About 12 years ago, Sherri Seligson published a course entitled, Exploring Creation with Marine Biology. It quickly garnered rave reviews among homeschooling families. Over those 12 years, I have spoken to many, many high school students who have called it their favorite course, and I can remember at least four of them who said that they planned to study marine biology at university specifically because the course had given them a love for the subject. Such reviews have never come as a surprise to me, because Seligson has the “perfect storm” of characteristics for writing an excellent marine biology course for homeschoolers.
First and foremost, she knows her subject. She has a degree in marine biology and was the aquarist of the Living Seas aquarium at Epcot Center for four years. Based on her work there, she was able to publish original research on shark behavior in captivity. Second, she has a real passion for the subject. Just ask her a question about marine science. Her eyes will light up, she will smile, and she will enthusiastically answer your question, along with a dozen other related questions that you hadn’t thought to ask. She is also an excellent communicator, being able to adjust the way she discusses a subject so as to meet the needs of the listener. Finally, she is a homeschooling mother, having educated four amazing children who are now adults. Is it any wonder that she could write a course on marine biology that would become so beloved in the homeschooling community?
However, 12 years is a long time for a biology course to be around. Our understanding of the natural world changes, and sometimes, those changes are substantial. As a result, science courses need to be updated from time to time. So far, the publisher of Exploring Creation with Marine Biology has been “hit and miss” with its updates. A few years ago, the publisher updated its Human Anatomy and Physiology course, making it significantly better than the previous version. The publisher then updated its chemistry course, with disastrous results.
I am happy to report that the publisher is now “two for three,” having produced an excellent update to this already fantastic course.
I am not a fan of Dr. Richard Dawkins. I have read most of his books, because I think it is important to know what one of atheism’s leading evangelists has to say. However, I obviously disagree with a lot of his beliefs. As a result, when I first read about one of his events being cancelled, I have to admit that I thought, “Well, it serves him right. He regularly attempts to shut down creationists, so it’s about time he got a taste of his own medicine!” After allowing time for my brain to override my emotions, however, I realized that this cancellation is not a good thing.
If you haven’t heard the news yet, Dr. Dawkins was scheduled to read from his new book, Science in the Soul, at a church (ironic, isn’t it?) in Berkeley, California. The event was sponsored by a local radio station, KPFA. However, the radio station got cold feet and cancelled the event. Why? According to the statement they sent to ticket holders:
We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier.
I am not sure why the people at the radio station think words that “offended and hurt” constitute “abusive speech.” It seems to me that a lot of statements can offend and hurt people but not be abusive. If I say, “Pedophilia is wrong and should be punished severely,” I am sure to offend some pedophiles out there. However, that statement can hardly be considered abusive. In the same way, Dr. Dawkins has said some terrible things about Islam, but I can’t remember reading anything of his that I thought was even remotely abusive to the people who follow Islam.
I have been making some videos for the online courses I will be teaching this coming academic year. There will be more to come, but I won’t be blogging about every one of them. I do want to share two of them, however, because they are both very interesting. The first is about things floating in water. Did you know that some bowling balls actually float in water?
The same kind of reasoning used in that demonstration can be used to make a balloon full of air float:
I have done variations of the first demonstration several times, and the Coke/Diet Coke part is from an experiment the students do in their kitchen sink in my elementary course, Science in the Beginning. I had never done the second demonstration before, and I was surprised at how well it worked.
As I said, I won’t be blogging about every video. If you want to see them all, visit my publishers’s YouTube channel. I will be making several more over the course of the next year, so if you like them, you might want to subscribe to the channel.
If you don’t recognize the word “ENCODE,” it refers to a huge scientific initiative that is designed to determine what portions of the human genome are actually used by the various cell types that exist throughout the human lifespan. Their landmark publications in 2012 came to the conclusion that at least 80% of the human genome is functional. Dr. Graur says that if their conclusion is right, then there is no possible way we could have been the product of naturalistic evolutionary processes. When I read his argument as discussed by Salvador Cordova, I was a bit skeptical. However, now that I have read his paper, I am inclined to agree.
I have been putting together some videos for the online classes that I will be teaching in the fall, and I just posted this one to YouTube. It demonstrates the true definition of boiling point, and it shows how you can freeze a liquid by boiling it. It also demonstrates what the triple point is.
When some Jewish leaders were trying to pull a “gotcha” moment on the Son of God, the following exchange took place between Jesus and a Pharisee:
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)
There it is, straight from God Incarnate. The two most important things you need to do in life is love God and love your neighbor. If I am being completely honest here, I don’t know many Christians who actually do both. I most certainly don’t. I try, but I tend to fail pretty miserably, especially at the second one.
One of the talks I give at a lot of homeschooling conventions is entitled, “Teaching Critical Thinking.” It is a fairly popular talk, and I enjoy giving it. Of course, one of the best ways to illustrate critical thinking is to give an example of someone actually doing it. I recently ran across just such an example, so I thought I would write about it and incorporate it into that talk.
I play the electronic keyboard (and occasionally the piano) at church. While there are much, much, much better pianists than me, I enjoy playing, and some members of the congregation like to watch me while I do it, because I tend to get lost in the music, sometimes almost “dancing” at my keyboard. Indeed, a good friend once called me a “musician,” and I promptly corrected him. I told him that I am a dancer who uses a keyboard as a prop. He agreed.
In any event, because some people think of me as a musician, I often get tagged in Facebook posts that deal with music. Such was the case a few days ago. A good friend of mine tagged me when she posted the Facebook quiz pictured above. As you can see, the quiz says, “Only A Music Major Can Get 10/15 On This Quiz.” My friend was happy, because she had scored 100%. At first, I didn’t take the quiz at all, because my knowledge of music theory is incredibly weak. However, my friend tagged several others, and many of them took the quiz. Nine of them posted their results, and all of them got 100%.
That’s when one teen’s critical thinking skills kicked in.
When I first started working with homeschoolers, lots of people were concerned about socialization. They wondered how children would “learn” to get along with other children and navigate difficult social settings without being in school. Even before I started researching the matter, I thought the concern was unfounded. After all, school is probably the most artificial social setting a child will ever experience. When are adults ever cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people who are the same age? Never. Thus, the idea that students can learn good socialization at school always seemed nonsensical to me.
Nevertheless, people did express concern, so I looked through the academic literature. Even back in the 1990s, there was a wealth of research available on the socialization of homeschoolers. Not surprisingly, the research showed that homeschoolers were better socialized than their publicly- and privately-schooled peers. Perhaps the most interesting study done back then was a Ph.D. thesis by Larry Shyers. In his study, he filmed children from public, private, and home schools in free and structured play. The behaviors of those students were then analyzed by clinical psychologists who didn’t know the schooling backgrounds of any of the children. When Shyers compared the analyses of the homeschooled children to those of the other children, he saw that in nearly all categories of social interaction, the homeschooled children were equivalent to the children from public and private schools. There was only one category in which the homeschooled students scored lower: problem behaviors. As Shyers wrote:
It can be concluded from the results of this study that appropriate social skills can develop apart from formal contact with children other than siblings.
Wow! What a shocker! Children can learn to get along with other people even if they aren’t cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by people their own age!
Now as I said, even back in the 1990s it was well known that homeschooled students are, on average, better socialized than their peers. Why, then, am I writing about homeschoolers and socialization now? Because someone raised the issue in a Facebook group of which I am a part, and I decided to turn my response into a more detailed blog post.
In 1586, a Portuguese missionary named João dos Santos began ministering to the people of Mozambique. While his focus was evangelism, he also studied the people and observed the colonization process. His detailed observations were reported in a monograph entitled Ethiopia Oriental, which was published in 1891. One of the interesting things documented in his monograph was the relationship between the people of Mozambique and a native species of bird, now known as the Greater Honeyguide (Indicator indicator). He claims to have seen these people call out to the bird, which then led them to bees’ nests so that they could collect honey.
Why would the birds help people find bees’ nests? Because they eat beeswax. João dos Santos figured this out because he saw some of them nibbling on the beeswax candles he had in his chapel. Since their ability to fly allows them to scout a large area in a short amount of time, they know where the bees’ nests are. However, they have a hard time getting to the wax that they want to eat, because the bees defend their nests. Thus, they need help to get to the wax. That’s where the people come in.
I recently finished the final book in my elementary science series. It is called Science in the Industrial Age, and it covers the major scientific advancements that occurred in the 1800s. While I was writing it, I had to research the lives of the men and women who were responsible for those advancements. Many of their stories are fascinating, and I hope to write about more of them (and the others I researched while writing the other books). For this blog post, however, I want to focus on the person from the 1800s whom I found most interesting: André-Marie (ahn’ dray muh ree’) Ampère (ahm pehr’).
Ampère was born into a wealthy French family, which meant that he could have received the best education money could buy. However, his father wanted him to learn on his own. His father never required him to learn anything, but he inspired his son to want to learn. You might say that Ampère was “unschooled.” According to a friend that knew him well, unschooling seemed to work for him. Ampère read all the volumes of the encyclopedia in his father’s library, starting with the first volume and reading in alphabetical order. He also read extensively on natural philosophy (science).
Unfortunately, his life was marred with three serious tragedies. His sister died when he was 17. The next year, his father was executed as a result of the French Revolution. This hit him particularly hard. He had no more interest in learning, and some of his friends thought that he had lost all reason. Then he discovered Jean-Jacques Rousseau’sLetters on the Elements of Botany, and he was pulled from his intellectual lethargy. He later fell in love with and married a woman named Julie, but she died only a few years later.
Despite these terrible tragedies, Ampère was a devout Christian his entire adult life. When his wife died, he wrote two verses from the Book of Psalms and the following prayer:1
O Lord, God of Mercy, unite me in Heaven with those whom you have permitted me to love on earth.