Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ah-hah moments in unexpected places

My daughter has done science experiments, science kits, science projects, and interactive science activities; she's read science books filled with fancy photographs and diagrams; she's watched stunning nature videos created with state-of-the-art technology. But she's never before had a real ah-ha moment--a moment in which she actually gasped out loud--until yesterday.

The precipitating event? A stripped down, schematic, no-bells-and-whistles demonstration of convection currents in magma in the middle of a Direct Instruction Earth Science video series.

It's the kind of series that would strike many people--particularly in education--as intensely dull and rote, structured, as it is, as a series of stripped-down, step-by-step lessons in pressure, density, temperature, and basic terrestrial features and astronomy. It's filled with frequent, repetitive quizzes that occupy at least as much disk space as the lessons do. My daughter, though she enjoys the lessons, complains about how often she's quizzed. And yet I can tell she's learning a lot.

I am, too. Never before have I seen these foundational concepts explained in such depth, and I'm learning stuff I never knew, with never a moment of distracting confusion about unclear explanations or missing steps. Suddenly, a lot of things I've wondered about over the years have started making sense to me. (I should say that I stopped taking science courses after high school, and that the courses I took were pretty darn mediocre--perhaps as much so as they are today.)

Why, at a fundamental level, does hot air rise? How and when do changes in pressure cause changes in temperature? What's really going on with subduction?

The first 12 lessons alternate between lessons on the phases of matter; lessons on atmosphere, continents, oceans, continental vs. oceanic crusts, magma, and the inner and outer cores; lessons on the earth's rotation, orbit, and orientation with respect to the sun; and lessons on volume, mass, density, temperature, and static and dynamic pressure.

To some extent, it's supplementing what she's been reading about in a standard middle school earth science textbook, which I had had her set aside once I acquired this video series (from one of the Direct Instruction folks out in Eugene, Oregon). I had felt that the textbook, for all its pictures and flowcharts and lengthy chapters, didn't explain core concepts in sufficient depth.

Anyway, we working our way through the video to convention cells (I'd never learned about these before) and the relative densities of basalt vs. granite (ditto!), when all of a sudden there was a lesson on how convention cells created by dynamic pressure in magma pull apart the crusts at mid-ocean ridges and cause subduction where oceanic plates meet continental plates. And H, who'd already seen many illustrated descriptions and fancy charts about earth quakes and volcanos in her Prentice-Hall Earth Science textbook, said "Oh!" And "That's why...", and "Now I see..."--and various combinations of all three.

Suddenly everything was coming together in a way that it never had before--deeply, meaningfully, and memorably. And it was all thanks to a structured, stripped down, step-by-step, back-to-basics approach, complete with repetitive quizzes, for which Direct Instruction is so reviled by so many people.

I don't think she'll ever forget what she's learned--nor will I. And the great thing is, we have 23 more lessons to go.


Anonymous said...

Hi! We are very new to homeschooling (though we have thought about doing it for years). Would you mind sharing the name of the video series you are referring to? We just started Earth Science over here. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I would also like to know about this video series. I searched for "direct instruction eugene" and came up with more than one organization.

momod4 said...

What grade level is the video?

C T said...

Yes, please. Links!

Katharine Beals said...

I've been trying to figure out if there's any info on the web. There is a general website,, but it doesn't yet include this product, as far as I can tell.

So for now all I have is ordering info:

A 79$ check along with mailing address....sent to ECIS, 31952 Bobcat,
Eugege, OR. 97405

I heard about this series through my subscription to the Direct Instruction list:

Here's the original info from the DI list:

Some of you may remember or have used Systems Impact's Earth Science videodisc program. It was authored by Engelmann-Becker Corp and produced in the late 80's. It was an extremely effective program that taught the big ideas of elementary/middle school earth science. Unfortunately, videodisc technology was quickly outdated and the replacement CD/DVD technology was not able to support the necessary programming structure.
New software applications, some clever programming, a lot of time now make it possible for ESP to offer the program on DVDs that can be projected for whole class presentation or used individually. The DVD program works the same way as the original program (actually a bit easier). As soon is up, there will be a short demo for those of you who are not familiar with the program. The 6 DVD set sells for $79 and includes all of the original content plus a DVD that contains PDFs of all student materials as well as the teacher's guide.

Auntie Ann said...

Katharine Beals said...

Thanks, Auntie Ann! That's it. I had searched the "DI Programs" page rather than the STORE page.

Anonymous said...

I think you mean convection cells.. Thinking about a large group of people coming together for a sales convention, rising and falling due to their different densities :)