Interesting Scientific Discoveries in the News

Why the Greenland Vikings vanished– possibly globalization and climate change (brought on by a massive volcano).

“Giant oarfish are the longest known living species of bony fish, reaching a length of 56 feet (17 meters). They can weigh up to 600 pounds (270 kilograms).” National Geographic has more. I’ve been reading about them this week because last week a couple large ones washed up on the shore here in the Philippines. They are said to be omens of coming earthquakes, and it is true that a few days later, we felt a couple large enough to discombobulate our piece of mind during the movement.

Nasa telescope spots seven earthsized planets revolving around a single star in a habitable zone.
“In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star – classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.

The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.”

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Timetables, Principles, and Brains

Charlotte Mason: brilliant educator in England around the turn of the last century, author of several books, creator of the Parent’s National Education Union promoting her ideas about education (living books, treat children with respect, narration, nature study, include music and pictures and poetry, etc, etc). She also started a teacher training school where she taught future teachers and governesses her methods, which they implemented in the local school Miss Mason established for the practical implantation of her methods and to give her students at the Ambleside House of Education a place to put their learning into practice.

P.U.S. —a rather oozy acronym standing for Parents’ Union Schools

L’Umile Pianta- a little journal put out by graduates of her training program who wrote to discuss how to implement her ideas practically in the schools and homes where they worked.

Mason’s methods are firmly based in certain principles found in the front of each of her six volume set on education. She also had various practices, most of which illustrate the principles but are not, in general, to be mistaken for the principles. One was a requirement, the other an expedient.

One of those tools was a timetable, which was put together for the P.U.S. to follow. But sometimes, they struggled with that:

On the Possibility of Doing P.U.S. Work While Keeping Strictly to the Time-Tables. This was originally published in L’umile Pianta. It is written by a teacher in a PNEU school who has some frustrations with attempting to implement the timetables as written. You really must read it all, it is delicious and everybody who feels like a failure for not keeping perfectly to Mason’s timetables will feel much better.

From the final paragraph:

“I will refrain from enlarging upon the involved state of affairs when there are children working partly in one class and partly in another; nor will I discuss what happens when one has a child of 10 who cannot read. Suffice it to say that one is inclined to wish that either he would go away or else that every other child would vanish into empty air, leading one free to follow absolutely strictly one of the ideal timetables to which have been so cleverly, so thoughtfully, and so comprehensively drawn up.”

Even when Miss Mason was alive, it seems, teachers struggled to make the timetables fit the children they actually had, and it didn’t always work.

It is important to remember that while the timetables are very helpful because they illustrate some principles, they are not the principles.

And if you have not read Brandy’s post on sabotaging your homeschool, which I linked to previously, you really should. It is also very helpful.

In the comments there, somebody shared this quote from the book In Memoriam (a hagiographic little biography published after Miss Mason’s death):

“Perhaps this principle was specially evident during Criticism lessons on Thursday mornings when Miss Mason would criticise a student for doing what was, apparently, precisely the thing another student has been criticised for not doing the previous Thursday, thus reducing us to despair. For what were we to do? and when we asked for the precise recipe we were told to “mix it with brains.” Every lesson needs a special giving and the method is based upon broad principles which leave the teacher all the exercise of her own ingenuity.”

Learn as much as you can, work out your philosophy of education, understand what Miss Mason did, and more importantly why. Once you have established this foundation, all of us have to mix it with brains, dearies. Mix it with brains.

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Houseplants Grow Wild in the Philippines

Cordyline fruticosa:  This is a popular houseplant in the U.S.  It’s a native outdoor species in the tropical parts of Asia and in Hawaii, and it’s been introduced in Australia.  In Hawaii it was introduced quite some time ago- the Polynesians brought it with them as the rhizomes are edible (and said to be sweet) and the leaves were used to make the ‘grass’ hula skirts and also raincoats and rooves.   More below.




Things to notice:
The shape of the leaves (guide books and botanists would call them lance shaped)

The pattern to the way the leaves grow (spiral)

The colouring of the leaves (these are red, there are other varieties)

The colour and texture of the stem/trunk (unbranched, fairly smoothish, with leaf scars)

The colour of the flowers, number of petals, and the pattern of the way the flowers are joined together.  The word for this sort of dropping branches of flowers is ‘panicle.’

It is already spring here in the Philippines.  Later the flowers will probably be followed by small, round, reddish wine coloured fruit.

Other names: cabbage palm, good luck plant, palm lily, Hawaiian good luck, and Ti plant (there are still others, but those seem to be the most common English names.

More about this plant at Wikipedia

While this grows wild here in the tropics, because it is also a popular houseplant in the U.S. and Canada, you could study it at a local nursery or greenhouse, or bring one home.  If you are in the west and bring it home, know that it will probably not flower, and it would prefer high humidity.  If you have windows in your bathroom, that would be a good place for it.  From what I read, it is easy to propagate- it grows from stem cuttings.

Plant Division :
Angiosperms (Flowering Seed Plants)
Plant Growth Form :

In the old days, it was considered to be in the agave plant family.  Now it’s part of the asparagas family.  This is because the newest method of nomenclature for plants is based on DNA rather than appearance.


The APG IV system of flowering plant classification is the fourth version of a modern, mostly molecular-based, system of plant taxonomy for flowering plants (angiosperms) being developed by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG). It was published in 2016, seven years after its predecessor the APG III system was published in 2009, and 18 years after the first APG system was published in 1998.[1] In 2009, a linear arrangement of the system was published separately;[2] the APG IV paper includes such an arrangement, cross-referenced to the 2009 one.[1]



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Language Is Confusing

I *think* I mentioned that I learned I have been putting the accent on the wrong syllable when I say ‘good afternoon’ in Visayan. And by accenting the second syllable instead of the first, I have been telling people “Good Japanese,” or possibly ‘Good Japan,” but definitely not ‘Good afternoon.”

I also have had trouble sometimes when guiding drivers to our house. I say left (wala) and they repeat it, and then I think I am agreeing and I repeat it, and they say, “No?” and then start to go right. Very confusing. I started gesturing a lot more, but this is awkward since I am in back and they are in the driver’s seat. I began to wonder if I was wrong and wala doesn’t mean left at all, because it was so confusing.

The accent got me again. If you say wala in an even tone, it means left. But if you put any kind of emphasis on the second syllable, it means ‘not,’ which you can see changes everything.

Our household helper explained the difference to me today, and I was so relieved to understand what I have been doing wrong. Such a seemingly small thing and it makes all the difference in the world- the difference between getting where I want to go and getting hopelessly confused, the difference between easy communication between two people and a hopeless tangle of misunderstanding, all in a single accented syllable.

In daily life amongst other humans, those small things, little gestures, a smile, a moment to actually look at somebody and see him or her with your whole heart, letting somebody else in line ahead of you, telling somebody who is taking too much time in line at the grocery store that it’s not a problem and really meaning it, a shared stick of gum or offering a hand to somebody stepping out of a car or down a step- it takes a moment, but it might change everything for somebody else. In that moment, when you smile and something changes for them, you also are blessed, and the small gesture reflects back to you.
Put the accent where it belongs- on kindness, a charitable interpretation, and consideration for others.

P.S. She said Visayan made no sense, that was silly. But then I told her that the word hair in English could be pronounced exactly the same way, just spelled differently, and it meant a kind of rabbit, and we agreed that Visayan wasn’t so crazy after all.

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Comstock’s Nature Study and the Value of ‘I Do Not Know.’


No science professor in any university, if he be a man of high attainment, hesitates to say to his pupils, ” I do not know/’ if they ask for information beyond his knowledge. The greater his scientific reputation and erudition, the more readily, simply, and without apology he says this.
He, better than others, comprehends how vast is the region that lies beyond man’s present knowledge. It is only “the teacher in the elementary schools who has never received enough scientific training to re- veal to her how little she does know, who feels that she must appear to know everything or her pupils will lose confidence in her. But how useless is this pretense, in
nature-study! The pupils, whose younger eyes are much keener for details than hers, will soon discover her limitations and then
their distrust of her will be real.

In nature-study any teacher can with honor say, ” I do not know “; for perhaps the question asked is as yet unanswered by the great scientists. But she should not let lack of knowledge be a wet blanket
thrown over her pupils’ interest. She should say frankly, ” I do not know; let us see if we cannot together find out this mysterious thing. Maybe no one knows it as yet, and I wonder if you will discover
it before I do.”

She thus conveys the right impression, that only a little about the intricate life of plants and animals is yet known; and at the same time she makes pupils feel the thrill and zest of investigation. Nor will she lose their respect by doing this, if she does it in the right fashion.

The old teacher is too likely to become didactic, dogmatic, and “bossy” if she does not constantly strive with herself. Why? She has to be thus five days in the week and, therefore, she is likely to be so seven. She knows arithmetic, grammar, and geography to their uttermost, she is never allowed to forget that she knows them, and finally her interests become limited to what she knows.

After all, what is the chief sign of growing old? Is it not the feeling that we know all there is to be known? It is not years which make people old; it is ruts, and a limitation of interests. When we no longer care about anything except our own interests, we are then old, it matters not whether our years be twenty or eighty. It is rejuvenation for the teacher, thus growing old, to stand ignorant as a child in the presence of one of the simplest of nature’s miracles — the formation of a crystal, the evolution of the butterfly from the caterpillar, the exquisite adjustment of the silken lines in the spider’s orb web. I know how to “make magic” for the teacher who is growing old. Let her go out with her youngest pupil and reverently watch with him the miracle of the blossoming violet and say: “Dear Nature, I know naught of the wondrous life of these, your smallest creatures. Teach me!” and she will suddenly find herself young.

For three years I had for comrades in my walks afield two little children and they kept me busy saying, ” I do not know.” But they never lost confidence in me or in my knowledge; they simply gained respect for the vastness of the unknown.

The chief charm of nature-study would be taken away if it did not lead us through the border-land of knowledge into the realm of the undiscovered. Moreover, the teacher, in confessing her ignorance and at the same time her interest in a subject, establishes between herself and her pupils a sense of companionship which relieves the strain of discipline, and gives her a new and intimate relation with her pupils which will surely prove a potent
element in her success. The best teacher is always one who is the good comrade of her pupils.”

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