• 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?!

Anatomy for children

I’ve been trying to catch up on my blog reading before I unplug myself in the middle of next week and just discovered that my online friend Kathy Ceceri recently reviewed David Macaulay’s new The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body:

Kathy’s review at the Geekdad blog

Kathy’s related post on Human Anatomy Books Old and New at her blog Home Biology (“for homeschoolers and anyone else who wants to learn about life science without a lab!”).  By the way, some of my family’s favorite old and new human anatomy books:

My Body by Patricia Carratello from Teacher Created Materials; Laura had great fun our first year, and the boys subsequently, making life-size body patterns complete with organs, photocopied and colored in from this reproducible book.  We used it to go along with, among other titles, one also mentioned by Kathy — From Head to Toe by Barbara Seuling and Edward Miller

The Human Body: What It Is and How It Works (A DeLuxe Golden Book) by Mitchell Wilson, with illustrations by Cornelius De Witt (1959).  Out of print but well worth tracking down.  A large, profusely illustrated, hardbound volume, with the text and color illustrations based on Man in Structure and Function by Fritz Kahn. 140 pages, with a glossary and an index.  (Another aside: more on Fritz Kahn here and here.)

The How and Why Wonder Book of The Human Body.  Out of print; I grab any book in this series that I come across.

Dover’s Human Anatomy in Full Color book, “within reach of grade-school-age children” according to Dover

Dover’s Human Anatomy coloring book

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Kathy’s Home Chemistry blog

Kathy’s Crafts for Learning website

Kathy’s Family Online blog

Kathy, I owe you at least one email and I’ll try to get it out in the next few days!

Courting Danger

Farm School blog posts

Do It Yourself Science

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

Outdoor life, or, How to have an old-fashioned, dangerous summer

Fun with gunpowder

Dangerous Things

A manual for childhood

How can you resist “the Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery”?

Still searching for danger

Paddle your own canoe

Science with Tom Edison

Retro-progressives of the world, unite

Why safer isn’t always better

New for dangerous girls and daring boys

Other blogs:

Home Chemistry

The Borderline Sociopathic Book for Boys post introduces The Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys

The Dangerous and Daring Blog for Boys and Girls

Wisdom of the Hands

Self-Sufficient Living

Craft Blog

Make Blog

Geekdad

Lenore Skenazy’s blog Free Range Kids (not to be confused, by the way, with the nifty and dangerous home schooling blog Free Range Academy)

Websites:

Boing Boing

Make Magazine and Maker Faire (where the motto is “Build, Craft, Hack, Play, Make”)

Craft Magazine

Traditional Scouting

TedTalk “Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do” by Gever Tulley ofThe Tinkering School, a summer program to help kids ages seven to 17 learn to build things; the talk comes from Tulley’s book in progress,  Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do

Recommended books, some for adults and some for children, from the Farm School shelves and wish lists

The American Boy’s Handy Book by Daniel Carter Beard (do yourself a favor and get the Centennial edition published by Godine, with the lovely foreword by the late Noel Perrin)

Shelters, Shacks & Shanties: And How to Build Them by Daniel Carter Beard (also with a foreword by Noel Perrin

Field and Forest Handybook: New Ideas for Out of Doors by Daniel Carter Beard

Camp-Lore and Woodcraft by Daniel Carter Beard

Boat-Building and Boating by Daniel Carter Beard

Daniel Carter Beard’s Online Books

Wildwood Wisdom by Ellsworth Jaeger

Woodcraft and Indian Lore by Ernest Thompson Seton

Two Little Savages by Ernest Thompson Seton

Scouting for Boys: The Original 1908 Edition (Dover Value Editions) by Robert Baden-Powell

Boy Scouts Handbook: The First Edition, 1911 (Dover Books on Americana)

Canoeing with the Cree, the late reporter Eric Sevareid’s account of the expedition he, then 17, and 19-year-old friend Walter Port embarked upon several days after graduating from high school. The boys paddled 2,250 miles in an 18-foot canvas canoe, from the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay.

The Boy Mechanic, a four-volume series by the editors of Popular Mechanics, reprinted by the good folks at the Canadian woodworking and gardening institutionLee Valley, which also offers the reprint Boy Craft

Another, one-volume, version of The Boy Mechanicthis one subtitled “200 Classic Things to Build”

Backyard Ballistics: Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars, and More Dynamite Devices by William Gurstelle

The Art of the Catapult: Build Greek Ballistae, Roman Onagers, English Trebuchets, and More Ancient Artillery by William Gurstelle

Whoosh Boom Splat: The Garage Warrior’s Guide to Building Projectile Shooters by William Gurstelle

Forbidden LEGO: Build the Models Your Parents Warned You Against by Ulrik Pilegaard and Mike Dooley

Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson

Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders: From Novice to Master Observer by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson

Mad Professor by Mark Frauenfelder

Manual Of Formulas: Recipes, Methods and Secret Processes by Raymond B. Wailes (Popular Science Publishing)

Lee’s Priceless Recipes: 3000 Secrets for the Home, Farm, Laboratory, Workship and Every Department of Human Endeavor compiled by Dr. N.T. Oliver, from the Classic Reprint series section of the Lee Valley Tool catalogue

The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, available free online as a PDF file and a bit torrent file, and for under $30 as a reprint from Lulu

The How and Why Wonder Book of Chemistry by Martin L. Keen, illustrated by Walter Ferguson, published by Grosset & Dunlap, 1961, part of The How and Why Wonder Book series; out of print but worth looking for

Mr. Wizard’s 400 Experiments in Science, by Don Herbert and Hy Ruchlis; and don’t miss Mr. Wizard on DVD, especially the episode where he electrocutes the hot dog. Danger at its finest!

The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor by Ken Silverstein

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden

Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn’t Always Better by Matt Hern

Miscellania:

The Canadian classic film Song of the Paddle (1978); “Outdoorsman Bill Mason, his wife, and two children set out on a wilderness canoe camping holiday. In this film, the art of canoeing is more than technical expertise; it becomes a family experience of shared joy. Along the way there are countless adventures and much lovely scenery, including the Indian rock carvings of Lake Superior.”

Remember: BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN.

 

Science

Farm School blog posts/General Science:

Tentative high school science plans

Do It Yourself Science

Science with Tom Edison

Learning to think like scientists, and learning how to think about science

More food for thought: connections and disconnections

Science Summer School

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

The beautiful basics of science

A virtual education, about the debate on virtual science classes

Farm School blog posts/Biology:

Darwin and evolution resources for Darwin Day aka Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day

I typed this all by myself with my opposable thumbs

Charles Darwin Has a Posse

Celebrating Darwin Day: Many happy returns

Farm School blog posts/Natural History:

Nature writing and writers

Farm School blog posts/Chemistry:

Do It Yourself Science

Retro Chemistry

Still sniffing around the kitchen: Chemistry with the Curious Cook; which means you might be interested in this review by Nicole at Baking Bites of How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science by Paula Figoni

Review: The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Basher and Dingle

Farm School blog posts/Physics:

Spreading the love

Lists of Living Books for Science:

4 Real Learning “Great Outdoors” book list; nature study and natural history books for grammar stage and up, including picture books

Regena’s lists of science and history books

Paula’s Archive: Grammar stage science book list compiled by Carol Richey

Links and Resources:

The Society for Amateur Scientists (“Helping Ordinary People Do Extraordinary Science”), also known as SAS, and SAS’s Labrats program for children; both SAS and Labrats are headed up by Dr. Shawn Carlson

Dr. Shawn Carlson’s CD compilation of 72 years’ worth of “Amateur Scientist” columns from Scientific American magazine: Amateur Scientist 4.0 CD, “Science Fair Edition”

The Guardian‘s Science Course: Part I, The Universe; Part II, Life & Genetics; Part III,The Earth; Part IV, Humans; Part V, Energy; Part VI, Building Blocks; and Part VII, Experiments for Kids

Home Chemistry

Singing Science; free songs to download

Geekdad, from Wired

Charles Darwin Has a Posse: awareness stickers

Boing Boing

“The Way Things Work” two-disc DVD set by David Macaulay

Modern Mechanix

Scientific American article, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense” by John Rennie, September 2002

Science books from the Farm School bookshelves, library list, shopping carts, and wish lists:

Biology:

The Intelligent Man’s Guide to the Biological Sciences by Isaac Asimov; don’t hold the unfortunate title of the 1960 book against Asimov (for older children and up)

Scientific American: The Amateur Biologist by Shawn Carlson (for ages 9 or 10 and up)

Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth by Andrew H. Knoll (for older children and up)

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin(for older and up)

The Fairy-Land of Science by Arabella Buckley; free online in book form here and as an audiobook at Librivox here (for younger children)

Natural History/Nature Writing (by author):

Edward Abbey

Liberty Hyde Bailey

Wendell Berry

Hal Borland

Rachel Carson

Gerald Durrell

Loren Eiseley

Edward Hoagland

John Kieran

Barbara Kingsolver

Joseph Wood Krutch

Gale Lawrence

RD Lawrence

Aldo Leopold

Barry Lopez

Bill McKibben

John McPhee

Farley Mowat

John Muir

Sigurd Olson

Ernest Thompson Seton

Edwin Way Teale

Henry David Thoreau

and also

Nature Writing: The Tradition in English, edited by Robert Finch and John Elder

American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben(Library of America, April 2008

Nature Study:

How to Be a Nature Detective by Millicent Selsam, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats (for young children)

The Listening Walk by Paul Showers, illustrated by Aliki; I prefer the original unrevised edition of 1961 with Aliki’s black and white, less cutesy illustrations (less distracting), but am glad to see that this one is still in print (for young children)

Exploring Nature with Your Child: An Introduction to the Enjoyment and Understanding of Nature for All by Dorothy Edwards Shuttlesworth (1952); out of print but worth buying secondhand

The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell, with Lee Durrell; out of print and worth tracking down (for the whole family)

The Amateur Naturalist’s Handbook by Vinson Brown (and also his How to Make a Home Nature Museum and How to Make a Miniature Zoo, two of my childhood favorites)

Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock (for the whole family)

The Beginning Naturalist: Weekly Encounters With the Natural WorldA Field Guide to the Familiar: Learning to Observe the Natural World, and A Naturalist Indoors: Observing the World of Nature Inside Your Home by Gale Lawrence (for the whole family)

The Curious Naturalist by John Mitchell and The Massachusetts Audubon Society (for the whole family)

The Fieldbook of Natural History by E. Laurence Palmer and H. Seymour Fowler (originally published in 1949, revised in 1975, and which I suspect grew out of Palmer’s 1927 The Nature Almanac: a Handbook of Nature Education); Palmer, a professor of nature study at Cornell University, was a colleague of Anna Botsford Comstock (for the whole family)

The Nature Handbook: A Guide to Observing the Great Outdoors by Ernest Herbert Williams (for the whole family)

Naturalist’s Guide to Observing Nature by Kurt Rinehart (for the whole family)

Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth (for the whole family)

The Amateur Naturalist by Nick Baker (not to be confused with the Durrell title, but quite good)

The Study of Life: A Naturalist’s View by RD Lawrence

The Natural History of Canada by RD Lawrence, revised by Dr. Michal Polak

Entrusted to My Care by Grant MacEwan (older readers and up)

Collecting for the City Naturalist by Lois J. Hussey and Catherine Pessino (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975)

John Kieran’s A Natural History of New York City: A Book for Sidewalk Naturalists Everywhere

The Urban Naturalist by Steven Garber

City Birding: True Tales of Birds and Birdwatching in Unexpected Places

Snowshoeing Through Sewers: Adventures in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia by Michael Aaron Rockland

Suburban Safari: A Year on the Lawn by Hannah Holmes

Chemistry:

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, and written by Adrian Dingle

Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson (DIY Science series)

Fizz, Bubble & Flash!: Element Explorations & Atom Adventures for Hands-On Science Fun! by Anita Brandolini

Mad Professor by Mark Frauenfelder

The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments by Robert Brent; out of print but available as a free PDF to download, and available in softcover via Lulu for under $30.

Basic Chemistry Experiments (A Golden Hobby Book) by Robert Brent; an abridged edition of The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, also out of print. Keep your eyes peeled at garage sales.

How and Why Wonder Book of Chemistry by Martin L. Keen

Entertaining Science Experiments With Everyday Objects by Martin Gardner

Chemical Magic by Leonard A. Ford and E. Winston Grundmeier

Mr. Wizard’s 400 Experiments in Science by Don Herbert and Hy Ruchlis

The Joy of Chemistry: The Amazing Science of Familiar Things by Monty L. Fetterolf and Cathy Cobb

Hands-On Chemistry Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Herr and Cunningham

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore by Harold McGee

Physics:

Physics: Why Matter Matters! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, and writtenby Dan Green

Physics in a Hardware Store by Robert Friedhoffer

Physics in a Housewares Store by Robert Friedhoffer

Rubber-Band Banjos and Java Jive Bass: Projects and Activities on the Science of Music and Sound by Alex Sabbeth

How Do You Lift a Lion? by Robert E. Wells

Gizmos and Gadgets: Creating Science Contraptions That Work (& Knowing Why) by Jill Frankel Hauser

Hands-On Physics Activities with Real-Life Applications: Easy-to-Use Labs and Demonstrations for Grades 8-12 by Cunningham and Herr

Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov

Fear of Physics by Lawrence M. Krauss

Earth Science:

Basin and Range, In Suspect TerrainRising from the Plains, and Assembling California by John McPhee (available together in the collection Annals of the Former World)

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space by Isaac Asimov

Astronomy:

Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders: From Novice to Master Observer, first in the (DIY Science series) by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to Earth and Space by Isaac Asimov

The Stars: A New Way to See Them and Find the Constellations by H. A. Rey (of Curious George fame)

General/Reference:

Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Discovery by Isaac Asimov

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier

How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer and illustrated by Felicia Bond

The Way Things Work by David Macaulay

Why Science? by James Trefil

The Nature of Science: An A-Z Guide to the Laws and Principles Governing Our Universe by James Trefil

Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy by Robert M. Hazen and James Trefil

Reviewing the new chemistry book

I wrote about the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson as soon as I read about it. Earlier this week I ordered it, and a number of other books, and it should be here shortly.

Now this morning I see at GeekDad that John Baichtal has a comprehensive review of the new book, which comes as an antidote to “‘spa science’ and ‘candy chemistry’ and other pseudoscientific pap”.  As John points out,

Today is the DIY era, and we don’t need a set to learn about chemistry. All we need is the internet and the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments by Robert Bruce Thompson.

In the book’s introduction, Thompson makes two basic points: that commercial chemistry sets are dying, and that science education is getting worse. He tells the story of Jasmine, his young neighbor who told him that her middle school only teaches 15 minutes of science per day. He thought he’d let her use the pro-quality chemistry lab he has in his basement, but without a guidebook she’d be lost in all the possibilities. It was this situation that induced him to write the book.

Read the rest here.

Do it Yourself Science

Via Boing Boing and Pharyngula, word of a new, subversive (that’s PZ’s term) chemistry book, just out this week from the Make Magazine folks:

Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson, part of O’Reilly Media‘s DIY Science series.

Thompson is also the author, along with his wife Barbara Fritchman Thompson, of the Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders: From Novice to Master Observer, first in the DIY Science series. Both now added to the Farm School list of books to buy.

Mark Frauenfelder’s review, with an extensive excerpt from the preface, at Boing Boing is well worth reading if you’re considering buying the book. And if you’re not considering it yet, Mark’s post just might push you off the fence. By the way, we’re very much enjoying our new copy of Mark’s experiment book for younger children, Mad Professor, which I found at BookCloseouts when I saw that our usual online booksellers had a several week delay listed (usually a sign that the book is out of stock). There are still a few copies left at BCO.

And if you’re going to be at Make’s Maker Faire this weekend, here’s something to note: Robert Thompson will be there too, “doing demos of lab experiments from the book on Saturday (1pm – 1:45pm) and Sunday (3pm – 3:45pm) at the MAKE Demo stage in the Maker Shed.

Updated to add: Geekdad has a post too, “Bright Colors and Stinky Smells” by Dave Hinerman

Still sniffing around the kitchen: Chemistry with the Curious Cook

More apologies. I’ve been meaning to post links to all of Harold McGee‘s “Curious Cook” columns in The New York Times but fell down on the job. I was reminded by yesterday’s column, so below is the list. Once again, you need to register to read NY Times articles, but registration is free.

Harold McGee is the author of the classic On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, and also of its (apparently out-of-print) follow-up, The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore, from which the Times column takes its name.

* * *

Dip Once or Dip Twice?, January 30, 2008

The Invisible Ingredient in Every Kitchen, January 2, 2008; go to The Curious Cook website, where you’ll find a link to this NPR column by Bill Buford on Mr. McGee and heat.

A Blue Blood New in Name Only, December 5, 2007

Stalking the Placid Apple’s Untamed Kin, November 21, 2007

Organic, and Tastier: The Rat’s Nose Knows, October 3, 2007

The Essence of Nearly Anything, Drop by Limpid Drop, September 5, 2007

Ice Cream That’s a Stretch, August 1, 2007

Testing Whether the Crunch Is All It’s Cracked Up to Be, July 4, 2007

Extra Virgin Anti-Inflammatories, June 6, 2007

The Five-Second Rule Explored, or How Dirty Is That Bologna?, May 9, 2007

The Red-Meat Miracle, and Other Tales From the Butcher Case, April 4, 2007

What’s a Great Way to Get a Fish Fried? Give It a Shot of Vodka, March 7, 2007

In a Bottle, the Scent of a Mouse, February 7, 2007

Trying to Clear Absinthe’s Reputation, January 3, 2007

When Science Sniffs Around the Kitchen, which kicked off the series, December 6, 2006

* * *

And, not part of The Curious Cook series, but also interesting, The Times ran this article, “Food 2.0: Chefs as Chemists” the other month.

Cybils Review: The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!
created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, written by Adrian Dingle
128 pages; for ages 10 and up
Kingfisher Publications (Houghton Mifflin Co.)
Library copy

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book ever since I saw it mentioned on Carol‘s and Rebecca‘s blogs.

Artist Simon Basher and chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle have created a vivid rogues’ gallery of elements guaranteed to bring the periodic table to life and appeal to kids of all ages. I’ll be the first to admit I’m the originally fuddy-duddy, but there’s something about this anime-style, Facebook approach to the periodic table that’s remarkably engaging. Not to mention a sensible approach to making the subject — indeed, the individual elements — memorable for everyone from fourth or fifth graders to college seniors (not to mention home educating parents who majored in, say, history).

And memorable is what you want when it comes to learning about the periodic table. Basher, who came up with the idea for the book, has said, “It’s really been designed to engage you on a gentle level and also to act as a memory trigger. There really is no reason to think of science as boring, as I’ve discovered, and I hope readers will see the fun side of it.” Echoed by Mr. Dingle, who writes, “This is not an academic book by any stretch of the imagination, but it does offer a window or gateway to getting interested in the elements. I see it as a very accessible opportunity to learn a little about some chemistry.” In fact, The Periodic Table takes the “memory trigger” several giant steps further than does another nonfiction book familiar to home schoolers — Yo, Millard Fillmore — because the illustrations and text are all about the elements.

The small book — seven inches square, and 128 pages — opens with an introduction explaining just what an element is and how (and why) the periodic table is arranged. Then nearly every element gets its own double-page spread, with an illustration and first-person narrative, accompanied by symbol, atomic number and weight, color, standard state, classification, etc. Here’s the write-up for Bad Boy lead, depicted as a Roman gladiator:

Don’t let my heavyweight status fool you — at heart I’m a completely malleable softy. I am so easy to work with that the ancient Romans used me for their water pipes. My chemical symbol (and the word “plumbing”) comes from by Latin name, plumbum.Over the years, I’ve gained a bad rep. People say that I build up in bones as a slow poison and that I have damaged childrens’ [sic] development. It’s true that I have an unfortunate ability to slip easily into the food chain — from pipes and cookware, leaded gasoline, and paints to fisherman’s weights. I have also been blamed for ending the ancient Roman civilization. Not fair! These days, I am closely regulated. But I am still used as a shield against x-rays, for roofing, and in stained glass.

Adding to the delight is a removable periodic table poster — definitely stylish, more cool than geeky — accompanying the book. Just the right thing for your young scientist to hang over the desk (or bed, depending on how much he or she really likes this stuff); though I realize, aside from the home educating crowd, who’ll be tempted to post it in the kitchen, most families will be content to borrow the book from the local or school library. Besides the poster, the book also includes an index and a glossary.

For more on the writer and illustrator, see interviews with each at Houghton Mifflin’s website. Asked, “Were you good at chemistry as a student? Would a book like this have helped you?” and “Did you have any inspirational teachers who got you excited about science or art?”, Basher replies,

I liked the idea of chemistry but found the textbook really unstimulating. I always had more of an interest in art and music.I was lucky enough to have a great high school art teacher who really encouraged me to look at new art and also introduced me to a lot of great music. My passion for science and math came much later in life. While working on the book I did meet a materials scientist from MIT who really gave me some fantastic ideas and tips for the book. He had a real passion for art as well and he loved the idea.

And my favorite bit, from Mr. Dingle the chemistry teacher,

Science is a serious business, and I think the way to get people engaged is to make it accessible while still presenting hard facts and knowledge. Also, I don’t believe that science is “for all.” Some people will have an academic bent for it, others will not — that’s fine, but the answer is not to dumb down science so that everyone can “get it.”

Now there’s something everyone can get.

* * *

More Periodic Table Fun

Further reading, for the younger set:

The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin D. Wiker, with charming illustrations by Jeanne Bendick; a delightful living book, published in 2003 by Bethlehem Books as part of their “Living History Library”.

Dawn‘s favorite chemistry book, It’s Elementary: Put the Crackle in Chemistry (look inside the book here)

Further reading, for older children and adults:

Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley (and if you liked that, just for fun don’t miss his entertaining — and “sordid” — history of phosphorus)

A Guide to the Elements by Albert Stwertka (Oxford University Press)

Mastering the Periodic Table: 50 Activities on the Elements by Linda Trombley and Faye Williams

The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into The Land Of The Chemical Elements (Science Masters Series) by P. W. Atkins

NEW The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray (see below)

More periodic tables:

The animated version of Tom Lehrer’s ditty on The Elements (don’t forget to turn your sound up); many thanks to the generous and creative Mike Stanfill

The Periodic Table of Videos, from the University of Nottingham; more videos featuring the University’s Prof. Poliakoff are over at Test Tube.

Theodore Gray’s Wooden Periodic Table Table (no, that second “Table” isn’t a typo), and his very stylish periodic table posters. And don’t miss his fun columns at Popular Science. And new from Theodore Gray, as of October 2009, is his book The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Visual Elements Periodic Table, available in Flash or HTML versions, and which you can buy as a wall chart or CD-ROM

The Los Alamos National Laboratory Periodic Table

The Comic Book Periodic Table of the Elements

Rader’s Chem4Kids Periodic Table and clickable Element List

Prof. Mokeur’s interactive and printable periodic tables, and his game of Elementary Hangman

An interactive periodic table. And another one.

Chemicool’s periodic table

John Pratt’s Periodic Table Memory Pages

A handmade crocheted periodic table, made by a 15-year-old for a school project

UPDATED to add: From the comments below, Crissy at Soliloquy‘s favorite periodic table is here. (If you have trouble with that link for some reason, try this one.) She downloaded the PDF and printed a 20″ x 30″ poster for each of her sons. Many thanks for sharing that one, Crissy!

UPDATED further to include The Periodic Table of Periodic Tables!

From Adrian Dingle:

His website, especially handy for AP chem students; don’t miss the links page, which includes some other Periodic Tables
His blog, Chemistry Pages

Learning more about the Periodic Table of Elements:

The Resource Room

Mrs. Gibson’s Periodic Table Adventure website, with information on the history of the periodic table and how to read a periodic table

We haven’t used Ellen McHenry’s chemistry curriculum for grades 4-8, The Elements: Ingredients of the Universe (also available from the McHenry website), but I’ve heard very good things about it. Also from the website, you can download a free periodic table game, the Quick Six card game about elements, organic molecules card game, and pattern for your own periodic table pillowcase,

Dawn gave me the idea about using Lego in connection with learning about elements and the periodic table. Here is her post with the photo of her son building elements; he’s taking a Lego chemistry class for middle schoolers at MIT, where the curriculum includes using Lego bricks to model the elements. And then I found this this Lego periodic table, as well as this Lego advertisement featuring another Lego periodic table.

“It’s Elemental”, science education resources from Jefferson Lab, including math, bingo, word search, flash cards, word scramble, and crossword puzzle.

The five-disc “Periodic Table for Students” DVD series from Schlessinger.

Articles on the Periodic Table:

It’s Elemental, “Chemical & Engineering News celebrates the Periodic Table of the Elements on the magazine’s 80th anniversary” in 2003

Periodic Table stocking stuffers, or, you’ll never believe what home schoolers will buy:

Periodic Table of Fruits and Nuts, and of Vegetables, and of Desserts

Periodic Table place mats

Periodic Table coffee mugs, to go on the place mats

And Period Table playing cards

ElementO, the board game, for ages 10 and up; also available at Carolina Biological Supply

How about a Periodic Table fridge magnet, where each element is a separate magnet?

Or would you believe a Periodic Table shower curtain? Which I suppose you can swap around with your Metamorphosis shower curtain

And for those who appreciate the mysteries of science, Dr. Camille Minichino, who has a Ph.D. in physics from Fordham University, is the author of the eight volumes in the Periodic Table Mysteries: hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boric acid, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are all accounted for so far.

And don’t forget the gumdrops and marshmallows

(Let me know if I’ve goofed up any of the links. I’m just about cross-eyed now.)

Science summer school

Herewith some choice bits from science writer Natalie Angier’s latest title, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, in the hopes that, especially if you’re the parent of school-age children, educated at home or elsewhere, you might consider adding this to your library list or bookshelf, possibly the latter for a handy one-volume (under 300 pages) reference.

Ms. Angier’s writing style is often too breezy for me (verging on blowzy at times), but the book is a useful scientific tutorial, particularly valuable for those of us who tend to feel more comfortable in the humanities than the sciences. I especially appreciated all of the interviews and quotes from scientists in a variety of fields, all of whom come across as human and deeply interested in sharing their not particularly difficult or esoteric but fascinating passions. Unfortunately, the book has no footnotes but does have a reference section at the back, compiled by chapter, citing books as well as articles and web sites. I’ve added some other articles and book titles I’ve found, linking to the various scientists mentioned in the quotes below (the links are all mine and not Angier’s).

From Angier’s introduction, on why she wrote the book and why one should want to study science — forget about promoting “greater scientific awareness” for the abstract greater good:

There’s a reason why science museums are fun, and why kids like science. Science is fun. Not just gee-whizbang “watch me dip this rose into liquid nitrogen and then shatter it on the floor” fun, although it’s that, too. It’s fun the way rich ideas are fun, the way seeing beneath the skin of something is fun. Understanding how things work feels good. Look no further — there’s your should.

Angier talked to Peter Galison*, a professor of the history of physics at Harvard, who

marvels cheekily at the thoroughness with which the public image of science has been drained of all joy. “We had to work really hard to accomplish this spectacular feat, because I’ve never met a little kid who didn’t think science was really fun and really interesting,” he said. “But after years of writing tedious textbooks with terrible graphics, and of presenting science as a code you can’t crack, of divoring science from ordinary human processes that use it daily, guess what: We did it. We persuaded a large number of people that what they once thought was fascinating, fun, the most natural thing in the world, is alien to their existence.”

Still explaining the reasons behind the book, Angier writes,

It’s not that I wanted to take dumbing-down to new heights. In peppering sources with the most pre-basic of questions and tapping away at the Plexiglas shield of “everybody knows” until I was about as welcome as a yellow jacket at a nudist colony, I had several truly honorable aims. For one thing, I wanted to understand the material myself, in the sort of visceral way that allows one to feel comfortable explaining it to somebody else. For another, I believe that first-pass presumptions and nonexplanatory explanations are a big reason why people shy away from science. If even the Schlemiel’s Guide to the atom begins with a boilerplate trot through concepts that are pitched as elementary and self-evident but that don’t, when you think about them, really mean anything, what hope is there for mastering the text in cartoon balloon number two?Moreover, in choosing to ask many little questions about a few big items, I was adopting a philosophy that lately has won fans among science educators — that the best way to teach science to nonscientists is to go for depth over breadth.

From Angier’s first chapter, “Thinking Scientifically”**:

Even more than the testimonials to the fun of science, I heard the earnest affidavit that science is not a body of facts, it is a way of thinking. I heard these lines so often they began to take on a bodily existence of their own.”Many teachers who don’t have a deep appreciation of science present it as a set of facts,” said David Stevenson, a planetary scientist at Caltech. “What’s often missing is the idea of critical thinking, how you assess which ideas are reasonable and which are not.”

What’s also missing is the fun:

“When I look back on the science I had in high school, I remember it being taught as a body of facts and laws you had to memorize,” said Neil Shubin, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago. “The Krebs cycle, Linnaean classifications. Not only does this approach whip the joy of doing science right out of most people, but it gives everyone a distorted view of what science is. Science is not a rigid body of facts. It is a dynamic process of discovery. It is as alive as life itself.”” …

But when you treat it as if it’s not alive,

When science is offered as a body of facts, science becomes a glassy-eyed glossary. You skim through a textbook or an educational Web site, and words in boldface leap out at you. You’re tempted to ignore everything but the highlighted hand wavers. You think, if I learn these terms, maybe I won’t flunk chemistry. Yet if you follow such a strategy, chances are excellent that you will flunk chemistry in the ways that matter — not on the report card in the backpack, but on the ratings card in your brain.

Some ideas on why so many just aren’t comfortable with science or scientific principles any more:

A number of scientists proposed that people may have been more comfortable with the nuts and bolts of science back when they were comfortable with nuts and bolts. “It was easier to introduce students and the lay public to science when people fixed their own cars or had their hand sin machinery of various kinds,” said David Botstein of Princeton. “In the immediate period after World War II, everybody who’d been through basic training knew how a differential gear worked because they had taken one apart.”Farmers, too, were natural scientists. They understood the nuances of seasons, climate, plant growth, the do-si-do between parasite and host [and this is much more true of present-day farmers who farm in more traditional, less conventional methods without synthetic chemicals that kill the parasite and injure the host]. The scientific curiosity that entitled our nation’s Founding Fathers to membership in Club Renaissance, Anyone? had agrarian roots. …

“The average adult American today knows less about biology than the average ten-year-old living in the Amazon, or than the average American of two hundred years ago,” said Andrew Knoll, a professor of natural history at Harvard’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Department. “Through the fruits of science, ironically enough, we’ve managed to insulate people from the need to know about science and nature.”

Angier on “plain-truth poems of science”:

To say that there is an objective reality, and that it exists and can be understood, is one of those plain-truth poems of science that is nearly bottomless in its beauty. It is easy to forget that there is an objective, concrete universe, an outerverse measured in light years, a microverse trading in angstroms, the currency of atoms; we’ve succeeded so well in shaping daily reality to reflect the very narrow parameters and needs of Homo sapiens. We the subjects become we the objects, and we forget that the moon shows up each night for the graveyard shift, and we often haven’t a clue as to where we might find it in the sky. We are made of stardust; why not take a few moments to look up a the family album? “Most of the times, when people walk outside at night and see the stars, it’s a big, pretty background, and it’s not quite real,” said the Caltech planetary scientist Michael Brown [which link led me to this, which definitely gives me pause]. “It doesn’t occur to them that the patter they see in the sky repeats itself once a year, or to appreciate why that’s true.”

One of Angier’s best concrete tips for parents of young children, which she did mention in her CBC radio interview the other month:

Another fail-safe way to change the way you see the world is to invest in a microscope. Not one of those toy microscopes sold in most Science ‘n’ Discovery chain stores, which, as Tom Eisner, a professor of chemical ecology at Cornell, has observed, are unwrapped on Christmas morning and in the closet before Boxing Day. Not the microscopes that magnify specimens up to hundreds of times and make everything look like a satellite image of an Iowa cornfield. Rather, you should buy a dissecting microscope, also known as a stereo microscope. Admittedly, such microscopes are not cheap, running a couple of hundred dollars or so. Yet this is a modest price to pay for revelation, revolution, and — let’s push this envelope out of the box while we’re at it — personal salvation. …”Yes, the world is out there, over your head and under your nose, and it is real and it is knowable. To understand something about why a thing is as it is in no detracts from its beauty and grandeur, nor does it reduce the observed to “just a bunch of” — chemicals, molecules, equations, specimens for a microscope. Scientists get annoyed at the hackneyed notion that their pursuit of knowledge diminishes the mystery or art or “holiness” of life. … A rose is a rose is a rose; but the examined rose is a sonnet.

I’ll leave the rest for you to discover, from the individual chapters explaining the various sciences (physics, chemistry, biology — a chapter each on molecular and evolutionary — astronomy, geology, statistics, and calibration), except for this tidbit from the chapter on physics, which caught my eye as I plan the kids’ rejiggered science program for the fall:

As the science of starter parts and forces, physics can also be defended as the ideal starter science. Yet standard American pedagogy has long ruled otherwise. In most high schools, students begin with biology in tenth grade, follow it with chemistry, and cap it off in their senior year with physics, a trajectory determined by the traditional belief that young minds must be ushered gently from the “easiest” to the “hardest” science. More recently, though, many scientists have been campaigning for a flip in the educational sequence, teaching physics first, the life sciences last. Leading the charge for change is Leon Lederman, a Nobel laureate in physics and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois… .Lederman and others argue that physics is the foundation on which chemistry and biology are built, and that it makes no sense to start slapping the walls together and hammering on the roof before you’ve poured the concrete base. They also insist that, taught right, physics is no “harder” than any other subject worth knowing. Some schools have adopted the recommended course correction, and others are sure to follow.

Another modest price to pay for revelation is the cost of The Canon, under $25 at most booksellers in North America, so you can read the rest in the comfort of your own home. Two opposable thumbs up.

* In the linked interview, Dr. Galison recommends the following science books for children — English physicist Russell Stannard‘s “Uncle Albert” (that would be Einstein…) trilogy, The Time and Space of Uncle Albert, Black Holes and Uncle Albert, and Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest (which seem available only secondhand in the U.S. but can be bought new in Canada); and Peter Sis’s “sophisticated and beautiful [picture] books” on Galileo and Charles Darwin. He also recommends the following for nonscientists: The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1979; QED by Richard Feynman; and The Elegant Universe by string theorist Brian Greene.

** Excellent for teaching kids to think scientifically is a book we discovered through the Noeo Science website, not surprisingly titled How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer and illustrated by Felicia Bond (the “Mouse Cookie” lady, as one of my kids calls her).

Lastly, a summer science bonus, for those rainy days you’re not outside playing in puddles, via the Feynman website: physics coloring pages from Physics Central.