Saturday 30 January 2016

Gifted Mind: The Dr Raymond Damadian Story: Inventor of MRI

When I heard about Gifted Mind: The Dr Raymond Damadian Story-Inventor of the MRI by Jeff Kinley with Dr Raymond Damadian, published by Master books, I was interested to find out about the man who invented MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). I hadn't previously heard of Raymond Damadian nor knew anything about the story of how MRI was invented and wanted to find out more. My hope was that I would either be able to read the book or parts of it aloud to my children or be able to tell them about Damadian having read the book.
Gifted Mind
Raymond Damadian was born in the US to parents of Armenian descent. The story of his father's escape from Turkey is hair raising. The death of his Grandmother from cancer left young Damadian keen to help find a cure for cancer. Obviously, a very bright student, Damadian qualified as a doctor before entering research. During his study of sodium and potassium transport in the cell, he realised the potential of nuclear magnetic resonance imaging to scan whole human beings. The story of how the first whole body MRI machine was made is worth reading as well as the details of the first attempts at scanning a human.

Whilst the outline of the story is fascinating, I found this a difficult and somewhat irritating book to read. The first chapter  is called The Truth and spends some time discussing Creation vs Evolution. I firmly believe in the Biblical account of Creation but this chapter is written in such a way that I do not think that it would do anything other than anger someone who believes the Theory of Evolution. For example, phrases such as
  Evolution is merely the scientific community’s “sideshow,” with a
few mythical freaks and some smoke and mirrors thrown in to divert the audience’s attention .

appears to me to be unhelpful.

A whole chapter is devoted to patents and patent battles. Some of this was highly technical and could have been condensed. Similarly, whilst it may well have been an injustice that Dr Damadian wasn't awarded the Noble Prize for Medicine, I am not sure that it is profitable to devote a chapter to this.

It would have been helpful to have had more information about Dr Damadian's return to faith and particular, around how his thinking changed. 

The penultimate chapter has some fascinating figures about the probability of evolution and the last chapter has some interesting MRI images particularly those involving the Upright MRI scanner.

In many ways, this book would be improved by heavy editing to take out the unhelpful and circuitous comments and leave a concise biography of someone who has made a major contribution to science and some introductory information about the importance of MRI in medicine today.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an e-copy of The Gifted Mind for the purposes of this review. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions stated are my own.

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Friday 29 January 2016

Morning Time

In our home education, I have a first section of the morning for both younger children together. We have always had this in some format but after reading a book about Circle Time, I expanded this. This time has developed over time. We don't really have a name for this time but some people use Morning Time as a synonym for Circle Time.

This time is ideal for subjects

  • that I want to do with more than one child
  • that would otherwise not be done
  • that need regular review
Currently, there are daily items and others which happen most days. The non-negotiable part consists of prayer, a reading from Catherine Vos' The Child's Story Bible, work on the Trinitarian Bible Society learning scheme and a hymn from our church Children's hymn book. Some weeks, we sing the same hymn each day so the children can learn it but more often, either I or one of the children choose.

If there is going to be a complicated day, for some reason, then we don't do the extras but generally, about four out of five days we add in
  • art appreciation. This was requested by one of the children. We either read a book, generally, either one of the Katie books by James Mayhew, or a short book about an artist from the library or a section from the Usborne book of Famous Artists or look at a card from the Usborne Famous Paintings set.
  • a grammar point. Most recently this has been about homophones and before that suffixes. We have also covered basic  parts of speech. I sometimes include action games. Something rather like Simon Says works well with a/an. The children do an action if a is appropriate but not if they ought use an.
  • times tables. This isn't our main tables activity but just some re-enforcement. The children usually just recite the table, sometimes jumping to the table seems to help.
  • a poem. Sometimes, we use this slot to learn a poem. Currently, we are using this slot to become more familiar with Wordsworth's Daffodils.
The whole session is quick and usually lasts no more than 40 minutes, sometimes closer to 30 minutes.

Other items that we have added in the past include
  • learning capitals
  • learning names of the continents
  • reading a short book about a country
  • working on the date
  • working on the order of the months
  • telling the time
Of course, there are many more things that we could add but I don't want to overload a time of the day that we all enjoy. Have you a similar time in your day? What works particularly well for your family?

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Tuesday 26 January 2016

Coming soon: Caring for an Elderly Parent

Last year, I was asked to write a booklet about caring for older people at home, by Pilgrims' Friend Society. Pilgrims' Friend Society is a Christian charity which runs homes for older people and also publishes resources with information and practical advice on caring for older people. This is a subject very close to my heart. Additionally, I was delighted to write for the Society as my Mother had been cared for,ably and lovingly, in one of the homes in the few years before her death.

My booklet Caring for an Elderly Parent: When Grandma Came to stay...  should be available from Pilgrims' Friend Society around the beginning of February. I pray that it will be useful for people who are caring for older people at home and for those who are considering taking this step.

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Wednesday 20 January 2016

January Books

January has been a month when I have wondered if I have over reached myself with my book aims: there is Back to the Classics and my version of Read for the Lord. In my enthusiasm, I hadn't properly calculated the time that reading around home education takes and particularly, reading for the Book Club. The latter is light, fun reading but still requires some time!

Anyway, so far I haven't completed anything for the challenges but am about half way through The Triumph of the Truth which is Merle D'Aubigne's biography of Luther. D'Aubigne occasionally betrays his nineteenth century origins in his prose but otherwise, this is a useful read in terms of understanding the Reformation. I'm finding some of the lesser characters particularly interesting and have been resorting to reading Wikipaedia biographies of them which of course, isn't best for progress.

A Victorian who didn't use typical Victorian prose is J.C. Ryle. I'm still reading his Expository Thoughts on Luke volume 1. This was never going to be a quick read as I read a section per day but is immensely worthwhile. Ryle is straightforward and looks at difficulties in the passage as well as drawing out helpful lessons. Highly recommended and I should have added this to the official list.

Over Christmas, I read Elizabeth Goudge's book The Dean's Watch  and now I'm reading Green Dolphin Street. I can't quite work out what I think about Elizabeth Goudge. Some of her characters are complex and brilliantly drawn. Her depiction of mental illness in The Scent of Water is sensitive, drawing on her own experience and I love some of the descriptions of England, for example, of the woods in The Scent of Water. Theologically, she isn't reformed and is slightly mystical with quotes from Julian of Norwich.

With the children, I am reading Roger Lancelyn Green's Robin Hood which fits in with their history and Paul White's Jungle Doctor to the Rescue for the book club.

One of the children has wanted to do more history of art so at the start of term, we reread our collection of James Mayhew's Katie books just reading one a day. These are brilliant picture books for teaching about art history in a gentle way. Now, that we have finished these we are looking at one of the Usborne cards about art, each morning.

What have you been reading? Any recommendations?

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Saturday 16 January 2016

Science Resources

Science is a subject which is important for understanding the world around us but where it can be difficult to find well designed resources. This is an overview of resources that we have used and some pros and cons. 

I am a Christian and believe in a Biblical six day Creation. This is reflected in some of my choices. 

Preschool/reception age (5 years and under)

  • We loved the Usborne Big book of Science things to make and do. This book has pages to easy to do science activities using household materials. Our copy is much used and most pages have several dates written in to show when the activities were done. There is a very short explanation for each page. Highly recommended.
  • There are various other books which we used but don't have the range of activities in the Big book of Science. These include Backyard Science by Chris Maynard, Mini-Scientist in the Garden by Lisa Burke and Fizz in the Kitchen by Susan Martineau. 
  • We used to have fun science afternoons using these  and other resources. I wrote a post about some of the materials and sites we used. Do also look at the preschool science activities on Angelicscalliwags' blog.

Infant age-KS1 (5-7)
This is the age where I have found it most difficult to find resources. Apologia Elementary is marketed as being suitable from Kindergarten to grade 6 so years 1 to 7. There will be more about Apologia in the next section but I have to say that I have not used it successfully with children under year 2. I have used it in a group which included my own children, and others, in year 2. Yes, the curriculum can be made to work six and seven year olds but it is a bit of a push.

Rather different, Supercharged Science has a rather different, hands-on approach for children from year 1 to older teenagers. My review is here. 

What has worked well for us with this age group is Exploring Nature with children. Obviously, this doesn't cover the whole of science but this gentle, weekly guide to exploring nature has worked well with my year 2 child. We haven't done everything in the book but there is plenty that is accessible.

This year, for my year 2 child, we have used a combination of Exploring Nature with Children and my own lessons based on year 3( because I have children in years 2 and 4) of the National Curriculum Science themes. More about this later!

Junior age-KS2 (7-11)
Middle Son was in year 4 when we started home educating. We initially used Apologia Elementary but this was so different that we soon changed to Singapore Science. This may have changed, over the last 7 years, but was workbook based and designed for schools but didn't feel so far different from the science that he had done in school. After a while, we wanted more depth so went back to Apologia Elementary using a different book.

Apologia Elementary is a science curriculum built on Christian principles. It is based on a six day creation. There are several different volumes each of which takes around a year to complete. In addition, to the main hardback book, notebooking journals are available at two different levels. The notebooking journals are not essential. We found that Apologia was
  • rigorous (some of the human body volume  is in more detail than IGCSE biology)
  • well presented
  • designed for home educators so finding items for experiments and activities was easy.
I have used the volume Human anatomy and physiology both at home and in a group setting

For us, two volumes have worked well
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Astromony
We have also used Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth day. This has worked less well, primarily because it is written from the US where animal life is rather different to here. Some of the birds mentioned were not known to us; some had the same name but were different (the robin) and some behaviours sounded similar to UK species but it was difficult to know whether the whole behaviour was the same. I have written about this in more detail here. 

It is really because of this experience that we aren't using Apologia Elementary, this year. I am very tempted by the Physics and Chemistry volume for another year but my understanding is that this is the most difficult of the Elementary volumes so I am waiting until the children are a little older.

Apologia Elementary does have a reasonable resale value!

Currently, I am using National Curriculum themes for year 3 and making up my own programme. This has sort of worked. 
  • Some topics have worked better than others. 
  • I have found it necessary to go beyond the bare bones of the curriculum description but even so this is unlikely to take us much beyond February half term.
  • This has taken a fair amount of time to prepare!
Additional resources
Part way through the year, we were able to trial three of the Creation Family Science junior lessons. These go through some geological concepts around the theme of volcanoes. There is a large amount of material in these lessons although they are presented in a rather "schooly" way with powerpoint presentations. The children seemed to get more used to this mode of presentation as opposed to one to two teaching as we went through the series.

Exploring Nature with children. We use this for weekly nature walks and it has been extremely successful. I'm wondering whether to use it again next year as we haven't done all the activities.

Investigate the Possibilities These have a practical activities related to physics concepts. I have used the volumes Energy and  Forces and Motion in a group setting.

The Dyson Foundation challenge cards are free and have 52 STEM (Science, technology, engineering, maths) activities. Very popular with the children and use household substances.

Secondary age-KS3 and 4 (11+)
Initially, we used the Apologia General Science. This wasn't an enormous success as the first few chapters are quite dry. In retrospect, another year of Apologia Elementary, perhaps, the Physics and Chemistry volume would have been far more successful.

We also used some of the Answers in Genesis textbooks at this age. These involved practical activities designed for home educators. The books we used were less attractive than the Apologia books and were again, more appropriate for the older end of the stated range. This, of course, improved their suitability for this age group. There appears to be a newer edition now which I haven't seen.

Since then we have used Edexcel textbooks in preparation for the IGCSE exams. 

Adding Sparkle
There are an enormous number of extra resources available. This is just a selection.

  • Museums-we are in London so the Science Museum and Natural History Museums are musts. I haven't been to the Centre of the Cell but it is on the to do list.
  • Royal Institution has a small museum, lectures which are open to home educators, courses (at a price!) and a website which had a Science based Advent calendar and a link to the Christmas lectures. 
  • Observatories/planetarium: we went to a useful session at the South Downs Planetarium.
  • Gardens-Kew, Wisley for the London based.
  • Nature reserves-see RSBP, the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust.
  •  The RSPB hold an annual Big Garden Birdwatch.
  •  Butterfly Conservation run a Butterfly Count in the summer. Both these events can take place in your home or garden.
  • Local bat walks take place in summer months.
  • Pond dipping sessions seem easily available at various different places. 
  • Science fairs-various locations
  • Grow your own potatoes from the Potato Council. The Potato Council send out a free potato growing kit and supporting educational activities. The potatoes are harvested in the Summer term and can be entered into a competition for the heaviest potatoes. 
Please comment with your favourite science resources.

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Tuesday 12 January 2016

The Foundation

This is a hymn that I have been thinking about recently. It's authorship is a bit of mystery. The author first appeared as "K" in John Rippon's selection of hymns. According to Cliff Knight's companion to Christian Hymns, the most likely author was Robert Kean who was precentor in Rippon's congregation. Other possible candidates are said to be John Keith or someone called Kirkham. It probably doesn't really matter.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He has said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home, or abroad, on the land, on the sea,
"As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

"When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

"Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

"The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake."

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Friday 8 January 2016

January Changes

This was our first week back to more formal learning. In fact, it was a relatively gentle start with morning only work for the first couple of days. This was partly so that I could do some administrative work on some applications, for Middle Son and partly to ease us all in.

Every term, there are changes. This term, we are having a more formal timetable in the mornings. A schedule rather than a timetable has served us well but has meant that if we are busy or start late then a break mid-morning gets squeezed. I don't think this leads to the best work and it also means that I struggle to get some chores accomplished so back to a timetable. This has shown, what I rather suspected, that I have overpacked our mornings and the timetable needs some jiggling. 

Just to make the timetable overload worse, Younger Daughter has been very keen to do some art history. So far, this has meant either looking at an Usborne art card or reading one of James Mayhew's Katie books each morning, This is easy and popular with the children so a win:win.

Bible learning didn't really stop but we worked on the children's memory work from Sunday School for part of the autumn. Now we are back working on the Trinitarian Bible Society children's memory work and Youngest Son has surprised me with what he can remember.

The other changes are really extensions of what worked well, last term. One of the highlights of our term was nature study using Exploring Nature with Children. One of the children is very keen to add a proper nature collection to this so several times, this week, we have come back with leaves, lichen and moss.
Actually setting up a nature table has proved more complicated than we might have imagined. Leaves wilt, cats play with plane tree seeds and nose the lichen. We have had to choose a different place which we hope will work!

Probably the biggest change is another extension. Over the last term, we used a couple of ideas from Bravewriter: a weekly Poetry Tea and freewriting. Both of these worked well for us but I was keen to do more work on writing so purchased Partnership Writing. The suggestions for the week have, so far, proved helpful and the first writing topic which is about codes has been appealing to the children. Another change has been having to do some copywork alongside the children which has proved surprisingly relaxing.

Have you made changes to your curriculum, this term? Any thoughts about nature tables/collections? This has proved surprisingly challenging.

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Tuesday 5 January 2016

The Boy Who Biked the World

This term, our home education group is looking at Africa so I've been looking for two Africa themed books for the book club. While looking for these, I found a review of The Boy who Biked the World and within a day or so, this was independently recommended to me. The time to buy a copy had come! 

The Boy who Biked the World  Part One:On the Road to Africa is the first in a series by Alastair Humphreys, a UK based explorer. The stories are aimed at children but are based on his experience cycling round the world for four years.
In this first book, Tom decides that he doesn't want to be teased at school for day dreaming about being an explorer and instead will cycle round the world. His parents calmly make him sandwiches, tell him to turn left at the end of the road to go south to Africa and wave him off. Tim cycles through England, France and various European countries to Turkey, the Middle East and then into Africa via Egypt. His route from then on takes him north to south through Africa via Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, South Africa and Lesotho. 

The plot is a little thin and obviously a pretext for a travel book. There is remarkably little peril beyond a worries about lions and having sufficient water in the desert. As a travelogue for children this is  engaging, has the right level of detail and has some useful lists and details, for example, about Arabic or the Nile, written as a journal. The book is a can-do introduction to adventure and a child friendly way to learn about countries. I was concerned about the implausibility of the plot. After all, who would let their primary aged child off to Africa on his own, on a bike but my children thought that this was no more unlikely than Narnia!

In terms of age, this was recommended to me by some slightly older children, tweenager and early teens but my six and nine year old are keen to find out more although I haven't read it to them yet. Recommended and yes, I plan to choose this book for the book club. In terms of content, I would be happy to read this to my six year old.

There are two further books in the series: Riding the Americas and Riding home through Asia. I haven't read these books, yet!

Disclaimer: I purchased this book for the use of my family. The opinions are those of myself, my family and the children who recommended this to me.

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Monday 4 January 2016

January Inspiration

Apologies for not posting earlier in the New Year. Life was busy with a big family gathering and then I spent a day trying to fight a minor lurgy that was removing my voice and get up and go. Anyway, today was back to usual work plus catch up! 

I've been thinking about yesterday morning's New Year sermon about Simeon.

Over the holidays, we have been having fun with a free app called Word Up. The youngest can manage the lower levels but some of the harder levels have kept us all puzzling and there is further still to go!

The British Council are encouraging people to learn a language for the New Year.   Elder Daughter had been telling me that Duolingo has just released its Russian programme so I've loaded it and done the first four lessons. I hope that I shall keep this up. Russian is my choice as Elder Daughter is studying this language and we know several Russian speakers. It is proving a bit challenging though! Duolingo is free and so far looks as though it would be a useful for children learning another language. I might well use this with the younger children in the next year.

Home educators often talk about children who learn to read late. This article is about schooled children but does fuel my concerns about these very late readers. 

I'm always looking for new book ideas particularly, as I run a book club for children. Book recommendations have recently been added and have been popular but this does mean that I need to have something to talk about each time so I was grateful to Sherry, at Semicolon, for her Baker's dozen of Middle Grade literature.

Gwen, at An Island Family by Grace, has a post with plenty of links about using art in home education. 

Happy New Year!

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