• 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, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)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"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "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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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Wall week

The crew began the week building walls for the second story.

The telehandler is invaluable for getting the lumber up there,

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Before the walls were erected,

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One of the completed walls,

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Shop class,

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The rough window assemblies to make up the tower,

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And up they go,

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The telehandler is even more useful for lifting/standing up walls; this is the back of the house, with the dining room nearest the telehandler,

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The dining room from the other side,

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The 16-year-old running the telehandler,

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Finally on to the fourth side,

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The 14-year-old securing the temporary brace (until the interior walls go up),

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The white painted piece of lumber is salvage, when the grandstand at the fairgrounds was replaced years ago,

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Moving the top plate/cap plate assembly out of the tower to erect the wall pieces,

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I got distracted by a tiger swallowtail on the lilacs,

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Putting the top plate/cap plate in place,

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Removing the GoPro from the GoPro pole,

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A productive afternoon!

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More BirdCasting

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Exciting news for us — Laura is in Washington, DC to help celebrate the 500th show of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds, and will be part of the live broadcast tomorrow from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Talkin’ Birds is a live interactive half-hour radio show about wild birds and nature, airing Sunday mornings at 9:30 Eastern, on WATD (95.9 FM); you can read more at the Facebook page and listen with live streaming on Sundays here. They’ll be joined by Smithsonian ornithologist Bruce Beehler.

Ray has been an extremely generous, kind, and encouraging mentor and friend to Laura ever since she discovered the show about five years ago and then started calling in. I wrote back in June 2009 (“BirdCasting”), when she was 11,

Laura has developed an interest in, and growing passion for, birds since last summer when I helped her put up some bird feeders around the yard. Her interest in the Christmas Bird Count last year is what got our family in touch with the local naturalist society. She spends much of her free time feeding, watching, listening to, and reading about birds. And recently she realized that there might be birding podcasts she could make use of on her iPod; she’s become a big fan of podcasts. So with my researching and her vetting, we came up with this list of her favorite birding podcasts…

It didn’t take long for Talkin’ Birds to become her very favorite. And for the past while, she’s been part of the crew as a far-flung correspondent; when Ray gives her advice on how to speak on the radio, he knows what he’s talking about. I keep thinking how I, at her age, would have taken an invitation to take part in a live broadcast in front of a theatre full of people. I’m fairly certain that I would have said, thank you so much for asking, but no, and spent the rest of my life kicking myself for missing such a wonderful opportunity. The differences between extroverts and introverts!

Tom is with her, since while we have no problem sending her alone to the wilds of Ontario, we figured a major city is probably more enjoyably and safely negotiated with an adult travelling companion (the show staff are in town just for 36 hours), and Tom needed a holiday anyway. Good reports back from the hotel, the Liaison Capitol Hill (which has a pillow menu believe it or not), and also their restaurant last night, Cafe Berlin. They’re hoping to get to Bistro Cacao, not too far from the hotel, before they leave on Tuesday. Huge thanks to Talkin’ Birds for underwriting her flight and part of the hotel stay.

I’m writing this post as a thank you for so many things that have become an enormous part of my daughter’s life, and also as a reminder for any other home schooling parents who might still be reading — if your child has a particular interest or passion, even if you as the parent have little knowledge of (or interest in) the subject, modern technology has made it possible to reach out and find those who can inspire, guide, and teach your child. And if you teach your child about internet safety and writing skills, he or she can do much of the reaching out himself or herself, which is a good skill to learn. Living on a farm in rural western Alberta hasn’t been any sort of impediment, and a flexible home schooling schedule has meant Laura could take advantage of spending a month last fall as an intern at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, banding birds and working on an independent research project, or participate in an event like tomorrow’s festivities. Age isn’t a barrier either, as most home schooling families know; she’s been able to write bird book reviews, receiving printed and e- books regularly, and when she realized that there wasn’t a Facebook group for Alberta Birds (and birders), though most of the other provinces and states had something, she started one; the group now has more than 2,000 members who share their photos and videos, as well as sightings, birding stories, and blog posts. She’s made lifelong friends and learned more than my husband and I could have ever taught her, and we continue to be touched and amazed by the support and generosity of so many adult birders so eager to take young people under their wings and nurture this budding interest. It reminds me very much of gardeners I’ve met the world over who are always so quick to offer seeds and cuttings, in order to spread not just a love of nature but the joy of a passion shared.

In their absence, the boys and I are holding down the fort and farm, more like hunkering down, since winter finally arrived today, with a high of -5C and some snow that won’t be melting any time soon. Tomorrow’s daytime high is to be -11C with an overnight low of -15C. Welcome, winter. I think…

Science songs, updated

I just had a comment from Monty Harper on an old post about science songs. The original post was about his 2010 Kickstarter science music CD, “Songs from the Science Music Frontier”. Monty wrote yesterday that he’s recording a follow-up science CD for kids, “More Songs from the Science Frontier”, and is running another Kickstarter campaign to fund it, now through December 13th. As Monty writes, “A pledge of $5 or more will get you an immediate download of the first CD!” You can also find Monty on YouTube to hear his songs.

That 2010 post also mentioned the early sixties six-LP “Ballads for the Age of Science” series by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer (covering space, energy and motion, experiments, weather, and nature), which we loved when the kids were little. You can read about the songs here. The original online link we used is now unavailable, though you can find it through the Wayback Machine. Not sure if the music files are still available there, though.

I imagine the link was taken down because because the albums have all been re-released, likely due to the popularity online thanks to nostalgia buffs and home schoolers among other, on iTunes and, since last month, as a CD set (at Amazon here), thanks to Argosy Music (headed by Hy Zaret’s son Robert), Harbinger Records, and Naxos. According to Argosy’s website, “These albums and their songs are available for sale as meticulous digital restorations, done by Irwin Chusid, of the original 1961 recordings in all their monophonic glory. One happy listener of these new restorations asked ‘How did you get such amazing quality on the iTunes songs?’.” There’s a nice, long (two-page) article here at Broadway World, from which,

For the first time in over fifty years, Harbinger Records will release “Ballads for the Age of Science,” the most successful educational recordings of all time, as a six-CD box set.

Featuring more than four dozen original songs written by Hy Zaret, co-author of the iconic popular song “Unchained Melody,” and Lou Singer between 1959 and 1961, the albums introduced scientific concepts and terms using catchy, easy-to-learn lyrics and music to grade school students across America in the early 1960s.

The CD box will be available in stores nationwide on Tuesday, October 15, 2013. The albums are available from Harbinger Records and through downloads on iTunes. They are distributed by Naxos USA.

The article has more biographical information on the late great Hy Zaret and Lou Singer.

Birds, classes, hearts and more

Laura did a four-week internship from mid-August to mid-September at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, on Lake Erie, helping with migration monitoring as a volunteer field biologist. It was a follow-up to the 10-day young ornithologists’ workshop she did there last summer. This year’s internship was considerably more intense, not just because it was longer, but because Laura and the other interns and volunteers were working out of a bird banding station located on the tip of the Long Point peninsula, accessible only by motorboat. While they had electricity and running water, they didn’t have cell phone or internet service (so Laura was incommunicado for the first three weeks, which was an interesting experiment for me), and bathing and laundry happened in the lake.  They worked long days, seven days a week, doing bird and Monarch butterfly censusing, banding, data entry, as well as facility upkeep and maintenance (which meant that all the work around the house and farm, ability to cook and do chores, and a cheerful attitude came in handy). While I didn’t know about the incommunicado part, I did know that Laura would be out in the wilds for several weeks, and figured a first aid course might come in helpful, not only for her but for the people around her.

In May I started looking into the two-day St. John Ambulance first aid course. It’s generally offered as part of a local continuing education program, but they weren’t offering the course when I wanted it (late June, after 4H and theater wrapped up). A friend teaches the course and when I asked about hiring her privately, she asked if the boys would take it too. I figured why not, and then the course turned into a home schoolers class, with at least half a dozen other kids. It was a certificate course, which all three kids achieved, but I’m more interested in them having the knowledge and information they can use than the certificate. Very reassuring knowing that the kids, who are often on their own around the farm and the countryside (the boys each have a quad and motorbike now), have this knowledge, and it was one less thing to worry about with Laura several provinces away.

So it was interesting to hear a CBC radio news report this morning that more people survived cardiac arrests in Denmark after the country encouraged bystanders to step in and perform CPR. The study’s lead author, Dr. Mads Wissenberg of Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte, said, “The main message from this study is that national initiatives to improve cardiac arrest management seem to have an impact with an increase in bystander CPR rates and survival rates.”

Medical officials in Denmark had noticed about 10 years ago that few people stepped in to perform CPR, with only a minority of cardiac arrest victims surviving for more than 30 days. In the United States, and I imagine numbers are proportional for Canada, about 300,000 people go into cardiac arrest every year and around 90 percent of those die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Heart Association says immediately starting CPR when a person goes into cardiac arrest  can double or triple that person’s chances of survival.

Denmark decided to start a campaign to increase the number of people who could perform CPR. The campaign included introducing mandatory training for elementary school students and driver’s license applicants, as well as distributing instructional training kits, offering telephone assistance to bystanders, and putting defibrillators in public places.

The radio show host discussing the news showed considerable surprise that elementary students would be targeted, and the show’s medical contributor said there’s some evidence that kids that young aren’t strong enough to do chest compressions. But from my own experience, not only are younger kids able to absorb and remember this information well — better than most distracted, multi-tasking adults can — but more enthusiastic than most adults about their knowledge. And if you start with elementary age kids, who take refresher courses as necessary, those without the strength will soon (by junior high and high school) have the strength to go with the knowledge.

When the boys found out that the continuing education program in town was offering a two-night/seven hour Canadian Firearms Safety course (a requirement to acquire non-restricted firearms, though not for a hunting license, which the kids are working toward, some more diligently than others). While I don’t expect the kids to be acquiring firearms any time soon, I did like that the course teaches basic firearms safety practices; safe handling and carry procedures; firing techniques and procedures; care of non-restricted firearms; responsibilities of the firearms owner/user; and safe storage, display, transportation and handling of non-restricted firearms. Laura returned just before the course and asked to take it too. Definitely a worthwhile course.

Daniel got his learner’s permit recently, and Laura will be able to get her graduated license next spring, two years after getting her learner’s permit (age 14 around here).

And later this month Laura takes a two-day women’s self-defense course, which seems like a good idea if she’s going to (as seems likely) spend more and more time far afield, in fields and elsewhere, on her own. So just a few courses and an internship the kids have taken since June.

In other course news, Laura has made arrangements to borrow a copy of the out-of-print, horribly expensive to purchase secondhand Handbook of Bird Biology so she can take the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s home study course in bird biology this year; it’s generally a six- to eight-month course.  A new, third edition of the the textbook (which is a doorstop) has been in the works for several years now, and Laura has been disappointed several times as the publishing date gets pushed off again and again. She doesn’t want to take any chances (the current publishing date is listed as spring 2014, but if they’re wrong, she won’t get a chance to finish the course by the time she graduates from high school, which is her goal), which is why she’s borrowing the book. Which wasn’t easy, either, and required considerable networking in the provincial birding community.

June

Harder

Saw the above today at Grain Edit by Muti and I love it. Available from Society6 as prints and as stretched canvases.

April and May zipped by alarmingly quickly. April was winter and May was summer, and spring somehow vanished. We’ve had hail already, and some fairly ominous weather.

The kids had the play (Wizard of Oz) which went very well, we all survived three days of 4H Beef Club achievement days/show/sale combined with a celebration of 4H’s centennial (the kids sold their steers, Laura won a showmanship award, Daniel received his silver award of excellence and Laura her gold, Davy and Laura won awards for their project books), we seeded our crops, planted and watered 985 little trees, planted two gardens and the potato patch, got the greenhouse up and running, are moving cattle to the various pastures, sorting out bulls, fixing fences. And oh, yes, school, along with some college/university planning, estate matters, and a variety of bird-related projects and trips for Laura. Our nest boxes are almost all occupied (Laura kicked some house sparrows out), and we have eggs and hatchlings everywhere.

Speaking of which, Laura was thrilled to that see her favorite birding radio show, Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds (which we first discovered as a podcast before wifi let her listen live on Sunday mornings), was the subject of a lovely feature article in The Boston Globe. There might be a quote from a young birder we know…

Also, if you’re in Canada and feeling inclined to support Bird Studies Canada in their national, provincial, and regional conservation and research efforts, Laura is participating in their annual Baillie Birdathon; her 24-hour birdathon was last week (she saw 84 species, four more than her stated goal), but donations will be accepted until the end of July.

This weekend the kids have their 4H Outdoor Club’s achievement day overnight camping trip, which they’re all looking forward to. Much scurrying about, sorting out sleeping bags and making their survival kits. Next week Daniel might be taking his learner’s permit test, which means that between him and his sister, I won’t be driving myself too much.

Some good books we’ve discovered:

Letters to a Young Scientist by E.O. Wilson (April 2013): somehow I stumbled across this in March and ordered it before publication. An inspiring, very personal little book for young scientists and their parents by the celebrated biologist and naturalist. Particularly helpful if the young scientist in your household happens to be especially keen on biology.

Two Laura found for her work with a Young Naturalists group, trying to get younger kids outdoors and interested in nature:

Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, March 2013): brand new and delightful. Perfect for kids who think they might be interested in birds, and also for those who think there isn’t anything particularly exciting in their own backyard.

The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (Falcon Guides, April 2013). For parents rather than kids, just the ticket if you need specific ideas on how to get started with your kids in the great outdoors.

I’ll leave you with another nifty poster, by Biljana Kroll, also available from Society6. Words to think about as some families’ formal studies come to an end for the summer.

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February fun

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We had a full weekend here — a six-hour hands-on calving course for the kids at the local agricultural college (which meant missing 4H district public speaking, which no-one minded because the class was likely the much more educational endeavor, and good fun to boot). They were the only kids registered, along with four adults, only two of whom made it. The instructor had a fiberglass model of the back end of a cow available, one cow in the college herd conveniently calved during the class, and there was also an actual cow’s reproductive track on hand, provided by the local butcher (it’s kept frozen in between classes). The course also covered some medical procedures, including injections and tubing a calf, and artificial insemination. Kids found it all fascinating and helpful.

Also dogsledding with the 4H Outdoor Club (Sunday afternoon), and the Men’s and Ladies’ bonspiels at the curling club from Friday evening to Sunday evening.

Tom and the kids had planned on curling together in the Men’s (girls and women can curl in the Men’s, but men can’t curl in the Ladies’); they curled together Friday night, and during the kids’ class he found two substitutes. But Saturday evening, after the big dinner, Laura was “borrowed” to curl on one of the ladies’ teams. Tom and the boys, and Laura and new team all made it to second place after curling two more games on Sunday afternoon. Tonight the kids are in the finals of the junior league playoffs.

Next up with the Outdoor Club — building bird houses for the local Habitat for Humanity project to use as a fundraiser.

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Campaigns, stickers, and a happy belated birthday

I missed Charles Darwin’s birthday last week, so I thought I’d tell you, in case you hadn’t already heard, about 19-year-old Zack Kopplin, who’s been an anti-creationist campaigner for five years now. Zack just won the Troublemaker of the Year for 2012 award. From the Troublemaker website:

The TroubleMaker Award Committee has named 19 year old activist, Zack Kopplin, the TroubleMaker of 2012 for his leadership and advocacy efforts to prevent the spread of creationism in publicly funded education. Zack has been selected among many exceptional applicants who demonstrated creativity, spirit and dedication in working on a broad range of issues, including women’s rights, poverty, bullying, environment and nuclear energy.

Zack’s bold campaign to repeal the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) has made waves in state politics and in public education. Kopplin has gathered the support of 78 Nobel Laureate scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the New Orleans City Council, and other major organizations. His petition to repeal the law has 74,000 supporters across the US. Working with Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, Zack has fought for two bills to repeal the LSEA. He has spoken out before the Louisiana legislature and State Board of Education, debated creationist politicians, held rallies, and had been covered in hundreds of interviews in national and international media. Kopplin is preparing to fight for a third repeal bill.

Zack plans to use the $10,000 awarded to him to increase the impact and reach of his campaign. The funds will greatly aid Zack’s most recent venture to call for accountability on the issue of millions of dollars in school vouchers being spent to fund schools across the US that teach creationist ideas. He also plans to use this money to help build the Second Giant Leap movement, which calls for a permanent end to science denial legislation and for a trillion dollars of new science funding in the next decade.

Kopplin said, “We need a Second Giant Leap for Mankind and we need a student movement of troublemakers and truth-tellers who are willing to stand up and speak out to make this a reality.”

Zack’s website, Repealing the Louisiana Science Education Act, is here. His open letter to President Obama, calling for a Second Giant Leap for Mankind, is here. He argues that “Denying and misteaching evidence-based science like evolution and climate science will confuse our students about the nature of science and stifle future American scientists and scientific innovation.” More (all links are Zack’s, from his letter):

The politics surrounding science also must change. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee recently called evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell.” The former Chairman of this same committee believes that climate change is a massive conspiracy that scientists created to get more funding. He then tried to cut science funding. Another member of this committee suggested cutting down more trees as a measure to reduce global warming. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) attempted to sneak a creationism law into President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and others hosted a Congressional briefing called “Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design and its Implications for Public Policy and Education.” Campaigns are being led against vaccines. The current cuts to federal funding for basic scientific research could prevent our country from launching the next Hubble Telescope or the next Human Genome Project. We would never have created the Internet or launched the Manhattan Project if we had cut science funding.

Zack was a National Center for Science Education’s 2012 Friend of Darwin award winner, too, and his campaign even inspired a Doonesbury strip in 2011.

You can support Zack’s efforts by going to his website, and, if you do such things, by following him on Twitter and Facebook. I recently found another nifty way to help support Zack’s campaign, on Colin Purrington’s website. (I first discovered Colin back in 2005, with his Charles Darwin Has a Posse stickers. You can find the stickers here.)

While I was trying to fix the Darwin Posse button below left (it went wonky), I learned that Colin now also offers textbook disclaimers you can print out as stickers; there’s a series of 15 distinct stickers:

If you live in the United States, you probably live in a school district that is dominated by people who don’t publicly accept evolution.  Over the years, teachers and School Boards have found ways to undermine the teaching of evolution to appease the parents that have pitchforks and charmingly Neolithic views of reality.  Some districts have even placed evolution disclaimer stickers in biology textbooks… . Please consider downloading the PDF to make actual stickers with inkjet sticker paper, then give to your kids to use at school.

Some of my favorites,

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Go get yours and start stickering. Oh, and Colin now has a Charles Darwin/Posse store at Cafe Press.

By the way, if you have science students at home, you should know that Colin has a new, very helpful section on his blog with Academic Tips. These include

Maintaining a laboratory notebook

Designing conference posters

Writing science papers

Giving science talks and presentations

Requesting letters of recommendation

Laptops in class? (tips for students AND teachers)

Great stuff. Thanks very much for all of it, Colin!

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Since we’re on the subject, here’s Farm School oldie but goodie (I haven’t gone through all of the links, so I’m sure there are some that are now broken. If you find any, please let me know in the comments below):

Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day, from February 12, 2009: “”To celebrate this year, Farm School offers a highly subjective, not at all comprehensive Charles Darwin bibliography and list of resources for the entire family, with serious and lighthearted offerings; remember, I’m not a trained scientist or a biologist, just a very amateur naturalist who likes to read.”

(Previously posted, in 2008, as “Funny, you don’t look a day over 198″)

Happy belated birthday, big guy. Love always from Farm School.

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By the way, the Troublemaker Award was founded by Semyon Dukach, a self-styled “angel investor” and a protagonist of Busting Vegas, who immigrated to the US from Russia with his family in 1979 when he was 10. Semyon is also a judge for the Lemelson / MIT student inventiveness prize, as well as for Mass Challenge.

Canadian Curlews

After 17 years in Canada, I’m still not entirely up on my CanLit and find lots of surprises. The latest one is Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, published in 1955. So for anyone looking for some modern CanLit for older students, a living book on extinct/endangered species, and a modern classic movie (adapted from the book) for younger children about extinct/endangered species, we have a couple of recommendations.

A bit of background to explain. For her two 4H clubs, Laura is writing two speeches, one on birds that are extinct, the other on birds that are virtually extinct. Going over her speeches with her, I learned about birds I’d never heard of (not hard for me, since unlike Laura, I don’t sleep with a copy of Sibley’s and read almost exclusively about birds). One of the extinction stories I found quite moving is about the Eskimo curlew. I’ve borrowed a bit from Laura’s speech.

The Eskimo curlew, a medium-sized shorebird in the sandpiper family, is said to have been among the birds that guided Christopher Columbus to the new world. But the curlew is so rare now from overhunting 100 years ago that it’s very probably extinct. If there are any still in existence, scientists think they number fewer than 50 adult birds, when once the population was in the millions and they flew in flocks so thick they formed dark clouds one kilometer wide and long.

If it sounds rather like the story of the passenger pigeon, there are parallels. Nineteenth century American market hunters in need of a replacement for the pigeon, which they had hunted into extinction, looked about and proceeded to do the same sad thing to the Eskimo curlew, which they called “doughbirds” — the birds, heavy from gorging themselves on berries, fruit, and insects in their breeding grounds in the Northwest Territories and Alaska, would put on a thick layer of fat in preparation for their journey. The curlews, again like the passenger pigeons, were so tightly spaced as a flock that a single shotgun blast could easily kill about 20 birds. The survivors had an unfortunate habit of circling back for their injured or dead flockmates, giving the hunters yet another chance. Hunters first starting shooting the birds on their spring migration, then, looking for even more, headed for the curlew breeding grounds, where men would blind the birds with lanterns and then club them.

The Eskimo curlew’s migration, we read, was one of the longest and most complex in the animal kingdom. The winter journey involved a large clockwise circle, starting at the subarctic Canadian tundra, through the western hemisphere, east through Labrador, down through the Atlantic, across the southern Caribbean, and finally to the Argentinian pampas and Chile.

Another strike against the Eskimo curlew, just as it should have been rebounding from overhunting, was the loss of one its important prey species, the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, or locust. If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “On the Banks of Plum Creek”, you might remember the almost biblical plague of locusts in the chapter, “The Glittering Cloud”:

The cloud was hailing grasshoppers.  The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground an dthe house with the noise of a hailstorm.

… Grasshoppers covered the ground, there was not one bare bit to step on. Laura had to step on grasshoppers and they smashed squirming and slimy under her feet. …

Then Laura heard another sound, one big sound made of tiny nips and snips and gnawings.

“The wheat!” Pa shouted. He dashed out the back door and ran toward the wheat-field.

The locusts were the farmers’ scourge on the Great Plains in the 1870s, and their obliteration was as accidental as it was complete, as well as devastating for the curlew population. In fact, entemologist Dr. Jeffrey Lockwood has called it “the only complete elimination of an agricultural pest species”. What happened, Dr. Lockwood discovered, is that

Between outbreaks, the locust hid out in the river valleys of Wyoming and Montana — the same river valleys that settlers had discovered were best suited for farming.

By converting these valleys into farms — diverting streams for irrigation, allowing cattle and sheep to graze in riparian areas, and eliminating beavers and their troublesome dams — the pioneers unknowingly wiped out locust sanctuaries. They destroyed the locust’s equivalent of [the Monarch butterfly’s] Mexican forest wintering grounds. They doomed the species.

For the rest of the fascinating story, you can read Dr. Lockwood’s article here.

Last summer, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service said it is seeking any information about the Eskimo curlew, and will review whether the bird should continue to be classified as endangered or formally designated as extinct. The last sighting confirmed by the Fish and Wildlife Service was in Nebraska in 1987.

Getting back to the point of this post, while helping Laura, we discovered a celebrated Canadian novel written in 1955, Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, which is part of Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart’s New Canadian Library line; I just ordered a copy. I like the idea of the book as a bridge to fiction, especially modern classic Canadian fiction, for her since she reads so much nonfiction (especially so much bird-related nonfiction), and also as an entree into CanLit for an older student who’s ready for a bigger challenge, but not quite ready for some of CanLit’s heavier offerings — though like most CanLit, this book is sad.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One:

The Arctic day was long, and despite the tundra gales which whistled endlessly across the unobstructed land the day was hot and humid. The curlew alternately probed the mudflats for food and patrolled his territory, and all the time he watched the land’s flat horizons with eyes that never relaxed. Near mid-day a rough-legged hawk appeared far to the north, methodically circling back and forth across the river and diving earthward now and then on a lemming that incautiously showed itself among the reindeer moss. The curlew eyed the hawk apprehensively as the big hunter’s circling brought it slowly upriver towards the curlew’s territory. Finally the roughleg crossed the territory boundary unmarked on the ground but sharply defined in the curlew’s brain. The curlew took off in rapid pursuit, his long wings stroking the air deeply and his larynx shrieking a sharp piping alarm as he closed in on the intruder with a body weight ten times his own. For a few seconds the hawk ignored the threatened attack, then turned back northward without an attempt at battle. It could have killed the curlew with one grasp of its talons, but it was a killer only when it needed food, and it gave ground willingly before a bird so maddened with the fire of the mating time.

The sun dipped low, barely passing from view, and the curlew’s first Arctic night dropped like a grey mist around him. The tundra cooled quickly, and as it cooled the gale that had howled all day suddenly died. Dusk, but not darkness, followed.

The curlew was drawn by an instinctive urge he felt but didn’t understand to the dry ridge of cobblestone with the thick mat of reindeer moss at its base where the nest would be. In his fifth summer now, he had never seen a nest or even a female of his kind except the nest and mother he had briefly known in his own nestling stage, yet the know-how of courtship and nesting was there, unlearned, like a carry-over from another life he had lived. And he dozed now on one leg, bill tucked under the feathers of his back, beside the gravel bar which awaited the nest that the bird’s instinct said there had to be.

Tomorrow or the next day the female would come, for the brief annual cycle of life in the Arctic left time for no delays.

It sounds as if it would make a wonderful living book choice for conservation and natural history studies, too. There’s another edition, a 1990s reissue, which came about because “Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin found this slim 1955 novel on a shelf in the house of friends, and, struck with the ‘plain, succinct evocation and beauty’ of Fred Bodsworth’s writing, suggested its reissue to a publisher.” That volume has a foreword by Merwin and an afterword by Murray Gell-Man, with J.J. Audubon’s painting of Eskimo curlews on the cover.

And for younger children, Last of the Curlews was made into a one-hour animated movie in 1972 to teach children about conservation. I was surprised to learn that it not only featured Vincent Van Patten (I’m old enough to remember “Apple’s Way”), but was also the very first ABC Afterschool Special, winning an Emmy for children’s broadcasting. I don’t read entries at IMDB much, but the reviews for, and memories of, Last are poignant. The animation by Hanna-Barbera is lovely, not at all what comes to mind when I think of H-B (primarily the Flintstones, etc.). We were hopefully optimistic when we heard about this, and delighted to find that it’s available, in several parts, on YouTubePart 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. But a warning that the cartoon version doesn’t sugarcoat the story, which is not a happy or hopeful one. Extinction is extinction. We found a box of Kleenex helpful.

Also on YouTube is a little video blurb by Canadian eco-photographer Edward Burtynsky on Last of the Curlews for the Toronto Public Library.

Digging around online, we learned that Charles Frederick (Fred) Bodsworth is an internationally renowned naturalist, journalist, and novelist. Born in Port Burwell, Ontario, in 1918, after apparently spending some time working on tugboats and in tobacco fields, he became a reporter for the St. Thomas (ON) Times-Journal at the age of 22 and later was a writer and editor both at The Toronto Star and at Maclean’s magazine. Mr. Bodsworth left Maclean’s in 1955 to focus on magazine and nature writing, and novels. He also served as president of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists from 1964 to 1967. In 2002, he received the prestigious Writer’s Trust Matt Cohen Lifetime Achievement Award. I didn’t see any mention online of an obituary or his death, so I hope he is still hale, hearty, and watching birds at 94.

In other school-related news, work on the other speeches and presentation is going well, we’re in the midst of musical festival registration (both as registrars and registrants), the kids are happily galloping through more of Life of Fred, and in the phys ed department, curling season has picked up dramatically and the kids are curling quite well. Laura is also working on a summer internship application, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for that. Oh, and roles have been handed out for Spring’s theater production of “Alice in Wonderland” so there is lots of singing throughout the house.  That and Davy’s cooking — he made baking powder biscuits yesterday and today some delicious gravy from our moose roast — are keeping us warm in this week’s cold snap. And -51 is verrrry snappy.


Not so light listening

With all of our recent truck travels, we became even keener audiobook listeners than usual.  So upon arriving home, I was sent off in search of more and browsing through the Naxos offerings through interlibrary loan, I found

Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell, read by Simon Prebble, unabridged on four discs (based on the book)

Though I think we’ll have to reserve this one for the house rather than the truck…

I’m not sure if this project was Naxos’s impetus for their other “Nutshell” offerings which I’ve found, which include

Darwin — In a Nutshell

Afghanistan — In a Nutshell

Tibet — In a Nutshell

The French Revolution — In a Nutshell

The Renaissance — In a Nutshell

Not a substitute for a good book, or two or three, of course, but as a brief introduction or review, great stuff.

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.

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.

A laughing sound

That would be me, delighted because Colleen Mondor in her latest Bookslut in Training column recommends as her Cool Read The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal by Sallie Wolf.  Delighted because next month is Laura’s 13th birthday, and the book — a “blend of poetry, field guide and nature notes” — sounds perfect for her.  Colleen, who also blogs at Chasing Ray, writes,

Wolf arranges her entries by season, and includes bird lists, haiku, observations, ruminations, watercolor illustrations and drawings on every page. Essentially, she is inviting the reader into her life, providing a space at her window and her desk. It is a very personal work, for all that it does not share about Wolf’s actual personal life. You are merely seeing what she sees, and perhaps altering your own conclusions about art and nature through her influence. Teen readers who might be wary of their own creativity, and are reticent to face the blank page, will find a sympathetic fellow artist here — someone who uses the barest of brush strokes to capture the creatures she sees. Exquisitely designed by Charlesbridge, The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound is one of the more elegant books to come across my doorstop in a long time. I hope a lot of young birders and artists and poets find it.

I think the book might be a bit young for Laura but I still think she’d enjoy having it, and she can always use another journal.  There’s another bird book I’d really like to get her, too, and while it shouldn’t be listed at an online bookseller for a decent price, it is.  I’ll post the title if I manage to get my mitts on it*.

The publisher’s page with various links and downloads is here.  Sallie Wolf has a blog and a website (where I learned that much like Davy, as a child Sallie loved Ben Hunt books and wanted to be a Mohawk. Davy wants to be an Iroquois, but why quibble?)

You can find all of Colleen’s warm weather reading titles for your favorite children and young adults in this post, Summertime, and the Reading Is Easy.

* Apparently the book is still in stock and winging its way to me:  the hardcover edition of Tim Birkhead’s The Wisdom Of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology, for $10.11 CAN, much cheaper and sturdier than the paperback edition coming out in March.  And for some reason the copies at Amazon.ca are  $26.92 and $39.57 — odd.

Late philosophy, on-time engineering

I’ve been meaning to post an interesting article The New York Times ran several months ago about teaching philosophy to children, but that one’s old enough now it can wait until the end of this post.

In the efforts of being a little more timely, here’s a much more recent NYT article, from earlier this week, on how “Many Schools Teach Engineering in Early Grades”,

All 300 students at Clara E. Coleman Elementary School are learning the A B C’s of engineering this year, even those who cannot yet spell e-n-g-i-n-e-e-r-i-n-g. The high-performing Glen Rock school district, about 22 miles northwest of Manhattan, now teaches 10 to 15 hours of engineering each year to every student in kindergarten through fifth grade, as part of a $100,000 redesign of the science curriculum.

Spurred by growing concerns that American students lack the skills to compete in a global economy, school districts nationwide are packing engineering lessons into already crowded schedules for even the youngest students, giving priority to a subject that was once left to after-school robotics clubs and summer camps, or else waited until college.

Supporters say that engineering reinforces math and science skills, promotes critical thinking and creativity, and teaches students not to be afraid of taking intellectual risks.

“We still hear all the time that little kids can’t engineer,” said Christine Cunningham, director of Engineering is Elementary, a program developed at the Museum of Science in Boston that offers ready-made lessons, for about $350 each, on 20 topics, and is now used in all 50 states, in more than 3,000 schools.

“We say they’re born engineers — they naturally want to solve problems — and we tend to educate it out of them.”

The Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition, which will distribute $4.35 billion in education stimulus money to states, favors so-called STEM programs, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

No surprise, the part about competing in a global economy and the “Race to the Top” makes me queasy.  But yes, yes, yes, to the quote about young children being born engineers.  The best part of the article:

“It gets your brain going,” said Elizabeth Crowley, 7, who wants to be an engineer when she grows up. “And I actually learn something when I’m doing a project — like you can work together to do something you couldn’t do before.”

And really, ultimately, isn’t it about getting your brain going, and hang the global economy?

Read the rest of the article here.

———–

Back in April, just after I returned from NYC (which might explain why I never got around to blogging about), The New York Times had an article on “The Examined Life, Age 8”, or teaching philosophy to the very young.  From which,

A few times each month, second graders at a charter school in Springfield, Mass., take time from math and reading to engage in philosophical debate. There is no mention of Hegel or Descartes, no study of syllogism or solipsism. Instead, Prof. Thomas E. Wartenberg and his undergraduate students from nearby Mount Holyoke College use classic children’s books to raise philosophical questions, which the young students then dissect with the vigor of the ancient Greeks.

“A lot of people try to make philosophy into an elitist discipline,” says Professor Wartenberg, who has been visiting the school, the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School of Excellence, since 2007. “But everyone is interested in basic philosophical ideas; they’re the most basic questions we have about the world.”

One afternoon this winter, the students in Christina Runquist’s classroom read Shel Silverstein’s “Giving Tree,” about a tree that surrenders its shade, fruit, branches and finally its trunk to a boy it has befriended. The college students led the discussion that followed — on environmental ethics, or “how we should treat natural objects,” as Professor Wartenberg puts it — with a series of questions, starting with whether the boy was wrong to take so much from the tree.

“We don’t actually try to convince them that trees deserve respect,” he says, “but ask them, ‘What do you think?’ We’re trying to get them engaged in the practice of doing philosophy, versus trying to teach them, say, what Descartes thought about something.”

Dr. Wartenberg has a book, Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy through Children’s Literature (September 2009), and his book has a website, Teaching Children Philosophy, with the usual resource pages for Educators, Parents, and Kids.

Professor Wartenberg and students use eight picture books to introduce children to the major fields of philosophy, including aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, social and political philosophy and philosophy of the mind.

With Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together, in which Frog and Toad try to determine whether they can be brave and scared at the same time, the pupils examine the nature of courage — one of Aristotle’s central virtues. With Bernard Wiseman’s Morris the Moose, about a moose who mistakenly assumes all his friends are also moose, they consider how someone can maintain a belief in the face of contrary evidence. And with Peter Catalanotto’s Emily’s Art, about a talented young artist who loses a contest, they debate whether there can be objective standards for evaluating works of art.

The Times notes that Dr. Wartenberg isn’t the first philosopher to work with children, citing Matthew Lipman, who in the 1970s established The Institute for the Advancement of the Philosophy for Children.  Many home schoolers are familiar with Dr. Lipman’s books, especially Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery and also Thinking in Education and Philosophy in the Classroom.

Okay, that’s it.  I’m glad I have that done.  Go, teach, learn, think, and make something useful out of the bits and pieces in the garage.

World Science Festival 2010

I’ve been remiss in posting World Science Festival 2010 information, despite all the emails I’ve been receiving.  This year’s festival will be held in New York City on June 2-6, with 40 events scheduled and an opening night gala honoring Stephen Hawking, featuring “a performing arts salute to science”.  The Festival is the creation of renowned physicist Brian Greene, who is tireless in his efforts to popularize science in general and physics in particular.  The Festival’s mission is to “cultivate and sustain a general public informed by the content of science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.” Best of all, the World Science Festival “takes science out of the laboratory and into the streets, theaters, museums, and public halls of New York City”.  If we could be in New York in early June, we would be at the Festival!

There are free events and young people/family events (many are both), including:

The James Webb Space Telescope at Battery Park (June 1, 2010, 11 AM to Sunday, June 6, 2010, 6 PM): A full-scale model (80 feet long, 37 feet wide and nearly 40 feet high) of the world’s most powerful future space telescope, a successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope ,will be on public view in Battery Park, along with interactive exhibits, videos about the Webb Telescope,  and scientists on-hand to answer questions.  On Friday June 4 from 8-11 PM, the venue will host “From the City to the Stars”:  “Join professional and amateur astronomers at the base of the full-scale, tennis court-sized James Webb Space Telescope model for a free evening of star-gazing in Battery Park. John Mather, Nobel laureate and the Webb telescope’s senior project scientist; John Grunsfeld, astronaut, physicist and “chief repairman” of the Hubble Telescope and planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel, with journalist Miles O’Brien moderating, will be with us to talk about the discoveries anticipated when the world’s most powerful space telescope, the successor to the Hubble, launches in 2014.  It will be a festive evening of appreciating the vast wonders of the cosmos. Bring your telescope if you have one or plan to use one of the dozens we’ll have set up.” FREE

Eye Candy: Science, Sight, Art (Thursday, June 3, 2010, 7-8:30 PM): “Are you drawn to Impressionism? Or more toward 3D computer art? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it? Contrary to the old adage, there may be universal biological principles that drive art’s appeal, and its capacity to engage our brains and our interest. Through artworks ranging from post-modernism to political caricature to 3D film, Margaret S. Livingstone and Patrick Cavanagh join cartoonist Jules Feiffer and others in an examination of newly understood principles of visual perception.”

Mathemagician and the Mathemagician’s Apprentice (Saturday, June 5, 2010, 11AM – 12:00 noon):  “Mix math with magic and the result is thrilling. Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin returns in an encore presentation, with mesmerizing feats of mental mathematical gymnastics. Followed by Mathemagician’s Apprentice … where Benjamin will divulge his secrets of doing lightning-fast mental math. … Apprentice limited to 50 people, ages ten and older, and is an hour long. Arthur Benjamin is a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. A professional magician, Benjamin can also multiply large numbers faster than a calculator, figure out the week day of any date in history and has memorized the decimal numbers of pi out to 100 digits.” Dr. Benjamin is the co-author, with Michael Shermer, of Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks.

Cool Jobs (Saturday, June 5, 2010, 5 – 6:30 PM): “Imagine hunting extraterrestrial life for a living. Or getting paid to study South African penguins. Meet scientists with some of the coolest jobs in the world; watch as a neuroscientist scans a brain and a robot inventor brings his complex and novel creations to life. Get inspired by the possibilities. Participants include roboticist Dennis Hong, neuroscientist André Fenton, astronomer and extraterrestrial life hunter Jill Cornell Tarter, and aquatic biologist Pamela Schaller.”

Astronaut Diary: Life in Space (Sunday, June 6, 2010, 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM): “Astronauts who’ve lived on the International Space Station and ‘walked’ in space tell all: what it’s like to ride on a space ship, and to eat, sleep, exercise, and even do science—in space. Come hear firsthand from the world’s most intrepid explorers—including astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Leland Melvin and Sandra Magnus—and Dava Newman, designer of an innovative spacewalking suit, about what it’s like to soar upward and leave our home, planet Earth, behind.” FREE

Icarus at the Edge of Time (Sunday, June 6, 2010):  “What if Icarus traveled not to the sun but to a black hole? This 40-minute, 62-piece orchestral work is a mesmerizing adaptation of Icarus at the Edge of Time, Brian Greene’s book for children. A re-imagining of the Greek myth, which brings Einstein’s concepts of relativity to visceral, emotional life, it features an original score by Philip Glass, script adapted by Greene and David Henry Hwang and film created and directed by Al + Al. Performed live with narrator Liev Schreiber and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Brad Lubman.”

World Science Festival Street Fair at Washington Square Park (Sunday, June 6, 2010, 10 AM – 6 PM), FREE:  The New York University/Washington Square Park area will become a science wonderland when the World Science Festival Youth and Family Street Fair returns to New York City on Sunday, June 6. This free, day-long extravaganza showcases the intrigue and pure fun of science with a non-stop program of interactive exhibits, experiments, games, and shows, all meant to entertain and inspire. Join us for a day of family fun”. Some highlights of this year’s Fair include: Discovery Theatre and Author’s Alley, The BioBus, Museum of Mathematics, Franklin Institute Traveling Scientists, NY Hall of Science, Math for AmericaNYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, Come and Play at the Games for Learning Lab, Liberty Science Center, Philadelphia Zoo on Wheels, Discovery Labs, Central Park Zoo’s Wild Life Theater, Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory. FREE

A complete list of events is here. While some events are already sold out, note that tickets may be available at the door 30 minutes before the event.

High school chemistry in a box

I’ve been poking around MAKE Magazine‘s Maker SHED online store lately, and just discovered something interesting. Actually, a few interesting things. Since we don’t live in the US, we can’t make use of it, but there’s no reason why American home schoolers or after schoolers can’t.

First, there’s the First-Year Chemistry Kit, which Maker SHED calls a “laboratory in a box” and “contains the lab equipment and chemicals you need to complete a comprehensive series of more than 30 first-year chemistry laboratory sessions described in the best-selling and critically-acclaimed Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (included in the kit).”  The kit is “designed for home school parents who want their children to benefit from a rigorous first-year chemistry laboratory course, as well as for public school parents whose children attend schools with minimal or no lab facilities and want to provide their children with an enriched chemistry experience.” Nifty, eh?

The product helpfully notes the difference between the First-Year Chemistry Kit, for high schoolers, and the Thames & Kosmos Chem C3000 (also sold at Maker SHED), for late elementary through middle school students.  And there’s a complete list of everything in the kit noted here.

Second, once you get done with the First-Year Kit, you can move along to the Advanced (AP) Chemistry Supplement Kit. Almost worth moving to the US for, now that health care is less of a concern…

Lastly, Maker SHED has a Spring clearance sale (there are a few Snap Circuits kits in there), and is offering free US shipping on all orders over $125 (code: CLEARME) and, for international customers,  US$10 off shipping (code: MAR-10).  HowToons still available at Maker SHED, too. (Psst — according to Amazon.ca, HowToons Two by Saul Griffith is coming in August, but I can’t seem to find any other online mention.  Odd. If you know anything, please post in the comments!)

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I wrote about the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson back in 2008 here: Do It Yourself Science.  Highly recommended.  Kevin Kelly‘s review is here.

And a reminder that almost all of my Farm School science posts are located under the green Science tab at the top of this page on the far right (over the carrot leaves), including more on chemistry with In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs.

“The King Canute playbook”

Environmentalist Bill McKibben, who is also scholar in residence at my old college and co-founder of 350.org writes in the February 25 issue of The Nation,

Twenty-one years ago, in 1989, I wrote what many have called the first book for a general audience on global warming. One of the more interesting reviews came from the Wall Street Journal. It was a mixed and judicious appraisal. “The subject,” the reviewer said, “is important, the notion is arresting, and Mr. McKibben argues convincingly.” And that was not an outlier: around the same time, the first President Bush announced that he planned to “fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect.”

I doubt that’s what the Journal will say about my next book when it comes out in a few weeks, and I know that no GOP presidential contender would now dream of acknowledging that human beings are warming the planet. Sarah Palin is currently calling climate science “snake oil,” and last week the Utah legislature, in a move straight out of the King Canute playbook, passed a resolution condemning “a well-organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome” on a nearly party-line vote.

And here’s what’s odd. In 1989, I could fit just about every scientific study on climate change on top of my desk. The science was still thin. If my reporting made me think it was nonetheless convincing, many scientists were not yet prepared to agree.

Now, you could fill the Superdome with climate-change research data. (You might not want to, though, since Hurricane Katrina demonstrated just how easy it was to rip holes in its roof.) Every major scientific body in the world has produced reports confirming the peril. All fifteen of the warmest years on record have come in the two decades that have passed since 1989. In the meantime, the Earth’s major natural systems have all shown undeniable signs of rapid flux: melting Arctic and glacial ice, rapidly acidifying seawater and so on.

Somehow, though, the onslaught against the science of climate change has never been stronger, and its effects, at least in the United States, never more obvious: fewer Americans believe humans are warming the planet. At least partly as a result, Congress feels little need to consider global-warming legislation, much less pass it; and as a result of that failure, progress towards any kind of international agreement on climate change has essentially ground to a halt.

Climate-Change Denial as an O.J. Moment

The campaign against climate science has been enormously clever, and enormously effective. It’s worth trying to understand how they’ve done it. The best analogy, I think, is to the O.J. Simpson trial, an event that’s begun to recede in our collective memory. For those who were conscious in 1995, however, I imagine that just a few names will make it come back to life. Kato Kaelin, anyone? Lance Ito?

Read the rest of “The Attack on Climate-Change Science” here.

McKibben’s new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, comes out next month.


The Book of Life

This has long been on my wish list at Amazon.com for the kids — The Book of Life: An Illustrated History of the Evolution of Life on Earth, edited by Stephen Jay Gould.  A few times a year, it goes back and forth between my wish list and shopping cart, and it was in my shopping cart in January when I hit send to order a few things for my mother to help spruce up the kitchen.

Since I missed Darwin Day 2010, I’ll offer this book as my belated many happy returns to the great man.  And a reminder for anyone who hasn’t seen it before, my big Darwin Day roundup from last year is here at Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day.

The road to history

Beloved of home schoolers, the writer and illustrator Jeanne Bendick, who from what I understand just celebrated her 91st birthday on February 25th, has a new children’s history book, Herodotus and the Road to History (Bethlehem Books, September 2009).  From the BB page for the book,

Best-selling author Jeanne Bendick takes us for another informative—and amusing—journey into places and events of long ago. Herodotus and the Road to History, written in the first person, details the investigative journeys of Herodotus—a contemporary of the Old Testament prophet Malachi—as he takes ship from Greece and voyages to the limits of his own ancient world. His persistence, amidst disbelief and ridicule, in the self-appointed task of recording his discoveries as “histories” (the Greek word meaning “inquiry”), means that today we can still follow his expeditions into the wonder and mystery of the “barbaric” north, Syria, Persia, and Egypt. Jeanne Bendick’s lucid text, humorous illustrations and helpful maps entertain and instruct as they open the way for readers young and old to join Herodotus . . . on the road to history.

Small Press Bookwatch in December noted,

Herodotus and the Road to History is a fictionalized account of the travels of Jeanne Bendick, detailing the story of Herodotus, the man who is often referred to as the father of history. Facing criticism in his day, Jeanne Bendick does well in presenting a thorough story of the man and his travel with many charming, simple illustrations. Herodotus and the Road to History is a fine pick for younger readers with an interest in history.

Jeanne Bendick‘s other books in print, all staples on most home schoolers’ bookshelves, include Along Came Galileo (Beautiful Feet Books, 1999), Archimedes and the Door of Science and Galen and the Gateway to Medicine, the last two part of  Bethlehem Books’ “Living History Library”, Worth noting that another book in the library, The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker, is illustrated by Mrs. Bendick.  Here you can find a timeline of BB’s books.

According to the biographical note for the Jeanne Bendick papers at the University of Oregon libraries,

An author and/or illustrator of over one hundred books, Bendick is particularly noted for her comprehensive research, clear text, and simple illustrations; her work reflects her ability to hold a reader’s interest even when elucidating a complex principle or invention. Much of what she has written clarifies the areas of television, movies, time, shapes, numbers, ecology, astronomy, heredity, and science history, urging in her readers a basic understanding followed by the curiosity to learn more.

On November 24, 1940, she married Robert Bendick [see which], a photographer who became one of the first three cameramen at the emerging CBS-TV network. This connection enabled her to work in the television field as a story editor and scriptwriter for series such as NBC-TV’s The First Look from 1965-1966, and Giant Step, 1968, as well as a segment for ABC-TV’s 20/20 titled “Evolution/Creation.” …

Bendick has commented, “One part of the job I set for myself is to make those young readers see that everything is connected to everything-that science isn’t something apart. It’s a part of everyday life. It has been that way since the beginning. The things the earliest scientists learned were the building blocks for those who came after. Sometimes they accepted earlier ideas. Sometimes they questioned them and challenged them. I want to involve readers directly in the text so they will ask themselves questions and try to answer them. If they can’t answer, that’s not really important… Questions are more important than answers… If I were a fairy godmother, my gift to every child would be curiosity.”

If you like garage and library sales, keep your eyes peeled for Mrs. Bendick’s older, out of print titles such as Exploring an Ocean Tide Pool, How to Make a Cloud, and Why Things Change: The Story of Evolution.

Belated birthday greetings, Mrs. Bendick, many happy returns, and many many thanks all of the wonderful books, including the newest.

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Other Herodotus resources for children:

The Boys’ and Girls’ Herodotus by John S. White; free online too

Stories of the East from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church; book version from Yesterday’s Classics or free online from The Baldwin Project

The Story of the Persian War from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church; book version from Yesterday’s Classics or free online from The Baldwin Project

Herodotus resources for older readers:

The Landmark Herodotus, edited by Robert Strassler and translated by Andrea Purvis (Pantheon, 2007); the NY Review of Books essay is here

Herodotus by James Romm (Yale University Press, December 2008); The New Yorker review of the Landmark volume and Romm’s volume is here

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski; published two years ago, Kapuscinski’s last work

Just out this month — The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented History by Justin Marozzi

Herodotus on the Web

Herodotus at MIT

Herodotus to listen to:

At LibriVox