The Story of Grace Hopper for Kids

Has your curiosity ever gotten you in trouble? Maybe you took something apart or made a mess while you were trying to find out how it worked, or maybe you’ve asked a grown-up a question they didn’t know how to answer. If so, don’t feel bad about yourself! You have something in common with some of the smartest and most innovative people in history, including the subject of today’s episode, Grace Murray Hopper. 

Grace was born and raised in New York City, and she was a very curious child. Her family had a large summer home, which they shared with her many cousins. Each of the seven bedrooms in the house had an alarm clock, and every evening, Grace’s mother would set each alarm clock. This was the early twentieth century, so these weren’t the kind of alarm your parents might have on their phone, or even a digital alarm clock. These were old-fashioned clocks with gears in them and two bells on top. When the alarm rang, a small hammer would go back and forth, quickly hitting the bells and making a loud, high-pitched ring. This kind of ringing was impossible to sleep through! If you imagine what an old-fashioned fire alarm might sound like, it would be similar to that. 

Grace was fascinated by the alarm clocks, and wanted to know how they worked. So she took one apart! But looking at the pile of gears, springs, and hands, in front of her, she still wasn’t sure. 

So she took apart another. 

Then another. 

Eventually, Grace took apart all seven alarm clocks, trying to figure out how all the tiny, complicated pieces worked together. Her mother wasn’t exactly happy about all the alarm clocks in the house being broken, but she was understanding, and she let Grace keep one clock to study.

Grace’s father also supported Grace’s curiosity. He encouraged her and her sister to get as much education as they could so they could support themselves. This was not common for girls in the early 1900s. Grace especially loved math and geometry. She used geometry to draw pictures. This is a fun way to use math – try to see what you can draw some time just using the basic shapes like circles, squares, and triangles. If you look around, you’ll notice these shapes, along with angles, lines, curves, and other things that can be described with numbers, in many things you see every day.

Grace worked hard in school, and was almost able to start college when she was sixteen! Why almost? Her test scores in math were very high, but her scores in Latin were too low. But, just as she had done with the alarm clocks, Grace didn’t quit trying after one failure. She tried again, and was able to start college the next year at seventeen. She graduated with degrees in math and physics in 1928. She went on to get a PhD in math at Yale in 1934. Eventually, she became a math professor at Vassar College.

When World War II started, Grace tried to join the Navy, which had just started accepting women. Her grandfather had been in the Navy, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. But the Navy wouldn’t take Grace! Their reasons for rejecting her were not what you might think: they said she was valuable to the war effort as a math professor; she was too thin for her height; and she was too old at 34. This shows us another important lesson: people often don’t say no to you because they don’t like you. They might say no because of rules they have to follow, or because you’re too important! Not a bad reason to be rejected, right?

But knowing Grace, you can probably guess that this rejection didn’t hold her back. She tried again. Grace took a leave of absence from her job as a professor and volunteered for the Naval Reserves. She had to get special permission due to her weight being too low, but she got to serve in the Navy and support the war effort, just like she wanted. Not only that, she was at the top of her class in the training program! The Navy sent her to Harvard University to work on the first computer made in the United States, the Mark I.

Grace worked on programming the Mark I to help the navy solve problems on their ships. Programming a computer means giving it instructions so it will do what you want it to do. You might be wondering why Grace was given a job programming computers. But, have you ever thought about why a computer is called a computer? Well, it’s because their original purpose was to compute things, to do complex math that humans can’t do quickly. The navy used the Mark I to help them track the location of enemy ships and submarines. It could perform math quickly, and never made mistakes like human mathematicians sometimes do. But, the Mark I did need humans to tell it exactly what math to do, and that was Grace’s job. 

Early computers were programmed using numbers and symbols. You had to understand a lot of mathematics to program a computer, which is why many early programmers like Grace, had degrees in math. Programming was complicated and it was easy to make mistakes, even for an expert. So Grace would save pieces of programs that did specific things so she could use them again in new programs. She also developed a system that allowed the computer to find these pieces of code without her having to input all of it again.

After the war, in 1949, Grace went to work at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. Here, she worked on Univac, the first computer in the United States to be sold to businesses for general purposes. This got her thinking about what people were trying to do with computers, and she realized not everyone could get their job done using only the language of math, numbers and symbols. Grace thought there should be computer programming languages that were based on the English language. This would make it easier for more people to learn to program and use computers to help them do their jobs. But, in order to create this kind of programming language, she also needed to invent the technology to translate English-based commands into the mathematical language that computers understood.

And that’s exactly what Grace did! She called her translator a compiler. If you want to imagine what a compiler does, think of all the word problems you’ve seen in your math books. You might have a problem like:

“Dan has seven apples. He gives three of them to Isaac. How many apples does Dan have left?”

The English words in this sentence give us clues about what kind of math problem we need to do. We know that the special words seven and three are numbers. We know if someone gives something away, they will have fewer of that thing. This gives us a clue that we need to subtract to find the answer. Once we think it through a bit, we can figure out that we need to write a math problem, “seven minus three equals” and then compute the answer. A compiler does something similar: it has a set of rules it uses to take the commands and translate them into numbers. The rules are more complicated than the subtraction word problem we just talked about, but the idea is similar.   

At first, the men Grace worked with thought this idea was crazy. But she kept working on her ideas for years, and eventually, others who worked with computers accepted them. Grace also reached her goal of inventing the first programming language based on English words, rather than numbers and symbols. This new language became known as COBOL. It was used for decades, and is even still used today. More importantly, COBOL inspired many other computer scientists to invent new programming languages based on human language to solve different types of problems. Today there are dozens of languages, and millions of people who learn and use them everyday. 

Later Grace returned to working for the Navy. After a long career, she reached the rank of rear admiral. At the time, she was one of the highest ranking women in the Navy. She retired in 1986 at the age of 80, but even after retiring, she continued to work. She was always eager to help young people learn about computers and programming, and aside from inventing the compiler, she said this was one of her greatest accomplishments.

Grace used to have a clock on her office wall. It was the kind of clock with hands that tick off the hours, seconds and minutes, just like the alarm clocks she took apart as a child. But this clock was unique: its hands went around in the opposite direction from other clocks. Instead of going clockwise, her clock went counter-clockwise! Even though the clock went backwards, it still ticked off the hours and minutes reliably, and gave the right time. 

Grace said this clock was a reminder that you don’t have to do things the same way everyone else is doing them. If you think you have a different or better way to do something, you should try it, even if others don’t understand at first. And as she showed so many times in her life, don’t just try once. Try over and over again until you get it! If you have a good idea and work hard to make it a reality, other people will eventually notice. 

Grace never gave up when she had a goal or a  great idea, even when others around her didn’t support her. She kept working on her ideas, and showing her work to others, until they had to listen, and, often, had to admit she’d been right all along! She knew that good ideas didn’t always fit the way people had done things in the past. They might even seem a little crazy at first. But without crazy new ideas we wouldn’t make any progress.

Sources

https://stories.vassar.edu/2017/assets/images/170706-legacy-of-grace-hopper-hopperpdf.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper

The History of Computer Science for Kids

What do you think about when you think of a computer?  Do you have a computer in your house or at your school?  What types of things do you do with it?  Have you ever wondered how it works?

There are many, many things you can do with a computer.  It can help you with homework, you can play games on it and you can easily find out information that you need, like where to order pizza. 

Computers are now so common in western countries that we sometimes take them for granted.  But computers weren’t always in homes and schools.  In fact not too long ago, people hadn’t even heard of computers. 

The first “computers” were ancient tools that were used to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Some early examples of this would be the ancient Chinese math device known as the abacus.  These older tools were in some way computers because they did what computers do: take information and turn it into logical operations.  Logical operations are instructions that someone gives a computer and it tells the computer what to do. Older tools still required humans to do things to make them work.  But modern computers use power and are able to be programmed to do things automatically. 

The first computer as we would think of one today was created in 1823 by a man named Charles Babbage in England.  Charles Babbage invented all the parts that are now used for a modern computer. He called the machine he was working on the “Difference Engine” but unfortunately he never finished it. 

Ten years later, another man named George Scheutz read about the “Difference Engine” and was excited about what Babbage had been working on. Together with his son Edvard, Scheutz began to work on a smaller version. Twenty years later, by 1853, the father and son had constructed a machine that could process 15-digit numbers and calculate fourth-order differences. This was very advanced programming for a machine at that time. 

Their machine won a gold medal at the Exhibition of Paris in 1855, and later they sold it to the Dudley Observatory in Albany, New York.  The Dudley Observatory later used it to calculate the path of the planet Mars.

One of the first business uses of a computer was by the Census Bureau in the United States.  It used punch-card equipment to count information for the 1890 census. A census is an official count of a group of people to get information about them.  It’s something governments do to learn more about people living in their country.

In 1911 the company who made that computer joined another company to start a brand new company.  In 1924, it became known as the International Business Machines or IBM.  It is still one of the largest and most famous computer companies in the world. 

The first computers were around the size of a large room. Isn’t it crazy to think a computer as small as the one in your phone that fits in your pocket used to be the size of a large room? 

The next changes came in the 1940s during World War II.  Alan Turing, a man who worked for the British military invented an electronic computer called Colossus. This machine was used to break codes used by the German army in World War II.  The Colossus computer was kept secret until long after the war ended, so Turing and others did not become famous for inventing this machine until later.

Computers in the 1950s, after the second world war had ended, were used for research on the design of wind tunnels and would do other different things, like generate random numbers or predict the weather.

By the 1950s, programmers were using languages to tell the computer what they wanted it to do.  At first this was written by hand and punched into cards and fed into the machines.  Later, computers were designed that could be typed on using keyboards.

As old fashioned as they were, these first electronic machines were quite useful in science and engineering. They were able to do math problems way faster than a human ever could. They were also used to guess who would win an election for president.  A machine called the UNIVAC predicted president Eisenhower would defeat his opponent in an election after only 7% of the votes were in.  The UNIVAC’s prediction was very close: it said Eisenhower would win 438 electoral votes, and he ended up with 442.

Computers continued to improve through the 1970s and 1980s.

Do you enjoy playing video games? The first two computers games made were called Asteroids and Lunar Lander. Have you heard of them? They were the start of a very popular hobby in America: playing video games.

Computers today can do all kinds of things.  They are literally a machine that takes what you put into it, and then gives you some information back. So you give it a command, just like you would give to your dog.  But instead of telling your computer what to do, you type into it or use a mouse or even talk to it.  And your computer follows the command to give you the result you want. These are pretty amazing machines when you think about it!

Computers today have something called a microprocessor that can do math very quickly. They also have a memory called RAM. This stores all the information you need when you’re not using it. They also have fans to keep them cool, otherwise they’ll get too hot.

People use computers every day at work, at school, and at home. Computers are used in factories to control how things are made and in offices to keep records. People also use computers for sending pictures and emails, researching information and all sorts of activities.

Computers and the things you can do with them continue to develop.  Just think about all of the changes that humans have seen to computers in the last 150 years.  We have gone from having no electric computers at all to having devices that we can carry around in our hands, called smart phones.  It is incredible when you think about the pace at which computers have changed and how they have impacted our lives.

None of the things you like to do on the internet or movies you watch and video games you play would be possible without computers. Without computers you wouldn’t be listening to this story! Computers are so amazing they seem like magic and we forget that someone had to design them. 

What’s really exciting is you can do this too. Kids of all ages have learned to design their own games and apps. This is called programming or coding. A free website to start learning to design your own games is called Scratch. It makes it very easy for kids to get started. Go to scratch.mit.edu to try it out. Some school and libraries have “code clubs” where kids learn how to program computers. If you’re interested in how your library can have a code club, too, a good friend of mine designed a way to make that happen. Visit prenda.co (spell out) to learn more about how your school or library can have its own code club. 

What would you do if you could design a computer to do whatever you wanted? Would you design a game or a cool app? The possibilities are truly endless.

Tim Berners-Lee and the Invention of the Internet for Kids

How are you listening to this podcast today? On a computer, a cell phone, or a smart home device like Alexa? Whatever device you’re using, it connects to the internet. The internet is central to so many things we do today, but have you ever wondered what exactly it is, or how it got to be what it is today? In this episode, you’re going to find out!

Our story begins in 1955 in London England with the birth of Tim Berners-Lee. Both of Tim’s parents were scientists who helped build one of the first computers in the 1950s, the Ferranti Mark 1. Tim enjoyed playing with model railroads as a child, and he learned a lot about electronics from this hobby. He went on to study physics at the University of Oxford in England, where he continued to tinker with electronics in his spare time, building a computer inside an old TV. He graduated with a degree in physics. 

Tim worked as a programmer for many years after graduating, and learned about many technologies along the way. Eventually, he got a job working at CERN, a European nuclear research agency. At CERN, Tim’s first job was to help people communicate over computer networks and use data stored on them in order to do their jobs. But Tim was frustrated to find that all these computers worked in different ways, so it was difficult to get them to talk to one another. Tim wanted to make it easier for people to communicate and work together using these computer networks. 

In the early 1990s, Tim Berners-Lee helped to invent not one, not two, but three key, related technologies that helped the internet become more widely available. He developed the “www” or World Wide Web system (you may have noticed this in website addresses); HTML, or HyperText Markup Language; and the first web browser. 

We’ll talk about each of these in more detail later, but before that, I should go over a few basic things about how the internet works. The internet actually existed before Tim Berners-Lee’s contributions. It’s just a name for a system of computers that are connected to each other — a network. Computers on a network can send and receive messages to and from other computers on the network, or to other networks There are two main types of computers that you need to know about to understand the internet: servers and clients. Servers store information like email or documents, and send or “serve” that information to clients when they request it. Clients are the computers that you and I use to go online. 

The details of this can get a little confusing, but Tim Berners Lee himself actually has a good way of describing the process. He compares it to a mail system. Say you drop a letter in the mailbox. Your letter is like the information you’re sending over the internet. The workers in the post office, similar to a server, look at the address on the letter, and decide where to send it next. That letter might go through a half dozen or more post offices on its way to your house, getting a little closer to you with each one. Eventually, the mail carrier drops it in your mailbox, which is like the client computer.  Unlike with paper mail, all this happens in the blink of an eye on the internet, although in the early days, it could take a bit longer.

Actually, in the early days of the internet, there were no webpages at all. The internet was mostly a tool for scientists to communicate with each other, and it was entirely text-based – no photographs, videos, or music. There were various computer networks in the early days. One of the first was called Arpanet, and it was created by the United States government. It had just four computers on it at first, all of them at universities or government research facilities.  These researchers used very basic tools like File Transfer Protocol to share documents, or simple email systems. 

Internet access expanded to the general public in the 1980s, but it was still far from the internet we know today. There were no viral tik tok dances, cat memes or Wikipedia. It was still used as a communication tool for people with technical knowledge. The systems they used were mostly text-based, meaning they had no graphics.

But Tim Berners-Lee and his three inventions would change everything. The early 1990s were a turning point in the development of the internet, the time when the web really began to look something like what we know today. 

Tim developed the first invention with his colleague at CERN, Robert Cailliau. The World Wide Web, or WWW, is the system used by servers — those computers where your websites are stored — to find documents on the internet. What I’m calling a “document” in this case might be a webpage, a photo, or a music or video file. In the WWW system, every document on the web has a Universal Resource Locator, or URL. That may sound like fancy techno-babble, but I’m sure you’ve seen one. It’s a web address, like www.bedtimehistorystories.com. These addresses can be used by anyone to link to any page on the internet, and they’re usually pretty easy to remember. The very first world wide web server was actually Tim’s work computer at CERN!

HTML is short for HyperText Markup Language, and it’s a computer language used to encode or “mark-up” documents so that a web browser can read and display them in a way that is easy for people to read and understand. HTML tags mark where specific elements of a document are. There are HTML tags for paragraphs, images, links, and most of the other things you would see on a webpage.  

Of course, in order to be useful for displaying web pages, HTML needed a program designed to read and display it. Tim also invented the first program to read and display HTML documents, which he called a browser. Today, there are dozens of browsers, like Chrome, Edge, and Safari, but the first one was called World Wide Web. Since CERN was not interested in paying people to develop web browsers beyond this, Tim encouraged the growing online community of web developers to volunteer their time to create a better browser. In 1993, the Mosaic browser was released by a team at the University of Illinois. Since then, this model of using volunteers from across the world has helped create many important web technologies and products. 

Finally, the managers at CERN made a decision that turned out to be very important for the future of the web: They decided to make Tim’s inventions open standards, meaning anyone could use them. This meant that people around the world could set up their own web servers and create pages using HTML, and they could link to any other webpage on the internet. Likewise, anyone in the world who had a computer and an internet connection could use a browser to view those pages. You didn’t have to be a computer scientist, or an academic, or even know what a server is. As a result, today there are:

  • Almost 2 billion websites on the internet
  • Almost 5 billion internet users
  • Around 7 billion Google searches per day
  • Around 7 billion YouTube videos viewed per day and…
  • Thousands of podcasts you can listen to at any time!

Tim Berners Lee saw a system–the early internet–that had a lot of potential, and came up with ways to improve it and make it vastly more useful for people all over the world. He has won many awards for his achievements: he was knighted by the queen of England in 2013, and won a prestigious computing prize called the Turing Award. He was the key force behind the modern internet, but he also made sure that anyone with the right skills could improve the systems he developed, which is what allowed the world wide web to explode in popularity and accessibility. He has continued to work throughout his life to keep the internet a free and open system that anyone can access.

Tim is a great example of someone who was curious and used his skills to design things that would be useful to other people. He liked to tinker, which means try out new things and play around with them, until they become a useful invention. And when he did design something that was useful he didn’t keep it to himself. He found a way that people all over the world could benefit from it. Considering others is important to do in all of our actions.

We hope you enjoyed this episode about the Invention of the Internet and Tim Berners Lee and be sure to tune in next Monday for a new episode.

History of Thomas Edison for Kids

Take a moment to cover your ears so you can’t hear anything.

How does it feel to not be able to hear anything? It would be difficult to know what was going on and to be able to communicate with others, right?

Tonight, we are going to talk about a very successful businessman and an inventor who on his twelfth birthday developed hearing problems and became completely deaf in one ear. Thomas Edison. 

Thomas Alva Edison was born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio. But, in 1854, his family decided to move to Port Huron, Michigan where he was raised.

Thomas was the seventh child and the youngest in his family. Edison was home-schooled by his mother. He attended public school but only for a short period. 

For whatever reason, Thomas struggled in school, so his teachers thought he wasn’t smart enough, so his mother decided to teach him herself. She taught how to read and write. 

Sometimes people who struggle in school don’t have problems, they just don’t do well in a normal school setting. This was the case with Edison and the genius Albert Einstein ran into the same problem.  

After a while, Thomas developed a love for books. He read a lot of books and taught himself on his own. As a child, he was amazed at technology and new inventions and started spending long hours working on experiments at home. 

He loved to tinker and try new things. He would try different ways to solve a problem until he figured it out. This is called “tinkering” and one way that inventors solve problems. 

When Thomas was 12 he became  completely deaf in one ear and developed a hearing problem in the second “ear” too.  

But what was at first a handicap, ended up being helpful to Thomas. His  hearing problem allowed him to concentrate on his work. 

Because he is not able to hear things properly, outside noise is not able to distract him from his work, and as a result, he went on to become one of the greatest inventors in history with 1,093 inventions!

When Thomas was young  he decided to sell candy, newspapers and vegetables on the trains running between Port Huron and Detroit.  

One day a young boy was on the train tracks. Thomas spotted him and pulled him off the tracks, saving the boy’s life. The train officials took notice and offered Thomas the job of a telegraph operator. 

The telegraph is a device that was used to send messages at distance using a wire before the telephone was invented.

Thomas was earning good money by the time he was 13, but most of the money went to buying equipment for his electric and chemical experiments. He had always been  very hardworking. 

He had also been  selling newspapers on the street and at 19, decided to work for the newspaper Newswire. He asked to work at night  so he could spend the day time hours on his  experiments and reading.   

Thomas was so into his work he even  did his experiments while working on the job. In one accident caused by sulphuric acid, he lost his job. Edison started his own company in October 1869. 

Next, let’s talk about some of his world-changing inventions..  

At the age of 22, Thomas invented an electric vote recorder, he also developed a multiplex telegraphic system, which could send two telegraph messages at the same time.  

Thomas’s most famous invention came in the year 1879 when he built his first light bulb. It took a very long time to figure out how to build the lightbulb and he had many technicians working on the project.

They tried hundreds of different materials until they found the best one for the lightbulb. This invention made him a very famous inventor across the world and even today many people know Edison for this invention alone. 

Edison was granted a right (known as a patent) for the motion picture camera known as “Kinetograph”. This was one of the first devices for watching movies. With this motion camera, Edison also had a  film studio made around 1,200 films.  

Some of the film’s names were:  Fred Ott’s Sneeze (1894), The Kiss (1896), The Great Train Robbery (1903), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1910), and the first Frankenstein film in 1910. 

Edison won several medals like Matteucci Medal (1887)-It’s an Italian medal given to a person who is an expert in the field of physics and the Edward Longstreth Medal in 1899 for the encouragement of invention. 

In 1890, he was chosen as a member of the famous Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

In the United States, there are buildings and bridges named after Edison, particularly, the town of Edison and Thomas Edison State University, both in New Jersey. 

There is a bridge in the state of New Jersey, Florida and Ohio named after Edison, all three are known as “the Edison Bridge”. 

Thomas Edison invented many things, but his work was not easy. On December 10, 1914, in the evening, a massive fire broke out in his laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey. Edison was called and  quickly rushed to his lab. 

The fire was so fierce that it burned more than half of the laboratory. It was very hard to put out.

Edison stood and watched his years of research work burn to ashes. Everyone was worried that Edison would not be able to recover from this shock. 

But instead Edison  peacefully walked over to his son and told him, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.”  

His son couldn’t believe it. Edison went on to say, “It’s all right. We’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish”

“Although I am over 67 years old, I’ll start all over again tomorrow.”  

True to his word, the very next day Thomas Edison got to work rebuilding the lab.

To do incredible things, we need to be resilient enough to bear disaster and setbacks. Resilience means to get back up when we’ve had setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do in life. 

We have to find happiness in every single thing that occurs. Because of  Edison’s positive thinking, he was able to start working again even with setbacks and create so many useful inventions. 

Edison’s life teaches us that everyone has challenges, but if we don’t lose hope and remain confident enough, we can move mountains. 

Remember Thomas Edison next time you have something difficult happen to you and you wonder if you can keep going.

History of Benjamin Franklin for Kids

Have you heard of a Founding Father before? A Founding Father is someone who helped start the United States of America. Benjamin Franklin was a Founding Father. Some have also called him the First American, because he had so many of the traits that would become known as American, such as hard work and independence. Independence is when you do something for yourself. 

Ben Franklin was born in Boston Massachusetts to a very large family. He had 17 brothers and sisters! His family didn’t have very much money so he only went to school for 2 years. But he did spend a lot of time reading on his own. He also learned to write and enjoyed doing it.

When he was young he worked for his older brother who was a printer. A printer would print newspapers and books for other people. Printing was important, because it was the best way to share an idea at that time. Printers would use little metal letters and build entire pages of words and sentences, then use black ink to make copies of the metal letters. Because Ben was working for his older brother he was called an “apprentice.” An apprentice is someone who is learning to become a master at a certain skill like printing. 

While Ben was working as a printer he also liked to write for the newspaper. He would use a fake name Silence Dogood to write in the newspaper. He pretended to be an old lady and wrote funny jokes. Many people in the town thought this was very funny and didn’t know it was Ben writing the jokes. 

After a few years Ben left his brother’s shop and started working for a new printer. His job was to set the metal letters in the big printing machine. He was also a clerk, a shopkeeper and a bookkeeper. He liked to stay busy and to learn all he could while he was working.

Around this time, when he was 20 years old, Ben formed a group including other Americans who also liked to read. Books cost a lot of money to buy, and there were no libraries, so Ben and his friends started their own library. They shared the books they read and met together to talk about what they read. Later in his life Ben would help start some of the first libraries in America because he knew reading and learning were so important.

After working for other printers for many years, Ben started his own printing shop. He wrote about his own ideas and used parts of the paper to talk about good morals. Morals are the things that are good to do in life — like being honest, being kind, not stealing and working hard. Ben made lists of what he wanted to do better each day then at the end of the day checked the boxes on what he did good at and made note of what he needed to do better. He believed improving each day was very important.

Ben was very interested in science and invention. He studied electricity. At the time no one had electricity, which means they had no lights or electronics like we do today. Ben saw lightning during a storm and guessed that it must be electricity. Sometimes when lightning hit tall buildings it started fires. Ben had the idea to put a metal pole on the top of buildings, so when the lightning struck the pole it would go into the ground instead of start fires. This invention was called a lightning rod. Many people think that Ben used a kite to discover lightning was electricity, but he really just wrote about the idea and someone else tried it.

Ben also invented a certain type of eye glasses called bifocals, which allowed someone to see differently depending on the part of the glasses they were looking through.

Ben also liked to play chess. He also created the first Fire Department and helped start some of the first universities in the United States.

Because of his newspapers and his inventions and other achievements Ben Franklin became very well known in America and across the ocean in Europe. When many Americans disagreed with England about taxes, Ben was on the side of the Americans who wanted change. He wrote about his ideas and even helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was a paper they wrote to tell England they wanted to be their own country and to be free.

A war began between America and England, so Ben took a ship across the ocean to ask for France’s help. The French people loved Ben Franklin. He liked to wear a fur hat and talk about science and his inventions. They thought he was interesting and fun to talk to. France ended up helping America fight and later win the war against England. 

In his new country, Ben helped put together the first Constitution. The Constitution was a list of laws to help the country stay together and work well. To the end of his life Ben did all he could to help make America a strong country. 

Earlier we talked about some of the morals, good things we should do, that Ben wrote about in his paper. Ben wasn’t a perfect person, like all of us, but he wanted to do good things. 

He wrote about temperance. Temperance is not doing too much of something such as eating. We need good food for our bodies, but too much of it isn’t always a good thing. We can usually tell by how our stomachs feel when we are eating.

He also taught about silence. Sometimes it’s good to speak up, but other times it’s better to listen and think about what we should say. If we don’t think before we speak, we often say things we don’t really mean.

Order means to think about what we are doing and have a plan. We shouldn’t spend all our time doing the same thing, but giving the right amount of time to each good thing.

Frugality means to be careful with the money that you have. It’s easy to want to spend all of your money, but it’s better to spend money on what you need and to save some. It’s ok to spend some of your money on fun things, but not all of it.

Industry means to stay busy doing useful things. Each day we can make a plan of what we want to do and then get to work. Having fun is good in its own time, but we should also spend time learning, helping others, and getting chores and other things done.

Justice means treating others well and doing our best to make things fair.

Cleanliness means we should take care of our bodies by keeping them cleaning, bathing each day, and brushing our teeth.

Like Ben, we can do our best to live by these teachings each day. You could even keep track of your goals like Ben did in his journals and checklists. You can also read and learn and come up with new ideas that will help other people like Ben’s lightning rod. You can also be courageous and stand up for good things like Ben did during the Revolution. 

History of the Transcontinental Railroad for Kids

Do you know what a train is? You may have seen one when your car was stopped and you had to wait to watch it pass. Or maybe you’ve even taken a ride on a train. Trains are extremely important because they move goods and people from one place to another and can do it very quickly. Railroads are one of the most important parts of American History, because the country is very big and they helped connect the East and the West.

Many years ago it took a very long time to travel from the East to the West. Most people had to take a boat all the way around the continent, a journey which took months to complete. Travellers could also take a wagon across the dangerous wilderness and tall mountains to get from one side of the country to another. Either way, it was a very difficult journey and kept the country separated in many ways. 

But in the 1800s gold was discovered in the West and many Americans moved there to try and strike it rich. But one major problem was how long it took to get to the gold. One man, Asa Whitney, believed a railroad could be built right through the the middle of the country. Many doubted this could be done, but Asa made a plan and went to the government with his idea, but at first no progress was made.

Later, an American named Theodore Judah decided to find a way to build a railroad across the country. He was a surveyor. A surveyor is someone who looks at the land with special tools and finds ways to build roads and buildings on it. Theodore had many good ideas about how the railroad could be built. He had to learn much about math and other sciences in order to design maps that could be used to make a path for the railroad. 

Eventually two big companies, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Central Pacific Railroad caught the vision of the railroad and decided to make it happen. They would call it the Transcontinental Railroad. Soon afterward one company started in California and the other started in Nebraska with a plan to meet in the middle. 

Building the railroad across the United Stated was a dangerous task and extremely difficult at times. They had to build tall bridges across wide rivers. To go through mountains they had to dig deep holes, then place gun powder in them and blow them up to create even deeper holes that went all the way through the mountain. Many smart engineers worked on creating a path for the 2000 miles of track that were being laid. Railroad tracks were laid by pounding spikes into railroad ties. All of this work was done by hand, by pounding each spike in with a hammer. This was very difficult work and many workers didn’t survive the hard labor. Americans of all different races and colors helped build the railroad. One group that did much of the work were Chinese immigrants. An immigrant is someone who comes from another country. Chinese immigrants worked long and hard for very little pay to help complete the monumental task. 

In 1869 after eight years of work the two companies met in the middle at Promontory Point, Utah. They threw a big party to celebrate the completion of the railroad. A gold spike had been prepared as the last spike in the railroad. President of the Central Pacific Railroad, Governor Stanford gave a speech then lifted a hammer to pound the last spike into the ground. But he swung and missed! The crowd burst out laughing. “He missed it!” They said. He swung again and hit the gold spike in. Everyone cheered! 

News of the finished railroad was sent by telegram to both parts of the country. When it reached New York and California they fired off cannons to show their excitement. It was truly an exciting time for the United States of America! A trip across the country that had taken many months now only took 10 days! The new Transcontinental Railroad was truly an engineer miracle of hard work and smart minds all working together to accomplish a common task.

History of Mars Exploration for Kids

Meet Mars Perseverance Rover

Watch NASA engineers prepare Perseverance for launch

Learn more about the SpaceX Starship for it’s 2022 Mars Mission

On certain nights, if you go outside and look up into the sky you may see a very bright light. It may look like a star, but if you’re looking at the right place and at the right time, you can see the planet Mars. Mars is special because it’s one of the closest planets to Earth. It’s also more similar to Earth than any of the other planets in our Solar System. It has a surface you can walk on. And with the right tools, people could someday live on Mars. Humans have always been interested in Mars and have explored in more than any other planet. 

Because of its color Mars is often called the “Red Planet.” It’s the fourth planet from the Sun and Earth is the third. Because it’s further from the Sun than Earth, it’s very cold on Mars. Like most planets, Mars is very big, but it’s about six times smaller than Earth. It has two small moons named Phobos and Deimos. The surface of Mars is rocky and covered in red-brown colored dust. It’s extremely cold and dry. There is no flowing water on the surface of Mars and no plants or animals live there. However, there is evidence that millions of years ago water flowed on Mars, but over time it froze or evaporated.

Even though there is no life on Mars, it has some amazing geographical features, which include a mountain and volcano called Olympus Mons, which is more than twice the height of Mount Everest and the second-largest known mountain in the Solar System. The Red Planet also has a gigantic canyon called Vallis Marineris, which is 10 times longer than the Grand Canyon and 6 times deeper. If it was on earth Vallis Marineris would stretch all the way across the United States.    

For thousands of years, humans have been interested in Mars. Ancient astronomers such as the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians and Chinese watched Mars in the sky with wonder. The Romans named it “Mars” after the god of war, because it was red, the color of blood. In 1877 when Mars was closest to Earth, the Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli used a telescope to draw a detailed map of Mars. As telescopes improved humans learned more and more about the Red Planet. They wondered if it had planets and animals like earth and they dreamed of visiting it someday. Science fiction authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined it having people and wrote adventures about what happened there in his book A Princess of Mars.     

The first attempts to explore Mars were made by the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. The Soviet Union was the name of Russia and other nearby countries at that time. They launched 9 different unmanned rockets in hopes of reaching Mars. Unmanned means no humans are on the rocket. Most of the first spacecraft never made it to the Red Planet, but the Mars 3 lander did land on the surface of Mars, and the Mars 5 lander landed and was able to send back some information before it stopped working. 

In 1964 NASA, the United State’s National Air and Space Administration launched Mariner 4 and Mariner 5 to learn more about Mars. The first spacecraft failed, but the second one made the 7 month trip to the Red Planet. When it arrived it took pictures from space and sent them back to Earth. It was the first time humans saw the surface of another planet! It was amazing! They saw craters and learned that living on Mars would be harder than they expected. More spacecraft were sent and took new pictures of Mars. With each visit, they learned more about our neighboring planet.

The next goal was to land a vehicle on Mars so it could take close up pictures and samples of the Martian air and dirt. Remember, that all of these spacecraft and landers were unmanned, they were robots and didn’t have people on them. They were all controlled by people on Earth. Sending a human to Mars would be much more challenging and dangerous. 

In 1975 NASA sent two more landers to Mars and called them Viking 1 and Viking 2. They landed successfully and sent back color pictures of the surface of Mars. They showed red, rocky land. The Viking landers also learned more about what life would be like on Mars.

Next came the Mars Pathfinder mission, which landed again and this time included a rover. A rover is a robot with wheels and arms that drives around the surface of the Red Planet. It can take pictures and samples of the dirt and air. Then it uses radio communication to send all of this information across space and back to Earth.

Other missions sent more probes to fly over Mars and take pictures. Then in 2012 the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars and took even better pictures and samples to prepare for future missions. 

While researching this episode, I learned that this month, July 2020, NASA plans to launch its new and improved rover called Perseverance . If it launches this month it would land on Mars in February and send back whatever it learns. One of the coolest things about the Perseverance rover is it will also have a small helicopter on it that will detach and fly around and explore and take pictures from the sky. 

Also, just this last week China launched its first spacecraft and lander to explore Mars. Mars exploration is really exciting lately! I’m look forward to hear what they find out next. 

The next big step with Mars will be sending humans to live and do research there. Elon Musk is a tech billionaire and visionary who has made sending humans to live on Mars the mission of his company, SpaceX. His goal is to send humans there by 2022. This is called colonization. It’s a big goal, but he and his engineers have accomplished amazing things in the past. He also started Tesla, which makes the famous electric cars.

In 2020 if SpaceX is ready, their mission to Mars would begin by launching their Starship spacecraft attached to their Super Heavy rocket. It would probably take 6 months to get from Earth to Mars, but the engineers at SpaceX are working to make it faster. Two more Starships would launch the same year. If SpaceX reaches the Red Planet they’ll have to be prepared to live there. First, humans will need oxygen, because Mars’s air does not have oxygen like Earth’s. They will bring some of their own oxygen and also use special machines to pull other elements like Carbon Dioxide out of the air and convert it into oxygen. They’ll also need water. One way to do this is to dig up the soil and extract water from deep in the ground or from frozen ice caps. They will also need to wear special suits because its air doesn’t protect them from the Sun’s radiation — and radiation is very dangerous to the body. The Red Planet is also extremely cold. Their homes and suits will need to keep them warm. These habitats will also have the oxygen and air pressure the body needs to survive. And  of course humans need to eat, so they will bring some of their own food at first, but if they want to live there for a long time they’ll need to figure out how to grow plants in Martian soil, so they can eat them. 

Many teams are already preparing for life on Mars by living in habitats in the desert on Earth. Living alone will be a challenge and all of the astronauts will have to work as a team and find ways to get along with each other. The goal to send people to Mars is a big one, but humans have done amazing things in the past as they think big and work together.

Would you like to visit a faraway place like the space station or the Moon or Mars someday? What kind of skills would you need to survive in a place like that? If so, what can you do now to prepare to explore like an astronaut or create new devices like the engineers at NASA and SpaceX? 

Building things requires a knowledge of math and science. It also requires creativity. There are a few ways you can develop these skills on your own and at school. Remember that even though subjects like math don’t always seem interesting at first, understanding them can give you the ability to do amazing things.

Also, teamwork is important to achieve big goals. All of the space missions require huge teams of engineers and scientists, mission control operators, and astronauts to get the job done. No one achieves these feats alone. Learning to be patient and get along with your friends and family members prepares to work well with others and on a team. This will be important for the rest of your life.     

And be sure to mark your calendar for July 30th as NASA prepares to send its next rover, The Perseverance, to Mars. 

Thanks for listening! Be sure to check out our website BedtimeHistoryStories.com to see our favorite books and movies about Mars exploration and a really cool video of NASA preparing its next Mars mission and SpaceX’s 2020 Mars mission. That’s BedtimeHistoryStories.com