Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Homeschooling Science

At a homeschooling information meeting I organized someone asked “What about science?” “How can a student learn science at home?”

I rambled a bit about the Discovery Center, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, books, experiments and on-line resources. But here's what I wished I had said.

Science is a method. The scientific method allows us a way to know our world, to make discoveries that are testable. Science isn't just what you find in a book of facts. That book of facts is great, but it's just the information we've learned using science. To really understand science you have to practice the scientific method and experience the power of it's application.

That can be done anywhere, anytime. Perception and wonder are a great start. Notice what is around you. Wonder how it got there, what it does, why it does that, how it does that. Observe. Make a guess (hypothesize) and test your guess against reality. Wonder and notice some more.

That said, it does help to have information to fill in the blanks.

Some books that we've liked:

DK EyeWitness books

Usborne Book of Science Activities (v1-3)

Science Crafts for Kids (this one is great!)

Making Things (more artsy, but uses basic principles you can highlight)

Also look for books about inventions, mistakes that worked, how things work... etc.

Don't forget that children's play is their "work". Science is naturally fascinating.
Here are some sources for toys that reinforce scientific principles
Edmund Scientific

American Science and Surplus

Museum Tour Catalog

Thursday, April 24, 2008

So many books...

A quick run down of some of this month's books.

Favorites so far are the Scalzi books and Robinson and Burroughs books.

Scalzi is just fun! I'm enjoying coming home to some science fiction.

Look me in the Eye and Running with Scissors are books written by brothers about their very different, fascinating, illuminating, and scary, childhoods. I didn't find anything shocking in it, but I wonder what folks who had a normal childhood would think of them. Hey, anyone out there have a normal childhood?

Byron Katie's books are her self-found form of Zen. Interesting, possibly useful, but I have the same problem with them that I've had with other Buddhist perspectives. Excessive detachment seems too often to lead to a remarkable lack of compassion. In addition, "loving what is" seems to me to discourage individuals and societies to investigate positive change. Like so much, when taken to the extreme, this ideal becomes dysfunctional. I don't want to live in her world.

Ayn Rand...well, there she is. Again. Thought I might find something new but, sadly, did not. Again with the extremism and lack of compassion. Not to mention, except here I am mentioning it, there are flaws in the Objectivism logic than any first year philosophy student could point out. I don't want to live in her world either.

Listening from the Heart of Silence, and Evolution's End, are both a little woo-woo for me. They have grains of truth, helpful ideas, but use garbly-gook to bind themselves together. I found myself wishing they had had exceptionally critical and thoughtful editors to help them better present their ideas and clear their thoughts and language. Bet you wish I had that too, eh?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

John Gatto, Live!

Last night my husband and I got to attend a lecture at UNC by John Gatto. We braved blustery April snow to get there and I thought it was well worth it.
He spoke very much like how Underground History reads.  That is, brilliant concepts backed up by evidence and facts, but windy and not necessarily well organized.  He had many interesting digressions, but it wasn't always clear where he was going with his meandering.   I thought Dumbing Us Down was more concise and better edited than An Underground History of American Education.  I had hopes that Weapons of Mass Instruction would get a ruthless editor, but if last night was chapt. 2, then probably not.  If his message were refined, it could get a broader audience.  

As it is, I worry that he comes off as a crack pot conspiracy theorist, impressed with his own verbiage. The truth of his message is lost due to it's presentation. Still, while I didn't hear anything new and thought my husband would have wanted to leave at intermission, not having read Gattos' stuff, he wanted to stay and hear more.

Here are a few highlights of the talk that I picked up on. I wish I had brought paper and taken notes. (What was I thinking?)

I liked the description of "Open Source Learning" (or Open Source Education) - taking learning from everything and everyone. (like "Learning all the time" by John Holt)

His take on creating a consumer culture vs the producer culture that we started out as back when America was just colonists rang true.

His ideas on independence and "adding value" to your life and the lives and world around you as a way to success inspired some ideas I'd like to include in our homeschooling.

He saw a change in the perception of the teen years as an extended childhood in modern culture as compared to young adulthood (in the past).

He accurately described testing and grading as a social construct that encourages comparisons and competition between people, as well as creating the idea that people can/should be valued by their scores - and the damage it does to people who actually believe their value is determined by tests and ranking.

He exposed the false promises of schooling - that you will learn what you need to know to be successful in your life in a classroom. I was told that if a certain level of education was reached, employment was virtually guaranteed, yet I know so many un- or under-employed people with advanced degrees. In reality what makes a person successful is rarely a piece of paper (degree or test scores).

He did define success, rather exclusively, as financial or social prominence. I think because those are measurements of success that we can all understand, where as other measurements of success might be harder to define and see. Also, truth be told, financial independence allows one to do as one chooses, and gives one power/freedom in modern society, both of which are things most people would choose for themselves and their children.

More troubling he pointed out a connection with UU's revered David Starr Jordan. I'll need to do some research to see if I agree with his take on this, but so far, I'm afraid Gatto might have it right again (Jordan was a supporter of eugenics). People are products of their times, both good and bad.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Disease-ifying the human condition

I was able to surprise my husband this morning by proving that "Oppositional Defiant Disorder" was an actual clinical diagnosis and not something I made up to describe the behavior of our strong willed and intense 6 year old. From the site : "Many children with ODD will respond to the positive parenting techniques." LOL! So is the problem with the kid, the parent, expectations, ... ?

It's tempting to generalize difficult situations and people into some sort of disorder. Slap on a label and prescribe a drug and you're done. It's a lot more time and energy consuming to address the underlying issues. Drugs and labels can be useful. They do have a place, but only after careful consideration, and only after ensuring that the environment is as healthy as possible.

Here are some websites about the kids that others are so quick to label.
The Explorer Webstar: The Positive Side of ADD
Strong Willed or Dreamer?
Highly Sensitive Checklist
Apple Stars (blog)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

March's Books

  • Taken, by Edward Bloor
  • A Choosen Faith, by John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church
  • Gone to Texas, Preacher series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
  • The Tipping Point, by Malcom Gladwell
  • The Average Human, by Ellen Toby-Potter
  • Out of Our Minds, by Ken Robinson
  • Tithe, by Holly Black
  • Learning Outside the Lines, by Jonathan Mooney and David Cole
  • The Good German, by Joseph Kanon
  • The Healing Heart - Families, by Allison M. Cox and David H. Albert
  • In Their Own Way, by Thomas Armstrong
  • Ethics for the New Millennium, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  • Empire of Ivory, by Naomi Novik
  • A Thomas Jefferson Education, by Oliver Van DeMille

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Disfunctional person or environment?

Found this article on ADHD, Diet and Exercise. It's about a miracle cure a young adult had of his ADHD when he improved he diet and got LOTS of exercise. He went off his meds cold turkey and is doing great, so long as he runs 3-6 miles a day.

So, is it a miracle cure? Sure, if you believe there was actually something wrong with him in the first place. From my perspective, his environment and life style were out of sync with his physical needs. When he found the balance that worked for him he didn't suddenly have an ADHD cure. He just found what he needs to be healthy.

What's sick is our modern lifestyle. Refined foods like white sugar and flour are ubiquitous. Natural and whole foods are expensive. Children are confined to small indoor spaces, made to sit quietly at desks for most of their day. Many adults are chained to desk work on a daily basis. Just to get enough exercise to maintain basic health people PAY MONEY for the right to exercise at gyms. What's up with that?!? Most of us don't spend even an hour in natural light in a day. This isn't how we evolved to live.

We evolved to move our bodies regularly, to be in the sunshine daily, and to eat foods whose origins don't have to be guessed at. Books like "The Edison Trait" and "Right Brained Children in a Left Brained World" tell us that what we call ADHD is really just another way to live in the world, a way that has served us well in the past and is still valuable today.

Let's stop calling people dysfunctional if, when you improve their environment, they are not dysfunctional. Let's notice the environmental damage that so injures these folks, and let's appreciate them for being our canaries in the coal mine of modern life.