Friday, January 22, 2010

Learning opps to share as a family

Yesterday, for the first time in ages, I had a long car journey to make, with which, in my geeky little world, comes the opportunity to listen to several hours of BBC Radio 4. In the space of yesterday's journey, I discovered three learning opportunities to share with my family.

The first of these is 1001 Inventions. A travelling exhibition (currently at the Science Museum in London) of discoveries made by men and women in Muslim civilisation during the period in which Europe was experiencing it's 'dark ages'. It seems it wasn't dark all over the world. The exhibition opened yesterday and runs until 25 April. Like the rest of the Science Museum and most British museums, it's free. We plan to visit soon.

Just listening to an interview with one of the people involved in the exhibition, I learned something. Did you know that algebra originates in the Arabic world and that the word comes from 'al-jabr' which means balance, reunion and reconciliation?

The second is a Radio 4 series called The History of the World in 100 Objects, but I want to talk about that in greater depth, so will do a separate post on that.

The third is a three-part BBC 4 (a television channel, not to be confused with the aforementioned radio station) series that started last night called Chemistry: A Volatile History. This series charts the discovery of the elements in our modern periodic table. We watched the first episode as a family and were riveted. The producers have included loads of practical demonstrations that make the programme appealing to viewers with shorter attention spans (or lower tolerance for anything that it isn't a sitcom), and they've managed to pitch it at a level that will work for a wide range of people.

With the benefit of hindsight, the existence of some elements seems patently obvious, and my younger son was amused that serious minded researchers once believed in the existence of phlostigon. Since he is planning to study chemistry when he starts his A levels in September, the programme was perfectly timed for him.

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