Physics fiction – learning in disguise

How many fight scenes in action books take time to explain the difference between mass and weight?  How many plot twists in kids’ fantasy depend on the reader understanding Newton’s laws of physics? 


Thrills run up and down my educator’s spine when we stumble on an engaging book which my children choose to read for fun that teaches something worthwhile.  This one was recommended to me by Teresa, my fellow warrior in the anarchist guerilla war to shake the very foundations of organized education, I meaan, homeschooler. 🙂 


I’m used to fiction books incorporating historical information, but physics fiction for kids is a whole new genre for me.  Simon Bloom, The Gravity Keeper by Michael Reisman is actually the only book I know of that falls into this category – someone tip me off if you know of another.  What a fun subcategory of science fiction.  In many ways, The Gravity Keeper is a typical teen fantasy book – 2 young boys and a girl (somewhat parallel to the Harry Potter/Ron/Hermione trio) gain strange new powers that they use to defeat the master arch villain and put the school bully in his place along the way.  Their powers aren’t dependent on magic, but on mastering scientific knowledge and physics formulas found in the teachers manual.  Gravity, friction, velocity, and even the theory of relativity are fair game.  Some of the dialog is cliché, the humor is dry, and the book starts out a bit slow, but on the whole I found this to be a completely entertaining (and educational) book.  My 10 and 12 year olds listened to the audio book with me, while my 14 yo devoured the hard copy book (audio books are too slow for him). They didn’t seem to be bothered by literary limitations. LOL  We’re all looking forward to the sequel Simon Bloom, The Octopus Effect which is due out in February.  


Language warning: I caught one curse word.  Several uses of less polite terms for your rear end. Character problems: the kids keep their powers secret from their parents and actually lie to them to hide their activities.  Age level: I’d say 10 and up.


Challenging Quote

As I was organizing both my brain and my bookshelves for the upcoming school year, I came across this quote that challenges my thinking about education.

“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.” – Katrina Gutleben

After I finished laughing,  I started thinking about how much time I’ve wasted throwing marshmallows (or having them thrown at me).  Although I generally consider myself “outside the box” when it comes to education, in reality, I’m not far outside the conventional box.  I still start every September with a new set of books and a new set of goals to finish by May.  Sometimes the goals are my own, and sometimes they’re actually shared by my children who must either catch my excitement and journey with me or get dragged along behind me.

My friend and fellow educational anarchist, I mean, homeschooler, said: I interpreted it to mean that the first step in teaching something was to excite the student’s interest, not that the student came with an innate interest in whatever was included in the curriculum.  I have witnessed firsthand the power of an interessted student in my own kids.  I have been a student all my life and have had lots of marshmallows thrown at my head (calculus ugh!), but I have also had the honor of being taught by at least two different people who were so excited by their work that they created an excitement in me for learning more.

What do y’all think?

Coasting across the finish line

My personal record for biking 12 miles!
My personal record for biking 12 miles!

The last part of the track is uphill.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying the greater flexibility of summer schedules and bicycling the 12 mile trail past Lake Wichita.  The direction I choose means that I finish with an uphill stretch.  Oh, it’s not horribly steep or anything (this is North Texas after all, and not known for steep hills), but at the end of 12 miles it’s just enough to intimidate the last dregs of my energy.  Usually as I approach the final curve, I slow down and creep across to the parking lot, peel myself off the sweaty seat, and limp to my car, nursing that inner satisfaction of having completed 12 miles. 

Today as I watched the mile markers and compared them to my stopwatch, I realized that I was positioned to beat my personal record.  I pushed it.  I ignored my complaining thighs and muscled along each slight incline.  Instead of slowing down on the last stretch, I actually sped up and rolled right up to my truck exhilerated and smiling broadly.  I bounced off the biked with surprisingly less soreness.  Endorphins are my new best friend. 🙂

I’m not usually much of a sports person, but I thought this morning about the end game in different sports.  In basketball or football, you can get a big lead and then coast across the finish line.  Just hold onto the ball and let the clock run out.  In tennis, though, you never get to coast.  To win, you have to win the last point of the game, the last game of the set, the last set of the match.  No slacking off or letting the time run out.  I don’t bike competitively, so I can choose to coast or to push across the finish line.  Pushing feels better.

I think life is like that.  You can choose to coast and limp or to push harder and finish strong.  God has given us direction for this choice.

Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenword in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3: 13-14

2 Peter chapter one talks about adding to your faith virtue, and adding to your virtue knowledge, and so on.  Always adding.  Always getting stronger.  Never coasting, never slacking, never letting the clock run out.  Paul says press on to the goal.  I think runners call that strategy uneven splits.  You start out slow, build momentum, and press on faster at the end finishing victorious (or at least strong and fast). 

Coasting is easy.  I need to watch out for that.

It’s quiet around here…too quiet

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the Hollywood cliche.  My house really is too quiet.

My kids all simultaneously left me for that American rite of passage called summer camp.   I’m wavering between viewing it as an awesome opportunity for them to test their fledgeling wings with a safely supervised bit of freedom, or a dreadful sham  of boarding school on a trial basis. 

They come home in 2 weeks full of happy memories and new skills, their days filled with exciting adventures, fun project classes and joking friends.  Mine are a bit more mundane.  Scrubbing grout, sorting closets, and getting the wheels aligned on the truck.  Sure, there are perks.  Plenty of time to ride my bike at the lake.  I can eat lunch whenever I’m hungry.  And I’ve only had to pick up the den floor once.  Oddly, it has stayed clean for 3 days now!  I even got to control the remote and watch an old episode of Dr. Who while folding the laundry.

Is this what empty nest syndrome looks like?  Is this what life would be like without children?  Busy, productive, quiet.  I don’t like it.  I love the energy and the creative power and the odd, random conversations that the kids fill my life with.  I’m willing to wash extra clothes and pick up extra messes and even referee arguments in exchange for that.

Where no oxen are, the trough is clean.  But much increase comes from the strenth of the ox.  Proverbs 14:4.  Only 9 days until my cattle come home. 🙂

What’s your philosophy? (or What? I’m supposed to have a philosophy?)

When I started homeschooling, I kept seeing articles and hearing advice from veterans about choosing curriculum based on my homeschooling philosophy.  Since I never took a philosophy class, I was pretty sure that I didn’t HAVE a personal philosophy.  Once I understand that philosophy simply meant my basic approach and my general assumptions and beliefs about what education should look like, I was a little less intimidated.  Still, it took me a few years and experimenting with different curriculum to discover what approach I liked and what I really believed a “good education” consisted of.  Why is that important?  Simple answer – you need to know where you’re going in order to get there.  If I don’t know what my end goal is, how will I plot a course and how will I know if I ever arrive?  The phrase “well-educated student” means different things to different people.  What do I want my kids to learn?  Who do I want them to be?  How can I help them get there?

I used to pour over the articles in the Elijah Company catalog.  They explained better than anyone else what the different philosophies of education were, the pros and cons of each one, and which curriculum best matched each.  They don’t publish that anymore, but the same people now maintain the Homeschool Marketplace site with much of the same wisdom and advice.  Fabulous website.  I could soak in it for days.  In fact, I probably will.

Here’s a link to a fabulous article about determining your educational philosophy.

It’s actually part of a series about choosing curriculum, and the whole series is worth reading.  I highly recommend it for homeschooling newbies.  It’s a good refresher for us long-timers who tend to lose sight of that original goal in the day-to-day haze.

Just Getting Started – a Homeschool Question

This is one of those “frequently asked questions” about homeschooling by newcomers.  The choices are so overwhelming that it’s difficult to decide what to concentrate on and where to begin.  I gave her my best answer, and I thought it might help someone else in the same situation.


I am marking this fall as the beginning of our official homeschooling
trek. With my son being six in a few weeks, I am lost and very
confused and overwhelmed. I am not sure what to start with or how to
begin. I have found many different sources that tell me what he needs
to do, but they are all different. So, what did you all start with? I
have heard that at this age there isn’t really a lot to do and that I
really don’t need a full curriculum right now, but I become very
overwhelmed when trying to find the who, what, when, where and how.

Thanks in Advance!

My answer:

Bless you, girl, we all know EXACTLY how you feel.  There are so many choices and so much conflicting advice, how do you ever decide where to start?  I’m going to let you in on a secret…the reason that different sources disagree on what you should teach when is because none of the experts agree.  There is no one absolute standard.  Even from public school to public school, there’s no universal agreement on which approach works best.  That “one right path” doesn’t exist.  That’s a bit frightening, but it’s liberating, too.  That means you have a buffet of “right” choices to pick from.  Whatever you decide, there will be “experts” who will back you up and homeschool mom veterans who will say, “Yes, that’s how we did it.” 

So you choose by taking a long look at what your family wants to accomplish, what your values and goals are, and what type of support you need to get there.  Do you work best with rigid guidelines?  Do you prefer step-by-step instructions?  Or are you more flexible?  Do you prefer spontaneity and the freedom to chase your son’s interests as they arise? 

Then take a look at your son.  How long is his attention span?  What’s his energy level?  Is he a constant mover and fidgeter?  Does he need his hands on a project or does he learn better by listening, drawing, talking? 

You can choose an approach that best fits your family.  Here’s a decent summary of the most popular approaches:  It will also tell you which curriculums or resources you might want to look at for each type of approach.

Do you need a full curriculum for kindergarten?  Not necessarily, but you might be the kind of person who functions best with one. 

Here’s what I did for kindergarten: Five in a Row unit studies, Alphaphonics for teaching how to read, BOB books and lots of easy readers for practicing reading, and then a big fat workbook from Sam’s for math.  We started a “traditional” math curriculum with Making Math Meaningful level 1.  What I loved about this approach was that it was simple for me, not a lot of teacher prep time, it was gentle, and the FIAR encouraged such a love of reading and an ability in my children to learn from real books and make connections rather than learning each subject separately. 

We also played a lot in kindergarten. J  Lots of puzzles, lots of fingerpainting, lots of puppet shows and nature walks and listening to music.  I miss kindergarten, sniff sniff.  Of course, since it’s been several years for me, I’ve managed to mentally gloss over the day to day frustrations of teaching a 6 yo to read and do math. LOL 

I highly recommend reading anything by Ruth Beechick.  She has an amazing set of three short books on the 3 Rs.  I think our library has the one on language and reading, but not the one on math.  They’re pretty cheap to buy, or someone here might be able to loan them to you.  She has a simple, commonsense approach and doesn’t require anything complicated or expensive.

And if you can, get yourself to a support group activity!  There’s really nothing more comforting than spending some time with other homeschooling moms. J 

You can do this.  You will be outstanding.