Science Friday: the octopus

Amazing stuff here for your viewing pleasure. Science Friday is not from a Christian perspective, but we enjoy it nonetheless.

Aren’t God’s creatures incredible?

Let’s make it even more fun. Share a fun and educational link here today.

And if you think camouflage or cuttlefish are cool, you might enjoy this full-length Nova episode devoted entirely to them. Our kids – who aren’t overly fond of documentaries – devoured it with delight!

Art museum


At the McNay

Summer school! Online writing course

We don’t do a rigorous school schedule September-May.  Instead, we do a relaxed schedule year round.  This means our kids get summer school every year.  They don’t mind.  The alternative is spending a large chunk of the summer outside.  Spending a large chunk of summer inside and bored silly is not an option, because of our views on the sanctity of life.  I would have to kill them, and that would be bad.

So…school during the summer.  Summer school.

This summer Megan had the privilege of taking Introduction to Logic, an online course from Living the Answer.  She loved it, and will be posting about her experience soon.

Last summer, Kaitlyn and Lydia participated in a 16 week online essay writing class by Living the Answer, called Essay Writing: Zero to Sixty in a Semester.  They worked hard and found it very challenging, but they enjoyed every bit of it!  You can see Kaitlyn’s review of the class here.

This summer, Natalie and Becca took the first part of the same class, Intro to Essays.  They had 8 interactive classes, taught live  by Mr. Vogel.  As with the longer course, each class included a brief in-class assignment, and then a longer assignment that was due before the next class 7 days later.  Each assignment was critiqued and graded.  Students can see each other’s assignments and Mr. Vogel’s comments, but grades are private.

This introductory class is recommended for ages 10-14, while the full class is for ages 11-16.  At 11 and 13, Natalie and Becca were much younger than Kaitlyn and Lydia were when they took the full class, and they had a rather different experience.  Like their older sisters, they loved Mr. Vogel’s teaching style and sense of humor, but one of the girls – a reluctant reader and late bloomer – struggled mightily with the assignments, fighting discouragement.  The other embraced the challenge, not excelling in the class but making great strides in her own ability and building a lot of confidence and solid technique as a writer.  Mr. Vogel was very communicative and willing to go the extra mile to make sure both girls stayed encouraged and learned as much as possible.

Here is what Natalie had to say about the class:

Mr. Vogel is a great teacher. I really enjoyed his classes because he ties in interesting little facts and adds little stories into the class. Mr. Vogel also has a great sense of humor. He really made me look forward to the classes.  One of my favorite things about the class was that he had us do in-class assignments, where he gave us a little assignment that we had to do in fifteen minutes and they were not that hard. I got stuck on one of them and didn’t finish it on time, but he said I could just do it later and email it to him.  I’m glad I got to take the class, and it was really super fun!

While each had moments of feeling overwhelmed, overall it was a positive experience for both girls, and they came a long way in their ability to write.  I am so happy they had the chance to study under such a gifted teacher!

Interested?  Here are some of the upcoming online classes:

See a complete schedule

Living the Answer Essay Class Review

Posted By: Kittykait

When people ask me about learning to sew I always say “Try it! Practice makes it easy, fast!”, and it always seemed silly to me when they returned with something like, “I couldn’t do it like you.  You’re just naturally talented!”.  But I always felt the same way about writing.  Deanna and Megan could always just write well, with little effort.  But I couldn’t and practice wasn’t going to change that.  As it turns out, I just needed a pattern to help me along with my practice.

Several weeks ago Mom told Lydia and I that she signed us up for an online essay class, which didn’t excite me at all.  It made me nervous. I’d never done something like it before and I didn’t know what to expect, especially when I found out there were in-class assignments!  And a teacher!  And worst of all, grades!  I may have acted like a silly unsocialized homeschooler for a while.  The upside to my nervous pessimism is that I’m usually pleasantly surprised!

The teacher is funny, entertaining and comprehensive.  He uses a lot of quotes from famous literature to illustrate whatever aspect of good writing he’s talking about.  He also uses some more lighthearted quotes. One week he pulled bits from both The Lord of the Rings and The Princess Bride movie, which won me and Lydia over for good.

The in-class assignments, which were my greatest fear going into this, are extremely helpful, because you get criticism on the spot.  That way we know if we properly understand the concept that he’s going over, before the actual (graded) assignment is turned in.

The class is for five paragraph essays, which is a bit of a rigid format, but the principals carry over to most types of writing. After all, every bit of writing should have a bit of an introduction, and once you’ve written and intro you have to say something about the subject, then of course, you never want to leave a reader just hanging so you must wrap it up!  Besides structure Mr. Vogel has plenty to say about keeping your writing from being choppy, making it interesting, engaging your reader from the beginning, and using different styles to aid you in whatever type of writing you are using to communicate.

The class is nearly over now, and I’ll be sorry to see it go.  I like being forced to practice new things every week, which is a big deal.  I used to be the kid that had emotional breakdowns over writing.  Ridiculous.  The skills I’ve gained from his class have given me a lot more confidence in my writing.  Hopefully I’ll have the self-discipline to keep it up on my own, but for now I’m incredibly grateful for all that Mr. Vogel has taught me.  I highly recommend it for parents looking to boost their emotionally incontinent writer’s confidence. Who knows? Maybe they’ll end up enjoying it.

P.S. If you ask *really* nicely I might post a few of my assignments.

Online Essay Class

Have you  noticed our new sponsor in the sidebar, Living the Answer?  When David contacted me about advertising, I jumped on the opportunity to review his online classes.  Of our four oldest children, two are natural writers and two are more challenged.  They all do well, but Kaitlyn and Lydia lacked confidence.  I thought they would benefit most from some formal training in essay writing.

Today is their 4th weekly lesson in the online Essay Writing class, and they love it!  It’s not easy, but they say that Mr. Vogel is a fun and engaging teacher.  The 75 minute online lesson each week includes audio, slides, live interactive chat (via voice or typing), and some quick in-class assignments.  Class size is limited to 12 so that the instructor can give personal attention to each student.  The weekly writing projects he assigns are challenging, but doable – even for writers who lack confidence.  Mr. Vogel is wonderful at providing personalized feedback and constructive criticism for each assignment, making his comments both helpful and encouraging.  That’s not always an easy balance to strike, but he does it beautifully.

Our girls are rapidly gaining both confidence and proficiency.  In just a few weeks, I’ve been very impressed at the change in their writing.  I’ve always known they were intelligent and had good things to say, and thanks to their dad they are great verbal communicators.   Now they are gaining the tools to communicate effectively in writing.  This is important to us, and I’m thrilled that God has provided a way to build those skills.

Would I have sought out and paid for an online class?  Never.  Would I now?  Quite possibly.

Have your children ever done an online class?  If not, would you consider using an online class?


Giveaway: Visual Latin

This giveaway ends 8/19/11
visual latinI took 2 years of textbook Latin in high school and found that it really cemented my understanding of English grammar.  It also gave me the ability to break down new words and figure out their meaning, even in the many foreign languages which find their roots in Latin.

We have used Rummy Roots off and on over the years to help the children build some knowledge of Greek and Latin root words, and when they come across a new word we often analyze it in terms of its root components.

Because of this, I was excited to receive our copy of Visual Latin from our old friend Dwane, who spent many years teaching Latin in classical Christian schools.  I only planned to have my 4 oldest do a few lessons over the course of a few days for the sake of review, then we would shelf it until we were ready to add something new to our day.  Imagine my surprise when they completed several lessons at once, and 11yo Natalie begged to participate!  They even watched them over again for the sake of those who missed out the first time, and what they had learned became a dinner table topic.

Here are a few comments from the children:

Mr. Thomas is very personable and does a good job of interacting with you on the screen without being patronizing or condescending.  It’s not like watching Blue’s Clues!  You really feel like he’s there with you.  ~Deanna (18)

He does a good job of explaining how the verbs and grammar are different from English without confusing you.   ~Kaitlyn (16)

Mr. Thomas is interesting and funny without being so funny that you’re not learning anything.  ~Megan (13)

He’s full of fun facts and trivia about history, linguistics, and culture.  ~Deanna (18)

He had a very funny sense of humor.  I usually don’t like lessons on DVD but his were very interesting!  I really understood what he was teaching me. ~Natalie (11yo)

He’s so dreamy!  [giggle]  No, really: I used to have a crush on Mr. Thomas when I was little.  ~2 anonymous daughters

Interested? Visual Latin lessons are available both on CD and as downloads.  You can download 4 introductory lessons for free, plus the first 2 regular lessons as well.  Don’t let the term “introductory”  scare you; while there are no hardcore language lessons in the first 4, this is where you’ll learn what you need in preparation for the lessons to come, along with many of the fun facts and tidbits that impressed Deanna.  The 2 regular get right down to business, giving you a good taste of what expect.

There is also a whole page of useful and educational free downloads, ranging from economics to songs for worship.


Visual Latin has agreed to give one happy winner either Latin 1 (the first 25 lessons) on DVD or as downloads.  This is a lot of material, and I promise your kids will love it!

To enter the giveaway, do any or all of the following.  Please leave a separate comment for each entry.

  1. Leave a comment on this post.
  2. Like Visual Latin on Facebook.
  3. Like Life  in a Shoe on Facebook.
  4. Share this giveaway on Facebook.
  5. For 3 bonus entries, blog about this giveaway. Remember to leave 3 comments so you’ll be entered 3 times.

We will take entries until Friday, August 19, then choose a random winner!

The problems in modern education

ht: The Feast of Booths

The basic cause of all the problems in modern education can be summarized in three words: Darwin, Marx, and Freud. The theories of these three men have pervaded all of modern thought. Their ideas are much alike in that they are narrow, materialistic, fatalistic, and utterly anti-Christian. Their influence has been felt far beyond their limited fields. Darwin’s ideas have contributed to a blind belief in progress…

Each of them took not so much a half-truth as a hundredth part of a truth, and then offered it not merely as something, but as everything. Having never done anything except split hairs, [each of them] hangs the whole world on a single hair [whether it be biology, economics, or psychology]. . . . It is yet another mark of this sort of agnostic that he is ready to assert his absolute knowledge of everything to the verge of a contradiction in terms. Just as he will always try to write a history of prehistoric man, so he will always struggle to be conscious of his own unconsciousness. . . . Just as it is the latest fad to prove that everything is sexual, so it was the last fad to prove that everything was economic.  The Marxist notion, called the materialist theory of history, had the same sort of stupid self-confidence in its very insufficient materialism.

As the one fad conceives everything about the bird to be connected with mating, so the other conceived everything connected with it to consist of catching worms. . . . These fads fade very fast, and it may seem hardly worthwhile to prick bubbles that will burst of themselves. Nevertheless, there is one consideration that makes it worthwhile. It is a character of all these manias that they cannot really convince the mind, but they do cloud it. Above all, they do darken it. All these tremendous and rather temporary discoveries have had the singular fascination that they were not merely degrading, but were also depressing. Each in turn leaves no trace on the true and serious conclusions of the world. But each in turn may leave very deep and disastrous wounds and dislocations in the mentality of the individual man…

… instead of finding forgiveness for our sins, sins that we committed through our own fault, we get the most amazing psycho-babble, wrapped in the mantle of science, which explains that our sins are not sins, and whatever it was we did, it wasn’t our fault. It was our parent’s fault, or our teacher’s fault, or simply nature’s fault. The evil perpetuated by this sort of counseling is twofold: we become less responsible for our sinful actions even while we long for a forgiveness that never comes. It is the marriage of Freud and Darwin, of one pseudo-science to another.

~G.K. Chesterton

There was no civil war

We are currently reorganizing our library and having fun discovering long-lost books along the way.  Wait – that’s misleading.  Reorganizing suggests that it was organized at some point in the past.  At any rate, I had at least one ulterior motive: I’m pleased that my nefarious plan to get our kids to voluntarily read some non-fiction is working.

That’s why I found The Politically Incorrect Guide to the South
lying open this morning.  This is all a lead-up to the following quote, which I couldn’t help but share:

There was no civil war

On strict definition, a civil war is between at least two political factions trying to take over the same government by violent means.  The South had no intention of taking over the government of the United States when eleven states left the Union between December 1860 and May 1861.  The Southern states’ intention was to establish a confederacy of slaveholding governments that would peacefully co-exist with the United States on its northern border.  The new Confederate leaders wanted peace, not war, and they believed the United States Constitution was written as a compact among states from which secession was an obvious option if the central government seemed overbearing.  In other words, they did not think the Union was irrevocable.

Did you know that?  Did you learn that in your history class?  I didn’t think so.  Regardless of how you feel about the the War Between the States, there is unquestionably some historical revision going on in our nation’s textbooks.  After all, the side that won the war gets to write the history.

The Metric System: a thing of beauty, and maybe a key to weight loss in America

The metric system is a thing of beauty, and I say that as a diehard user of inches, ounces, fahrenheit, and miles per hour.  No matter how I try, I cannot think in kilograms or centimeters or Celsius.  I always have to do a quick estimated mental conversion.

After nearly 40 years of practice, I have no trouble remembering that there are 12 inches in a foot, 5,280 feet in a mile, 16 ounces in a pound, 4 cups in a quart, 4 quarts in a gallon, that water freezes at 32 degrees and boils at 212.  I even know that an acre is something just over 200 feet long and wide, and there are 640 acres in a square mile.  I know my system.  I like my system.

But as a math person, I am awed by the beauty, symmetry and perfect neatness of the metric system.  It all ties together in a way that boggles the brain.

Everything is in neat increments of 10’s and 100’s and 1,000’s, with sensible Latin prefixes to tell you what you’re dealing with.  No guessing or memorizing if you know a few simple Latin terms:  milli-, centi-, kilo-.

Did you know that a cubic centimeter of water weighs exactly a gram?

And did  you further know that 1,000 grams of water make both a liter and a kilogram of water?

And the Celsius scale for measuring temperatures neatly divides the difference between the boiling point and freezing point into 100 perfect increments.  0 is freezing.  100 is boiling.

It all makes sense, unlike our delightfully quirky system.  It’s all 1’s and 0’s.  It’s practically a binary system.

And did you know that calories even tie into the scheme?  A calorie is actually a measure of energy, which we commonly and conveniently apply to food.  It’s not a food term; we just like to think about food a lot.  Maybe it’s an American thing.

It takes exactly 1 calorie to heat 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius at sea level.  A kilo-calorie (or a Calorie, with a capital c) is a thousand calories, as indicated by the kilo- prefix.  It’s the amount of energy needed to heat a kilogram of water 1 degree Celsius.  Or to raise 100 grams of water 10 degrees Celsius.

I wonder which one is commonly used for measuring the energy in food?  Maybe that confusion is the reason Americans are so prone to obesity.  Maybe we’re measuring our intake in Calories when we should use calories.  Do we need 2,000 Calories per day, or 2,000 calories?  Big c or little?  Maybe we should switch to the metric system.

Am I wrong about something in this post?  Feel free to correct me.  These facts have been bouncing around in my head since high school, many long years ago, and we all know what that can do.

Review: Glory, Duty & the Gold Dome

Glory, Duty & the Gold Dome

I have to say I don’t think title of this book does it justice.  The reason I’m starting with that is because I know that in our house some of us have the bad habit of judging a book by its title.  This book, rather than the impression the title gave me, is fast paced, exciting and very informative.  I read it in only a day and a half, which is something I rarely do.

One of my favorite parts in the book is when 14 year old Thomas finds his friend being teased by a group of boys who are on a school field trip.  He politely asks for the papers back and informs them that they are hindering important work, then the bullies turn to him.  After a brief interchange where Thomas threatens to call the security guard, the ring leader swings at him. With a few quick motions Thomas has his arm twisted behind his back and Derrick is crying uncle.  I like this part because he deals with bullies how they should be dealt with.  He is cool and gentlemanly until it turns into a self defense issue, and even then he is polite.  After the papers are returned he suggests some points of interest for their site-seeing tour and leaves.

Here is a brief summary of the book from Vision Forum:

When adversity strikes, boys must act like men. This story traces one boy’s journey as he stands beside his father to defend the life of a helpless young woman. Fourteen-year-old Thomas witnesses his father, John Richards, put his congressional race at risk to do the right thing. This high-octane adventure story digs deep, exploring important lessons related to law, civics, medical ethics, and discipleship.

Although it does deal with some difficult topics, I think that this book would be interesting and appropriate for young teens up to adults.  My book-loving 11yo sister is reading and enjoying it along with several older members of the family.

I love that so many important lessons are incorporated all throughout the book.  There is a lot of information about how our legislative and judicial system works.  I learned a lot, but I didn’t fully absorb all of it so I’ll probably read the book again for that reason. There is also a lot of emphasis on father son relationships, the importance of manliness and standing for what’s right at any cost.  As Christians books like these should be important to us, so that if ever a sticky situation comes our way we know without a second thought what do.