• 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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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.

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

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 Science of Christmas

Since 1825, December has been the month for The Royal Institution of Great Britain’s “Christmas Lectures for Young People”, established by Michael Faraday, who presented 19 of the early lectures himself. According to the RI, the lectures “serve as a forum for presenting complex scientific issues to children in an informative and entertaining manner, and are particularly well-known for students’ participation in demonstrations and experiments”.  Since 1966, the lectures have been on television thanks to the BBC, and many are available free online; registration, which is free, is required and highly recommended.

Some notable lectures and lecturers: in 1964, Desmond Morris on “Animal behaviour”; in 1973, David Attenborough on “The language of animals”; in 1977, Carl Sagan on “Planets”; in 1991, Richard Dawkins on “Growing Up in the World” (which is also free online here).

This year’s lecture is “The 300 million years war” presented on Saturday, December 5th by Prof. Sue Hartley:

Plants might seem passive, defenceless and almost helpless. But they are most definitely not! Thanks to a war with animals that’s lasted over 300 million years, they’ve developed many terrifying and devious ways to defend themselves and attack their enemies. Vicious poisons, lethal materials and even cunning forms of communicating with unlikely allies are just some of the weapons in their armoury. Using these and other tactics, plants have seen off everything from dinosaurs to caterpillars.

You can watch a number of Royal Institution lectures for Children at the RI’s web archives.

Also available online at the RI website: games (What’s Inside an Element?, The Science of the Elements Quiz, Build Your Own Skeleton, and more) and pages of educational resources for teachers and others.

Physics at home

You might already know that author and home educating mother Kathy Ceceri has a couple of very nifty home school science blogs, Home Chemistry (“Making science fun for my homeschooled kids”) and Home Biology (“for homeschoolers and anyone else who wants to learn about life science without a lab!”).  

Now she’s added Home Physics to the collection, billed as “All kinds of info on teaching and learning physics at home for homeschoolers, students, and hobbyists”.  Be sure to check out her collection of physics links in her sidebar.

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You can also find Kathy at her Crafts for Learning website, her Family Online blog, and at Wired’s GeekDad, where she’s one of the few GeekMoms.

Science for all, and all for science

I’m still catching up on my online reading, so I only just saw Bob Thompson’s especially thorough August 1 piece at Make: on choosing a microscope, along with exciting news from the Make: folks,

We’re in the process of working on a new area of Make: Online that we’re really excited about. It’s called the Make: Science Room. We’ll have a full announcement and launch in a few weeks.

Bob Thompson is the author of the Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders: From Novice to Master Observer, as well as the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture, which we like very much and which I’ve written about here and here. To go with the home chemistry book, Bob maintains the good HomeChemLab website.

Here’s to an imminent launch of the Science Room!

Tentative high school science plans

I’ve been working for the past few weeks on what I’m going to do for science with Laura from grades 9-12; she’ll be starting 7th grade this fall, but like many home schoolers I feel more comfortable starting to plan sooner rather than later.  Of all three children, Laura, the eldest, has struggled the most with math (though this year has begun to enjoy the subject, perhaps because she’s also now finding it easier), and is also a keen naturalist, animal lover, and excellent young farmer.  Science, as well as math, are the two high school subjects I feel least comfortable winging and feel best having set out as some sort of plan.

My tentative plan, always subject to change, has involved cobbling together my own choices of books, some of which are already on the shelves at home, along with Teaching Company DVDs, based more or less the Well-Trained Mind rotation of biology (9th grade), earth science/astronomy (10th), chemistry (11th), physics (12th).  There’s also the option, I decided the other day, which I’ll give Laura for 12th grade of another year of biology instead of physics, concentrating on something she’d find interesting; in that case, we’d probably work through one or both of the Teaching Company physics courses (see below) over a couple of summers. She can specialize in ornithology, animal behavior, evolution, botany or whatever she chooses. We’d probably sort that out at the end of 10th grade, after two years of high school science.

I’ve selected completely secular textbooks where necessary (rather than “living books”), but I have tried to make sure they are written by experts in their respective fields who, preferably, are also good writers who make the subject engaging, rather than by committee.

A note: there are so many excellent, worthwhile and worthy books and documentary series on the sciences that I had a hard time winnowing things down.  There is probably more winnowing ahead.  As always, my choices were informed by own preferences.  I’m keen on the works of Chet Raymo, Isaac Asimov, and have recently become a fan of Timothy Ferris.  You might have your own favorite scientists and writers, and I urge you not to be confined by my own preferences and prejudices.  This is science, not rocket science, and there’s more than one way to do this.

OVERALL: We’ve been unschooling science for the most part.  Starting this year and next with Laura for 7th and 8th grades, and of course the boys will be around (so they’ll have two sessions), I’d like to go systematically through one of the first Teaching Company courses I bought, “Joy of Science” with Professor Robert Hazen, along with the book Science Matters by Prof. Hazen and James Trefil; I think their textbook version would be overkill for us at this point.  Also, with Laura’s love of her iPod, perhaps too the audiobook version of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Aside from the four-year breakdown, over the course of high school I’d like to do a light survey of the history of science using the book and new-on-DVD series “The Day the Universe Changed” by James Burke, of “Connections” fame. I’d also like to see each of our children involved at least for one year in high school on the executive of our local naturalist club

BIOLOGY (9th grade): We’re actually going to do a fairly specific farm study, using the provincial Green Certificate program for young farmers, with the specialization of cow-calf beef production.  She’ll also be able to use the program as her 4H project for the year. I’d also like to see if the each of the kids could take a course at the agricultural college in town in connection with the Green Certificate program, in the animal sciences department (anatomy and physiology or genetics of livestock) and/or an internship at the vet clinic. Like most good cattle farmers, we have a copy of Beef Cattle Science by Ensminger on the shelf, for the kids to work through. Also to read: Cattle: An Informal Social History by Laurie Winn Carlson and Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef by Betty Fussell; possibly the new Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World by Rimas and Fraser.

The more general stuff we’ll use, especially if we can’t manage to arrange for courses at the local agricultural college: the Teaching Company class “Biology: The Science of Life” taught by Stephen Nowicki of Duke. To read: The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas; The Way Life Works: The Science Lover’s Illustrated Guide to How Life Grows, Develops, Reproduces, and Gets Along by Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson; if we weren’t planning on the beef cattle approach, I think I’d use Hoagland’s textbook version of The Way Life Works. Also, In a Patch of Fireweed: A Biologist’s Life in the Field by Bernd Heinrich (not as good as his later Snoring Bird, but more manageable for ninth graders).

EARTH SCIENCE/ASTRONOMY (10th grade): the combination “Nature of Earth” courses from the Teaching Company (“An Introduction to Geology” and “Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy”), along with 365 Starry Nights: An Introduction to Astronomy for Every Night of the Year by Chet Raymo; Seeing in the Dark: How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe by Timothy Ferris; The Crust of Our Earth: An Armchair Traveler’s Guide to the New Geology by Chet Raymo; A Field Manual for the Amateur Geologist: Tools and Activities for Exploring Our Planet by Alan M. Cvancara or The Practical Geologist: The Introductory Guide to the Basics of Geology and to Collecting and Identifying Rocks by Dougal Dixon; Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space (for general reference); and The Natural History of Canada by RD Lawrence, for Canadian content. Also perhaps one of New Yorker writer John McPhee’s series on North American geology, Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising from the Plains, The Control of Nature, and Assembling California; if you don’t have the individual titles, as I do, you can by the one-volume collection, Annals of the Former World which includes all but Control. Additional DVDs: Timothy Ferris’s “Seeing in the Dark” and “The Creation of the Universe”, and Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”; and Iain Stewart’s “Earth: The Biography”

CHEMISTRY (11th grade): working through Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson, with the help of his HomeChemLab website; and either Hands-On Chemistry Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Herr and Cunningham or what WTM recommends (Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide by Houk and Post). I don’t know that we’d need the TC course (High School Chemistry) for this, but perhaps. Also to read: Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks; Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley; Creations of Fire: Chemistry’s Lively History from Alchemy to the Atomic Age by Cathy Cobb and Harold Goldwhite. Also, if necessary, by the co-author (with Basher) of The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!, high school chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle’s chemistry pages; and my own periodic table round-up.

PHYSICS (12th grade): I was leaning toward the WTM recommendations (this and this) until I ran across How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life by Louis A. Bloomfield; while/before Laura works through the textbook, I would work through Dr. Bloomfield’s How Everything Works: Making Physics out of the Ordinary. At his reassuring website, Dr. Bloomfield has a guide to physics homeschooling and an instructor resources page.  Plus either “Physics in Your Life”, “Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists”, or “Great Ideas of Classical Physics” course from the Teaching Company, and the puzzle/brainteaser books by Franklin Potter and Christopher Jargodzki.

I have to admit I’m also intrigued, more for the boys than for Laura, by Richard Muller’s “Physics for Future Presidents” course (with webcasts) and books (there’s a textbook edition and a general trade edition).  Also intrigued, more for Laura than her brothers, in the classic Physics for Poets by Robert March, which is also an option depending on how things go through high school; I like this additional bibliography. To read: Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov; First You Build a Cloud: And Other Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life by KC Cole (recommended by JoVE); and, if manageable, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics By Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard Feynman.  On DVD, NOVA/“Einstein’s Big Idea” and NOVA/”Physics: The Elegant Universe”. Free online from MIT, Physics I: Classical Mechanics with Prof. Walter Lewin.  And some Leon Lederer links: FermiLab, and QuarkNet.

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Other useful links:

MIT OpenCourseWare

Free online MIT course materials for high school (biology, physics)

Writer, home educating mother, and GeekMom Kathy Ceceri’s Home Biology blog and Home Chemistry blog; be sure to check all the links in the sidebars

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! co-author Adrian Dingle’s Chemistry Pages

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The Farm School Science page (at the top above, to the far right, over the carrot leaves)

Speaking of science books

Chris Barton at Bartography is giving sneak peaks of his new science book, The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani, to be published by Charlesbridge on July 1, 2009.

Here’s the cover, and here’s a two-page spread with a deliciously retro illustration by Tony Persiani of the Brothers in their lab (with a background of books).

Chris, do I get to be the first to say that I hope The Day-Glo Brothers receives a host of glowing reviews?!