Book Review: Don't Be Such A Scientist.

You know there's something a little different about a book whose subjects on the back are listed as "Communication/Science/Film." Don't Be Such A Scientist could easily be viewed as a companion book to Unscientific America, since they describe different facets of the same problem. That problem is, namely, the vast disconnect between "science" and the "general public," especially on key issues such as evolution and global warming.

Randy Olson offers four prescriptive statements of what not to do: don't be so cerebral; don't be so literal minded; don't be such a poor storyteller; and don't be so unlikeable. He intersperses his suggestions with amusing anecdotes from his times as a Ph.D.-turned-film-student. It's amusing, makes good points, and is a quick read.

While he states that his audience is scientists, students, and the interested general public, I feel like the target audience is high school students and undergraduates. In fact, I think it is a perfect book to hand to a high school student who is interested in science - trying to get things right from the beginning, essentially, rather than trying to close the barn door after the horse has already escaped. And as a book for high school students or undergraduates, it hits all the right notes.

The final chapter is titled "Be the Voice of Science!" I must admit that I expected some sort of Plan, or at least some Suggestions. Instead, he mostly discusses that there is no template, and that each scientist must develop his or her own voice. Well - of course that's true. Some general discussion would have been helpful, though, along the lines of "here are some important things to know or note," or "here are a few ideas about skills that may be good to develop." I'm coming at this both as someone with scientific training (though no actual desire to work as a scientist), as well as the homeschooling parent of at least one child who will probably end up in a scientific field. (EG decided earlier this week she'd like to go to Cal Tech. Because "that kind of stuff is easy." Right-o.) What can I be doing to facilitate a well-rounded scientist?

I've told the Spousal Unit several times that I think being a well-rounded student takes more time when your area of specialty is math and science than the humanities or the arts. Not because math or science are inherently more time-consuming, but the level of knowledge which one needs of the humanities and the arts in order to be well-educated is so much higher than the amount of math or science necessary to be well-educated. A well-educated writer can take just three years of high school mathematics. A well-educated mathematician needs four years of literature study in high school, a good grasp on history, and an appreciation of aesthetics, in addition to whatever higher-level mathematics s/he is studying.

What I find myself wanting now is a discussion between a number of intelligent people about what things they personally would suggest. I think there would be some overlap, which would certainly indicate promising ideas, but I also think the atmosphere of discussion would yield new, maybe slightly off-the-wall ideas.


I Lied

Uploading photographs to blogger when they are already on facebook seems redundant. Here, have a link to the Facebook album for FB's birthday.

Check out the last shot of the cake. It's a Coca-Cola cake. For those of you who are not from the southeastern region of the United States, a "Co'cola Cake" is only one of the moistest chocolate cakes you will ever have the privilege of eating. Always homemade, never from a mix, and iced while hot. We have about a piece and a half left. It's that good.

Photographic Posting

This would have been one of two Wordless Wednesday posts yesterday IF my internet connection had cooperated. The Comcast technician just left the premises, however, and consequently I now have the power to upload pictures again. This is how we celebrated the first day of spring - the sun was shining, the temperature just over seventy degrees, and it was an all around lovely day.

And yes, I did give my children a gift on the first day of spring. Sometimes I roll my eyes at me, too. That said, we don't do anything big for St. Patrick's Day, so maybe it all comes out in the wash.

"Secular" Thursday: Patriotism & Taxes

We're going to rename Secular Thursday for today, to Patriotic Thursday. Okay, I am renaming it, anyway. I wrote this as a refutation of the idea that the only patriots are conservative or libertarian. I wrote this as a refutation of the idea that only certain types of people read and love the Constitution, or love this country. I've always been a big old bleeding heart liberal, but I've also always been a flag-waving, country-loving patriot. They aren't mutually exclusive.

This is also based on emotion, not debating specific facts. This is my perspective, MY gut reaction, just as your gut reaction may be against taxes, or against new legislation. I'm not out to say that you are wrong and I am right, and I'm not particularly interested in a debate. Just putting that out there - if you leave a contentious comment, I likely will not respond.

I'm a strange soul.

I get a patriotic thrill when I pay my taxes.

My life is full of points where a stranger took a chance on me. At five years old, at eleven, at nineteen - my story could be so different than what it is today. I can't be that stranger for every five, eleven, nineteen, or twenty-nine year old, but I can pay my taxes.

I can make sure that I pay for the roads on which I drive, and a million other services of which I and my family partake without even noticing. Yes, I happily pay for public education, too. It is of no benefit to my family for public education to decline. I don't believe that public education is a bad thing. Do I think that in many areas it is badly broken? Yes. Do I think it has no value? No.

I can make sure that I pay a equitable tax on my vehicles, my property, my income. Notice I didn't say on the things I buy; I'm one of those strange individuals who opposes most sales taxes out of principle. Our state has eliminated sales tax on groceries, and I think this is an excellent thing.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore."

We'll give them (and, yes, I'd definitely prefer legal immigration!) a chance, an education, health care. We'll do what was done for our ancestors, and then make it bigger and better. That's what this country has long been about. To paraphrase Queen, bad mistakes? We've made a few - but we've come through.

We're meant to be a city on a hill, some say. An example to the world. For too long of late, we've not been the best example that we might otherwise be. We took another step towards bigger and better. This week, I paid my income taxes, and yes, I did it with a light heart. I want to keep America's lamp burning bright.

"Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."



Remember my By 1 July 2010 list? I've been working on it steadily. It occurred to me that if we're going to sell this house & move into a freshly purchased one, I'll spending my free time packing boxes and organizing for moving soon. That doesn't leave free time for homeschool planning. The result has been a near-obsession with finishing as much of the planning for next year as possible.

Smrt Mama might want to stop reading here, since sometimes my plans give her a panic. ;)

What have I finished?

• Type up art appreciation lesson plans.
This was more or less complete, except for typing. I did add some supplemental books to the appropriate week in a third column on the spreadsheet. This is for EG - the spine is DK's Art, and she'll use books from the Taschen Basic Genre series as well as the Art in History series to add to specific topics. Near the end of the year, she'll reach the Renaissance and start reading biographies of specific artists as well - I decided to stick with Venezia, even though they are an easy read for her, because they are the most practical investment.

• Make music appreciation lesson plans.
I'm so excited about EG's music appreciation for next year! We're using The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music History which is, despite the name, a great resource for chronological music appreciation. She'll cover the first two chapters of the history of Western music next year, as well as two chapters on other parts of the world - Middle Eastern music and Asian music. I've picked out a lot of great music for her to listen to (iTunes is my friend, especially with Costco-purchased iTunes gift cards!). One of my good friends who lives in China currently is helping me put together a selection of Asian pop music, as well.

• Map out framework for language arts.
I sat down with the Voyage level MCT materials and attempted to figure out what would be studied when, at least on a week-to-week level. I think I have a good framework in place. I'm so impressed by Essay Voyage!

• Finalize supplemental history books for kindergarten.
Not only are they supplemented, the last of the ones for purchase are on their way to me from amazon, B&N, and Rainbow right now! I'll try to post the final list on here in the next few days.

• Finalize general science overview lesson plans.
Luckily, I had finished more than I had previously remembered, so this was easy-peasy. EG's going to use Science Matters as well as the DVDs The Joy of Science from The Teaching Company. I'm also going to require her to read Angier's The Canon.

• Consider possible supplemental or source reading for science, and schedule.
It was very hard to find reading for geology. Biology and ecology were easy, for me - The Double Helix, Silent Spring, and a couple of books by one of my heroes. *Looks longingly in the direction of Nashville.* Astronomy is Cosmos and a few other things I found poking around amazon; similar for meteorology. I don't know how well they are scheduled but each subtopic at least has an order. *shrug*

• Make lesson plans for Latin Prep 1.
These are, of necessity, very tentative, because I have no idea how long it will take her to do these exercises. I think I've estimated relatively well, though, and she will have two chapters under her belt at the end of this year.

• Figure out timeline.
I bought the Add-A-Century timeline. So pretty! I need to get EG to help me set up one weekend, so that we're ready and raring to go.

I've made headway on several others as well. The panicky feelings are officially starting to subside. Of course, I have a feeling that as soon as I stop panicking entirely, it'll be time to gear up for moving.


Weekly Report: Week Thirty (Through Day 140, Anyway)

Billy Joel's been on my mind this week, through a combination of factors. I won't detail that for you, but I am taking a lesson from one particular song. Hence, we have weekly report in moments and, well, days to hold to. ('Cause we won't, although we'll want to.)

The best moments of the week were non-academic. Discussing some recent national news over dinner, the Spousal Unit and I were thrilled when the kids reacted just as we would have desired if we'd programmed their response. Sure, they'll change their views as they get older, but at least we're managing to teach them our values.

Then there was EG in all her righteous indignation, when an activity was characterized as "just for girls." Her fury was magnificent; her words persuasive. I felt downright called to action myself. Best of all, she's not afraid to go against what friends or peers may state, just to "get along."

Memory work yields its own priceless moments. FB loves to recite one of his poems with odd rhythm or a strange accent. He usually focuses on "After the Party" for these shenanigans, but has been known to give this treatment to "The Yak" and "The Little Man Who Wasn't There" as well. And then there's EG, reciting an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have A Dream." Because she memorizes the quickest when she can listen to the material, she spent the first two weeks of work on this listening to the great man himself, on that famous day in 1963. The result is a tiny white girl speaking with the cadences of a black preacher. At least she is from Atlanta!

We've had great conversations as EG heads into the 1960s for history. President Kennedy's assassination, the Cold War, the Space Race, the Civil Rights movement... her ability to discuss the deep, underlying issues surprises and gratifies. Next week, she'll be reading about the Vietnam war and talking to some of her relatives who were alive during that conflict.

FB wants so badly to be just like his big sister. I'm impressed with his tenacity and perseverance; despite the inability to read most written directions, he plows forward. He asks for more time to do math. He volunteers to help with diverse tasks.

EG finished Grammar Town this week, and heads ever forward with Caesar's English and Paragraph Town, writing an excellent two-paragraph composition with the Cold War as her subject of choice.

Moving ever forward... tomorrow marks the equinox and spring's return, not a day too soon. Today we finally saw the good side of 70°F. I missed it so! But we're ready for spring. Happy equinox!


Weekly Report: Week Twenty-Eight

Normally, this time of year, I'd be talking about spring fever makes it hard to concentrate. This, however, is the year that winter just wouldn't go away, so while there are a few signs of hope, overall, it's not been springy enough to result in any fevers.

It's been a pretty good week. We found out the local ice skating rink does a homeschool skate on the 2nd Tuesday & 2nd Friday of each month, so the Spousal Unit took EG & FB on Tuesday while PC & I went to La Leche League, and they've convinced me to take them again this morning prior to band. Johnny Weir & Apolo Ohno may have inadvertently created a couple of monsters. I take no blame, even though I have been letting FB watch Be Good Johnny Weir.

EG read T. S. Eliot this week (Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats), as well as The Cricket in Times Square. I didn't make her write a narration of the former because that seemed a little ridiculous. She's chugging right along through Grammar Town - we'll probably finish it next week - and Caesar's English I. We've also started on Paragraph Town, since she's already familiar with the four-level analysis. The last two paragraph lab assignments have focused on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which has amused her, I think, since she memorized it earlier this year. As I told her, "This is based on something that you are really familiar with." We're still not formally covering spelling. At this point I think we'll wait to review after Grammar Town is finished, at least.

Math continues to go well. EG wrapped up another chapter and did well on the Cities. I love when she talks about math - "It's kind of hard, and challenging, but it's fun!" She's still doing drill, and finished five pages in Key to Percents Book 2.

History this week covered the Space Race & landing men on the moon. She wrote a summary for both sections of the chapter in SOTW, and read Team Moon as well. Her biography project this week was to read part of McCollough's Truman, and she finished two chapters. She said the first chapter was boring (Truman's family history), but started enjoying it in the second chapter. Over the weekend, we watched Guns, Germs, & Steel and she enjoyed that, too.

She finished reading Touch This! for physics and will work in Physics Workshop for a couple of hours this afternoon, after ice skating and band.

Latin is still going well, steadily but surely. Two more weeks and Lively Latin will be finished! Logic is going well, too; she completed two or three problems in Mind Benders, and four pages in Orbiting with Logic. We both are enjoying having the Level 1 poems on an every other day schedule (for memory work).

Last week was a break from piano lessons (her teacher was out of town), and thanks to snow, there was no trumpet lesson last week either! Both returned to the schedule this week, and FB had tumbling class on Wednesday. They're in the throes of learning their lines for the end of year play for Master's Academy, and PC continues to be dragged along 'most everywhere.


Kilroy Was Here

Because I have many things on my mind, but none of them quite a full post, I present one of my favorite things in the entire world. Bullet points.

• There's been a lot - a lot - of discussion lately on the WTM boards about giftedness. One takeaway message has been "if your child is gifted, you'll just know it." Without getting into too much detail, I don't think that's true. For various reasons, my peers have always been highly intelligent people. I think there were one or two people in elementary school that could be said to possess average intelligence, but I don't remember much about elementary school. I graduated from high school with 98 other girls, all of them highly intelligent and yes, dare I say it, all of them at least moderately gifted. I firmly believe this. I followed that up with a university experience where, again, "normal" was well above average. When someone stands out in groups like these, you know they're scary-smart. All of that said, my yardstick is different. No, I don't know what is and is not normal. I know what gifted looks like. To me, gifted is normal. Sometimes you don't just know. That's all I have to say on that matter.

• I've figured out the solution to each of my previous dilemmas. We'll finish the All About Spelling series with EG, but then concentrate on application in writing; FB is going to start in the Spelling Workout series, because I don't think I can add another teacher intensive subject unless it's vitally necessary; and although I really like BFSU (or what I've read so far; I haven't finished it yet), I don't think I'll be using it with FB. As I stated in the previous post, I think it might just be the ticket for PC, since she's effectively going to have two years of pre-K before her official K year, thanks to that November birthday.

• Since I've resolved those issues, I naturally have turned my mind to another: revisiting the question of choosing a modern foreign language for EG to study. I still have it narrowed to Chinese or German, but I'm torn between the two. I can see a real value and utility in each. Our resources locally for studying each are approximately the same. My mind is locked in a stalemate between the two.

• I've made real progress on my list of things to do by 1 July. I'm not ready to actually strike any of them completed, but I feel like things are a bit more under control. I need to add five new books to the art appreciation plans, but they are typed. The music appreciation plans are in a good second version. I'm 98% sure I've finalized the kindergarten supplemental history books. I tried very hard to break the AoPS texts into daily chunks. And I've got a good preliminary list for science reading!

• I purchased the last of the actual curricula for 2010-2011 last week and it should all be here by tomorrow. I specified curricula because, of course, there are still plenty of books to be purchased, as well as music for music appreciation. What actual curricula is there? I purchased The Complete Writer: Writing With Ease Workbook 1, The Story of the World, Volume 1: Ancient Times and the pdf activity book, RightStart's A to B Add-On kit, My Printing Book and Spelling Workout A for FB. EG's curricula for next year are MCT LA Level 3 (Voyage level), Life of Fred: Advanced Algebra and the corresponding Home Companion, Art of Problem Solving's Introduction to Counting & Probability as well as Introduction to Number Theory, and Galore Park's Latin Prep 1. The rest of her stuff is either real books or online endeavors.
So far, I'm really excited by the Latin Prep books, especially. Essay Voyage looks intimidating from a "how do I break this down into daily lessons?" viewpoint, but the material looks great.

• I've made a renewed commitment to my own oft-neglected bedtime, which includes actually rising with my alarm. Let me tell you, my body is not too sure about this plan. I've had more time to read, though, and I am far more productive between 7:30 & 11:30 am than I am 7:30 & 11:30 pm. I have a strong feeling that I've been working on a significant sleep deficit, though, so the more I'm careful to go to bed by 11 pm & get up at 7 am with the alarm, the more I want to go to bed even earlier! Maybe I'll be all caught up in a week or two.


Secular Thursday: Planning and Pre-Planned

I've spent the last three or four days immersed in lists, planning for next year. I have our actual curriculum determined, and will be placing the last necessary orders tomorrow. What I didn't have determined was all of the real books that we use. We use real books for literature, somewhat obviously, and history, too, but also science, art, and music, depending on the topic at hand.

My first item of business was to finalize what books to use for history for both EG and FB. There are a few that will overlap - thank you, David Macaulay! - but overall, EG is ahead of the curve enough that resources that are appropriate for her are just too much for a kindergartener, even a bright and inquisitive one. Which, of course, meant two lists.

As I approached the third or fourth hour of looking up books and eliminating those that were out of print, I reflected upon the fact that while it seemed somewhat like drudgery, I did enjoy it, for the most part. We very briefly tried a pre-planned curriculum when EG preschool-age, and I tweaked it mercilessly. Pre-planned just doesn't work for us.

However, it's a good thing that I enjoy planning, because if I wanted a pre-planned package, I would have considerable difficulty finding one to suit our needs.

If you are more conservative Christian, there are a number of pre-planned package programs using a variety of styles. There's Sonlight, of course, and Winter Promise, My Father's World, and Heart of Dakota. While not quite as packaged, there's also Tapestry of Grace.

If you want something a little more nonsectarian, you have approximately one choice, in terms of pre-scheduled guides: History Odyssey. It, however, is not a package as such, as you need to collect the various resources separately, which makes it perhaps a better analogue for a program such as Biblioplan.

As I said, I like this process - dividing up our spine text, partitioning the assigned reading, developing the written assignments to correspond with it. Even when I'm frustrated, I like lining up our literature to more or less correspond to what we're studying in history. So the lack of an appropriate program doesn't affect me very much. I suspect there are those out there for whom it does, however.

Sometimes I consider making my own schedules pretty, and making them available inexpensively as a pdf. I don't have a good sense of average reading speeds, though, much less average anything else. The plans I make end up being customized not just for our family, but for each particular child. So, in general, I lean towards making them available for free, so that the next homeschooling parent can use and tweak upon my foundation. I don't claim to be anything but organized. That said, some samples can be found at Scribd, and I'm happy to email those files which are not posted in their entirety.

And now I've got to get back to plotting out art & music appreciation. ;)
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"A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing." - Thomas Jefferson