Friday, July 10, 2009

Domestic Observations:

Stuff I Cannot Teach My Wife To Do, Even Though She's Old Enough To Know Better
  • Rinse her breakfast cereal bowls so I don't have to chisel the organic concrete she calls 'muesli' out of them later
  • Stop abandoning her dressing gowns on top of the couch.
  • Oh, and when she wants to find her dressing gown later, to LOOK ON TOP OF THE COUCH WHERE IT'S ALWAYS LYING!
  • Take the time necessary to push the hi-tech super-groovy aeropress coffeemaker I got her all the way to the bottom and eject the nasty puck of coffee grounds, rather than leave the entire device sitting in the sink. Does coffee really taste that bad after an extra five seconds?
  • occasionally remove some of her arsenal of jumpers, cardigans and jackets from the hanging spaces in the bathroom because there's no room left for towels and kids's gear.
  • remember to look in the bathroom when she runs out of jumpers, cardigans and jackets.
Things My Wife Would Really Like The Kids To Learn
  • Hang up their clothes on the hanging spaces in the bathroom when they climb in the bath.
  • Not to abandon their pyjamas all over the lounge when they get dressed in the morning
  • Remember to look for various toys, pyjamas and books in the last place they were summarily abandoned before calling in a statewide aerial search
  • Put their used dishes on the sink, and maybe scrape them into the compost bucket
My Chances Of Subtly Pointing Out That Leading By Example Is A Great Way To Teach
  • Buckley's
  • None
  • Have you seen the state of my study?


A good day of home ed. yesterday. Elder Son's class at school have been looking at the concept of 'classification', and it kinda fits in with what we've been doing here at home... a bit of work on evolution, origin of species, and the wide, wide range of living organisms. Anyway, I found a rather good biological/taxonomic key on the web, and promptly snarfed it.

For those of you not of scientific bent, a Taxonomic Key is nothing more than a carefully constructed series of questions designed to help you identify some kind of living organism. You start at the beginning, and obey the instructions that follow your answer to each question, and eventually, you wind up with a name for your creature, or plant, or whatever.

Low-level taxonomy is a right bastard. Distinguishing between two closely related species of insect, for example, isn't just a job for experts... for some insects, it's a job for experts and a scanning electron microscope. I can manage a lot of stuff here at home, but sadly, I haven't managed to convince Natalie yet of our need for an electron microscope.

Anyway, this particular Taxonomic Key is nice. It's very broad: you can apply it to any living thing. Logically, therefore, it doesn't go very deep -- you get down as far as Order mostly. And with some organisms, not even that far. (The lowest taxon for anything fungal is "Kingdom Fungi". )

The lack of depth is no issue. For a beginner, it's perfect. All the biological differences that this particular Taxonomic Key relies on are very visual indeed, and pretty intuitive. Certainly, Elder Son had no trouble with it at all. A garden snail, for example: he made it all the way down to 'gastropoda' in no time flat, with no prompting from me whatsoever.

In fact, my only complaint is that whoever designed this key is clearly NOT an Australian. Why do I say this? It's simple: when you get to 'Class Mammalia', the next question is about hooves, or no-hooves. No questions about egg-laying. No questions about pouches. According to this particular taxo-key, echidnas are actually 'order insectivora', not 'order monotremata', as they should be.

What we call a glaring, stupid mistake that one. Anyway, I'll get around to rewriting the thing (it's only two pages of PDF) and I'll correct that little piece of stupidity. It's easy enough to alert the boy to it anyhow.

Point is, though, he absolutely loved the concept, and loved using it. I was going to get him to key out twenty different living things, but instead of just writing down his results, he was lovingly annotating every step of the classification process, so I stopped him at ten. He got all of them absolutely right, and enjoyed himself tremendously taking photos of his various creatures, etc.

I guess I'd forgotten how potent the act of naming can be. For a youngster, names are knowledge and power. Being able to provide scientific names for the cat, the dog, the rats - being able to investigate their relationship to other living creatures - really caught his interest, and as far as I'm concerned, that makes for an exceptionally powerful learning experience.

Of course, the other thing about this broad Taxonomic Key is that it necessarily focuses on some of the most important elements of structural biology. The questions are designed to divide up living organisms along taxonomic lines, and in general, those taxonomic features are also vital evolutionary and biological features. So in the process of messing with these two sheets of paper, Elder Son has learned to understand the distinction between autotrophs and heterotrophs, consumers and decomposers, backbone/no backbone, radial symmetry vs bilateral symmetry, etc. Fantastic day's work, really.

The Spanish has started to come along nicely too. We've been hampered in the past by the fact that Younger Son wasn't much on reading -- but he's in year 1 now, and his reading has (like his brothers at much the same age) leapt exponentially forward. So now, we're not limited to trying our halting conversational stuff -- we can actually read, and write, and since both boys are, like me, primarily visual learners, it's really coming along nicely.

We've found ourselves a nice little progressive text, in which we're learning all about Enrique Pereda and his friend Maria Jackson, and their monumentally dull lives at high school. But dull or not, we're moving along nicely. It's very cool watching the boys read and translate grade-school Spanish at a rate that equals or betters what you'd expect most kids their age to show on their English -- and I'm enjoying learning along with them. I think the time has come to start ordering a few kids' books in Spanish... wonder if there's an 'El Amazon' out there somewhere?