Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Whoa, Oh, Oh, It's Magic, You Know

I posted a bit ago about being surprised that so many parents are somewhat depressed when their children stop believing in Santa. They say that their children 'need that magic.' It's a phrase I hear often but never quite understood. I've been thinking about it recently and wonder if I have part of the answer.

When these parents use magic, they seem to mean innocence. Innocence from suffering, innocence from limitations, freedom from the restrictions of reality. I think this 'magic' may be tied into a parental sadness that their children are eventually going to have to become adults, with all that entails. Such as recognizing that they may not be able to fly, or that wishes cannot come true just because you want them. For parents who believe that humans are flawed or unworthy in some way, whether due to religion--where we are constantly battling our 'base' desires--or even environmentalism, where every human is a blight on the Earth and we are then sinful in a secular way for destroying the 'intrinsic' value of the natural world, it means their children are going to have to come to grips with being a negative thing or at least always having to battle being bad in some way.

I think this is also parent's recognizing that their children will not believe something just because someone else says it's true (they themselves are looking for physical proof) or that they have discovered that the fiction that they did believe was made up. That goes right to the idea of an unwavering acceptance of a God or any other mystical force (can anyone say 'The Secret' or New Age beliefs). If one begins to think of Santa as a bit of a testing ground for faith, belief not just above what you know, but despite it, of course the discovery that Santa is not real would be a sad time in the life of those parents.

On a positive note about 'magic', everyone wants their children to feel powerful and capable. Some people think that can only be accomplished through magic. I disagree. I empower my children by helping them recognize their own powers--of reason and being able to do things with it. That is why the discovery that there was no Santa was a great game in our family and greeted with joy--it was like a mystery that Hanover could solve and feel accomplished in the doing of it.

Given my positive view of mankind, no wonder I don't feel my kids need any kind of magical thought. What do we have to escape from? That people can't fly on their own? We made airplanes so now we can. That people can't appear instantly in a place? That would be great. Perhaps they can study science and be the first to do it. That people can't travel through time? Well, we can't, but isn't it wonderful to imagine what it would be like?

Mankind is wonderful! We have a government of hundreds of millions of people where we discuss problems and use reason to convince others of our points, instead of violence. That is a fabulous creation of mankind, even if I don't agree with some of the laws passed. We have developed methods of farming that allows for so much food to be produced that some people think we produce too much. Humans have discovered a way to allow millions of people to live on a small island! They discovered a way to build skyscrapers and actually did it. We have walked on the moon. We have explored the outer reaches of our solar system. We have ideas that explain huge swaths of physical phenomenon. We can have fertile golf courses in the middle of a desert--uninhabitable land until we developed it. We don't just survive, we thrive.

I know that there are going to be people saying, 'yeah, but we killed people in the past and still have wars,' or 'what about slavery,' or 'we're exploiting the earth,' or 'insert generic complaint here.' Especially silly are those who think humans are so powerful we could make the planet uninhabitable and yet, if we're so damned powerful, how come we couldn't come up with a technological solution? I say that those people have a very limited view. That there are bad things does not make humankind bad. We've come a long way, baby.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Becoming an Engineer--Just the Facts

The first thing any young person should know about engineering is that it is an applied science. Scientists are in the business of finding laws of nature. Engineers are in the business of using those laws and making products.

There are a number of different engineering fields available. I became a mechanical engineer. With a mechanical engineering background I could choose to be a manufacturing engineer, an aerospace engineer, heating, ventilation and cooling, or a robotics engineer. Other types of engineering careers include chemical, biomedical, packaging, civil, computer, electrical, industrial, material, and nuclear.

Every engineer will learn a little bit about different sciences. As part of my mechanical engineering courses, I took two semesters of chemistry, four semesters of engineering physics, a materials science course, and an Electrical engineering including some digital signal processing. There is a lot of math involved in engineering. I took five semesters of math--integral calculus, differential calculus, multivariable calculus, partial differential equations with linear algebra, and advanced calculus. Because engineering is involved with production, we also needed a semester Of engineering economics.

My school, which I believe is typical of many engineering schools that offer a broad range of majors, did not expect a matriculation into a specific field of engineering until the second year of school. One of our required courses was an engineering overview where we heard from seniors or grad students in each specialty. Engineering is a tough course of study in four years. A full time college student needs to take 4 classes per semester. Schools limit the class load to 6. Engineering students have to take at least 5 classes a semester and half the time they need to take 6. And these 6 classes are intense with homework, projects, papers, and labs. I took an additional semester to finish up my degree.

Kids need to be prepared for college level math and science classes. That means high school must include algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and precalculus. If you get through calculus in senior year, even better. The science classes must include biology, physics, and chemistry. A good SAT score is important. Even better is a desire to solve problems.

The bureau of labor statistics at the U.S. Dept of labor has a great summary of engineering types available and also job outlooks and projections as well as earnings information.

What We Got for Christmas

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. What did you all get?

I finally got husband to agree on an upgrade for the family camera. I had three requirements: long zoom, movie mode with at least TV/VGA quality, and 8 MP or more. I got the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28. So far the only thing I do not like is that I have to use their software to remove the pictures from the camera and that the pictures are stored on the camera without any organization. My old camera grouped photos into folders based on the timing of the pictures (sessions of pictures would be in a single folder--which was awesome for organizing) and the camera itself just connected like any other USB removable storage device. I also got a Sidewinder, and some much-needed cables for my PDA.

I got a watch, a bread machine, a Border's gift card, a subscription to Sky and Telescope, and some SD cards for my hubby. The bread machine was a total flop. I thought he would like it because a friend of ours used to bring us fresh bread all the time and it hardly ever lasted three days because he ate it for breakfast and snacks ever day. He pretty much thinks that because it's a kitchen appliance, that I must have bought it for myself.
Hanover's big present was a new digital camera. Her other presents were an iDog Dance for the portable video players they got last year, a set of Calico Critter babies, clothes embellishment craft for fashion doll dresses, some Bella Sara cards, new cheap-o headphones, a Nerf gun, a toothbrush that plays music, an umbrella, and a vintage (read eBay yard sale find) porcelain doll.
Flurpee got a Calico Critter house, an iDog Dance for the portable video players they got last year, a stuffed unicorn, some Bella Sara cards, new cheap-o headphones, a Nerf gun, a toothbrush that plays music, an umbrella, and a vintage (read eBay yard sale find) 22" plastic doll.
Yes, I pretty much get my kids the same things.
The family gifts were new Wii games, High School Musical Sing It with a microphone, Family Party Games (which totally sucks, by the way), Wii Play (with an extra remote), and another remote and nunchuck.
And I just wanted to add this because I used the new camera and because he's just so cute, if I do say so myself.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Blogging To Do List

Here are things I am planning on doing soon:

Post about encouragingor preparing students for engineering.
Six random things about me (thanks for the tag, Amy!).
Finishing the astronomy experiment book. The problem there is that my standards just kept dropping because I did not want to continue to type so many of the experiments that I did not think were useful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Snow Day for Christmas

Here in CT we got a nice storm on Friday. I love taking pictures of my house when it's covered in snow. The snow hides all of the ugliness. I also love that hubby put up the wreaths this year. We skipped most decorating last year. I was worried that a newborn would interrupt the take-down schedule.

It might not seem like a big deal, but it was the front door that I fell in love with when we first saw the house.

Our house is at the bottom of a gentle hill with just enough work done to keep the front door at ground level to create a small hill in our front lawn. It's enough to allow us to sled right in our yard.

Here's Filthy Little Monster's first ride. And his reaction! Isn't hubby a great daddy? Notice who's going down the hill with a freezing butt and who is holding the camera.

Here is Flurpee learning how to steer.

Hanover is thrilled with sledding as fast as she can.

Hope your Christmas is Merry and Bright!

Objectivist Carnival at Christmastime

The carnival is early for Christmas, so here it is!

Making Presents

And I'm not talking about the kind my filthy little monkey makes for me every day (and, boy, should you be happy about that). I have often toyed with the idea of making my own Christmas presents. It rarely works out due to a number of factors (lack of preplanning and thinking about it soon enough are just the top of the list). This year I started early enough and had a enough quick-and-yet-not-cheesy-looking ideas that I actually made presents for a few friends.

My first idea for a homemade gift was based on a gift I remember receiving as a young child. I believe my grandmother bought it for me from Avon or some other door-to-door affordable beauty supply. It was a lovely smelling solid perfume. Do any of you remember that? It's a perfume that is in a compact that is a little harder than lip balm. It doesn't spill and it's very hard to over-apply it. If you have had any girls discover the spray perfume on your vanity, then you will understand why that is an important bonus. I wanted to buy it, but I could only find it on-line and the cost with shipping and handling was much more than I wanted to spend. I found this recipe and these containers.

Some of the boxes had little coils on the top that seemed incomplete so I made tassels to put on them. I made most of the tassels out of decorative gold thread that I happened to have. The one above is just deep yellow embroidery thread wrapped about 100 times.

Here are some alternate containers (much smaller) for additional gifts. I used standard floral essential oils of rose, lily of the valley, and honeysuckle. So a run down of cost:

$5 of beeswax
$10 jojoba oil
$14 essential oils
$30 for 9 fancy containers
$5 10 tin containers
$5 shipping and handling

This amount made about 15 gifts (counting two tins as one gift since they hold so much less and aren't nearly as cool looking and useful after the contents are exhausted as the jeweled boxes). So about $5 for each gift. The largest amount of time was spent waiting for the beeswax to melt. To use multiple scents, I made different batches for each.

Since I was ordering from this place anyway, I decided to add lip balm to the homemade present list. They had a recipe for lip balm that was recommended but complicated. However, they also sell the lip balm base itself--everything in one container and you add any flavor oils or color you want and decide on the type of container. I happen to like lanolin because it is similar to our natural oils so I ordered the Lip Solutions with lanolin. I also included some castor oil for a bit more slip and shine for the girls' lip balm and included the ultrafine glitter for some shimmer. I used cherry flavor oil. It smelled like cherry but did not taste like much of anything. I'm fine with that. The unadulterated solution had a slight odor, but it was not like Chapstick, so I am glad I masked it. Obviously, from the pictures below, I also added color. It does not really show up on the lips so it is definitely OK for little girls. I wanted to use both types of containers. I like the sticks because they are mess free, but the tins are more fun to label. The tins can hold twice as much as the sticks, but I did not fill them all the way, so they are about the same.

Cost-wise, here's the breakdown:

$8 lip solutions (used about 1/2)
$5 10 tin containers
$4 10 tube containers
$3 cherry flavor oil
$4 castor oil
$4 ruby colorant
$4 ultrafine glitter
$1 8 small transfer pipettes
$1 5 large transfer pipettes
$8 shipping and handling

I have enough of this stuff to make lip balm/gloss forever. Really! I'm sure that I could give lip balm as presents for every occasion for the next two years and may only need to buy more containers. I could make 50 tubes of lip balm for about $1 a tube, including shipping. I will not be making 50 tubes, at least not any time soon, so I probably spent about $2.50 per container for the amount I will be making for gifts. For guys, I would leave out the stronger color, the castor oil, and the glitter, but I would still include the flavor oil. By the way, I also bought vanilla flavor. That absolutely requires sweetness (which can also be bought as a flavor oil). The vanilla flavor oil made the lip balm incredibly bitter. So no vanilla this year.

The next homemade present I decided on was actually something I saw at the checkout line in Borders. They are called book thongs, but ribbon book mark or beaded book mark would probably also be used. They were so cute, that I bought one for our book club secret Santa. Along with the ribbon book marks, I also made some cell phone charms and key chains. Hanover decided to make some earrings for her friends, too.

I happened to have some jewelry making tools (small, toothless pliers, round-nose pliers for making circles), so I figured these book marks would not be difficult to make. I wouldn't call them difficult, and I really enjoyed picking out beads, and ribbon, and deciding how best to combine the different shapes, textures, and colors. This was a craft my kids loved to participate in as well--they did the beading of the gifts for their friends. I wanted to use good quality beads, so this homemade project probably cost me more to make than it would have to buy them pre-made. The reason is that when you buy beads, you are buying one style of one type at a single price--so medium sized round beads of jasper or clear crystal cubes. So if you want a variety of beads on one book mark (and who wouldn't?), you need to buy a number of different beads. As you can see from the above picture, I wanted a lot of different colors and styles. Since I gave the cost of the previous projects, I'll bite the bullet and list the costs for the book marks (To make a single type of book mark and assuming you get decent sale prices):

$3 ribbon
$3 end crimps with holes
$3 2" head pins
$3 various sliver-tone spacer beads
$2 seed beads (for starting the head pins to make sure the large beads don't fall off and sometimes for spacing)
$3 bead type 1
$3 bead type 2
$4 bead type 3

The cell phone charm straps ($3 for 6) key chains ($3 for 20) would replace the ribbon and the end crimps. You could probably make 6 or 7 ribbon book marks from the above list at about $4 each, as long as you don't mind that they use the same beads and look very similar. I chose quite a variety and may have made just over 16 altogether. Some of the photos also show book marks made using beading wire (approximately 26 gauge) and crimping beads in place of the head pins (the white ribbon with clear crystal beads, the cell phone charm with three strands of beads are examples). Using the beading wire allowed many more beads. I think the bookmarks are beautiful and I hope that anyone who receives one uses it often!

I also made some candy this year. I tried, ultimately unsuccessfully after three attempts, to make fudge from scratch (now I know why the recipe on the back of the Fluff container advertises itself as 'no fail'). I also botched my first two caramel batches--the butter separated out of the first and the second was filling-removing hard). The last batch of caramel worked out just fine. The English toffee was crazy easy to make and absolutely delicious. After allowing it to cool, I cut it into bite-sized pieces and drizzled chocolate on some and coated others like mini candy bars. Hanover single-handedly made the rum balls (how funny that she could make the one treat that she wouldn't be allowed to eat). Hanover and Flurpee both were instrumental in the peanut butter ball success. They were about twice as productive as I was in terms of measurable final product. I also made some cookie press cookies. They were very cute, but two batches were lost to an ill-rinsed baking sheet (soap flavored cookies, anyone?). The kids used a green colored egg wash to paint the Christmas trees green before they were baked and used star-shaped decorations and green sugar.

Sorry, no pictures of the toffee or caramels. After the 150 or so little pieces were individually wrapped in hand-cut wax paper squares, I just couldn't stand to spend any more time with them. They were really delicious though. I had to send them out soon after making them, or there wouldn't have been enough!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Putting Myself Out There

We had our last formal science class today that wasn't. At least we were supposed to have our last science class, which would have been a review of the ancient proto-scientists who carried on the idea of an 'atom' and Archimedes' work. With it being so close to Christmas time and the other family not being able to make it, my kids had a great time just hanging out.

I was not sure if I was going to continue. Seeing that I am researching as I go along and have to spend a lot of time preparing for each week, I thought the whole endeavor might end in the fall. The family who didn't attend today I knew would not continue into the new year anyway.

So I must have been in a very competent-feeling mood when I invited some people to start taking the course in January. I invited one of the families from girls' club.

Since we've finally moved out of the ancient times--having skipped Eratosthenes and Ptolemy, our next topic will be gravity. We'll spend a lot of time on Galileo and his pendulums and ramp experiments.

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up! At the urging of ChristineMM, I have a post in this carnival.

Monday, December 15, 2008

No Longer a Single Parent

Husband was away on travel last week. It gave me a glimpse into the life of a single parent. It's a lot of work with very little time for yourself. Boy am I glad hubby's back. And he got us a tree this weekend!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Terrible Science Experiments

(Updated to fix the time stamp)

I picked up the book "Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work" by Janice VanCleave at the latest library book sale. Janice VanCleave is a name that abounds in the science section of my library. She is a prolific writer of experiment books. I have not read her other books, but it seems that in getting to 101 experiments for astronomy, she included a number of poor choices. I have a version of the book copyrighted in 1991.

Some of the experiments in this book are good. Some are OK. It is for this reason that I felt compelled to add my two cents for which experiments should be skipped.


8. Thick
In this experiment, the child is supposed to learn why it's hard to look through Venus' atmosphere. So the author has the child try to look at a flashlight beam through waxed paper. Apparently this is supposed to emulate the way that more carbon dioxide in Venus' atmosphere bounce the light around more and make it difficult to see the surface. An experiment with no value whatsoever.

10. In Place
This is the worst one. This experiment is supposed to demonstrate the center point of the Earth-Moon gravitation system, the barycenter. Use a pin to secure the center of the circle to the eraser of a pencil with a bit of clay on the tip to represent the moon. Put a black dot on the pencil half an inch in from the edge of the circle. Now rotate the circle and notice the dot stays about a half inch from the edge of the circle. What you just demonstrated was that you are good at cutting out circles, finding their center, and drawing dots in from the edge.

14. Sun Prints
Use developing paper to make a print. This is done by taking specially treated paper that changes color when left in the sun. Parts of the paper that are not exposed will not change color. Hold onto your hats--this is supposed to demonstrate some ideas about why Jupiter has vary colored clouds. "Scientists think that the colors may come from chemicals in the clouds because of Jupiter's lightning or that the Sun changes the colors as it did the special light-sensitive paper." It's a bad experiment mostly because it relies on 'magical' paper (to the kids, anyway) and has a very wishy-washy theory to support that is probably wrong. It may be due to the age of the book.

17. Hot
Feeling warmth after vigorously rubbing your hands together is supposed to show that conservation of energy is why atoms bumping together in Jupiter's dense atmosphere do not cause a change in temperature at the surface of the planet. So a kid is supposed to generate heat to understand why heat is not generated.

27. How Far
To show how Pluto can sometimes be inside Neptune's orbit, draw any two ellipses where part of one ellipse is inside the other. You are not even constrained by one of the foci (you know, the Sun) being the same for each orbit.

30. Elliptical
The experiment has kids tracking the trajectory of a marble as it shoots from a straw and then falls according to gravity. The experiment is fine, but the title is completely mistaken. The experiment is designed to show how planets move in curved paths, ellipses, because they are captured by gravity. Though I may be picky, the path traced by a projectile with constant horizontal velocity under the acceleration of gravity is a parabola. They could have found a less inaccurate name.

40. Waves
Put a magnet under a piece of paper and sprinkle iron filings on top of the paper. When the magnet is moved the iron filings move with the magnet. "Purpose: To simulate the presence of planets with magnetic fields." Perhaps there was a type-o? Maybe the purpose is to show what a magnetic field looks like?

46. Sky Path
Use a piece of paper and a glass bowl and a whole day to demonstrate that the Sun moves from East to West across the sky. This is just time consuming. The point is that the Sun just looks like it's moving--it's really us.

48. Moving Target
Make a pendulum using a washer and string. Set it in motion and then try to hit the washer with a wadded up piece of paper. It is hard. You need to aim for where the washer will be after the paper has left your hand and had time to travel. It is like getting to the Moon. Except NASA had the most advanced computers at the time, the math and laws of Isaac Newton, and some of the best scientists and engineers working on the project. The point is not that the experiment is bad, it is just that the experiment will make the kid frustrated. I would not want any kid to get the idea that NASA just had good luck--which is what the kid would need in order to hit the washer. They could hit the washer with great equipment, precise timing, the fundamental equations of motion, and superb calculating ability. Which is not to diminish the great accomplishment of the moon landing--but to point out it was not luck and we had a lot more on our side than the poor kid who will probably not hit the washer.

I only went trough the first 51 of the 101 so far. I started to ignore other experiments that included demonstrations where the observed behavior kind of matches the observed behavior 'out there' without actually using any of the same causes of the real behavior. I also tried to ignore the many experiments that show the opposite of the point actually being made--like the marble rolling in the funnel falls to the bottom due to friction slowing it's forward velocity and allowing gravity to pull it down and satellites stay in orbit because there is no friction.

(Updated to fix the time stamp)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Woman in the Jeffersonian

After discovering Hulu, I surfed the TV shows I've been missing over the last three or four years. One of the shows I decided to try was called Bones. It's about a super genius forensic anthropologist who identifies skeletons. She's peerless and surrounds herself with excellent staff. She's completely rational and often talks about modern social interaction in terms of anthropology. To help solve crimes, she is partnered with an FBI agent played by David Boreanz (Buffy fans will know). After watching 16 of the first season episodes almost back-to-back, I am still enjoying it.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Christmas Shopping

I have made a decent dent into the family's Christmas purchasing so far. Just the immediate family--friends and extended family are still waiting.

With my blessing, my mother has decided to get the kids a Wii. That almost spurred an actual argument between me and the hubby. See, hubby is a bit of a stick-in-the-mud (love ya, honey). Unless it is reading or science related, he is just not interested and thinks it is a waste of time. I have the role of fun protector. I make sure we have a functioning DVD player, allow the children to play on websites, allow them to read books for entertainment value, take them to movies--and now introduce them a real video game console.

I do not know when the kids will have time to play it. They can barely squeeze in any time for the computer, so we'll see how it goes. The reason they do not have much time for the computer (even though I would allow them each 45 minutes a day) is because they are not allowed to play before the school day ends, we only have one computer they are allowed to use and they need to share it with us and my e-mail, shopping, and news checking alway take priority, and they need us to enter the password so they have to wait until we are available.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Year Without a Santa Claus

No, it's not the movie. It's our life! Hanover and Flurpee both realized that Santa Claus is my split personality. Hanover asked me point black if I was Santa last year on Christmas day. Flurpee says she knew Santa Claus wasn't real (she was 6 at the time) and asked her sister if she knew who Santa was. So the cat is out of the bag here.*

I cannot tell you how proud I am of my kids that they figured out the Santa thing. They knew there was no such thing as magic, they figured out that reindeer couldn't fly without out it, they could tell all of the toys were the same things purchased at regular stores instead of made by elves, they knew no person could travel to all of the houses of everyone who celebrated Christmas in one night. They used their experiences and observations and compared it with what happened on the 'magical night' and they were not afraid to come to the right conclusion--regardless of what anyone else says. I am just so impressed.

So the point of the post? I am a bit frightened by some of the attitudes of other parents when it comes to Santa. The major effort spent leaving 'evidence' by some parents is just the start. The true sadness some parents feel at the idea of their kids eventual discovery of the truth is really astounding to me.

My sister-in-law seemed shocked that my kids knew about Santa and wondered what they could look forward to at Christmas. Which, of course, is quite puzzling to me. I do not think she meant to say that she did not enjoy Christmas, but it certainly came out that way. After all, I think most people do not believe in Santa and yet enjoy Christmas immensely.

Another mom was thankful her nine year-old still believes. She feels that kids need magic. Even though it is stated often, I never did understand what that means. I think part of that means protecting kids from realities of the world that they do not yet have the framework to understand, like household budgets or why people go to war (OK--perhaps the more subtle reasons since most kids understand needing to protect oneself). I think it mostly means that kids need to know that wonderful things are possible. What I really don't get is why wonderful things have to be unattainable without magic.

So how is Christmas without Santa? I will admit that it is particularly annoying to have Hanover edit her Christmas list based on her perception of our financial situation--which generally tends to seem more dire to them because I often explain that we do not have enough money for ice skating lessons, piano lessons, or horse back riding lessons. A month of any of which is equal to our Christmas budget per child. And again, last year, after confirming that her parents were responsible for the presents, Hanover was constantly coming up to me saying 'thank you.' Super annoying. I had to explain to her that we do not expect or want thanks at Christmas time.

*I definitely do Santa for my kids even though I call myself an Objectivist. I have a few rationalizations why--which I could share if you want. For the most part, I didn't have to talk about Santa at all. The kids were in day care when they were old enough to start understanding about Christmas and we watched all of the Christmas shows. I never told them big stories about Santa, but I did not tell them I was Santa and nor did I tell them Santa was make believe either. In our house, the parents are Santa. We do exist, we do decide what presents they can get, we do know whether they've been good or bad, we do not leave presents unless the kids are asleep, and we do need Christmas lists. And perhaps that is why my kids didn't ask if Santa was real, but if we were Santa.

Here's a take on 'no Santa' and parents who try too hard.

Blogging Observations

I think blogging can be slightly addictive and change your perspective in weird ways. I felt like I hadn't blogged in an age--only to see the last post was from just before Thanksgiving--only two weeks ago. Another thing I've noticed is how I think in terms of 'blogability.' I have a somewhat focused blog here. I tend to discuss mostly my home education and occasionally politics (I used to do a lot more politics, but now that I am familiar with other great blogs that say the same thing I generally would in a more effective and grammatically correct way, the need has vanished).

I often come across an article, or think of an idea and decide whether the idea, or my view of it, would be worthwhile to post here. Sometimes I post things here for myself (like a virtual memory base or book-marking system). I am surprised at how many times I actually search my own blog because I wanted to recover a link. Mostly I try to post ideas about education that I feel would be very beneficial to anyone interested in pedagogy. I try to remember who might be reading the blog and take that into account. No embarrassing stories about friends for instance.

You may notice that I haven't posted any science or girls' club updates either. That is because I doubted their appeal. If anyone is interested in knowing about either, just go ahead and leave a comment.

And Flurpee's birthday party is finally over. Build-a-Bear parties are fun for the kids, but let me just state for the record that doing anything at the mall in the month of December is very tricky business. Were it not for the efforts of a couple of very sweet and helpful parents, it would not have been a nice as it turned out! Wrangling tables in the food court is not easy during the Christmas season. I am glad it worked out. There was a woman there three hours before her child's party was even scheduled to begin trying to collect tables. I think that was a bit excessive, but she probably didn't panic at the sheer number of snackers and the clear lack of open tables. Whew! Glad that's over!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy!

I have just realized that we are going to be a very busy family during the first week of December. We're heading to my parents house for Thanksgiving for the first time in six years. I love them, but I am really disgusted with spending twice as long getting home from their house just because it's the weekend after Thanksgiving. We are going to try it this year but leave on Saturday instead of Friday or Sunday. I hope it helps a bit.

When we get home, I get to run girl's club during the day and then my husband has astronomy class that night. The next day is a doctor's appointment, science class, and then book club, in which I get to lead the discussion--in other words I have to prepare some questions. The following day includes ballet class and then another astronomy class (yes, dear readers, for the month of December and part of January, we will be having astronomy class twice a week as the last class finishes with the spring class starting). The next day includes ballroom class for Hanover and then our Objectivism discussion group (that means that our friend Doug will be coming over and we'll listen to the latest Peikoff podcast). The nature class for my kids has its monthly meeting that week, which means all morning out of the house and part of the afternoon. And to top it all off, Flurpee will have her party at the end of the week.

That means that I have been enjoying my self-imposed exile and that it will soon come to an end.

Lots of Goodness

Over at the Round Up--where Jenn is getting things done.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Special Edition of G. Gordon Liddy Show on Ayn Rand

Release from the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights:

RadioAmerica’s G. Gordon Liddy is devoting a special broadcast of his nationally syndicated three-hour talk radio show to Ayn Rand, her philosophy, and understanding the current state of events through the lens of Objectivism.

The broadcast will air live on Monday, November 17, 2008, beginning at 10 AM, Eastern Standard Time.

The Ayn Rand Center’s Yaron Brook, Onkar Ghate, Elan Journo, Thomas Bowden and Eric Daniels will be the exclusive guests for this extended broadcast. They will discuss the financial crisis, Bush’s claimed defense of capitalism, today’s challenges to free speech, and the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other topics.

The broadcast will air on 200 radio stations across the country as well as on XM satellite radio (on a delayed basis). Live streaming audio will be available at the RadioAmerica Web site.

G. Gordon Liddy encourages call-in questions from listeners across the country.

Copyright © 2008 Ayn Rand® Institute. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's Alive!

Me and the Round Up, that is! Here's the round up for this week.

Me? I was so excited when soccer season ended. I could stop the merry-go-round of "Where's your uniform? Do you have your shin guards? Wouldn't it be easier to keep everything in your soccer bag? Why are you complaining to me that your soccer stuff isn't clean when it's laying there on your floor? My job is to wash clothes from the dirty hamper in the laundry room and put it in your cubby in the laundry room. If it doesn't get into the hamper, then I really don't understand why you're upset with me. Yes, we bought more water bottles for practice. What? We have games on Saturday and Sunday?" I took a mental vacation for the last two weeks! That and my blogging ideas dried up like the mums I bought that never got watered (which were a very effective addition to the Halloween decorations--lemons and lemonade, you know).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Get Your Hot, Fresh Round Up Right Here!

I'm pleased the Phillies won the series and I am also pleased to read the Round Up this week!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

More on the Election--Further Thoughts

Of course, to take the Big Picture into account, the parties are more than just their candidates. That is a complicated equation. The parties breed the candidates, but the candidates that get elected also influence the party. The parties will take the candidate's election as a signal of where to move.

Just another dimension of an already complicated situation.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Just a Tidbit on the Election

I am still officially undecided on the presidential election. I do not know whether I will vote for Obama, McCain, or not vote for president. Politically, I am homeless. Neither party supports the principles I hold. As a capitalist, I want individual rights to property and liberty defended, along with aggressively defending me and my rights from military threats by any means we have at our disposal. The democrats recognize individual rights as long as you want government money to support art no one would ever voluntarily pay to see or if you do not own a business. Republicans support your rights only if you are unborn or want to own a gun. In the end they both like to confiscate your property and insist on taking over some part of your life in some unwelcome way.

For a lot of people, that seems to be good enough. For others, they might make a check list of each candidates' pros and cons and try to decide between them based on whatever 'most' people seem to be concerned about this time. Is the economy really bad this year? Are we at war? What are the headlines? I have certainly used that technique myself. I have also been the one-issue voter. This time, I wanted to make a decision from a more fundamental basis.

I have been reading both candidates' websites. There were not very many surprises (except for the sheer amount of programs both want passed with Obama apparently doubling or tripling McCain). This article about Obama at the Wall Street Journal, a review of his book "The Audacity of Hope," was particularly eye-opening. And from Althouse today, a brief description of McCain's appearance on "Meet the Press."

Whenever he found the chance, he would stress that Barack Obama has a far-left ideology, and whenever he needed a different argument -- such as when Brokaw confronted him with his own statements in favor of making the rich pay more taxes -- he would resort to the argument that different times require different solutions. How can you use these two rhetorical strategies alternately? It's incoherent.

Which is what McCain is; incoherent. He's more pragmatist than any other Republican we've had to deal with in recent history. Since pragmatists don't have their own ethics, he uses christian ethics with a good dose of 'country first.' Even these seem to be reigned in by what he thinks he can accomplish. He will choke free speech to get a clean government and he is against a federal marriage amendment. His tax cuts and health care ideas are defended because of their results, not based on morality. He does have some ideals, but there seems to be almost nothing he will not compromise.

There are Christians in this country who want to have their moral system ensconced into law. This is evident in the anti-abortion movement, at this point focused on overturning Roe v. Wade, as well as the many efforts to block same-sex couples from marrying. Allowing religious dogma to define laws will turn our country into factions fighting over whose religion is more correct, more numerous, or more acceptable to most people. It is only the republican party that would even entertain such nonsense.

Obama is a true believer the likes of which you would have thought would be ashamed to show their faces after the fall of the United Soviet Socialist Republic. Apparently, when you don't believe in an objective reality, no failure in the real world can shake you.

The Wall Street Journal article talks about Obama's take on liberalism and how he feels he can get everyone on board by being a great leader. The article stresses that Obama has been consistent in his ideals. He is a man of consistent ideas and he fairly glows with the self-confidence it gives him. Many people, even some so-called conservatives, have picked up on this special Obama quality. For many liberals, Obama is the beneficent leader-cum-dictator they have been hoping for. While Obama's platform is not full-throttle communism, the goal of the Democrats has always been a 'death by a thousand cuts.'

Obama has me considering this quote:

The battle of human history is fought and determined by those who are predominantly consistent, those who, for good or evil, are committed to and motivated by their chosen psycho-epistemology and its corollary view of existence.

Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, p. 21.

McCain, himself, is rather old-school and this link has seemed appropriate for him.

And that is without taking vice presidential candidates into consideration.

I am not a philosopher. I am just someone trying to sort out information I have tried to gather for myself, within the time I decided was appropriate to spend on it in terms of the rest of my priorities. I endeavor to use my brain and good principles. With some effort I'll come to a conclusion that is consistent with what I think works best for me and my kids' future.

For the only philosophy that supports freedom and reason, you can visit here.

Postscript: Any third parties are even more divorced from my standards.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


A few months ago we splurged and I got myself a new computer*. It was a pretty decent deal from Dell. Since we decided to put a school room upstairs and because I make a lot of my own school material on the computer, I finally realized I could do some of that work during actual school time if I only had a halfway decent computer upstairs.

Because I'm often making my own materials, I needed the typical suite of office-related software. I was very familiar with Microsoft Office products and had assumed I would need to purchase them. But no! My geekily awesome husband discovered OpenOffice. (I have not yet downloaded the newest version so all of my comments are based on an older copy.)

OpenOffice has the same functionality as Microsoft Office. Word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing programs are all included. It even has a database program which is above and beyond what Microsoft usually provides in its Office suite.

I've been using it for a while. It opens regular Microsoft formats and can save in Microsoft formats too, if you're concerned about compatibility. I haven't had any issues with stability. Not all of the functionality is the same, however, and that's annoyed me a couple of times. My biggest issue was cutting and pasting from web pages. Because I like to use some of the resources from Ambleside Online, where there are free electronic versions, but my daughter doesn't like to read on the computer screen, I was trying to print out some of the electronic books. That turned out to be difficult, but I don't know that Word would have done any better.

I mention this because I thought I may as well post some of the phonics lists I've made. I want to keep them in a format that anyone could edit. That way any words that don't suit can be easily removed or other words added. I spent so much time making them, perhaps someone else can benefit as well. If you want to download them, you may also need to download OpenOffice if you don't already have a word processing program.

*Yes--the new computer does have Vista. Since I mostly surf the web and do typical office work, I really haven't seen a lot of issues. Really weird things do happen (like not recognizing mouse clicks on the task bar). Internet explorer is truly the most annoying though. The tabs are OK (not thrilled with them--wish you could tile windows). What really peeves me is that pop-up windows don't work properly. They pop-up and the main window also changes to that content.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Parenting Expert on Underachievement (It Starts with the Parents?)

I would like to consider an excerpt from "Between Parent & Child," by Dr. Haim G. Ginott [all emphasis in original]. The author is the mentor of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish of "How to Talk so Children Will Listen, and Listen so Children Will Talk." I love those books even though I sometimes have a hard time extrapolating their advice to my own situation. In a way, I like Ginott's books better, all two of them, because the way the abstract principles are discussed seems more understandable, though still miles away from my concrete use of them. As a homeschooler in specific, the following passage really stood out.

This also echoes something Lisa VanDamme mentioned in her recorded lecture. She talks about opting out of the public school system for a homeschooling alternative but mentions that it would be preferable if the teacher was not the parent. I was accepting of that statement (heck, I'd happily hire someone else to teach my kids if I could afford it and I thought they were teaching them with the proper pedagogy). But I didn't get the whole import of why she didn't recommend parents as teachers. Read on if you're curious.


From the first grade on, parents' attitudes should convey that homework is strictly the responsibility of the child and his teacher. Parents should not nag children about homework. They should not supervise or check the homework (the writer is well aware that this policy may be contrary to the teacher's demands), except at the invitation of the children. When a parent takes over the the responsibility for homework, the child lets him, and the parent is never again free of this bondage. Homework may become a weapon in the child's hands to punish, blackmail, and exploit the parents. Much misery could be avoided, and much joy added to home life, if parents would show less interest in the minute details of the child's assignments and instead convey in no uncertain terms: "Homework is your responsibility. Homework is for you what work is for us."

The value of homework in the early grades should not be overestimated. There are many fine schools that assign no homework to young children. The pupils seem to gain just as much wisdom as those who struggle with assignments at the ages of six and seven. The main value of homework is that it gives children the experience of working on their own. To have this value, however, homework must be graded to the child's capacity, so that he may work independently with little aid from others. Direct help may only convey to the child to the child that he is helpless. Indirect help, however, may be useful.

For instance, we might make sure that the child has privacy, a suitable desk, and reference books. We might also help him figure out the right time for homework, in accordance with the seasons. In the mild afternoons of spring and fall, a child's fancy will surely turn first to playing and (hopefully) then to homework. In the cold days of winter, homework must come first if there is to be TV later.

Some children work better when they may chew a pencil, scratch their heads, or rock a chair. Our comments and restrictions increase frustration and interfere with their mental work.

The child's homework should not be interrupted by questions and errands that can wait. We should remain in the background giving comfort and support rather than instruction and assistance. Occasionally, we may clarify a point or explain a sentence. However, we should avoid comments such as:

"If you weren't such a scatterbrain, you would remember your assignment."
"If you only listened to the teacher you would know your homework."

Our help should be given sparingly but sympathetically. We listen rather than lecture. We show the road but expect the traveler to reach his destination on his own power.

A parent's attitude towards the school and the teacher may influence a child's attitude toward homework. If a parent habitually berates the school and belittles the teacher, the child will draw obvious conclusions.

Parents should bolster the teacher's position and support his policies regarding responsible homework.

When the teacher is strict, the parent has a wonderful opportunity to be sympathetic:

"It's not an easy year--so much work!"
"It's really tough this year."
"He sure is a strict teacher."
"I hear he demands a lot."
"I hear he is especially tough about homework. I guess there will be lots of work this year."

It is important to avoid daily flareups over homework:

"Look here, Reggie, from now on you are going to work on your spelling every afternoon of every day--including Saturdays and Sundays. No more playing for you and no TV either."
"Roger! I am sick and tired of reminding you about homework. Daddy is going to see to it that you get down to business. We don't want illiterates in our family."

Threats and nagging are common because they make one believe that something is being done about the situation. In reality such admonitions are worse than useless. They only result in a charged atmosphere, an irritated parent, and an angry child.

Many capable children lag in their homework and underachieve in school as an unconscious rebellion against their parents' ambitions. In order to grow up and mature, each child needs to attain a sense of individuality and separateness from his mother and father. When parents are too emotionally involved with the scholastic record of the child, he experiences interference with his autonomy. If homework and high grades become diamonds in his parents' crown, the child may unconsciously prefer to bring home a crown of weeds that is at least his own. by not attaining his parents' goals, the young rebel achieves a sense of independence. Thus the need for uniqueness may push a child into failure, regardless of parental pressure and punishment. As one child said, "They can take away the TV and the allowance, but they cannot take away my failing grades."

It is apparent that resistance to studying is not a simple problem that can be solved by getting either tough or lenient with children. Increased pressure may increase a child's resistance while a laissez faire attitude may convey acceptance of immaturity and irresponsibility. The solution is neither easy nor quick. Some children may need psychotherapy to resolve their struggle against their parents and to gain satisfaction in achievement, instead of underachievement.

Others may need tutoring with a psychologically oriented person. It is imperative that the parent not do the tutoring. Our goal is to convey to the child that he is an individual in his own right--apart from us--and responsible for his successes and failures. When the child is allowed to experience himself as an individual with self-originating needs and goals, he begins to assume responsibility for his own life and its demands.

I've made no bones about the difficulty I've had with my homeschooling so far this year. We've had some tough patches with complete refusal to do work. That coincided quite well with my realization that how well educated my children are is a direct reflection of my "work" as a homeschooling parent. For a month, schooling became about them as a reflection of me. So it was only periphally about my kids but mostly about "my diamonds," as phrased by Dr. Ginott.

This set up a double disappointment for myself. Not only was pushing the kids (and all that lecturing, threatening, and lack of sympathy were what I was pushing with) a miserable act of dictatorship on my part. It made me feel mean. Possibly because I somehow recognized that I had abandoned some of the parenting ideas I had believed so worthwhile from my reading when the kids were younger. It also made the kids combative almost instantaneously. Which made them, thus me, miserable.

Back to the general gist of the excerpt. Assuming the author is correct (I think it is--it matches up with what I've seen), how to encourage children's independence while homeschooling? I'm more concerned about preserving the ability to homeschool (without a major outsourcing of the effort which I couldn't afford anyway) and support my kids' needs and my ultimate goals as a parent and a teacher.

Could it ultimately come down to motivation? Lisa VanDamme has done a huge multi-part article on motivation. She attributes motivation in her classroom to appealing to a child's own sense. Radical unschoolers wait for the child to seemingly-to-me (I admitted haven't read any of it) wander into something and everything is equally valid because the kid picks it. The child-led unschooler or informal homeschooler tries to make all of the required topics interesting by using a possibly unrelated topic, usually kid-approved and based on some limited choices or interest-of-the-moment, to meld into some required subjects (and in the case of math, I can imagine the unit study math of 'two penguins and five penguins problems') and then the rest of the curriculum is 'filler' based on the original topic. Charlotte Mason believed in gentle, but thorough, schooling (I think). How to get the kids to buy-in? I'm not sure. The classical homeschooler (Charlotte Mason is usually considered a kissing-cousin) may use some of the above techniques, but the desired outcome of the type of schooling, thinking ability and rhetorical writing, does not give clues for how to motivate. Religious education usually has one ultimate purpose, though there may be a second that is fundamental to type of curriculum--a rigorous education that is very similar to traditional schooling. Other motivations that may be used that have not yet been mentioned include authoritative (do it because I say so or you'll be punished--which is the dangerous water I'm getting out of), make it fun (lots of games), bribing, and I'm sure there are a lot of other options.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

And They're at the Starting Gate

And they're off! Voting commences for the best homeschool blogs at Alasandra's Homeschool Blog Awards. Some of your favorites are there (and me, too). Voting ends in December.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Make it Yourself Halloween

I've been a big fan of paper toys ever since I stumbled across The Toy Maker's website a long, long time ago. I've made a number of her items, supposedly for the children. If you promise not to tell, I'll admit that I was the one who enjoyed them the most.

Here are some Halloween links so you too can have odd little dioramas or just neat looking stuff around your house.

The Toy Maker's Holiday page (with Halloween and Thanksgiving)

Raven's Blight Manor (I particularly enjoyed the mechanical bat--being all mechanical and all, the moving sculpture--which my daughter asks me to throw away every year because it creeps her out, the hearse play set--how many kids can say they have one of those?, the pocket monsters--perfect for reminding hubby of how much I love him while he's wearing these ghoulish guys at work, the necronomicon books--which my daughter asked me to print over and over again because she uses them as a journal)

For another optical illusion, make this dragon, you can even choose different colors here.

Canon has some very intricate paper toys/crafts (for when you feel like your scissors will never dull)

Epson has luminaries for you to make yourself, masks, and masks, pails, and bags.

HP has masks (I like the tiger), party decorations, pumpkins stencils, cards, and invitations. I like the hanging decorations.

In case you need an accessory for your Harry Potter costume, you can make a wand here.

Family Fun is always chock full of ideas!

Then there's always the inimitable Martha Stewart.

If you think all of the above paper models are for sissies and you could do them blind-folded, then I recommend Haunted Dimensions where you will find scale models of Disney's Haunted Mansion and surroundings.

For the seriously hard-core Halloween fanatics (not me), the Make blog has some great ideas, not to mention a whole contest for this year.

We're having a Halloween party on the 27th--so I'm off to actually decorate my house and figure out activities and menus. Pin the grin on the Jack O'Lantern, anyone?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Finding Words with Specific Letters

Because I incorporate some Montessori methods into my homeschool (especially for Flurpee, who'd not quite seven yet), I have been working on word list cards. I don't even know the real name. The cards are lists of words using a specific phonetic combination. Here are examples of letter combinations and words.

The cards are small enough to be held easily by kids hands. Each set of cards introduces one combined-letter sound and then introduces common words that use it. Each card includes the letter combination on the top and the phonetic diacritical marks for the pronunciation (the kids don't need to know this--though it can help them realize when different letters sound the same). The letter combination is highlighted in each word. Here's my example:

I've been making my own words lists for a while and it can take a long time while I try to find words with a specific letter combination (like 'ay' or 'ai' for a long a sound, 'y' at the end of a word usually sounding like a long e, or 'ow' sounding like 'ou' or a long o sound). I just found this website though, which has helped immensely. All I need to do is type in the particular letter combination with the right wildcard symbols (- for a single letter location or * for any number of letters) and a whole big list comes up. of course I need to pick out the sound I'm actually looking for and use words that are more common, not obscure or technical.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thought You Heard Them All?

Hanover and Flurpee have been making up knock, knock jokes. Check out one that she used on Mr. Powell during history. He got a kick out of it.

Weekly Round Up

Here's the latest in rational thought--the best of the best of the best, SIR!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Humans for Humankind

That's it! I'm starting a new organization, club, group, PAC, whatever. I tossed out the comment "I'm all about humans first" after another mom recommended we not use disposable cups at a nature center, to which a different mom declared, "I'm just the opposite." Not nearly enough people are pro-human.

Environmentalism, socialism, or religion thinks humans are inherently bad. Religion has humans tainted with original sin and always battling the animal instincts in order to make themselves worthy for salvation. Environmentalism just considers humans a blight on the natural world (that we somehow ceased to be a part of once we started building permanent civilizations). Socialism believes that, with the hiring of their first employee, people suddenly turn from being trustworthy and in-need-of-protection to hideous blood-sucking task masters that would sooner see a worker drained of all vitality than leave work before their 23 hour shift is up.

For someone, like myself, who grew up admiring the wonderful accomplishments of science and technology, and whose interactions with all people have left me with the distinct impression that most people are honest and fair, these gloomy anti-human views are gross distortions. I'm so pleased that I can live without guilt. That's what comes of having a philosophy that actually supports happiness.

So I hope anyone who reads this will consider the basic idea that, in general, humans are not inherently bad or evil. Humans are a pretty decent lot. We have used our resources (specifically, our marvelously large brains) to feed billions of people, go around the world in a matter of hours, allow millions of people to live with decent standards on only a few square miles, uncovered basic laws of the universe, discovered the concepts of rights and law-and-order, and figured out how to make most people live far longer than ever before. I think that's pretty damned cool. Some people will look at that list, and for every item come up with a 'yes, but....' And for those people, I feel immense pity.

The civilized world is a great place, and humans have made it so! Please join me in being a "Human for Humankind" and take a brighter, more objective look at the modern world and our wonderfully full life and standard of living within it; all made possible through human ingenuity, hope, and perseverance.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How You Can Explain Taxes to Children (and Everyone Else)

From Weekend Pundit (via Why Homeschool?):

How our tax system works ...

Suppose that every day, the same ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.

The fifth would pay $1.The sixth would pay $3.

The seventh would pay $7.

The eighth would pay $12.

The ninth would pay $18.

The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do.The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner threw them a curve. 'Since you are all such good customers,' he said, 'I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20.' Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free. But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?' They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).

The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).

The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).

The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25% savings).

The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).

The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.'I only got a dollar out of the $20,' declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, 'but he got $10'.'Yeah, that's right, exclaimed the fifth man. 'I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I got''That's true' shouted the seventh man. 'Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!

''Wait a minute,' yelled the first four men in unison. 'We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!'The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important - they didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

This explanation has been attributed to many different scholars and economists, but Snopes wasn't able to pin down the origin of this 'lesson'.

It is apparently old--but no less good. I am not familiar with the actual percentages so I wonder if it's right on for amount.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What They Said.

I haven't commented on the so-called financial crisis because others are doing it so much better than I ever could. Read here for extensive, in-depth, freedom-loving analysis and for a quick take on why the market keeps going down, I think Judy Aron also hits the nail on the head. So for my official comments on the crash of the global economy, "what they said," just about sums it up.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Effect of Kindergarten Teasing?

I was discussing why I didn't understand why Flurpee says she can't read or write (she writes just fine even though she has to ask how things are spelled and she crazily erases any letter that's not 'just right' and her reading is perfectly fine for a second grader--we're working on dipthongs and she already has blends down, silent-e rule, a lot of sight words, and many suffixes though I have to help occasionally) with another mom. Flurpee also hates when people 'laugh at her' which means any laughing where she didn't deliberately crack a joke--even if I'm just laughing because I'm overwhelmed with her sweetness and cleverness. The other mom asked a very insightful question that immediately reminded me of the following events that happened two years ago. She asked if Flurpee had ever been teased. It hadn't even occurred to me. I don't know how intense things truly were and in my adultness, I had forgotten the impact that kids will keep with them for a long time.

One of the reasons I had my daughter in Montessori primary school was to have her in a place that emphasized learning where I loved the teachers (they are great) and where there was a small student-teacher ratio so they could keep a close eye on the kids' behavior. Two of Flurpee's good friends in Montessori school were very bright. One girl, who was a year younger than Flurpee, was working at an advanced kindergarten level and the other girl was also very advanced in kindergarten. Flurpee was at a perfectly adequate kindergarten level and was doing kindergarten work both of these girls had completed early in kindergarten if not even the year before.

These three girls were close friends. Being the three kindergarten girls they did many chores together, played together, and shared being able to teach the other kids. Yet those two girls also got together more frequently outside of school and hung tight during school. So it was pretty typical of some of the three-girl dynamics people have occasionally warned me about.

It didn't take them long to realize that Flurpee's level of work was behind their own. From early in the year they started comparing her work to their own. They talked about how they finished that work the year before, that they were smarter, that they were working on the green boxes in reading (long-vowel sounds that come after standard letter sounds and blends), and that they were learning money in math when Flurpee was still doing regular (non-carrying) addition and subtraction with four-digit numbers. Comments like, "That's so easy," "I did that so long ago," "I can't believe you're still working on that." Then it started with laughing and namecalling.

The teachers did not realize there was a problem for a while. They had no reason to suspect something was going on because these were generally nice girls and supposedly friends with Flurpee. Once I told the teachers what Flurpee told me, they seemed incredulous (given their friendships and the generally nice demeanor of the girls). It didn't take them long to see the teasing for themselves.

I am so glad my friend was willing to listen to me complaining and I'm so glad she was able to ask a question that led to me to such insight for Flurpee's struggles. Now I need to figure out how to support her properly to leave those taunts behind her.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Round Up

For great thoughts about why the financial crisis is the fault of the government's many historical interventions and why they're screwing it up even more with the bail out, check this out!

Carnival of Homeschooling!

Right here!

Third Science Class for Elementary

We had another science class. We reviewed Thales (first scientific explanations, amber can attract all kinds of stuff, magnets can only attract iron). We reviewed our shapes (spheres, hemispheres, cylinders, cubes). We talked about circles changing to ellipses to the observer as the angle of the paper is changed. I showed that the shape of a sphere when it has been cut is a circle. (These are great for the talks about shapes.) We talked about how the face of a cube is a square. The kid who's advanced in math knew that the difference between a cube and a square was that the cube was 3-dimensional. For the other kids I tried to emphasize that area is flat (um, yeah, we'll get to the other stuff later) and that cubes take up space and have volume. Those are the next two concepts I need them to understand: area and volume. After all, density it coming up.

We also talked about 45 degree right triangles again. We talked about how it is half of a square, on the diagonal, and we know that both of the legs of the triangle are the same length. I then used three different sized triangles and pointed out that no matter how big or small the triangle gets, as long as it has the same shape, we know the two legs of the triangle will be the same length. I mentioned that this may have been how Thales could have measured the heights of tall buildings. He could have waited until the shadow of a smaller object was the same as its height and then measured the shadow of the larger object to find its height.

This talk was a summation of the evidence that the Earth is a sphere. The kids seemed rather shocked that people 2400 years ago would have known (without spaceships, satellites, and round-the-world cruises) that the Earth was a sphere. I got most of my information from the first few pages of How Did We Find Out the Earth is Round by Isaac Asimov.

We started by talking about some of the ancient ideas about how the sun rose and moved across the sky every day. Some people believed it was carried by a chariot, that it would set into the ocean and be sailed back to the east to begin its trek again, or that it would die every night to be reborn in the east. They liked that one--they spent the next few minutes performing their miniature Oscar-winning dying scenes.

We talked about how Anaximander thought the heavens had to be a sphere because they move from east to west, but there was one point (the North Star) that did not ever set. Then we talked about the number of different ideas that people had for the disk of the earth; that it was smaller than the sphere (but noone seemed to fall off the edge and why didn't the oceans drain?), or that it extended to the celestial sphere (and people could go and visit the actual place where the stars and sun met the disk of the Earth and lift up the starry curtain--more antics about the possible death that would ensue). Neither of those ideas were satisfying to the Greeks. [I used a large, decorated, clear glass serving bowl to show the sky and the north star was the center of the bottom. I used a circle cut out of paper to represent the 'flat Earth.' I rotated the upside-down-bowl to show the stars (the decorations) turning from east to west and how the north star (the center of the bottom of the bowl--I should have taped a star to it) didn't move. Most of these kids were in the astronomy class last year so they had the experience of seeing the constellations being in about the same place night after night, but also how the constellations would move across the sky as the night wore on.]

The Ancient Greeks were also discovering that the moon looked different depending on where it was in relation to the sun. If it was on the same side of the sky as the sun, then it was dark to us. If it was on the opposite side than the sun, it was fully bright, with all of the variations as it moved between. They figured that if the moon changed shape with part of it dark and some light, that it must not give off its own light and was lit up by light reflected from the sun. The changes of the shape of the moon and how the curve was always circular showed that it was a sphere. [I used a flashlight and a small ball to give them the idea, not dark enough for a real demonstration, of how the different phases looked. Since most of the kids had taken astronomy, this was old hat to them and only a reminder.]

The sun never changed and was always light so it must have light of its own. They could also tell that the sun could shine on the Earth just as well from every location. The sun also shined on the moon from every location. The sun also had to be a sphere in order to shine equally from all different directions. [This time I took the flashlight and moved it around the 'Earth' (a different ball) with the moon laying next to it, and they could see how the flat circle of the flashlight did not illuminate the spheres the way the sun does.]

So the stars were on a celestial sphere, the moon was accepted as a sphere with the evidence of their observations, and the sun was accepted as a sphere based on their observations, then what about the Earth? Did that mean the Earth was a sphere? The Greeks knew that the Earth wasn't like the stars--we don't have stars under our feet (more antics of burning yourself by picking up starstuff under your feet). The Earth isn't like the moon, it's not white all around us. And the Earth is definitely not like the sun since it's not glowing (and we had the death throes again). So what evidence could show us if the Earth was flat or not?

If the Earth was flat, the stars would never seem to change location (apart from rising and setting). That was not the case though. As a person traveled north, stars they used to be able to see at the southern horizon had disappeared below the horizon. If they traveled south, they realized that stars at the northern horizon moved so they couldn't be seen. (From east to west, of course, the stars did not have a fixed position, so there was no easy landmark to notice if they changed based on location.) The only way that could be explained was if the Earth curved as you moved from north to south. [Either the kids were very quiet, or this really didn't hit home. I tried using my flat circle as the circular Earth to show that walking toward the 'north' wouldn't change the perspective of the stars but that curving the circle (I actually did bend it) would make a person look at a different area of the sky. What I should have done was to draw examples of the same star patterns from different lattitudes and show how they're closer to the horizon and also drew two circles on the blackboard--one for the celestial sphere and another for the Earth--with a little stick figure looking along the tangent line to the edge of the circle at that location to represent his line of sight and how it would hit different places of the celestial sphere.]

So the Earth, Anaximander thought, was a cylinder. Now that seemed to have its own difficulties. Why didn't it look curved? Why didn't you slip as you moved toward the curved section? Why didn't the water fall off? There seemed to be almost as many questions. [I used a formula can as my Earth now.]

As for why it didn't look curved, just think about how a large ball would look to an ant. From the ant's perspective, it would look pretty flat. The Earth is very large and we are small in comparison. In our view, it could look flat. [I didn't, but it could help to have a beach ball to illustrate this point.]

The cylinder theory was tested at sea. If the Earth was flat, then things that move away from you would get gradually smaller and smaller and then no longer be visible. So when observing ships leaving and then moving toward the horizon they watched carefully to see what happened. Every ship seemed to go deeper and deeper until they couldn't see the ship itself, just the sail and then that too sank. The ships weren't flooded, for most do return. And oddly, they didn't just sink when moving to the north and south, but when heading east and west too. So the curvature wasn't just in one direction, it was in all directions. The only shaped that curves equally everywhere is a sphere. [I used paper circle and a picture of a ship that I cut out before class. I moved the ship from the center of the circle and showed that it would just get further away. I then used the formula can and took my model ship over the north and south direction of the cylinder and showed how the ship dropped out of sight. Then I took it east to west and showed that it couldn't drop out of sight on the cylinder and we then switched to the ball again and we could see how it dropped out of sight in every direction.]

That wasn't even all. There was still another bit of evidence to clinch the deal. The final evidence relies again on the sun and moon. We talked about the sun and moon going around the Earth and that the moon could be on the opposite side of the Earth than the sun. When the Earth gets in the way, that's when there is an eclipse. Eclipses can happen in different areas of the sky. In every single case, the shadow of the Earth has a circular edge. If the Earth was a flat circle, the shadow cast would have to look elliptical when the angle between the three objects changed. Only one shape has a shadow that always looks like a circle from any angle--a sphere. Philolaus was convinced and gathered up all of the evidence and pronounced for the first time that the Earth was a sphere. (Note: Aristotle ~350 BC came up with the idea that because the Earth is a sphere, everything must be attracted to its center and people stopped wondering wny the water didn't run off.) [I taped a smaller circle to the blackboard (the moon) and used another circle (the Earth) to make a circular shadow on the 'moon' with a flashlight. Then I changed the angle of the flashlight and the 'Earth' and the shadow on the moon was obviously elliptical. I then used a ball to shine a shadow on the 'moon' and I changed the angle with the flashlight and rotated the ball and the shadow was always a circle.]

On the blackboard:

Anaximander ~560 BC
Heavens were a sphere
Earth is a cylinder because stars changed location as you moved North and South
Philolaus (fil-oh-lay-us) ~450 BC
Earth is a sphere

Activity: There were no lab activities that really lent themselves to the subject matter. I found a book called Science Crafts for Kids that had some good ideas and a few great ideas. I had been preparing for one of the crafts and saved an oatmeal container and a few formula containers (cardboard sides required). Cut out three arches around the sides so that there is a lot of light and some large openings to get your hand through (there should be three approximately inch-wide legs holding up the top). Paint and decorate the container (we didn't have time to do that). Loosely lay clear cellophane over the top and then push it down slightly in the middle. Wrap a rubber band around the top of the container to secure the cellophane. The pour water into the cellophane and place an object underneath to see the magnification. It's not much (about 2X). The kids ooh-ed and aw-ed for about four seconds before realizing it didn't really change much. Here's another type. One thing I mentioned the parents can try is changing the depth of the water in the top and then seeing if that affects the magnification. I didn't do it myself, so I don't know.

The kids were a bit rowdy because I had been letting them get a little crazy in the last couple of classes, but this time it was actually distracting and we ran out of time for our activity.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Are You Cool?

You can be if you read the Carnival of Cool Homeschoolers!

Girls' Club Second Meeting

We had our second girls' club. I decided last time to cover the American Girls in chronological order. So that meant we talked about Kaya today. I don't have any Kaya books, so I checked her out at the American Girl website. She's a pre-America American Girl at 1764 and is Nez Perce (I chose to say "nay persay"). First we attended to some club business and picked a secret password (I know what it is and you don't, nah nah nah-nah nah). Then we discussed that Kaya was actually an American Girl by virtue of living in what became America instead of being born into or moving to the country America.

We discussed the origin (as I know it, I didn't bother researching) of the term Native American (a lot of people still use Indian or American Indian, so I thought it could serve a purpose). What I said (which only gibes with what I think I know and I'm not really vouching for) is that Columbus was trying to sail to India, and when he found land, he thought he was in India and called the natives Indians. Later on it became a bit confusing and people started to use the term American Indians to help differentiate between Native Americans and Indians in Asia. (Note how I totally skipped the term 'Red Indians'). Then I said that some people felt that American Indian still wasn't accurate, since it was based on a misnomer and that many people started using Native Americans. Of course I had to define what was meant by 'native.'

We talked about the Nez Perce tribe being a Northwest Tribe (I hope, I only checked on source and it wasn't particularly clear) that was very peaceful and loved learning. I also talked about the tribal nature of the natives and how each tribe could be very isolated from one another. We talked about what crops were cultivated, like corn, pumpkins, potatoes, strawberries, and cocoa. Everyone liked those foods! We picked names for ourselves like Pouncing Fox, Glittering Rain, and Dancing Swan (Hanover) which we used for the rest of the meeting. We talked about how things were decorated and how the decorations could be used to gain protection from the gods.

For activities, we went from talking about adorning homes to adorning themselves and made beaded necklaces. That craft took a while. Actually, most of the girls made bracelets, so some had time to make two bracelets. I did not bother keeping the beads at all related to the culture.

After the beading was finished, we had enough time for another craft. We used red construction paper rolled into cones and made teepees. I had actually rolled a teepee before hand and then cut the bottom so it would sit flat, and then unrolled it and traced the curved line onto other pieces of contruction paper. The girls then cut the construction paper on the line and rolled it into the cone and taped it in place. Most of the girls wanted to decorate their teepee while it was rolled up so they could make the designs even with the ground. They drew zigzags, circles, suns, moons, and stick-figure hunt scenes. After they were done decorating them, we cut two slots for the door flap (many girls decided to have a front and back door). While they were making their teepees we could talk about how the teepees would have fires in them in winter, or could be rolled up in summer to let the breeze flow through. We also talked about how teepees could have feathers attached to the top to show the importance of the person who owned it. Then the girls taped feathers to their own teepees.

At the end of the meeting we voted whether to move on to Felicity (colonial era) or stay with Kaya and they decided to continue with Kaya and do more Native American crafts. I think that means they enjoyed it!

On a more personal note, Flurpee did really well. She chose to stand off at the beginning and then joined in for the crafts and just enjoyed herself. So nice. Also, I've been lucky enough that my husband has been taking the FLM (Filthy Little Moose) during the meetings (completely accidental timing, really). That certainly helps things go well.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why History?

Scott Powell has an article featured in the Secular Homeschooling magazine entitled Why History? It includes the following gems and so much more! Not only does the article discuss the importance of learning history for your homeschool, it also brings the current failure to learn from history into focus.

A small selection:

Regarding history, the real power lies not in piling up more facts, but in being able to see relationships between them. When one can grasp fundamental similarities between past and present, despite circumstantial differences, one can learn and apply the "lessons of history," i.e. the principles applicable to all human life. If one can grasp the connection between the actions of people in the past, and the world that those actions produced, one can develop a proper appreciation for the man-made values around us.

Let us look more closely at these crucial values.

When the Founding Fathers created the United States, they realized that many of the problems they faced were unique and required unique solutions. Unquestionably, however, they also looked back on the history of Western civilization, and drew momentous lessons from it, including the fact that the separation of church and state is an objective requirement of progress. Thomas Jefferson, drawing on history, noted, "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own." In a previous correspondence, Jefferson remarked, "History… furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government." His great
collaborator in the project of American secularism, James Madison, commented in a letter to a friend that "Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dungeons & Dragons Role-Playing Game for Kids

As an update, we bought the most recent set of D&D books, version 4, so we could play this game. Big mistake! It's so much more complicated than the original game I learned. So, in the spirit of "everything was so much better when I was a kid," I decided to find the old books. There are a couple of options.

[Update 1/9/09: OK. Once we ignord most of the melee rules, like cover, advantage, lying prone, etc and then made cards for the once-a-day/encounter/at-will powers for the dad to have at his fingertips (and to help advise the kids which they could use at that time), the 4th edition is working out pretty well. That every class has various powers they can use and all of the skills that are different for everyone makes it much harder for the kids to use their character effectively--but the skills may not be necessary if you are designing the campaign to be a bit easy on them. Again, this is something the Daddy DM may try to help the kids to remember. In the end, we decided to use the 4th edition after all.]

The easiest option seems to be The Dungeons and Dragons Basic Rules set. Finding the complete set is difficult and more expensive than necessary. You can easily find the basic rules book (approximately 64 pages) and an additional book that is an adventure to follow (easiest option if you're new to D&D). The very first adventure is called The Keep on the Borderlands. You can also find the sets on Amazon and eBay.

The most available option is called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It's important to remember that Advanced Dungeons & Dragons requires three books: The Dungeon Master's Guide, The Player's Handbook, and The Monster Manual. The books were all published in the early 80s. One thing to watch is that there is also a 2nd Revision (usually visible on the cover if not in the product description). I don't remember how much of a difference there is, but I stayed with the 1st Revision (generally not specifically marked on the cover, but sometimes in the description).

All of those books were published by the original game publisher TSR. The third revision was published by a new company and a lot of rules were changed. There are other options by the new publishers for more simplified games. They too have a basic set. There is also a version of the game that is simplified and goes along with purchased miniature figures.

It was quite a trip down memory lane for me and my husband.