La Mitad del Mundo: Science at the Equator

On our last day in Quito, we had a few hours of leisure time prior to our flight to Guayaquil. Just enough time to visit La Mitad del Mundo, the place where Charles-Marie de La Condamine made the measurements in 1736 showing that this was indeed the equatorial line. His expedition’s measurements gave rise to the metric system and proved that the world is not perfectly round, but that it bulges at the equator.


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Despite the touristy nature of the equator monument that now sits here (souvenir shops and small restaurants crowd the entrance), there is simply no excuse to come this far and not see it. You just have to get into the spirit of things. It was worthwhile to visit for the family picture straddling the “equator” with the monument in the background.

The highlight of this excursion, however, was the Intiñan Museum just a short distance away – where the proprietors proudly advertise it as the home of the “true” equator. The museum is bisected by a line of red paint. GPS tests come back with mixed results, and the rocky surroundings make accurate readings difficult to obtain, but we were close. Very close.

Our visit here was much more rewarding in regards to having a true equatorial experience.  Located in the foothills of the Andes Mountains, the Intiñan Museum features an unexpected triumvirate of physics, folklore, and culture.

A museum guide conducted an informative tour around the premises, stopping occasionally at life-size dioramas depicting Ecuadorian daily life. The central focus of the museum is a totem pole surrounded by several stations, each designed to test the unique physical forces at work in the equatorial region.


Science Experiments at the Equator

Some of the science experiments at the Equator are clearly parlor tricks, but others are appreciable demonstrations of physics. The one demonstration that was the most impressive (if you use the audience’s exclamations of surprise as any indication), was how water drains at the equator compared to the northern and southern hemispheres.

I recorded a video while we there with the intentions of sharing it with you – but as I was fact checking for this post, I stumbled upon this video that was better than mine. I made the mistake of stopping each time the guide moved; I didn’t record the entire process. I thereby missed the ruse.

Admittedly, I was as caught up in the parlor trick as everyone else. This was contrary to what I had been taught in physics class. I knew this was a misconception I had to address with my kids upon our return home.

His trick plays on the idea that people think water will drain (or flush in a toilet) in one direction north of the equator, and in the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere. Most people know hurricanes rotate one way (counterclockwise) in the north and the other (clockwise) in the south, so there’s some basis for this. This fact is due to the Coriolis effect.

Using our North Star Geography program as our guide, I began a discussion with the kids about the Coriolis effect.

 “Named after nineteenth-century French mathematician and engineer Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis, the Coriolis effect is the force the rotation of the earth exerts on air, water, and flying objects.”

This only works over distances where the spin of the Earth makes a difference when you head north or south. Your bathtub or the basin in the video is simply not big enough to make a difference. Random currents in the water completely overwhelm any tiny coriolis effect going on.


As a Brand Ambassador for Bright Ideas Press we have received a complimentary copy of North Star Geography in exchange for our honest insights about how this program is working in real life with our family.

Let’s review the video very carefully; here’s a play by play:

  • First he goes through a show of finding north and locating the position of the Equator.
  • He then goes to a water filed basin on the Equator. The basin is already filled – just as it had been when we were there. The point is, the water had been sitting in the basin for awhile. When he pulls out the plug the water drains straight down.
  • He then grabs the basin and bucket and moves a few meters south. He pours the water from a bucket, making sure the water is flowing in to the left of the drain hole. When he does this, it sets up a natural clockwise spin to the water overall. Low and behold, when he pulls out the plug, the water drains in a clockwise direction.
  • He then moves moves the basin to the north of the Equator. Someone steps in front of the camera so it is a little hard to tell, but you do very certainly see him pouring the water to the right of the drain hole, natural counter-clockwise spin to the water overall. No surprise then when he pulls out the plug, the water drains in a counter-clockwise direction.

It has nothing to do with where the basin is; if he had poured the water to the right of the drain in the north, it would have drained in a counter-clockwise direction and vice versa. As for the water in the basin on the Equator – as you recall it had been sitting there for a while – he probably filled it carefully so there was no circular motion of the water. That way, when it drains, it drains straight down.

But the bottom line is this – for hurricanes and launching missiles, yeah, the Coriolis effect is important. For draining sinks and flushing toilets, though, it’s all a matter of spin.

Try it Yourself !

geo-surveyBright Ideas Press has created a survey to see what kinds of geography products homeschool moms most want. They need their feedback no later than Wednesday, Nov. 26.

As a thank you, you will receive a freebie code for an audio workshop at the end of the survey. It’s called History and Geography Through Literature, a $5.00 value.

Developing Map Skills in the Galapagos

I love when we can learn subjects by using real life examples, like using maps to work on geography. Whenever we travel, our first go to resource is a simple map, it helps us to get our bearings and to visualize the larger picture of how everything is connected.

My children have developed map skills to help with our vacation planning and to successfully find their way around the place we are visiting. To give you some ideas for learning on vacation, here are a few ways we reinforced map skills during our recent trip to South America.

To help us learn more about the many wonderful sites we would be visiting, we first used Google Earth to see the geological features such as the Andes Mountains where the Nazca Plate is sub-ducting under the South American Plate. We also viewed the Galápagos Islands and viewed the hotspot where new islands are forming.

We discussed the geological processes that are shaping the islands and how the plants and animals that live there are specifically adapted to life in this harsh environment. I shared with them the definition for endemic species and we talked about the species we were most looking forward to seeing ourselves.

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To add some learning to your vacation, use your guide maps/road maps as a teaching tool. Show your kids how to use them and then encourage them to navigate while sightseeing. They’ll love it and won’t realize that they’re learning too!

A map is a visual representation of a place or of information about a place. The place could be small, like a room, or larger, like a house, neighborhood, city, state, country, planet, solar system, or galaxy. – North Star Geography, Lesson 1



As a Brand Ambassador for Bright Ideas Press we have received a complimentary copy of North Star Geography in exchange for our honest insights about how this program is working in real life with our family.

While sightseeing in the Galápagos, Cristina – our interpretive guide, pulled out a bandana map at each island we visited to point out each of the surrounding islands. In time, the kids were able to correctly identify each of the islands themselves not only by their profile but by their geographical orientation as well. They were so captivated by this experience that a bandana map was their top souvenir choice.

Now that we are home, the kids are looking forward to creating an interactive map with My Maps, one of many mapping tools provided by Google Maps. They have already begun to flag the photos they wish to embed and have begun to brainstorm their storyline.

Tips for building map skills:

  • Help your children find maps before you depart on vacation.  Take some time to look over them prior to departure or while en route to get the “lay of the land” before you arrive.
  • Identify the map’s title, legend, compass rose, and scale.
  • Help your child identify two points on the map and ask them to determine the best path to travel between the locations.
  • Document your travels using a map.  At the end of each day, highlight the route you traveled and mark the things you did and saw along the way. Consider using My Maps to create an interactive map that you can share with friends and family.


Bright Ideas Press has created a survey to see what kinds of geography products homeschool moms most want. They need their feedback no later than Wednesday, Nov. 26.

As a thank you, you will receive a freebie code for an audio workshop at the end of the survey. It’s called History and Geography Through Literature, a $5.00 value.

Bonanza! Gold Rush Experiences

These past couple of years, we have been immersed in a variety of field trips and experiences that have brought the Gold Rush era alive. The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James Marshall in Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California.  The gold-seekers, called “forty-niners”, often faced substantial hardships. While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the Gold Rush attracted tens of thousands from around the world.

At first, the gold nuggets could be picked up off the ground. Later, gold was recovered from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. More sophisticated methods were developed and later adopted elsewhere. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners.

Additionally, the Gold Rush also resulted in attacks on the indigenous people who were forcibly removed from their lands. An estimated 100,000 California Indians died between 1848 and 1868, and some 4,500 of them were murdered. The advances in mining technology also dramatically altered the landscape and ecosystems of Northern California.

Bonanza5Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

At Whiskeytown National Recreation Area near Redding, California, visitors can discover how pioneers/prospectors Charles Camden and Levi Tower reshaped the landscape to create a home for their families and an “oasis” for many travelers during and after the California Gold Rush.  If you plan to visit yourself, be sure to visit the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area website to download the activity guide for teachers and students.

In the past few years, we have enjoyed a tour of the Camden house, discovering the El Dorado Mine, and trying our hand at finding gold the old-fashioned way, using a gold pan in the creek. Each experience has provided us with a deeper appreciation for the hardships the pioneers endured.


Nevada State Museum & Carson City Mint

The Nevada State Museum and Carson City Mint, in Carson City, Nevada is an unusual museum in the sense that it seemed to have a little bit of everything. While other museums have a particular focus, this one had everything from natural history to guns. We enjoyed the coin mint exhibit and the mock mine the best – two special collections that set this museum apart from most.

Another exhibit we enjoyed was Finding Frémont: Pathfinder of the West, on display through spring 2015. Who was John C. Frémont? To some he was a villain, yet others see him as a hero and pioneer of Manifest Destiny who opened the West to settlement.  This was of particular interest to us because Shevlin Park, near Bend, Oregon (where we lived for nearly 10 years) was the location of the campsite of the Frémont Expedition on the fourth night of  December 1843.


Empire Mine, Grass Valley, California

The Empire Mine, the site of the oldest, largest, and richest gold mine in California, produced 5.8 million ounces of gold in its operating history of 106 years (1850-1956). George Roberts, the original discoverer of the gold soon sold his interest and by 1869 William Bourn Sr. owned controlling interest. The Bourn family maintained control of the mine until 1929 when it was sold to Newmont Mining. It ceased operation in 1956.

In 1975 the State purchased the surface property as the Empire Mine State Historic Park. The park contains many of the original mine buildings, the owners cottage and the restored gardens and grounds as well as the entrance to the abandoned and flooded shafts and tunnels.

We enjoyed walking around the grounds which include a club house for entertaining, extensive lawns with fountains, a reflection pool and gardens with a greenhouse, as well as the Bourne cottage. Living history is one of the main attractions of the park and it was certainly our favorite.

Volunteers in period dress recreated characters from Empire’s colorful past and led us on a tour of the two story home of William Bourn, Jr. Styled after the noble estates of nineteenth century England, the cottage was built in the late 1890’s. The architecture is distinguished by a remarkable redwood interior, leaded glass windows and massive granite walls.

Bonanza2Virginia City, Nevada

Virginia City, once a vital settlement between Denver and San Francisco, influenced the entire country. Virginia City’s mining proceeds amounted to millions of dollars, equaling billions today.

We recently had the chance to explore this picturesque, Victorian-era town and relive some of its colorful history.  As we strolled along the board sidewalks, we were able to peak into Old West saloons, visit a couple museums, and even don hard hats to explore the tunnels of an old gold mine. One of the highlights of our visit was the staged gun fight. While the Virginia City Outlaws Wild West Show is a comedy, it gave us a small sense of what it was like to experience gunfire in the street.

We also enjoyed visiting a couple of the pioneer cemeteries where nearly every plot is fenced or bordered, a typical practice of the Victorian period. Grave markers range in materials from wood to metal to cut stone. The inscriptions on the markers give silent testimony to the social and economic fabric of the area. Very few of the adults buried in these cemeteries were born in Nevada. The birthplaces noted throughout the grounds provide a glimpse of the scope of immigration and the makeup of the settlement that supported the Comstock mining industry.

There is so much to see here that you will want to stay a few days to take it all in. Perhaps you fancy a ride on a stagecoach, horse-drawn carriage, trolley, or the V&T Railroad steam engine train that crosses the high desert landscape dotted with old mines.

See America Project: Combining Art, History, & Geography

In the 1930’s, as part of the New Deal efforts to put artists to work, our government commissioned posters to showcase the country’s most stunning natural features under the banner, See America. These iconic images put thousands of artists to work, helped link our natural landscape with our American identity, and live on nearly 100 years later as celebrated works of art.

see america

See America

Artists & designers from all 50 states are now reviving the legacy by creating a new collection of See America posters celebrating our shared natural landmarks and treasured sites.

Inspired, I challenged the kids to create a See America poster of their own upon our return from Florida this past April. While it took some time to see this project through to completion, I am impressed with the final products.

My daughter created her “Mangroves n’ Manatees” poster with water colors. My son’s preference was colored pencil, choosing to title his “The Everglades“.


Everglades   Mangroves

The kids enjoyed the project so much that I am confidant they’ll want to do it again. Hopefully, we’ll finish in a more timely manner.

We happened to visit the Everglades but you certainly do not have to. You can incorporate the See America posters into any regional geography unit.

Ask students to research the flora and fauna of a natural area.  Alternatively, encourage students to research the historical significance of an area and highlight physical features prominently in their posters. You may also wish to assign a written report or ask students to give a formal presentation.

How We Use North Star Geography @EvaVarga.netIf you are looking for a high-quality and engaging Geography curriculum for middle and high school ages, I encourage you to take a few minutes to learn more about North Star Geography – the program we have been using this year.

My family is learning more about geography than ever before and the materials make my job as their teacher so easy! Please feel free to contact me if you have questions.


Top Pinterest Boards to Explore Cultural Heritage

What does the word heritage mean to you?  In can mean different things to different people.  Essentially, heritage can refer to anything inherited from the past.

In my mind, heritage is our ancestral culture. Our connection to our ancestors and our past. The traditions that are passed down with each generation.  The language of our great grandparents and our distant relatives today.

cultural heritage boardsToday, I would like to step away from my usual focus on science to share with you some of my favorite Pinterest Boards for exploring cultural heritage.  Amongst these diverse boards, it is my hope that you will find activities, lesson plans, and a wealth of resources to help bring your own ancestry to life.


Family History & Genealogy


American Culture


Faith Culture


Global Culture


Military Culture

How About You?

Do you have a culture, family history, or heritage board you would like to share?  Please read the guidelines here and then link up below.

  • Link up to 3 Pinterest boards. Make sure you use the exact URL to the board, not to your profile or index page. You can add any board sharing activities, lesson plans, and resources to explore cultural heritage. Posts unrelated to that will be removed.
  • Please no advertising, individual Pinterest pins, Facebook, Twitter, or other link-up links!
  • The linky will be live for one week (closing Thursday, July 24th at 6:00 EST).

Mysteries in Our National Parks

The Mysteries in Our National Parks series tells the heart-pounding adventures of brother-and-sisters, 12-year old Jack and 11-year-old Ashley Landon. Traveling with their mother, Olivia, a wildlife biologist, and their father, Steven, a nature photographer, the kids visit many of the country’s magnificent National Parks where they always seem to stumble upon a puzzle that only they can solve.

From confronting environmental challenges like the effect of snowmobiles in Alaska’s Denali park, speedboaters injuring manatees in Florida’s Everglades, or wild white mustangs in Utah’s Zion, the Landon’s adventures will keep kids on the edge of their seats while they learn about our country’s natural heritage and the role we all have in understanding and protecting it for the future.

mysteries national parks

In anticipation of our trip to Florida this past spring, we enjoyed reading Deadly Waters: A Mystery in Everglades National Park. Like all of the books in the series, it addresses environmental issues relevant to the location as well as provides a great description of the Everglades. Each chapter ends with a “cliff hanger” assuring the kids will want to keep turning pages.  Don’t just take my word for it, my daughter wrote her own review of the book on her blog.

Another book we have enjoyed in the series is Wolf Stalker: A Mystery in Yellowstone National Park. It gets off to a fast-paced start when someone shoots and wounds one of the wolves recently reintroduced into the park. Jack and Ashley accompany their parents to Yellowstone Park when Mrs. Landon is called in to investigate the incident.

Another theme that is woven into each story is that the Landons are a foster family. Each story introduces us to a child who is living with the Landons temporarily. The exact circumstances vary yet as the Landons integrate this young person into their family, their presence becomes crucial to the outcome of the mystery.

The series has pulled us in and we look forward to reading more as they become available. These exciting books emphasize the natural beauty and dangers of the wild while also incorporating a few survival tips.

Lessons and Activities

Skurzynski’s books work well for kids’ book club with each student reading a different title and sharing a brief synopsis. There are many activities that lend themselves well to mini-lessons. I share a few ideas here:

  • Learn more about the environmental issue addressed in the book – write an expository report
  • Research an animal (wolf, manatee, etc.) and design an informative poster
  • For older students, focus on one literary element (character, plot, setting, etc.) and together orally analyze that element
  • Find out more about the National Park Service. How long has it been in existence? What is its main purpose? What do you think it would be like to be a park ranger?
  • Research the history and physical layout of a National Park. Draw a map of the park and label the geographical features, park headquarters, or make an illustrated time line of the park’s history.
  • Visit the website of a National Park and explore some of the distance learning activities and lesson ideas.
  • Write a letter to a park ranger at a National Park to learn more.
  • Become a Junior Ranger at a National Park near you or become a Web Ranger.

Author Study

“May you live in interesting times.”  That ambiguous wish was not meant to be kind, because interesting times can be difficult. You and I certainly live in interesting times – dangerous, challenging, and fascinating. ~ Gloria Skurzynski 

Gloria Skurzynski is the author of more than fifty books for children and young adults, including Virtual War, a popular science fiction thriller series.  The Mysteries in Our National Parks series is a collaboration with her daughter, Elaine Ferguson. It is published by the National Geographic Society who wanted to reach out to young readers who might not be attracted to a straight, nonfiction presentation. Packaging facts into a fast-paced adventure has turned out to be a recipe for success. 


For more fun literature connections, visit the iHomeschool Network linkup, A Book and Big Idea: SummerBookBigIdeaSummer