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PlaygroundEquipment Blog
Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Solar Eclipses, and How to Watch Them


As some readers might know, there is a solar eclipse that is set to take place over North America on August 21, 2017. If you are reading this after that date, don’t worry—There will be more! In fact, eclipses generally happen at least twice a year, once in the spring and once in late summer. But this particular eclipse is special for a few reasons. It is the first total eclipse to occur over the mainland United States since June 8, 1918.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon moves in front of the sun, blocking all or part of it from view for observers on earth. A total eclipse, in which the moon completely blocks out the sun, is a rare occurrence that few people ever get to see. Most eclipses are either partial or annular.

Partial Solar Eclipses are the most commonly observed. These occur when the moon passes over part of the sun, blocking out some of its light. This makes the sun appear to be a crescent shape, much like the moon looks when the earth is blocking most of the sun’s light from it.

Annular Solar Eclipses are similar to total eclipses, in that the moon moves directly in front of the sun. However, the moon is not always the same distance away from the earth. This is why it appears to be larger on some nights than others. If the moon is directly in front of the sun, but too far away from the earth to block out its light completely, an annular eclipse is formed. When this happens, the moon blocks out the center of the sun, leaving only a bright ring of light visible around its edges.

Total Solar Eclipses are the hardest to see, because they require the moon to be directly in front of the sun, and also close enough to completely block it out. When this happens, certain areas of the earth will experience complete darkness for several minutes. To observers in these areas, it will appear as if the sun has completely disappeared (much to the terror of unknowing ancient civilizations).




Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Beginner's Guide to Indian Food


photo by qasic (flickr)
One of the perks of living in the United States is the availability of food from other cultures. In any major American city you’ll find Italian, Chinese, Thai, and Mexican restaurants, all within a few miles of each other. But one of the great, and perhaps underappreciated, styles of cuisine out there is Indian food. Indian restaurants are spread all over the country, often small family-owned places slotted between two other stores in a strip mall. Most people are afraid to give these places a chance, which makes some sense. Indian food is renowned for its use of strong flavors and spices, and if you’re not familiar with it you risk ordering a meal you won’t like. That risk is compounded when you’re also taking a chance on a restaurant that you’ve never been to before. However, when those strong flavors are blended together just right they can make some of the most diverse and interesting foods in the world. For all the ‘risks’ associated with Indian food, there is even more reward. This guide is meant to help those who are new to Indian cuisine determine where to start.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Secret Life of Trees


photo by: Shiela in Moonducks (flickr)
photo by Sheila in Moonducks (flickr)
Trees are such basic and common things that we rarely give them a second thought. They are simply part of the landscape; not living things but backdrops and habitats for living things. It’s easy to forget that they are not only alive, but keeping us alive. In this blog post I will be exploring some questions about trees that seem so obvious that most people have probably never thought to ask them.

What is a tree?

This one seems obvious, but before you skip ahead think about it: what qualities do all trees have in common, which they do not share with other plants? If it has to do with their leaves, then what about pine trees? If it has to do with their size, then what about tiny bonsai trees? If it’s about having a trunk with bark, then what does that make palm trees? Merriam Webster defines a tree as “a woody perennial plant having a single usually elongate main stem generally with few or no branches on its lower part,” which seems like an adequate description until you start to ask yourself what makes a tree different than just a really tall bush. Even this broad and unspecific definition is not without exceptions. For example, the plants which bananas grow on are called trees despite having no wood or bark. Surprisingly, there is no comprehensive rules that determine what is and is not a tree. The truth is that ‘tree’ is just a general word that we use to describe a certain shape and style of plants for the sake of convenience.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Benefits of a Second Language

Photo by: states4hexchange (flickr)

More and more schools across the country, and across the globe, are requiring students to obtain foreign language credits in order to graduate, especially at the high school and college levels. These requirements are often met with criticism from both parents and students: why force someone to learn a language that they may never end up using? A person can easily go through life knowing a single language, especially since it often seems like most people in the world speak English anyway.

It is easy to simply imagine a second language as being a tool which may or may not come in handy in certain very specific situations. However, the benefits of having another language at your disposal may pale in comparison to actually learning one; in this case, it just might be about the journey rather than the destination. If schools were only meant to impart practical skills, why teach art, or literature, or calculus rather than how to fill out tax forms? Like any of those subjects, the study of language is more about expanding the ways that students think and view the world around them than it is about the memorization of particular facts.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lyme Disease Info and Tips

Photo by: U.S. Department of Agriculture (flickr)
Most parents and guardians already have a long mental list of things to worry about when keeping children safe. One thing that might not appear on that list, or at least not very high up on it, is tick bites. Unfortunately, in recent months there has been a significant surge of Lyme Disease, a bacterial disease carried by ticks, which can cause serious and often permanent health problems if left untreated. Experts have predicted that this trend will continue, and 2017 may be one of the worst years for the disease yet. The purpose of this blog entry is not to cause undue panic or add to anyone’s list of worries, but to spread some helpful information about Lyme Disease, how to avoid it, and how to identify an infection quickly if one occurs.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Seven Types of Plastic and What to Do with Them

Photo by: Lisa Risager (flickr)
Pollution is bad. Recycling is good. These are statements that most people would agree with by now. But recycling isn’t always that simple, especially when it comes to plastic. It seems like plastic is in just about everything we use these days, in one form or another. But what makes the plastic in a phone different than the plastic in a shopping bag? If they seem like entirely different materials, it’s because in many ways they are. Plastics can be mixed with different additives which change their properties. This allows them to fill a range of different purposes, but also affects how they should be used and disposed of. Some plastics cannot be recycled normally, and some can even be toxic if used improperly. It is often impossible to tell what is in a piece of plastic just by looking at it.

Luckily, the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) has devised a quick way to tell different types of plastic apart. Plastic products which can be recycled will typically have the universal recycling symbol somewhere on them. But what many people don’t notice is the small number in the middle of the three arrows. This number, ranging from 1 to 7, is called the RIC (Resin Identification Code). It tells you what group the plastic belongs to, what chemicals have been added to it, and what should be done with it. This guide should help illuminate the important differences between the seven categories of plastic.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Grammar Check, Correct, Click, and Post

Photo by Brad Fults (Flickr)
As a former journalist and current writer, I’m passionate about correct grammar and spelling. After all, I’m a former elementary school spelling bee champion and once placed sixth in the state. But enough bragging, in this age of digital and text communication, does good grammar and correct spelling matter? We’re seeing that it does.

The U.S. Department of Education’s misspelling of W.E.B. Du Bois in a tweet and then its botched apology caused laughter and eye rolling among many people in both political parties. When I was working as a journalist, I got calls when I had a typo in my story or even worse, when there were typos in our headlines, (and there were). Typos and misspellings show a lack of attention to details as well as a “we don’t care what this looks like” attitude, even if you really do care and just did not have time, or the mistake just got through. (Which sometimes happens. Nobody’s perfect.)

Disruptive Communications asked 1,003 UK consumers in 2013 what they hate most about brands they follow in social media. The top answer was spelling or grammar mistakes, which 42.5 percent of consumers said bothered them. Gender did not make a difference either, as 38.9 percent of men and 39.6 percent of women said it bothered them.

A Harris poll conducted for dictionary.com’s 2015 Grammar Gripes found even higher percentages in the U.S. That poll found 74 percent of people between 18 and 34 were irritated when the found a mistake on social media, and 65 percent said improper grammar was their biggest pet peeve.

But bad grammar doesn’t just erode confidence and reputation. It can also have an impact on sales. A 2011 study found grammar and spelling errors reduce online sales by half. http://www.bbc.com/news/education-14130854 Bad reputation and eroded confidence has turned into lost money, and that’s something that speaks to everyone.

So what can you do to correct your grammar and spelling? Running spelling and grammar checks on everything you write can help, but they don’t catch everything. If you misspell a word but that misspelling is still a word in itself, spell check won’t catch that. It also doesn’t catch some grammar errors or plain awkward wording. Lifehack has some great reasons why we shouldn’t just rely on spell check to fix all our errors here.

So the next time your children ask why they must know the difference between a noun and verb, adjective and participle and how to use a semicolon tell them it could cost them in money and reputation. People are watching to see if grammar is used correctly. Good communication can mean the difference in many circumstances.

Resources:

Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Thursday is National Toothache Day...Let's try not to celebrate it!

Photo by BRENDA MICHELLE (Flickr)
Thursday (February 9) is National Toothache Day. While this is not exactly a day to be celebrated (I do not want a toothache at any time), it does serve as a reminder for how important dental health is in both children and adults.

The origins of National Toothache Day remain shrouded in mystery according to timeanddate.com but the guess is it was a dentist who started it, and he or she probably had good reason to. According to the World Health Organization Oral Health Fact-sheet, 60 to 90 percent of children and 100 percent of adults have dental cavities. However, in the United States only 52.4 percent of adults in the United States reported visiting a dentist every six months in 2014, 15.4 percent reported visiting once every year and another 11 percent reported visiting once every two to three years. That means 21.2 percent of adults had not visited a dentist in at least three years, according to the American Dental Association Patient Statistics.

More than that plan on continuing that trend as well, as 22.9 percent of adults indicated they are either unsure or definitely do not plan to visit a dentist in the next 12 months. The top reasons for not going include cost (which 40.7 percent of people said), not needing dental care (at least, that is what they think, at 32.7 percent), and not having time to get to the dentist (which 14.7 percent of people said) according to numbers from the ADA.

Children are getting slightly better treatment, as 83 percent of children in the United States aged 2-17 had at least one dental visit in the past year. However, 17.5 percent of children aged 5-19 years have untreated tooth decay 27.4 adults had untreated tooth decay.

Untreated tooth decay can lead to a number of problems. A personal friend recently had all of his teeth surgically removed. He had not been to a dentist for three years and his mouth was too far gone to save. He is getting dentures, but the process will not be cheap. Without insurance the costs of the procedure would have exceeded $10,000.

Even though that is an extreme situation, it does prove the idiom in this case that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". I have personally skipped dental appointments before and it only leads to more pain and cost than I would have otherwise incurred had I just continued regular dental appointments. Keep in mind I do brush my teeth regularly.

The chart in the Action for Dental Health: Bringing Disease Prevention into Communities from the ADA shows the cost of preventive measures versus the cost of more extreme options when prevention is taken. It is obvious that although prevention may cost money, foregoing it can cost more.

The lesson learned is to take the time to see a dentist, keep your teeth taken care of, and make regular appointments. Yes, it takes time, and it can take money, but the consequences can be worse. Try not to neglect home care including brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day as recommended by the ADA. A clean dental bill of health is possible, but not if you do not see your dental provider. If you do not have a dentist, ask your insurance provider or use the Mouth Healthy directory to find an ADA member dentist near you.

Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cyberbullying: A Real Problem and How-To Minimize a Child's Risk

Photo by J_O_I_D (Flickr)
Playground bullying is still a problem in most schools and areas today, though there have been plenty of efforts to stop it, like this video (https://www.stopbullying.gov/videos/2012/02/playground-for-everyone.html.) However, a new study shows parents are more concerned about cyber-bullying than traditional playground bullying, and their concern is based in some fact.

Just as a refresher, cyber-bullying is loosely defined as any bullying that happens online. It can take many forms including insulting text or instant messages, identity theft and assumption and posting disparaging comments and pictures on people’s social media profiles.

In a new study by cyber-security firm Symantec (Children are 'more likely to be bullied online than in the playground', parents claim) nearly half of parents, or 48 percent, said they believed their children were more likely to be bullied online than on the playground. Not only does this reflect the changing times that we live in, the fact that I’m writing about this area to you on an online blog should be one indication, but this is a concern that should and is being addressed.

More than 75 percent of parents in the survey said they thought children were more exposed to online bullying than they were five years ago. Some of the numbers back that up. More than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online and about the same number have engaged in cyber-bullying. http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html

Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or on the internet as well. Statistics from the Cyberbullying research center show that the last three years have seen the highest rates of cyber-bullying, though the rate has gone down from its high in 2014.

However the study also said despite these concerns more than a quarter of parents allow internet access to their children before 6 years old. Though at the same time 70 percent said technology should be used to monitor their children’s online experience.

There are simple things parents can do minimize their child’s risk of online bullying. Those include knowing your child’s online habits and not introducing them to the online world too early. It also means checking their online communications at times, either yourself or through a friend, and maintain open lines of verbal and in person communication between yourself and your children. Encourage your children to tell you if they think they or someone they know are being cyber-bullied and tell them you will not take their technology away if you think they are.

The delicate balance you need to reach with your children is to know what they are doing online while still respecting their privacy. If you try to pry too much, your children will not trust you and think you are trying to creep in on all parts of their lives. Always let them know you respect their communication and value their judgment, and are just trying to make sure they are safe. As an adult you have more power to do something about it if bullying happens than they do, and that is one reason parents need to be aware.

Cyber-bullying will probably be a problem as long as there is an internet, but taking simple steps can help prevent it from happening to your child or stopping it cold once it starts. Check out more cyber-bullying and traditional bullying resources at stopbullying.gov.

Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Five Steps to Making Recess Fun for Everyone

Photo by will kay (Flickr)
When I was in elementary school, I thought recess was unplanned spontaneity. We went out and played on the swings, jungle gym, bars and slides. Some of us played kickball or baseball or whatever was in season and some came up with their own games and scenarios out of their own imagination. I really didn’t think there was a plan to anything, just let the kids play and if they get into a fight stop it before it gets too serious and someone gets hurt.

But I’ve found out recently through my time as an education reporter and my work here for playgroundequipment.com that like most things, recess takes a certain amount of planning and commitment to pull off well. From planning who those supervisors of recess will be to giving children plenty of options I’ve found there’s more than meets the eye to an unstructured time of play, and the CDC and Shape America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, agree. They recently released their Strategies for Recess in Schools report.

Children are supposed to get 60 minutes of play a day according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and recess is an important part of that. The report recommends at least 20 minutes of recess a day, but I remember mine was closer to 45. It goes on to list five general steps for making recess a success in any learning environment and gives 19 specific ways to implement them.

The first is to make leadership decisions. This basically boils down to deciding what kind of recess you want, putting policies in writing and training people to meet those policies. This makes sense because without a vision, anything can go off the rails, even an unstructured time of play.

The second is communicate and force behavioral and safety expectations. In other words, make sure everyone knows your vision and what it takes to keep kids safe while playing and train your employees and supervisors accordingly.

The third is create an environment supportive of physical activity. When your students get to recess, make sure they have something to occupy their mind and body so they have the most productive recess possible. This includes both indoor and outdoor recess. I know when we had indoor recess in school, there was not a lot of physical activity involved, and this report offers some suggestions to remedy that.
The fourth is to engage the school community to support recess. This includes establishing roles and responsibilities and getting children involved in planning recess. This is an interesting concept and one I wish I had when I was in school. Asking children their ideas and then listening is a great way to make sure recess is a time everyone enjoys.

The last strategy the report mentions is gathering information on recess. This means following physical activity and tracking student performance because of that. Everyone needs proof that something is working, and recess is no different. If it isn’t working, it needs to be changed, right?

Those are the strategies the CDC and Shape America recommends, and the report is worth a read. It goes into much more detail than I have room to hear and will only take about 15 minutes. However, it offers some great suggestions for bringing some order to the chaos and keeping recess fun and rewarding for everyone.

Learn about the author: Parker Jones