• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 17/Grade 12, 15/Grade 10, and 13/Grade 9.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Christmas in July

Bingo!

Even before we started home schooling, I started adding to the Golden Books, especially the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, collection of my childhood.  I’ve been able to find more titles at garage sales and the Goodwill shop in town, and Abebooks when necessary. Some of our favorites are The Golden History of the World by Jane Werner Watson, and illustrated beautifully by Cornelius DeWitt — perfect for the grammar stage — and Ben Hunt’s crafts and lore books (which I’ve written about before, including here).

The two most elusive titles have been The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments by Robert Brent and illustrated by Harry Lazarus, and  The Giant Golden Book of Biology, written by renowned children’s science writers Gerald  Ames and Rose Wyler, and illustrated by the even more renowned Charles Harper.  I’ve written about the scarce Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments before (here and here); that one is scarce because of the subject and because of nonsense (including much internet nonsense) that the book was once banned, by the government no less.

The Golden Book of Biology owes its popularity and high prices not to its content but to Charley Harper’s artwork and his popularity among graphic artists and designers, and the recent Todd Oldham-inspired Charley Harper renaissance.  Copies of The Giant Golden Book of Biology, published in 1961, the 1967 revised edition (The Golden Book of Biology), and the 1968 second edition have been selling for anywhere from $100 to $600. I’m not a collector of graphic design works* and didn’t want the book to put on the shelf, I just wanted a good quality working copy my kids could read.

Well, I finally lucked out  the other week with a 1967 copy at eBay, and while I didn’t pay anywhere in my customary 25 cents to $5 range, I didn’t pay anywhere near $100 either (or $500, yikes); little enough that I can leave the book on the coffee table for the whole family to enjoy and let the kids read it without encasing them or the book in plastic.  So the lesson here is that patience will pay off…

For me these books, and many of the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, on astronomy (also by Rose Wyler and Gerald Ames), the human body, natural history, physicsworld geography (“A Child’s Introduction to the World”), world history, mathematics (another one with crazy prices), and the Golden Book encyclopedia set, are desirable because although they remain, after 40 to 50 years, some of the very best examples of children’s nonfiction. As MAKE’s Mark Frauenfelder wrote about The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments,

The book is an example of everything great about vintage children’s science books. Once you lay your eyes on it, you will come to the sad realization that our society has slipped backwards in at least three important ways: 1. The writing quality in old kids’ science books was better; 2. The design and illustration was more thoughtful and skillful; 3. Children in the old days were allowed and encouraged to experiment with mildly risky but extremely rewarding activities. Today’s children, on the other hand, are mollycoddled to the point of turning them into unhappy ignoramuses.

This blog post at Codex xcix shows a number of illustrations from the book, which gives you an idea of just why the book is so desirable for the art alone. Codex writes,

Charley admitted that he had to learn the subject while he was doing the illustrations, after all, he was an artist, not a scientist. The result, however, was a masterpiece – the quintessential mid-century children’s science text. It is widely seen as his magnum illustratus and has been widely influential to two generations of illustrators and designers. Todd Oldham described it as “…one of my favorite things I’ve ever had in my life,” and the illustrator Jacob Weinstein as “the world’s most attractive textbook.”

More illustrations from the book are at this Grain Edit post.

If you get the chance at library book sales or garage sales, keep your eyes peeled for books by Gerald Ames and Rose Wyler, who were married to each other and who together and separately wrote 50 or so children’s books, mostly on science but also on (science-based) magic tricks and other subjects.  Their publishers included Golden/Western, Harper & Row for a number of Science I Can Read Books, and Julian Messner. According to their individual obituaries in The New York Times, Mr. Ames died in 1993 at the age of 86,  Miss Wyler died in 2000 at the age of 80;

Ms. Wyler once recalled that as a girl she ”always had a collection of stones, bugs or leaves and always wanted to know more about nature.” She never could find books on nature as a child, she said, so at 11 she decided she was going to write them.

Among their best known titles: the highly recommended The Giant Golden Book of Astronomy: A Child’s Introduction to the Wonders of Space (1950), Magic Secrets (first published in 1954 and still in print as an I Can Read Book), Secrets in Stones (1954), The Earth’s Story (1957), First Days of the World (1958), The First People in the World, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard (1958),  Inside the Earth (1963), Prove It! (A Science I Can Read Book, 1964), The Story of the Ice Age (1967), and Spooky Tricks (originally published in 1968 and not too long out of print).

The Messner books, written mostly by Rose Wyler, are lovely for young children if you run across them: the “Science Fun” series, including Science Fun with Toy Boats and Planes (1986), Science Fun with Mud and Dirt (1987), and Science Fun with a Homemade Chemistry Set (1988); and the Outdoor Fun series, including The Starry Sky (1989), Puddles and Ponds (1990), and Seashore Surprises (1991).

*  *  *

Interview with Charley Harper at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

* Although I do have my mother’s old copy of Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cook Book, also illustrated by Charley Harper and held together with a rubber band for the past 40 years.

An important lesson for your children, whether or not you home school

just in case you and/or your kids haven’t figured out this whole internet thing yet: “The Web Means the End of Forgetting” by Jeffrey Rosen in The New York Times.

Example #1 from the article:

Four years ago, Stacy Snyder, then a 25-year-old teacher in training at Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster, Pa., posted a photo on her MySpace page that showed her at a party wearing a pirate hat and drinking from a plastic cup, with the caption “Drunken Pirate.” After discovering the page, her supervisor at the high school told her the photo was “unprofessional,” and the dean of Millersville University School of Education, where Snyder was enrolled, said she was promoting drinking in virtual view of her under-age students. As a result, days before Snyder’s scheduled graduation, the university denied her a teaching degree. Snyder sued, arguing that the university had violated her First Amendment rights by penalizing her for her (perfectly legal) after-hours behavior. But in 2008, a federal district judge rejected the claim, saying that because Snyder was a public employee whose photo didn’t relate to matters of public concern, her “Drunken Pirate” post was not protected speech.

Examples #2 and #3:

Examples are proliferating daily: there was the 16-year-old British girl who was fired from her office job for complaining on Facebook, “I’m so totally bored!!”; there was the 66-year-old Canadian psychotherapist who tried to enter the United States but was turned away at the border — and barred permanently from visiting the country — after a border guard’s Internet search found that the therapist had written an article in a philosophy journal describing his experiments 30 years ago with L.S.D.

As Rosen notes,

We’ve known for years that the Web allows for unprecedented voyeurism, exhibitionism and inadvertent indiscretion, but we are only beginning to understand the costs of an age in which so much of what we say, and of what others say about us, goes into our permanent — and public — digital files. The fact that the Internet never seems to forget is threatening, at an almost existential level, our ability to control our identities; to preserve the option of reinventing ourselves and starting anew; to overcome our checkered pasts. …

It’s often said that we live in a permissive era, one with infinite second chances. But the truth is that for a great many people, the permanent memory bank of the Web increasingly means there are no second chances — no opportunities to escape a scarlet letter in your digital past. Now the worst thing you’ve done is often the first thing everyone knows about you.

Read the article, WITH your children.

Blogging with substance

I haven’t been very good about blog awards, and I think I missed acknowledging the last one which arrived last year some time (my apologies to whoever sent it along).  This time I thought I’d better be more timely about acknowledging it, so a big thank you to Subadra at Library of Books, Links & More for thinking of me along with nine others for the “blog with substance award”. Subadra definitely blogs with substance — head over to her blog for hundreds of home schooling links, especially for science and math.  Thanks so much to Subadra for thinking I blog with substance.  At this point I’m happy to be blogging, period!

I’m supposed to acknowledge the rules of the award:

1. Sum up your blogging motivation, philosophy and experience in exactly 10 words.

Oh dear, motivation, eh?  I haven’t exactly been motivated.  I suppose I have to give the award back now…

(I’m not very good at coloring within the lines, either. So much for 10 words, or 10 blogs.)

2. Pass it on to 10 other blogs with substance.

I’m going to do something different and instead of picking friends who blog — usually other home schooling bloggers, or kidlit bloggers — pick blogs by bloggers who don’t know me at all.  If you’re at all interested in science, you might already read some of the best contemporary science writers, many of whom have blogged at ScienceBlogs.  In which case you probably know about the recent PepsiCo blog fiasco, and if not, you can read all about it here, and at The Guardian too.  A number of ScienceBloggers decided the situation was untenable, opting to remove their blogs from ScienceBlogs.  They are the blogs with substance I’m choosing, and while they don’t need a pat on the back from a home schooling mother, I think their actions deserve recognition and their new homes deserve publicity.  And they are always science writers worth reading, wherever their blog homes are:

Bora Zivkovic  at A Blog Around the Clock; his farewell post at ScienceBlogs is a thorough explanation of the situation

David Dobbs at Neuron Culture

Rebecca Skloot at Culture Dish; Ms. Skloot is the author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Blake Stacy at Science after Sunclipse

PalMD at White Coat Underground

GrrlScientist, one of Farm School’s favorite science bloggers because she’s “an evolutionary biologist/ornithologist who writes about E3: Evolution, Ecology and Ethology, and the subtle relationships between these phenomena, especially in birds”

Deborah Blum at Speakeasy Science; Ms. Blum is a Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter and the author of the recent The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

Maryn McKenna at Superbug; Ms. McKenna is an award-winning science writer and author of Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA

Suzanne E Franks at Thus Spake Zuska

Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math (no new home as yet)

Chris Rowan and Anne Jefferson at Highly Allochthonous

Travis Saunders and Peter Janiszewski at Obesity Panacea

Eric Michael Johnson at The Primate Diaries in Exile

Dave Bacon at The Quantum Pontiff

Mike Dunford at The Questionable Authority (no new home as yet)

Scicurious at Are You Scicurious?

Brian Switek; author of Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature (to be published in November 2010)

Abel Pharmboy at Terra Sigillata

Alex Wild at Myrmecos Blog

(Thanks to Carl Zimmer for his round-up post at his Loom blog — if only I had found it before getting halfway through the list piecemeal!)

Great good chemical fun

I was going through The Barnes & Noble Review the other day and came across Leonard Cassutto’s review of The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean (Little Brown; July 2010). Mr. Cassutto says it’s full of “intriguing and edifying accounts” and is “an adventurous, far-ranging survey that offers great good fun”.

I also found author Michael Paul Mason’s review of the book for GalleyCat, from which:

Everyone who has ever sat through a similar chemistry class should write a “thank you” note to science writer Sam Kean, whose book, The Disappearing Spoon, brings the periodic table to life. It’s crammed full of compelling anecdotes about each of the elements, plenty of nerd-gossip involving the Nobel prizes, and enough political intrigue to capture the interest of the anti-elemental among us.

With 118 elements currently listed in the periodic table, the task of chronicling their discoveries and applications is nothing short of herculean, but Kean not only accomplishes the labor admirably, but structures it in such a way that makes the journey through the table a joy rather than a slog.

Sam Kean has been blogging the periodic table this month at Slate in conjunction with the publication of the book — as good a way as any for readers to figure out if they’d like to sit down with the new title.  In fact, as Mr. Kean wrote in the first post,

You might wonder: If I’m giving the milk away for free here on Slate, why buy the cow? Well, I’m not giving the milk away, or at least not much of it. I’ll be covering only 25 or so elements here—the periodic table has (as of April) 118. This blog will contain mostly new material and will also cover newsier topics than the book does. So while the blog gives you a taste of the money, petty politics, quackery, sex, war, and, yes, science in The Disappearing Spoon, it’s only a taste. (If you’d like, you can see the table of contents and a sample chapter here.)

Some fun periodic table extras too at Mr. Kean’s website.

*  *  *

Also at Farm School, lots of periodic table fun with Review: The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Basher and Dingle

Spreading the word

I belong to the Sciencesongs group at Yahoo and today had word from songwriter Monty Harper at the group:

I’m working on a new CD of unique science songs for kids, and I’m  writing to ask for your help.

The songs are unique because they focus on every-day scientists and  current scientific research. Most of the songs were inspired by the  scientists I’ve had as guest speakers in my “Born to Do Science”  program at the Stillwater Public Library over the past two years.

Specific topics include phototaxic bacteria, stress hormones, wheat genomics, bacterial biofilms, bat taxonomy, x-ray crystallography, and luminescence dating! The deeper messages are that science is a process done by real people; science is important, cool, fun, and relevant; and science belongs to everyone!

I’m trying to raise the money to make a really top-flight recording, one that families will want to hear again and again.

You can watch Monty‘s pitch video for his “Songs from the Science Frontier” here.  I figure home schooling families are a pretty natural audience for a project like this, so if you’re interested, let Monty know.

*  *  *

More science songs to listen to this summer:

Singing Science, science songs from 1950s-60s LPs; we love these.  EEK — no link any more!  Here’s the old link which apparently no longer works. Try this too, from the Wayback machine. I have these already, but have no idea where to send you so you can get them if you don’t already have them. Drat. If anyone knows, please leave information in the comments. You can read about the songs, from the six-LP “Ballads for the Age of Science” series by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer (covering space, energy and motion, experiments, weather, and nature) here.  You could probably, it occurs to me, find them somewhere online to download if you Google “singing science” and “torrent”.  Just an idea…

You can find oodles of science songs if you just Google “science songs”.  Some of the better sites:

Kiddie Records Weekly, where you can find some vintage LPs to download, including “By Rocket to the Moon”, “Space Ship to Mars”, and “What Are Stars?”

PhysicsSongs, more general than just physics; Prof. Walter Smith’s labor of love

Science songs at Songs for Teaching

And some Charles Darwin and evolution songs in my old Darwin Day post, which includes information on MASSIVE: a database for “Math And Science Song Information, Viewable Everywhere”. The database, which is maintained by Greg Crowther and is part of the National Science Foundation’s National Science Digital Library,

contains information on over 2500 science and math songs. Some of these songs are suitable for 2nd graders; others might only appeal to tenured professors. Some songs have been professionally recorded; others haven’t. Some are quite silly; others are downright serious.

A delight, which you can also listen to all day, all week, all year at MASSIVE Radio — many thanks to Greg Crowther (of the Yahoo Sciencesongs group) and the band Science Groove for putting it all together. Read more about them here.

And don’t forget the granddaddy of them all, the great Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements”, here and here.

Your own private writing seminar

with John McPhee, via the Spring issue (now online, thank goodness) of The Paris Review.

For example, the importance of using an outline, from the interview with Mr. McPhee by Peter Hessler, “The Art of Nonfiction No. 3″:

INTERVIEWER
Where did this method come from?

MCPHEE
It goes back to Olive McKee at Princeton High School, and the structural outline that we had to have before doing any piece of writing. It came up again when I worked at Time. My first cover story just floored me. It was five thousand words, and I really struggled with the mass of material. I was pretty unhappy. It was just a mess—a mess of paper, I didn’t know where anything was. So I went back to Olive McKee and the outline, sorting through this matrix of material, separating it into components and dealing with one component at a time.

INTERVIEWER
Is there ever a risk of it becoming too mechanical?

MCPHEE
It sounds very mechanical, but the effect is the exact opposite. What it does is free you to write. It liberates you to write. You’ve got all the notes there; you come in in the morning and you read through what you’re going to try to write, and there’s not that much to read. You’re not worried about the other ninety-five percent, it’s off in a folder somewhere. It’s you and the keyboard. You get away from the mechanics through this mechanical means. The spontaneity comes in the writing, the phraseology, the telling of the story—after you’ve put all this stuff aside. You can read through those relevant notes in a relatively short period of time, and you know that’s what you want to be covering.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Also in the Spring issue, Ray Bradbury interviewed on the Art of Fiction, by Sam Weller, from which,

INTERVIEWER
You’re self-educated, aren’t you?

BRADBURY
Yes, I am. I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them. But with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose: you begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read. And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone. When I would see some of the books my kids were forced to bring home and read by some of their teachers, and were graded on—well, what if you don’t like those books?

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.

INTERVIEWER
You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?

BRADBURY
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

Read the rest of Mr. Bradbury’s interview, especially on why he refused to write the screenplay for War and Peace, here. (I wrote about Mr. Bradbury and libraries last year here.)

And don’t miss the Review’s interview index, with gems from 1953 to the present.

*  *  *

Books by John McPhee, wonderful wonderful stuff and the perfect living books to include in your home school studies with older children, especially for science.  If you have to choose only one, make it Annals of the Former World, Mr. McPhee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of four books on the geological history of North America, published in a single volume in 1998.

Today in Canadian History

A new podcast from Calgary radio station CJSW: Today in Canadian History.  The podcasts began on July 1, Canada Day, and will last a year. The series is produced by Joe Burima and Marc Affeld. Original music created by Calgary jazz musicians Simon Fisk, Steve Fletcher, and Jon May, and original (very cute) artwork, which you can see at the blog, is provided by Reid Blakley.

From the initial blog post,

Today in Canadian History was launched on Canada Day of 2010. Each episode of the series contains an interview with a Canadian professor, journalist, author, or “everyday” historian and focuses on a unique event or moment that took place on that day in Canadian history. To date, the series has received contributions from over sixty individuals from across Canada.

As a podcast and radio series, Today in Canadian History presents Canada’s past in a unique and accessible manner. The series is designed to be a first step to learning more about our past. We would like to remind Canadians not just about what makes our country great, but what makes it complicated, beautiful, diverse, and ours.

Podcast subjects since the beginning of the month have included Canada Day, the Battle of the Somme, hockey player George Edward “Chief” Armstrong, Norman Bethune, Roy McGregor on the 1917 disappearance of artist Tom Thomson, Pierre Berton’s birthday, Rupert’s Land, and the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Think of it as a maple leaf a day…

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