Wednesday, December 31, 2008
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
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.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
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
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!
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 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!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Sunday, December 07, 2008
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
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.
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!