The Free-Ride offspring are 2.5 weeks into the new school year and still bubbling with enthusiasm. This week they share some of what they’ve been thinking about, and some hopes for the school year as it unfolds.
* Material you saw when the first kid encountered it is still there for the next kid to learn.
To be precise, younger offspring encountered lessons this week on phases of matter that seemed so two years ago. And indeed, younger offspring has vague recollections of learning about matter in kindergarten, not to mention discussing it at the dinner table. Still, not every first grader has an elder sibling from whom to leech knowledge, and recognizing the phases of matter and their properties is an important building block. If only they could start exploring the question of why the phases of matter have the properties they do.
* Even for the first kid through, new material in school isn’t necessarily new.
Elder offspring’s science lessons so far this year have focused on planets — something we’ve discussed at home for awhile. Luckily, there’s lots to know about planets, so instead of tuning out in school, elder offspring has been coming home with further questions and hitting the books to track down the answers.
* Elder offspring articulates a principled view on interactions with animals.
This morning as we walked to school, elder offspring noticed a nearby pair of Canada geese nibbling grass. Elder offspring then called out, “Hello, geese! I hope you enjoy your visit to [name of the elementary school] field, and that no one chases you away before you’ve eaten your fill of the lawn.” I asked about this friendly address toward a critter that some consider a nuisance and a pest. Elder offspring replied, “There’s no reason to be mean to an animal that isn’t harming you.”
“So you might be mean to an animal in self-defense?” I asked.
* Speaking of animals, would it be mean to try to breed a dragon?
Elder offspring would really like to breed a dragon, and was thinking about possible strategies for doing so at the dinner table the other night. (Mate a bird and a lizard? A bat and a snake?) Dr. Free-Ride’s better half pointed out that a dragon was an especially challenging target organism, since it has four limbs and two wings — vertebrates seem to top out at four limbs, birds have only two limbs in addition to their two wings, lots of insects have two wings but then six limbs … There was some consideration of going for an invertebrate dragon (PZ, any suggestions?). And we didn’t even get to the matter of why interspecies mating might be a deal-breaker. (I wonder if John Wilkins has a good explanation of the species concept for the under-10 crowd.) In any case, I’m glad that this biology project is purely speculative — I do not need to be cleaning up after a dragon.
* Elder offspring toys with engineering.
To this point, the “computer” classes the Free-Ride offspring have encountered in school have been about learning how to use a computer, mostly to play educational games. Elder offspring has expressed an interest in learning how to program computers — especially to make video games (ideally, for the Nintendo DS). We’re therefore soliciting recommendations for a good first programming language for a third grader. (Visual Basic? Pascal? Maybe Mark or Rob can suggest something?)
Also, elder offspring would like to start work on the radio-controlled fish pictured below.
The joystick will direct the fish to submerge, surface, swim forward, or take a picture. Once the prototype is ready, elder offspring is hopeful that Craig and Peter at Deep Sea News can field test it.