Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rocket science at home?

by June

As friends prepare for back-to-school, they often ask us: "When do you start up again?" Truth is, we never stopped. There's science in the river and math in that recipe for cherry-almond granola and history in the Quaker cemetery around the corner. Sure, at the supper table lately we're asking one another what we would like to do when the days shrink, when we're once again gathered around the fireplace. But mainly we're still out under the sky as much as possible.

The sky -- and everything beyond it -- has been a consuming fascination for us this past year. Fern and Blossom became entranced by rockets. If there is one thing I am not equipped to teach, it’s rocket science. (Actually, rocket science is just at the tip-top of a very long list of things I’m not equipped to teach.) Fortunately, homeschooling is not about keeping our children at home and faking my way through my own blind spots; it’s about exploring together and finding wonderful teachers in the world around us.

So we found teachers who amazed us as they revealed stars and space and rockets…

At our oh-so-cherished Saturday Chinese school, the girls have been taking a series of classes about inventions from China. Last fall, the resident Rocket Man had the students firing off soda pop-bottle rockets propelled by compressed air and water.

Blossom’s got stuck forty feet up in a tree!

That’s some propulsion.

Our local homeschool cooperative was abundantly lucky to have NASA-trained Gordon Corbett teaching about the stars and about life in space. He opened our girls’ imaginations to the wonders of the night sky and the complexity of humans venturing there. He asked the kids to solve real-life NASA problems -- like how to have fewer crumbs floating around in flight (and clogging equipment when it re-entered gravity). I loved Blossom's answer: Send them up with bite-size food. (Apparently, that was one of the solutions NASA scientists came up with too!)

Learning about what’s out there and what is required to explore it, we’ve cast our eyes skyward more. We’ve watched the Northern Lights from the back porch. We’ve charted when the Space Shuttle would be visible from where we are. We’ve poked around online, which is where we stumbled onto an astronaut’s gorgeous evocation of what it feels like to be in space watching dawn come to Earth:

”… there is total black and as you look out the window it is as if neither the Earth nor the heavens are there. You just exist, floating in an endless sea of black with one bright light, the sun, illuminating the way. Nothing beyond the light exists. It only lasts a moment, though, as the sun rises higher over the nearing horizon. The Earth starts to pick up some of the rays at last and reappears out of the darkness awash in a faint gray color. Drawing closer you can notice that any high clouds in the atmosphere glow orange or red as they too find the morning sun. It is possible to see the terminator as you cross it. The grey of dawn gives way to the bright blues and whites of day that are so distinctive of our water planet. Looking back in the direction from whence you came, the darkness of night is still noticeable. Only looking forward does the day shine clearly. Soon the night is gone as the Space Station continues on its never-ending trek across the planet. The heavens are now just a dark velvety curtain against the brilliant colors of Earth. No stars are visible. They are there, though, waiting for the night which will come in another 45 minutes or so, to show themselves again.
Sometimes, it turns out, we don’t find the great teachers just in the world around us, but in orbit around the world itself.


Magnolia Handspun said...

I love the whole learning part how it never really stops and starts...just is.

You are so lucky to have a co-op in your neck of the woods...I wish we did too, it makes it so much easier and great for the kids to learn with and from others as well.

They are excited for this new might involve some new family members...(animals)

June said...


We are so lucky to have the co-op. It's a vibrant community. Of course sometimes I just wish to have the girls all to myself and our day all to ourselves. That's why summer is hard to let go -- all the flow time!

New animals?? I'll be watching to see what appears...

Anonymous said...

why i am in awe home-schoolers, that learning is such a hands on experience and so much more entertaining and likely to stick!

sarah said...

How fun! We have a little rocket man next door. When he decides to launch we get to watch. I love him for that.
Wow...about watching dawn coming to earth.

tara said...

we've been quite the rocket scientists of late, as well~ although i have yet to find the mentor! just lots and lots of baking soda and vinegar...

happy not back to school~ i'm glad i've discovered your blog!

Wren said...

I was drawn immediately to the the person in the yellow poncho holding the rocket. What a wonderful experience ( i mean home schooling, not holding the rocket).

..floating in an endless sea of black with one bright light, the sun, illuminating the way.. amazing. Thanks for sharing this. I'll be thinking of it tonight in that space between being awake and finally drifting off to sleep.

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

Beautiful post and aren't we fortunate to have all that we do have surrounding us..freinds, writers, "notice-ers" and great bloggers like you who remind us of all that is ours..even if it just a few short trips around the sun :-)

Linda said...

How lucky to have such a science mentor. Who knows what paths it might set the children on. When my son was 8 we visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and now next week he's starting an engineering degree at university, with the idea that one day he might work for NASA.

Sounds as if you have a Rocket Woman there - 40 feet up a tree is impressive!

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