How I started UMH
I have long had a concern about the teaching of science. Most of the materials on the market are so scattered that I cannot think that children will have a clear concept of the meaning and value of science, nor any feeling that they can master its contents in an orderly manner. Indeed, most texts are centered on defining science as the product of a specific "method" of thought which has to do with hypotheses and experiments and records and reports. Boring ...and not at all the way Einstein or anybody else I know of actually operated. Anyway, Natural Science was born in response to the command in Genesis: "Increase and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." We cannot subdue -- or exert stewardship -- over what we do not understand. Science is about understanding the material world, our very exciting and beautiful home. In the spring of 2000, members of the local homeschool support group met for a week's science camp, and the next two years, followed up with weekly (almost weekly) science lessons. These were the origin of this book. The principle of organization is to understand the magnitudes -- the sizes -- of things and how their scale limits what they can be and do. A star, for example, cannot be much smaller than our sun -- except by being fantastically dense -- because the nature of stars requires that their gravity bring about their burning. A fly doesn't have enough gravity to burn that way. The planet Jupiter has almost enough. With the curriculum organized around magnitudes, we had a principle of order for studying the relationships between all the disciplines of natural science, and as our body of knowledge increased, it was always interactive with previous information. Furthermore, there are only about 45 magnitudes to consider between the quark and the universe; this is a small enough number for any child to comprehend. He can finish the course feeling that he knows the universe -- and why not? It is his home. The science camp material is now available, suitable for a camp, or a semester, or a year's work -- maybe more. It includes:
1. A 250 page book about the 45 orders of magnitude -- sorted by powers of ten -- which form the universe as far as we know it. The book goes very slowly through the nine orders readily recognizable to ordinary sight -- from a meter down to a tenth of a millimeter, and then up to ten kilometers. (It is really essential to use metric measure for this exercise; it is not assumed that the student already knows it.)
2. A set of 45 cardstock dividers, numbered and color-coded, one for each order of magnitude. These are to be placed in a notebook and materials collected illustrating objects at each magnitude are to be placed in each section by the student. These materials can be pasted pictures, drawings, reports, web printouts -- whatever best represents what the student has considered at that order of magnitude, and according to his level of comprehension.
The color-coding of the dividers suggests the primary area of the natural sciences that is engaged at that size range. For example, the smallest things that we consider -- electrons and protons, are studied in physics. The next smallest -- molecules -- are the study of chemistry. Biology is only possible with enough size to build cells that hold water and are partitioned for the activities of life. And so forth.
Cost for book $15, plus divider tabs $25,
bundle discount for both book & divider $35.
See below for CD
Questions about The Universe in My Hands
A: The Universe is our home. It is not meant to be bewildering (see that world “wild” in bewildering!) to us, but should feel familiar, and yet wonderful, like a butterfly that we can hold and admire. Looking at the sizes of universe objects allows us organize scientific information in a simple yet surprisingly meaningful way. Though size seems a minor attribute of the material objects in the universe, it turns out to be a major determinant of their properties. For example, the visible stars come in only four sizes, divided by powers of ten, because smaller ones are too dim to see or even too small to ignite, while larger ones generally collapse into black holes. This is only part of the story, but every sort of object has interesting limitations based on its size.
A: In addition to the original five units, The Universe in My Hands ~ 2007 has five interlude chapters, in which specific objects are discussed in terms of their sizes and the sizes of their parts. Thus while the five principal units discuss sizes and the objects that inhabit them, each interlude presents a single object and the sizes that enfold it and its parts. These chapters show how the concept of size clarifies our scientific understanding. Size is not just an elementary classification scheme; it’s a real and startling quality.
I should add that the old chapters also have more in them, more drawings, more exercises, more questions (with answers), more research ideas, and more resource suggestions.
A: Ultimate teacher support is really about communicating excitement, not measuring the immeasurable in the minds of students. However, the new edition includes a set of worksheets and a set of tests (and answers) for three of the five units. These were composed by Ruth Daly who used the book in a small but very demanding school setting and has willingly shared her resources. These challenging pieces will help students to review their work and put it together in a new way. I hope they will not be allowed to subtract from the excitement.
I don't have a good science background myself...
A: If you can't find help in the neighborhood, feel free to skip whatever you need to, and move on. The program is intended to be useful for a first-grader, just putting one image in each divider and learning to name its size. The younger set can also shuffle their imges and then sort them in order of size. Some other day, you can do it again and fine tune your understanding. That's how I wrote it! Don't worry about questions at the end of the chapter. They were put in as an extra measure of support and practice. If they are beyond your present abilities, you can still go on.
A. Welcome to home education; smell the roses. After you smell them, notice how large they are, and think a bit about why they are not larger or smaller. There’s always a reason. Hopefully, when you get to the beetles you will still find it interesting. And then the fragrance molecules, and then the chemical elements.
Going the other way, maybe the rose bush is on a mountain, and above the mountain is the jet stream; above that, Jupiter, the constellations, and the Milky Way.
I taught UMH for 3 semesters the first time, and suddenly, I knew that the kids were tired of jumping around. We sat down and did geology next, and since then I’ve done UMH every 3 years or so, but the kids who are onto it keep filing their other work in the same divider. It’s pretty fat after a few years! My rule of thumb is: Never stop a learning event that is actually taking place in the hope of starting a better one.
With UMH, you’ll always have a plan waiting when you’re ready to move on.
UMH is like one of those Russian doll sets called Matreshkas -- where one doll is nested within another. Similarly, a rose bush lives in a landscape, within a geological setting, within a climate system, on our planet, inside the solar system, inside the local arm of the Galaxy, inside the Milky Way itself, inside the universe. And in reverse, within the rose petal we find its veins, within the veins, cells, within the cells nuclei, and DNA within the nuclei, all made of molecules, all composed of atoms, all containing protons composed of quarks. You're always studying the Universe Matrashka. It doesn't take a PhD to love a Matreshka, though there's always more to learn, all the way up to a PhD. (I have always loved nesting boxes, so maybe I was bound to write the UMH.)
CD for the Universe in My Hands and A Doorway of Amethyst (Beginning Geology)
On this CD, recorded at a Home School Conference in Milwaukee by St. Joseph's Communications, is a great companion to Universe in My Hands and A Doorway of Amethyst - Beginning Geology. This CD is a St. Joseph Radio recording of two talks, one on the concept of magnitudes laid out in The Universe in My Hands, and the second on basic geology as outlined in Doorway of Amethyst. Some of our children have vocations in the natural sciences; these resources will help you to support them.
Because of the enthusiasm of the Milwaukee community, we realized it would be a helpful way to introduce, support, and inspire other users of the magnitudes program.
Cost for CD: $8.00