~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ black holes and parabolas

~4-23 to 5-23~

Quadratic and executive functions

Executing school tasks took some additional remote mama support this month. He found the format of electives for school to be uninspiring. However, I talked him into doing one of the robotics options. Once he was convinced, he lit up while telling me the steps a robot would need to take to reach the Hogwarts kitchen from the front doors.

For language arts, Quinn was assigned to read The Outsiders but was putting it off. Once I found that out, I told him I thought he’d really like it (he was of course surprised I was familiar with the book), and encouraged him to read me the first paragraph. He grumpily obliged and discovered the teen male protagonist with green eyes and long hair. He came around quickly after that, read to me through chapter two, and read the entire rest of the book in just a few sittings.

Then there were quadratic functions. Quinn started caring deeply about parabolas as a freshly minted eleven-year-old, and has read an entire math curriculum through calculus in his spare time. He is not often thwarted by new math concepts, and had been quite self-sufficient learning quadratic functions, the math magic of the parabola, with only online lessons. However, two weeks before school ended, his teacher contacted me to let me know he was on his way to earning an incomplete in algebra. As usual, I only understood more about what happened in hindsight (2020) and it amounted to being stuck on one sub-concept, not seeing the obvious available ways to solve that (ask his teacher, ask me, consult textbook/video, google it) and just not doing it, or any of the following lessons. He stayed stuck and started blowing off everything, but then ended up caught up in a lie and that only added to his anxiety about the whole thing. Once I found out, we got him sorted out on completing the square, (we used khan academy and life of fred and fred is who ultimately got him there; by which I mean he was right back to doing it all in his head the instant he grasped it). I asked him afterwards if he felt relieved to not have to continue the lie, and I could see the relief written all over his face when he said “yes.”

He was overwhelmed and said he thinks about the pandemic even when he’s not thinking about it.

I wanted him to know I heard him: that he felt like no one was taking him seriously (because he has said “I can’t work under pandemic conditions.”  He did try to let me know he was struggling.

I am trying to coach him through handing in enough to earn a Pass when he feels like this, but it is hard when he is just seeing the pile and is stuck in overwhelm.

He did a programing in scratch assignment and a video tour of Iceland for his elective; in Iceland he enjoyed how they drill into magma to harvest energy. The morning after the teacher clued me in, I sent him the mp3 of his favorite song seven nation army and a ten minute meditation and he listened to both. We spent more time together on google hangouts just so I was “in the room” if he needed support. He watched a Smithsonian zoom about octopuses, something he had planned on attending prior to the math debacle. I liked watching him watch it and seeing his face light up at certain parts. I wanted him to do these other things that feed him, because we were also talking about the importance of self care in keeping up our ability to handle tasks. He is now also signed up for both dinosaur discoveries and ancient seas online camps. He had been hesitant on the dino camp because a) he already knows a lot about dinosaurs and b) he wasn’t sure the end of June would feel like enough time out of school, but in the end I told him there were 2 spots left and he wanted in. Then we did talk about the math concept, but it was sandwiched in between those lighter topics and our quality time (reading aloud). Maybe life is a little like a parabola, you have to get to the bottom of it at some point, but you can look forward to it going back up on the other side!

His paleontology camp community continued their zoom lecture series for camp alumni through May, and Quinn participated enthusiastically. He was proud because, “I asked a question!” He asked, if I understood correctly, about how they tell things about a prehistoric animal based on eggs; and got answers about how environment determines a lot about egg shape, whether an animal is aquatic or terrestrial, and where they place their eggs in order to keep them moist or from being submerged or dry. He is so quull!

He had a paleontology text flurry with his camp friends and they apparently have a conspiracy theory that, “all of the birds died in 1986 when Reagan killed them all and replaced them with spies. They are in league with the bourgeoisie.” A couple of the other camp friends consistently show up for the lectures. It is such a nice balance of getting to be nerdy and getting to be weird teens together.

The flavor of video calls this month – physics and fantasy

A friend mentioned she and her husband have been doing madlibs so I printed a dinosaur one for Quinn. It is logistically tricky to play games over hangouts so I take all good suggestions very seriously! Quinn then picked some out to do for me. Some of our favorites were, “What happens when a unicorn poops”, one about pizza, and another about how to hatch a dragon egg. We ended up with 3 new species of dragons; chartreuse dragons, butterbeer dragons, and flibberty-gibbet dragons.

During recent video calls we have continued to read Zero, do a daily logic puzzle, sometimes a vi hart video, and usually some talking and cat gazing.

Zero has been good fodder for discussion and vocabulary (new word: carom): Quantum leaps, general relativity, etc. It sends us on other tangents. One day we looked up Dr. Katie Bouman who photographed a black hole successfully in 2019, based on spinoff conversations from the book. Quinn’s imagination was quite stimulated, and I managed to convince him to speak one of his ramblings into a document using the speech-to-text function:

“First get two black holes, a star, a spaceship capable of moving at 90% of the speed of light and with a fuel cartridge big enough to hold a star in, and a very heavy object. Then get the star into the fuel cartridge of the spaceship (the spaceship must run on helium). Once you have a spaceship running on a star, connect your two black holes via 4D space-time Continuum breaking and attach one end of the wormhole that results to your spaceship and the other end to the very heavy object. now take your nearly light-speed wormhole with a very heavy object on the other end and wait 46 years because you will have messed up the space time continuum, you will have effectively ruined mathematics to the point where one year on one end of the wormhole is 2.3 years on the other end of the wormhole so after 46 years you go through the wormhole and bam you’ve gone back In time by almost 46 years. some problems are: 1. it is currently impossible apparently to define “very heavy object” in my sources. 2. it is currently impossible to go at 90% of the speed of light in one spaceship. 3. it is currently impossible to obtain a star let alone to stick it in the fuel cartridge of a spaceship. 4. it is currently impossible to collect two black holes and connect them via four dimensional space-time Continuum breaking. 5. it is currently impossible apparently for you to actually go back in time to the point where you are before your own birth and keep living on to infinity by traveling back in time infinitely and going forward in time infinitely after that so that you have infinite life-span at the time of your birth and live forever because your star even though it will last for like 8 million years is still finite so you can only become 8 millionish years old but hey, even then you are older than Yoda so…”

Tom Gauld

I also convinced him to share the document with me and he did, with the  note, “I’ve invited you to comment.” Well, thank you for inviting me!

My comment:

“I don’t know if you understand why I ask you to do things like this… and that is okay! I am thankful that you humor me, and do it when I ask. It may not seem like a big deal to you to be able to speak this kind of complicated thought in such an organized manner, but this is a skill not everyone has. It’s a skill I’d love for you to continue to nurture, and it’s a skill that I think will really help you build up your writing ability as well. Being able to speak a story or an essay is the same as being able to write it – if you use the right tools. I think the speech-to-text tool is potentially very useful for you and I hope it helps empower you to do more writing, more recording of the amazing ideas and stories and lines of thought that you have inside you, waiting to get out into the world. One day you may look back at these and really treasure them! I know I will.”

Upon finishing Zero, we discussed quintessence theory. As you do.

Then we got started on re-reading Fellowship of the Ring! The day before mother’s day, we read about when the nine leave Rivendell, and their fight with Caradhras, when they turn back and the men have to carry the hobbits through the snow, but Legolas can walk on top of the snow to bring hope back to all that the journey is one they can endure.

I end up reading most of the time, but since we both have copies of the trilogy, he has been reading to me as well.

When the fellowship were departing from Lothlorien and Galadriel gives them each a gift, Quinn became quite absorbed with the gardening box that Sam is presented. He brought it up several times thereafter, and it gave me an idea. I ordered a plain wooden box and some gray wood tint so I could make him one like the description in the book. I planned to mix some flower seeds into it for him so he could spread it out somewhere at his dad’s house to grow.

still trending: quokkas (mama attempts her first memes)

On mother’s day, I had a lovely extra visit with Quinn. He showed up at noon after sending me Sierpenski’s triangle mother’s day card, freshly showered, and wearing a button-down shirt. He dressed up for me.

We also started an email story where we each write one line and send it back and forth. It began, “Once there was a boy who lived in a land where the only things were a chain of islands and the ocean.” I’m excited to see where it takes us!

In other vocabulary news, I learned of Quinn’s pronunciation of onerous “one rus” and we both chuckled when he was reading aloud about a “biplane” in our logic puzzle which he mispronounced with a short i.

We like it when the logic puzzle is about particle accelerators and one of the researchers is named Dr. Quinn.

Subatomic particles

I listened to a nature news podcast and learned all about pions, and then Quinn and I discussed various subatomic particles, learned that we should call them elementary particles instead, and he is pretty into particle physics after our last book, but he wasn’t even aware of all the particles that have been named and identified… he particularly liked the ones named after pi and tau, of course. I think I fairly blew his mind when I told him that Ender’s Game had been written well before many of these had been discovered to exist. In 1985, electrons were still the smallest known particle, and I remember a big deal being made about quarks back in the mid 1990s.


The podcast also talked about Galileo, so it was easy to convince him to listen.

Life skills

Quinn said he used the lawn mower to mow the yard so they could move their kayaks. It is a battery mower. Certified lawn mowing technician!


Aragorn sent Quinn two guitar tracks he had recorded, and Quinn has added a drum track to them. So rad!


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