But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids
But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids
Vermont Public Radio
But Why is a show led by kids. They ask the questions and we find the answers. It’s a big interesting world out there. On But Why, we tackle topics large and small, about nature, words, even the end of the world. Know a kid with a question? Record it with a smartphone. Be sure to include your kid's first name, age, and town and send the recording to questions@butwhykids.org!
Ethics: Is It OK To Break A Rule?
Is it OK to do something that you were told not to do and then never tell anybody? In this episode we tackle that thorny question from 10-year-old Finn from Seattle. We'll also wrestle with the question, "Why do people make really bad choices and want other people's lives to be harder?" Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript We're tackling some ethical dilemmas in this episode and we're letting kids give the answers! We also get a response from ABC Radio's Short & Curly, a podcast devoted to ethics for kids. Here's how some of our young listeners answer the question about whether it's ever okay to break a rule and lying about it: "No, because it usually just means you get in trouble." - Juniper "I think so. If you're protecting somebody or keeping a surprise." - Camille "It depends who told you. Like if your parents told you, then you shouldn't do it. Or if you do it, you should tell them you did it. But if it's like a mean person you met on the street it's ok. And it depends what it is. Because if it's a bad question, you shouldn't do it either way if it's a bad thing. If it's a good deed you should do it. And if you did that, why wouldn't you tell anyone?" -Sylvie "No, not really. If you don't tell anyone about it. It's mostly the doing it and then not telling anybody about it. Mostly what isn't the good thing about it. It's a little bit worse, if you don't tell someone you might get a feeling where you feel kind of embarrassed. And you don't tell anybody and it just sticks with you the rest of your life."  - Piper
Apr 9
16 min
Why Do We Compete?
Have you ever felt competitive with a friend or a sibling? Competition comes up in a lot of different ways in life. Maybe you're running a race with a friend and you want to beat them! Maybe you're trying to play a song without making a mistake and you're competing against yourself. Sometimes competition feels good and fun. It can make you want to do better, and make a game more enjoyable. But not always. Sometimes competition feels bad. Like it's too much pressure, or takes away from the fun of being with your friends. Some people really don't like competition at all. 3-year-old Kai from Tokyo, Japan asks: "Why do we need to compete with other people, especially friends, for example on a sports day or at gym class?" In this episode we discuss competition with anthropologist Niko Besnier. And we'll hear from 12-year-old Harini Logan, a competitive speller from San Antonio, Texas, and 10-year-old Del Guilmette, an athlete from Monkton, Vermont. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript We put Kai's question to Niko Besnier, anthropologist at the University of Amsterdam.  One of his books is called The Anthropology of Sport , written with Susan Brownell and Thomas F. Carter. He says there are two reasons that people take part in competitions: "One is that sports are fun. It's fun to play with your friends and classmates, to run, jump, play ball. We've all experienced this rush of pleasure and fun doing these things. But the other aspect that's contradictory to the fun part is that it enables us to measure our strength, our speed, our physical ability against those of other people. It's the competition part of sport, and competition can become extremely serious. Frequently, the fun part of sport gets lost." Besnier says when competition gets out of hand it can lead to hurt feelings, and on a larger scale, competition can lead to things like war and inequality. But with the right attitude, competition, especially when we compete against ourselves, can help us get better at sports and academics. That's how it is for Harini Logan. She's a competitive speller who has made it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee twice! "Competition teaches you a lot, whether it's the preparation leading up to that competition or the outcome," Logan says. "It can teach you a lot about not only your abilities, but also new things that can change the way you look at life. When you're preparing for a competition you can learn how to work hard, and how not to give up on something. And during the competition you learn teamwork. That's one thing you learn in spelling bees, because you want to be with your community, your friends. One thing to learn if you win: sportsmanship! You don't gloat about it, you still appreciate yourself but you don't overdo it so others don't feel bad. And if you don't win it doesn't matter. [You just say:] I'm going to try harder next time." Competing also helps us get better. That's how 10-year-old Del Guilmette views it. He likes to play against tough teams when he plays sports, because that's how you get better. "The best players at the game, whatever sport it is, they didn't get better because they played teams that they knew they were going to beat. They played those teams that were better than them. They got better and they practiced!" Listen to the full episode to hear more about how these mature young competitors think about the value of competition.
Mar 26
22 min
Why Are Mammoths Extinct?
In the ice age, megafauna roamed North America: mammoths, saber-toothed cats, even giant land sloths! What happened to them? In this episode we answer questions about the ice age: What was it? Did birds live during that time period? How about giraffes? Did people live with woolly mammoths? Why did mammoths go extinct? We'll answer your questions with Ross MacPhee, senior curator at the American Museum of Natural History and author of End of Megafauna: The Fate of the World's Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals. And we'll hear from Nathaniel Kitchel, a Dartmouth researcher who used carbon dating to discover the age of a mammoth rib. Plus, John Moody, of the Winter Center for Indigenous Traditions in Norwich, Vermont, on how mammoths appear in the oral history of the Abenaki people. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript "What was the ice age?" -Karen, 5, Wilmington, Delaware In the Pleistocene era, which lasted from 120,000 years ago to 15,000 years ago, ice covered the landscape in much of the northern hemisphere. Ice covered all of Canada down into the Northern United States and all of northern Europe. And there were smaller ice sheets in Russia. How did this happen? Scientists think it was a buildup of ice over time. "The theory is that the winter never ended," explained Ross MacPhee. "You would have snowfalls in the winter and it never really got warm enough to get rid of it completely. The next year that would be built on, built on and built on. And the thing about snow is that it kind of makes its own weather. If you have snow it gets very cold! And that preserves the snow pack for a very long time." The weight of that snow would compact into ice, eventually covering parts of the world in great sheets of ice. It might help to think of the process as a little bit like what happens when you have a favorite sledding hill: the snow is light and fluffy when you start, but if you sled down it enough times (and walk up the hill, too), eventually the paths get icy from the footsteps and sleds continually packing the snow down. It wasn't just ice sheets that were a feature of the ice age. All of that water caught up in the ice made sea level drop 300 feet lower than it is now. That exposed lots of land that is now covered in water, including a land bridge connecting Alaska and Russia! This land bridge allowed a number of species to move into North America from Asia, like bison. And some North American animals went into Asia, like camels and horses! Bear species traveled in both directions. Humans also used the land bridge to migrate into North America, though scientists think some early humans probably used boats too. Mammoths also migrated over that land bridge! They originated in Asia and came into North America. But there were other species of megafauna that roam the landscape as well, like giant condors, saber toothed cats and even giant sloths. These species went extinct at the same time as mammoths, as the ice age was ending. Listen to the episode to learn more about the theories of why so many large animals went extinct around the same time.
Mar 12
27 min
What’s Your Idea To Clean Up The Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
In 2019, we answered a question about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge mass of plastic and other trash swirling around in the Pacific Ocean. Mary James heard that episode and was so inspired, she created a device to help clean up the plastic in the ocean. In this episode of But Why, we learn about her invention, the mermicorn! Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript Listen back to Why Is There A Big Patch Of Garbage In the Pacific Ocean? Kids: we'd like to know what you think could be done about all the garbage in the ocean. Download our learning guide above to draw a picture or describe an invention you would make to help clean it all up. Mary James sent her picture of the mermicorn to the Little Inventors competition, for Canadian children. See Mary's entry here. Her invention has been chosen from among hundreds of other submissions to be turned into a prototype, a model of what the real thing might look like. There are Little Inventors competitions in the UK as well, and lots of countries and organizations sponsor design challenges for kids. See if you can find one where you live!
Feb 26
18 min
What Are Robots Doing On Mars?
On Thursday, February 18th, a robot called a rover is expected to land on the surface of Mars, and begin collecting information scientists hope will help us learn if life ever existed on that planet! We answer your Mars questions with Mitch Schulte, NASA program scientist for the Mars 2020 mission. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript NASA has a number of ways that you can watch the landing live on February 18th at 11:15 a.m. PST / 2:15 p.m. EST / 19:15 UTC. The rover is called Perseverance, which means not giving up, continuing to work toward a difficult goal even when challenges are placed in your way. And it is quite a challenge just to get to Mars! The rover was launched on a rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida more than 6 months ago, by NASA, the U.S. Space Agency. And it has been traveling through space ever since, on a path to Mars. And now, people all over the world are eager to watch it land on Mars and get to work. And it’s not just Perseverance that is going to land on Mars. There’s also a helicopter, called Ingenuity, which means cleverness, creativeness and resourcefulness all rolled into one. Ingenuity, the helicopter, is basically a drone—there’s no one inside driving it around, just as there are no people onboard the rover. But ingenuity is the first helicopter to ever test-fly on another planet!
Feb 16
25 min
Cool Beans: How Chocolate And Coffee Get Made
How is chocolate made? Why can't we eat chocolate all the time? Why is chocolate dangerous for dogs? Why do adults like coffee? In this episode, we tour Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts to learn how chocolate goes from bean to bar. Then we visit a coffee roaster in Maine to learn about this parent-fuel that so many kids find gross! And we'll learn a little about Valentine’s Day.
Feb 12
26 min
Why Are Cactuses Spiky?
What makes a cactus a cactus? And what are you supposed to call a group of these plants--cacti, cactuses, or cactus?! We'll find out in today's episode, as we learn more about the cactus family with Kimberlie McCue of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. She'll answer kid questions about why cacti are spiky and how they got those spikes, as well as why teddy bear cacti aren't actually cuddly! Those prickly spines that are so characteristic of the cactus family are actually modified leaves! Cacti don't have the kind of leaves like a maple or oak tree. But they might have had leaves that were at least a little more like that way way back in the past. Over time, those leaves evolved into the spiky spines we see on cactuses today because they help the plants survive in hot, dry environments. Why are cactuses spiky? -Noah, Iowa "They can be a defense mechanism to discourage herbivores - animals that eat plants - from eating the cactus. But, also, spines create shade!" explains Kimberlie McCue. "When you're covered in spines, as the sun moves across the sky, those spines are casting shadows on the body of the cactus. They're little shade umbrellas!" All cacti are native to desert environments, and some live in places where it never rains at all. So how do they get water to survive? Well, Kimberlie tells us that these plants grow not too far from the ocean. "Early in the morning, there will be fog that comes off the water. Those spines provide a place for the water to condense, form little droplets of water that run down the spine, to the body of the plant, down to the ground and to the roots." Cacti are also extremely important parts of their desert environments, as they hold soil in place and provide shelter for birds and other animals. Those insects and birds in turn help pollinate the cactus flowers. Cacti are also an important local food source for humans. Unfortunately, cacti are in danger from people who poach (illegally take) wild plants from their environment. Kimberlie McCue says one way to help make sure cacti stay healthy and plentiful is to be careful when you buy cactus plants. Check to see where the plant seller got the cactus and make sure they're taking care to be ethical stewards of these plants before you buy.
Jan 29
30 min
What's A Screaming Hairy Armadillo? How Animals Get Their Names
Why are whale sharks called whale sharks? Why are guinea pigs called pigs if they're not pigs? Why are eagles called bald eagles if they're not bald? You also ask us lots of questions about why and how animals got their names. So today we're going to introduce you to the concept of taxonomy, or how animals are categorized, and we'll also talk about the difference between scientific and common names. We'll learn about the reasoning behind the names of daddy long legs, killer whales, fox snakes, German shepherds and more! Our guests are Steve and Matt Murrie, authors of The Screaming Hairy Armadillo, and 76 Other Animals With Weird Wild Names.
Jan 15
27 min
Hopes And Dreams For 2021 From Kids Around The World
As the new year dawns, what are you hopeful for in 2021?Even though the change of the calendar year is mostly symbolic, New Year's Day is often a time for looking back on the year that just passed and setting goals for the year ahead. We asked you to share your hopes and dreams for 2021, from the end of the COVID-19 pandemic to your own personal goals. In this episode, more than 100 kids from around the world offer New Year's resolutions.We'll also hear from Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, climate activist Bill McKibben and Young Peoples Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye.Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript
Jan 1
41 min
Why Do Things Seem Scary In The Dark?
Lots of people are afraid of the dark, including many kids who have shared that fear with us. In today's episode we explore the fear of the dark with Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, the author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and a picture book for young kids called The Dark. Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript | Coloring Page Then we go on a night hike with Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Steve Parren, to talk about ways to embrace the darkness. We practice our night vision by not using flashlights and we think about how our other senses can help us navigate. Steve also answers questions about how animals see in the dark and why it sometimes look like animals' eyes are glowing back at us in the darkness. This episode features coloring pages by Xiaochun Li. Download and print My Flashlight And Me , and Hiding Under The Covers . You can color as you listen!
Dec 18, 2020
33 min
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