Mathematician of the Month – Newton


‘There is no great genius without a touch of madness,’ so they say. And Isaac Newton, supposedly the greatest mathematician (and physicist and scientist and natural philosopher) Britain has ever produced, was no exception.

In a way, it is his uncle who is to be credited for giving the world one of the most brilliant scientists of all time. Newton’s uncle noticed that Isaac was very poor at farming – his traditional family occupation – and hence persuaded his mother to send him to college for higher studies. Not many know that one of the greatest ambitions of Newton’s life (which was unfortunately left unfulfilled) was to get his hands on the philosopher’s stone (yes, the same Harry Potter one) which contained the secret to turn common metals into gold.

He is credited with numerous contributions. He is credited for laying down the foundations of classical mechanics, through his book ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’. It was he who came up with the laws of motion (planetary and otherwise), universal gravitation, calculus and the rules of color and light. And he did so much more, things which cannot be enumerated here due to lack of space (and effort, since the list seems endless).

And remember there was a tree under which he was sitting, when an apple fell on his head? Well, apparently, that tree is real. A piece of the same old iconic apple tree was even loaned by the Royal Society to NASA who took it into space. This is the sort of real-life stuff fairytales are made of!

How to Come up with a Great Science Fair Project Idea and What to do with It

For wannabe scientists, science fairs are great opportunities to get some hands-on experience with the process of scientific research. Small fairs can be loads of fun for scientifically-inclined kids, while the bigger ones come with generous university scholarship funding or internships for winners. Here’s how you can come up with a great science fair project idea and make the most of it.


Choose a Good Science Fair Project Idea

  • A “good” science fair project idea is one that interests and challenges you. Never mind if it’s something completely new and untried – you will grow as a scientist only by delving into unexplored territories and learning more along the way. You are most likely to find you enjoy an area you might never have picked otherwise.
  • While a complicated-looking project does not guarantee success, topics that are too easy – “What types of glue are the strongest?” – are unlikely to impress the judges unless you are going to study the molecular structure of each type of glue. However, in most cases, a student who knows his topic well will win over a student with poor presentation skills.
  • No matter what topic you choose, make sure you focus on a specific aspect that can be completed within a year. For instance, instead of working on ways to reduce global warming, focus on reducing or mitigating one cause of global warming and you’re more likely to make progress in it.

Spend Time on Background Research

Once you choose your topic, you’ll need to spend sufficient time researching the background and collecting data. This data is the backbone of your science fair project – it is the basis on which you will be building your project and the importance of collecting and understanding this information cannot be emphasized enough.  Background research helps you formulate a hypothesis, create a streamlined procedure; maybe even avoid some of the problems that might crop up during your project and definitely help you save time in the end.  The more time you spend understanding your topic, the more accurately will you be able to predict what might happen.  It will also make it easier to analyze your results and arrive at a detailed conclusion. This is the real purpose of background research.

Do not be disheartened if your data seems to difficult to decipher – some concepts need to be reread several times before you can make sense of them – the best way is to start with what you do understand and work your way upwards. Do not let unknown concepts frighten you into giving up on the science fair project idea; one of the most important reasons for doing a science project is to learn new things.

Presentation Matters

You can maximize your chances of winning by learning how to communicate your science fair project idea well.

  • Prepare a short spiel (2-5 minutes) summarizing your key findings and the theory behind the project – you will have to give this speech when you meet the judges, so keep it short and succinct.
  • Make a list of questions the judges are likely to ask you and rehearse the answers. Ask your parents, siblings or friends to pretend they are judges and practice explaining your project in simple layman terms to them.
  • If possible, create easy-to-understand graphs and diagrams on your display board and point to them during the discussion.
  • Be audible and confident while answering questions – DO NOT MUMBLE! If you do not know the answer, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
  • Always ask for feedback from judges and visitors to improve your project and come up with a better idea next time.

Hope this helped!

Mathematician of the Month – Napier

Logarithm 1Well, what is this ‘log-in-a-rhythm’ up to? And what does this have to do with our celebrated Scottish mathematician of the month – John Napier? A lot, actually. It is this Mr. John Napier who is credited with making an incredible contribution to the field of mathematics, in the form of the invention of the mathematical concept of ‘logarithm’.

John Napier

A logarithm can be defined thus: It is a quantity representing the power to which a fixed number (the base) must be raised to produce a given number.

Didn’t get it? Well, in simpler terms, it is a method by which relatively complicated mathematical calculations involving multiplication and division can be replaced by the simpler mathematical processes of addition and subtraction to arrive at the required result. This process of simplification of large calculations paved the way ahead for many scientists of yesteryears (and is even helping them now!), leading to significant advancements in the fields of science and technology.

As with a majority of the other eminent scientists and mathematicians, Mr. Napier also led a crazy smart life of sorts. He was seen as a virtual recluse – roaming around in his nightclothes according to his whims and fancies, muttering all the while to himself. For some reason unknown to the world, he always carried around a black spider in a small box kept in his pocket.

Legend has it that once upon a time Napier suspected that one of his servants had started stealing from the estate. In order to nab the culprit, he devised a clever plan – a black rooster (that, on a brainwave from Napier, was brushed with black soot), which allegedly was blessed with the power of divination, was kept inside a shed. Each of the servants was asked to go inside and touch the rooster in question, which would eventually come up with the name of the thief. The servants did so; and as expected, one of the fellows that went in came out clean-handed and was rightly proclaimed the thief!

It is said that Napier considered the subject of mathematics more like a hobby; he enjoyed it immensely (It fails me how anyone can enjoy maths and my kids take after me – I have to put in a huge amount of effort just to get them to do their math worksheets… Phew!). . The first time he set foot in a school was at the age of 13 years. But soon he dropped out and not much of his life is known till at the age of 21 years, he bought his own castle in Scotland (aaah, if only wishes were horses, beggars – like me – would ride!). Today, it is a part of the prestigious Edinburgh Napier University.

Theorems in spherical trigonometry (maths that deals with the relations of the sides and angles of triangles), Napier’s bones (a multiplication tool using a set of numbered rods) and extensive books on logarithms are just some of his contributions to astronomy and dynamics, in addition to other areas of physics. Hats off, Mr. Napier!

DIY Reading Games for the Classroom as well as Home

Kids are never tired! They are always looking for new opportunities, new tricks, and new mischief! Why don’t you channelize the bundles of energy with these reading games that are fun, exciting, and challenging too?

Phonics Flip Book

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When children start learning their letters, the sounds that they make, and they themselves start blending the sounds, it’s time you made a phonics flip book for them. Follow the easy steps below to come up with this nifty tool.


  • Spiral bound index card book
  • A pair of scissors/paper knife
  • Tape
  • Marker/s

It’s ideal to divide the flip chart into three sections for three letter words but you can go ahead by splitting it into four sections to help early readers with their consonant blends.

Cut out the number of sections you want with a sharp paper knife and label each index card with a letter from a-z. You can also add a section for vowels in the center or for common consonant blends like fr, sc, sl, etc. if you’re making the flip book for a little older children.

The objective of a phonics flip chart is not to spell out words impeccably but be able to sound them out perfectly. So if you r child makes a word from the flip book such as ‘SL-I-N’, don’t discourage them, instead appreciate their effort to sound out the imperfect word! Consider blinking the lights when your child sounds out a real word!

Tape the perforations to ensure the flip book lives for long!

Leftover Plastic Easter Egg Cups

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What do you do with leftover Easter egg plastic cups? Here is a novel way of putting them into good use.


  • Plastic Easter eggs (one for each word family)
  • Permanent marker
  • Baking pan
  • Sand

Before you begin prepping for the game, have the kids count the number of Easter egg cups you’ve got in hand; it’s never boring to sneak in a little counting lesson, you see!

Write a word family on the pointy side of the egg cup like, am, in, ed, at, etc. On the other side, write letters, spaced out from one another, that will make both a perfect and an imperfect word when connected with the word family.

Now comes the fun part! Spread a thin layer of sand on the baking pan; the layer should be thin enough to allow finger-writing on it.

Hand over an egg cup to the child and have her make a word from it. If she makes a perfect word, she gets to write that word on the pan of sand! Isn’t that exciting!

Science Games to Teach Environmental Awareness

When you think science games, it is often physics games that come to mind. After all, any game that is built with a physics engine serves as a great physics game. They’re fun to play, and they help students understand concepts such as acceleration and conservation of energy. Angry Birds and Portal are great examples of fun games that are used to teach physics to students.

However, science games are about a lot more than physics. There are great science games that teach nearly every science topic, from how the body fights cancer to how pollution forms in the environment. That’s right, you can teach your child to look after nature without even sending them outdoors. Here are three great science games to teach environmental awareness to kids.

Sim City Zoningsim city 4 Zoning and Roads” by haljackey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

  1. SimCity EDU: Pollution Challenge

In this game, kids take on the role of a mayor along with all the city-planning and decision-making that comes with the position. The focus is on keeping pollution levels to a minimum while also ensuring that all other aspects of city life function smoothly. While SimCity may not be a science game, kids who play it come to realize how various factors contribute to the pollution level of a city. They understand how pollution-control measures can be put to effect in a practical way to reduce negative impact on the population. This game is a great way to take environmental issues out of textbooks and show kids how they affect everyday life. Playing this game is likely to make kids more conscious about how simple decisions can make a difference to the health of the environment.

  1. Citizen Science

This science game was conceptualized by Kurt Squire when he realized that there were lakes in downtown Madison that people couldn’t swim in. In Citizen Science, players try to find out why the local lake is so polluted by traveling through time and collecting evidence. They meet various characters responsible for the pollution of the lake and build strong arguments to convince them to change their behaviour. They use various scientific tools to conduct research about the pollution in the lake, and learn a great deal about lake ecosystems. They also understand the long-term effects of pollution on the environment. Eventually players must change the course of history and prevent the lake from becoming as polluted as it was before the quest.

  1. Web Earth Online

This is a great science game that lets kids understand what life is like for animals living in the wild. Players choose what animal they would like to play as, and then go about their life trying to survive in the natural environment. They must deal with natural climatic conditions as well as the threat posed by predators. Web Earth Online is a multiplayer game – players interact with each other as friends or foes depending on which species they belong to. Players are sensitized to the struggles faced by animals and are likely to be more thoughtful towards animals in real life after playing this game.

Mathematician of the Month – Babbage


To the humble PC that is displaying this text as I type it, Charles Babbage is its father. A British mathematician and engineer, Charles ‘Father of Computers’ Babbage was very picky about his Math. In fact, he even wrote to Lord Tennyson (apparently some sort of famous poet) and asked him to correct the lines of his poem ‘Every minute dies a man, Every minute one is born’ to ‘Every minute one and a sixth is born’. Of course, he was refused.

Having come into a lot of riches courtesy his dad, he spent all his money inventing rather exciting gadgets including the speedometer and the cowcatcher, which kept cows with wander lust off the railway track. Indubitably, his greatest invention was the calculator. The first one he ever invented was called the ‘Difference Engine’.

The British Government, sold on the idea of this Difference Engine, gave him £1 million so he could build it. After 11 years of trying and trying, Babbage gave it up for a better idea. Furious that their money was wasted, the government refused to give him any more. Not to be deterred, he continued on as before because, well, he was rich!

The Difference Engine version 2.0 was going to be bigger and better. It could do more than just add and subtract. It would be able to do multiplication, division and also printing. Babbage envisioned that the new machine would use similar technology to that of carpet making looms. Unfortunately, he died before the machine could be built.

In 1890, an American guy by the name of Herman used Babbage’s ideas to build a much simpler machine. If his name sounds familiar, it is because he went on to found International Business machines aka IBM. However, it wasn’t till 1944 that the machine of Babbage’s dream was built. The first calculate needed 10sqms to house it and it weighed 30 tons! The Science Museum in London built a model of the original Difference Engine in 1992. That one was only 2 meters high and over 3 meters long. Can you imagine what owing a computer those days would look like? Yikes!

Sound of Language

Teaching phonetics and the right pronunciation is important in English language classes because English is a non-phonetic language. Words are not written the way they sound. Pronunciation also differs based on whether the words are nouns, verbs or adjectives. Think ‘photographer’, ‘photography’ and ‘photographic’ where the stress on syllables varies. Learning to pronounce words correctly and understanding the different ways in which words are pronounced can help kids communicate better. While children practice phonemes in an early age, it need not stop at that.

You can teach your child pronunciation with English games and various other methods. Here are a couple of ways that will help children learn this aspect of the language.

Phonetic Symbols

Create a board with your child with different phonetic symbols that are commonly used in dictionaries. These symbols represent the various sounds. Knowing these symbols will make it easy for kids when they are learning vocabulary and will help them to simultaneously pick up the right way to pronounce these new words. You can also refer to the International Phonetic Association Symbols.

Dictionary Focusdictionary focus” by Chris Dlugosz is licensed under CC BY 2.0


This is an old classic when it comes to teaching the correct pronunciation. Kids can learn standard pronunciation followed by any country by following the local news channel. These are free from local dialect and will train children to pick up different sounds and intonation.


Movies are a great way to train children in listening to different accents and understanding them easily. To make it more interesting, ask children to try and emulate the accents so that they become more aware of how the way they shape words changes. They can also try delivering the same dialogue using different emotions to see how it affects the way words are sounded.

Mime ArtistMime Artist” by Paul Hudson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Tongue Twisters

Remember the scene from My Fair Lady where Professor Higgins works on improving Eliza Doolittle’s pronunciation with tongue twisters? Tongue twisters are an effective way to improve pronunciation and fluency. Kids enjoy tongue twisters and you can ask them to start slow by paying attention to the way each word is pronounced and once they get that right, they can increase the speed.

Here are a few tongue twisters that you can try –

“She sells seashells by the seashore.”

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

My Fair LadyMy Fair Lady poster, 1964” by Laura Loveday is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Betty Botter bought some butter but she said this butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter. But a bit of better butter will surely make my batter b etter. So she bought a bit of butter better than her bitter butter and she put it in her batter and her batter was not bitter. So t’was better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter.”

Apart from these, you can include exercises where kids have to read along with a recorded tape and try to match it as best as they can. You could silently say a word and looking at the shape of your mouth, kids have to figure out the word. These exercises will help your child become more comfortable with the sounds of the English language.