David Macaulay’s Visualizations

Few have mastered the big picture better than artist David Macaulay. When a kid wants to know about pyramids or castles introduce him/her to Macaulay’s books. Macaulay dissects the parts in kid-obsessive detail while keeping his eye on the whole. And he shows how it all grows in time. His uncanny ability to x-ray complex places makes him the master guide to the built world. Of all his books, Underground is his most revelatory. Even adults will find themselves studying each page of “the city underneath the city” in aha enlightenment. Oh, so THAT’S how it works! Macaulay revisited three of his early books — Castle, Cathedral, and Mosque– creating new even more amazing visualizations, and combined the books into one new book called Built to Last. It’s a short course on civilization for kids.

-- KK  

Pyramid
David Macaulay
1982, 80 pages
$9
Available from Amazon

Underground
David Macaulay
1983, 112 pages
$9
Available from Amazon

Built to Last
David Macaulay
2010, 272 pages
$17
Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

From Underground

underground1sm

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underground3sm

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underground2sm

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From Built to Last

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built-to-last2sm

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built-to-last3sm




Cargo-Bot

The object of Cargo-bot is to write programs that control a robotic arm to move, sort, and stack colored crates. The computer language is a simple instruction set consisting of of squares that tell the arm which direction to move, and whether or not to perform an action based on the color of the crate. You write the programs by dragging and dropping the instruction squares into a sequence that causes the arm to perform the assigned task. You can also write programs that execute other programs you’ve written. (This is important because each program has space for just 8 squares, so you need to be able to write efficient code to complete the challenges). The challenges start out easy but become maddeningly difficult as you progress. With subroutines, if-then statements, and plenty of opportunities to practice debugging, it’s a good way to get kids to think like a programmer. You can also record a video of your program in action and share it to YouTube.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  



The Teenage Liberation Handbook

This book is radical. It tries to persuade teenagers to drop out of high school — in order to “get a real life and education” as its subtitle says. This is a dangerous thing to give to your child, because there is a significant correlation between amount of formal education and almost any outcome you care about, including longevity, divorce and poverty rates. Yet informal homeschoolers and unschoolers are outside of that measurement, and by most accounts are doing super. As a college dropout myself, I am sympathetic to alternatives to school.

The purpose of this book is to encourage the teen to make their education their own responsibility. They can remain at school, or as a homeschool take only some classes, or find apprenticeships, volunteer, or even skip directly to college. In short they are designing their own self-education, where ever it may happen. Along the way they develop a better idea of themselves and many more life skills then they would in formal school.

Today as the quality of the average public education declines these ideas are not as extreme as when the book was first written in 1991, but they still aren’t as accepted and common as they should be either.

This is a dense, packed book, overflowing with ideas, tips, anecdotes, cautions, and multiple views — all speaking to the teen and not to parents. It does not lay out a 1, 2, 3 plan. It is messy, challenging. The book itself is probably a pretty good filter for whether the idea of self-education is a match for a young person.

Our son petitioned us to be unschooled, and it turned out that one year when he was 12 was sufficient. It was one of the best years in our lives. Yet in his liberation from school, he discovered what learning “on his own” really meant. It’s challenging. He then choose to go to high school, but with a new attitude that he was in charge of how much and how well he learned. That new found responsibility for his own education made that one year of unschooling totally worthwhile.

There is a whole slew of homeschooling textbooks, advice, and well-crafted tutorials. All directed to parents. This is not one of those. This is a scribbled permission slip giving a teenage permission to consider alternatives for their own education.

-- KK  

The Teenage Liberation Handbook
Grace Llewellyn
1998, 435 pages
$20

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

This book is a wild card, a shot in the dark, a hopeful prayer.

This book wants you to quit school and do what you love. Yes, I know, that’s the weirdest thing you ever heard. Hoping to make this idea feel possible to you, I tell about teenagers who are already living happy lives without school, and I offer lots of ideas and strategies to help you get a real life and convince your adults to cooperate.

“Excuse me?” you interrupt, “Quit school? Right. And throw away my future and pump gas all my life and get Addicted to Drugs and be totally lost in today’s world. Right.”

If you said that, please feel free to march straight to the nearest schoolperson and receive a bushel of gold stars, extra credit points, and proud smiles. You’ve learned exactly what they taught you. After you get tired of sticking stars to your locker, do please come back and read further.

*

Suggest a trial run. you could start unschooling in the middle of August, so they have a couple weeks to see how you manage. Also, that would allow you to recover from the previous school year. You could agree that if they’re not satisfied with your way of educating yourself, that you go to school. A drawback to this sort of timing is that you may feel cheated out of your normal summer vacation, and thus not as exhilarated as you would if you quit in, say, October. Also, the whole idea of being watched and evaluated runs contrary to the idea of pursuing interests because you want to. Still, you could probably psyche yourself into it and make it work.

*

If you are completely confused as to how to start structuring your life, here’s one way: Do “academics” for two hours each day–not necessarily lots of subjects, or the same ones every day. You are not going to dry up in you don’t do 45 minutes every day of “social studies.” Do some kind of “work” or project for four hours. In your leftover time, read, see friends, talk with mom and pop, make tabouli. Take Saturdays and Sundays off. Sound arbitrary? It is. I made it up, although it is based on a loose sort of “average” of the lives of a hundred unschoolers, mostly college-bound. Once you try this schedule for month, you will know how you want to change it.

*

This book has said a lot of nasty things about school. Now it’s going to say something nice. Schools have darkrooms, weight rooms, computers, microscopes, balance beams, libraries. They have choirs, bands, track teams, maybe even a Spanish class you want to take. Many enterprising homeschoolers have found ways to use the school resources they want without having to endure everything else.

This chapter tells about a few of those ways schools can cooperate with homeschoolers, and gives examples of particular homeschoolers who have taken advantage of school resources. If the schools in your area have never tried anything like this, you can pass this information along to them, and assist them in setting up a program that helps both you and them. Yes, them.




Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Now in its fourth revision, this remains the best guide for learning how to draw. I used it with my son, and his progress was remarkable. It has also helped my own drawing skills. I actually looked forward to the exercises which are brilliant and fun. In order to draw you must learn to see, and that’s what this book teaches: how to perceive. Because this perception training relies on strengthening right brain activity, it can be transferred to any kind of creative work. In each edition over the past 30 years, the author has widened the skills she is teaching, so that this current version will improve your perception skills — essential for any kind of innovation — whether or not you ever sketch. And still, it remains the best teacher for anyone — yes, anyone! — learning to how to draw.

-- KK  

[Count me as another fan of this book. Like Kevin says, it teaches you to see things as they are. Instead of looking at a tree and thinking "this is a tree," you look at its shapes (and how they relate to each other) and its shading. -- Mark]

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
Betty Edwards
2012, 320 pages
$13

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

A caution: as all of our students discover, sooner or later, the left hemisphere is the Great Saboteur of endeavors in art. When you draw, it will be set aside–left out of the game. Therefore, it will find endless reasons for you not to draw: you need to go to the market, balance your checkbook, phone your mother, plan your vacation, or do that work you brought home from the office.

What is the strategy to combat that? The same strategy. Present your brain with a job that your left hemisphere will turn down. Copy an upside-down photograph, regard a negative space and draw it, or simply start drawing. Jogging, meditation, games, music, cooking, gardening–countless activities also produce a cognitive shift. The left hemisphere will drop out, again tricked out of its dominance. And oddly, given the great power and force of the left hemisphere, it can be tricked over and over with the same tricks.

*

Drawing is a curious process, so intertwined with seeing the that the two can hardly be separated. The ability to draw depends on one’s ability to see the way an artist sees. This kind of seeing, for most people, requires teaching, because the artist’s way of seeing is very specific and very different from the ways we ordinarily use vision to navigate our lives.

Because of this unusual requirement, teaching someone to draw has some special problems. It is very much like teaching someone to ride a bicycle: both skills are difficult to explain in words.

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Drawing as a learning, teachable skill

I firmly believe that given good instruction, drawing is a skill that can be learned by every normal person with average eyesight and average hand-eye coordination. Someone with sufficient ability, for example, to sign a receipt or to type out an e-mail or text message can learn to draw.

*

These pre-existing skills have nothing to do with potential to draw well. What the pre-instructions drawings represent is the age at which the person last drew, often coinciding with the age at which the person gave up trying to draw.

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drawing-on-the-right1sm

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To draw the Picasso upside down, move from line to adjacent line, space to adjacent shape and work your way through the drawing.

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Ideally (in my view), learning in art should proceed as follows: the perception of edges (line) leads to the perception of shapes (negative spaces and positive shapes), drawn in correct proportion and perspective (sighting). These skills lead to the perception of values (light logic), which leads to the perception of colors as values, which leads to painting.




Celestron FirstScope

The Celestron FirstScope is the best pick for an absolute beginner level telescope. Most entry-level scopes are crap, and most useable scopes start at $300. Since the FirstScope costs only $42, you might be tempted to dismiss it as more useless junk. But I’ve been using the FirstScope, and it is sweet. It needs a sturdy chair or table to perch on, but otherwise is easy to handle. It is compact for storage; it can fit onto a shelf — and it is the perfect size for a small kid. Pretty durable, too. With its 3-inch mirror you can see moons of Jupiter, ring of Saturn, and lunar craters. (I missed that recent comet.) Many other buyers mention that if you substitute decent eyepieces (from another scope) it improves the view tremendously. With one of those you can view a few bright galaxies. It will also focus as close as 30 feet away; we’ve used it as a terrestrial telephoto lens to scan the wildlife on the mountain behind our house.

This is an adequate first telescope to try out sky watching for a small investment. If you want to invest into a higher quality telescope, I recommend Ed Ting’s reviews at ScopeReview. It was Ed Ting’s raves about this little gem that turned me onto the FirstScope in the first place.

celestron-2

-- KK  

Celestron 21024 FirstScope Telescope
$42

Available from Amazon



Safari Books Online

I’ve had a subscription to Safari for over five years now. For a monthly fee (pricing is dependent on the plan you choose), Safari grants you instant access to thousands of tech and business-related digital books. New titles become available surprisingly regularly and quickly (occasionally Safari will get the digital version of a title before Amazon does). In short, the service gives me access to a wealth of knowledge in a much less expensive and more convenient manner than any alternative.

-- Loren Bast  

[Here is a list of titles that Safari offers as part of their service.--OH]

Safari Books Online
Available from Safari Books
$20 for 10 books per month
$46 for unlimited
Yearly subscriptions available



Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game

You can probably learn to butcher an animal better from watching a YouTube video than you can from reading text, but this classic book will help you evaluate what you see on YouTube. It gives you the context, reasoning, and background of the moves you see in the videos. It also gives you the instructions in clear text. I find it helps me sort out the cacophony of the different methods seen in amateur videos. Beef, pork, lamb, venison, rabbit and poultry are covered. And of course, if the Internet goes down, this clearly illustrated book is always there.

-- KK  

Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game
John J. Mettler
1986, 208 pages
$11

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

The animal must be killed quickly, with little or no pain, but more important is that death comes without fear. To allow an animal to become frightened at slaughter is not only cruel, but unwise, for it causes the release of adrenaline, which some believe can affect the quality of the meat. Also, fear may cause the animal to struggle, doing damage to its meat or injuring the person slaughtering. Select the method of killing that will upset the animal’s routine least, thus avoiding fear, and select a method that is sudden, thus avoiding pain.

*

Shoot or stun the lamb as close as possible to the point where two imaginary lines drawn from eye to ear intersect, as shown.

*

A. Hang the animal by one hock on a screwhook, and remove the other rear leg at the hock joint, the front feet, and the tail. B. Start to skin the carcass with a knife, but then peel the entire hide down the body.




Quick Graph

I recently returned to school after a long hiatus. While learning pre-calc and calculus, I found Quick Graph for iOS to be the best graphing calculator. It graphs both 2D and 3D functions. The app also handles multiple functions which are allocated different colors automatically. Unlike stand-alone calculators you can zoom in and out with standard pinch gestures, and in 3D you can rotate the graph in any direction. It also helps that the interface is intuitive: for instance to change the color of your function, there is a little arrow bullet in your current color next to your function in the function list: you just click it and it opens a color selection dialog.

The free version is very functional and has no ads or annoyances. The full version gives extra features such as unlimited functions (free is limited to 6) and tracing the graph by tap and hold (it is easy estimate the same data in the free version, but it won’t give you the exact value).

Unfortunately, my iPhone broke and I am now using Android on which I have not found a graphing app of the same level of intuitive design.

-- Aryeh Abramovitz  

[Note: If you're in school, make sure to check with your professor before trying to use an iPhone application like this on a test as I know many programs mandate the use of a stand alone calculator.--OH]

Quick Graph
iOS (iPad and iPhone)
Free, or $2 for Quick Graph +
Available from iTunes App Store

Produced by KZ Labs

If anyone has a recommendation for a solid graphing application on Android please let us know and I'll add it to the review! --OH

Sample Excerpts:

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Dragon Box

I recently downloaded this game on the basis of an article I read in Wired. Intrigued, I purchased it and installed it onto a tablet my children use (when we’re feeling generous!) My eight year old son immediately sat down and ran through the first two banks of problems without hesitation. It was amazing.

The premise of the game is simple: it presents algebraic problems as a game. Given two sheets of paper (presented as left and right halves of the screen), a box (the value for which you are solving), and some cards (coefficients), remove all cards from the box side of the screen. It takes about two seconds for you to understand that this is how basic algebra would work: simplify equations and solve for ‘x’. The manner in which this app presents that is nothing short of genius.

You are given the usual start-up choices of “Play”, “Options”, “Web”, and “Quit”. Put aside “Options” (it does what you think, sound and music volumes) and “Web” (jumps to homepage), and press “Play”. The game immediately shows you everything you need to know, step-by-step, to play.  You think you’re in the tutorial, and you are, but you are also in the game.  It teaches you new techniques as you need them.  In effect, you end up finishing the first bank or level without even realizing it.

Here’s the next best part: instead of cartoon “cards”, the games starts replacing the cartoons with actual letters and numbers. I’m not even halfway through the game — it’s primarily for the boy — but I can already anticipate that by the end, he’ll be able to solve a polynomial without really knowing “polynomial” as a word. There are two options to buy. At six bucks I chose the “plus” version which has the 100 puzzles of the three bucks option, and an extra 100 quiz puzzles.

After a few weeks of trying out the app it remains amazing. I had a lady sitting next to me on the train, and on a whim I asked her if she liked math. She said something to the effect of “it’s okay” and then I asked her how her algebra was. She told me she failed it in high school. So, I launched Dragonbox on my tablet, handed it to her, and asked her to play the game.

The game has no help instructions; the first dozen levels teach you the game. She finished the level in record time, thoroughly impressed, writing down the app name. She then told me she was a teacher, and her current job was evaluating teaching materials! What luck!

I have a six and eight year old, and they both ran through it without many hitches. In fact, the same admonition for math — “check your work!” — is equally true with this, so it reinforces a basic discipline as well. This is the best educational game I have ever seen.

For six bucks I have my son learning algebra on his summer vacation. Try to beat that.

-- Christopher Wanko  

Dragon Box
iOS and Android
$6

Available from iTunes Store and Google Play

Produced by WeWantToKnow



Thinking With a Pencil

Henning Nelms’ classic Thinking With a Pencil should be a textbook in elementary school. Kids could then use the quick visualization skills Nelms teaches for the rest of their lives to help communicate, sell, and envision new products, services, and worlds. I know I wish I had gotten my hands on this book well before my engineering school days. I’ve used these skills to wireframe websites, diagram manufacturing lines, and sell process improvement projects to prospective clients. There is something in here for everyone as Nelms emphasizes the use of drawing in all disciplines.

The book was first published in 1957, but was republished in 1986 by Ten Speed Press, and is available used today. I think I learned about the book from the Whole Earth Catalog, too.

-- James Hom  

Thinking With A Pencil
Henning Nelms
First Edition
1986, 347 pages

Available used from Abe Books

Available from Amazon