Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ray says . . .

(Well, actually Ray's blog roll) that I should have updated today. Handy of Ray's blog roll to remind me. I honestly didn't mean to go so many days without a post.

Life is picking up speed around here as the school year rolls in. The boys and I have been doing a unit study on art history, technique, and the science of color. Today we talked about light and refraction the length of waves. Once again I was reminded of how woefully inadequate my own science education was as I tried to break down advanced concepts and make it interesting.

Throughout middle school and high school, I had a science teacher named Mr. Moon. He was a balding pale man with thick coke-bottomed glasses and black frames with tape on the bridge. Mr Moon spoke in a monotone at all times and read the textbook out loud for our lessons. He blushed when he was asked about reproduction and skipped entire sections of biology. No I am not making that up. Cliches have to start somewhere don't they?

Mr. Moon killed science for me. I'm sure he didn't mean to, but I'm confident that all but the most tenacious students of science had a similar experience. Entering his classroom was to enter a room with scientific fact presented as something you poured into a concrete mold, slowly drop by drop, unexciting word after unexciting word. It set in the mold, unmovable, unchanging, untested, and undiscussed. When the time came, we handed the information back to him in perfectly ordered squares of cold hard fact. I hated science and only took what I absolutely had to for graduation.

So I've worked to make it matter to my own sons. We periodically look through a telescope, have a microscope we play with (and will use more seriously this year), watch videos (more on that in a minute) and try out small science experiments as we run across them. today we used a flashlight to look through a glass of water to see how light is refracted into color, then we mixed food coloring to confirm how secondary colors are made. Earlier this summer, Sam and I grew seeds inside zip lock bags, trying a variety of mediums to see which one worked the best. He helped me garden this summer as well, learning about pollination, hybrids, soil make up, and "damn bugs". (Hush, that is too a scientific term). There's lots of book work, as there must be, but I try not to let it be their whole world as students.

Last night we watched a Nova documentary on String theory. Even with their father in the background reminding them of how it's just a theory and that it promotes a Godless universe, the boys sucked it in. And then they spit it out in the form of opinions and questions (all embracing the existence of God. They thought it was funny that a scientist could propose that our world is a pale version of some other parallel world, but rejected the existence of an intelligent creator). They've asked for more Nova. Hey, I can do that.

I'm grateful to "Myth Busters" for sparking my sons' curiosity. I can't tell you how many times I've asked them where they learned this word or that, only to find that they heard it from one of their episodes. Hurray for the people who created it. Would that this much thought was put into the creation of more shows like it.

We've discovered an unlikely tool in this science education method. Believe it or not, we promote science fiction as an educational tool. Why? Because words like "fusion", "fission", "particles" "atoms" the names of constellations, "black holes", and biological terms are thrown around freely in good science fiction. We've found that the boys remember the definition of the words better if they were entertained while hearing them. They're more inclined to go off in search of ideas on their own if "Dr Who" used the word. They want to know if time travel is possible and if black holes can really be used and which planets can sustain life and what their atmospheres are made up of.

What I like about art is that it promotes an attitude of experimentation. Last week we studied art periods and tried out Impressionism, Expressionism, using water colors, and (my favorite) Dada. Sam wants to try out acrylics next, but I told him he'd have to wait until payday. Tomorrow we're going to try our hand at making paper for lots of non-scientific reasons, but science will be a big part of it. The next day we're going to study "horizon lines", as taught by Daniel who actually took art classes. On Friday we're going to tie-dye t-shirts--mostly for fun, but since lots of measuring and planning are involved, it too will have a certain amount of science involved.

Next week they'll all more or less be hitting the books again, but now that I'm not working too, we're going to take time out throughout the year to try the "fun stuff" as well. Expect to hear more about it as we pursue new interests. I'm often having as much fun as they are.


Big Plain V said...

Hi Mary, didn't mean to pressure you by my comment. It was just weird that it said you updated when you didn't. I've never had that problem before; usually if I have a problem, it's a failure to show that somebody's updated.


Your description of all the quality educational programming makes me kind of regret our decision not to have TV. Heck, I'd like to watch those documentaries. Unfortunately, we'll never be disciplined enough to watch non-crap, so, I'll just have to live with the guilt of depriving my children.

jeanie said...

I always am amazed at how some people can be so fearful of science shaking belief systems.

Many great scientists took the other view - that to find something so precise and so well designed means that there MUST be a god, because it is far too beautiful to be by chance.

I had a great science teacher who brought a bit of humour but did not humour those who could not keep up with her teaching. I was lucky - I could. Those who couldn't invariably ended up with the other two science teachers who had - ummm - foibles.

Pencil Writer said...

Sorry you were so deprived in Science classes for so long! I can't get enough science! Similar to what Jeanie said, the more I learn about the "science" of life and the smaller and smaller units of our physical world, the more evidence I see that there absolutely has to be a God behind it all. I find it hard to comprehend how scientists don't stand it total awe and feel drawn to greater belief in God! Oh well! Science is fascinating and wonderful to enlighten our minds.

Your school projects with your children remind me of the days I homeschooled my son and we invited a couple of the neighbor children to attend some of our science "class" experiments. It was great fun!

One of the projects we worked on was constructing a solar oven. It worked! In fact, we still have it tucked away somewhere. If we're ever w/o electricity and have a good sunny day, I may just have to drag it out and put it to work!

Scotty said...

My Chemistry teacher in High School spoiled science for me to a great degree - man, she was a pain.

But yes, as a kid, certain TV shows piqued my interest and made me the sciency sci-fi geek I am today.

Dr Who, The Time Tunnel, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Land of the Giants, and Thunderbirds, aaaah.

Mary Paddock said...

Hi Ray--I didn't take it as pressure. :) It just served as a nudge. My bet is your kids are anything but deprived :) . I confess--I am a product of the television generation. I won't lie--I like to watch it. But a year ago we had to get creative with our viewing thanks to the economic crunch. We shut off the satellite, which means no reception here at all. So we hooked a computer up to our television and watch what we can find on the internet and what I pick out from Netflix (instant watch is good too). This makes television viewing a more decision based behavior as opposed to just staring pointlessly at the screen. Crap still finds its way in, but it's quite a lot less of it.

Jeanie, I quoted you to my husband and he completely agreed with you. He commented "if there are 'strings'--who's plucking them? :)

PW--I didn't really discover science until after college and having kids helped enormously. Suddenly I had a reason to investigate, experiment, and understand.

Scotty--One bad teacher can really be a kid's undoing. I remember the Time Tunnel . . . :)

Big Plain V said...

Yeah. You can watch educational TV on the internet, huh?

Mary, you may have just saved my children's minds.