The Physics of Delight-Directed Learning

VCF discovering patterns

Welcome to Week #2 of the 2015 Virtual Curriculum Fair!

This week's theme: Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science

Our co-hosts are:

The Virtual Curriculum Fair (also known as the VCF) is a month-long blog Fair where every week, homeschool bloggers share their Homeschool Reality and the methods they use to teach their kids. Make sure you visit the other entries listed at the end of this post.

This year's schedule:

  1. January 5th---Playing with Words: the Language Arts---includes phonics, reading, writing, grammar, spelling, speech, literature, etc., etc., etc. Latin and foreign language studies could also go here.
  2. January 12th---Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science---includes anything to do with mathematics, mathematical thinking, numbers, arithmetic, symbolic logic, critical thinking, and math-y sciences (physics, chemistry, etc.).
  3. January 19th---Exploring Our World: Social Studies and more Science---includes history, geography, world cultures, worldview, biology, botany, geology, etc., etc., etc.
  4. January 26th---Seeking Beauty: the Arts and Everything that Brings Beauty to Our World---includes any of the arts, handicrafts, but really ANYTHING at all that adds beauty to your homeschool.

And now for. . .

The Physics of Delight-Directed Learning

I admit it - I'm a Trekkie. Have been for years. I have a communicator pin and a phaser permit - cherished Mother's Day presents. I used to have the entire Star Trek:The Next Generation series on VHS, which went the way of everything else VHS when DVDs and streaming came along. Plus, I needed all that shelf space for books. 

I remember the day I saw The Physics of Star Trek in the library. I went for it like a tribble after quadrotriticale. Thus began my quest for any book with "The Physics of" in the title, and this collection continues to grow. 

It's not surprising, then, that these books are a staple of our delight-directed science studies. After reading this post, maybe they will become part of yours as well. 

The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence M. Krauss

The Physics of Star Trek
By Lawrence M. Krauss

Picture this: Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, and Lt. Commander Data are playing poker, and terms like "quantum fluctuations" and "uncertainty principle" are being tossed around while Newton expresses frustration with the purpose of the game, as well as Einstein's difficulty in adding up his card values in order to stay in the game. ("Descent" Season 6 Episode 26 & Season 7 Episode 1)

The Physics of Star Trek begins with a foreword by Stephen Hawking, who was very excited to join two great men of science at a poker table, even if it was on the holodeck. He makes the point that: 

There is a two-way trade between science fiction and science. Science fiction suggests ideas that scientists incorporate into their theories, but sometimes science turns up notions that are stranger than any science fiction. (p. xii)

In each chapter, Lawrence Krauss explores this line between science and science fiction with such Star Trek technology as inertial dampers, tractor beams, warp speed, deflector shields, transporters, matter-antimatter engines, the holodeck, and multiple dimensions. 

Krauss is a theoretical physicist, and one of the first physicists to suggest the theory of "dark energy". His passion for a public understanding of science comes through in this book. He explains the concepts and contraptions described in the Star Trek universe, then compares (and often debunks) them with scientific principles and laws of physics. This book is a history of scientific discovery, a discussion of modern physics, and part Star Trek episode guide, with charts and illustrations to translate theories such as space-time curvature and special relativity into plain(er) English. 

If your family enjoys visiting the Star Trek universe as much as ours does, they will love  The Physics of Star Trek.

Note: Author Lawrence Krauss is an atheist who actively opposes religion and any form of theism. 

The Physics of NASCAR - The Science Behind the Speed by Diandra Leslie-Pelecky

It doesn't matter than I'm not a NASCAR fan. Reading this book isn't like watching cars go around and around and around and around a racetrack. It's more like working with the pit crew, being behind the wheel, and even inside the engine. 

Author Diandra Leslie-Pelecky happened to catch a race on television in time to see a car lose control for no visible reason and crash. As she watched the replays of the accident, questions leaped into her mind. 

How do you build an engine that has three times the horsepower of a standard car engine and can run at 9,000 rpm for three hours without blowing up? How do you protect a driver from the 1,800°F flames of a gasoline fire? How do you construct a car so that the driver not only survives a 190-mph crash, but remembers to plug all of this sponsors before being treated and released at the infield care center?

The scientist in her rose up and compelled her to find answers to these and other questions about vehicle and racetrack design and dynamics. She walks us right in to the race shops, introduces us to pit crews, mechanics, and drivers.  I could not put this book down, because every chapter reveals some aspect of engineering, metallurgy, or aerodynamics that I had never heard of before or considered as important to race car driving.

The Physics of NASCAR is packed with personal stories, every day explanations, and an obvious enthusiasm for her subject. She thoroughly answers that annoying question kids always ask about math and science "When am I ever going to use this?". It helps reveal that science and math aren't just a bunch of boring formulas that tell us what to think, but tools we can use to solve problems and improve our lives.

If students want to pursue studying physics and NASCAR further, the author has developed a website called Building Speed with videos and educational materials that can make The Physics of NASCAR a fun and interesting supplement to your homeschool physics curriculum. You can also follow her on Twitter for great science links.

The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalois

About 13 years ago, Professor James Kakalios developed a freshman seminar called "Everything I Needed to Know About Physics I Learned from Reading Comic Books". Of course it was hugely popular - who wouldn't enjoy the explanation of complex physics concepts through comics? I know I enjoyed every minute of reading The Physics of Superheroes, and exploring the author's website

Why is it sometimes difficult to get kids to connect with math and science? Maybe because they lack confidence in their ability to solve problems. They see pages of numbers, charts, and formulas, and can't apply them to anything that interests them. Even though many experiments can be done with tools one would find in the average garage and some basic household chemicals, our ability to do complex labs is limited, especially any kind of large scale physics experiment.

However, superheroes are in nearly every home, and we find them fascinating. We can't help but wonder what we would do if we could be invisible, move objects with our minds, possess super-strength or indestructibility. We pick our favorites and root for them in every book and movie. Our family can spend an entire dinner hour debating Superman vs. the Hulk. I can attest that understanding basic physics gives one a significant advantage during these very important discussions. 

Professor Kakalois spends some time in the beginning of The Physics of Superheroes with Superman and his origin story, using physics theory to explain why Krytpon blew up, and how Superman's strength and ability to fly comes from the difference in Krypton's and Earth's gravity.

His approach is not scornful of some of the more incredible superpowers - instead, he uses a positive, upbeat tone while showing what is and isn't possible, how some powers could be possible if certain scientific 'miracles' occurred, and his sharp sense of humor shines through when dealing with  superpowers that are completely ridiculous. 

Would your kids like to know:

  • How can Superman leap tall buildings in a single bound?
  • How does Aquaman breathe under water?
  • Can Sue Richards become invisible?
  • By what mechanism does Professor X read minds?
  • Why did Gwen Stacy die?

There are parts of the book that may be over the average high schoolers head, but it's OK to skip to the good parts if your eyes start crossing. Personally, I think the more exposure to science that kids receive, the more it builds familiarity and confidence.

If you want to get a better sense of the content and author of The Physics of Superheroes,  watch this video where Professor Kakalios explains why and how he uses superheroes to teach real science:

Many parents bemoan their child's interest in cartoons and comics, but now you can use that interest in a productive way and help your kids ground their imaginations with real physics and chemistry principles. 

Want more? Explore these titles:

The Every Day of Education Virtual Curriculum Fair posts:

Visit these participating bloggers for more science and math goodness!

Learning about Patterns in Our World Through Math and Science by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World

Relaxed Homeschooling: Mathematics in the Early Elementary Years by Brittney @ Mom's Heart

Using a Bible-Based Math Curriculum by Tauna M @ Proverbial Homemaker

Math, Science and Logic for 2015 by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses

Playing with Numbers by Sarah @ Delivering Grace

Unschooling Science by Kristen H. @ Sunrise to Sunset

Logically Speaking: Math, Science, and Logic for 7th Grade  by Christy @ Unexpected Homeschool

Numbers and Molecules! by Michele @ Family, Faith and Fridays

Math and Science in Our Homeschool by Jennifer @ A Glimpse of Our Life

5 Math & Logic Resources We Love by Becky @ Milo & Oats

Giving Your Kids The Right Start With Math by Amy @ One Blessed Mamma

Math in Our Classical / Charlotte Mason Homeschool by Sharra @ The Homeschool Marm

Classical STEM by Lisa @ Golden Grasses

Math, Science and Logic - How do we Tackle Them? by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory

Tackling High School Science by Debra @ Footprints in the Butter

Choosing Math Curriculum for Special Learners by Heather @ Only Passionate Curiosity

Math for all ages by Denise @ Fullnest

Middle School Monday - Math With Fred by Kym @ Homeschool Coffee Break

Learning With Math and Science Resources  by Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road

2015 VCF Week 2:  Discovering Patterns: Mathematics, Logic, and Science
If you have a homeschool blog post that fits with this week's theme, please link up and join us!