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This month we consider motion, gravity, and Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and demonstrate a very cool activity that reinforces Newton’s First Law of Motion (and gravity) in a fun and memorable way. All it takes is a raw egg, clear drinking glass, water, non-breakable pie plate and toilet paper tube.  

But before we start “slinging” eggs, let’s learn a little about Sir Isaac Newton.  After all, he is considered one of the most important scientists in history. Even Albert Einstein said that Isaac Newton was the smartest person who ever lived. During his lifetime Newton developed the theory of gravity, the laws of motion (which became the basis for physics), a new type of mathematics called calculus, and made breakthroughs in the area of optics such as the reflecting telescope.

In grade school you probably learned Newton’s apple story around the time you learned about Washington cutting down the cherry tree and the Pilgrims celebrating the first Thanksgiving with their native American friends. Since neither of these stories proved to be true, you probably have your doubts about whether Newton actually sat under an apple tree and had a “eureka” moment concerning gravity, either.

It might surprise you to learn, then, that Newton was indeed sitting under an apple tree when he had his so-called “eureka” moment on how gravity worked.

Although, it took him over two decades more to develop the fully-fledged theory of “universal gravitation” and he also didn’t complete it without some ideas others had already come up with, such as Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, and Edmond Halley (of Halley’s comet fame). So perhaps “eureka” is an exaggeration. From accounts, he was more just put on the correct path while musing under the tree.

Further, it would seem that the apple didn’t fall directly on his head- at least there is no documented evidence of this. But if you discount the notion that he near instantly fleshed out his universal theory and the “fell on his head” bit, the common story is pretty accurate.

And through that we begin to understand gravity, the mysterious force that makes everything fall down towards the Earth.

Newton is credited with many well-known quotes. Perhaps one of the most inspiring is this:If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” As for our budding Quirkles scientists and many, many others, they have stood on the shoulders of the giant Sir Isaac Newton.

April kicks off what is typically the most active and dangerous three-month period of the year for tornadoes in the United States. It’s a perfect time to pull out the Quirkles book Timothy Tornado to learn more about this strange weather phenomena and discuss safety preparedness. Then learn about vortexes in our fun activity, Timothy Tornado’s Water Race.

Did you know that before 1950, your local weather forecaster would not have warned you of favorable tornado weather conditions or told you to take cover? That’s because from 1887 up until 1950, American weather forecasters were forbidden from attempting to predict tornados. During that time, Roger Edwards of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center writes, “tornadoes were dark and mysterious menaces of unfathomable power, fast-striking monsters from the sky capable of sudden and unpredictable acts of death and devastation.”

Less than confident in their own predictive powers, and fearful of the responses of a panicked public, “the use of the word ‘tornado’ in forecasts was at times strongly discouraged and at other times forbidden” by the Weather Bureau, Edwards writes, replaced by euphemisms like “severe local storms.”

Of course, a ban on the word “tornado” wouldn’t have been necessary without someone who really wanted to talk about tornadoes. That person was John Park Finley, an officer with the Army Signal Office with a deep interest in severe storms. The U.S. Army Signal Service first opened a weather forecasting office in 1870, and when Finley enlisted in 1877, he joined it immediately.

His hope was to develop a method of tornado prediction so that storms’ arrivals could be broadcast to local communities–possibly he thought through the ringing of church bells.

In 1887, nervous superiors sent him instructions: the word tornado was banned from forecasts. Besides an excitable public, there were commercial concerns; the businessmen of Tornado Alley had “complained that Finley was giving potential investors the idea that their region was twister prone.”

The Signal Office’s forecasting division was eventually transferred to the Department of Agriculture, where it became the U.S. Weather Bureau. Though the Bureau developed warning systems for everything from floods to hurricanes to forest fires, it held fast to its tornado position. Forecasts of tornadoes were prohibited. Meanwhile, throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s, the death toll from tornadoes mounted. There were no warnings, so no time for people to seek shelter.

In 1948, two Air Force meteorologists, Major Ernest J. Fawbush and Captain Robert E. Miller, after scrutinizing tornados in Alabama, Georgia, and Oklahoma, developed their own prediction system. In 1948, after correctly predicting several outbreaks among themselves, they finally announced an upcoming storm publicly.

Miller prepared himself for the worst: “It seemed improbable that anyone would employ, as a weather forecaster, an idiot who issued a tornado forecast for a precise location,” he would later write.

Their forecast turned out to be correct, and when word of the feat got out a couple of years later, the public clamored for warnings. In 1950, the chief of the Weather Bureau removed the ban, writing “the forecaster (district or local) may at his discretion mention tornadoes in the forecast or warning.”

These days, tornado forecasting is still hard to pull off. We still don’t fully understand how these powerful storms work. But thanks to technological advances, changing priorities, and ever-more-detailed science, the average annual tornado death toll has gone down significantly since the 1950s (though some storms, like the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado killed 161). Hopefully, we’ll continue to learn more. It helps, of course, that forecasters can also say the word.


This month we celebrate Sir Isaac Newton. He is credited with the quote, “What goes up, must come down.” Let’s just see about that! This activity might take some practice, but it’s worth the effort!


Tornadoes are anything but fun and games. Here are some warning signs: a dark, often greenish, sky, wall clouds, large hail often in the absence of rain, air may become very still, and a loud roar similar to a freight train may be heard.

What People Are Saying

I really appreciate your ideas and support!!! I am amazed at the Quirkles series that you have created and know you all must be FABULOUS teachers!!!

Cindy, Lower School Science Coordinator, Suffolk, VA

What People Are Saying

It is very hard to put into words exactly how much I love the Quirkles. They totally changed my attitude about teaching science to kindergarten and first graders as an enrichment class in my school.

Lynn, Gifted Teacher, Springdale, AR