Science of Autumn Leaves

Science of Autumn Leaves

Crisp fall days are a great time for outdoor hands-on science! Using fall-harvested crops and the natural phenomena of autumn as inspiration, families can explore everything from weather prediction to animal tracks. These engaging outdoor science projects can be enjoyed by scientists of all ages, and require few materials – the learning inspired by each project will come naturally thanks to participants’ curiosity and ability to observe! Learn what color leaves different trees produce in the autumn and learn to read your landscape.

As foliage begins to shed its summer green, explorations of leaves and trees become especially engaging. Using leaves found on trees right in a backyard, families can practice leaf and tree identification. Read the rest of this entry »

SciShow: Teaching the World of Science Through Video

SciShow: Teaching the World of Science Through Video

Spotlighting the most engaging and fascinating of scientific topics with brevity, SciShow brings kid-friendly web-based doses of science to screens everywhere! Offered through SciShow’s Youtube channel are dozens upon dozens of videos teaching about everything from plasma to the influences of science fiction.

Science-curious learners of almost any age can take advantage of the information offered through SciShow’s videos in numerous ways, including gaining exposure to new topics, solidifying understanding of topics already explored, or adding background knowledge to topics explored through experience.  Read the rest of this entry »

5 Ways to Explore Science with the Summer Sun

Hands-On Sun Science

Summer gives sunshine – so use it for science! Utilizing summer sun can mean making the most of the long days, but the endless rays offered this time of year lend themselves to sunshine-based science projects. Whether studying they physical characteristics of the sun, like it’s core, solar flares or sunspots, orthe relationship between light and heat, examining evaporation, or exploring UV radiation, sun-based science is best when conducted during the sun’s brightest, warmest, and strongest time of year!


Take your new found appreciation for our sun and conduct experiments at home that lead towards learning about science through the lens of the summer sun:  Read the rest of this entry »

10 Messy Summer Science Activities for Outside!

One of the best ways to engage in hands-on science learning is by simply messing about. When children’s play leads them to make observations about the things around them and the ways in which they interact with each other, they learn powerful lessons that they’ll remember for years to come. Luckily the time of year messy science learning can be done outdoors! Below are ten suggestions for hands-on science activities that families can engage in both to learn about a specific topic and to encourage self-directed “messing about” with safe science materials once formal experimentation has been done.  Read the rest of this entry »

STEM Opportunities at The Great Holyoke Brick Race

STEM Opportunities at The Great Holyoke Brick Race

Intergenerational collaborations can provide young students with hands-on lessons in the basic science of physics and principles of design at the 5th Great Holyoke Brick Race happening on Saturday, June 4th!

Take on the coolest gravity based physics experiment around at the Great Holyoke Brick Race!  Similar to the Boy Scouts of America’s traditional Pinewood Derby, the event requires that participants create their own miniature car to race down a specific track.  However, unlike Pinewood Derby, the cars are not wooden – the main piece of material is a brick!

Sponsored by Paper City Studios and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the race is open to participants of any age and from anywhere in the world (No need to be a Holyoke native!).  Entries can be created by individuals, or by teams of any size, allowing for lots of intergenerational collaboration and knowledge pooling.

The event can be used as a means of providing hands-on physics learning.  Each car will need to be carefully designed and built with attention to the basic principles of physics.  Depending on the age of participants, car-building can lend itself nicely to in-depth explorations of mathematical ideas and the principles of design, too!

The race will take place on Saturday, June 4th, 2016 on Race Street in Downtown Holyoke.  Check in for racers will begin at 10am. Event runs 11am-3pm  For more specific information regarding entries, as well as design suggestions, visit the race website:

Chemistry is F9 U92 N7!

3rd Annual Demo Show at the UMass Amherst Chemistry Department

People often talk about “chemicals” in our food, water, or hygiene products in reference to possibly toxic or carcinogenic ingredients. Some chemicals certainly are dangerous to humans, but EVERYTHING is made up of chemicals! But what is the exact definition of a chemical, anyway? The Merriam-Webster definition of “chemical,” reads: A substance obtained by a chemical process or producing a chemical effect. And chemistry is the study of how chemicals interact and react with one another.

Here Hank Green gives us a “crash course” in chemistry with a series of fast pace, educational videos:

Cooking is often used as an example of an everyday activity which involves chemistry. When you apply heat to a piece of steak in a pan, water content leaves the muscle fibers. This is why the fillet is smaller after it has been cooked. Think about some other interesting reactions which occur in the kitchen. Why does corn pop? Another way to ask this question would be, why don’t other grains pop? Corn contains water, which turns to steam, creating pressure inside the hard outer shell and eventually exploding.

What do these reactions look like close up? The web site, has amazing videos of reactions, like this one:  Read the rest of this entry »

Mythology and Mathematics through Stargazing

Transit of Mercury Inspires Community-Based Learning

Transit of Mercury 2006

The transit of Mercury is an astronomical phenomenon in which Mercury comes between Earth and the Sun, and can be seen as a tiny black dot moving across the sun. This event was predicted by Johannes Kepler before it was observed visually. That observation was recorded in 1631. Today, we generally hear about astronomical events before they happen, often camping outside at night to see rare occurrences in the sky. How do astronomers predict events like the transit of Mercury with such accuracy? In short, advanced mathematics. Astronomers draw from concepts of Physics, and use Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and Calculus to make measurements of distances between objects in the sky, and predictions of when they will appear in various ways from Earth.

You don’t need to know anything about mathematics to appreciate the beauty of the sky, however. For centuries, the night sky remained largely a mystery to humans, and many myths emerged to explain the sun, moon, stars, and planets. Lunar and solar deities emerged in cultures across the world.

Whether you want to learn more about the mathematics of astronomy, write your own mythological explanations, or simply enjoy the beauty of the sky, you can attend various astronomy-themed events at the Springfield Museums this month. On Monday, May 9 from 10am-1pm, museum visitors can witness the first transit of Mercury since 2006. Check the Museums’ Facebook page to make sure the event is happening, as it is weather dependent. On Saturday, May 14 from 12-4pm, visitors can engage in safe sunspot viewing, and see a collection of meteorites. There will be hands-on activities for all ages, information about how craters are formed on the moon, and a space sensory bin for kids.

May 9th and 14th events are free with museum admission. Planetarium shows are $3 for adults, $2 for children ages 3-17, and free for members. 413-263-6800, ext. 318. 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA.

Want to learn how to view on your own? Lucie Green describes what will happen when Mercury transits the face of the Sun, and how to observe it safely.

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Elms College Bioblitz Encourages Citizen Scientists

Biodiversity in Your Neighborhood

Elms College is throwing a Bioblitz on Saturday, April 30, 9am-3pm at Chicopee Memorial State Park. Teachers, students, parents and friends of all ages are invited to team up with scientists to identify as many of the park’s living creatures as possible in a single day. This is a wonderful opportunity to meet people working in scientific fields and ask them questions about science in general or about their careers specifically. Participation can get community members interested in the biodiversity of their local lands, and as a result make them more invested in conservation efforts. Documenting of local species can give scientists clues for further research. You never know what you’re going to find until you look! Please register online at the Elms College website. 570 Burnett Road, Chicopee, MA. (FREE)

In the past twenty years, childhood in the United States has moved indoors. The average American child spends about thirty minutes of their day in unstructured, outdoor play, and more than seven hours in front of a screen (see this report for more information). Most people intuitively understand the connection between time spent in nature and positive well-being. Fresh air and exercise keep our bodies in shape and our minds focused. But did you know that time spent outdoors in childhood also is correlated with better distance vision? If you and your child pair your time spent outdoors with species identification, this may sharpen your visual skills even further as you try to spot birds, plants, insects, and mammals which may be small, or may dart away at the sight of you. This kind of activity also teaches patience and focus.

Read the rest of this entry »

Halloween Season Inspires Hands-On Science

In the spirit of the creepy, gruesome, and vaguely terrifying elements of the Halloween season, why not engage in some similarly creepy, gruesome, and relatively terror-free hands-on science experiments! From candy chromatography and glowing drinkables to flying ghosts and gooey eyeballs, to follow are 8 Halloween science ideas which connect to numerous science concepts and promote hands-on learning. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Science: Hands-On Experiments to Connect with the Change of Season

Fall-Inspired Hands-On Science Inspires Outdoor Experiments

Crisp fall days are a great time for outdoor hands-on science! Using fall-harvested crops and the natural phenomena of autumn as inspiration, families can explore everything from weather prediction to animal tracks. These engaging outdoor science projects can be enjoyed by scientists of all ages, and require few materials – the learning inspired by each project will come naturally thanks to participants’ curiosity and ability to observe! Read the rest of this entry »

High Tech Planetarium Takes Us to the Stars

Williams College Host Planetarium Show this Fall

Williams College in Williamstown, MA, invites families to experience the wonders of our universe at their Milham Planetarium, located inside the Old Hopkins Observatory at Williams College. Astronomy students at the college will host free shows for the public on Friday evenings at 8pm, October 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; November 6, 13, 20; and December 4, 2015

The Hopkins Observatory, built in 1836-38 by the first professor of astronomy at Williams College, Albert Hopkins, is the oldest extant observatory in the United States.

Audiences will be treated to shows from the high-precision Zeiss Skymaster ZKP3/B opto-mechanical planetarium projector, installed in April 2005.

The Zeiss Skymaster is capable of demonstrating phenomena including: retrograde motions of the planets, phases of the moon, the varying temperatures/colors of stars, locations of neighboring galaxies, the mythological figures and zodiacal signs ascribed to constellations, the southern hemisphere’s sky, comets, artificial satellites, and much more.

Fall 2015 shows will be hosted by Williams College students Rebecca Durst ’17, Sarah Stevenson ’17,  Brett Bidstrup ’17, and Glen Gallik ’18. Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy, is the Director of the Hopkins Observatory.

The Hopkins Observatory, built in 1836-38 by the first professor of astronomy at Williams College, Albert Hopkins, is the oldest extant observatory in the United States. Shows will last about 50 minutes.

For reservations (recommended) contact Michele Rech at 413-597-2188 or email Others will be admitted as space permits. Large groups should call for special appointments.

The Hopkins Observatory is on a small hill on the south side of Main Street east of Spring Street in Williamstown and just east of Lawrence Hall Drive, on which planetarium patrons share parking with the Williams College Museum of Art.  A campus map showing the Hopkins Observatory’s location can be found on the or at 829 Main Street, Williamstown, Mass., in

– Submitted by Noelle Lemoine

Neuroscience for Kids: Understanding the Brain for Deeper Learning

Neuroscience for Kids: Understanding the Brain for Deeper Learning

As children grow and learn, they become increasingly more aware of their own interests and the methods of learning that they most enjoy. Inevitably, however, there will be challenges in a child’s pursuit of knowledge that make learning frustrating or stressful. However, with an increased awareness of how the human brain works and an understanding of metacognition, young learners can learn to see challenges in a different light.

Metacognition, easily and loosely defined as “knowing about knowing,” involves understanding how learning works in the human brain and understanding and paying close attention to how your own personal learning takes place. For young learners, the biggest challenge presented by metacognition is understanding how the brain works; tuning in to personal learning style is easier and is a much more long-term process. Read the rest of this entry »

UMass Lowell’s Cool Science Contest

Power of Public Art Drives Critical Thinking in Community Based Learning

Public art is designed to make us think. Whether it’s about local history, traffic safety, or our cultural heritage, public artwork sends a message. Children have the opportunity to create public artwork to send a message about climate change by participating in UMass Lowell’s Cool Science contest! Young artists can learn about climate science and art with a purpose by creating entries, and winners might get to see their art made public. Entries are due by Dec 1, 2014.

Public art plays an important role in communities throughout western Massachusetts. Murals, sculptures, chalk drawings, and installations in public spaces help to share history, culture, and new ideas with everyone who sees them. Public art is, perhaps, the most accessible of all art forms – viewing does not require intentionality, it simply requires eyes to be open to the world. One of the best parts of public art is the power that it has to spread meaningful messages – to remind us to love one another, to make us think about how we treat public spaces, and to even make us look twice before crossing the street.

Currently, students have the opportunity to submit artwork into a public art contest. UMass Lowell’s annual Cool Science artwork competition asks students in grades K-12 (or homeschool equivalent) to create works of art inspired by their learning about climate change. Winners of the contest will have their artwork displayed on clean fuel-burning city buses in Lowell, providing young artists with the opportunity to have their message-sending masterpieces turned into mobile public art.  Read the rest of this entry »

Watershed Blitz: Support the Conservation Efforts of the Westfield River

Nature Hike Offers Community Based Crash Course on Environmental Science

It’s easy to see how the turkey tail mushroom got its name. These are just a sample of the biodiversity you’ll discover in the Westfield River watershed during the Westfield River Committee’s Watershed Blitz on Sept 27!

What do green frogs, turkey tail mushrooms, and poison ivy all have in common? They’re all things that can be found in and around the Westfield River – and they’re all things that volunteers will likely encounter at the Westfield River Committee’s Watershed Blitz! Held on Saturday, September 27, 2014,  from 9am-2:30pm, the event is being held in order to honor the 20 years of conservation that the committee has accomplished. More importantly, however, the event will gather important information about the Westfield River watershed’s biodiversity general health.

Participation in the event doesn’t necessarily require extensive knowledge of local plant and animal species, but it does require certain physical abilities. Volunteers should be prepared to hike 1.5 to 2 miles of the river corridor – territory that is challenging, but can make for a great adventure. Alongside nature-loving volunteers will be experts on all kinds of biology and environmental science topics – everything from salamanders to culverts! Armed with the knowledge of experts and some good field guides, participants will be able to help discover and identify all sorts of species to whom the Westfield’s banks are a happy home. Read the rest of this entry »

100+ Science Books to Support STEM Learning at Home & in the Classroom

Science Books to Support Self-Directed Learning & Interests

Experience is always the best teacher – and this is especially true for children! However, when kids are eager to learn about a topic, the experiences available might leave some space for supplementation. After you’ve explored the woods, caught critters, messed about with materials, and exercised all five of your senses together, it might be time to turn to print materials in order to help kids add specific language and detail to their understanding of scientific topics. And, in addition to being filled with lots of useful and fascinating information, science-themed books give children valuable practice reading and interpreting non-fiction material – a skill that will allow them to develop strong skills for self-teaching and answering their own questions.

Whatever topic children are learning about, there are age- and reading level-appropriate materials available. And, thanks to the creativity of children’s authors and illustrators, they’re not only informative but engaging and filled with photographs, diagrams, drawings, and other visuals that children in comprehending text. Read the rest of this entry »

Science & Fun of Chain Reactions

Dominoes, Popsicle Sticks & Rube Goldberg Machines
The Science (and Fun!) of Chain Reactions

There are lots of concepts that children learn that involve chain reactions. The interrelatedness of nature is, for example, entirely dependent on an intricately woven set of relationships. When one thing changes – the availability of a resource or the population of an animal, perhaps – everything else is affected. Human populations experience a similar phenomenon – such relationships are all around us! However, the abstract nature of interrelated relationships can be hard for kids to grasp. Explaining difficult concepts using metaphor or visual representations can he helpful, but what about something that kids can touch and see themselves – something that perfectly illustrates the idea of interrelatedness and chain reactions, but happens much more quickly than chain reactions do in nature or within human society?  Read more (and see) about chain reactions… you’ll be amazed!

Snow Studies: Crystals & Frost

Snow Studies: Crystals & Frost

With chilly temperatures and icicles, we’re having the perfect winter for some great snow studies this year! The white coating that covers our landscape here in New England not only offers opportunities for winter sports, but it is also a great creative medium that can support science studies too!  The chemistry behind snowflakes and frost are just waiting to be discovered!


Kids can use snow, ice, and frost to learn about crystals – a concept that they’ll eventually encounter when they study chemistry, but will understand much better if they have some firsthand experience with them. Snowflakes are a beautiful form of crystals, each one showing off a microscopic symmetrical design of spears, points, indents, and cutouts. Be sure to read the book Snowflake Bentley (by the talented Mary Azarian), a true story about the Vermont man whose curiosity about snowflakes lead him to be the first to photograph them! It would be pretty tricky to make snowflakes at home, but with a magnifying glass and a small square of black fabric, you can take a semi-close look at them when you venture outside. See if you can identify a difference between the shape and size of snow flakes and the snowy clumps that fall during each snowstorm we get… Read the rest of this entry »

Sing About Science and Math

University of Washington’s Sing About Science and Math Project: Songs for Teaching, Learning & Fun

For many young learners, rhythm and repetition can be a very effective way of learning new words and remembering the names of things. Children easily learn commonly sung songs with lyrics of all kinds, and we use their ability to learn lyrics as a way to share information. Take the ABC’s for example – it’s a song that we use to teach the letters of the English alphabet, it’s fun and easy to sing, and matching the names of letters to different parts of the rhythm helps to support children in remembering the order that the go in.

Songs don’t just have to be used to convey basic ideas to the youngest of learners, though – there are educational songs for kids of all ages and about all kinds of things! The University of Washington’s Sing About Science and Math Project offers an online database of over 7,000 songs that cover an immense variety of topics in technology, biology, environmental science, physics, chemistry, math, engineering, and medicine. The database, which has been growing since 2004, includes tunes for kids of all ages – meaning there are songs about the periodic table for kindergarteners, high school sophomores, graduate students, and grandparents, too, like this one by They Might Be Giants:

The site’s search function allows for parents and educators (and older students) to search by more than just topic… Read the rest of this entry »

STEMBite: Bite Sized Videos Supporting STEM Education

STEMBite: Snack-Sized Science Videos

Add some science to these hot summer days with STEMBite, a YouTube channel that offers snack-size videos focused on topics in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and the things in our everyday lives that they are related to. Most of the videos are between one and a half and two minutes long, and are shot from the perspective of the narrator using Google Glass, who explores a different topic, item, and/or surroundings in each one.

Interesting topics include the form and function of animal adaptations and evolution (Form, Function, and Chickens), the physics of sound waves and the concept’s application to shower time singing (Physics of Singing in the Shower), the science and design behind the barcodes found on mass-produced items and price tags in stores (Barcodes), and many others STEM topics.

While most of the topics addressed in the videos are best for older students (grade 4 and above), the videos are short and use fairly simple terms to explain each idea. Younger students may absorb less than an older student would while watching, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t learn at all! Perusing the channel might be a great way to help kids develop curiosity in parts of science that they may not discover on their own – like simple machines or light diffusion. The narrator’s fun tone and the sometimes silly activities that he does help to draw kids in, and the examination of everyday objects helps to provide ways for students to see how each topic applies in their own lives. Try viewing videos related to some of the topics that your child studied in school last year, or ones covering some of the topics that they might encounter once they return in the fall. Not sure what they might be learning? Contact your school for a copy of the district’s curriculum frameworks, or access the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for science online at

Science in the Parks this Summer

Science in the Parks in Pittsfield
A Remedy to Summer Slide

Go on a hunt for frogs and the insects they eat at Science in the Parks. Through closer examination, kids can learn the importance ecology plays in the lives of animals in various habitats , like the way this frog is camouflaged among leaf litter and woodland flowers.  (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Public parks are accessible green spaces families can visit in the summer months to both observe and explore nature. Whether they be well-manicured or allowed to grow wild and free, our local parks offer a lot to learn and explore in terms of ecology, natural & local history, and creative free play.

Science educator Lisa Provencher is holding a Science in the Parks event every Saturday from June 22-August 17 from 10am-12noon this summer, an great opportunity for young students to use their local parks to further their understanding of ecology through science based methods.  Kids of all ages can come to four different parks around Pittsfield, MA and learn about watersheds and their impact on local ecology at this free program.

Participants will have the chance to do activities like test the pH of water, identify aquatic plants, and participate in a hunt from insects and amphibians.  They will also get the chance to identify invasive species and meet some live animals up close!

Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Swarmageddon as Magicicada Emerge from the Warming Earth

After 17 Years, Cicadas Scheduled to Emerge from the Earth Along the Eastern Seaboard. Will They Be Emerging Here in Western MA?

This year, for the first time since 1996, a Magicicada brood will emerge from the ground all across the eastern United States.  This special species – unlike other cicadas – emerges every 17 years with the entire species growing and developing at the same time,  creating synchronized cycles of growth, reproduction, and death.  These insects go through a complicated and specialized series of stages of development as a group, taking 13-17 years to grow into adult cicadas and emerge from the ground.  They will lay eggs for the next generation simultaneously, continuing their synchronized cycle of regeneration.

Much like frogs and salamanders, the cicadas will emerge from the ground only when the temperature is right!  Magicicadas require a soil temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit, extending as deep as eight full inches into the ground – meaning that cicadas will show themselves much earlier further south, while southern New England soil continues to warm up.  Families can track and predict the burst of bugs by monitoring the temperature of the soil in their backyard – while western Massachusetts isn’t expected to have a huge number of cicadas (check out the web site: Massachusetts Cicadas), their existence is quite likely given that Connecticut and the Hudson River Valley in New York are both home to Magicidadas.

In order to predict the bugs’ appearance in your yard, track the soil temperature using a basic thermometer, which can be purchased online or at a gardening specialty store.  Families can also build their own cicada detectors, which will not only measure soil temperature, but will track the creatures’ movement!  Families with older students can learn valuable STEM skills by building a detector, and can use the data that they collect to contribute to cicada tracking and research.  RadioLab, an online resource for STEM-related projects and information, offers instructions for building and operating your own cicada detector, and also has information about submitting collected data.  Follow the instructions to become amateur entomology researchers, and help contribute to the recording of an unusual scientific phenomenon!

22 Community Highlights: Laura Ingalls Wilder to the Beatles. Vernal Pools to Hot Cross Buns.

One of the oldest Good Friday customs is eating hot cross buns. These small sweet buns, marked with a cross of white icing, may have originated in pre-Christian times. Early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans marked their loaves of bread with symbols to honor their gods and goddesses. Many superstitions grew out of this custom.. Read more about this and other Easter icons in our post, Legends & Lore of Easter Icons.

Laura Ingalls Wilder to the Beatles. Vernal Pools to Boreal Forests. Legally Blonde to Anything Goes…

These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Get out into your community and learn while you play!

And be sure to check our list of supporting book titles to supplement the learning on the different topics highlighted each week. Purchase them for your family library, or check them out from the public library!

HistoryOutdoor AdventuresAnimal StudiesCommunity ServiceGeographyComicsMusicalsScience/AstronomyMuseum AdventuresParent Workshops

Read the rest of this entry »

27 Community Highlights: Bread to Sushi. Beekeeping to Bird Houses.

Citizen Scientists Wanted to Monitor Plants as the Seasons Change

Project BudBurst
Citizen Scientist Opportunity for Families & Students

For younger children, BudBurst Buddies is a companion to Project BudBurst that encourages young learners to follow the seasons by making simple botanical observations. Check it out at – (Photo credit: Dennis Ward)

Students can learn so much by following the seasonal patterns of plants found here in New England. Each plant’s cycle is different, and varies depending on factors like location and weather patterns.  Tracking a plant through its seasonal changes can help us to better understand the subtle changes that take place in our environment, and says a lot about where we live.

This spring, families can track these plant cycles by volunteering as Citizen Scientists for Project BudBurst, a national project that tracks buds, blooms, and leaves as the seasons change.  The project is used to generate useful ecological data that can be used in studies of the environment and to track annual changes of seasons and climate.  The project is open to families and educators living in any of the 50 states, and participation can be a one time project or a year-long educational expedition.

Working together to gather information to submit to Project BudBurst is a great way for youth to develop useful nature-related skills and to gain knowledge and experience in plant identification, while volunteering as citizen scientists.  Students will need to learn the anatomy of plants in order to check for specific growth patterns, and they will gain practice using field guides while working to identify the plants that they find.  They will also begin to understand the biodiversity present in the area, and will examine the relationship that changes in the sky bring to their environment.  Recording data will help with development of basic data analysis, and presenting data in a useful format is excellent practice for nonfiction writing.  Students of all ages can learn by participating in Project BudBurst, and it could be used by homeschoolers, K-12 classrooms, and higher education.

For more information on the project or to sign up to contribute, visit

30 Community Highlights: Spring Equinox to St. Patrick’s Day. Spring Musicals to Film Festivals.

Spring arrives on Wednesday, March 20th with the Vernal Equinox. Families are invited to witness the sunrise (6:45am) or sunset (6pm) at the UMass Amherst Sunwheel. Astronomers Judith Young and Stephen Schneider will discuss the astronomical cause of the suns changing position during the hour-long gatherings. They will also explain the seasonal positions of Earth, the sun and moon, phases of the moon, building the Sunwheel, and answer questions about astronomy

Annie to Oklahoma. St. Patrick’s Day to Spring Equinox. Jane Yolen to Georges Méliès… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week! Get out into your community and learn while you play!

LiteratureHistoryNature/Animal StudiesParent Workshops/Support GroupsSustainabilitySpring Musicals FilmSt. Patrick’s Day

And be sure to check our list of supporting book & DVD titles to supplement the learning on the different topics highlighted each week. Purchase them for your family library, or check them out from the public library!

Read the rest of this entry »

35 Community Highlights: Shaker Song to Gospel Music. Sojourner Truth to George Washington.

Western MA Planetariums and Online Resources for Space Studies

Resources for Supporting the Study of Space Science

Hubble's Panoramic View of a Turbulent Star-Making Region

If, after diving head-first into all things astronomical, your student is completely enamored with space studies, consider entering Astronomy magazine’s essay contest! The grand prize is a trip to the 2013 Northeast Astronomy Forum in Suffern, NY, where the winner will be able to meet important people in the field of astronomy, learn about space programs and discoveries, and more! The topic for the contest is, “What I love most about astronomy,” and essays should be 300-500 words. Hurry, though – submissions are due by February 15th! More info at

Studies of outer space can be mysterious and intriguing to young minds and there are many resources to support a students interest in the study of space, both online and in Western MA.


The website StarChild offers a wealth of information and basic internet-based activities that help students build their understanding of outer space.  Beginning with our solar system and moving outward, the information is grouped into two levels based on degrees of difficulty and background information needed in order to understand concepts.  Students can guide themselves through each lesson, learning astronomical vocabulary and facts about the universe.  At the end of each section, there are a variety of activities to do, such as identifying planets while in orbit, matching facts to their corresponding stars and planets, and pairing planets with their many moons.

Another resource online is NASA’s Afterschool Universe, “an out-of-school-time astronomy program for middle school students that explores basic astronomy concepts through engaging hands-on activities and then takes participants on a journey through the Universe beyond the Solar System.”

If you are interested in the Afterschool Universe program, visit their website at and their Afterschool Universe YouTube channel for more demonstration videos.


To experience astronomical phenomena in real life, visit a local observatory or planetarium in Western MA!  The Milham Planetarium at Williams College in Berkshire County, the Seymour Planetarium at the Springfield Museums in Hampden County, and the Bassett Planetarium at Amherst College in Hampshire County all offer planetarium shows and other learning experiences to visitors.  For other events, resources, and community learning opportunities, the Five College Astronomy Program, Springfield Stars Club, Arunah Hill Natural Science Center in Cummington, and the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomer’s Association hold events, workshops, and other astronomy-related events for the community year-round.

[Photo credit: (ccl) NASA Goddard Space Flight Center]

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count

Focus on Feeders
Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count
February 2nd & 3rd, 2013

People can help their feathered friends in the coldest season by joining Mass Audubon’s annual Focus on Feeders winter bird count on the weekend of February 2-3. The volunteer survey invites participants to list individual bird species and the greatest number of each seen at one time at their feeders and in their yards during that Saturday and Sunday.   Anyone can participate—including families, first timers, and veteran bird enthusiasts. Participants will be able to learn and share information about the birds that visit their yards and feeders in winter. They will also be contributing knowledge to more than 40 years of winter bird feeder sighting information.

Does your family enjoy watching birds at your feeder during the winter?  Backyard feeders provide a consistent, easily accessible source of food for a wide variety of bird species during the winter, and feeder-watching is a great way for families to learn about the many different species who live in their neighborhood.

This weekend, Mass Audubon is offering a chance for families to put feeder-watching to good use!  Focus on Feeders – the great winter bird count – will take place on Saturday, February 2nd and Sunday, February 3rd, and is an annual event held to collect data on bird species and populations.  All that families need to do to participate is to keep a list of the types of birds seen at the feeder during the weekend, as well as the number of each type of bird seen at a time.  Then, families can submit their data for use in an actual scientific study by either entering it in online or completing a form and mailing it.  The data collected will be used to assess bird populations and habits across the state – information that can be analyzed in order to understand the effects of changes in climate and landscape.

In order to identify birds, families will need to use a good field guide.  Using a field guide to identify species allows kids to develop and practice reference skills while discovering bird characteristics of different species needed to properly identify them.  Learning about the species living in their backyard will help students nurture a sense of place while drawing closer to the natural world around them!

Deadline for submissions is Thursday, February 28, 2013.  More information at

[Photo credit: (ccl) senoracak]

37 Community Highlights: Ice Harvest to Winter Farmers’ Market. Chinese New Year to Tu B’Shevat.

This weekend, January 26th & 27th, Old Sturbridge Village celebrates Fire and Ice Days! Families can visit the village to take part in the annual event, which includes many of the activities typical to an 1830’s New England winter. Families can skate on the pond, go sledding on vintage sleds, take a horse drawn sleigh ride, and learn about (and try!) ice harvesting. Indoor activities include a fireside magic show, a talk on the history of ice skating, a thaumatrope-making craft, and opportunities to learn about 19th century methods of staying warm throughout the village. Pair a visit to the village with studies of American history and culture or a look at the evolution of technology, and compare the ways that early New Englanders battled winter to the ways we have adapted to handle cold weather today. Kids get free admission through the month of January!

Ice Harvest to Winter Farmers’ Market. Chinese New Year to Tu B’Shevat. Wind Turbines to Meteorology. Hendrix to Ben-Hur… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week! Get out into your community and learn while you play!  And be sure to check our list of supporting book titles to supplement the learning on the different topics highlighted each week. Purchase them for your family library, or check them out from the public library!

It’s that time of the year when families are being to think about their next step with their children’s education. Several schools will be offering open houses this weekend, along with a preschool resource fair for families just starting their investigation in various learning institutes and establishments offered in the region. Here are seven upcoming opportunities:

  1. Saturday, Jan 26th at Montessori School of the Berkshire in Lenox Dale from 9-11am
  2. Saturday, Jan 26th at The Common School in Amherst from 10am-12noon
  3. Saturday, Jan 26th at UMass OFR Preschool Resource Fair in Amherst from 10am-1pm
  4. Saturday, Jan 26th at Hartsbrook School in Hadley from 10am-12noon
  5. Sunday, Jan 27th at The Academy at Charlemont from 1-3pm
  6. Sunday, Jan 27th at Cloverdale Cooperative Preschool in Florence from 1-3:30pm
  7. Next Sunday, Feb 3rd at Greenfield Center School from 1-4pm


Celebrate the Chinese New Year with the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School on Saturday afternoon, January 26th in Northampton! Families can learn about Chinese culture, as well as the traditions surrounding the event. Then later in the week, pay a visit to the Smith College Museum of Art’s Asian art exhibit to learn more about Chinese culture – it opens on February 1st!

In the morning on Saturday, celebrate the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat – also known as Jewish Earth Day- with Jewish entertain-ucator Felicia Sloin and puppeteer Kate Holdsworth at Temple Beth El in Springfield. This free performance is filled with music, puppets, and stories that will teach kids about the holiday. The show is designed for young children, but all are welcome to come and learn about Jewish culture and traditions. Then on Sunday morning, January 27th, continue the celebration at Temple B’Nai Israel in Northampton! Tu B’Shvat is a celebration of trees, and calls for reflection on our relationship with the natural world. Families of all backgrounds can take part in this free celebration, which will include lots of fruit and environmentally-themed games.


Celebrate CISA’s Winter Fare Week at the Northampton Farmers’ Market and the Springfield Winter Market this Saturday, January 26th. These markets are filled with a wide variety of local produce and locally produced foods – shop tables filled by farms, bakeries, orchards, and more to find foods your family will love. At the Northampton event there will be special workshops on food preservation, sustainability, and self sufficiency, too! Families who preserve their own food can participate in a barter market, too – trade your homemade pickles for local blueberry jam, or eggs from your chickens for homemade local applesauce. At the Springfield event, stop by the market for workshops and fun kids’ activities. The workshops offered will be on teaching kids to cook and preparing efficient, eco-conscious, and affordable family meals.

Another way to enjoy food locally is by joining in a community dinner or breakfast! This Sunday morning, January 27th, bring your family to fill up on pancakes with the Belchertown Fire Department at a community pancake breakfast! … Maple season is just around the corner! Get your pancake chops ready now!

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)

This Saturday morning, January 26th, learn how to be a mad scientist – safely! – using ingredients found in your kitchen! Kitchen Ka-Boom at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield is a special program filled with wacky kid-safe experiments that can be easily replicated at home and will help kids learn about basic scientific principles.

In the afternoon on Saturday, kids can build crazy LEGO creations at the Dickinson Library in Northfield! LEGOs are a great creative medium for kids interested in design and architecture, and can help them develop their own creative stories based on characters and structures that they build.

On Wednesday evening, January 30th, the Collaborative for Educational Services is offering a free parent workshop, “Tech for Tots,” focused on developmentally appropriate use of technology. The workshop takes place at Hatfield Elementary School, and parents will learn about the impact of use of technology on normal child development – technology use can impact social skills, learning, and brain development if not done appropriately.

Students at the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School will present their own unique, independent science research on Wednesday evening, January 30th, at the school’s annual science fair! Students choose their own topics to research, then are mentored by an expert in the field that they have chosen in order to help them learn how to do accurate research, provide them with necessary background information, etc. The process helps students learn how to be a scientist, and the role that scientific research plays in our lives. Families can learn about many different scientific phenomena by viewing the exhibits, and can learn about ways to conduct their own scientific research at home.

On Thursday afternoon, January 31st, meet an actual television meteorologist! Sprout Homeschool Science Program is offering a field trip to a television station in Springfield where kids will be able to learn about how air temperature, the water cycle, weather monitoring, and knowledge of climate all help meteorologists make their weather predictions. Kids will be able to see meteorology equipment and can ask questions, too! Fits perfectly into elementary-aged studies of earth sciences, especially the water cycle and climate.

Also on Thursday afternoon, in preparation for the Science and Sustainability Expo happening in April, there will be a KidWind Workshop for educators and parents of youth in grades 4-12 to learn how to build a mini wind turbine in Greenfield. Build and take home a free model electricity generating wind turbine with your own blade design. Learn about the knowledge, skills and resources needed to bring wind energy education to your youth using standards-based activities in an engaging, hands-on manner.


Enjoy some mid-day Baroque music at the Pelham Library on Saturday at noon, January 26th! The library’s monthly tea will feature a free performance by The Montague Consort, featuring music for piano and recorder. Great for older students interested in learning about music history!

On Saturday evening, The Academy of Music Theater in Northampton screens Hendrix 70: Live at Woodstock, a documentary about Hendrix’s road to Woodstock, as well as footage of his most famous (and probably most memorable) performances. Young music buffs will love seeing Hendrix’s Woodstock performance and hearing live version of his classic songs. Older students interested in music history can learn about the early days of classic 70’s rock and will learn more about the history behind the sounds that influenced much of today’s music. Then on Sunday, January 27th, head over to the Springfield Museums to check out GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked the World, an exhibit which shares the history and science behind this iconic musical instrument. Families can also learn about over 60 rare, unique, and antique instruments, learn about playing music through hands-on interactive exhibits, and more!

The Clark Museum’s Widescreen Wonders series continues on Saturday in Williamstown with a free screening of Ben-Hur, a 1959 epic about the Roman Empire in Palestine. The film, directed by William Wyler, included a cast of thousands of actors and swept in eleven Oscars. Older students interested in film will love seeing this classic!


Celebrate the 151st birthday of prolific writer Edith Wharton on Saturday, January 26th at The Mount in Lenox Wharton’s beautiful and historic home! The mansion will be open for visitors of all ages to explore for free – guides will be available for tours throughout the day. Kids can do a scavenger hunt and make their own journals to write down their thoughts and ideas – just like Edith! Tie the celebration into family studies of classic literature and/or historic homes and architecture.

Monday evening, January 28th is the first meeting of First Steps to Reading, a free workshop series for parents of kids from birth to five years old in Belchertown. Parents will learn ways to prepare their children for reading at home by sharing books, writing, playing, exploring and singing. The workshops run weekly through March 4th, and each meeting will focus on a different aspect of reading preparation, teaching parents how to support their children’s budding literacy.

Families with early readers can take part in a free literacy workshop at the Lee Library on Tuesday morning, January 29th! The workshop is part of a six-week series, and is open to families with kids ages 5 and younger. The program will focus on teaching skills that will eventually help children learn to read in school – parents can work on these basic skills at home with their kids in order to help them be ready to read!

Do you ever wish that you could recommend your favorite books to other library visitors? The Forest Park Branch Library in Springfield invites Forest Park Reads, a free series where families can read new books (or chapters of books) and then rate them using a star system so that other library visitors can choose great new things to read on Tuesday afternoon, January 29th!


Snowshoe under the full moon at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox on Saturday evening, January 26th, or spend the entire day and evening outdoors on Sunday, January 26th, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and snow hiking at Stump Sprouts Cross Country Ski Area in Hawley!

Learn about the secret lives of amphibians on Saturday afternoon, January 26th at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield. Berkshire Community College professor Tom Tyning will present information about frogs and salamanders, as well as his new book – A Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles.


Smith College’s National Girls and Women in Sports Day celebration takes place in Northampton on Sunday afternoon, January 27th! This free event, open to girls in 3rd-5th grade, celebrates girls and women participating in sports at all levels – from professional ice hockey to high school basketball to recreational summer soccer. Girls participating in the event will learn about (and get to try!) many of the sports played by women at the collegiate level, including rugby, cheerleading, field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, rock climbing, and more. The event is a great opportunity for girls to learn about advanced levels of sports, and the female athletes they meet can serve as role models for budding athletes of all abilities.

If your girls are interested but can’t make the Smith College event, girls in grades 3-8 can participate in a similar free event on Saturday, February 2nd at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ National Girls and Women in Sports Day event in Williamstown! There will be separate workshops for kids and adults, all of which will teach girls and women about participating in sports and the many different athletic opportunities available to them. The event celebrates the female presence in athletics, and young participants will learn about the hard work that it takes to be a higher level athlete.


By special arrangement with Hilltown Families, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox is pleased to offer our readers a rare opportunity to take in a classic Shakespearean performance paired with a guided tour backstage. On Friday, Feb. 15th at 10am, schools and homeschooling families are invited to a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Tina Packer Playhouse, followed by a backstage guided tour where participants can learn how the process of theatre is crafted in the costume shop, prop studio, and production workshop. Tickets for this package are only $8/person and a Study Guide for educators is available to download before attending. To reserve discounted tickets, contact Alexandra Lincoln, and let her know you are a Hilltown Families reader: 413-637-1199 x131. Shakespeare & Company is located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox.

List of Weekly Suggested EventsFind out about these events and over 100 other events & activities happening all next week in our List of Weekly Suggested Events. All of our listed events are “suggested.” Please take a moment to confirm that these events are happening as scheduled, along with time, place, age appropriateness and costs before heading out.


30 Community Highlights: Bald Eagles to Owls. Artful Dining to Outsider Art.

The Quabbin Reservoir, a man-made body of water, is home to numerous species and provides a vast amount of habitat to these creatures. Visit the reservoir on Saturday, January 19th to learn about the nearly 30 bald eagles that call the reservoir home!

30 Community Highlights: Bald Eagles to Bats. Opulent Banquets to Trolley Lines. Teen Open Mic to Nurturing Your Baby… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week! Get out into your community and learn while you play!


Celebrate and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 29th annual MLK Community Breakfast on Saturday morning, January 19th. An Amherst tradition, the event includes performances from the Amherst Regional High School jazz band, the Hope Community Church Choir, and the Common School Chorus, and will feature main speaker Dr. John Higginson, UMass history professor. Along with breakfast, music, and celebration of civil rights and Dr. King’s life, the event will include the distribution of community awards.

Six more ways to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day take place on Monday, January 21st.

  1. Join community members in Northampton for the 29th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration
  2. Volunteer for MLK Day of Service with MassAudubon in Easthampton.
  3. Old Sturbridge Village is open with special programs celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Sturbridge
  4. The Community Music School of Springfield presents their annual musical celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  5. Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the 4th Annual Interfaith Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Great Barrington
  6. Learn about the powerful images that Norman Rockwell created during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s during a guide tour of Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbrigde

Find out about all of the events in 6 Ways to Observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Western MA.


The Quabbin Reservoir, a man-made body of water, is home to numerous species and provides a vast amount of habitat to these creatures. Visit the reservoir on Saturday, January 19th to learn about the nearly 30 bald eagles that call the reservoir home! Mass Audubon hosts the event, which will include a visit to the visitor’s center in Belchertown to learn about the reservoir’s interesting history, a drive around the reservoir to visit lookout points and search for eagles, and a trek through the woods to search for other feathered wildlife.

Eagles are the only bird of prey being highlighted this week… families can also learn all about the many types of owls found in Western MA at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton on Saturday evening. Come see a puppet show of local author Jane Yolen’s picture book, Owl Moon! After the puppet show, take a walk in the sanctuary’s woods to listen for owl calls and search for signs of owls.

Long ago, animal tracking was essential to survival – now, it’s a way to learn what other creatures call the woods home, and to learn about the biodiversity of the area in which you live. Visit Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton on Saturday morning to learn about many different types of animal tracks and signs, and explore outside to find and identify some!

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield is coming alive with creatures of the night – the museum’s newest exhibit is all about bats, Bats: Creatures of the Night. The exhibit opens on Saturday and there will be fun family activities all afternoon, including a scavenger hunt, echolocation experiments, and wing-making. The museum is also offering a lecture on bats later in the afternoon.

Two libraries are welcoming live animals to their stacks on Saturday to meet their youth patrons, and to be petted and read too! In the morning, kids can meet a real live llama at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic, and in the afternoon, specially trained therapy dogs will be available as reading buddies at the Westfield Athenaeum. Both events are free.

Visit the Great Falls Discovery Center for a bear-themed Discovery Hour on Friday morning, January 25th in Turners Falls! Though the real bears are hibernating, there’s still lots to be learned about them during this free event.


Want to learn about the history of the Mount Greylock Ski Club? Join the the Williamstown Historical Society on Saturday morning, January 19th at the Milne Library in Williamstown. Club member Mary Merselis (who joined in 1965) will share nearly 75 years worth of local history, including the club’s role in building Greylock’s Thunderbolt Trail and in creating the National Ski Patrol.

Beginning Sunday afternoon, January 20th in Williamstown, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute will present a four-part lecture series, “A Feast for the Eyes: Food, Porcelain, Silver, and Luxury Fabrics.” Darra Goldstein, professor of Russian at Williams College, will present the first lecture in the series, “Artful Dining: The Orchestration of the Meal.” Goldstein will explore feasts, from the ribald gatherings of the European Middle Ages through the opulent banquets of the Renaissance and on to the excesses of America’s Gilded Age. Older students can get a unique view into European history.

In Springfield on Thursday, January 24th, the Mason Square Library hosts, “Circle in the Square,” an ongoing community discussion of local history and community memories. This free afternoon meeting will focus on researching local history, and special guest Ed Lonergan (librarian and neighborhood resident) will help attendees learn ways to find out history about their own homes that they may not have known! Great for students interested in researching their community – learning about local history can help students put national history into a local context that they can relate to.

In its heyday, Holyoke was a bustling hub of industry, drawing workers from all over New England, and even Canada and Europe. The Connecticut River powered the city’s many factories, and there was even a trolley line! On Thursday afternoon, January 24th at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, local author Bob McMaster will read from his new novel Trolley Days, a coming-of-age story about two young boys growing up in early 20th century Holyoke. Best for older students, this free reading puts an exciting, fictional spin on local history and can help students to learn more about the rise and fall of local industry and life in Holyoke past.


On Saturday afternoon, January 19th learn all about Mars at Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams, while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of Mars Attacks.

Artist, educator and author of “Cellblock Visions: Prison Art in America,” Phyllis Kornfeld, will present a slide talk on the art of inmates at the Stockbridge Library on Friday afternoon, January 25th. This presentation will be paired with a discussion of their work, common types of art produced, and its place amongst mainstream American artwork. Older students can attend the event to learn about prison culture, the universality of human artistic expression, outsider art in America, and other topics related to art, psychology, and criminal justice.


The Belchertown Teen Center is holding an Open House at the center on Saturday morning, January 19th. The center is open Tuesdays-Wednesdays afternoon every week, and offers activities, sports, homework help, and a safe place to socialize in a semi-supervised environment.

Northfield Mountain is offering a free snowshoeing workshop for women ages 16+ on Saturday afternoon! Have a mother-daughter day of learning all about the winter sport, or teens can go with their BFF! Learn everything from the specifics of snowshoeing gear, the history of the sport, and the best types of trails for snowshoeing!

Teens, make yourself heard at the Barrington Stage Company’s first ever youth open mic on Saturday evening, in Pittsfield! The free event is open to youth ages 19 and younger who are interested in sharing performance of any kind. Each performer will get a 10-minute time slot to share music, poetry, performance art, and any other creative performance! The event will take place at Mr. Finn’s Cabaret, in the lower level of the Barrington Stage Company.

Teens can dance the night away in their most elegant attire at the Hartsbrook School’s annual Viennese Ball at the Northampton Center for the Arts on Saturday evening! The event is open to youth ages 12yo+ and parents/guardians, and includes dessert & dancing.

On Wednesday evening, January 23rd, teens can sing their hearts out with Berkshire Sings!, a community singing group at the Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington. Singers of all abilities welcomed (adults, too) to sing pop, jazz, folk, showtunes, and more.

Teens can make a masterpiece out of food at the Forest Park Branch Library in Springfield on Thursday afternoon, January 24th! Use everyday food items as materials in what could possibly be the messiest but most beautiful art you’ll make this week. There will be prizes for the least amount of food used, most amount of food used, most colorful, most creative, and other limits.


Do you know how to survive an emergency situation? On Sunday afternoon, January 20th, Earthworks Programs in Ashfield is offering a workshop for adults that will share information and teach skills for surviving everything from a power outage to being lost in the woods

A free workshop series for parents of infants (babies 0-12 months) begins Wednesday, January 23rd at the Gateway Family Center in Huntington. Titled, “Nurturing Your Baby,” the series will teach parents about infant development, sleep strategies, infant massage, and other methods of caring for your baby.

The Collaborative for Educational Services hosts, “Why Do They Do That? Challenging Behaviors and Effective Responses,” at the Ware Family Center on Wednesday evening, January 23rd. The free workshop will teach parents of toddlers and pre-school aged children about the causes of common challenging behaviors and some strategies for dealing with them effectively.

On Thursday morning, January 24th, Baystate Health in Springfield is offering a free workshop for parents on the physical and emotional changes that kids go through during puberty, and will teach ways to effectively communicate and provide emotional support throughout childrens’ transition. “Family Matters! Encouraging Healthy Choices by Promoting Positive Self-Esteem.”

List of Weekly Suggested EventsFind out about these events and over 100 other events & activities happening all next week in our List of Weekly Suggested Events. All of our listed events are “suggested.” Please take a moment to confirm that these events are happening as scheduled, along with time, place, age appropriateness and costs before heading out.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs]

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