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Friday, July 25, 2014

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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Tides at the Bay of Fundy

Posted by jlwile on June 12, 2013

Low tide (left) and high tide (right) at Hopewell Cape in the Bay of Fundy.
(Copyright Kathleen J. Wile, all rights reserved)

As I mentioned in my previous post, my wife and I are in Canada, seeing some of the sights. Since I had read about them, I wanted to see the tides at the Bay of Fundy, which are the largest in the world. When I mentioned this to one of the organizers of the Canadian convention at which I spoke, she suggested that we go to Hopewell Cape, which has rocks that erosion has carved into some interesting shapes. She said it would be a great way to see the tides, and she was right!

On the left side of the picture above, you see some of those rocks as they appear at low tide. Notice there are several people walking around the rocks. In fact, if you look very closely, you will see a spot of red in front of the biggest rock formation. It has a white blotch above it. That’s me in my red jacket and gray hair. On the right, you see the same rock formations at high tide. There’s a big difference, isn’t there?

The Bay of Fundy experiences the largest difference between high and low tide of any place in the world. On most coastlines, the difference between high and low tide is noticeable, but not dramatic. In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, it is about 0.5 meters. On the coast of Southern Africa, it is about 1.6 meters.1 However, the difference between high tide and low tide in the Bay of Fundy can be more than 15 meters!2 That’s why the pictures above are so interesting, at least to nerds like me.

But why does the Bay of Fundy experience such incredible tides? I am glad you asked!

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The HENB Conference in New Brunswick

Posted by jlwile on June 10, 2013

The "flowerpot rocks" formation at Hopewell Cape in the Bay of Fundy.
(Copyright Kathleen J. Wile, all rights reserved)

This past weekend, I spoke at the Home Educators of New Brunswick convention in Sussex, New Brunswick (Canada). It was an intimate, well-organized conference with many wonderful people. I spoke a total of five times, once on Friday night and four times on Saturday. Even though they are in another country, Canadians face many of the same problems with their education system that we in the U.S. face with ours. In fact, three of the talks I gave at this convention were “Canadian versions” of the talks I give here at home. They cover the same issues, but they use Canadian statistics rather than U.S. statistics. Nevertheless, the conclusions are very similar.

For example, one of my favorite talks is the one I give about homeschool graduates and what they are doing now. This link is the handout for the U.S. version of the talk, while this link is the one for the Canadian version. Even though the Canadian version contains only Canadian statistics and mostly the stories of individual Canadian homeschool graduates (with a few from the U.S. and New Zealand thrown in for good measure), you can see that the conclusions are really the same: Homeschool graduates are doing wonderfully well and are really making a difference in the world.

Of course, one of the great things about speaking at a convention in another country is that it gives you a chance to do a bit of sightseeing as well. My wife traveled up to New Brunswick after the conference was over, so she and I are traveling around enjoying the lovely countryside. The picture at the top of this post, for example, was taken at Hopewell Cape in the Bay of Fundy. I will write more about that in my next blog post.

As always, I was asked several wonderful questions after my talks and while I was in the exhibit hall.

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It’s Interesting, But It’s Probably Not a Footprint

Posted by jlwile on June 5, 2013

A student sent me the video you see above. In it, a man highlights a South African geological curiosity. He says it is a giant footprint in rock that is somewhere between 200 million and 3 billion years old. He goes on to say that it is so amazing it should be drawing 20 million tourists to South Africa every year, but no one knows about it. He then takes you up a hill to the geological formation, and he shows you what appears to be a huge footprint in a wall of rock. The man points out the features of the “footprint,” and he ends the video with the statement, “There were giants on earth.”

I had the privilege of visiting South Africa in 2004. It is an amazing country, and the people there are simply marvelous. I would strongly recommend it as a vacation destination. However, I wouldn’t put this site on my “top 20″ list of things you should see. While it is an interesting geological formation, it is almost certainly not a footprint.

The first problem with the idea that it is a footprint comes from the type of rock in which it is found. The man in the video says that the rock is granite. Now, I am not a geologist, so I can’t be sure that the man is right, but the rock’s appearance is consistent with it being granite. Well, granite is an intrusive, igneous rock.1 What does that mean? An intrusive rock is one that is formed underground. An igneous rock is one that is formed from molten rock, such as magma. So if this rock is granite, there is no way it could harbor a footprint. The only time a foot could have sunk into it was when its temperature was several hundred degrees, and it was below the surface of the earth!

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