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Monday, December 22, 2014

Homeschooling in South Africa

Posted by jlwile on October 21, 2014

This incredible animal is a greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros).  It is one of the many amazing things we have already seen in South Africa.  (copyright Kathleen J. Wile, click for larger image.)

This incredible animal is a greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros). It is one of the many amazing things we have already seen in South Africa. (copyright Kathleen J. Wile, click for larger image.)

We arrived in South Africa a week ago, but we have been busy adjusting to the new time, reacquainting ourselves with friends, exploring our surroundings, and traveling to the KwaZulu-Natal Homeschool Curriculum Expo, which took place three days ago (Saturday). In some ways, the conference was just like a homeschooling conference in the U.S. There were vendors selling curriculum, speakers giving talks, refreshments being sold, etc. In some ways, however, it was quite different. Much of the curriculum and some of the conversations were in two different languages: English and Afrikaans. It seemed everyone at the conference spoke English, but many chose to talk among themselves in Afrikaans, and some wanted to have at least a portion of their curriculum in that language as well. The refreshments, not surprisingly, were quite different. Hot tea was the main beverage consumed (although coffee and soda were available), and the food available for purchase included meat pies and “pancakes,” which were unlike pancakes found in the U.S. They were thin, covered in cinnamon sugar, and rolled into a tube.

I spoke three times at the conference, discussing Homeschooling: The Environment for Genius, “Teaching” Science at Home, and What I Learned by Homechooling. The technology available to the speakers was excellent. There was a great sound system, three screens that showed my PowerPoint presentation to all parts of the auditorium, and a video crew filming me as I spoke. The talks were well-received, but not surprisingly, the best part was the questions that were asked once each talk was over.

Homeschooling has not been going on in South Africa as long as it has been going on in the U.S., so many of the questions reminded me of the questions I got when I first started speaking to homeschoolers in the U.S. back in the 1990s.

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An Excellent Question from a University Student

Posted by jlwile on September 24, 2014

nuclear_Chem

In case you haven’t read two of my previous posts (here and here), I am doing something I haven’t done for nearly 20 years – teaching a university-level chemistry course. The class has been going on since the last week of August, but starting this past Friday, the topic has been nuclear chemistry, which is the speciality in which I got my Ph.D. Obviously, then, it is near and dear to my heart. We are probably spending too much time on the subject, but I just can’t help it. We will be getting back to “normal” chemistry (which concentrates on electrons) soon enough. For now, I want the students to see the wonders of the nucleus!

Of course, the most reasonable subject with which to begin a discussion of nuclear chemistry is radiation. So I taught the students about the various modes of radioactive decay, why radioactive decay happens, etc. Then I tried to make the point that radiation is everywhere, and that’s okay, since our bodies are designed to deal with low doses of it. I then showed them a Geiger counter and a radioactive source. The source was labeled with the warning symbols you see above. Not surprisingly, when I put the source up to the Geiger counter, the students heard lots of clicking, because the source was emitting gamma rays.

Then I surprised them a bit. I put an old orange ceramic plate up to the Geiger counter, and it started clicking a lot more than it did with the source I had just used. That’s because the pretty orange color was made using uranium oxide, which is radioactive. It emits alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. People ate off those plates for many years before it was determined that they shouldn’t be made anymore. I did the same thing with an old wristwatch. Once again, the Geiger counter went nuts, because the watch’s hands and numbers had been painted with a mixture of radium and zinc sulfide to make them glow. The radium also emits alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. I then assured them that modern luminous paints aren’t radioactive.

The reason I am writing this blog entry, however, is because of a question one student asked me.

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The 2014 Valley Home Educators Convention

Posted by jlwile on July 28, 2014

This is me at my publisher's booth talking with two homeschoolers.

This is me at my publisher’s booth talking with two homeschoolers.

This past weekend, I spoke at the Valley Home Educators Convention in Modesto, California. It’s a mid-sized convention that is always well-run and a delight to attend. I gave a total of six talks: Why I believe in a Young Earth, Creation vs Evolution: Religion vs Science or Religion vs Religion, Homeschooling: The Solution to Our Education Problem, Why Homeschool through High School, What about K-6 Science?, and ‘Teaching’ the Jr High & High School Sciences at Home. They were all well attended, and I got several good questions. However, I did have one talk (I forget which one) after which no one asked a single question. I don’t recall that ever happening before.

I was a bit concerned about giving the first talk, because it tends to ruffle some feathers. In the talk, I make the (rather obvious to me) point that the young-earth interpretation of Scripture is not the only orthodox interpretation that submits to Scriptural authority. I demonstrate this several different ways, including by pointing out that some of the early church fathers (like Origen) interpreted the days in the creation account to be figurative and not literal. By the 1100′s a figurative interpretation of Genesis was widespread in the church. Other church fathers (like Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine, and Hilary of Poitiers) believed that the days had nothing to do with the passage of time but instead were used as a means by which the things that were created could be ordered in terms of priority.

This, of course, goes against what some of my fellow young-earth creationists teach, so sometimes, the content of the talk is greeted with quite a bit of anger. At this convention, however, no one seemed to get angry. In fact, I didn’t get a single hostile question after the talk, which surprised me. Everyone who spoke to me about that talk later said they appreciated how I handled such a hot-button issue. I did get an interesting question related to the talk from someone who came to my publisher’s booth, and it’s the question I want to address in this post.

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The California Homeschool Convention

Posted by jlwile on June 16, 2014

This is the Ontario Convention Center, where the California Homeschool Conference was held. (click for credit)

This is the Ontario Convention Center, where the California Homeschool Conference was held.
(click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the California Homeschool convention in Ontario, California. It is a part of the Great Homeschool Conventions series, and as such, it offered a wide range of speakers as well as a big exhibit hall in which homeschoolers could examine the many great resources that are available to them. It was the first year for this particular convention, and that usually means a fairly small crowd. It generally takes a while for a homeschooling convention to get established, so you don’t expect large crowds in the first few years of a conference. This first-year conference defied that trend. It attracted a big crowd, and I was pleasantly surprised.

I gave five talks at the convention, two of them with Diana Waring. My “solo” talks were Recent News in Creation Science, The Bible: A Great Source of Modern Science, and Teaching Elementary Science Using History as a Guide. The talks I did with Diana Waring were I Didn’t See That Coming and Arguing to Learn. The talks were well attended, and the audience members were actively engaged.

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The Homeschoolers of Wyoming Convention

Posted by jlwile on June 9, 2014

This is one of the signs that welcomes people to Wyoming.  (click for credit)

This is one of the signs that welcomes people to Wyoming. (click for credit)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Homeschoolers of Wyoming convention in Sheridan, Wyoming. I had never been to that part of the state before, so not only did I have a great time at the convention, I enjoyed visiting a new location. I gave four talks at the convention: Why Homeschool Through High School, Homeschooling: The Solution to our Education Problem, “Teaching” High School At Home, and Teaching Critical Thinking. In addition, I got to speak with several homeschoolers while I was hanging out at my publisher’s booth in the exhibit hall.

During one of those times, I experienced something that probably doesn’t happen very often outside of homeschooling circles. I was speaking with a mother about her teenage daughter’s options when it comes to science. The daughter was there as well. She wanted to be a forensic anthropologist, and the mother wanted to know what sciences her daughter should be taking in high school. I told her that the three subjects she should definitely take are biology, chemistry, and human anatomy, because they would all have a direct bearing on forensic anthropology. As a result, they would give her a good idea of the kind of science she would be doing if she chose that field. She should also strive to take physics, but it would not have as much direct bearing on her field as the other three.

Since the daughter had not taken any of those subjects yet, I suggested that she should start with biology. She began looking at my biology text and mentioned a few things she liked about it. She then asked me some questions regarding specific aspects of the course. Then she asked me the following question:

My main concern is, will this book challenge me enough?

I have to tell you, that’s a question you rarely hear from a teenager when it comes to a textbook! Nevertheless, it isn’t the first time I have been asked that question by a high school student at a homeschool convention. That’s one of the many reasons I love working with homeschooled students! They understand that education is important, and many of them actually want to be challenged by it!

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The 2014 Midwest Homeschool Convention

Posted by jlwile on April 28, 2014

The Cincinnati skyline at dusk (click for credit)

The Cincinnati skyline at dusk (click for credit)

This past weekend was a busy one! I spoke at the Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio on Thursday and Friday, and then I spoke at the Rideau Valley Home Educators’ Association Conference in Ontario, Canada. This meant giving several talks on Thursday and Friday, flying out of Cincinnati on Friday night, arriving in Ottawa (the capital of Canada) very late, and then speaking at the convention bright and early on Saturday. It was obviously tiring, but it was well worth it! I met a lot of interesting people, had a great lunch with the teens in Canada, and got several very interesting questions. Since I really did the equivalent of two conventions this weekend, I will split my report into two articles. This one will be on the Midwest Homeschool Convention, and the next one will be about the Rideau Valley Home Educators’ Association Conference.

In Cincinnati, I did three solo talks (Recent News in Creation Science, Teaching Elementary Science Using History as a Guide, The Bible: A Great Source of Modern Science) and two talks with Diana Waring (Arguing to Learn, I Didn’t See That Coming). I enjoyed them all, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the ones with Diana Waring the most. I really like the “back and forth” that happens with a co-speaker, and it is awesome for the audience to get two perspectives on both the topic at hand and their questions.

The convention itself is one of the largest in the nation, so not only were my talks well-attended, but I spent a lot of time speaking with individuals at the Berean Builders booth. Not surprisingly, many people thought that I own Berean Builders, but I do not. I sold the publishing company I used to own specifically because I am not a businessman and do not enjoy running a business. I am a scientist, teacher, and writer, and I wanted to spend the majority of time concentrating on those activities. Thus, when I started writing my new elementary science series, I did not want to publish it. I shopped it around to a few publishers and settled on Berean Builders. I think it is a wonderful publisher with the right goals for Christian Education, but I do not own it. I am simply an author it publishes.

I got a lot of great questions both at my publisher’s booth and at the end of my talks. Let me discuss one of each.

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The SHEM Convention (and Why College Isn’t the Right Option for Most Students)

Posted by jlwile on April 14, 2014

This is the St Louis Gateway Arch, which indicates you are in the "Show Me State" of Missouri.  (click for credit)

This is the St. Louis Gateway Arch, which indicates you are in the “Show Me State” of Missouri.
(click for credit)

Friday and Saturday, I spoke at the Southwest Home Education Ministry (SHEM) Convention in Springfield, Missouri. Driving from Indiana to the convention, we passed the famous Gateway Arch, pictured above. This, of course, let us know that we were in the “Show Me State.” I spoke at the SHEM convention last year, and it produced my favorite “talk” of the year – an entire session of nothing but questions from the teens. They didn’t plan a session like that this year, but I still got the chance to answer a lot of questions, both after my talks and at my publisher’s booth.

I gave a total of six talks over the course of the two-day convention. I talked to the parents about how homeschooling is the solution to our education problem and about how college tends to keep young adults active in the faith. This surprised a lot of the attendees, because they believed the “common wisdom” that students who go to college are likely to lose their faith. In fact, the research is very clear – students who do not go to college are significantly more likely to lose their faith. I also talked about how my wife and I came to adopt our daughter and what I did with her in homeschooling. That talk was in the last time slot for talks at the convention, and afterwards, one mother wrote on my Facebook page:

…I would like to thank you for sharing the story of your own family with us. Your talk was the perfect way to end the convention and it left me excited, and with renewed enthusiasm. Thank you.

I also gave two talks with Diana Waring. The first was about how arguing promotes learning, and the second was about what to do when your children’s plans for their future are radically different from your plans for their future. Finally, I talked to the teens about how homeschool graduates are doing. In that talk, I go through some statistics about homeschool graduates and what they are doing now, and then I focus on specific homeschool graduates and how they are truly changing the world.

As usual, the most interesting part of the convention for me was answering questions. At my publisher’s booth, for example, I had a long discussion about nuclear fusion with a homeschooled student who had all sorts of great questions. However, I want to focus on a question that occurred after one of the talks I gave with Diana Waring.

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Speaking in the Raleigh, North Carolina Area

Posted by jlwile on March 24, 2014

This is me talking with some homeschool students at The Homeschool Gathering Place.  I ended up signing the young man's cast, which was surprisingly difficult because of its texture.

This is me talking with some homeschool students at The Homeschool Gathering Place. I ended up signing the young man's cast, which was surprisingly difficult because of its texture.

Last week was really busy. That’s why I haven’t written a post since the 13th. It started with a trip to The Homeschool Gathering Place in Raleigh, North Carolina. That’s where the photo above was taken. The owners of the store, who have been a blessing to homeschoolers for the past 18 years, arranged for me to speak at a nearby church, Colonial Baptist. It was a huge church, and the homeschool group there is quite large, so the turnout was great.

At the church, I showed several videos that demonstrate mutualism, which is something I find incredibly fascinating (see here, here, here, and here for a few examples). I also showed videos about some of the amazing design you see in nature, such as the way octopodes (the best plural of octopus) camouflage themselves. I then spoke about the recent scientific studies that either confirm the predictions of creation science or falsify evolutionary predictions, most of which has been discussed on this site. Not surprisingly, the videos were the biggest hit.

After the event at the church, I went back to The Homeschool Gathering Place and gave a talk about teaching science using history as a guide. That’s how my new elementary science series is designed. The talk was much more intimate, by design, and it generated a lot of good discussion. I also got to talk with students while I was there, as the picture above shows.

In between these appearances, I got to spend some time with an old friend, who I call “Roxy.” I think I might be the only one who still calls her that. She and I grew up together, but she left Indiana, and the last time I had seen her was more than 10 years ago. We seem to have the beginnings of a mutual admiration society going. She kept telling me how proud she was of what I had accomplished over the years, and I kept telling her how impressed I was with her. She is a very talented dancer, and I always looked up to her as we were growing up. Today, she is a mother who has raised great young adults. She also teaches dance and history to groups of homeschooled students. I got to help her teach two of her classes (history, not dance!), and those young students are incredibly blessed to have her! She is changing lives, and I am proud to call her my friend.

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Can Random Processes Produce Biological Information?

Posted by jlwile on July 15, 2013

A simplified model of a protein called phenylalanine racemase. The star points out the binding pocket. (click for credit)

In a previous post, a commenter asked an off-topic question. I try to focus the comments section on the topic at hand, but the question is an important one, so I decided to answer it as a separate article. The commenter is well aware that I think random processes cannot produce biological information. He included a link to an article by Dr. Fazale Rana in which Dr. Rana makes the claim that a recent study demonstrates that biological information can be produced by random processes. Obviously, the commenter wanted my take on the article.

Before I comment further, I want to make it clear that Dr. Rana has probably forgotten more biochemistry than I have ever learned. I have a lot of respect for him and am a big fan of his latest book. He and I disagree on some issues, but the issues on which we agree are far more numerous and far more important. This particular issue, however, represents one of the former. While I think the difference in our positions is largely semantic, it is important and worth defining.

In the article, Dr. Rana reports on a study1 that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. In the study, the authors compared the binding pockets of all known proteins in nature to a database of randomly-generated peptides (molecules that are very much like proteins but not large enough to be considered proteins). In order to understand the results of the study, you need to know what a binding pocket is.

A protein is a large molecule, but the workhorse of the protein is typically called its active site. When a protein needs to modify a molecule in some way, it attaches itself to the molecule at its active site. This active site is held in a region of the protein called the binding pocket. So the binding pocket is the area on the protein that contains the active site. An example of a binding pocket is given above. The drawing gives you a simplified view of a protein called phenylalanine racemase, a good example of a protein that is used in a wide variety of living organisms. The star points out the binding pocket.

In the study, the authors found that there were remarkably few varieties of binding pockets found in all the known proteins, and that all those pockets were able to bind (at least in some way) to something in the randomly-generated set of peptides. The conclusion, then, is that random chance could, indeed, produce biologically-active proteins. After all, if randomly-generated molecules could bind to the binding pockets of the known proteins of life, then those known proteins of life could also be randomly generated.

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The HEMS Homeschool Convention

Posted by jlwile on June 18, 2013

There were a lot of people named "Wile" in this town!

My Canadian tour came to a close in Nova Scotia, which actually has a place in my family’s history. My father’s ancestors came from Germany and settled there, forming a small town called “Wileville.” As you can see, I got a chance to visit there. It’s still a small town, and there wasn’t much there except for a market/bakery and a gas station. Nevertheless, it was cool to see that nearly every street was named after a Wile, and there was even a lake called “Wile’s Lake.”

Of course, the main reason I was in Nova Scotia was to speak at the HEMS Homeschool Convention. It was another intimate convention that was held at an excellent facility and run by a group of incredibly dedicated home educators. One of the things I loved about the convention was that in addition to a vendor hall (where curriculum providers sold curriculum to those who needed it), there was also a “young entrepreneurs” section where young people could sell things that they had made. There was a wide variety of things to buy, from candy to plants. I ended up buying some cards from a very talented young photographer who started a photography business called Gracious Vignettes.

I gave a total of six talks at the convention, five of which were on Saturday. That’s actually a lot of talking, and I even told the conference attendees that I expected to be bored with myself after giving so many talks. They were very gracious, however, thanking me over and over again for coming to their “little” convention. This seemed to be a theme at both of the conventions I spoke at in Canada. The organizers and even the attendees seemed to be constantly apologizing for how small their conventions were. They had heard of the mega-conventions in the U.S. and were sorry that their numbers couldn’t measure up.

I hope I was able to dispel them of this notion. I think that big conventions and small conventions both have a role to play in home education. Big conventions can bring in lots of great speakers, and their vendor halls are simply brimming with choices when it comes to educational material. However, they can’t be flexible. I remember when I spoke at the FPEA convention in May, Diana Waring and I had a great question from the audience, but before we were able to answer it, the hostess cut us off, because the convention had to stay on schedule. I completely understand why the hostess needed to do that, and it is a consequence of the convention being very large. In addition, I can’t spend a lot of time speaking with a single individual at a big convention. In both of my Canadian conventions, however, I had long discussions with several homeschoolers who needed a lot of advice, and I was never cut off in any of my talks. That’s the beauty of a small convention.

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