had to engage in some conservationism as well)

The first question was is the well pump working? A quick check showed it was functioning. The next question was what had I done that might have caused this issue? Well…at the advice of a well driller and service guy (hydrologist) I cleaned out my house’s water holding tank. It collects sediment that is allowed to settle out when the water rests in the holding tank. And the sediment was starting to get kind of deep so I thought it might be good advice. Unfortunately to clean the tank I had to drain it which really bugged me since that meant dumping 200 gallons of water; what a waste! I had to constantly stir the sediment into the water to keep it suspended and drain the tank down all the way. Once drained I thought I would just be able to let the well refill the tank, boy was I naive. It turns out that coming off of summer the water table in my area was still low and that meant that my well could only refill itself slowly…a few gallons each hour. So what? its refilling right why does it matter if its slow? Well I have quickly become very mindful of how much water various daily activities use as our family had to plan on how to use each gallon that brought itself back into our house. For example it uses about 1 1/2 gallons to flush a toilet, 10 gallons to take a 10 minute shower (x4 people), 25 gallons to wash clothes with a high efficiency front loading washer, washing dishes by hand uses about 3 gallons. So add it all up and that’s about 80 gallons a day. Pumping in two gallons an hour the well was not able to supply the water we needed so we had to make some decisions. Showers were shortened to 5 minutes each, and we skipped the laundry that day to let the tank fill back up. This reduced our usage to about 30 gallons. This meant that the tank could fill up while the well recharged. I am happy to say that three days later we had a full holding tank again and don’t have to worry as much, oh and we can do laundry again too!

I live right by a lake so this image is almost exactly like what you would see if you mapped out my groundwater(without the granite 😉 )

So the question is with all this rain why wasn’t the well “full”? Well rain falls from the sky because conditions in the troposphere reach a state where the rate of condensation exceeds the rate of evaporation for water and droplets collect into drops until they fall. But then they have to soak into the ground or runoff to some other place. Once it soaks into the ground it has to slowly work its way in between little grains of dirt and sand and other sediments. It continues to soak down until it reaches a layer of rock that it can’t soak through any more. Then it starts moving horizontally and filling up spaces in the soil above it. Because it had been summer and it really hadn’t rained much for the last few weeks the water level underground (the water table) was getting low.

The water cycle is so important but most of us ignore it most of the time.

Now that its getting colder out the air is condensing more water than it evaporates and its raining more, that’s fall for you. The water table can recharge itself and I don’t have to worry as much for now. But wait, didn’t I just post about water issues a couple weeks ago? Why yes I did! Water is one of the most precious resources on this planet and living in a city my entire life I have taken it completely for granted. See if you can find out where your water comes from by clicking here.



The study of water and how to keep it clean and accessible to all is really cool, very important, and pretty political right now. If you are interested in similar stories of disappearing water check out how Saudi Arabia ran into the same problem I did.

Other hot water issues include:

The water project


UN Millennium Development Goals


Great Lakes Water

Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (documentary)