January 18, 2014

Unexpected Lessons from Paleobiology!

The kids and I signed up for a Paleobiology class through Coursera, offered by the University of Alberta.  It's kind of mind blowing that if you're only in it for the knowledge, you can take any number of college courses for absolutely free these days.  I really don't care all that much about dinosaurs, but the kids sure do love them, and in the course intro it mentioned that it would teach dino anatomy by comparing it to human parts, which felt like a sneaky way to teach more general, people-based science words.  So why not give it a go?

Well, we're a few weeks in now, and it's been great so far!  

The main way that they classify dinosarus is by their hip bones, which mean that the word "pubis" is particularly overused.  Ha!  "So, guys, in the saurischia, the pubis points forward, but in the ornithischia  the pubis points backwards.  Got it?"  As soon as I said that out loud, I paused...  No giggles?  No snickers?  No, "Ha!  She said pubis!"  None of it.

And that's when I knew that some things are just easier to teach to young kiddos.  You couldn't have paid me enough to say the word pubis when I was teaching middle school.  My face would have gotten all hot and red as the boys whispered and the girls giggled.  But not with little kids.  They're just like, "Yup!  That must be one of the ornithischia because obviously the pubis points backwards."  It's like really no big deal. 

Also, this is such a great, low pressure way to teach note taking skills.  I can actually remember the moment I realized that taking proper notes was a specific skill set that I was weak in.  It was 7th grade and I was writing furiously, probably every single word spoken with no selection process, and then I noticed that the girl beside me knew some shorthand symbols and abbreviations that I had never seen before, like b/c and &.  Talk about handy!

Anyway, with the video lectures, we've been able to talk about being selective about what we write down.  How, if the words appears on the screen (or in some theoretical classroom other than mine, on the chalk board or white board), then you darn well better write it on your paper because that's a clue that it's important.  

With the video lectures, we can pause and write, and I've found myself in the kitchen doing dishes, but listening to the lecture and yelling, "That sounded important!  Was there a word on the screen?  Well, did you write it down?  Pause the video and write it down!"  I can almost hear them rolling their eyes, but it's good practice for later times.  

Then we go back through and organize our notes, basically taking them down twice, because I want the kids to see how much easier they are to reference when they are indented strategically, shortened here and there, and terms are underlined, etc.  Where they might write one gigantic paragraph of notes, I will break notes up on the white board for them, like the ones in the picture above, and we'll discuss them a second time while we copy them into a more usable format.  

So, I now know more about dinosaurs than I ever cared to, AND I know the names of more bones in my body that I ever have.  The kids are picking up on Latin roots all on their own, and drawing connections between prefixes and classifications based on certain body parts.  They're learning to take efficient notes and how to say pubis without laughing.  It's fantastic!

I highly recommend checking out the list of free courses you can take on via Coursera.  There's an unbelievable array of classes that you can take for free, or if you're willing to pay an exam fee, you can actually get real transferable college credit for some of them.  There are things like music composition through a university in Singapore, Medical Neuroscience through Duke, or Global Sustainable Energy through University of Florida.  You can know it all for free!!!  It's an amazing time that we live in!  

And if you find a class your kids are interested, don't pass over it because they're kids and it's a college course.  Take it for exposure's sake, learn some new words, and get familiar with the concepts!  Plus, what better way to model life long learning than taking a college class for the fun of it?  

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