Thursday, January 31, 2013

Happy Groundhog's Day-February 2nd

Happy Groundhogs Day on Saturday!

As we approach Groundhogs Day, I began to think why do we focus so much on the tradition of pulling a groundhog out of his warm burrow only to see if he sees his shadow? Poor little guy!
Of course you know the tradition-if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks. But do we really believe groundhogs can predict the weather?
Of course not! But traditions are important. Groundhogs Day, while a tradition in the United States,  stems from similar beliefs associated to Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe. On Candlemas Day, the custom was to have clergy bless candles and distribute them to people and it marked a milestone in the winter months. And so the weather on that day was very important. Here is the old English song that describes the day:
According to an old English song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
As I was researching for this post, I found myself thinking about what it must have been like to live without accurate weather predictions and forecasts. I don’t know about you, but the weather report is the first thing I turn on in the morning. I can only imagine during the time when the tradition of Candlemas was important, people must have been trying to find something that would give them hope as they looked forward to winter changing into spring. How many of you are hoping it is cloudy on Saturday?
Of course the tradition of Groundhog’s Day can also be connected to science! I know on Friday or Monday teachers will be engaging children in conversations about the day and will even be cutting out pictures of groundhogs, but I encourage teachers to add in something different this year! Have some fun with shadows!
Shadows in Ancient Times!
Love the shadow created by my outdoor candle holder!
Did you know that early mathematicians and scientists used shadows to learn more about the world? Eratosthenes, the famous mathematician, used shadows to find the circumference of the Earth. Ancient Egyptians believed the shadow was part of a human’s soul. They also used shadows to keep time. Shadow puppets were created 2000 years ago when a minister thought of the idea of using shadow puppets to cheer up the Wu Emperor of the Han Dynasty when he lost his desire to lead.
Changing Shadows!
Here is a fun activity to do with your children that shows how the relationship between the sun and the earth can change shadows.
Go out in the early morning and on a driveway or a parking lot, have the children stand so their shadow is created behind them (let them figure it out!). Have someone trace his or her shadow and mark the time. The children can even measure the length of their shadow.
In a couple of hours, have the children go outside again and repeat the process. They should try to stand in the same spot. Again, have them measure the length of their shadow.
Do this one more time and then compare the measurements. As the students compare the measurements over the day, ask them if they notice any changes? They should see the shadows get longer as the day goes on. Here is the reason why-this might be a little complicated for little ones, but older students should get it. It all has to do with the  relationship between the sun and the Earth. As the Earth rotates on its axis, the light reaches us at different angles. This makes shadows become longer as the day goes on.
You can plan on shadows being a family activity on Saturday here in the Flannagan household! Here is hoping for some sunshine! 
graphics from scrappin doodle.

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