Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: Secrets of the Universe

Objects in Motion: Principles of Classical Mechanics (Secrets of the Universe)
This fall, with Ds#1 being of sixth grade age, we are embarking on a year of physics using the Paul Fleisher series, Secrets of the Universe.  This is an outstanding series to introduce middle-school students to the subject.

The books have no color-laden pictures, no distracting side bars; rather it has clear, descriptive, interesting writing that explains the concepts.  He bases the topics on the scientists who first described the principles, and relates the material through common, illustrative examples.  He intertwines the experiments with the narrative rather than putting them in a separate section.  The end of each book includes a timeline and short biographies of the scientists mentioned as well as a suggested reading list and glossary.

The book was originally published as a single volume and then subsequently divided into the five-book series.  Though the experiments are few, the series makes an excellent spine around which you can easily add in more activities and reading.  As science books become more splash than substance, the elegance of this series is a reminder of the good writing that is being lost to the photographs and isolated side bars facts so prominent today.

If your library carries the series and you can wait to purchase these books you may be able to pick them up through the used book market at a reasonable price.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Blogger of Substance Award

Thank you, Alex, from Serendipity Home School for A Blog With Substance award!  Hopefully this blog will have more substance when I finally fill in those tabs, lol!

Here's how this award works:
  • Thank the blogger that awarded it to you.
  • Sum up you blogging philosophy, motivation, and experience using exactly 10 words;
  • Pass it on to 10 other blogs with substance.
My summation sentence:

Sharing science resources with other homeschoolers returns many more blessings.

Here are at least 10 blogs where I find all kinds of thought-provoking and helpful material on them:
  1. Learners at Home
  2. Funschooling
  3. Books, Links, and More
  4. Miss Julie's Place: Art Lessons for Kids
  5. Of Great Mind: A Journey in Home Education
  6. Talking to Myself that just moved over from Homeschoolblogger, with more great hands-on stuff.
  7. Totus Tuus Family & Catholic Homeschooling
  8. Maureen Wittmann
  9. Abiding Faith: Our Journey of Real Learning
  10. Hilltop Homeschool
 I could list more, but several have already received the award from others.  Thank you again.

    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    Updated Design and Tabs!

    I have long been looking to collect my resources in one place.  I have Diigo links, an Amazon Store with my favorite books, and LibraryThing.  To top it off, I never could get the header to this blog to display the way I wanted.  I downloaded some code to make tabs but hadn't gotten around to hacking my template (nor would I soon.)

    Today I discovered you could add tags with Blogger In Draft, as well as other nifty things, is the new look.

    I plan on using the tabs to link over to Diigo or LibraryThing rather than reconstructing everything anew here.  I hope to get to that sometime, or at least get something crude going until I can polish it off.  My hope is to have each page divided by level--maybe even subtopic.  We'll see how it ends up, but at least I have a start.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Buying a Microscope 2010

    This is the 2010 update for those of you in the market for a student microscope.  Some companies have dropped their prices making the decision-making process more difficult.

    For an explanation of the parts I mention, you can see my original post or this guide.

    The microscope with the most features and the best price is Bargain Microscopes' Student 1000x.  Besides having the additional 1000x oil immersion lens, it has professional-grade halogen lighting, coaxial focus nobs, iris diaphragm, and a mechanical stage.  It costs around $245 with shipping, far less than other 1000x scopes.  (Oil immersion is really great for looking at blood cells and other objects of similar size.)

    You don't need an oil immersion lens or halogen lighting for high school biology, though.  The Sonlight Ultra Microscope has the same features only with fluorescent lighting without the 1000x lens for $230 with shipping.

    If price is the biggest factor you can get less expensive microscopes if you give up some combination of fluorescent lighting, mechanical stage, or iris diaphragm but you won't be as happy (in my opinion, anyway.)

    GreatScope's SAF3 has fluorescent lighting, iris diaphragm, and a clip stage for $211 with shipping.

    Home Training Tools' Home Microscope has fluorescent lighting but a disc diaphragm and a clip stage for about $187 with shipping.  A mechanical stage costs $25

    Bargain Microscopes' Student 400x has tungsten lighting, disc diaphragm, and a clip stage for $175 with shipping.

    I could not find a scope with tungsten lighting and an iris diaphragm.

    For something a little more eclectic you can look at Bargain Microscopes' Rechargeable 400x and camera.  The microscope has LED lighting (takes less power and is a step up from fluorescent), a disc diaphragm, and a clip stage; it is also rechargeable so you don't have to be near a plug.  It has a camera that you can insert into your eyepiece and plug into your computer with a USB port.  It captures video and still images.  The package is $210 with shipping.

    That's the round-up for this year.  I hope you find something you enjoy!

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Review of Charles and Emma: Darwins' Leap of Faith

    I learned a few things from this young adult book about the life of Charles Darwin after his adventures on the H.M.S. Beagle.  The book is based on his and his wife’s diary entries and because Charles was the more prolific writer we have more of his insights than Emma’s.  The quoted material is more of a sprinkling than a basis for the book so it is mostly the author’s interpretation than their actual words.

    Charles was agnostic from the start.  His father was a wealthy physician whose money bankrolled Charles’s scientific career and lavish home life (which turned out to be a very good investment).  He was a Unitarian, which the author describes as “a lenient Christian faith” though most other Christians would not agree; they would be more in line with Charles’s grandfather, Erasmus, who said it was a “featherbed to catch a falling Christian.”

    Charles studied theology at Cambridge because everyone studied theology that went to university in those days; University College London, the first “godless” institution, didn’t open until 1826.  Charles did not do well, though he steeped himself in the Natural Philosophy of the day—the notion that the beauty of nature proved God’s existence.  This very popular philosophy during Darwin’s time is what was so threatened by his hypothesis of Natural Selection because, in Darwin's mind, the process of Evolution developed the beauty of creatures and not God.  When someone like Charles has been raised without a clear theology and tends to take up the current philosophical fad of the day (he later followed Francis Newman for awhile until he disagreed with him, too,) we are not surprised by his eventual atheism.  Charles, however, did not have the animosity towards people of faith as many of the atheists of today have.

    Overall, Charles was a highly reserved man who did not want to offend anyone.  (In fact he likely suffered from panic disorder and agoraphobia.) He was incapable of even disciplining his own children, though he had nannies to take care of that.  Ultimately it was this extreme Victorian reserve that held him back from publishing his thoughts on the very controversial topic of Natural Selection until he could have complete proof that he was right, perhaps the same level of proof he sought after in his search for God.  While he never took the leap of faith required of a Christian believer, he did publish his theory without iron-clad proof ultimately because someone else was going to beat him to it.  He received a letter from Alfred Wallace who conceived the very same theory, and even then he needed some coaxing from his friends, who also testified that Charles came up with it first.

    Emma Wedgwood, from the family of pottery fame, was Charles’s affluent cousin.  According to the book “Charles’s Wedgwood cousins had been brought up with few, if any, rules and the encouragement to think freely.”  She is often stated to be “deeply religious” though after reading this book I question people’s definition of that term.  After suffering the tragic loss of Emma’s sister, Fanny, Emma’s faith was then derived mostly from a desire to see a loved one in the afterlife rather than on any deep personal belief.  This theme is emphasized by the author throughout the book.  I am not surprised she was unable to convince her loving husband of the existence of God.  She, too, picked and chose what she wanted to believe. She turned away from the altar during mention of the Trinity, and their daughter Elizabeth decided not to be confirmed because she also did not believe in the Trinity.  The frequent mention of “free thinking” in the book seemed a nod to modern rationalism.  (Freethinkers, ironically, can only form opinions based on logic and science without philosophy or theology, which seems hypocritical to me.)

    Though the book is based on the writings of Charles and Emma, the author does give us a good dose of her own filter.  The most telling words in this regard are:

    For his part, Charles admitted that Emma had been right when she said that his looking at the world in a scientific way probably precluded him from looking at it in a religious way.  Perhaps to do the great science he did, he had to focus entirely that way—to let religion in would have diluted his effort.  That did not mean he would deny Emma—or anyone—their beliefs.  But for him, science was the way to get answers. (p. 213)

    Emma must not have been familiar with the long and important history of scientific discovery brought about by people of faith that continues today.  This false generalization is the result of ignorance given her social circles, though it is a stereotype that the author willingly perpetuates.

    The enjoyment of the book came through the loving and devoted relationship between Charles and Emma throughout their lives and tragedies.  We learn about living a privileged life in Victorian England.  They had 10 children, one who died at less than a month, another at age 10, and their last at age 2.  Charles himself was plagued with sickness throughout his life (though the book does not mention panic disorder as the likely cause).  Emma mothered him and he was willingly a child around her.  She gave great comfort to Charles as well as the children during their times of illness.  We really don’t get much of a scientific history; the book is primarily the personal life of Charles and Emma Darwin.   One tidbit I found interesting is how different their painted portraits looked from their photographs; I would not have thought them to be of the same subjects.

    The book brings to light so much of the religious confusion in 19th century England.  Unfortunately the author’s anti-religious filter stifles the potential for it to enlighten the reader regarding this turbulent time so well reflected by the Darwin family.  In the end the religious story is a tragic one for the Darwin clan, deteriorating into the birth of the Eugenics movement through Charles’s cousin Francis Galton that was endorsed by Charles himself (also not mentioned in the book).

    I am disappointed to find a modern trend in children’s book awards to select titles with anti-religious themes, this book being no exception.  Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith has received the YALSA-ALA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction award, was a National Book Award finalist, and is an honor book of the ALA’s Printz Award.

    This review is also available on