11 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Singularity to Anthropocene. Puppets to Drums…

Owls are featured heavily in mythology and folklore from around the world. Ancient peoples had many, often contradictory, views on these mysterious creatures.

Literature in translation to Rube Goldberg Machines. Singularity to Anthropocene. Puppets to drums. These are just a few of the community-based learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured community highlight this week:

In ancient Greece, the owl was sacred to the goddess of wisdom Athene, who favored the bird after it chased away the mischievous crow. Among the ancient Celtic people of the British Isles, the owl was known as “cailleach,” or “old woman.” Associated with the Crone figure from the Celtic Triple Goddess, the owl was seen as a psychopomp, or guide to the land of the dead. In “The World of Owls,” on Monday, July 9, 6:30-7:30pm, learn all about the natural and cultural history of the owl, including some of the ways that this bird has been misunderstood. This presentation is appropriate for children ages 6 and above. Westhampton Public Library. 1 North Road, Westhampton, MA (FREE)


Over 60 years ago, “the book Charlotte’s Web first appeared in print. This children’s classic is often seen as a story of a spider and a pig. But when E.B. White recorded a narration of the book, he said something different: “This is a story of the barn. I wrote it for children, and to amuse myself.” NPR did a piece on Charlotte’s Web in 2012 when the book turned sixty. Listen to that segment on Morning Edition here in “Some Book! ‘Charlotte’s Web’ Turns 60.” After listening to this NPR segment, you might find yourself wanting to hear more of the author reading this classic tale. Here ya go!

Saturday, July 7, 11am
“Some Pig.” There is a lot of wisdom in those two simple, famous words. E.B. White’s classic 1952 novel Charlotte’s Web explores the profound themes of life and death and the end of innocence in an accessible, gentle manner, which speaks to children as much as adults. Part of the novel’s enduring popularity is its realism. White refuses to shy away from challenging ideas, but in so doing, he creates characters that can truly reflect our thoughts and feelings. How do we struggle through the complicated aspects of life? Acceptance, White suggests. New and old fans of Charlotte’s Web won’t want to miss this live musical adaptation of White’s story, set in the 1830s. For more information and to order tickets, please visit The Charlotte’s Web Experience. Old Sturbridge Village. 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA ($$)

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You may be familiar with the concept of a “Rube Goldberg Machine,” a complex machine designed to indirectly accomplish a very simple task. These clever devices use simple mechanical parts to work together, creating a domino effect. You might think of a ball that rolls down a ramp, which lands in a cup of water, which turns a wheel, which winds a spool of thread, which somehow lights a candle after six more steps. These machines are named for Rube Goldberg, a 20th century cartoonist, who became famous for depicting such contraptions in his comics. One such example was “Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin.”

CBS Sunday Morning shared, “The popular board game Mousetrap is an example of a “Rube Goldberg“-inspired machine, a contraption that contains elaborate mechanisms with a vast array of moving parts to perform a simple function. Mo Rocca visits the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, where less is never more.” See the full coverage in this video, “Rube Goldbert, the father of inventions”:

Friday, July 13, 5:30-6:30pm
If you are fascinated by these ingenious and silly inventions, don’t miss this Rube Goldberg Machine Workshop, for children ages 5 and above. Sunderland Public Library. 20 School Street, Sunderland, MA (FREE)

Experiment with chain reactions this summer when your family is cooped up inside on a rainy day! Dominoes, popsicle sticks, and Rube Goldberg Machines are three easy ways kids can learn about the concepts of chain reactions while have much fun to construct and setting them off! Read more in our post, Science & Fun of Chain Reactions.

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Anthropocene, an unofficial geological era that covers the last century or so, in which humanity has made massive progress… have you ever heard of it? Crash Course writes, “We’ve discovered the Higgs-Boson particle, and awesome electric cars, and amazing smartphones. So all this collective learning and progress has been good for everyone, right? Maybe not. [In this video] we’ll look at some of the pros and cons of all this “progress,” including environmental impact, changes in the way people live and work, and political changes and wars that come along with the modern world. We’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go. Crash Course will also take a look at what’s going to happen in the near future. If we manage to make our way through the coming bottlenecks, we could be OK in coming centuries.”

For more information about this unofficial geological era, check out www.bighistoryproject.com. “What is Big History? Big History examines our past, explains our present, and imagines our future. It’s a story about us. An idea that arose from a desire to go beyond specialized and self-contained fields of study to grasp history as a whole. This growing, multi-disciplinary approach is focused on high school students, yet designed for anyone seeking answers to the big questions about the history of our Universe. The Big History Project is a joint effort between teachers, scholars, scientists, and their supporters to bring a multi-disciplinary approach to knowledge to lifelong learners around the world.”

Saturday, July 7, 1-3pm
Celebrate the interdependence of all life on earth with an afternoon of giant puppets, live music, meditation, and lots more! As we continue to move deeper and deeper into the Anthropocene, the first geological epoch defined by human activity, it’s becoming crucial that we understand how our species is dependent on other forms of life and aspects of the natural world. Humanity is not separate from nature. This realization demands that we reconceptualize our role in the ecosystem. Following the parade and live performances, Western Mass Climate Action Now will be leading a series of discussions around how we impact climate change and how we may be able to mitigate some of its most dire consequences. Don’t miss the third annual Interdependence Day Celebration! Pulaski Park. Northampton, MA (FREE)

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An interest in studying astronomy can develop from an interest in mathematical calculation, or a simple appreciation for the beauty of the sky. Observing the stars can be an act of scientific or spiritual curiosity or both. To experience astronomical phenomena in real life, visit a local observatory or planetarium in Western MA!  The Milham Planetarium at Williams College in Berkshire County, the Seymour Planetarium at the Springfield Museums in Hampden County, and the Bassett Planetarium at Amherst College in Hampshire County all offer planetarium shows and other learning experiences to visitors.

Here is an archived episode of the Hilltown Family Variety Show from ten years ago that celebrates National Astronomy Week through music and story:

Friday, July 13, 8:27pm
Calling all amateur astronomers! The 36th annual Connecticut River Valley Astronomers Conjunction is coming to Northfield Mountain, July 13 and 14! This event is one of the largest gatherings of amateur astronomers in the area. Join with other stargazers to learn about important news impacting the world of amateur astronomy, talk to others about their experiences, attend slideshows and presentations, and, of course, lots of stargazing. Participants will also have the opportunity to try out some of the most cutting edge telescopes available. Observation sessions will begin each night at sunset. Registration required. Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center. 99 Millers Falls Road (Route 63), Northfield, MA ($$)


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Interest: Quantum Physics

“Imagine a two-dimensional world — you, your friends, everything is 2D. In his 1884 novella, Edwin Abbott invented this world and called it Flatland. Alex Rosenthal and George Zaidan take the premise of Flatland one dimension further, imploring us to consider how we would see dimensions different from our own and why the exploration just may be worth it.” — Exploring other dimensions – Alex Rosenthal and George Zaidan, TED-Ed

Madeleine L’Engle’s classic 1962 new adult fantasy A Wrinkle in Time was very nearly unpublished. The book was rejected by 26 publishers and L’Engle was dropped by her agent. A chance encounter at a tea party with a friend of John Farrar, from celebrating publishing house Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, finally led to the book’s publication. The book immediately won some of the highest honors in the children’s literature industry and has never been out of print since its first publication. A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of a young girl, who finds herself caught in the middle of a cosmic battle between good and evil. Drawing on L’Engle’s love for quantum physics, the novel presents a powerful critique of conformity and authoritarianism and offers an imaginative vision of the universe, in which all things are possible.

Monday, July 9, 5:30-7:30pm
East Longmeadow Public Library will be offering a free screening of the film A Wrinkle in Time, based on L’Engle’s novel. Pizza will be provided! Registration required. East Longmeadow Public Library. 60 Center Square, East Longmeadow, MA (FREE)

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Value: Natural-Based Learning

Known to the indigenous Algonquian peoples as “The Place of the Concealed One,” Mount Washington features some of the most intense weather in the world. It once held the world record for surface wind speed and regularly features wind chill temperatures of up to -100 degrees Fahrenheit. In 1940, Charles Brooks wrote an article for Appalachia magazine, in which he described Mount Washington as “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.” While this claim is certainly exaggerated, the meteorological forces at work on this mountain are absolutely noteworthy. Want to take a nearby field trip? The 18th annual hike-a-thon happens July 20-21 in New Hampshire. Details at seekthepeak.org.

Monday, July 9, 6pm
At an upcoming presentation in the upper Pioneer Valley, Mount Washington Observatory’s Will Broussard will be discussing some of the factors that contribute to powerful weather of Mount Washington. Greenfield Public Library. 402 Main Street, Greenfield, MA (FREE)

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In folklore, what is a trickster? According to CrashCourse, “tricksters are, well, tricky. They’re wise and foolish, they’re promiscuous and amoral, but in a lot of ways, they’re good guys.” In this video, host Mike presents the first in a series of trickster stories in mythology, starting with Anansi, the West African trickster god who is also sometimes a spider, then sharing the story of tricky Hercules and Atlas, and more recent tricksters like B’rer Rabbit.

Wednesday, July 11, 1pm
The Puerto Rican trickster character Juan Bobo appears in dozens of folktales over the last two hundred years. Like many trickster figures in folktales from around the world, Juan Bobo is a fool and is constantly getting into trouble due to his innocence and naivete. In one famous example, Juan Bobo’s mother tells him to clean up the pig, to fetch a higher price at market. Juan, misunderstanding her instructions, instead dresses the pig up in his mother’s best clothes and puts lipstick on it. However, Juan Bobo’s misadventures often demonstrate important life lessons. Over the years, the Juan Bobo stories have been interpreted in a variety of different contexts, for example, as a representation of indigenous resistance to colonial oppression. Holyoke Public Library will be hosting a retelling of some of the most famous Juan Bobo stories through puppetry! Holyoke Public Library. 250 Chestnut Street, Holyoke, MA (FREE)

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Technology is changing faster and faster. In fact, some futurists believe we are rapidly approaching the “singularity,” the moment when technological advancement will have accelerated exponentially to the point that technology becomes something greater and more profound than we could ever currently imagine. We may not yet be at that point but it can still be challenging to keep up with all the latest gizmos and gadgets. In this Cosmology Today video, Neil deGrasse Tyson interviews Ray Kurzweil on this phenomenon who predicts the exact year of 2029 when singularity will occur:

Tuesday, July 10, 1pm
Tech Topics at the Westhampton Public Library offers support for community members who want to learn about how to use technology more efficiently and effectively. This session will discuss using bookmarks and flashdrives. Westhampton Public Library. 1 North Road, Westhampton, MA (FREE)

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Interest: Film Studies

Wednesday, July 11, 7pm
The Beatles-inspired 1968 film Yellow Submarine was an enormous success when it was first released. It’s psychedelic images, catchy music, and whimsical plot have continued to make this film a great hit ever since. The song “Yellow Submarine, on which the film is based, was originally written as a nonsense song for children but immediately inspired a wide variety of social and political interpretations. Come celebrate the 50th anniversary of Yellow Submarine with a special screening, this Wednesday! This is a great opportunity to see this classic film on the big screen, with full surround sound. Amherst Cinema. 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA ($)

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Drumming is one of the most ancient human cultural practices. In fact, drumming may even predate our development as a species. Several other primates, including Macaque monkeys, and even rodents such as kangaroo rats, use drumming as a method of communicating a wide variety of coded social messages. Some of the oldest drums have been found in China, dating back to the Neolithic era, around 5000 BCE. These drums were made with alligator skins, and like the origins of most drumming traditions, had their roots in traditional shamanic rituals.

“Many modern musical instruments are complicated pieces of machinery with many moving parts. But the cajon is simply a drum and a stand and a seat all in one box. Paul Jennings explains the history behind the cajon and how it has become one of the most versatile and popular percussion instruments in the world today.” – Rhythm in a box: The story of the cajon drum – Paul Jennings (TED-Ed)

Thursday, July 12, 3pm
Learn about the ancient and joyful universal human tradition of drumming at a special drumming workshop for teens and tweens. Participants will be able to try out several different kinds of drums from all around the world. East Longmeadow Public Library. 60 Center Square, East Longmeadow, MA (FREE)

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Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Ashfield, Bernardston, Chester, Chesterfield, Conway, Erving, Heath, Holyoke, Montgomery, Pelham, Rowe, Russell, Shutesbury, South Hadley, and Springfield Cultural Councils, local agencies that are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Photo credit: (cc) Manjith Kainickara

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