Journal | November 2018

Someone told me we need another child so we can cover all 7 colours of the rainbow. As they say in Australia: yeah, nah 😁

Eureka!

The big aha! moment was seeing how much school children love YouTube stars. OK, maybe I should say “stars”. And by “stars” I mean people that have at least one YouTube video with them in it.

So, I planned on going to McCallums Hill PS to read to the Stage 1 students and do some physics activities. It was a great time and we all had a lot of fun.

But, what I didn’t expect was for the teachers and students to do a little research on me before I arrived. At some point they came across this video from the Perimeter Institute.

And, that was it, they decide I was a YouTube star 😂 When I arrive they swarmed me asking, “Are you the author from YouTube?!” Then they took turns taking pictures with me. It was all very charming and amusing.

Reading!

Children’s Literature Recommendations

Doll-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey

Fun illustrations and story of the technology infused world of today’s children. It’ll fit great in any bedtime picture book rotation. It also works to motivate the tinkerer in young listeners.

Ada Lace is on the Case by Emily Calandrelli and Renaee Kurilla

One of the few “first chapter books” that isn’t all about problems encountered at school. Ada, the main character, has to investigate and solve a neighborhood mystery that had my kids thinking and guessing along the way. Whereas many STEM-inspired fiction in this reading category resort to science fiction, Ada Lace sticks to real science and engineering.

Amulet 2 & 3 by Kazu Kibuishi

We continued reading the Amulet graphic novel series. It only gets better! We definitely recommend this for any age. Again, reading aloud a graphic novel may seem counterintuitive, but it definitely works!

Adult Literature September Reads

This Idea Is Brilliant: Lost, Overlooked, and Underappreciated Scientific Concepts Everyone Should Know by John Brockman

This is such a great book to have lying around. It is so easy to dip in and out of. Each chapter is a unique description of a new scientific idea. While they are on the shallow side (think: somewhere between a tweet and a TED talk), the book makes up for it in quantity. I really enjoyed learning about so many new scientific ideas.

Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray

Read this book whether you have children or not. It’s not just a story about children and schooling, but one of Western society more generally. It really sharpened my observations of my own children’s experience in the school system. There is plenty of advice in here for parents.

Currently reading: Woo’s Wonderful World of Maths by Eddie Woo

Writing!

Wow! 8 Little Planets was named Best Children’s Book 2018 for ages 0-2 by Amazon!

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Next year, some books on engineering topics will be released. Here is the final version of the first cover! It’s ABCs of Engineering with my amazing co-author, engineer and lasers-in-space physicist, Dr Sarah Kaiser.

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It’s been a while in the making but the first translations of the new versions of the book are available. First up we have Italian! Available now are Ingegneria spaziale and Relatività generale. Next April, Ottica fisica and Fisica Quantistica will arrive.

Molto buona! I did an interview with the Italian publisher, which you can find here. (Google will do a great job translating it from Italian as well 😁)

Arithmetic! (academic news)

All this exciting children’s book news sure illustrates how slow academia moves! Of course, when trying to prove fundamental truths about the world, we are happy to take our time 😉

This month I’ve been dealing with reports from referees. Criticism is a necessary part of science and in many cases referees have provided crucial insight. But, you also have to develop a fairly thick skin.

This rather is rather timely since a podcast recorded last month with Sc-gasm about peer review just aired.

Events!

  • ACEMS 2018 Retreat Keynote titled “All your Bayes are Belong to Us”.

  • I spent a couple days in Perth talking about the children’s books and reading to a great crowd.

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Perth! You're awesome ♥️

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  • MathsCraft is workshop for high-schoolers which encourages them to “think like a research mathematician”. Each workshop brings together students, teachers, and mathematicians guide the students in their “play” at maths. It was a great experience and fun to watch the students explore their curiosity with maths.

Up next!

December in Australia combines the holiday season and summer. You’ll find me at the beach!

5 Picture Books that Encourage Abstract Thinking

Wow. It doesn’t take long for a blog to get neglected, does it? Let’s make an easy transition back in and start with a listicle. Here I am going list 5 books that we like which are suited to the 3–6 age range and encourage abstract thinking. This won’t be your typical reading experience. There will be a lot of interruptions, questions, and dialogue. It’ll be fun.

In My Heart: A Book of Feelings

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The kids seem to like the novelty of the heart cut-outs, but they also enjoy the imagery the author instills for each emotion experienced by the sole character. The melodic flow makes it easy and fun to read as well. The books ends with a question, “how does your heart feel?” and I always get an interesting answer.

This is Not a Book

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book (bʊk), noun: a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.

So this is a book. But your kids might argue with you on that. I often catch them “reading” this one on their own, even the ones who can’t read. It’s hard to describe. Just get it.

Ask Me

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This might be for a little bit older audience, but it works for the younger ones in small spurts. It is book full of personal, intriguing questions accompanied by a photography or drawing. For example, one page asks, “Have you ever been really alone?” and there is a picture of a child under a tree staring up at the sky. Sometimes they just describe the picture or say “I don’t know”. Occasionally you get a interesting answer and learn something you maybe didn’t know about your child.

The Curious Guide to Things That Aren’t

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For each letter of the alphabet, an idea or non-material thing is first described with clues. The reader must guess before it is revealed and described with a scientifically accurate explanation. For example, D is for Darkness. It is first described cryptically by where you can find it (a cave) and what makes it go away (flashlight).

The Book With No Pictures

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I don’t get it. I mean, I can see why the first 10 times are funny. But over and over again, really? And now you are reading these words because that’s how blogs work. BLORK.

The power of silence

It is too easy to get trapped into the mentality that—because you know better—you can instantly fix a child’s problem. So why is it that resistance follows? Hint: it’s because you are not listening.

Recently I decided to take the plunge into audiobooks. Since this was a new venture for me, I decided also to listen to something I wouldn’t otherwise read: a parenting book. I’m not implying that I’m a perfect parent by thatI’ve just been blessed by a great partner and four amazing children, such that I haven’t felt the need to seek unnecessary advice.

Whether or not you think you are in the same boat, you should definitely pick up a copy of How to Talk so Your Kids will Listen and Listen so Your Kids will Talk written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Now, at this point you might be sarcastically saying, “Thanks for alerting us to the existence of a 30 year old parenting book in its 13th edition that has been referred to as the parenting bible.” But, this post is for those who don’t frequent self-help blogs and the parenting aisle of the bookshop; you might think you have a great relationship with your kidsthis book will make it better.

A comment about the audiobook

Before I continue, let me remind you that I listened to the audio version of the book. I have mixed, but still overall positive, feelings about this. First, there are plenty of cartoons in the physical book which obviously don’t translate to audio. I honestly didn’t notice this. Second, there are lots of exercises and places where you are asked to write things down. This is a bit awkward if you are listening to the book while being active. On the other hand, it is narrated by Susan Bennett, otherwise known as Siri. She does an absolutely amazing job capturing the emotion of the authors and, most importantly, the constant dialog in the book between parent and child. In any case, the content is well worth it. The remainder of this discussion will be about the content of the audiobook.

Nitpicking

I noticed that much of dialog in the book was dated in terms of language and subject matter. For example, a situation considered in the book was a child who borrowed and scratched a father’s compact disc. I mean, does anyone even own CD’s anymore? Luckily, this is more of a nostalgic amusement than a distraction.

I also didn’t like how the anniversary edition involved appendices of additions rather than a more streamlined approach. It felt a bit lazy and tacked on. In any case, the additional content was a useful addition to an otherwise great book.

Examples, examples, examples

A large chunk of How to Talk consists of real-life example dialogue between parent and child. These are invaluable. Often, the advice seems obvious in hindsightvalidate feelings, for example. But, it’s only after hearing the examples when you really see where improvement can be made. The examples usually begin with a fictitious unhelpful response from the parent, followed by a helpful response. Let me give you an example that actually happened to me when I tried to use the skills on my own children after reading the first chapter: “Helping Children Deal with Their Feelings.” My strategy was to default to silent acknowledgment whenever I couldn’t quickly find an appropriate response. 

Situation 1: Child (7) is asked to practice math exercises. After doing a few, she becomes bored and says, “I can’t do it.” Clearly, she can. Here is a typical way this would play out.

Child: I can’t do it.
Parent: Yes you can.
Child: I can’t. I don’t know how.
Parent: Well, you are not leaving the table until it is done.
Child (now crying): But I want to watch a movie!
Parent (voice raised): No movies until you are done all your homework!
Child: You’re mean!

And there is no end to the cycle. But, here is how it actually went:

Child: I can’t do it.
Parent: You feel that question is too hard for you?
Child: Yeah.
Parent: Hmm…
Child: [silence]
Parent: [silence]
Child: I think the answer is 17.

I couldn’t believe how well silence works for acknowledging feelings. Here is another example.

Situation 2: Child (3) is struggling to get his footwear on. He is frustrated that the sandal won’t fit on the wrong foot. Here is the typical way this would have gone.

Child (clearly frustrated): I can’t get it on!
Parent: That’s because you are putting it on the wrong foot.
Child: NO! It doesn’t fit!
Parent: Would you like me to do it for you?
Child: No!
Parent: [forces sandal on correct foot]
Child: [cries]

Here is how it actually went:

Child (clearly frustrated): I can’t get it on!
Parent: I see you are frustrated with that sandal.
Child (calmer): It doesn’t fit.
Parent: That can be so frustrating!
Child: [silence]
Parent: [silence]
Child (probably knowing all along): It’s the wrong foot.
Parent: [silence]

And he took it off the wrong foot and put it on the correct foot!

Bottom line

How to Talk contains seven chapters, the last being titled, “Putting it All Together.” But, to my mind, the first chapter contains the key insights to a better emotional relationship with my children. In the past, I’ve tried to avoid situations like those exemplified above. Accepting and dealing with my children’s emotions has not been that difficult because I have been fairly well in tune with them. This meant that I was able to easily anticipate meltdowns and avoid them altogether. For example, if I sensed that my 3 year old was irritable, I would not ask him to put his own shoes on, thereby avoiding the situation.

But protecting the children from their own feelings is not doing them any favors in the long run, and is becoming ever more difficult with a growing family. So, rather than doing the hard work of anticipating and preventing the emotional distress of my children, I’m now trying to acknowledge and accept how difficult it is to become an autonomous little person in a grown-up world.