Thursday, March 1, 2012

Armchair Geology (Rocks, Minerals, and Earth Science for Homeschoolers, Part 3)

Continued from Part 2.  You had a great field trip, you went out and had a great time looking at those sparkly stones, or those cliffs, or that rocky shoreline.  Or maybe the weather is bad and you are waiting for summer adventures.  What now?  How do you learn more, or encourage questions, or get more inspiration? 

OMG ya'll.  So many ways.  It's hard to go really wrong.  The only way to go wrong would be to stop now.  Natural history museums, websites, and tv shows are great, but a good book is something special.  Good books rock! (pun intended.)  So that is where I focus here, starting with guidebooks, then some engaging topics on the rock cycle and general geology topics, and finishing with a long list of my favorite kinds of books--the ones that explore history and the connections between us humans and the physical earth. As usual, for each general topic I've tried to recommend solid titles for each level, elementary to high school and adult.

A note on curriculum:  I do not think a "curriculum" is necessary to learn a lot about rocks, minerals, and earth science,  but if that is what you are looking for, my favorite science curriculum in Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding.  I'll do a review of that someday, but suffice it to say it is a robust, wide-ranging science curriculum that integrates all the strands of science.  It works great for my kids and my natural approach.  If you take a different approach than I, and want  to teach one subsection of science at at time with more explicit direct instructions or workbook pages to complete, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey's Earth & Space is solid for early elementary.  Intellego Unit Studies also offer interesting units on earth science topics.  With that said, though, a decent small rock collection like this one can really enrich any rocks and minerals curriculum and is highly recommended.  Now, on to the book lists!

Rocks and Minerals Guidebooks are best when they have beautiful pictures and interesting information, not just dry statistics or drawings that do not show a rock clearly.  My favorites:
  • For early elementary, Rocks and Minerals (Eye Wonder) can be a good choice. 
  • My kids like the Eye Wonder book, but often prefer to flip through a solid but approachable guidebook for adults like the Smithsonian or DK Pockets.  These are also nice to slip in a backpack for a field trip.
  • If you have an older elementary to adult enthusiast in the house,  Smithsonian Rock and Gem and Smithsonian Earth are gorgeous.  Can be a wonderful gift in addition to fascinating browsing.

General Geology and the Rock Cycle

The Good Stuff! Where Geology and Human History Connect.  IMO one of the best ways to encourage interest in earth science topics is to study how humans have used, studied, and interacted with the earth and the world around us.  The books below cover a wide variety of earth science topics and include some of my favorite books.  Some in the homeschooling world would call most of these "living books".  I find that name a little silly.  They are just good books written in an engaging, narrative way that can turn a dry subject into something fascinating. 
  • Have you ever really noticed salt?  Seriously.  It's the only stone people eat, and they used to fight wars over it.  Two books by Mark Kurlansky are very good: The Story of Salt for kids, and Salt: A World History for adults.
  • If you want to think BIG, and read about the evolution of the earth, touching on changing theories over time, famous scientists, and many other science topics, Bill Bryson has written just the thing, with humor and enthusiasm.  A Really Short History of Nearly Everything for kids, and A Short History of Nearly Everything for high school/adult.
  • Sometime when you're at the beach pull out the magnifying glass and look at the sand.  Then come home and compare your beach sand to the beautiful photos in A Grain of Sand: Nature's Secret Wonder by Dr. Gary Greenberg.  For young kids, Jump Into Science: Sand could be worthwhile. The website has amazing photos of sand from all over the world. 
  • If you liked the close up photos in the above title, the close up photos of minerals and precious stones in Within the Stone: Nature's Abstract Art by Bill Atkinson might blow your mind.  I have used this book for inspiration for art projects more than once.
  • Many people are fascinated by diamonds.  For the youngest, The Rock Factory is a gentle choice that also covers the rock cycle.  The discovery of diamonds in Canada in recent history is also fascinating-- for late elementary through middle school this story is told in Treasure Under the Tundra.  For adults, the same story is told in Barren Lands by Kevin Krajick, which is one of my top 10 geology books ever.
  • The story of gems and precious stones is wrapped up with stories of power and intrigue throughout human history.  The best of these for adults is Jewels: A Secret History, by Victoria Finlay.  Ms. Finlay also wrote the fascinating book Color: A Natural History of the Palette about pigments, many of which are rare stones.  Either of these books could be a great choice for high school or a read-aloud for older elementary or higher.
  • Most people don't think much about building stone, but people have built their homes and workspaces from stone since time immemorial.  For adults/high school, Stories in Stone: Travels in Urban Geology by David Williams explores the sites and stories of many historic stone sites in North America.  What's So Great about Granite? by Jennifer Carey covers similar information but skews younger.  Stone Wall Secrets by Kristine and Robert Thorson is for older elementary and is very well done. 
  • Most people realize that coal is an important, but dirty, source of power.  But what else do you know about it, was it always this way?  Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese tells more of the story for high school/adults. A slice of life in coal mining country in the early 1900s is told for late elementary and middle school in Growing Up in Coal Country by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  For the younger elementary students, Coal by Ron Edwards is a gentle introduction to this complex subject.
  • Poetry and prose.  Rocks and stone and our interactions with them can be poetic.  Really.  Try Byrd Baylor books like Everybody Needs A Rock for kids, or Terry Tempest Williams Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert for high school/adult. 
Whew!  I better quit while I'm ahead.  This list may change over time, I'm always finding new books and there are many more good titles on other earth science topics, too.  I've got lists already on volcanoesdinosaurs/paleontology, and Washington State geology, but drop me a line if you'd like any more specific recommendations, it might end up as a future book list post!

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