How about a different kind of science curriculum?

I love science. I want my kids to love science, but the way it’s taught in the US recently is a travesty.

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Here’s what science looked like in our house in 2007.

In the spirit of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education, I’m going to offer  my thoughts on teaching science at home.

The bedrock of Charlotte Mason’s science education was keen observation. She emphasized the practice of nature study, every day if possible, with nature notebooks full of detailed illustrations and diagrams. For teachers she advised not trying to explain everything. Not giving the answers. Asking questions and letting the students explore the material for themselves, without bulky textbooks. When books were used, she advocated living books—whole books, written by a single author with a passion for his or her topic.

She said that teachers should not make connections for the student. “Education is a science of relations,” she wrote. That means that we are offering copious material (living books, art, music, experiences, a rich home life, and opportunities to observe nature anywhere we can find it) and allowing our students to connect the dots between Mendel’s pea plants and CRISPR, or marble towers and Newton’s theory of gravity.

Sounds like all of the science curricula I’ve bought, what about you? Actually, it sounds like none of the books or materials I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on.

If I were of an entrepreneurial spirit, I would make this into a homeschool science curriculum and tour the country to sell it to you. I’m not an entrepreneur, so I’m going to present this idea like all my other ideas here—freely—and hope that you may adapt it to breathe some new life into your study of science at home.

Here are the foundational ideas I’d like my kids to learn from science:

  • Science takes teamwork.
  • Science requires us to pay close attention to details, and then to step back and ask “why?” or “what then?”
  • Science requires trying again, and again, and again.
  • Science is not about knowing an answer up front, but using the available data to make judgments to predict behavior of physical objects.

And I’d like to teach these ideas with inspiring stories, great characters, and examples.

My proposal is a book-and-movie study of October Sky (book: Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickman, Jr.), Apollo 13 (book: Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger), and The Martian (book: The Martian by Andy Weir). All three are about the space program, but you could apply these ideas to any books with good science in them.

Apollo 13October SkyThe Martian: A Novel

I recommend you and your student(s) read each book bit by bit. When you get to a part that has an experiment or a question, STOP. Take the time to understand the problem and work it. You might need to do some other reading to gain the knowledge you need to solve the problem, or you might need to experiment yourselves. The stories are all suspenseful, so you’ll have to have some strong self-control not to rush ahead and finish the book or watch the movie. Finish the problem. Then keep reading until the next one. When you finish one of the books and all its science, watch the movie and decide for yourselves if they got the science right.

Rocket Boys tells the story of 4 middle school/high school friends in a small, West Virginia coal mining town, who built rockets. There is lots of great history (the Cold War, Sputnik, coal mining, JFK) in the story as well (and some stuff about the teenage obsession with sex, which I skipped when I read it aloud to my middle schoolers). In addition to being a great story, the book exemplifies the scientific method: make an observation, form a hypothesis, and test it. When you’re wrong, change one variable and try again. This book would be a fantastic companion to chemistry, since a lot of their experiments involve rocket fuel. Also, rocket design (aka aerodynamics). A helpful companion text would be Backyard Ballistics (Gurstell).

Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 is an example of why working the problem is so important. 55 hours into Apollo 13’s voyage to the moon, an explosion caused a critical failure of the spaceship. “Houston, we have a problem.” The combined efforts of NASA engineers and the astronauts (both in space and on the ground) were needed to save them. The problems encountered in their voyage include the amount of oxygen needed for survival and basic engineering (with a fun puzzle problem you could simulate with a bunch of supplies from the hardware store). Apollo 13 is one of our family’s favorite movies.

Finally, the book that inspired this idea: The Martian. Weir’s story of an astronaut stranded on Mars is a bonanza of problems to solve, including biologic (how many calories does a human need to survive? What about vitamins? What about water? How much water do crops need?) chemical (how to make water), and physics (astrodynamics, vectors, velocity). All of it requires math, and the math really matters in this book. I realize I’m making it sound boring, but this is a fantastic story that had my whole family on the edge of our seats- first on audio, and then in the theater. The character Mark Watney has a delightful sense of humor and a problem with swearing (full disclosure), so be warned.

I have no idea how long this would take- maybe one book would be a semester, or most of a year. If you try it out, please come back and tell me how it goes!

For a unit on pandemics, I would recommend Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, and Gina Kolata’s Flu. (You could add the movie Contagion to this list.)  Obviously, you couldn’t be working with deadly microorganisms to work the problem, but you could study the medical principles behind virulence and attack rate.  Two games to play in this unit would be Pandemic (a board game) and Plague, Inc (on your phone or tablet).

The Andromeda StrainFlu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused ItThe Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola VirusPandemicPlague, Inc

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Snow books

It’s finally snowing here for our first day of winter break, and we’re going to pull out all our favorite snow books today. They are (in no particular order):

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The charm in Uri Shulevitz’s Snow is that Boy with Dog knows better than everyone else who tells him it’s not going to snow. The illustrations are fantastic, and the sparse prose is exactly right.

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Virginia Lee Burton’s classic, Katie and the Big Snow, is chock full of details. The only thing I change when I read it aloud is “The doctor couldn’t get her patient…”

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Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon perfectly captures the haunting silence of a snowy night.

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Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day was Phoebe’s favorite when she was little (and I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that I substituted her name in for the main character’s.)

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Jaqueline Briggs Martin’s Snowflake Bentley is the true story of Wilson Bentley, the man whose passion for natural beauty led him to photograph snowflakes. His work was amazing, and this children’s book about him is beautiful.

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I loved Carolyn Haywood’s Snowbound with Betsy growing up and dug an ancient copy up a few years ago. I still love it.

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Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter haunts my dreams: the food running out, the Christmas box that couldn’t make it, the cutting for the train…

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Winter Holiday, the third book in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, takes place on a frozen lake and is full of all the fun you imagine you’d have with like-minded kids and utter freedom.

I don’t think we’re going to have enough snow to give me time to read all of them today… but I’m going to give it a shot. What snow books am I missing?

Looking forward to Advent

I hate Halloween.  I’m like a Halloween Grinch.

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And I especially hate that Halloween falls during my birthday month (yes, I’m that annoying person who wants the whole month to be about me), so that all of October as I’m admiring the gorgeous fall colors, giant plastic pumpkins and creepy skeletons keep intruding.  There’s a giant plastic spider in a polyester web over an exam room at work that made one of my young patients scream the other day, and I knew just how he felt.

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This is what I love about October.

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And this, too.

The one thing I like about Halloween is that it tells me Advent is almost here.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving and especially Christ the King Sunday (the last Sunday before Advent, this year on November 20).  But I especially love Advent. It’s a season of contemplation and prayer.

I love that the Giant Retail Machine has not figured out how to turn Advent into a commercial enterprise.

In a fit of pique about a particularly icky lawn ornament I saw the other day, I came home and pulled out our Advent books, just to see if there were any gaps I wanted to fill in.  (There were.  I ordered a few new-to-us books.)

If you don’t have any Advent traditions, or want to know what the Advent fuss is all about, let me recommend a few of my favorite Advent resources.

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For advance planning and ideas for how to meditate and celebrate at home, I recommend Let Us Keep the Feast, edited by Jessica Snell. For each of the church seasons, it provides a collection of resources, including an introduction to the season, an explanation of the calendar, information on seasonal traditions- old, new and international, seasonal recipes, suggestions for how to celebrate with the very young, ways to serve beyond the home, selected readings, music and prayers. (I wrote the section on Ordinary Time, but that isn’t my favorite one.)  The book is available from Doulos Resources, or Amazon, both in electronic, pdf and paperback forms.

Elizabeth Foss has an Advent devotional called Comfort and Joy that looks beautiful (though I haven’t tried it.)  She also has some lovely book lists I’ve used to shape our collection of special books we read during Advent.

In past years we have enjoyed Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Jesse Tree, which we’ve read as an Advent family devotion.  This year, I think we’ll be back to Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas.

Do you have an Advent resource to recommend as we look ahead (past Halloween)? Please share in the comments.

Come join us!

In two weeks, Tuesday, March 29, I’ll be joining a panel of awesome Colorado writers at Metro State University for Mystery, Murder, and Mayhem.  (Love that Oxford comma!)

When: Tuesday March 29, 3:30-5:30

Where: The Tivoli Multicultural Lounge, Metro State University, Denver

Who: Peg Brantley, Karen Docter, Ann Dominguez, Becky Martinez, Jools Sinclair (and hopefully, you!)

I hope to see you there!

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Beating the February Blues: Day 14

Welcome to a month of ideas to beat the February Blues!

Day 14: Read a book!
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This is my monthly collection of quick reviews of the books I’ve been reading.

Louise Penny: The Beautiful Mystery (Inspector Gamache #8) Product Details

Hands down, this was my favorite read this month.  I’ve requested the first and second Inspector Gamache novels from the library, but apparently the line is long.  So I picked up this one from the shelf and jumped right in.  I showed up at my doctor’s office, and he was very concerned that I had begun reading in the middle.  Apart from advising me to eat right and exercise, he recommended I don’t read any further in the series without backing up to the beginning.

Set in an isolated Quebecois monastery where the monks sing like angels, The Beautiful Mystery is a compelling psychological drama  with layer upon layer of tension.  It was almost polyphonic, really.  Highly recommended.

Estelle Ryan: The Braque Connection (Genevieve Lenard #3) Product Details

I was undecided about this series after the second, but the third book sold me on it again.  I love art, I love heists, and I love mysteries, so The Genevieve Lenard books should be a no-brainer.  She is a unique narrator, though, because of her autism.  I love series which deepen our understanding of the characters, and Ryan’s books do that.  I will definitely read on in this series.

Peg Brantley: The Sacrifice Product Details

This is my first reading of Brantley, whose fiction is a little darker than my usual fare. But I really liked the protagonist of The Sacrifice, Mex Anderson, who is a former lawman, now simultaneously fighting both his own demons and those around him.  The characters are multidimensional, the writing compelling, and the story kept me wondering.  I’ll be starting her Aspen Falls series next.

Agatha Christie: The ABC Murders (audiobook by Blackstone Audio with John Moffatt)

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Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express (audiobook read by Dan Stevens, HarperAudio)

Murder on the Orient Express

I wasn’t sure how the family would respond to Agatha Christie, but we’re at a funny stage where my older kids don’t want to repeat what they’ve listened to before, and my youngest still can’t handle a lot of complicated psychology.  Agatha Christie was complicated but not as graphic as a lot of what is out there.  These two CD books seemed to hit everyone’s sweet spot.

Andy Weir’s The Martian (audiobook read by RC Bray for Brilliance Audio) Product DetailsAlthough I loved both the book and the movie, this was another book I was unsure about listening to as a family.  The kids have loved it, and Sam and I argue about who gets to have the discs in our respective cars.  Somehow when I read it the first time, I must have blocked out much of the swearing.  Believe me, though, the kids notice it.  Highly recommended (with an advisory to listeners with sensitive ears.)

Be sure to check out Modern Mrs. Darcy for more Quick Lit!

 

 

 

 

Kate’s New Year’s Resolutions

Kate Deming, medical student, wife and mom, made her New Year’s resolutions.

This year, I will:

  1. Wash my hands after every patient encounter.
  2. Stop whining about how tired I am.
  3. Call my sister.
  4. Stop rolling my eyes when I talk to my mother.
  5. Exercise at least once a month.
  6. Stay awake through a whole Disney movie.
  7. Fold the laundry on the bedroom floor.
  8. Remember my husband’s birthday and get up early to make him breakfast.
  9. Stop imagining I’m developing every illness I read about.
  10. Choose the perfect residency program that meets my needs, my husband’s needs, and my daughters’ needs.
  11. Finish medical school.
  12. Floss.

To see if Kate can maintain any of these resolutions past January 8th, check out The Match.