History of the September 11 Attacks | 9/11

Saturday will be 20 years since the attacks that took place on September 11th, also known as 9/11. We call it 9/11 because 9 represents the 9th month of September and it happened on the 11th day of September in the year 2001. If you are younger, many of you may have not been born yet, but you may have heard about 9/11 from your parents or others who were alive during that time. I was alive during that time and it’s a day I know I will never forget.

Each year that September 11th or 9/11 has come around, maybe you’ve wondered why your parents, teachers, the news and so many people talk about that day. On 9/11 an attack took place in the United States in New York City against the Twin Towers. As you may know, New York City has very tall buildings called skyscrapers. It’s one of the many things that make New York City a famous place. I’ve seen the skyscrapers there and been to the top of two of them and they are amazing! The Twin Towers were two identical-looking towers that for a time were the tallest buildings in the world at 1,776 feet with 110 floors each! 

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the attack was carried out by a terrorist group called Al Qaida who was angry at the United States and wanted to Americans harm. These terrorists had been planning the attack for a while and their plan was to hijack (which means takeover) two passenger jets and then fly them into the sides of the Twin Towers. Al Qaida is an Islamic extremist group, which means they have strong beliefs attached to their religion and often behave in violent ways to protect and spread their religion. They were led by a man named Osama Bin Laden, who had been planning the attacks from the country of Afghanistan.

During the morning of September 11th, many people were working at the Twin Towers, but no one expected the attacks when they happened. After the planes crashed into the buildings and started fires, firefighters and police rushed to the towers and climbed the stairs to help people get out. Fortunately, many people were able to get out of the towers thanks to the help of the many brave firefighters who risked their lives to save others. 

As you can imagine, the fires inside the towers made them very hot. Towers are made with steel beams and steel is very strong but when it gets too hot it melts. Tragically, this caused both towers to collapse, which means fall down. Many of the firefighters who had rushed into the building were still inside, along with people who were working in the buildings. It was a very sad day for the United States and for people all around the world who had family members and loved ones inside the buildings and on the passenger jets. The Twin Towers, also known as the World Trade Center, was a place where people from all over the world worked and visited.

During the morning, two other passenger jets were taken over and also crashed. Flight 77 went down into the Pentagon, a military building in Virginia. Flight 99 went down in the countryside of Pennsylvania. Many believe this passenger jet was headed to the White House or the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. but the brave passengers were able to stop the terrorists before it made it all the way.

Do you know where the President of the United States was on the morning of 9/11? He was in Florida visiting an elementary school. President George W. Bush was reading the classroom a story when he found out about the attacks. Immediately, he rushed off to meet with his advisors and help deal with the attacks. It was hard to know at the time how many planes there were and where they were attacking, so it was a distressing time for everyone trying to help. The President ended up speaking to the news and to the world from the elementary school before leaving.

The rest of the day of 9/11 and the days following were very sad and difficult for everyone affected by the attacks. There was also a great feeling of patriotism and an outpouring of love for the city of New York and those who had been affected. New York started cleaning up the fallen towers and people visited the sites to leave pictures and flowers and other objects that reminded them of the loved ones they had lost.

In response to the attacks, the United States military sent soldiers into Afghanistan to seek out the terrorists and groups allowing terrorists to live there. Many battles took place between the American troops and extremist groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaida. Eventually, more soldiers were sent into Afghanistan to fight these groups and money was spent to try and create a stable government to avoid more terrorist groups who might threaten the United States again. If you’ve heard of the War in Afghanistan this is that war and one of the reasons it took place. There was also a war in the nearby country of Iraq which is some ways was related to the attacks on 9/11. As you can tell, the aftershocks of September 11 lasted far into the future and even today if you consider the number of people affected. 

Back in New York City, it took 9 months to clean up the fallen Trade Towers. In their place, they built a memorial to honor those who had died. Two years ago my wife, daughter, and I had the chance to visit New York City and go to the site where the Twin Towers once stood. Visiting the 9/11 Memorial is a very emotional experience. The design of the memorial is two large pools low in the ground where the towers once stood with waterfalls pouring down into them. The names of those who were lost are inscribed around the pools. There are many green trees and it is a peaceful place but also a very sad place. The pools in the ground represent the holes left in the hearts and lives of those who lost loved ones on 9/11. Nearby is a 9/11 museum now worth visiting and not far from the former towers is a huge new tower called the One World Trade Center. Some people said we shouldn’t build a new skyscraper because it might just become the target of another attack. But most people wanted to build a new tower to show that even when they are attacked they will start over, rebuild, and not be intimidated by those who would do them harm. This is what the new One World Trade Center represents, the resolve and determination of a city and nation that will continue moving forward even when tragedy strikes.

At the site of the destroyed towers President George W. Bush spoke to a crowd of rescue workers and said: “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

Take some time to think about what it means to continue on even when things in life are hard. 9/11 is a time to remember people who were lost in the attacks. Take some time to learn more about what happened on 9/11 and the people who were lost or affected. With the help of your parents, you can watch videos and look at pictures that may help give you a better understanding of what happened and of things like the memorials and the new Trade Tower. If you click on the link in the episode’s notes I’ll include some pictures of our visit to the memorial and New York.

History of Cleopatra for Kids

Egypt was home to one of the most powerful civilizations of all time. They built the gigantic pyramids that are still standing today. They were led by a king, who they called a pharoah. They believed he was a god and worshipped him. They used advanced math, astronomy, created a system of writing, their own paper and were able to farm the land and build on a massive scale. Their armies were powerful and dangerous and controlled all the land in Northeast Africa for thousands of years! It can be hard to imagine just how long Egypt was in power compared to countries today, but it was much, much longer than British Empire was in power or the United States has been a global power, for example. 

But over time other civilizations became powerful. Eventually, it was the Greeks under Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great was a skilled military hero, who conquered lands all across the Medeterranean and eventually took Egypt. From this time forward Egypt was controlled by the Greeks. When Alexander the Great died, one of his captains named Ptolemy became the new King of Egypt or Pharoah. Ptolemy and his children ruled Egypt from the city of Alexandria for many, many years. And this is where our story about Cleopatra begins. 

Cleopatra was born 69 BCE in the city of Alexandra, Egypt as a princess to the current pharoah, Ptolemy the 7th. Like Alexander the Great, who had conquered Egypt, Cleopatra and her family were Greek, even though they ruled the Egyptian people. She had an older sister named Berenice, a younger sister named Arsinoe and two younger brothers who also had their father’s name of Ptolemy. 

Cleopatra had a good and safe childhood as a princess of Egypt. She probably played dice games popular in Egypt and with carved wooden dolls. Because she might be the pharoah herself someday, she was given a very good education. She had very good teachers and was able to study in the grand library of Alexandria, one of the best libraries in the history of the ancient world. Smart people from all over the world gathered at Alexandria and her library to study and learn from each other. 

At school she memorized long poems and lists of gods, goddesses and heroes. She was taught to speak in front of other people, an important skill as a queen. Cleopatra dressed in beautiful silk robes, wore lots of jewelry and makeup, and made to look like a goddess, since that’s what the people believed she was, as the daughter of a god.  

Unfortunate for Cleopatra, she was born during a time when there were many problems going on in her family and in Egypt. Her father and the pharaohs before him had been poor leaders, so the Egyptian people no longer wanted him as their ruler. When Cleopatra was 11, the people finally made her father, Ptolemy, leave Egypt. 

After Ptolemy left, Cleopatra’s older sister, Berenice became the new pharoah. In order to take power, Berenice had to do some horrible things and Cleopatra watched as all of this happened. The struggles going on her family made her want to stay out of the fighting, but she also watched carefully knowing that someday she may be the one having to take control and rule Egypt. She was very smart and probably already started thinking about what the right moves might be when she was in the same position as her older sister. She also learned that the best rulers were the ones who had the support of their people, unlike her father. She decided the best way to do this was to find ways for the Egyptian people to like her. Cleopatra learned everything she could about the Egyptian people and learned their language. She started dressing like their goddess Isis to gain their support. 

Another great civilization that rose to power after the Greeks was the Roman Empire. They were the most powerful empire during the lifetime of Cleopatra. Cleopatra’s father, Ptolemy, after being run out of Egypt, fled to Rome and convinced the Romans to join him and retake control of Egypt. A battle broke out between the fearsome Roman Army and the Egyptians of Alexandria. The Roman Army won the battle and Ptolemy once again became the pharaoh of Egypt. But even though her father was in control again, Cleopatra knew if she made the right moves, she could become the next ruler once he was gone.

And by 51 BCE, Ptolemy died and Cleopatra became the new queen, the Pharoah of Egypt. She was only 18 at the time, but had been preparing for her entire life for the job. She knew she’d have to be very careful and win over the people if she wanted to stay in power. One of her first moves was to take a trip to the city of Thebes by boat in a grand ceremony and declare herself the goddess Isis. Isis was worshipped by the Egyptian people, so she hoped in turn they would worship and honor her.

Sadly, luck turned against Cleopatra though and the Nile River didn’t flood for the first two years she was pharaoh. The Nile River was how the Egyptian people survived when once a year it flooded and watered their farmlands. The people wondered why if Cleopatra was a goddess she wasn’t able to control the Nile. Soon the people were going hungry, because their crops weren’t growing. Guess who they blamed? Yes, Cleopatra. Seeing that the people were growing angry, she decided to leave before they forced her out. But did Cleopatra give up easily? No. Right away she started plans for how she would return to power. In the desert she used her mastery of language to start making allies, which means friends with those who she could join with, warriors who could help her become pharaoh again.

Around this time a war was going on in Rome between two generals, Pompey and Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar won and after beating Pompey and taking control over the entire Roman Empire as its first emperor, he headed to Egypt to make sure it was also under his control. When he arrived, Cleopatra’s younger brother, Ptolemy, was the pharaoh. Caesar wanted Ptolemy and Cleopatra to work together to figure out who should rule Egypt, but Cleopatra was afraid her brother might try to harm her when she returned from the desert. So she came up with a very cunning plan. Cunning means to be very tricky and smart. With the help of her friend, Apollodorus, Cleopatra put on a disguise and rowed up the Nile River to Alexandria in a small boat. After reaching the palace, she climbed into a big sack and had Apollodorus carry her over his shoulder. No one knew he was carrying Cleopatra as he walked across the grounds of the palace and right into the room where Julius Caesar was waiting. Next, Cleopatra climbed out of the bag to Caesar’s great surprise! 

Cleopatra then used her great skills of talking and persuasion to convince Julius Caesar to let her be the Pharaoh of Egypt in place of her brother. Caesar agreed to let her rule with her brother, who was angry with the decision. Her brother, Ptolemy’s army later attacked too, but Ceasar’s army was more powerful and won The Alexandrian War and Ptolemy did not survive, leaving Cleopatra once again in control of Egypt. After the war Julius Caesar stayed in Egypt and Cleopatra became his wife. They travelled up and down the Nile and had a child together and named him Caesarion, which means “Little Caesar.” Eventually, they returned to Rome together. 

The Roman people liked Caesar, but the other leaders did not. They did not like that he had become an emperor and also did not like that he had married a woman who was not Roman. While in Rome, one of Julius Caesar’s friends, Brutus, and the other leaders turned against him and Caesar did not survive their attacks. The reign of Emperor Caesar was over, so Cleopatra left Rome and returned to Egypt.

While Cleopatra was in Egypt, a new war in Rome began over who would lead the empire. The battle was fought between one of Caesar’s generals, Mark Antony and Brutus and Cassius. This was called the Roman Civil War. Mark Antony eventually sailed to Rome to gain Cleopatra’s support. At first she was unsure if she should befriend him, because she wasn’t sure which side would win the war. Eventually, she met him on the Nile in one of her huge, decorated boats. She was dressed as the goddesses Isis, the boat was covered in flowers, small torches, and purple sails making it a beautiful sight to behold. When Mark Antony met Cleopatra he was stunned by her beauty and her power of speech and persuasion. Soon, he and Cleopatra were a couple and spent the next several months sailing together along the Nile and throwing huge parties together at Cleopatra’s palace. They paid for huge feasts and dancers and acrobats. These were some of the biggest parties Egypt had ever seen!

While Mark Antony was away from Rome, Julius Caesar’s nephew, Octavian had risen to power. Mark Antony knew it was time for him to give up the parties and his time with Cleopatra and return to battle to conquer his own lands. He left Egypt and fought far away while Octavian won the Civil War and now wanted to make sure Mark Antony wasn’t a threat. He sailed to Egypt to finish him off. In Egypt, Cleopatra and Mark Antony joined forces to fight Octavian. Their ships and soldiers battled on the ocean, but Octavian’s navy was stronger and he beat Cleopatra and Mark Antony. They retreated to the big city of Alexandria and waited for Octavian to come after them. Cleopatra and Mark Antony loved each other and refused to be separated during their final days. They passed away in Alexandria together, where a funeral was also held in honor of them. The Egyptian people were sad to see their goddess queen, their pharaoh go.

History of Bessie Coleman for Kids

Imagine you’re a pilot, thousands of feet above the earth on an airplane. You look down from your cockpit at the patchwork of fields and tiny, Lego-sized houses below you. You’re planning your route, but you’re not trying to get from point A to point B. Instead of flying a straight line, you dive towards the ground, falling faster and faster until, just feet from the ground, you pull up the nose of the plane, thrilling the crowd of onlookers nearby. You corkscrew through the air, fly figure eights, and loop upside down as the crowds gasp and cheer below. You are a barnstormer, a stunt pilot in the 1920s, performing daredevil feats thousands of feet above your awestruck fans. 

Today we’re going to learn about a world-famous pilot, Bessie Coleman, who was remarkable but for many other reasons. She was not only a great pilot, she was also the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license, and the first woman anywhere to have an international pilot’s license. Because her father was part Native American, she was also the first Native American female pilot. Not only that, she always tried to use her fame to help other black people and women. Sadly, at the time, both groups experienced a lot of discrimination in America. 

Bessie’s story begins before airplanes were even invented, and only 27 years after the end of slavery in the United States. She was born in 1892 to African American sharecroppers in Texas, one of nine children. As a child, and then teenager, she worked picking cotton and washing other people’s laundry. She attended segregated schools, but was a good student, especially in math. Under segregation, many states in the southern part of the United States had laws forcing blacks to go to different schools from whites, among other unfair rules. Even though she came from a poor background, and had to deal with unfair laws, Bessie had a goal of going to college, and as a young woman attended Langston University in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, she ran out of money and had to return home after one term. 

Soon after returning home, Bessie and two of her brothers decided to try to start a new life in Chicago. They moved north, where Bessie became a manicurist. She worked in a barber shop called the White Sox Barber Shop on the south side of Chicago. She became known for having the fastest hands in the city when it came to giving manicures.

She learned about piloting and airplanes from veterans, including her brothers, who had returned home from World War I. Bessie became fascinated by airplanes and flying. Her brothers would tease her though, saying she’d never be able to fly like some of the women they’d met in France during the war. 

But telling someone they can’t do something is often a sure-fire way to make them want to do it. So right then and there, Bessie decided she would become a pilot and prove her brothers wrong. But her brothers, weren’t the only people she’d have to prove wrong. At the time, there were no flight schools in the United States that would train women or African Americans. 

But there was France. Bessie didn’t have a lot of money, but she knew that if she could get to France, she could train as a pilot there. Her race and gender didn’t matter to the flight schools in France. To earn the money she would need, she began working a second job at a chili restaurant and learning French at night. She also began talking to some of the people who came to the barbershop. Many of the clients there were wealthy and influential.

It was at the barber shop that she met a lawyer and newspaper owner named Robert Abbot. Abbot published the Chicago Defender, one of the largest black-owned newspapers in the country. When he learned about Bessie’s passion to become a pilot, he decided to help. He published a story about her in his paper. His newspaper had more readers than any other black-owned newspaper in the country at the time, so the story got a lot of attention. A banker named Jesse Binga stepped up, and he and The newspaper helped pay for Bessie’s travel to Paris for pilot training. 

Since airplanes were so new, it was still not possible to fly across the Atlantic ocean from the US to France, so Bessie took a boat. She had been accepted to a flight school there, and completed her training in a biplane called a Nieuport 80. A biplane had two sets of wings, one on top of the other.

When Bessie returned to the US with her pilot’s license, she made headlines in black newspapers and aviation magazines across the country. She told reporters that she wanted to open a flight school for women and people of color. 

However, since aviation was so new, there weren’t many jobs for pilots at the time. There were no major airlines that flew people around the country like there are now. Most packages and mail were still moved by trains or ships. And again, Bessie faced discrimination because of her race and gender. She was unable to get one of the few piloting jobs there were.  

Instead of flying for airlines or shipping companies like they do now, many pilots in the 1920s earned money as barnstormers. They would fly to a new town, land in a farm, and ask the farmer to let them perform using their fields as runways. They performed stunts such as loops, dives, and figure eights. They also offered rides to people for money. Bessie decided to become a stunt pilot, and returned to France for more training. 

After Bessie returned to the US this time, she traveled around the country performing daredevil stunts for crowds of people. The Defender newspaper called her “the world’s greatest woman flyer.” She was nicknamed “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bess.”

Bessie loved her job, and used her growing fame to fight racism. In the 1920s, segregation and discrimination were still widespread in America, and were part of the law in many states. Bessie worked with other activists and gave interviews and speeches about ending racism. She refused to participate in any air show that didn’t allow black people to attend. In her hometown in Texas, she had to argue with the producers of an airshow to allow blacks and whites to come in through the same gate, but even then, they were forced to sit in a separate section.

Bessie became so well known, she was asked to star in a movie about a female pilot. Though the movie was to be made by a black-owned production company, Bessie was not happy with how they wanted to portray her. They asked her to wear rags and act as though she was uneducated, negative stereotypes of black people that were very common at the time. Bessie refused. She walked off the set and didn’t return. She wasn’t interested in being famous just for attention. She wanted to use her fame to improve conditions for other African Americans, and she realized  that this movie would not help her do that. 

But other opportunities awaited Bessie. A company that made tires in Oakland, California reached out to her. They wanted her to be their spokesperson and fly over the city dropping messages on paper about their tires. Bessie accepted the offer and went to California. There she flew and appeared in newspaper ads for the tire company. 

It was also in California that Bessie experienced another setback, this time a more serious one. In February 1923, she crashed her plane after the engine stopped working suddenly. She survived with a broken leg and ribs, as well as some cuts. The injuries didn’t stop her though: She said that as soon as she could walk again, she would fly. After several months, she fully recovered and went back to stunt flying. 

Bessie moved to Florida, where a preacher and his wife had offered to give her a room. She opened a beauty salon, still trying to earn enough money to replace the plane that had crashed. She began performing new types of stunts such as wing-walking and parachute jumps. Wing-walkers stunned their audiences by leaving the cockpit while another pilot controlled the plane, and walking out on the wings!   

Finally, in 1926, Bessie had earned enough money to buy her own plane! She had worked hard performing in airshows, giving lectures, and working at her beauty parlor. The new plane wasn’t fancy: an old biplane called a Curtiss JN-4, or “Jenny.” She hired a mechanic named William Wills to fly it from Texas to Florida. Sadly, the plane was not in good condition. During a test flight with the mechanic, the plane stalled and crashed. Bessie did not survive the crash.

News of Queen Bess’s passing was carried widely in African American newspapers. Ten thousand people attended her funeral in Chicago, where Ida B. Wells, a famous black activist, led the service. 

Bessie continued to inspire black aviators in the 1920s and beyond. William J Powell, another African American aviator and civil rights activist, started Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles, fulfilling her dream of opening a flight school for African Americans and women. Powell later wrote in his book, Black Wings, that because of Bessie, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.” 

She was also an inspiration to many of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first group of black aviators to fly for the United States Army. In 1992, Mae Jemison took a portrait of Bessie Coleman with her when she became the first black woman in space, saying that Bessie “exemplifies and serves as a model for all humanity, the very definition of strength, dignity, courage, integrity, and beauty.” The US postal service issued a Bessie Coleman stamp in 1995, and in 2006, she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. 

Bessie Coleman once said that “the air is the only place free of prejudices.” But, in order to get there, she had to shatter many barriers that were placed in her path by a society that was unwelcoming to people of her race and gender. Instead of accepting the place she was offered in this society, Bessie decided to pursue her own path and make her own opportunities. She didn’t let the lack of training or jobs for black, female pilots keep her from her dream of flying. She forged ahead with determination and held onto her principles, knowing that her race and gender were not barriers to her ability; that she could lift others up by her example; and there was a place for everybody in the sky! 




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.




The History of D-Day: Operation Overlord for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are cold and sitting in the back of the boat. The sky is cloudy and many airplanes are flying overhead. The water from the chilly ocean is splashing into your boat and as you look ahead you see a beach which you and your team of soldiers must invade. Bombs explode in the water around you. Your boat tries to navigate through spikes and landmines that are guarding the water leading up to the beach. A boat nearby you is sinking from an explosion. “Out of the boat! Out of the boat!” someone shouts. The ramp to the front of the boat goes down and you rush out with the other soldiers. You are very scared, but you know in order to win the war this beach must be taken back! It is D-Day and you are one of the Allied soldiers preparing to take Normandy Beach in France.

For many years Hitler and the German Army controlled France and many other countries in Europe. The main goal of the Allies was to kick Hitler and his army out of France and take the fight to Germany. The Allies were made up of many countries, but the main ones were the United States, England, France, Russia, and Canada. D-Day was one of the most important missions of the war because it would take place on the beaches of France where the Allies would start taking back Europe from Hitler. 

The United States General Eisenhower was made command of the D-Day operation in January 1944. The Allies knew they wanted to attack, but weren’t sure where. And part of the plan was to trick Hitler into believing the attack would be from somewhere else, so he wouldn’t be able to concentrate all of his forces in one place. The Allies used many tricks to go about this such as spies, secret agents, fake tanks, and fake radio messages. They even put one of their best generals, George Patton, in different area to confused Hitler. Over 3,200 reconnaissance missions were used to prepare for D-Day. Reconnaissance means to to spy on the enemy and do research to decide how to act next. The original name of the mission was Operation Overlord, and only later referred to as D-Day.

The plan was to attack the Germans on Normandy Beach. 5,000 ships and 11,000 airplanes were used during the attack. After the ships brought in the soldiers, the plan was to put them all on amphibious vehicles, move them to the beach, then the soldiers would attack the Germans guarding the beach.

But the morning before they started the attack the Allie’s planes dropped bombs on the Germans guarding the beach. French people living in a town nearby were awoken to the sound of bombs. A French villager lived near a house overlooking the beaches. He said: “I saw light coming from two bombs that exploded at the ridge of the cliff.” The Allies were doing everything they could to make sure the soldiers coming in on the beach would be safe.

The night before the invasion 24,000 soldiers also parachuted out of planes and landed behind the German army to help the troops who would be landing on the beach. These soldiers were called “paratroopers.”

One of the paratroopers was named Bob Nobles. He and his 16-man team flew in a plane across the English Channel. Just after midnight the light inside their plane told them it was time to jump out. They all lined up and one after another jumped out of the back of the plane. He said “By the time my parachute opened, I was on the ground!” He landed in a farmer’s field all by himself and took off his parachute. Then he hurried off on foot until he came across another paratrooper. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” the other paratrooper shouted. “I’m from Indiana! But I forgot the password!” They were supposed to have a password to know who was on their side and who was the enemy. Bob laughed as they looked for the rest of the teammates. But most of the other paratroopers had missed the drop zone, the place they were supposed to land.

These paratrooper missions proved to be very dangerous and a challenge in some cases where the soldiers landed in the wrong place or were captured or shot as soon as they landed. But in other cases the soldiers were able to regroup and take bridges and help the soldiers who would be landing on the beach the next day. 

The original plan was to attack on June 5th, but the weather was very bad, so it was put off until June 6th. In a message to troops before they left, General Eisenhower told them, “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory…. We will accept nothing less than full victory!”

On June 6th 1944 starting at 6:30 a.m. the amphibious vehicles took the Allied troops from the ships to the beach. Amphibious means something that works in water and on land. These vehicles were designed to float like a boat and drive like a car!

Over 100,000 Allied soldiers attacked the beach at the same time! They were from many different countries like the United States, England, and Canada. The invasion was the largest amphibious landing and assault in history!

For many months the German Army had prepared for an attack on the beach. They had built many defenses armed with machine guns, barbed wire, land mines, so attacking the beach was extremely dangerous. 

One of the soldiers, Colonel Moulton, was on the amphibious landing craft with his soldiers. He told them to fire smoke bombs into the sky so they would be hidden from the enemy machine guns. It helped some, but their landing craft was still smashed up and some of the soldiers died when they hit the beach. Telling his story many years later, he said that the “Germans built concrete strong points in the villages and we landed right in front of one,” which caused much harm to his fellow soldiers.

Another soldier, Harry Timmins, said that when their landing craft came on the beach “the noise was more than you could possibly imagine. There were explosions all around us in the sea and the shells and mortars were kicking up sand all over the beach. A couple of buildings were on fire and the guns on our boat also joined in the barrage and deafened us.”

Many soldiers lost their lives as they came out of the landing vehicles. In some places the water was too high, so sadly they sank with all their heavy gear on. 

Another soldier, Robert Watson remembered that nothing went quite as planned. Everything took longer than expected and his landing craft was taking on a lot of water. “Landing craft were exploding all around me,” he remembered and got very sick in his boat. He remembered someone yelling “Get to the beach!” Then their craft hit a floating mine and they had to climb onto another craft to get the rest of the way to the beach. After he finally got to the beach he said, “I was scared my ammunition wouldn’t work” because it was wet. But he was able to fire shots without any problem and started firing at the enemy. The company of soldiers he started with had 62 soldiers. Only 36 of them were left after the attack. Many of his friends never made it to the beach. 

The beaches were given different codenames. Omaha Beach and Juno Beach had the most casualties. A casualty is when someone is hurt or dies in battle. By the end of the morning over 4,000 soldiers had died during the intense battle! 

By the time the battle was done the Allies had taken the beach and started moving into France. It was one of the most dangerous battles of World War II, but also one of the most important as well. Now that the Allies were in France they had shown the world and Hitler that they were very strong and would be able to win the war. The war continued on for many more days, but because of the sacrifices made on D-Day there was hope for the people of France and people all around the world that the war would come to an end.

Do you know anyone who has served in the military? Take some time to think about their bravery in deciding to serve and what courage it must take to decide to put your life on the line for your country. Think about those who gave their life on D-Day and how many of the freedoms you have exist, because someone else has given up their own time and sometimes even their life. There is a quote that says “Freedom isn’t free.” Freedom is often something that has to be fought for. Because of this, we shouldn’t take our own freedom for granted. Think about what you might do to keep freedom strong wherever you live. This might mean learning more about government and your local leaders. This might mean learning about different laws and voting when you are the right age. It might also mean serving in the military as well. Whatever you do to help, remember that freedom is a wonderful thing that not everyone has; and something we should never take for granted.

The History of the Pyramids of Egypt for Kids

Imagine the year is 1932 and you are in Egypt with a team of archaeologists exploring the ancient pyramids.  As you enter a dark dark hallway, you use torches to light the way.  Ahead is your guide, a local Egyptian, who is showing the way deeper and deeper into the pyramid.  It is dark and you are scared, but you keep going.  The hallway smells very musty; there has not been fresh air in this hallway for many years.  As you turn a corner, you see the door to a tomb.  You push back stones and other debris and after pushing forward with your torch, the next room lights up and it is overflowing with ancient treasures. You can’t believe your eyes! You see gold and gems and more artifacts than you’d ever have imagined. And lying in the center is the greatest discovery of all — a mummified Egyptian king! 

The Egyptian Pyramids are some of the most amazing man-made structures in history. At the time that they were built, Egypt was one of the richest and most powerful civilizations in the world.  A civilization is the society, culture, and way of life of a particular area. The Egyptian pyramids were built over 4,000 years ago, but they still remain a mysterious and amazing piece of history. They also give us an idea of the wealth and glory of Ancient Egypt.

Thousands of years ago, Egypt was a poor country.  Then it started to grow in population and wealth around 3,000 BC. The Nile River is how Egypt became more wealthy as it could farm using the river and trade with other peoples. As Egypts power and wealth grew, so did the power and wealth of its kings. Kings in ancient Egypt held a unique position.  They were seen as being ½ human and ½ god. The Egyptian people believed that the king was someone who was chosen by the gods to work between the gods and people on earth. 

Ancient Egyptians believed that when the king died, part of his spirit remained in his body. Because they saw the king as working with the gods, they believed they needed to take care of the king’s body after his death and preserve it as much as possible. This is why the ancient Egyptians started to make mummies.  They wrapped the king’s bodies to keep it safe. Mummies are bodies of a human beings or animals that have been preserved.

After a king died, the Egyptian people mummified the body and buried the king with the things that they thought he would need in the afterlife.  This included gold, food and other valuable things. The Egyptians believed that the riches would go to the afterlife with the king and that the king could use the things he was buried with to care for himself and his relatives in the afterlife.

Around 5,000 years ago Egyptian people began creating royal tombs called “mastabas”, which came before the pyramids.  Mastabas were caves carved into rock and covered with a flat-rock roof.  Egyptians at the time put the mummified dead body of a king after he had passed away into the mastabas and covered it with the flat rock roof.  This became a preserved little room for the mummy and his things before he moved to the afterlife.

Eventually mastabas were made into bigger structures that were more beautiful and could house more things.  

In 2630 B.C., an architect and priest named Imhotep designed a mastaba for the King Djoser.  It was build up into a small “step pyramid” and was later considered to be the oldest known pyramid in Egypt.  It was built in the city of Saqqara.  At that time, king’s usually started the building of their masabas while they were still alive and would oversee the work.  King Djoser asked Imhotep to design this structure, which pyramid builders then put together.  It had six stepped layers of stone and was 204 feet or 62 meters high.  It was the tallest building of its time.

After King Djoser, the stepped pyramid became popular and Egyptian kings going forward had similar buildings constructed. Because these tombs were built while the kings were still alive, and ancient Egyptians lived much shorter lives than people do today, pyramids were often started for kings but not finished. Many kings died before they were complete, and the project would then be abandoned.

The first smooth-sided pyramid was built in Dahshur for King Sneferu in the late 2500s B.C.  It was called the Red Pyramid because of the colour of the blocks used to build the pyramid’s core. Pyramid’s started to be built with smooth angled sides to symbolize rays of sun.  They were designed to help the king go up to heaven and join the gods after they died.

The most famous pyramids in the world today are the Great Pyramids of Giza.  They are located near the Nile River in Cairo city. The oldest and biggest of the three Giza pyramids is the “Great Pyramid”.  It was built for King Khufu around 2570 B.C. It was originally 481.4 feet or 147 meters tall and is the largest pyramid in the world.  Do you know why there are three small pyramids lined up next to the Great Pyramid?  They were built for King Khufu’s queens. Ancient Egyptians usually built mastabas close to their family so that they could be with each other and support each other in the afterlife.

The middle pyramid at Giza was built for King Khufu’s son. This is the pyramid on which the Great Sphinx is carved.  The Great Sphinx is a carved statue of a man’s head with the body of a lion. It was a guardian for the King’s son’s tomb and was also the image of the god Horus.

The third of the Great Pyramids was built for the King’s grandson. It is the shortest of the three Great Pyramids. Later, future kings started to build their pyramids smaller than the Great Pyramid, and would build them closer in size to this smaller one.

Have you ever thought about the incredible amount of work and high level of design that would be required to successfully build a pyramid? For the Great Pyramid, about 2.3 million blocks of stone had to be cut and carried to the site.  It took 20 years to build the biggest of the pyramids and 20,000 to 100,000 men worked on it!

Beginning in about 2350 B.C., pyramid builders began to write about things that happened during the king’s life on the walls of the king’s tomb.  These were inscribed “hieroglyphics” or ancient symbols or writing.

From 2300 to 2100 B.C., pyramids continued to be built in Egypt but they were usually smaller and less well built than the earlier pyramids. This was because the wealth and power of the Egyptian kings was less and less during this time. The last king that built pyramids in ancient Egypt was Pepy II.  He became king when he was just a young boy and he ruled for 94 years. He built a shorter pyramid at Saqqara before his death.  After he died, the wealth of Egypt was getting smaller and people no longer saw the king’s as half-gods as they used to. 

In later years, Egyptian kings’ built pyramids again but they were never as big or amazing as the great pyramids.  But the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian pyramids carried on and still interests people around the world today. Most of the bodies and treasures from the old pyramids have been removed now, either by tomb raiders or by people wanting to protect them.  You can find some of these items in museums today. Millions of people continue to visit the pyramids each year to see these amazing structures that teach about Egypt’s rich and amazing past. 

Take some time to think about what it took to build these pyramids. The architects who built them had to understand math and physics and spent a lot of time drawing out plans and preparing before anyone started moving stones. Imagine the hard work and determination it took to work on these pyramids for many years. You should try designing your own pyramid with a pencil and paper. What would it look like? How many rooms would it have inside? Would it have any secret passages. 

Also, would you like to travel to Egypt one day and see the Great Pyramids?  Maybe someday you will travel to Egypt and step inside one of these amazing historical structures!

The History of The Eiffel Tower for Kids

Imagine yourself standing at the top of a tall building, one that is the most famous building in the world.  You look out on all sides and can see the whole city around you.  There are old fashioned buildings and cars.  People are walking and talking together.  Some people are riding bikes and some ride on boats that are floating along on the river below you.  The boats disappear for a second as they cross beneath below you.  But they reappear again and cruise slowly along their way.  You are in Paris and the building you are visiting is the Eiffel Tower. 

There are many important and famous buildings in the world but one of the most famous, loved by people everywhere is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You have probably heard of the Eiffel Tower before, but have you ever wondered how it was made? Or why? 

The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 and is now the most recognizable building in the world.  Can you imagine what it would have taken to build something like this in the old days?  When it was first built, many local people in Paris were not sure that they would like it.  They doubted that it would be a good building and some did not want it to be built in their city. 

The idea for the Eiffel Tower came about as part of the planning for the World’s Fair in 1889.  Paris was the host of the World’s Fair that year to mark the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution.  The City of Paris wanted to host a memorable event and wow the crowds that would come there.  Memorable means something worth remembering because it is special.

The City asked for designers and artists to create plans for a monument for the city to mark the event.  A monument is a statue, building, or other structure that is meant to be a symbol for something. In this case, it was meant to be a symbol marking the World Fair.  More than 100 artists submitted plans for the monument.  It was going to be built on a famous street called the Champ-de-Mars in central Paris.  It was going to be the entrance to the fair when it started.

The winning company was a consulting and construction firm owned by an architect named Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. An architect is a person who designs buildings and often oversees their construction.

While Mr. Eiffel often receives credit for designing the Eiffel Tower, it was actually one of his employees, an engineer named Maurice Koechlin, who came up with the idea. The design idea came to him because a few years before that, the two men had bought the metal and he had been trying to find a project they could use it for.

The final design for the Eiffel Tower required more than 18,000 pieces iron and 2.5 million rivets. Rivets are short metal pins used for holding together two plates of metal. Several hundred workers spent two years putting together the frame of the tower.  When it was finished it was almost 1,000 feet high and was the tallest structure in the world at the time. It weighs around 10,000 tonnes!

At the time of the World’s Fair, the tower was lit up by hundreds of game lamps and a beacon sent out beams of red, white and blue. Searchlights from the tower illuminated different parts of the fair. The start and end of the fair each day was announced by a cannon explosion from the top. 

At the top the set up a post office where visitors to the fair could send postcards to friends and family. Many famous people visited the Eiffel Tower during the World’s Fair. These included the Prince of Wales, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison, an engineer himself was particularly impressed with the tower. 

There were also millions of regular people who visited the Eiffel Tower during the World’s Fair and afterwards. Many were very impressed with it, but some were not.  Some people who lived in Paris thought that it changed the way the city looked and thought it was ugly.

At first, only the Eiffel Tower’s second-floor platform was open to the public.  Today, all the levels are open and two of them even have restaurants.  The first two levels can be accessed by stairs, but the top, third level, requires taking an elevator to get to.

When the Eiffel Tower was originally built, it was meant to be a temporary building for the World’s Fair that would be torn down later.  However, the city realized that it could be used as a radio tower and so they decided to keep it.  Many years later, the Eiffel Tower was used to intercept enemy radio communications during the first world war. 

Throughout the years, the Eiffel Tower has been used for many important ceremonies and events.  It has also appeared in many, many movies.  It has become such a popular building that there are now more than 30 structures around the world that are copies of the Eiffel Tower design, including one in Las Vegas.

In 1986, the Eiffel Tower was renovated.  Renovated means to restore something so that it looks nice.  It is now repainted every seven years to keep it looking fresh.  Every time it is repainted, it uses 50 tonnes of paint!.  

Every year more than 7 million people visit the Eiffel Tower.  It is the most frequently visited structure in the world. The French name for the Eiffel Tower is “La Tour Eiffel”, it also has the nickname “La dame de fer” which means the iron lady.

There are more than 500 people who work at the Eiffel Tower.  They work in its restaurants and maintaining its safety and security.  There are people who clean it and there are people that run the elevator that takes visitors to the top.

At the top of the Eiffel Tower, you can look out and see the beautiful view of Paris.  People from all over the world come not only to look at the Eiffel Tower, but also to ride to the top and see the beautiful city of Paris, which is also called the City of Lights.

Have you ever been to the Eiffel Tower?  Would you like to visit it one day?  If you want to visit somewhere like this, keep the vision of it in your mind.  There are many people who have dreamed of visiting the Eiffel Tower with someone they love or on their own and have made it happen by saving money and making plans to visit.  Can you picture yourself standing on the top of the tower and looking out on the beautiful view?  Hopefully you will get a chance to visit one day.

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.

Alternative Energy for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine that you’re living in a futuristic city. Looking at the horizon, you can see towering wind turbines gently rotating in the wind. On the other side, you can see a whole field of solar panels. A nearby dam uses river water to produce even more electricity. The air you breathe is clean and fresh. The cars and other vehicles don’t give off any smoke or pollution. Your surroundings are clean and green, with plants growing all around you. Far away, you can see an old power plant, which is being demolished to make way for new, alternative energy sources. You can also see several large factories nearby, but none of them are emitting black smoke! This is what a city looks like where alternative energy rules the world .

So, what actually is alternative energy? As you may know, today we rely almost completely on petroleum and coal-based energy sources which are called fossil fuels. Energy companies obtain these resources from deep inside the earth’s surface and refine it to produce different fuels, like gas, gasoline, diesel and kerosene. These fuels are burned in power plants to produce electricity. Petroleum was formed by the remains of tiny plants and animals that died millions of years ago. Coal, on the other hand, was formed by larger plants like ferns. These dead materials were covered by layers of mud, rock, and soil over the years. Because of the pressure caused by all the top layers and the heat from earth’s core, the plant and animal remains transformed into petroleum and coal.  Because it took millions of years for petroleum and coal to form, this means that the amount of fossil fuel resources in the world are limited and won’t last forever. Since the number of people in the world  and businesses  in the world keep increasing and advancing, the need  for energy is also rising.  This is why finding new ways to harness energy is so important! Luckily, the world already has a lot of alternative energy sources and smart scientists and engineers are always working on finding new ways to harness energy and improve the technology we already have.

The alternative sources of energy include solar power, wind power, hydro power, tidal energy, geothermal energy, and biomass energy. These are called renewable energy, because they are naturally replenished in a short amount of time unlike petroleum. For example, there’s always more sun and wind! 

First let’s talk about solar energy. Solar energy is the energy we get from the sun. The sun is an incredibly huge, ball of energy which lights Earth with its rays we receive as sunlight. For thousands of years, people have used the sun’s energy to cook food, dry clothes, and keep warm. In our day, people have invented technologies to transform sunlight or solar energy into electrical power. This is done by solar cells, which are also called “photovoltaic” cells. “Photo” means “light” in Latin and “voltaic” stands for “electricity”. So, it’s basically turning sunlight into electricity! Pretty amazing, right? Solar panels are made by putting together many solar cells. If you’ve ever seen shiny panels on rooftops, those are solar panels. A few of my neighbors have them. In Arizona, solar panels are popular because we get LOTS of sunshine. It can also save people money, because the panels capture the light energy from the sun and turn it into electricity that can be used to power all the electric equipment in their house. Solar panels are sometimes used to power boats, food trucks, buildings, and satellites. Although solar energy IS renewable, how much energy they can produce depends on the time of day, season of the year and location in the world. For example, Arizona is much better for solar panels than a place like England that is often cloudy.

Now, let’s talk about wind energy. Wind energy is made from the wind, which is freely available to us just like sunlight. During the middle ages, people used wind power to pump water or grind grains. They built windmills to do that. Nowadays, people use a large structure called a wind turbine to make electricity using wind power. You may have seen these wind turbines as very tall structures that have long blades to capture the wind. Wind turbines can be around 400 feet tall, because the turbine blades need to reach high up into the atmosphere where the wind is faster than on the ground. The power of the wind is transformed into electricity by a small machine called a turbine generator which is connected to the turbine blades. Energy companies build hundreds of wind turbines in large fields where there are a lot of wind. These areas covered with wind turbines are called “wind farms”. When our family drives to California we pass through a huge wind farm. If you’ve never seen a wind farm look up pictures of San Gorgonio Pass. It’s pretty amazing.

The next form of alternative energy is hydropower or hydro energy and is made by using the power of moving water. In the past, people have used the power of water by making water wheels in rivers. Ancient Egyptians used hydro energy to grind grains and early Americans used it to saw wood. In the 1800’s, scientists discovered how to make electrical energy using hydro energy by turning the turbines of a generator. So, it works a little bit like wind power. To harness hydro energy today, people build a dam across a river which creates a water reservoir, which is like a man-made lake. By making a reservoir, we can have a controlled flow of water which can be used to generate electricity. That is, powerplant workers can control the amount and speed of the water flowing out of the dam. So, unlike solar or wind energy, hydro power is more constant and controllable. In Arizona we have the Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam that generate a ton of electricity using hydro power. Be sure to lookup pictures of these impressive dams.

Tidal power is another type of hydro power. But instead of using inland waters like rivers and reservoirs, the energy of seawater is used to make electricity from tidal energy. Ocean tides usually occur twice daily, and tidal powerplants use turbine generators to convert that energy into electricity. Tidal turbines are placed in the path of the tidal waves. When the waves hit the turbine blades, they begin to spin. This movement is transformed into electric power using the turbine generators. So, you can see that the design of wind turbines and hydro turbines are very similar. However, tidal power can change based on the season. We cannot control it like how we control the power generated from a reservoir.

Geothermal energy is a form of alternative energy, that is obtained from the earth’s core. You may already know that the core of the earth is packed with heat. You can sometimes see this heat coming out of volcanoes and geysers. Geothermal energy can be used for heating, cooking and in electricity generation. We get it by circulating water or other liquids through underground tubes. The liquids absorb the geothermal heat and bring it back up. The captured heat can be directly used for heating. It can also be used to produce electricity using steam turbines.

Another really interesting form of alternative energy is biomass. Biomass is  biological materials such as sugar cane, straw, wood chips and many other plant materials. These can be burned to generate electricity instead of burning fossil fuels. Biomass can also be used to make other types of fuel such as diesel and biogas that can replace petroleum-based fuels. This makes biomass different and more important than the other types of alternative energy we discussed. That’s because biomass can be used to produce solid, liquid and gaseous forms of energy instead of just electricity. 

It’s pretty exciting to consider all of the new forms of energy that have been developed over the last 100 years and the improvements that are happening every day. Does alternative energy interest you? If so, do an internet search to watch videos of some of the amazing things people are doing to use renewable energy and what is being done at places like wind and solar farms. Also, more and more engineers and inventors are needed to solve the energy problems we have. Does engineering interest you? If so, math and science are important subjects to improve at. Also, being creative and coming up with lots of ideas. Can you think of an interesting way to use alternative energy to power something you use everyday?

With all of the new inventions, we have more and more options and not one of them is perfect, so many people believe a combination of technologies will solve the problems of pollution while sustaining all of our energy needs. There are over 7 billion people on this planet, so we need to find ways we can all live here and have enough energy without polluting this precious gift we can be given. 

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.