Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates The Pattern Seeking Brain

The Human brain seeks patterns in everything.  This is why we see dinosaurs in clouds, faces everywhere, and even religious icons on irregularly burnt pieces of bread. Our minds seek patterns in color, number, sound, figures, and even events. At the 2009 World Science Festival, Bobby McFerrin demonstrates exactly this.  He uses an unsuspecting audience to prove that the pattern seeking brain can produce the Pentatonic scale, which is defined as a scale of five notes per octave.  Enjoy.


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The French Revolution(Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance) by The History Teachers

As far as educational video makers go, this team of teachers from Hawaii are the best.  Amy Burvall and Herb Mahelona became a team four years ago when Burvall was trying to find a way to make her classes more interesting and a light bulb went off.  She changed the lyrics to a popular song on the radio, enlisted Mahelona, and teachers everywhere rejoiced.

They have created numerous videos, all complete with sets, props, costumes, and wonderful singing by Burvall.  And just in case you were wondering, the average time it takes the pair to create these videos is three months.

WARNING: This song will echo in your head ALL DAY!!!

The French Revolution by The History Teachers


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I am Legend by Richard Matheson

And would you just look at that price!

If you really want to see an example of Hollywood completely trashing an excellent book, read I am Legend by Richard Matheson.  This small, 125 page book is probably one of the most frightening books I have ever read.  Written in 1954, I am Legend, helped give birth to the zombie genre by introducing readers to the idea of a worldwide disease that, instead of killing, alters the populace into something grisly and leaves them in to a supposed fate worse than death.

The premise is well known; last man on Earth defends his homestead and person from hordes of vampiric creatures.  The hero of the story is Robert Neville, whose character is a far cry from the strong, smart, determined scientist played by Will Smith in the 2007 movie.  Neville is immune to the disease, however he is cowardly, depressed, and a drunk.  During the day, as the hordes sleep and hide from the sun, Neville repairs his defenses, searches for supplies, and might kill a vamp or two.  But at night, he hides in his bathtub, drinks whiskey, and contemplates ending his stand and opening the door to his besiegers.

So what makes this so scary?  Well, unlike the movies, which did a total injustice to the book, as well as cut short the fear factor, the vampires are sentient.  That’s right, they know him.  They sit outside of his house and call to him by name.  The female vamps tease him by exposing their bodies and offering him sex if he comes outside.  His carpool buddy, Ben Cortman, talks to him and insults his cowardice.  They tell him over and over that it is a matter of time before his death.  Eek! is an understatement here.

Finally, Neville decides to do some research and figures out the nature of the disease and why he is immune.  As he is figuring all this out, he finds and captures an uninfected woman named Ruth.  And although Neville is suspicious of her nonviolent attitude toward the infected, they grow close and “do the deed.”

As Neville’s research continues, he convinces Ruth to allow him to draw blood from her and realizes that she (GASP!!!) is actually infected. Ruth knocks him out and vanishes, leaving behind a note that warns him that society has continued through the epidemic and a new world order is emerging.  Although still sensitive to sunlight and needing blood to survive,  civilization is reforming and see him as a threat that she was sent to investigate.  Neville is warned to run and hide as the new authority are coming for him.

Of course, he stays put and is captured.  Neville is taken to a prison.  He learns that the new society is scared of him.  He is the new, ultimate predator, the last living remnant of the old world able to function in the sun.  After being told he is to be publicly executed, Ruth visits him and reveals that she is actually an important member of the new society.  She tells him she was going to help him escape, but it is too late for that.  She gives him a pill that would “make it easier.”  Neville goes to his prison window and sees the crowd gathering for his execution.  He sees the fear in their eyes and accepts his fate, laughing at the irony that he is actually the monster under the bed.

“Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew he did not belong to them; he knew that, like the vampires, he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed. And, abruptly, the concept came, amusing to him even in his pain. … Full circle. A new terror born in death, a new superstition entering the unassailable fortress of forever.
I am legend.”  -Chapter 21

Neville takes the pills.  The legend dies.  How frightening.  This book takes the hero beyond worst case scenario.  There is no happy ending.  No puppies and rainbows.  No happy, fuzzy feelings.  Just “what if” thoughts that echo in the reader’s mind when the sun goes down.

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Posted by on August 15, 2011 in Books you should have read.


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Monty Python – The Galaxy Song

Wait.  What?  Monty Python is educational.  No way, you say.  But it’s true.  Aside from the drab British humor and historical mocking, Monty Python has used their immense senses of humor to bring the world this gem of astronomical education.  This three minute video is perfect for high school Science classes, although you may have to explain what the word “bugger” means.

Monty Python – The Galaxy Song

Fun fact: In 2010, SPACEX, a commercial space company launched a wheel of cheese into low orbit and brought it back down again in honor of Monty Python.


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The Animaniacs- All 50 States and Their Capitals

No really, are they cats or dogs?

Most of us older folks remember the Animaniacs as a funny after school cartoon packed with double entendres and silly antics from three adorable characters of ambiguous species.  Luckily for teachers, many of the skits were educational musical numbers set to catchy tunes.

The Animaniacs covered topics from Science, Geography, History, and English.  But you must be careful in use of Animaniacs material, it has very high potential for causing earworms, that’s the technical term for a song playing in your head.

The 50 State Capital song is perfect for both primary and secondary education classes.  The funniest part though, is when students take tests, you can see them mouthing the song to find the answer they are looking for.

The Animaniacs – All 50 States and Their Capitals.

And of course, here are the lyrics.  Enjoy.

And now Wacko Warner with the fifty US States and their Capitals,

Baton Rouge Louisianna, Indianapolis Indiana,
and Columbus is the capital of O-hi-o.

There’s Montgomery Alabama,
south of Helena Montana
then there’s Denver Colorado,
and Boise Idaho.

Texas has Austin
then we go north,
to Massachusetts Boston
and Albany New York.

Tallahassee Florida
and Washington D.C.,
Sante Fe New Mexico and Nashville Tennessee.
Elvis used to hang out there a lot, you know.

Trenton’s in New Jersey north of Jefferson Missouri,
You got Richmond in Virginia,
South Dakota has Pierre,
Harrisburg’s in Pennsylvania and Augusta’s up in Maine,
and here is Providence Rhode Island next to Dover Deleware.

Concord, New Hampshire, just a quick jaunte,
to Montpelier, which is up in Vermont,
Hartford’s in Connecticut so pretty in the fall,
and Kansas has Topeka
Minnesota has St. Paul.

Juneau’s in Alaska and there’s Lincoln in Nebraska
and it’s Raleigh out in North Carolina, and then,
there’s Madison Wisconsin and Olympia in Washington,
Pheonix Arizona
and Lansing Michigan.

Here’s Honolulu, Hawaii’s a joy
Jackson Mississip-pi
and Springfield Illinois,
South Carolina with Columbia down the Way,
and Annapolis in Maryland on Chesapeake Bay,
They have wonderful clam chowder.

Cheyenne is in Wyoming and perhaps you make your home in
Salt Lake City out in Utah where the buffalo roam.
Atlanta’s down in Georgia and there’s Bismark North Dakota,
and you can live in Frankfurt in your own Kentucky home.

Sa-lem, in Oregon, from there we join,
Little Rock in Arkansas,
Iowa’s got Des Moines
Sacramento California,
Oklahoma and it’s City,
Charleston West Virginia
and Nevada Carson City.

That’s all the capitals, there are!


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We Didn’t Start the Fire

We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel

When I was in grad school, it was a running joke that you could not pass the exit exam unless you could lecture for 15 minutes on any line in this song.  Being familiar with the song is a great way for students to be able to touch upon the major historical points of 1945-1989 in both American and World History, and honestly the catchy tune doesn’t hurt either.  The video was first created by Scott Allsop, who currently teaches at an international school in Egypt. From then on, this gem became one of the most shown (and remade) modern history educational videos.

For item by item explanations:’t_Start_the_Fire

For a lesson plan accompaniment:


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Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

     Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank was written in 1959 and is one of the first nuclear apocalyptic fiction novels ever published.  Written at a time when the Cold War was in full swing, the book demonstrates a very real fear, and the possible fate for our country.  Often used terms like “Mutually Assured Destruction” the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik a few years previous to the book’s release, only reassured the public that an atomic cataclysm was a possibility.   Looking back now, we see that we passed safely through the Cold War.  But to generations past, the threat of a nuclear strike was very real.  This book reflects that fear and gives us the first written word scenario of the future that could have been.
      Alas, Babylon takes its title from The book of Revelations 18:10.  Throughout history, this passage has been repeatedly used by clergy as a warning to great cities who were considered corrupt and sinful. The passage reads “Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come.”  And in this book, that is exactly what happens to the great United States.
     The book centers on a small Florida town.  The protagonist in the book, Randy Bragg, a former soldier, is fortunate enough to receive a day’s warning of an impending attack from his brother with high military clearance.  Bragg tries to warn the townspeople and goes about desperately preparing until the attack happens.  He buys supplies and gathers those he trusts to wait for the impending doom.
After the attack, when the dust settles, the town goes about wildly trying to gather supplies and money.  There is a rush on the bank and supermarket.  Convicts escape from a nearby prison.  Gasoline becomes scarce.  Tourists are trapped.  People are killed.  People commit suicide.  People try to leave town, only to never return or to return with horror stories of radiation sickness and lawlessness.  The town realizes that there is nothing left and nowhere to go.  Orlando and Miami are obliterated and their small town is now the safest place anyone can be.
      Bragg takes over and martial law is established.  Under his military leadership and training, the town organizes to find a way to survive.  People with fruit trees and gardens become important.  A neighbor with honey from his beehives finds that he is now powerful.  People begin to teach each other what little they know of food production, building construction, medicine, and so on.  The residents learn to fish, garden, and trade with each other for what is needed.  Small, taken for granted items, like needles, thread, safety pins, and soap become luxury items.  And although times become tough, the people of the town learn to coexist and come together to protect their town from the convicts and lawless men who are outside their boarders.
     Finally, a tentative government is reestablished in Colorado and Bragg is sent word that the people of his town can relocate to the new center of the United States.  Surprisingly, none of the citizens wish to leave their town.  It is decided that they know enough to give survival a chance where they are.  It then comes to light that the small town is the new center of civilization in Florida, as most of the state had been wiped out.
     This book is on the reading list for most high school juniors and seniors.  It usually coincides with American history classes when the curriculum moves into the Cold War era.  At 336 pages long, the book is a quick read and delves deeply into the survival aspect of what it would take to rebuild enough for people to survive.  Alas, Babylon is moving, detailed, and a bit scary.  The book is worth the time to read,  There are no well known actors on the cover, no Oprah stickers, no soon to be a major motion picture headers on the first page, but there are words there that will make you think.  And maybe make you wonder.  And hopefully remind you what it is to fall back in love with reading.
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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Books you should have read.


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