Sunday, May 5, 2013

Night Sky Watching

Do you find yourself looking up at the sky and wondering what you're looking at? Maybe you would love to know where and when the next meteor shower will be visible in your area.

I have three favorite apps for Droid phones designed to help you discover the wonders that surround our little blue marble.

This may be the most obvious, but that doesn't diminish its "wow!" factor. Created by the people at Google, the Sky Map uses your location (on your GPS-enabled phone) to show you all the visible objects in your night sky, including stars, planets, meteor showers, and Messier objects. It also maps out the constellations, which is great for those of us who have a difficult time identifying anything beyond the big dipper and Orion's belt. As you move your phone, the map adjusts to show what night looks like from the new perspective. So, in addition to viewing your own night sky, you can see what it looks like on the other side of the world. Pretty cool!

Say you want to focus on just one object group, such as planets or constellations. Google Sky Maps allows you to select or deselect any of the groups to personalize your viewing. You can also "Time Travel" to see what the night sky will look like in the future or what it looked like in the past. And not to ruin the nighttime viewing experience, Google Sky Map also has a "night mode," which changes all the text to red and reduces the contrast.

Google Sky Map is a terrific introduction to the night sky and the wonders it holds.

Now that you've become familiar with the night sky, you'd like to watch some meteor showers. But when do they happen? Where should you look in the sky? When is the best time to head away from civilization and toward truly dark skies?

The Meteor Shower Calendar lists current and upcoming meteor showers; gives start, peak, and end dates; rates the showers (from one to four stars) based on the likely frequency of meteor viewings; sends you a message on your phone with current shower information; provides your local sunset time and weather, as well as moon phases (a full moon may limit meteor shower viewing). It works with SkEye, an astronomy app that acts as an "advanced planetarium" and can be used as a PUSHTO guide for telescopes. (I haven't used SkEye, yet, but have downloaded it.)

Nothing creates excitement about the heavens like witnessing "shooting stars" blazing across the night sky.
For more field trip ideas,
check out GHF's Virtual Field Trips page.

The International Space Station (ISS) is visible with the naked eye, if you know where to look. The ISS Detector will tell you, based on your location, when and where to look for the ISS and Iridium flares (small telecommunications satellites which orbit the Earth, whose solar panels are visible when at a specific angle to the sun and Earth).

The ISS Detector gives an overview of upcoming passes, moon phases, and forecasted weather. You can set up notifications and alarms, as well.

Seeing man-made objects flashing across the night sky is surprisingly moving. Even though that actual event only takes a few minutes at most, the experience will foster questions and curiosity.

Friday, March 8, 2013

"Hacking Your Education," by Dale J. Stephens

Dale J. Stephens left traditional school at 12 years old to become an unschooler. After giving college a try, he discovered that fellow students were more interested in partying than learning. He quickly concluded that if the best experiences were to be had outside the classroom, it made no sense to pay tens of thousands of dollars to sit in the classroom. He dropped out of college, and ended up founding

In his inaugural book, Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More than Your Peers Ever Will, Mr. Stephens proceeds to undo the myth that a college degree guarantees job security and happiness. He shows that with a little gumption, people can create their own educational path, build networks of mentors and supporters, and make some close friends along the way.

Hacking is often associated with computer hackers, tech-savvy people who break into computers to spy or drop viruses. In the sense of education, hacking means breaking away from the tradition-bound structure of education to design an lifelong learning mentality which doesn't rely on being spoon-fed what those in academia assume is needed in the real world. Mr.Stephens does make an exception for careers that require highly specialized training, such as medical doctors, but perhaps even they could benefit from a little hacking.

In addition to describing his experience with education and real life, Mr. Stephens shares the stories of others who have taken it upon themselves to be responsible for their own learning and success. We meet Tiffany Mikell who, despite being a young black single mother without a college degree, discovered a talent for JavaScript programming and ended up working at Accenture. We learn about Christian Keller, who dropped out of school when he was thirteen and is now, at 25, working on a film with Barrie Osborne (producer on Lord of the Rings and The Matrix). The pages are littered with people who took control of their education.

One of my favorite parts of Hacking Your Education is the "Hack of the Day" at the end of each section. Each "Hack of the Day" focuses on the idea just presented and gives hands on tools for incorporating it into your life. Whether it's planning a "brain party," finding out "what you aren't talented at," or making "the most of $100 a week," the ideas are doable and in small enough doses that they don't become overwhelming. Even though I am well beyond my college years, I look forward to trying many of these ideas to expand my experiences and create opportunities for my children.

Mr. Stephens is an extrovert, so many of the techniques he uses come easily to him. He acknowledges this and suggests a more low-key approach for the introverts among us. Even doing a little of what he describes will put most people light-years ahead of the crowd stuck in college lectures on subjects they must take in order to get to the classes they really want to attend in two or three years.

I do have one quibble with the book, and that is the use of profanity. As I have already admitted, "young" parted ways with my "adult" many years ago. I also realize that this book is aimed at older teens to young adults, not their parents. While interspersing the f-word here and the s-word there may make Mr. Stephens sound like one of the people his book targets, those very words detract from the message, drawing attention away from the text and instead pulling it to themselves. This is language one may use among friends, but certainly not when putting on our adult persona. And the author (and editor, who should have excised these from the text) needs to remember that many parents will be reading this book before passing it on to their kids. There is a market beyond the target, and writers and editors need to be sensitive to those pocketbooks.

Having said that, I still recommend Hacking Your Education. The overall message and specific action items far outweigh any language issues. Going into debt for an education that guarantees nothing but classes, homework, and a piece of paper, doesn't make sense in this age of information access. With a library card, Internet access, and passion, people can create their own path in life, without the debt and lost time. Hack your own education and see what it brings!

Friday, October 19, 2012

"The School for Gifted Potentials: Orientation," by Allis Wade

In her new book, Allis Wade delves into an area of giftedness not previously covered in children's literature: overexcitabilities.

Typically, gifted children in literature are portrayed as precocious brainiacs, striking it out on their own with little adult guidance. In The School for Gifted Potentials: Orientation, we meet Everett, who struggles to hide his giftedness under strict orders from his mother. Although Everett doesn't understand why his mother is so adamant that he act like the other children at school, while conversely making the effort to challenge his mind at home, he senses his mother's deep anxiety about his differences being discovered. In order to please his mother, Everett manages to hide his abilities for years.

Ultimately, though, he is discovered, and is sent to the School for Gifted Potentials for evaluation, which he does his best to fail.. Nevertheless, he is admitted and begins his one week orientation. No one at the school can understand his reluctance to attend, since being identified as a Gifted Potential is an honor. But, Everett's feelings are tainted by his mother's fears, so he finds himself overwhelmed with feelings of abandonment and anger, while experiencing joy at finally learning about his abilities and being able to explore his interests in an open and accelerated manner.

During the orientation, Everett, along with other new students, is introduced to Kazimierz Dabrowski's idea of overexcitabilities in the gifted. Through gently-led classes, Everett and his classmates discover which overexcitabilities they have, how these intensities are actually a benefit, and how best to manage them. Everett discovers other kids with intense feelings like his, as well as kids who experience completely different intensities.

As the story progresses, Everett begins to question his beliefs about his mother, his missing father, and the Chancellor. He also starts on his journey of self-discovery, which subsequent books promise to further explore.

The purpose of this book is to give gifted children a chance to see and better understand themselves in modern literature. They may relate to some of the overexcitabilities described, and even utilize some of the coping mechanisms. Also, gifted children may identify with the attempt to hide their abilities out of a desire to fit in. They may become more willing to accept who they are and what they're capable of becoming.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, speaking as an editor, I do wish the manuscript had been professionally edited. Typographical errors, odd formatting, and avoidable mistakes litter the text, interfering with the flow of the book. Perhaps future editions will address these issues.

Still, do not let the above comment prevent you from reading this novel. In fact, in true homeschooling style, use them as teachable moments.

The School for Gifted Potentials: Orientation is available in both print and Kindle versions.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Museums of Health and Medicine, England

The Summer 2012 issue of Granta, a British magazine of new writing, centers around medicine. It's filled with new fiction, memoirs, photo essays, and more, all focused on what medicine means to humankind and how medicine or medical issues have affected us as individuals and in totality.

On the inside back cover is a listing of museums of health and medicine in England. Granted, most people who read this blog are not in England, but one never knows when the opportunity to visit will arise. Plus, having a chance to check out these unique museums may serve as a catalyst to actually heading across the pond.

Here are the names of the museums, along with the summaries quoted from Granta (with links added by me), and corresponding websites.

Good health!

The Anaesthesia Heritage Centre
The Heritage Centre contains the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain & Ireland's archives, museum and rare book collection. It is a unique resource for research into the history of anaesthesia.

Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum
Explore a selection of work by 'outsider' artists (including Scottie Wilson and Madge Gill) drawn from Bethlem's outstanding collections, on display in the museum. Please see website for opening hours.

Chelsea Physic Garden
Something new at London's oldest botanic garden: the inspiring Garden of Edible and Useful Plants in now open, bringing you closer to the plants that are inextricably woven into our everyday lives.
For more field trip ideas,
check out GHF's Virtual Field Trips page.

Foundling Museum
Celebrating the way artists of all disciplines have helped improve children's lives for over 270 years. Dickens & the Foundling includes contributions from actress Gillian Anderson and writer Armando Iannucci.

Freud Museum
The final home of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. Discover his intriguing study and iconic couch. The museum hosts an exciting programme of events and contemporary exhibits.

Royal Society of Medicine
Human Race: inside the science of sports medicine exploring the history, culture and science of sport and exercise and its impact on the human body.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

OstrichLand USA

Have you ever seen an ostrich up close? They're huge! And their enormous eyes with those super-long lashes? Stunning!

Now, imagine being able to not only see them right across the fence, but actually feed them. What an experience!

On one of our many trips up and down the California coast, we stumbled upon OstrichLand USA in Buellton/Solvang. We passed it as we were heeding the call of Danish pastries in Solvang, and we just had to check it out on our way back to Highway 101.

What a treat! We entered the everything-ostrich shop, paid for our admission and bowls of ostrich food, then headed to see the great birds. The ostriches and emus are trained to eat out of the bowls, which are firmly attached to dustpans (to keep your hands away from those strong beaks). Older kids and adults should be able to do this on their own, but little kids will need help holding on to the pan, as ostriches flock from all over the ranch to grab a bite.

After feeding your new feathered friends, talk a walk along the short path to see more ostriches and emus, and truly obese squirrels (a lot of food hits the ground). Take some time to look out over the landscape, trying to spot as many ostriches as you can. They blend in surprisingly well with the chaparral, especially the brown females.

OstrichLand USA isn't just a novelty, it is educational. They have a tall board filled with Ostrich Fun Facts, which can also be found online. Better yet, if it isn't too busy, you can ask the staff about ostriches and emus, and they'll be happy to share their knowledge.
For more field trip ideas,
check out GHF's Virtual Field Trips page. Field Trips page.

By the way, OstrichLand USA sells ostrich meat (among many other ostrich- and emu-themed items), but they do not raise their birds for food. Instead, they purchase the meat from ranchers who do raise food birds. So, you are not paying to feed an animal that will land up on a hamburger bun in the near future.

OstrichLand USA is better than a zoo, because you get to interact with the birds, not just watch them from a distance. Of course, you need to obey all the safety rules: Ostriches are strong, protective, wild birds.

My only complaint about OstrichLand USA is their website, specifically their Links page. Instead of just promoting local hotels, which is fine, I would love to see links to more information about the birds. Perhaps links to the American Ostrich Association, YouTube videos about ostrichesEnchanted Learning, National Geogaphic Kids, or HelloKids: How to Draw an Ostrich. But this is a minor issue, and one that any Internet novice can overcome with a browser search or two.

Regardless, OstrichLand USA is well worth the slight detour off Highway 101. Learn, and have fun in the process!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pea Soup Andersen's

I have traveled up and down California more times than I care to count. And on every long road trip, I see the signs for Pea Soup Andersen's. Not being a pea soup fan, I never felt the urge to turn off the road and head to Buellton, but on a recent road trip, I figured it was about time I checked out the restaurant with the ubiquitous highway signs. So, at the crossroads of Hwy. 101 and Route 246, we pulled off and headed on our latest adventure.

Set in the California Danish heartland of the Santa Ynez Valley, Pea Soup Andersen's evokes the Danish settlers who came to California in the 1860s. The building keeps in theme with the many Danish-style homes, shops, and hotels in the area. In addition to the restaurant, you'll find a bakery and large shop, filled with knick-knacks, Danish blue and white pottery, and road games for the kids, as well as a year-round Christmas shop.

But our favorite parts of the restaurant didn't cost us a dime (or a krone). First, just outside the front door is a long plaque with carictures of all the Danish monarchs, going all the way back to Gorm the Old. Did you know that that Danish monarchy is the fourth oldest continual monarchy in the world, at over 1,000 years? And that it is now a constitutional monarchy? We spent quite a while looking at the different monarchs, discussing what they must have been like based on their drawings and names. Harald Bluetooth, Sweyn Forkbeard, Harald the Soft, Olaf Hunger, Eric Evergood, Eric the Memorable, and on and on. What glorious names! No mention of the Hamlets, though.
For more field trip ideas,
check out GHF's Virtual Field Trips page.

Inside, in an attempt to drag the kids away from all the shiny treasures for sale, we headed upstairs to see what we could discover. Lo and behold, an entire room dedicated to the history of Buellton! Pictures, descriptions, objects, maps. Why is it called "Buellton"? How and why was Hwy. 101 developed and improved? How did folks of yore manage to get through the Gaviota Pass? What made the dairy farmers so successful? What were some of the tools people used? Learning history on such a local level helps personalize the experience, reminding us that history is the story of people, not just dry words in an oversized textbook.

So, as you're traveling up and down Hwy. 101, stop in Buellton at least once. Even if you don't have a meal there, Pea Soup Andersen's offers food for the mind. But the pea soup is pretty good!

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Dismantling the Inner School," by David Albert

Although we may homeschool our children, most of us still went through the traditional school system. We grew up believing that being cooped up in a classroom for the better part of the day with 30 kids our age and one adult, all learning the same thing at the same time, and being told when we could and couldn't use the bathroom or go out a play or read or talk or sit and ponder or ask questions was normal and desirable. Our parents had done it before us, and probably our grandparents before them.

We may believe that by choosing to homeschool that we have broken away from the system. Yet, so many of us still find ourselves trying to replicate school at home, or comparing our children's progress to their agemates', or wondering if we're doing enough based on what we think is going on behind the closed doors of our local school.

David Albert addresses these issues head on in his latest book, Dismantling the Inner School: Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Abundance (Hunt Press 2012). In a series of essays, David argues that we parents need to remove the bricks that "block us from true, natural learning," and understand that children start learning from the moment they start living. Learning is a natural response to life, but school is designed to undermine and subvert this innate desire, preventing children from experiencing with all their senses, which is originally how we learn.

For those who are unfamiliar with David Albert, he is a homeschooling father, speaker, writer, and advocate. He readily questions much of what is commonly accepted about school, learning, and even intelligence. He is an engaging speaker and writer, who encourages dialogue, whether verbal or virtual.

In Dismantling the Inner School, David takes to task much of the research and many of the claims surrounding school. He doesn't merely question the findings, but looks at them from a completely different angle. For example, David cites the well-reported research about how ADHD symptoms in children virtually disappear with regular exposure to the outdoors. Much of the reaction to this research centered on introducing nature programs in schools, creating green spaces in cities, and the like. David looks at all this and instead infers that perhaps kids being shut inside all day at school is causing ADHD, and therefore, school is the problem, not the kids.

But, the book doesn't just attack systemized schooling, it provides ideas, suggestions, and examples for approaching learning in our everyday world. Whether discussing ways to include children in adult activities within families and communities (an "apprenticeship of thinking") or giving specific information about books and websites to enhance the learning experience, Dismantling the Inner School inspires readers to explore the "curriculum of abundance" that exists in our lives. Readers are advised to keep a paper and pen handy to jot down all the tips for future reference.

Dismantling the Inner School is good for new and experienced homeschoolers, alike. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea for a school teacher or adminstrator to take a gander. Imagine the real educational reforms that could happen if those in charge of the system decided that learning came before classroom management.

Dismantling the Inner School: Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Abundance is available through David Albert's website, Supporting members of the Gifted Homeschooling Forum receive a $2.00 discount on this and all of David Albert's books ordered through his website.