This is going to be part book review and part-homeschooling-fail-story. But with a happy ending. (Wait for it.)
First, the homeschooling fail. John has been studying origins of life and evolution this fall. I purchased a computer based unit study for him to use. This was an unusual purchase for us but I thought it might be nice for him to have something he could do independently. After a few weeks, I kind of knew the unit study wasn’t working. It was a little too advanced and written more for the classroom than a homeschool, which meant I had to do a lot of adapting (and lost all the benefit of having it be an independent study). I also could tell it was a little dry but I stubbornly stuck with it, thinking we’d just finish it (checking off the boxes). Last week, I gave him an assignment from the unit study. Without me knowing, he read much more than I intended of some difficult material, and was left frustrated, confused and worst of all (from his science-loving mother’s perspective) BORED. This is my child who has always loved science and I had managed to make science boring. Fantastic. Epic fail.
Begin book review. I had decided we would move on from the origins of life study. I think he has a grasp of the concepts appropriate for 5th grade and I felt like we needed to dump the unit study. Then over the weekend I read The Skull in the Rock by Lee R. Berger and Marc Aronson as part of my Cybils’ panelist duties. (I say that like it’s oh, so, onerous to have to read great picture books.) I was mesmerized by the story they told. Lee Berger is a paleoanthropologist living and working in South Africa. The book details the discovery by his son, Matthew, of a fossil that turned out to be the clavicle of an entirely new species (Australopithecus sediba) previously unknown.
The author begins with then 9 year old Matthew’s discovery (a fantastic hook for any science loving kid) and then backtracks to give a brief overview of Lee Berger’s life, focusing on events that led him to his current career. Aronson and Berger weave together the story of this one particular hominin species and why it is such an important find. They also discuss how fossil hunters go about narrowing down the search, looking for the “beautiful anomaly”. Detailed photographs show exactly how Lee and his team look for fossils amongst a wall of rock and how they used Google Earth to narrow down their search. There is ample material included at the end to provide the interested reader with more places to look. Perhaps most unique is a website (www.scimania.org) established by Aronson and Berger that will be updated with new discoveries on sediba.
And now for the happy ending to my homeschooling story. I gave The Skull in the Rock to John to read today. He loved it and thought it was “so cool”. Lesson learned. Don’t be afraid to dump what isn’t working. Much better not to “finish” something than to end up bored. And a good non-fiction picture book can beat any computer based unit study any day.
This book is a nominee for a Cybils Award in the Elementary and Middle Grade Non-Fiction category for which I am a Round 1 panelist. I obtained a copy of the book from my library. My opinions are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of the other panelists.