Tuesday, April 24, 2007

UNO Attack - Chemistry Style

I wrote a year ago about Chemistry Trumps, a set of playing cards from England that allowed you to have fun while learning about the periodic table of elements. My only complaint was that there were only 28 cards.

Never fear, American Science and Surplus has found double decks of Elemental Cards. Like Chemistry Trumps, the cards are printed with boiling point, melting point, atomic number, (approximate) atomic weight, series, standard state and abbreviation. Unlike Chemistry Trumps, they are also printed with the standard suits and numbers of regular playing cards. There are two decks, so 104 elements are represented instead of only 28.

What we did this morning was load the element cards into our UNO Attack card shooter. Oh, so much fun! The rules are still evolving, but we've decided cards can be matched by elemental series (transition metal, lanthanide, halogen, noble gas, etc.) or by suit (hearts, spades, clubs or diamonds). Radioactive elements can also be matched to each other. We tried matching by standard state, but there were too many solids.

If chemistry is not your thing, I'd still recommend UNO Attack as the best way to play UNO. :D

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Merlin Science: For the Alchemist in You

Thanks to my friend, Gina, for posting this link! Merlin Science offers distance learning classes in Alchemy (Chemistry), Astronomy, and Genetics. The program consists of a hypertextbook (you read it off the screen) with a notes section, question & answer section and an online quiz at the end of each unit. The really cool part is that the textbook covers high school and beginning college level chemistry in dialogue format, so it's much more interesting to read than your average textbook.

I think this is a terrific resource, mostly because it mimics exactly how I teach. ;-) I prefer to tell stories rather than give lectures. DH teaches science by asking probing, open-ended questions. And we teach for mastery--if the boys don't do so well on the text, we teach them again until they've mastered everything. Merlin does all these things. The Q&A questions are open-ended, requiring critical thought, and answers are fully explained. The quiz questions give you instant feedback (correct or incorrect) and explain the questions you've missed. Once you've gotten a perfect score, you get a certificate of completion for that section.

The Merlin curricula are not accredited, so not eligible for high school credit except through homeschooling, or perhaps through the SAT II subject test. Some schools do use the Merlin program to help prepare for AP tests (genetics for AP Bio, for example. I ran it the introductions section by Xavier this morning and he was suitably impressed, so I guess we're not going to run out of science for him to do when he finished 8th grade sci next year, after all. Yay!

It's the Cheesiest!

Got some time on your hands? So does this cheese. The link takes you to Cheddarvision.tv, where you can watch a cheese wheel ripen in real time! Wow!

Okay, even in America's Dairyland, we don't think this is very exciting. It is an interesting example of guerilla/internet marketing, however. Click on "the red button" and you're taken to an "About us" screen about the cheesemakers and how to buy their products. According to the New York Times (registration required), they've had 900,000 hits so far (presumably more since the NYT article came out). Also check out the time-lapse video on You-Tube, where you can watch the label fall off and be replaced several times.

This cracks me up!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Attn: College-Bound High Schoolers!

According to EdWeek.org, "a study released today highlights the gap between what high schools are teaching in the college-preparatory courses and what colleges want incoming students to know." The survey, by ACT, Inc. (the testing people) "found that college professors generally want incoming students to have a deeper understanding of a selected number of topics and skills, while high school teachers in all content areas tend to rate a far broader array of content and skills as 'important' or 'very important.'"

Specifically, "In writing, postsecondary instructors tended to value the basic mechanics of writing (such as sentence structure and punctuation) more highly than high school teachers did. High school English teachers rated topic and idea development as the most important set of skills.

In mathematics, postsecondary instructors rated being able to understand and rigorously apply fundamental skills and processes as more important than exposure to more advanced math topics. High school math teachers tended to view the latter as important. Postsecondary instructors also placed far more emphasis on being able to understand new material by reading a textbook.

In reading, the survey found a general lack of reading courses in high school and a decline in the teaching of targeted reading strategies after the 9th grade. In contrast, college instructors of remedial courses rated such strategies as very important and reported devoting a large percentage of time to teaching them.

In science, high school teachers consistently rated content as more important to student success than science process or inquiry skills, in direct contrast to both middle school and postsecondary science teachers."

What does this mean for homeschoolers? I believe it gives us an edge over public school students in that we can more easily tailor our kids' education to what the colleges want, without having to overcome institutional bias.

Curriculum notes to myself:

Make sure the boys can write a grammatical sentence, create an outline with a strong thesis and write a persuasive essay following that outline, preferably in less than an hour. (Yes, I know that is a run-on sentence. ;-)

Make sure they can read and understand challenging literature.

Focus on fundamental math skills, no matter how much Wolfie complains. (Learning on their own from a textbook is pretty much standard procedure, isn't it?)

Continue to skip the make-work labs and "activities" in the science texts in favor of cramming more information into their little brains. Only do experiments when we genuinely don't know the results.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Latest Horrible Book Order

"If you're in for some more Horrible Books from the UK, I'll be doing another Horrible Books Order on 4/29/07.

Enjoy your Horrible Day!

Horrible Ray

New Horrible Titles

Murderous Maths : Codes : How to Make Them and Break Them (2007 New Book)
Horrible Geography : Freaky Peaks & Perishing Poles (2007 New Book)
Horrible Science : Evil Inventions (2007 New Book)
Horrible Science : Fatal Forces & Fight for Flight (2007 New Book)
Horrible Science : Seriously Squishy Science Book (2007 New Book)
Horrible Histories : Barmy British Empire & Blitzed Brits (2007 New Book)
Horrible Histories : Oxford (2007 New Book)
Horrible Histories : Warriors (2007 New Book)
Dead Famous : Pirates and Their Caribbean Capers (2007 New Book)
Terry Deary : Terribly True Detective Stories (2007 New Book)
Terry Deary : Terribly True UFO Stories (2007 New Book)

Horrible Books
6574 Edmonton Avenue, San Diego, CA 92122
Tel : 858-202-0235
Fax : 858-202-0265

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Let's Abolish High School

Interesting commentary in EdWeek questioning the need for high school by Robert Epstein, a former editor in chief of Psychology Today, a contributing editor for Scientific American Mind, a visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego, and the host of “Psyched!” on Sirius Satellite Radio. His latest book, The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, was published last week by Quill Driver Books.

He concludes:

"A careful look at these issues yields startling conclusions: The social-emotional turmoil experienced by many young people in the United States is entirely a creation of modern culture. We produce such turmoil by infantilizing our young and isolating them from adults. Modern schooling and restrictions on youth labor are remnants of the Industrial Revolution that are no longer appropriate for today’s world; the exploitative factories are long gone, and we have the ability now to provide mass education on an individual basis.

Teenagers are inherently highly capable young adults; to undo the damage we have done, we need to establish competency-based systems that give these young people opportunities and incentives to join the adult world as rapidly as possible."

[EdWeek is having an "open house" until April 15, 2007, so anyone can read this online through that date.]