Thursday, September 30, 2010

Monkeys protect Commonwealth Games

Langur monkeys will help to keep other
wild animals at bay at the Games.
Photo: Julie Langford, Wikimedia Commons.

Langur monkeys have been put in front of some of the main venues at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India. They're there to scare off wild dogs, snakes and other wild monkeys that might endanger the athletes.

Langur monkeys are extremely intelligent, but very aggressive and territorial. That makes them perfect for fending off wild animals.

Eight of the monkeys, and their handlers, will be posted outside the boxing and the hockey complexes. Two more are on call in the event of an emergency.
The South African team found a King
Cobra like this one in their residence.
Image: Dawson, Wikimedia Commons

Snake charmers are also being used at the games, especially after a king cobra was found in the South African team's residence. Another snake was discovered in the tennis complex.

True to form, our Canadian athletes have nothing bad to say about the living conditions at the Games. Field hockey player Ken Pereira called the accommodations "fine."

Canada is sending 400 athletes, coaches and support staff to the Delhi Games, which begin on Sunday and run through Oct. 14.

Related Links
Canadian athletes to arrive at Commonwealth Games tomorrow

Curriculum Connection
1. What is this story about? Can you identify the different parts of the story (introduction, body, conclusion)?

Primary and Junior
Identify the main idea and some additional elements of texts (OME, Reading: 2.3).

2. How do the specific elements of the article (introduction, body, conclusion) work to develop the story?

Primary and Junior
Identify specific elements of texts and explain how they contribute to the meaning of the texts (OME, Reading: 1.7)

Grammatical Feature
Comma: Highlight the very different uses of a comma throughout the article.

“Langur monkeys have been put in front of some of the main venues at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India.” (After each part of an address.)

“Eight of the monkeys, and their handlers, will be posted outside the boximg and the hockey complexes.” (To mark an interruption in thought.)

“True to form, our Canadian athletes have nothing bad to say about the living conditions at the Games.” (After introductory material.)

Discussion Topics
Do you think the monkeys will protect the athletes? If not, how would you solve the problem if you were put in charge? If yes, what solution would you have if the monkeys, themselves, became a problem?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Toronto's mayoral race

That's the question voters will answer on October 25, when they elect a new mayor to replace retiring Toronto Mayor David Miller.

Will Rob Ford be Mayor Miller's
successor, or will he be overtaken?
Stay tuned until Oct. 25!
It has been an exciting race so far, largely because of a former Toronto city councillor named Rob Ford. Ford has a "big personality" and doesn't hesitate to speak his mind. Many people thought that such a big and boisterous candidate could never succeed in the race to become mayor, but Ford came out as the early leader and has maintained that position.

In fact, if the election were to be held tomorrow, Ford would win with about 28 per cent of the voters choosing him. In second place would be another former councillor, George Smitherman, with 23 per cent of the votes.

How do we know who might win an election? Before most elections, companies are hired by the media to take "polls" to find out who people are thinking of voting for. They call hundreds or thousands of random voters and ask them, "If the election were held today, who would you vote for?" That way, we get an idea of who the front-runners are and who's not likely to be in the running.

In the Toronto election the main candidates are: Rob Ford, George Smitherman, Joe Pantalone and Rocco Rossi.

About 25 per cent of Toronto residents are either voting for someone else or still undecided about who they're going to choose. And that's a large margin of error - this election is still a toss-up. Stay tuned!

Curriculum Connection
1. How does the headline on this article help you understand what the article is about?
Primary and Junior
Identify text features and explain how they help readers understand texts (OME, Reading: 2.3).

2. Why do you think the headline was written as a question rather than a statement?
Primary and Junior
1.5 Use stated and implied information and ideas in texts to make simple inferences and reasonable predictions about them (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Grammatical Feature
Colon: Highlight the use of a colon within the article.

In the Toronto election so far the main candidates have been: Rob Ford (28%), George Smitherman (23%), Joe Pantalone (10%), Rocco Rossi (7%) and Sarah Thomson (7%).

Discussion Topics
Each mayoral candidate has put forward several ideas to improve the city. Some ways in which they propose to improve the city: increasing public transit, focusing on the environment and decreasing homelessness. In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing people living in Toronto?

Primary and Junior
1.6 Extend understanding of texts by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge and experience, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them (OME, Reading, 1.6).

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Barcode" of a beaver on CN Tower

To launch the Barcode of Life project,
the Canadian beaver's barcode was
flashed on the CN tower Saturday.
Photo: Rick Turner/iBOL

Scientists around the world are undertaking a massive project to help protect animals. And Canadians (in fact, Torontonians) are leading the way.

One day, the project will allow you to point your camera phone at an animal or a bug and a screen will pop up with the name of the species and a description of it.

It's all thanks to the "Barcode of Life" project, which is designed to protect endangered species, and track the movement of animals and bugs - and even pinpoint the sources of contaminants in food.

Every animal and insect (including humans) has DNA. DNA is a set of molecules that stores information about an individual. Everyone's DNA is unique to them. Scientists are using the DNA from animals to create "barcodes" for them, which they will then record in databases in Toronto and Guelph, Ont.

We've all seen barcodes on items - cereal, for instance - in the grocery store. Those barcodes are used by the scanner to let the grocery store know what the product is, and to track it. This barcoding project is just like that, except with animals.

Today it takes about two days and a whole lot of technology to create one barcode. But the process is getting easier and more cost effective. Scientists expect to have more than five million barcodes in the system within the next five years.

The system is already working. Recently, barcoding was used to track a mouse head that showed up in a TV dinner in Asia. They used its barcode to trace it back to a chicken farm that had exported the dinner.

Related links
International Barcode of Life website.
Wikipedia's definition of DNA.

Curriculum Connection

Primary and Junior
What do you think the information gathered from the “Barcode of Life” project will be used for?
Use stated and implied information and ideas in texts to make simple inferences and reasonable predictions (OME, Reading: 1.5).

Grammatical Feature
Parentheses: Highlight the usage of parentheses throughout the article.
“Scientists around the world are undertaking a massive project to help protect animals. And Canadians (in fact, Torontonians) are leading the way.”
“Every animal and insect (including humans) has DNA.”

Discussion Topics
The “Barcode of Life” is a project that costs a lot of money. Protecting animals is an issue that concerns everyone. So who should pay for this project? Why do you think so?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Commonwealth Games

Shera is the mascot
for the 2010
Athletes around the world are gearing up for the Commonwealth Games, which begin in New Delhi, India on Oct. 3.

A team of 35 Canadians arrived last week at the event’s “athletes’ village” to get things ready for our 40 athletes and coaches, who are flying in today. The first Canadian athletes to arrive will be those in women’s gymnastics, shooting, table tennis and men’s field hockey.

There has been some controversy surrounding these Games. Some countries have been complained about health and safety concerns. For instance, the athletes’ village was dirty and dilapidated in some areas, and there were pools of water near the athletes’ residence where disease-carrying mosquitoes could potentially breed.

If enough countries had become concerned about the problems, the Games could have been in jeopardy. No country wants to send its elite athletes to a country where they could become injured or get a disease. If many countries had pulled out of the Games, they could have been cancelled.

The president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Mike Fennell, rushed to India to look over the situation and ensure that improvements were made. Many of the problems, including the pools of water, have now been cleaned up, and the first athletes – the English hockey and lawn bowling teams – arrived in New Delhi last week.

Their arrival helped to ease concerns and New Zealand and Australia, the countries that have been the city’s harshest critics, have now confirmed that they will attend the Games.

The Commonwealth Games are held every four years and feature many Olympic sports as well as sports (for instance, netball, lawn bowls and rugby sevens) that are played in Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth of Nations, previously known as the British Commonwealth, includes 54 member states, all but two of which were previously part of the British Empire.

Related links
The website for the Commonwealth Games.

Listen to the awesome theme song for the Commonwealth Games, Jiyo Utho Bado Jeeto (Live, Rise, Ascend, Win) by A. R. Rahman.

Wikipedia pages for the Commonwealth Games and Commonwealth of Nations.

Curriculum Connection
Identify some simple elements of style, including voice and word choice, and explain, initially with support and direction, how they help readers understand texts (OME, Reading: 2.4).

Identify various elements of style – including alliteration, descriptive adjectives and adverbs, and sentences of different types, lengths, and structures – and explain how they help communicate meaning (OME, Reading: 2.4).

Grammatical Feature
The apostrophe:
Highlight the different uses of the apostrophe throughout the article.

"A team of 35 Canadians arrived last week at the event’s “athletes’ village" to get things ready for our 40 athletes and coaches, who are flying in today."

Discussion Topics
If you were a professional athlete, invited to participate at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, would you go? What would your reasoning be?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Saddle" seats on airplanes


Flying is one of the most expensive forms of transportation.

Airlines are always looking for ways to make flying cheaper, so more people will choose it over less expensive types of transportation like trains or cars.
One way airlines reduce the cost of flights is to make passengers pay for any frills or extras such as meals, drinks, checked baggage and -- as with one airline in Europe -- even use of the washroom. Ireland's Ryanair makes passengers pay one British pound to use the bathroom on the plane with a coin slot in the side of the door.

Now, a company called Aviointeriors has invented a new type of airline seat. It gives passengers less leg room than traditional seats, allowing airlines to pack more people into a plane. More people per plane means a lower cost for each person's airline ticket.

The new seat resembles a saddle and provides just 58 cm of leg room compared with the 81 cm of leg room offered by traditional airline seats.

With the new seats, passengers would bear most of their weight on their legs, so the seats would only be useful for short flights, of no more than three hours.

The seats apparently feel like you're sitting in a saddle. They have a hook to hang your purse or coat on.

Several airlines have expressed an interest in purchasing the new seats.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Alaskan walruses in danger


Walruses in Alaska are coming off the ice floes and onto the shore, in the tens of thousands.

The sea ice they normally rest on has melted. On the shores of Alaska, the walruses are now packed shoulder to shoulder, for more than a kilometre.

This is very unusual behaviour for walruses, although it has happened twice before -- last year and in 2007 -- when the Arctic sea ice was at record low levels.

The U.S. government is now doing some research to figure out if walruses should be put on the endangered species list.

In the meantime, they are changing the flight patterns of planes that fly overhead, so they don't spook the walruses. And they're watching the animals to make sure they don't crush each other in their crowded condition.

Normally at this time the females would be resting on sea ice and diving down to the sea bottom for clams and worms. But since there's not enough sea ice, they're forced to stay on shore.

Scientists don't know how long the walruses will be on the shore, but they say there should be enough food for all of them.

Photo credit: The image of these Alaskan walruses was taken by an employee at NOAA, the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pink Floyd - and Regent Park School kids


Twenty-five kids from the Regent Park School of Music in Toronto are going to get a chance to sing with one of the biggest rock stars ever, Roger Waters formerly from the band Pink Floyd.

They're going to sing the children's chorus in the famous rock song "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)." And, they'll be singing at the ACC (Air Canada Centre) in front of thousands of people.

Waters' rock promoter called the school out of the blue last week and asked if they had 10 to 15 students who would be interested in singing in the concert.

The kids haven't had much time to rehearse. They got copies of the lyrics and a link to a YouTube video so they could practice. Their first real practice will be on the bus on the way to the concert, the school's music director says.

The kids weren't even born when the song became famous (in 1979). But their parents know what a big hit it was and are probably even more excited than the kids.

The song is generally seen to be anti-education. It has a famous line that goes, "We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control." The school's principal hopes the kids don't take that message to heart. He says performing at a big venue like the ACC will help to boost the kids' self-esteem.

The concerts are at the ACC this week on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights.

Related links
A YouTube video of the original "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)." The children's chorus starts at 1:19.
Educators - make sure to search for "Part II" because the first part of the song/video contains images that may not be suitable for children (scary).

Celebrities swarm Toronto

Image: TIFF website.

There are lots of international celebrities in Toronto right now, because the city is hosting a huge film festival, called TIFF or the “Toronto International Film Festival.”

Big stars like Natalie Portman (Queen Amidala from Star Wars), Matt Damon, Colin Firth, Hayden Christensen and Zach Galifianakis are in town for their movies’ premieres.

During the festival, three- to four-hundred new films are shown in 37 different theatres venues all over the city. The festival is a way for directors, who have new films, to “debut” them to thousands of people. More than a quarter of a million people (250,000) attend TIFF each year.

Other film festivals are held around the world - perhaps the most famous is the Cannes Film Festival, held each year in France. However, the Toronto Film Festival has taken its place as one of the most prestigious in the world.

The 2010 Toronto International Film Festival runs for 11 days, ending on September 19.

Related links
Want to keep tabs on which celebrities are in town for the festival? One of the best ways is through Toronto blogs like torontoist.