Monday, June 29, 2009

Another Sex Ed Book

I picked this book up at the most recent library fundraising book sale. This book covers much more about the entire process than the other sexual education books I reviewed. Those were obviously meant for younger kids, lower elementary and kindergarten. This book provides information that is geared to much older kids. The content could easily sway it from upper elementary to upper middle school. For many people, I believe this book would be considered inappropriate because of the topics is covers.

This book is written in a comic book style. The drawings are cartoon-ish without being ugly. There are two main characters that are supposed to be like the kids that are reading the book. When a new subject is discussed, these characters may state some of the same misconceptions that some kids may hold. The characters also share feeling about being uncomfortable talking about the topics and model some acceptance verbiage after the subject is introduced.

This book does not fool around with plants or animals. It starts with some original ideas of where babies come from--like the falling from the sky with the rain and the stork. It moves right onto sperm and egg. The differences between boys and girls and how they change as they grow up. They include drawings of the internal parts as well as the external parts.

The next topic covered the egg and sperm where they do their jobs. First is getting the egg out of the ovary and what happens if it doesn't get fertilized (period)--a wild ride. The period is explained, including pads and tampons. The sperm have a roller coaster ride. Spontaneous erections, wet dreams, and ejaculation are all discussed. They emphasize frequently that it only takes one sperm to create a pregnancy.

The next subject is sex. For everything that the book goes into after this, the chapter on sex is brief and none of the drawings are explicit as the one from True Story of How Babies are Made. It shows two people kissing under covers. It talks about sex in the context of love but it doesn't belabor the point. It points out that kids are much too young to have sex or a baby.

The next few chapters cover love, fertilizing the egg, and incubation. The book defines homosexuality and talks about it as another way of showing love. and then has diagrams of loving couples of men and women, women and women, and men and men. Then the sperm race to meet the egg with only one lucky winner. The new zygote starts dividing and then implants onto the wall of the uterus. The talks about alternate methods of conception include injecting sperm in the vagina and allowing the egg to be fertilized outside of the body and placing the fertilized egg in the womb. The book also talks about how to prevent pregnancy by using birth control The birth control mentioned includes the pill, condoms, and abstinence (the only sure way). In its biggest failing, it talks about condoms also helping to prevent "infections like HIV--the infection that causes AIDS" and that's that. No additional explanation, no nothing. That seems like a big bomb to drop without any other context. Once the egg is implanted, it graduates to a pregnancy with an embryo (though the book does mention that "Some people call the fetus 'a growing baby.'" which seems remarkably pedantic though I need to remember that the book includes readership that may not be as happy about having 'a growing baby' as I have been). The book then states how pregnancies can end--through miscarriage, abortion, or adoption. The abortion statement talks about it as a procedure a woman may choose that ends a pregnancy and that most women can have normal pregnancies afterward. Diagrams of the fetus at different ages are then shown, most are shown actual size--cool, with the expected development, like beating heart or beginning the formation of fingers, or eyebrows and eyelashes.

The next few chapters cover womb activity: growing, nourishing, somersaults, etc. There is a chapter on multiples and many of them at that. Another chapter is dedicated to getting the baby out. Vaginal delivery is covered through diagrams and it also talks about cutting the cord afterward. And since this is a very complete book, it also covers surgical deliveries--even talking about cutting the mothers skin and sewing it back up with special thread. The only diagram for that one is the doctor behind a screen (whew). Premature babies live in incubators for a while, some babies breast feed and others have formula--and here I will compliment the authors on not worrying kids about the correctness of one over the other.

The book continues by presenting what makes a family. The start with the genetics of the baby, properly pointing out that no one is defined by their genetics alone and that their experiences help form who they are as a person (I personally would not leave out their own decisions on the person they choose to become). Families include adoptive parents, single parents, grandparents, divorced parents, gay parents, stepparents, and foster parents. Adoptions are discussed in more depth.

The final chapters: "Keeping Safe--Okay Touches--Not Okay Touches", "Talking About It--HIV and AIDS", "Gurgles and Drool--Feelings about Babies--Fun with Babies", and "Let's Celebrate--Happy Birth Day! Happy Adoption Day!" The chapter on safety talks about defining genitals as private parts and doctors occasionally need to check privates. The book talks about the pleasurable feelings from masturbation and that some people do it and others don't. That families may have different rules some of which could be religious based, but that most doctors agree that it's healthy and normal and won't hurt you or your body. The book is adamant that sexual abuse is never OK and that someone trustworthy (and the book gives suggestions of people to tell outside of the family, like a clergy member or school nurse). In reading the HIV chapter, it seems to deal with a possible HIV infection of other kids more than of getting HIV during sex. The book properly states that one can do everything with a person who has HIV as with a person who doesn't. The only disingenuous thing is that they don't direct the kids to stay away from that person's blood should they get injured doing all of those fun things together. It was interesting to hear about my private school's blood-born contagion safety training for teachers--they are instructed to put on gloves prior to dealing with even children's blood. In talking about babies, the various feelings a child can have toward a sibling are quickly laid out and there is a small amount of advice on how to play with a baby. The final chapter talks about various customs around the world for celebrating a newly arrived family member.

The book is, in the hippie-sense, HEAVY. It has a huge amount of information. I like the general factual approach but wish it had limited it's scope more. I think it covers too much making the book seem disjointed. The drawings seem geared toward middle school and yet presents all of everything related to almost every conceivable living, birthing, conceiving, family arrangement imaginable. I appreciate the author's effort to normalize (speaking in the statistical 'normal,' not the disapproving of anything else way) unusual relationships and everything else that could be unusual, but it is a lot to take in all at once. I do not mind talking about sex, birth control, or even abortion. Thanks to another homeschooler that subject has already been broached--being pro-freedom and pro-individual rights, I am pro-choice and another homeschooled girl told my daughter that our current president 'let s mommies kill their babies.' I do feel that there was a specific effort to be very liberal toward sexuality and all of its various faces. Which, again, agrees with my own personal views--it was just really obvious so I wanted to point that out in the review. For some people that would be a good thing!

I think that if kids were reading this on their own they would either start to glaze over or perhaps read a page or chapter once a month to allow plenty of time for the information to settle in.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bad Days and Good Days with a Toddler

Good Days are days when your toddler explores a lot, learns new things through testing and stretching his current information and skills and you help him clean up or quickly steer him into a more constructive venue and revel in his new found knowledge.

Bad Days are days that your toddler behaves exactly the same only you, as a parent, need or really wanted to do something other than chase after him frequently.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Moment

Here is Flurpee reading to Bamm Bamm. So cute. From a girl who still insists that she's not a reader--even though she finished reading her first book.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Look at Biology from a Historical Perspective

In thinking of science for middle schoolers, physics, while very important hardly stands alone in the realm of science study. Yes, physics was shown to underlie all things in the end, but many advancement were made in other sciences prior to getting to the quantum level. The other two very important studies are biology and chemistry. Two additional subjects which also comprise some middle school science time are geology and earth sciences. All of these subjects are studied haphazardly in each of the middle school scope and sequences I was able to find on-line.

I have made it clear that presenting the evidence for each successive advancement in science is the proper way to teach science. A sure-fire way to make sure this happens in science is to study science historically. It is necessarily true that our current scientific understanding of the world was gained through hard-won evidence. Starting with the things that humans could see easily and then enhancing our conclusions through more subtle investigations through which learners then understand our current knowledge.

While I studied physics and chemistry (for engineers, of course) in college, my last exposure to biology was in high school. I've been reading up on it over the last few weeks. My reading began with Isaac Asimov's Guide to Science Volume 2: The Biological Sciences (1975). It's a good start to help understand which developments led to what results and a general timeline. The way the subjects are delineated leads to overlap too frequently to be a straight-forward guide for the historical developments.

At the most recent library booksale, I picked up Men, Microscopes, and Living Things by Katherine B. Shippen (1955). This is a book geared toward children. As a guess, I would imagine a middle schooler could easily read it to themselves. While the book does not go into enough detail for a student to recreate the actual steps of each discovery, it lays out the important steps quite well. Each chapter focuses on the important next step that allowed biological understanding to advance. It does not spend much time on medical advances (skipping Hippocrates completely and not discussing much medical history at all).

The book follows a historical path. It starts with Aristotle's for non-mystical understanding. Aristotle observed much in nature (unlike his physical science proclomations). After Aristotle, the author recognizes that scientific advancement effectively ground to a halt under Roman rule. It discusses some of the false information compiled by Pliny the Elder and the incredible tales of the Physiologus.

Herb gathering was an interesting advancement during the Middle Ages. It doesn't much count as science, but it was an important task that was made more difficult by superstition and blind reliance on authority. When new herbals were copied with accurate diagrams, the task of gathering plants for medicinal purposed was simplified.

The Rennaisance brought forth two of the largest contributors to the understanding of the human body, Andreas Vesalius and William Harvey. Vesalius was famous for his in-depth dissections and representations of human anatomy (many drawings of his text will be quite familiar). He did not rely on authority and his showing the reality of the human form ended with his resignation as the theologians were aghast that he would show man with an even number of ribs when everyone 'knew' that man had to be missing a rib as Adam's rib was taken to make Eve. William Harvey calculated the amount of blood pumped by the heart to show that the blood must move in a circular fashion through the body. He proved it through a number of other means as well. Harvey's discovery of circulation ends more happily as people readily adopted it. (From Asimov, it is stated that Harvey was the first to use math in looking at biology.)

Noted at this point is the proliferation of scientific ideas through societies devoted to it. The more people who were made aware of science advancements, the more people could discover knew knowledge instead of rediscovering for themselves the same things over and over. Also to aid in understanding, many societies started to collect items required for study, like biological specimens preserved in alcohol.

The next major advance was the microscope and the use of it by Malpighi to discover capillaries (laying to rest how blood was transferred from arteries to veins) and various other studies of animal anatomy, Swammerdam's immaculate dissection and reporting of insects, and Leeuwenhoek next level acheivements. Leeuwenhoek made such fine lenses for his microscopes that he was the first to see the little beasties we know as microbes. A good deal can be said of Leeuwenhoek's, who was of humble origins, acceptance into the Royal Society, the premier society for scientific information at the time.

It seems proper for the author to next talk of Carolus Linnaeus. With the large amount of information gathered so quickly, it was time to find a more abstract way of cataloguing the knowledge gained. Linnaeus had discovered a way to simplify some of the information already gathered. More information attained from Baron Georges Cuvier showed proof of extinction. With the ideas of Linnaeus, Lamarck included more than just plants in a classification. In developing his classification from least complex (little beasties) to most complex (humans), Lamarck hit upon the idea that species can change slowly and that more complex creatures can arise from the simpler.

Darwin, of course, was able to hit upon an idea of why certain traits might differentiate a creature with his idea that those animals with changes that are best fitted to their environment are more likely to survive. Over a long ages of time new species are formed while others die off (almost verbatim from the book).

Von Baer's work with embryos added more information and showed that the embryos of all animals were so similar that it was exceedingly difficult to differentiate them in their early stages from observation alone. His work left some questions that Schleiden and Schwann were able to address with their cell theory. The cell theory showed the basic operation of all life. The author then continues the narrative of the cell (with a mistake about Brownian motion).

Introducing Mendel at this point seems logical to me and that is what the author does. A chapter is devoted to discussing his ideas of Mendelian inheritance.

Continuing the thought process about new species initiated by Lamarck and Darwin, Hugo De Vries is introduced. He helped provide further evidence in favor of the gradual changes in animals. He demonstrated that mutations can account for complete changes in species. These changes would then be subject to Darwin's theory.

To wrap up the book, the discoveries of sperm mating with ova to create the next generation, chromosomes, inheritance experiments with fruit flies and subsequent mutations and mapping of traits to chromosomes. The book necessarily ends there since it was published in 1955, much too soon after the publication of DNA to expect it explained in a children's book.

Overall, I like the historical lay out. From the small amount I know of biology, the discoveries that were highlighted seemed to be of great importance. I really liked how the author emphasized the throwing off of superstition and the importance of incorporating facts from observation. I especially liked that the integration of the classification systems, the cellular theory, and genes were highlighted. The entire book is 183 pages long (the type is about 12 point with 1 1/2 spaces for each line, so a lot of white space on each page) in 18 chapters. There are few illustrations.

It seems like a great book to help understand what types of experiments to look at first and to consider how the discoveries changed the thinking of the time. Given the extensive amount of material covered, it is brief in it's treatment of each particular subject and, as I said before, summarizes the experiments but not in such a way to allow recreation without additional sources. I am also sure that many (not quite as important) steps were overlooked to allow the book to have a broad view.

I like the book a lot and feel that it had a good narrative story of the history of biology. I think it would be a great book for any other parent who is looking to teach real sciences to their children in a meaningful manner to start to research.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Little Gem of Pedagogy

From the introduction to "A History of Chemistry" by Forris Jewett Moore (1910):
The value of the historical method for studying every department of human thought is now so universally recognized that it requires no emphasis, but to the younger student of chemistry it may not be superfluous to point out that, by observing the errors and misunderstandings of the past, we learn to avoid errors in our own thinking; by acquaintance with the way in which great men have solved problems we are assisted in solving problems of our own; by observing the different aspects presented by the same facts in the light of successive theories, we acquire an insight obtainable in no other way into the nature, limitations, and proper function of all theories. Finally, as we study how man's knowledge of nature has broadened and deepened with the years, we acquire a better understanding of the trend of thought in our own times, and of the exact bearing of each new discovery upon the old but ever recurring problems of the science.

Nicely put.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

An Odd Find

So I went to a local library fundraising book sale. My husband, who usually looks for history, politics, or philosophy did not find a single book. I purchased 47(!) for $20 (it happened to be a 'bag day' where you buy a bag of books for $5). I am less picky and I have many more categories that I shop. I look for old books that could be considered etiquette or social manuals, educational books, children's books, picture books, how-to manuals for school or for kids to read on their own (Ah, someday!), foreign language, art, and music primers, science texts, parenting and family, home decorating (published within the last few years--always cheaper than buying a magazine at the store), and reference books.

I'll list my other finds eventually, but I really wanted to talk about a few volumes of a magazine I bought. I guess it's really a digest. It's title is The Popular Educator; The University in Your Home: An Authoritative Program of Self-Education--published every Wednesday. 57 Educational Features Serialized in 53 Weekly Issues.

I have issues No 37 (published 1938) through 42 and 49 through 54. These fairly thick 5" x 7" digests each have a little less than 100 pages each. From the cover of issue #37 (I placed the topic of that subject in parentheses):

This Issue Features Lectures For the Easy Self Instruction in:

  • Accountancy (Stock Issues)
  • American History (Plutocracy and Politics from Grant to McKinley)
  • Anthropology (Vegetable Products in Man's Dietary)
  • Archeology (Prehistoric Man in the New World)
  • Bible History (The Story of the Maccabees)
  • Biology (The Evolution of the Horse)
  • Botany (The Lowly Algae)
  • Business English (Style)
  • Drama (How the Actor Acquires His Technic)
  • Engineering (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning)
  • English History (The Growth of the Power of the Crown)
  • English Language (The Study of the English Verb)
  • English Literature (Carlyle and Other Stylists)
  • Geography (The African Continent)
  • Greek (The Genitive Case in Greek Usage)
  • History, Ancient and Medieval (Emergence of the Western Kingdoms)
  • Interior Decorating (The Small Dwelling)
  • Italian (Adverbs and Irregular Verbs)
  • Journalism (The Journalist as Critic in Art and Letters)
  • Mnemonics (The Art of Memory Training)
  • Modern European History (Europe's Year of Revolutions)
  • Penmanship (Small Letter Formation)
  • Phonetics (Consonant Symbols in Phonetics)
  • Physical Geography (Landscape Features)
  • Physiology and Anatomy (Nervous System of the Human Body)
  • Politics (The British Cabinet)
  • Shorthand (Gregg) (Concluding Lecture on Gregg's System)
  • Social History (Diderot and His Encyclopedia)
  • Spanish (Vowel Changes in Verbs)
  • Zoology (Frogs and Toads)
How cool would it be to have a little bit of each of those topics arrive on your doorstep every week? Each of the topics is presented as a portion of a longer treatment of the topic. The topics change in each issue, too. Here are the listed topics in issue #38:

This Issue Features Lectures For the Easy Self Instruction in:

  • Aeronautics (Aircraft Flight Instruments)
  • Art and Architecture (Sculpture Without Prejudice)
  • Astronomy (How Distant Are the Stars?)
  • Biology (From Brute to Man)
  • Chemistry (Chemical Analysis by Acid and Alkali)
  • Drawing and Design (Drawing Circles and Tangents)
  • Economic Geography (The Baser Metals)
  • Economics (Economic Results of Increased Saving)
  • Engineering (Important Factors in the Use of Water Power)
  • English History (The Executive and the State)
  • English Literature (Masters of Criticism)
  • Eurythmics (Rhythmic Elements)
  • French (Irregular Verbs of the 2nd Conjugation)
  • Geography (Africa's Western Projection)
  • Geology (Lower Cretaceous of Comanchean Period)
  • German (Dependent Clauses)
  • Latin (Percentages and Fractions in Latin)
  • Law (Law and Religion Through the Ages)
  • Mathematics (Three-Dimensional Graphics)
  • Money (The Financial Crisis)
  • Music (Oldtime Musical Instruments)
  • Philology (Etymology of Place Names)
  • Philosophy (Problems of Ethical Philosophy)
  • Photography (Aquarium Pictures)
  • Physics (Magnetism in Physics)
  • Politics (King, Lords, and Commons)
  • Psychology (Dispositions and Mental Structure)
  • Shorthand (Pitman) (Final Lecture on Pitman's Shorthand)
  • Social History (The Patriarch of Ferney)
  • Writing and Rewriting (Paragraph Transition)
  • Zoology (Reptiles, Ancient and Modern)
I have only read a handful of the lectures. They are each short and cover the topic with some depth, but it feels vaguely superficial. Perhaps it's the 'just the facts, ma'am' approach. I think it also has to do with not reading the whole series. In looking at a briefly delimited article, the entire scope is completely missed. Though I do generally feel that each of these topics is treated in a survey fashion.

The digest is published under the auspices of The National Education Alliance and seems to be hold some fairly socially-liberal stances (of the day). A few of the history articles I read, along with some of the treatments of modern (at the time) issues, show a large liberal bias.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Quick Science--Diapers

Quick if you happen to have a diaper-wearer in the house. Today was one of those mornings where Bamm Bamm was quite active. When the kids asked 'What's that?' of the whitish, powdery substance near where he was sitting, I knew the answer immediately. Bamm Bamm had 'popped' his diaper. Anyone who has had a baby may have had the same experience. The diaper separates at the edge and allows the inner workings to escape. This is, of course, completely fascinating. The escaped inner-workings are what make disposable diapers so effective, sanitary, and healthy for baby's skin.

This material property is widespread. It is also this technology (perhaps even the exact same material) that hospitals use for cleaning up body fluids. Instant snow is also water-absorbing polymers. The gel is also in potting soil to help conserve water and keep plants healthy.

Here is the material: One diaper and about a 1/4 cup of water. Because Bamm Bamm is enormous, this happens to be a size 6 diaper. I liked using a clear glass so you could see from the side.

First thing is to tear open the diaper. The diaper is made in layers. From the outside there is a thin covering over the waterproof layer. After that is a layer of batting, a blue absorbent layer (in Pampers), and then a layer that goes next to baby's skin. Our interest is the layer of fluffy batting.

I still haven't quite figured out the macro mode of the camera, so the next picture is not as focused as it should be. In the batting, there are little bits of a white powder--they're even a little sparkly. They are mixed in with the batting. This is the absorbent polymer that we are going to use for experiments.

There are other ways to get the polymer out, but I just held the torn open diaper over the cup and gave it a shake and a couple of taps. That may also allow some batting to fall in, but I wasn't concerned about that.

You can see the powder in the bottom of the water (and on the countertops).

A few minutes later, there is no separate layer of powder. All of the water has been absorbed.

It's easy to see the gel here. At this point, there is no water left in the cup. It has all been absorbed by the polymer.
Here is Flurpee showing the individual particles. They've expanded immensely from their powdery appearance dry.

It took me MUCH longer to write this post than to show my kids this fun activity. See Steve Spangler for turning this into a more robust experiment.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Dance Dance Evolution

Even more stuff you only thought you forgot.

In case you haven't been surfing the web in the last two years, here's the Here it Goes Again video link.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bringing Up Memories You Probably Tried to Bury

If you've been cognizant of popular culture of the past 40 years (which I have by virtue of having lived it), you may just find this as amusing as I did.

What I Would Love to Do

I want to:

Take the kids to twice-a-month nature class. That is happening no matter what.

Have the kids attend the teleconferenced History at Our House program. This is my curriculum for history, so definite. I hope Scott Powell sends out his best idea of what the times are going to be. The lower elementary program is later in the day and that can conflict with other things we want to do.

Attend monthly kids forum so the kids can practice their public speaking if they want. Hanover got a case of the shies two years ago and didn't go up once. Flurpee was a real champ. They can both bring me to tears. I'm just overflowing with pride!

Continue with girls' club every other week. Every single one of the girls expressed an interest in continuing! Yay.

Park days on nice days.

Run a D&D game for older kids so they can be introduced to the game, use their imaginations, and have fun. This would take four or five hours either twice a month or monthly. There is, of course, prep work for this as well.

Run a science course for lower elementary age group. Hey, we've go to do science anyway, might as well invite people to do it with us. A weekly course of about an hour. That's not including prep time on my part or purchasing equipment.

Run a science course for upper elementary age group. See above. This would be an hour and a half each week.

Run a science course for upper middle school. That would just be fun for me! More math, more advanced experiments, plotting, averaging, variables, repeated trials, Fire!, chemicals, biology (I would need a decent amount of work in that realm myself), glassware, safety glasses, lab coats--all of the things I couldn't do for the elementary-aged. The mission, should I choose to accept it, would involve an hour and a half to two hours of class time each week.

It's really hard to get people to sign up for weekly classes. Homeschoolers are usually very busy with lots of commitements (see above!) and it's not like I have a PhD or anything.

My husband is much better about understanding what can and can't be done with a limited amount of time. AND Bamm Bamm, the toddler, may not be so easily scooted away by whatever parent is willing to spend the class time chaperoning him.

We'll also have astronomy classes run by the husband weekly starting in August. Which, by the way, has become so popular that I'm asking people to sign up a year in advance if they have any inkling at all that they may be interested. We've got our first repeat kid starting this fall. I wonder how much she'll remember and how much more she'll take away this time because she can concentrate on the more intense information instead.

Decisions, decisions! I really want to do it all! But there are only five days in the school week so much of this stuff would need to be scheduled on the same day and not to mention about whether I really have the time to do all of the prep work for five different events while schooling my own kids.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Fair Buying

I was able to get to the Scholastic Warehouse sale. I even rembered my fastpass and coupon. Go me! I needed NO young readers. I practically bought the place out when Hanover was beginning to read and many of those books were never used. I also have a really good collection of books from my mother-in-law who is brilliant at finding gifts for the kids. I don't usually buy kits of anything but I decided that I wanted to take advantage of the steep discount and pick up some things that I would probably never buy at full price.

Here's the rundown:

For science and school:

In thumbing through 'Buzz', I decided to buy it. It suffers from the busy and disjointed presentation of other modern books marketed to kids or educators. The pictures are very nice. At 134 pages, however, it's packed full of information. I also liked that it starts with defining arthropod and then follows that phylum into classes and order. It talks about the evolution and looks (much too closely for my taste) at the body. It also includes recipes after talking about how many cultures eat insects. There are some games as well as discussing mimicking and disguise. As a warning, the book does talk about insects' role in decomposition in regard to crime scene investigation and includes a page of photos of a mouse being decomposed by maggots. Most of the book covers insects but spends a couple of pages on spiders. Of note: at the back of the book it blames humans for the possible extinction of ten insects even though the book starts by stating that 90% of the animals on the earth are arthropods and that there are approximately 1.5 million arthropods on a square yard of land.

This includes a cardboard breadboard along with some components. The book includes instructions for projects using sound and a light-activated LED. Cheaper than Click Circuits (and not as flexible). The projects include standard electrical diagrams (yay) but no decent explanations (boo).

Should help with learning how to mix some chemicals--if I ever have the bigger kids without Bamm Bamm.

Flurpee has already started assembling the skeleton. The assembly is fast, the skeleton is a little flexible and comes with a stand and cover. The book brings in evolution. Although they talk about how humans have evolved smaller teeth since the advent of agriculture, they didn't know that there is a signifact portion of the population in whom wisdom teeth don't develop (though it may be due to dietary or environmental reasons or evolution). The skeleton diagram includes common names and scientific names. The book also covers, quickly since it is only 64 pages, other body systems.

I love this kit. Each thick, cardboard page includes extensive information on certain gears and gear types and a chance to build a gear train using the included gears and then to use a motor to see how the gears interact.

Hanover will be disappointed when she realizes that two of the projects are only pre-supplied materials that absorb a lot of water. She is ready to do something amazing with combining mixtures. The most reaction in this kit is making ooze.

I thought that being able to read along to an audio book was very helpful for Hanover to make the leap from young readers into longer, more complex books. This book includes the CD whereas I had to track down an unabridged audio version and the same book from the library at the same time for all of the other books. It will also tie into European history with Mr. Powell quite well next year.

Eh. It's a classic even if H.G. Wells is malevolent about technology.

Supposed to be very interesting. Sounds a bit like 1984 or such from the summaries I've read.

Just a good idea. Seems very complete.

For Hanover:

She loved The Edge Chronicles 1-3 and even re-read them. She jumped at the chance to read more.

Jenny Nimmo has been a consistent favorite in this house.

For Bamm Bamm:

For kits:

For me:

I'll update more later, perhaps after having a chance to read some (good luck with that)!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Clothing Fail

I bought Bamm Bamm, the 18 month-old a whole summer wardrobe (trying to be prepared) at about the end of April. I wanted to be prepared in case we had an early summer. Of course I only bought enough to get through one week and I did buy a couple of long pants and two long-sleeved shirts. Of course, the little monster had to have a growth spurt! Now the tops are just a bit snug around the belly, but the shorts and pants cannot be buttoned. Slowly I've been collecting the next size up. I can't bring myself to throw out the shorts or pants he's only worn twice.

Filed under 'you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.'

Friday, June 12, 2009

Programming: The Latest Homeschooling Class by Hubby

When I asked my husband if he wanted to run a homeschool astronomy class, he was happy to oblige. As the lead up to the class progressed he was obviously working hard on putting together presentations and enjoying the process. During the run of the class it was clear that my husband enjoyed interacting with the kids and teaching them. At one point we were discussing how well the class was going and if he wanted to offer it again. During that discussion, he said that he enjoyed the astronomy but that he would love to offer a programming course.

My husband got his bachelors of science degrees in physics and math, but got his masters in computer science. While astronomy is a fun hobby of his, he discovered his true love at work. As is common for anyone who graduates with a technical degree, it opens many more doors than just related to one's degree field. Once hired, the company put him on an assignment that involved computer programming. He decided that he enjoyed the challenge of mastering problems, determining or developing an appropriate algorithm and design, and then programming a solution that could save the company time and money while increasing quality.

He has never been tempted to work for a software company however. Many software companies have such large programs that no one person can do everything. They have the idea guys who determine the specifications, the design guys who determine what modules will be made and how they interact, the programmers who code for their given little piece, and the testers that develop tests. At his current company he has the ability to do the entire project from start to finish, including figuring out what math is most appropriate and the user interface.

Since starting astronomy, he's toyed with a programming class idea. One issue that came up was the qualifications required for the course. The class would be more interactive than the astronomy course, and more intense in its math and with homework. He did not want to start a class with some of the lackadaisical attitudes we've seen in the astronomy class.

Now that he's met so many kids through the astronomy class, he has been so impressed by a few of the kids that he was looking forward to seeing how they would do in a more intense class. After talking it over with the parents, he prepared to run a programming course. The course uses a kid-targeted programming language that is compilable and uses structures very similar to real code. It is more realistic and more powerful than any of the language-based, interpreted options that were also available. He is also looking forward to teaching the kids about software architecture and modeling--something he hasn't ever seen offered for kids. He is excited to present a course that could help the kids fall in love with an activity they could turn into a rewarding career.

Since the course is being held at home with kids that my daughter has met during astronomy, my husband decided to include our oldest daughter in the class. My husband wasn't sure how well she might do or if Hanover would be ready for that level of course. The course includes four kids. Two who are 12 years-old, one that is around 14 (I'm not sure--could be 12-14), and then Hanover, who is 10. He wasn't sure whether to include our own daughter because of the age difference. More importantly, she is not only years away from algebra, her math curriculum is well behind the others.

We had to have the standard talk about how she has to be on extra good behavior. Why? Not just because it's a class, but specifically because she's the daughter of the instructor. Anything she does the other kids will think is OK.

The Case for Liberty

Yaron Brook does a great job with this presentation to some Virginia Republicans and why they should abandon the socialism of the democrats.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My First Homeschool Conference

I went to a homeschool conference. This is a really big deal for me. First, because I am cheap. I hate spending money on something for myself. Second, because I'm pretty satisfied with how I'm homeschooling and really don't feel a need to learn anything new about it (at least not what the talks were about anyway). Yep, I'm self-satisfied. Yet, I did go. I mostly went for the chance to talk to some other homeschool moms I know. Of course, I spent most of my time helping Flurpee navigate the children's area.

The conference was run by the Connecticut Homeschool Network. The Connecticut Homeschool Network is a statewide inclusive homeschooling group. I can't say for sure, but it seems like a rather quiet group. The conference was the most I had heard from them. The cost was quite reasonable. There were a number of homeschoolers giving talks. I did go to one lecture and I let Flurpee choose from a number of interesting talks.

Flurpee picked one about public speaking and Toastmasters. The talk was supposed to be about how adults and homeschoolers can benefit from Toastmasters but most of the parents (as you can imagine) wanted to know how to teach their kids public speaking skills. We did learn about a Toastmasters Youth Leadership program. It sounds very interesting. While our speaker had not run a group for youth, he did give us some information about it. I would like to note that the talk was given by Mike Arons, with some input from Judy Arons. I got to meet the owner of one of the blogs I follow regularly.

The Toastmasters Youth Leadership program is run with the help of a local Toastmasters member. They would serve as a coach for a group of kids (up to 25, but seems like around 10 or so would work much better) on public speaking for 8 sessions (probably every two weeks). The kids would mimic the format of an adult club and thus would get to experience different sorts of leadership roles as well as learning some Robert's Rules of Orders. The cost would be limited to some materials provided by Toastmasters (very reasonable, about $10 per child) and the adult member volunteers. As far as age limits, the speaker felt that the kids should be able to write and he thought 12 might be a good age. On the Toastmasters site they have an article about 10 year olds going through the program.

Although I thought I would like to get to more talks, I enjoyed watching Flurpee learn something different and meet a new friend. (Whose mom assures me that I should potty train Bamm Bamm this summer and her kids were potty trained at 11 and 16 months or something.)

Here is the representative of Two Coyotes, a nature program in south-western Connecticut demonstrating how to start a fire using friction.

Here is the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) demonstrating and discussing medieval armor and weapons. The SCA is full of people who enjoy reliving and recreating the age of knights. Although I thought the presentation was very disjointed, the kids really perked up when the presenters passed around some chain mail, plate armor gauntlets, arrows, and a sling. There were some geeky point-of-pride vocabulary corrections (not Vikings, viking is a verb, they were Norsemen) and disdain for popular characterizations (the aforesaid Norsemen would never have had horned or winged helmets because the ornamentation would catch a head blow instead of deflecting matter how cool they look. Of course I wanted to know if it was true.).

Here is a plate armor recreation. The arm, hands, and leg guards (not shown) were made from shiny metal. The body (shown here) was covered plastic barrel parts cut to mimic the armor.

I don't know if I could picture Flurpee as a fierce warrior.

After the armor and weapons demo (which became much more interesting for Flurpee as I pointed out which weapons and armor she used on her Dungeons and Dragons character and why they were two-handed or one-handed and why leather is weaker than plate armor), she got to play chess. That's when she met a new friend. After chess she mostly played with the new friend. I was very ready to leave by then.

It was ironic that a homeschool conference was held at a high school. Funny things: the classroom set aside for the talk I attended had a bunch of those educational posters up. There were about 10 math posters, about 12 science posters, about five health posters, a couple of history posters, some grammar posters, and even more. There was not a bare area on the walls. We could not figure out what subject was taught in that room. I wish it was so in the room for the medieval armor demonstration. The room was used for health and they had recently gone over human reproduction and had left their blackboard notes up. I'm guessing that was an education some parents weren't expecting for their own children.

Another thing I got to observe was the horrendous condition of some of the school. I am not petty, so I expect dirty grout, old fixtures, and scraped up paint. What I was not expecting was the shoddy job done by school employees. Check out the paint job below. There was not even an attempt to keep from spreading the newer black paint onto other surfaces.

In this case, it is the opposite side of the door that is painted black.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Those Were the Days

A mom from girls' club, hearing how we sled down the hill in front of the house in winter, told us how she used to set up a similar hill at her old house with slip and slides. I remembered slip and slides being very fun, but as an adult I mostly remember being dirty, muddy, and usually scraped up. I hadn't ever been tempted to get a slip and slide before because of the bad I remembered more vividly than the good. But putting the slip and slide on the hill seemed like a lot of fun.

I bought two 16 feet long slip and slides and put them one after the other down the hill. The kids had a lot of fun once we figured out how to deal with the water issue. Because they were on a hill, the hose didn't distribute water well and then they also ended up with leaks so even the poor dispersion eventually failed. So we went really low tech and just let the hose run water down the slide (we can because it was on a slope). That worked quite well--better than their little sprinklers. It was like a water slide at a water park.

This is an additional bonus because we decided to not have any pool this year (we usually get one of those 15 feet diameter by 3 1/2 feet deep inflatable ring jobbers). Since Bamm Bamm (the 1 1/2 year old) can already climb the playset ladder to get to the slide and knows how to open the back door even if it's locked, we decided not to chance the large bodies of water. I even bought a larger kiddie pool and decided against that as well. So the kids will have something wet to do when the weather is really hot.

This first video shows Bamm Bamm's first time down the slide.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Because I'm a Geek at Heart

Pioneer Woman posted one of those forwarded e-mails. This one is actually funny. To me, anyway. It's full of puns and wordplay. They are all geeky-goodness but I included a couple of my favorites below:

6. No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.

11. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.

12. Atheism is a non-prophet organization.

13. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other, “You stay here, I’ll go on a head.”

14. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.

22. In a democracy, it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism, it’s your count that votes.

24. Don’t join dangerous cults, practice safe sects!

Keep Calm, Breathe!

I have to remind myself of my self-calming techniques after reading this post by LB at 3 Ring Binder. LB captures some of the real horror being spoon-fed to the captive elementary school audience. I had heard of The Story of Stuff and I am pleased that she pointed out how awful it is. I also glad to see this rebuttal posted at Mariposario (via Titanic Deck Chairs).

The Story of Stuff is a video produced by an environmental activist being funded by other environmentalist groups (true interpretation is anti-property rights and anti-capitalism groups). As an aside, let's remember that many such groups try to undermine the message of pro-property rights and pro-free trade activists by discussing their financing and somehow she's supposed to get a pass, right? The message is wrong, and the funding is incidental to completely glossing over the truth. This video it being shown to ill-prepared elementary students.

And by ill-prepared, I mean students to young to understand the logical fallacies, the anti-concepts, the distortions, and the omissions. And this, more than any other reason, is why it is inappropriate to show to children. The children in elementary schools are too young to understand the falsehoods. The children in high schools these days, at least the average student, has been disarmed. Such a shoddy education as is generally received in public schools (and even many private schools) have weakened their ability to think critically to such a degree that they will either take it at face value or not have the mental tools need to evaluate it properly.

The author of the rebuttal really hits on almost every issue that is wrong with this presentation. So do not be surprised that he interrupts the narrative especially designed to torment your children frequently. The critique is in four parts. The following embedded video should play all four movies in succession.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Worst Garden Design Ever

Done by yours truly! I only have three gardens at my house. Connecticut ginormous rocks and soil consisting mostly of gravel and clay from the foundation dig don't make for easy gardening. This particular garden was actually dug out 9 inches deep (used to be a gravel walkway to the back of the house and the gravel was imbedded into the ground that deep--we still find some) by my husband (you didn't think I did that, did you?) and refilled with purchased topsoil. It's about five feet wide and 10 feet long. The ultimate goal was to extend the garden the length of the house, but we may or may not continue. I made the rookie garden mistake of buying some plants or growing from seed without a place to put them all. I had a choice of letting them all die or sticking them somewhere. This is where I stuck them. The garden is over five years old now and things are starting to get crowded.
In this garden, we have peonies (which smell heavenly), poppies (which are just gorgeous), irises (I wasn't sure they were ever going to bloom, but this is the first year), columbine (self-sowing perennial), and some asian lillies. Now for the problem: those plants are pretty much all the same height and bloom at the same time (except for the asiatic lillies which will most likely be chewed to little nubs just before you expect some spectacular flowers). Right now it's loaded with blooms and in two weeks it will be fading foliage for the rest of the summer.
Here is my no-work required bonus: the chamomile (annual) I started from seed and planted in the garden one year has reseeded every year since and (as long as I don't mind it growing in the walkway instead of the actual garden and please ignore the abundance of clover that has decided to make a home in the garden) I get to enjoy it's happy little flowers.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Nathan Hale Homestead Tour

Unlike some other homeschooling families, I tend to shy away from a lot of outside activities. I prefer to keep my time available for schoolwork or just to keep the little one at home. It is difficult to keep a toddler out of the house all day. But I try to remind myself that Connecticut, being one of the original 13 colonies, has a lot to offer in terms of history.

When a local homeschooling mom arranged for a special tour of the Nathan Hale homestead in Coventry, Connecticut, for a very reasonable fee, I decided to give it a shot. Nathan Hale was a graduate of Yale and volunteered as militia in the Revolutionary War. He was sent on a special mission to work for George Washington as a spy. Before his spying gig he was a school teacher. He was shortly captured and hanged by the British giving him the uneviable opportunity to proclaim, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

The event was presented in three parts: a house tour, a one-room school house activity, and then a spy school. We started with the house tour. It turns out that the house on the grounds was never occupied by Nathan Hale himself. The family moved into the lower part of the house (while waiting to finish construction) after Nathan Hale's execution. Connecticut was not a famous place for battles, but was known for supporting the troops with provisions. It was fascinating to learn that your neighbor who may loyalist could turn you in for spying with the reward of your house and land. It turns out that boys would end up in the uncomfortable rooms--the ones without fireplaces.

Once the kids moved over to the schoolhouse (a relocated home that was never an actual schoolhouse), they had to line up and present themselves to the teacher. In the time of the revolution, the docent informed us that girls would not have been allowed (though Nathan Hale did teach girls before the boys would arrive--starting at 5 AM) and that the students would need to bring their own fire wood. The children got to recite (by toeing the line), do a math lesson on a slate, experience punishment (Hanover got to hold a sign with her pretended misbehavior as a label and Flurpee found a nice knot hole to make her nose comfortable. Another student had a dunce cap and the last one got to hold a log of wood with his arms out in front of him.), use a quill, and have recess. At recess they played with typical colonial toys.

Over at spy school (a modern room in the house), typical techniques used for secretly passing information was demonstrated. The children wrote with invisible ink. After signing their names the kids found numbers that needed to be decyphered from a given key code. What fascinated me most was a rectangle that would isolate a specific message within the general text.