Category Archives: School in a Book

School in a Book: Chemistry

“So that’s what stuff is.” That’s an important thought. It’s a breakthrough moment in one’s education. Don’t underestimate young children’s ability to grasp many basic chemistry concepts, either; the earlier they start thinking about the big questions, the more interested and less intimidated they’ll be by them later on.

Like most other subjects, science is best learned through conversation. Experiments are great, too, but they’re not always necessary. If like me you have little kids who can’t yet handle close proximity to anything magnetic, explosive or filled with water, choose a few scientific concepts to talk about per day, and send the older kid to a more hands-on science class. (Video demonstrations, like those on YouTube, are great, too.)

That said, if you can manage it, there’s a huge number of great science project ideas out there, and hands-on stuff is definitely a great memory aid.

Basic Chemistry

Chemistry: The science of what stuff is made of

Matter: All stuff, both visible and invisible

Chemical: Any kind of matter with constant properties that can’t be broken into its component elements without breaking its chemical bonds

Atom: The smallest part matter can be broken down into without using extraordinary amounts of energy. An atom includes a nucleus, protons, neutrons and electrons, as well as a great deal of empty space. Its parts are held together through electrical charges. A sheet of paper is about one million atoms thick.

Parts of an atom: Protons, neutrons and electrons

Nucleus: The center part of an atom

Proton: The positively charged part of an atom that resides inside the nucleus

Neutron: The part of an atom that contains no charge and that resides inside the nucleus

Electron: The negatively charged part of an atom that resides outside the nucleus

Subatomic particle: A particle that is smaller than an atom and that makes up part of an atom. These particles include protons, electrons, neutrons and the particles that make up these (e.g. quarks).

Quark: A particle that makes up a proton or neutron. It is one of the most well-known subatomic particles.

The three states of matter: Solid, liquid and gas. You can’t compress liquids or solids, but you can compress a gas. (You can flatten a solid, but the mass remains the same). This is because there is space between the particles in gas, and because there’s no bonding/attraction between the particles in gases. Note, though, that there are limits as to how much you can compress a gas. Do it enough and you turn it into a liquid (like liquid nitrogen).

Solid: State of matter with definite shape and volume

Liquid: State of matter with definite volume, varying shape

Gas: State of matter with no definite shape or volume

Molecule: Group of atoms that stick (bond) together and aren’t easily broken (until there is a chemical change). Fundamental particles. When molecules are messed with, the matter they make up might change state.

Element: A substance that contains only one kind of atom. (If the atoms are bonded in a different way, though, the element is an isotope.)

Particle: A bit of something that is still the original thing and not something else

Compound: A material that contains two or more elements that are chemically bonded together. The atoms of the elements can’t be separated by physical means and the end product has different properties from the original elements. Example: Cake.

Periodic Table of the Elements: A visual arrangement of the elements organized by their atomic number.

Atomic number: The number of protons (and also the number of electrons) in the atom, which indicates its substance

Mass number: The total number of protons and neutrons

Mixture: Ingredients mixed together but not chemically bonded. Can be separated again. Example: Air. Another example: The ingredients in a cake that are mixed together before being heated and formed into a cake.

Chemical bonding: The joining of atoms to create molecules. Atoms share electrons to form molecules. They do this to fill their outer shell and thus become more stable.

Chemical reaction: When the atoms in substance(s) rearrange to form new substances. Example: Baking a cake. Heat and electricity are often used to break the bonds.

Isotope: A different form of the same atom, with different number of neutrons. It has different physical properties but chemically it is the same.

Chemical symbol: The letters that represent the atoms of a particular element

Chemical formula: CO2, H2O, etc.

Ion: An unstable atom or molecule whose net charge is either less than or greater than zero

Enzymes: Catalysts that speed up chemical reactions in living things

Covalent bond: A chemical bond formed when atoms share electrons. Each atom still has its proper total number, but some of its electrons are attracted to the other atoms and stick there. Most non-metal elements are formed with covalent bonds.

Double bond: A chemical bond formed when atoms share two electrons each with each other

Ionic bond: A chemical bond formed when an atom gains or loses electrons

Metallic bond: A chemical bond between metals where free electrons travel between them

Electrolysis: Separating individual elements in a compound by passing an electric current through it when it is molten or in a solution

Salt: Any metal and non-metal bonded together. Salts have a crystal structure. There are many different kinds, not just table salt.

Organic compounds: Compounds that include carbon. All living things contain organic compounds, and many can be made artificially. They are used to create fabrics, medicines, plastics, paints, cosmetics and more.

Alcohol: Organic compounds that contain carbon, oxygen and hydrogen

Fermentation: A chemical reaction that produces alcoholic drinks. It is caused by fungi, which produce enzymes.

Semiconductor: A semi-metal element

Main metals (all those used in manufacturing): aluminum, brass, bronze, calcium, chromium, copper, cupronickel, gold, iron, lead, magnesium, mercury, platinum, plutonium, potassium, silver, sodium

Main alloys: Solder, steel, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, zinc

Crude oil: The raw material from which fuels like oil, fuel, gas are obtained. It is a fossil fuel that is often found in rock reservoirs under the seabed.

Plastic: An easily-molded synthetic polymers made from the organic compounds found in crude oil.

Polymer: A substance made of many small molecules joined together to make long chains. Some are synthetic (nylon), while others are natural (hair, rubber, wool, silk, etc.).

Carbon monoxide: A poisonous gas formed when fuels burn in a place with limited air (oxygen), such as an engine.

Oxygen: The element that helps plants and animals release energy from food. In the human body it is one of the most important things the blood sends the cell. As blood flows over body cells, oxygen and other nutrients are “let in” and waste products are deposited into the blood. It is the third most abundant element in the universe.

Hydrogen: An element that can form compounds with most other elements. Water is formed when hydrogen is burned in air. It is the most abundant element in the universe. (Helium is the second.)

Carbon: The element that occurs in all known organic life. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe and is found in more compounds than any other element.

Carbon dating: The method for finding how much time has passed since something died by measuring how much radiation it’s still giving off.

Acid: A chemical found in various substances that donates protons or hydrogen ions and/or accepts electrons. These chemicals taste sour when found in liquid solutions.

Base: A chemical found in various substances that accept protons from hydrogen ions. This can neutralize acids. Combining acids and bases produces water and salts.

pH: A measure of how acidic or basic a liquid substance is. A pH of 7 is neutral, containing no acid or base chemical. A pH higher than 7 indicates the presence of a base chemical and a pH lower than 7 indicates the presence of an acid chemical.

pH scale: The 14-point scale used to measure whether a liquid solution is basic, acidic or neutral.

Decomposition: The natural erosion of dead organic materials.

Endothermic reaction: A chemical process that absorbs heat

Exothermic reaction: A chemical process that emits heat

Oxidation: A chemical reaction in which oxygen is added, causing a substance to change in some way. An example is the presence of rust in metal exposed to water.

Reduction: A chemical reaction in which oxygen is removed

Oxidation-reduction (redux) reaction: A chemical reaction in which one substance undergoes reduction, causing another to undergo oxidation. This happens because the substance undergoing reduction donates electrons to the other substance.

School in a Book: Computer Science

Computer science just isn’t a specialty anymore. Most companies create and/or manage several websites and computer programs, meaning that if you want to be successful in business, it’s helpful to understand these common terms.

Basic Computer Science

Computer Hardware

Parts of a computer: A computer is made up of memory, including applications, an operating system (OS) and a kernel stored on microchips and/or the hard drive; a CPU; and an imput/output (I/O) unit connected to a power source.

How a computer works: When the computer is turned on, some of the microchips immediately reads some of their memory, which then attempt to make connections with other chips. Together they run the EFI (extensible firmware interface) which starts the computer, then passes the control over to the boot loader. The boot loader is a program that initializes the hardware, loading the first sector of the hard drive to the memory. After this, it loads the operating system (OS), the kernel, the computer settings and the shell. The shell presents the login screen to the user. After the user logs in, the OS tells the driver to start talking to the hardware. After the user opens a program, the driver detects the clicks and talks to the kernel. The kernel then passes the information to the shell. The shell interprets it, then communicates it to the program. Finally, the program interprets it and the program is launched.

The program loads the needed threads and processes into the RAM. Threads are run and interrupted on a regular basis according to how many time slices they’re allotted. (One time slice = 1/30th of a second.) The system clock tells the OS when to stop each process, which is done after each time slice, no matter what. Each time this happens the OS checks to see if the program’s time is up or if it has more. It adjusts priorities and may switch to a different process. This activity is done in kernel mode, a mode in which the program isn’t allowed to control anything. After this, the OS switches back to user mode and gives control back to the program. Computers running with multiple CPUs must share the kernel between them. Mistakes in this management can lead to crashes.

Software and hardware: Hardware are the physical components of the machine. Software, also called applications or programs, are computer-readable instructions and data that live in the computer’s memory. The core part is the executable file (.exe), which talks to the OS using calls. The program also contains lists of needed DLLs and other code for use by the application.

Hard drive: The physical place in the computer in which memory is located

Central processing unit (CPU): The place in the computer that loads instructions from memory, parses (interprets) them, then executes them. It performs all of the logic of the computer and is compared to the brain of a human.

Operating system (OS): The software that runs all the basic operations of the computer so every program doesn’t have to recreate the wheel. It provides a secure, reliable environment and grants applications access to inputs, outputs, memory, system software like drivers, and networking features. Importantly, it also schedules processes (start, interrupt and stop commands when more than one application competes for time on the CPU). The most common OSs are Microsoft’s Windows, Apple’s OSX (and the more popular IOS, which is used for mobile devices), and various OSs by Linux (an open-source software creator group), including Android.

Parts of the OS: System clock; a file system; a user interfaced called the API that includes a set of calls or methods app programmers use to interact with the OS; algorithms, stored process for services.

The shell: The OS’s user interface (the part of the OS that the user sees and interacts with)

Memory: Applications, programs and other data and instructions located on the hard drive disc and/or microchips. There are three types of memory: internal, external and virtual. Internal memory is ROM (long-term stored read-only memory, usually unalterable, containing system-level instructions), RAM (fast copied temporary memory located on the hard drive disc or in microchips which is lost when the computer is shut down), and cached (super-fast copied temporary memory located on the CPU, also lost when the computer is shut down). Virtual memory is also located in the internal memory but is made up of addresses that point elsewhere in the memory for the purposes of convenience and security. External memory is located on external hard drives, USB keys, etc. Memory is stored in strings. It can be written to (changed), or read (retrieved, fetched, loaded).

Pointer: An object that contains the address of each piece of memory

The leap section: The place in memory that stores dynamically allocated variables needed by a program

The stack section: The place in memory that store info in stacks, with the lowest addresses (oldest) on bottom, like cafeteria trays

Buffer: A place in memory that receives and holds data until it can be handled by requested processes. Each process can have its own set of buffers. Each buffer has a predetermined length and data type

The kernel: The part of a Windows computer that loads drivers, handles hardware, enforces security, enables network communication–anything the application needs permission to do, even just opening MS Office. (Accessing memory is not included in this.)

Service: A background process run by the OS. (Example: system clock, firewall, window update checks.)

Kernel mode: The mode an application goes into when it is accessing the computer’s kernel. A program can only go into kernel mode when allowed and only run the kernel code, not its own code at all.

User mode: App mode in which the OS can be accessed through an app can switch back and forth from kernel to user frequently.

Native system services/executive system services: OS services that are callable from user mode.

Kernel support functional routines: Subroutines inside the OS that are callable only from kernel mode.

Four events that transfer control from an application back to the OS: I/O interrupt, system clock interrupt, system call, process page faults, a deadlock

Computer architecture: The way the parts of a computer interact with each other, including which parts of the memory are able to communicate with which other parts and in which order. There are many different working computer architectures.

Virtualization: Hosting one or more remote OSs

Virtual machine: A remotely located package of software that presents itself to the local machine as a complete separate machine. Virtual machines are highly convenient for purposes of testing code, working on a networked machine with network privileges, and on other occasions when a second or different computer/operating system package is needed.

Database: An organized collection of data, usually stored electronically. If available on the Internet, it can be accessed through servers.

Windows API: Application Programming Interface. The set of functions (almost like a language) programmers use to talk to the OS. Thousands of callable functions exist relating to everything the OS is responsible for. (Examples: Create message, get message.)

DLL: Dynamic Link Library. A program’s library of functions that are callable by programs.

Computer Programming

Program/application: A set of instructions to be executed on a computer, usually with a particular use. To program software is to create the program’s source code using a programming language of choice.

Programming language: A set of standardized rules for coding that results in functional source code. There are many programming languages, including C# and C++. A script is a language that is Internet-appropriate, like JavaScript.

Binary code/machine language/machine code: A language made up entirely of 0s and 1s, which are the only units a computer can directly work with (execute on its CPU). These true/false or 1/0 binary choices are also called boolean expressions. All other programming languages are made into source code, then finally parsed (interpreted by the computer) as binary code by a compiler. (A decompiler turns machine readable code/binary back into source code.)

Data: Information, often represented by symbols and measured in bits (binary digits–0s and 1s) and bytes (units of bits–historically eight bits). A kilobyte (KB) is 1,024 bytes. A megabyte (MB) is 1,024 kilobytes. A gigabyte (GB) is 1,024 megabytes. A terabyte (TB) is 1,024 gigabytes. A kilobit (kb) is 1,024 bits. A megabit (Mb) is 1,024 kilobits. A gigabit (Gb) is 1,024 megabits. A terabit (Tb) is 1,024 gigabits.

Command: A computer instruction. Many commands put together make up an algorithm, a complex logic-based instruction set that play a specific role in the application. Commands and data together make up computer code, the set of instructions forming a computer program that is read and carried out by a computer, which is used in turn to make up computer programs.

Procedure/function/subroutine: An independent code module that fulfills some concrete task and can be reused by the program. Procedures perform operations without returning data and functions do return data. A procedure might be part of an object in object-oriented programming.

Process, thread, job and multi-processing/multi-threading: A single iteration of a procedure is a process. It contains everything needed for that instance. In turn, processes are made up of threads. A group of processes that are performed as a unit for a single goal is a job. Multi-processing/multi-threading is running more than one process simultaneously in the same program using a single CPU, which schedules these processes to occur successively but seamlessly.

Objects and object-oriented programming: Object-oriented programming is a popular way of designing software by making them out of objects (files, data units, independent procedures or a procedure/data object that perform a particular function) that interact with one another

Hacking: Sometimes, cleverly solving a programming problem and sometimes, using a computer to gain unauthorized access to data

Bug: Any kind of error in a software program. It may cause a program to unexpectedly quit, to be vulnerable to attack, or to work improperly. The process of removing bugs is called debugging. Reviewing programs to find bugs and other problems is called testing.

Crash dump: A record of a program’s slate system memory at the time of a crash. A crash dump can be analyzed to figure out why it occurred.

Deadlock: A conflict of needs and allocations that stops all computing

Computer Networks

Network: A group of computers that talk to each other and share resources through one or more shared computers called servers. A virtual private network (VPN) is network that allows users to connect to remotely.

Local area network (LAN) and wide area network (WAN): The two types of computer networks. LANs are smaller than WANs and include WiFi and ethernet. WANs are larger and include the Internet.

Server: A computer that provides information to other computers or allows other computers to connect to each other, usually remotely over the Internet or in a smaller computer network. The main server in a group is called the domain controller. The manager of a domain (or any group of users) is called an administrator. Servers talk to individual computers called clients. Some computers have both a server side and a client side. A network that is managed with administrators, passwords and the like is called a domain. A proxy server is a backup server used on corporate networks to protect against web attacks.

Internet: The global collection of computer networks and their connections, all using shared protocols to communicate

Internet 2: A second, higher-speed Internet that is used to send very large files, such as research data between universities

Protocol: Rules to standardize processes in networks. They are used on both the sending and the receiving ends of the communication.

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol): The set of rules for transferring files (text, graphic images, sound, video, and other multimedia files) on the Internet. HTTPS is HTTP, but with encryption.

Uniform Resource Locator (URL): An Internet address that is used by the browser to look up the IP address of the server and the server’s name so that it can talk to that server and retrieve the page’s HTML

Packet: Small chunk of information that has been carefully formed from larger chunks of information in order to more efficiently communicate over a network. If not encrypted, packets are vulnerable to capture. Packets might be distributed over multiple routers according to which is currently available.

Router: A machine that captures and sends on data packets. Many routers are involved in most Internet communications.

Switch: A smart hub/router that connects network segments, thereby routing packets more efficiently

Modem: A router used on a small scale, as between private homes or small networks

Session: All of the applications running on a single user ID between login and logout

Bandwidth: The maximum rate of data transfer across a given path

Cookie: A small text file with various fields that is stored in the web browser and/or on the client’s computers. Normally, it is used to manage a session (keeping a user logged in across multiple pages, etc.).

Cyber security: Practices, including web development and application development practices, that mitigate Internet exploits

Computer vulnerability: A mistake or oversight in computer code that exposes the program to attack. A client-side vulnerability exists in the client (end user) computer and a server-side vulnerability exists on the server.

Computer exploit: An attack on a local computer or many local computers that either damages it or allows the attacker to make use of it in any way without permission

Firewall: A network device used to filter traffic. Usually between a private network and a link to the internet. Prevents unauthorized incoming traffic, but ineffective when user initiates communication.

Three most common types of computer exploits: Exploitation of browser vulnerabilities, exploitation of email application vulnerabilities, and social engineering (gaining compromising information by exploiting human vulnerabilities)

Cryptography: The process of encrypting (scrambling) plain text messages, that are then sent and unencrypted/decrypted on the receiving end with the use of a text key.

Piracy: The illegal copying, distribution, or use of software

Direct memory access: Writing directly to RAM without going through the hard drive, as when a network file system is doing a transfer, over the internet.

Active directory: A directory service that contains a database that stores security info about objects in a domain, inc users, computers, security IDs, etc.

School in a Book: Essential Skills: Social, Emotional and Life Management

You probably already have most of the skills on this list, at least to some degree. Treat this checklist, then, as a gentle reminder not to pass by the couple of things you haven’t quite nailed yet.

Note that this list does not include skills mentioned in other sections of this book or those generally possessed by people under the age of six, such as memorizing one’s address and phone number. My attempts at comprehensiveness, though well-meaning, are usually futile.

General Life Management Skills

  • Managing time and tasks, including: creating short-term and long-term to-do lists; time-on-task estimating; padding time-on-task estimations; and breaking large projects into small steps
  • Managing money, including: budgeting, calculating interest, avoiding debt, calculating the highest affordable mortgage payment, saving for retirement, investing in the stock market, filing taxes and organizing financial records
  • Cleaning the home, including: washing laundry; washing dishes; dusting; cleaning the bathroom and more
  • Performing simple household maintenance tasks, including: changing lightbulbs; testing and changing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; cleaning the roof and gutters; mowing the lawn; maintaining a yard; fixing leaky faucets and unclogging the toilet
  • Cooking and baking, including: two soups or stews; two stir-fry sauces; muffins; cakes; roasted chicken; and grilled steak
  • Using basic tools, including: hammers, screwdrivers, power screwdrivers, power drills, hand-held sanders, exacto knives, pliers, wedges and wrenches
  • Organizing one’s living space
  • Learning basic self-defense techniques
  • Maintaining a car, including changing the oil, checking tire pressure, checking fluid levels and scheduling regular tire changes and other maintenance
  • Applying basic first aid skills, including CPR
  • Caring for children
  • Using public transportation
  • Sewing
    Writing formal letters and emails
  • Typing
  • Memorizing emergency procedures in various settings, including knowledge of using a fire extinguisher
  • Maintaining good hygiene, nutrition and exercise habits
  • Preventing disease, including STDs
  • Using responsible and healthy sexual practices
  • Visiting doctors and dentists regularly
  • Purchasing a house
  • Maintaining safe and secure Internet practices, including an understanding of online source verification
  • Choosing and purchasing insurance for home, health and car
  • Surviving in unsafe or wilderness situations, with skills like building a fire, using a map and using a compass
  • Gardening
    Recycling, reusing and environmental care
  • Using the Microsoft Office suite and other important computer programs
  • Interviewing for jobs
  • Knowing federal and local laws
  • Driving a car
  • Avoiding addiction and understanding the effects of drugs and alcohol
  • Keeping to-do lists and goal-setting lists, with steps to achieve those goals
    Registering to vote and choosing who and what to vote for

Interpersonal Skills

  • Making friends
  • Communicating effectively, including: listening actively; restating the other person’s message; and calmly resolving conflict
  • Avoiding and de-escalating conflict
  • Using good eye contact
  • Using good manners
  • Shaking hands firmly
  • Projecting vocally when appropriate
  • Saying “no” without further explanation
  • Enforcing healthy boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others
  • Asking questions
  • Talking to strangers
  • Making casual conversation/small talk
  • Crafting a convincing and logical argument
  • Speaking in public
  • Telling a joke
  • Forgiving and apologizing first
  • Accepting and learning from other cultures, family types and gender identities
  • Responding to anger or unkindness without defensiveness, but instead with simple statements of fact (such as “I don’t agree” or “That’s interesting,”) questions (such as “Why did you do that?”) or kindnesses (such as, “Are you okay?”)
  • Using simple consequences instead of physical force or emotional abuse (for example, “If you do that, I am not going to play with you right now,” or, “If you are rough with my toys, I will take them away”)

Self-Care Skills

  • Spending time alone
  • Labeling emotions
  • Separating fact from emotion
  • Maintaining hobbies
  • Breathing deeply and using other self-calming strategies
  • Doing self-guided cognitive therapy (writing down upsetting irrational thoughts and replacing them with rational ones)
  • Journaling about difficult memories and moments, then rewriting the story in a way that is healthy, helpful and self-compassionate
  • Maintaining healthy exercise and nutrition habits
  • Maintaining spiritual practices such as meditation (observing one’s own mind with nonjudgmental acceptance)
  • Practicing mindfulness (observing the present moment with nonjudgmental acceptance)

Personal Qualities To Develop

  • Love
  • Generosity
  • Humility
  • Faith/purpose
  • Morality
  • Hope, optimism and positivity
  • Purposeful cultivation of joy
  • Personal responsibility
  • Secure, grounded and healthy attachment to others
  • Independence
  • Confidence
  • Acceptance of hardship
  • Purposeful cultivation of one’s highest and best self
  • Dignity
  • Respect for differences

School in a Book: Essential Skills: Other Educational Recreation

Ideas for enjoyable, educational activities aren’t hard to find. The trick is to remember them when the time comes. Here is a catchall checklist for learning activities not presented elsewhere in this book. My goal is to try each of these activities at least once with each of my kids. Hopefully, a few lifelong hobbies will be discovered.

Classes and Clubs

  • Scouting or wilderness survival clubs
  • Instrument lessons with performance
  • Singing lessons with performance
  • Drama lessons with performance
  • Art lessons
  • Sports lessons, teams or recreational leagues
  • Educational clubs (book clubs, science clubs, gaming clubs and more)

Science Projects

  • Building science-related structures and models with mixed media
  • Building science-related structures and models with Lego (such as solar system models, lifelike animal and vehicle replicas, etc.)
  • Block building
  • Train set building
  • Playing with magnets
  • Breaking open and identifying rocks
  • Building circuits
  • Taking nighttime walks
  • Watching astronomical events (like a lunar eclipse, shooting stars or the Aurora Borealis)
  • Using a telescope and a microscope
  • Attempting to decompose various man-made and organic materials in bags (to compare rates of decomposition)
  • Making homemade environmentally friendly house cleaners (using borax, lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar and more)
  • Learning computer programming basics
  • Growing crystals
  • Using a compass
  • Making a water filter with sand, rocks, clay and charcoal
  • Making a model of our solar system
  • Making a balloon rocket
  • Making a volcano using baking soda and vinegar
  • Making a bottle submarine
  • Making invisible ink
  • Hunting for fossils
  • Making a rainbow
  • Making and testing a hypothesis and using the scientific method
  • Reading a map
  • Identifying the four directions
  • Identifying plants, animals, climate type, time zone, seasonal changes in local area
  • Making a bat house
  • Making a birdhouse
  • Making a birdbath
  • Making a bee home for honeybees
  • Making a foam-and-cardboard planetarium
  • Nature collecting

Board Games and Puzzles

  • Scrabble
  • Chess
  • Checkers
  • Go
  • Maj jong
  • Monopoly
  • Trivial Pursuit
  • Complex strategy board games like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic or Settlers of Cattan
  • Other educational board games
  • Card games
  • Crosswords
  • Sudoku
  • Logic grid puzzles
  • Mazes
  • Map/geography puzzles

Micellaneous Educational Activities

  • Listening to educational podcasts
  • Listening to audiobooks of classic literature and interesting nonfiction
  • Reading
  • Journaling
  • Memorizing important poems and passages
  • Listing life goals, dreams, and future plans/activities
  • Writing longhand letters to friends
  • Doing home improvement projects
  • Making a historical timeline
  • Making a family tree
  • Holding show-and-tell times
  • Holding family meetings
  • Doing service work in the community
  • Job shadowing
  • Planning and throwing parties
  • Planning a trip on a budget
  • Starting a small business
  • Holding a garage sale
  • Putting on a talent show
  • Planning and leading scavenger hunts
  • Learning how to shoot a gun
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Visiting the aquarium
  • Visiting the zoo
  • Visiting the children’s science museum
  • Tidepooling
  • Traveling locally and globally

Simple Homemade Learning Games (for Use with the Checklists in this Book)

The List Game

How to Play: Players choose a fact list and print out one copy per player. Players read over their fact lists. Then they compete to see who can list the most items on the list in an allotted time period. (Inspiration: Scattegories.)

Twenty Questions/Who Am I?

How to Play: Players choose a fact list and print out one copy per player. Players silently select a person, place or term from their fact list of choice. Then they take turns trying to guess the other person’s selection by asking simple yes or no questions. The winner guesses the term in the fewest questions, or guesses the most terms correctly in an allotted time period. This game works well with any checklist except foreign-language vocabulary lists, and is especially interesting with history timelines if you play the role of an event or person. (Inspiration: Twenty Questions.)

Do-It-Yourself Crossword Puzzles

Instructions: Print out grid paper with large boxes and create crossword puzzles using the terms you want to remember. The clues can be written on a separate sheet of paper. Crosswords using foreign-language vocabulary words can be easiest to create, since the native-language word can be used as the clue.

Do-It-Yourself Historical Timeline

Instructions: Using a simple template, create your own historical timeline with the key dates you want to remember. Hang it on a wall for easy reference.

The Math Puzzle

Instructions: Create a simple 13×13 grid. Number the vertical and horizontal rows from 1 to 12. Choose whether to multiply, divide, add or subtract the numbers, then in each box, write the value of the two numbers whose lines intersect at that point. Notice the number patterns that form. This game is especially useful for memorizing multiplication tables.

The Money Game

Practice addition and subtraction by creating your own fake money and playing “store” with a friend.

Do-It-Yourself Map Puzzles

Color a map of the world (or of a country or a continent). Cut it into puzzle-like pieces, then reinforce the back of each piece with cardboard.

Do-It-Yourself Dot-to-Dot Drawings

Print out simple photos of important world landmarks or works of art. Place a piece of paper over each, and trace them with dots. Number the dots as you go. Then try to redraw the picture by connecting them.

Educational Coloring Sheets

Challenge yourself to color and label the parts of a plant, the human body and much more. The possibilities are nearly endless for people who like to color.

Pretend Play Scenarios

Camping; Store; Restaurant; Post Office; Theater/Play/Music Play; Art Gallery; Grocery Store; Zoo; Toy Store; Gardening; Making Pizza or Muffins; Teddy bear/animal hunt; Car wash; Forts; Pet Hotel; Tea Party; Hospital; Cops and robbers; Superheroes; Star Wars; Vet Clinic; Lions and deer; Monster and townspeople; Alligators and swimmers; Fireman; Motorcycle, race car, truck drivers; Airplane Voyage; Submarine; Astronauts; Queen, king, servants, hosts and guests; Tea party host and guests; Library; Aliens; movie and TV show scenarios (like Star Wars), and much more.

School in a Book: Geography

There are many ways to reliably embarrass yourself in life. One of them is to reveal your lack of knowledge of the whereabouts of continents and oceans and important nations and cities. You push yourself into the “educated” category when you can name the most populated cities in the world and know the approximate populations of cities near you.

Basic Geography

The seven continents (in order of size): Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australasia/Oceania. 

The seven oceans: North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Southern Sea, Arctic Ocean

The four U.S. time zones: PST (Pacific Standard Time); MT (Mountain Time: PST plus one hour); CST (Central Standard Time: PST plus two hours); EST (Eastern Standard Time: PST plus three hours)

The five geographical zones of Earth: Arctic and antarctic (in the far north and south); north temperate and south temperate; and tropical (the middle of Earth on both sides of the equator)

Latitude lines/parallels: Imaginary lines running horizontally around the globe. They are measured in degrees, with the equator at 0° latitude, the north pole at 90° north and the south pole at 90° south.

Longitude lines/meridians: Imaginary lines running vertically around the globe. These meet at both poles. They are measured in degrees, with the prime meridian at 0° longitude (at Earth’s axis), and the farthest extensions at 180° east and 180° west.

Geographic coordinates: The two-number combination that gives a location’s latitude and longitude

Hemisphere: A hemisphere is half the Earth’s surface. The four hemispheres are the Northern and Southern hemispheres, divided by the equator (0° latitude), and the Eastern and Western hemispheres, divided by the prime meridian (0° longitude) and the International Date Line (180°).

Equator: The imaginary line around the center of the earth that we measure as zero degrees latitude. The Sun is directly overhead the equator at noon on the two equinoxes (March and Sept. 20 or 21). The equator divides the globe into the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The equator appears halfway between the North and South poles, at the widest circumference of the globe. It is 24,901.55 miles (40,075.16 km) long.

Prime Meridian: The imaginary line down the center of the earth that we measure as zero degrees longitude (0°). It runs through the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich, England and divides the globe into the Western and Eastern hemispheres. The Earth’s time zones are measured from it.

International Date Line: The imaginary line located at approximately 180° longitude that, by convention, marks the end of one calendar day and the beginning of the next. It bends around countries to avoid date- and time-related confusion.

Tropic of Cancer: The imaginary line located at 23°30′ north of the equator. The Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer on the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (June 20 or 21). It marks the northernmost point of the tropics, which falls between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Tropic of Capricorn: The imaginary line located at 23°30′ south. The Sun is directly overhead the Tropic of Capricorn on the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere (Dec. 20 or 21). It marks the southernmost point of the tropics.

Arctic Circle: A line of latitude located at 66°30′ north, delineating the Northern Frigid Zone of the Earth.

Antarctic Circle: A line of latitude located at 66°30′ south, delineating the Southern Frigid Zone of the Earth.

The current number of countries in the world: 195

The current population of the world: Eight billion

The most populous nation: China

The second most populous nation: India

The third most populous nation: The United States

Longest river on Earth: Nile 4,160 miles (6,695 km)

Largest lake on Earth: Caspian Sea 143,243 sq miles (371,000 sq km)

Highest point on Earth: Mt. Everest 29,035 ft (8,850 m)

Lowest point on Earth: Dead Sea –1,312 ft (–400 m)

Largest ocean on Earth: Pacific Ocean

Largest desert on Earth: Sahara 3,263,400 sq miles (9,065,000 sq km)

Largest island on Earth: Greenland 836,327 sq miles (2,166,086 sq km)

Coldest place on Earth: Ulan Bator, Mongolia –26°F (–32°C)

Hottest place on Earth: Baghdad, Iraq 110°F (43°C), July/August

Wettest place on Earth (by annual rainfall): Liberia, 202 in (514 cm) of rain per year

Driest place on Earth (by annual rainfall): Egypt, 11°8 in (2.9 cm) of rain per year

Largest country on Earth: Russian Federation 6,592,800 sq miles (17,075,400 sq km)

Smallest country on Earth: Vatican City 0.17 sq miles (0.44 sq km)

Longest border on Earth: US–Canada 5,526 miles (8,893 km)

Country with most neighbors on Earth: China (14), Russia (14)

Oldest country on Earth: Denmark, AD 950

Youngest country on Earth: East Timor, 2002

Top five biggest cities and populations: Tokyo, Japan; New York, NY; Seoul, South Korea; Mexico City, Mexico; and São Paulo, Brazil. (All have over 20 million people.)

Country with smallest population: Vatican City, 900

Most densely populated country: Monaco 42,649 people per sq mile (16,404 people per sq km)

Least densely populated country: Mongolia 4 people per sq mile (2 people per sq km)

Country with highest birth rate: Niger 55 per 1,000 population

Country with lowest birth rate: Hong Kong/Macao (China) 7 per 1,000 population

Country with highest death rate: Sierra Leone 25 per 1,000 population

Country with lowest death rate: United Arab Emirates 2 per 1,000 population

Country with the highest life expectancy: Japan (81)

Country with the lowest life expectancy: Sierra Leone (39)

Richest country (highest GNP*): United States $9,602 billion

Poorest country (lowest GNP*): Tuvalu US$3 million

Map projections: Distorted representations of the relative locations on Earth that allow for two-dimensional map making. There are many types of projections, the most famous being the Mercator projection, which shows the far northern and southern areas as much larger than they are.

Pangea: The most recent single, unified “supercontinent” to have preceded the current continental forms on Earth

School in a Book: Essential Skills: Arts and Crafts

Like freedom and fun, creativity is an inborn need. If you haven’t discovered this need in yourself, it’s possible you haven’t yet found your medium. It’s also possible that this checklist of art and craft skills will pique your interest.

Fine Art Skills Checklist

  • Drawing (with chalk, charcoal, crayon, marker, oil pastels, pen, pencil)–learn how to draw people in various body positions that are not stick people and several other “go-to” objects of interest (cars, buildings, trees, flowers, nature scenes of choice)
  • Painting (with acrylic paint, oil paint, watercolor on canvas, glass, fabric, human body, plaster, wood, walls with brushes, sponges, hands, stencils and more; this includes murals)
  • Sculpture (with wood, wax, stone, metal, clay and mixed media)
  • Performance art: Dance, theater, music
  • Conceptual art/Installation art
  • Collage
  • Fresco
  • Mosaic
  • Recycled material art
  • Multimedia art

Applied Art Skills Checklist

  • Architecture
  • Carpentry/woodworking
  • Building (go-karts, playground structures, garden trellises, etc.)
  • Ceramics/pottery
  • Film making
  • Culinary art
  • Glass blowing
  • Light art/Lighting design
  • Landscape architecture
  • Graphic narratives/Comics/Cartooning
  • Photography
  • Printmaking
  • Fashion design
  • Model making
  • Collecting
  • Scrapbooking
  • Textile arts: Crocheting, sewing, knitting, macrame, weaving and more
  • Graphic design/Electronic art (creating brochures, magazines, etc.)
  • Website creation
  • Digital printing
  • Video game creation
  • Writing stories, poems and more

Easy Crafts for Children

  • Clay/Play-Doh modeling
  • Braiding and weaving
  • Making wrapping paper
  • Beading
  • Making bean-filled heat packs to heat in the microwave
  • Making greeting cards
  • Making bound books
  • Making Christmas ornaments
  • Weaving paper baskets
  • Making masks
  • Making paper chains
  • Making edible necklaces and Christmas strings with popcorn or apples
  • Making mobiles
  • Making hand and finger puppets
  • Making miniature villages or people from various materials
  • Plastic bag painting (putting paint and small objects in a plastic baggie and shaking)
  • Coloring
  • Stamping
  • Making leaf and hand prints and rubbings
  • Gluing and taping with recycled materials
  • Hole punching and tying string
  • Making egg carton treasure boxes
  • Making stick and popsicle stick art, such as a flower pots or a birdhouse

School in a Book: Classic Songs and Musical Artists

You know how out of the blue one day you hear a song you used to love and you think, I can’t forget this again. I have to write it down. You start to wonder how many other great songs you’ve let slip from memory. Then you have kids, and you start actively seeking them out so you can pass them on. This list is a good jumping-off point for that process.

It’s highly unlikely that all your favorite songs are listed here. But there are a lot of great ones, and many that you’ll hear here and there throughout your life. Listen to them at the YouTube links provided, absorbing the style of each artist and thinking critically about what you like, what you don’t like, and why. No need to memorize song titles, but a working recall of most of these artists will help you immensely in your many enjoyable music-related conversations to come.

This list is a work in progress; check back for updates.

Important Classical and Modern Instrumental Composers

  • Johann Sebastian Bach (Toccata and Fugue, Brandenburg Concertos)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (Moonlight Sonata, Fur Elise)
  • Johannes Brahms (Hungarian Dance No. 5)
  • Frederic Chopin (Nocturne No. 2, Spring Waltz)
  • Antonin Dvorak (New World Symphony)
  • Edvard Grieg (Peer Gynt Suite)
  • George Frideric Handel (The Messiah, HWV 56: Hallelujah Chorus)
  • Mendelssohn (Hebrides Overture)
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467: II. Andante; Requiem, K. 626: Lacrimosa Dies Illa; Serenade No. 13 In G Major, K. 525, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”: I. Allegro; Symphony No. 40 In G Minor, K. 550: I. Allegro Molto; Piano Sonata No. 11 In A Major, K. 331: Rondo: Alla Turca; The Magic Flute, K. 620: Overture)
  • Robert Schumann (Piano Concerto)
  • Franz Shubert (Serenade; Symphony 8)
  • Johann Strauss (On the Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz)
  • Igor Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring)
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Swan Lake; The Nutcracker; the 1812 Overture)
  • Giuseppe Verdi (Nabucco: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Va’, Pensiero, Sull’ali Dorate); Messa Da Requiem: Dies Irae – Tuba Mirum)
  • Vivaldi
  • Richard Wagner (The Ride of the Valkyries)
  • Philip Glass (Glassworks)
  • Hans Zimmer (Interstellar; Time)
  • John Williams (Star Wars theme)
  • Thomas Newman (American Beauty soundtrack)
  • Sergei Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf)

Important Operas

  • The Magic Flute, Mozart
  • Don Giovanni
  • The Marriage of Figaro
  • La Boheme
  • Carmen
  • Madame Butterfly
  • Falstaff
  • The Barber of Seville

Important Musicals

  • Annie (Tomorrow, Maybe)
  • The Wizard of Oz (Somewhere Over the Rainbow)
  • Pinocchio (When You Wish Upon a Star)
  • Footloose (Footloose)
  • Grease (You’re the One That I Want, Summer Days)
  • My Fair Lady (I Could Have Danced All Night)
  • Fiddler on the Roof (Sunrise, Sunset; Tradition)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (Singin’ in the Rain, Make ‘Em Laugh)
  • Oklahoma! (Oklahoma!, Oh What a Beautiful Morning)
  • West Side Story (I Feel Pretty)
  • Little Shop of Horrors (Da-Doo, Skid Row)
  • Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast, This Provincial Life, Be My Guest)
  • The Little Mermaid (Kiss the Girl)
  • The Sound of Music (Spoonful of Sugar, Edelweiss, Sixteen Going on Seventeen, My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Moon River)
  • South Pacific (I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair, Bali Ha’i)
  • White Christmas (White Christmas, Sisters)
  • Annie Get Your Gun (Anything You Can Do)
  • Guys and Dolls (Sit Down, You’re Rocking’ the Boat)
  • Other Disney musicals

Important Folk Songs, Spirituals and Christmas Carols

  • The Star-Spangled Banner
  • America, the Beautiful
  • God Bless America
  • Auld Lang Syne
  • You’re a Grand Old Flag
  • The Air Force Song
  • The Marine’s Hymn
  • When the Saints Go Marching In
  • Amazing Grace
  • How Great Thou Art
  • I’ll Fly Away
  • Kumbaya
  • He’s Got the Whole World
  • Swing Low Sweet Chariot
  • What a Friend We Have in Jesus
  • This Little Light of Mine
  • Happy Birthday to You
  • Oh, Susanna
  • Coconut
  • Banana Boat Song (Day-O)
  • Home on the Range
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
  • Ain’t We Got Fun?
  • Someone’s In the Kitchen With Dinah
  • Take Me Out to the Ballgame
  • I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad
  • You’ll Sing a Song
  • Down By the Riverside
  • Lavender’s Blue
  • Where, Oh, Where Has My Little Dog Gone?
  • How Much Is That Doggy In the Window
  • Alouette
  • There’s a Hole in the Bucket
  • O Holy Night
  • Jingle Bells
  • Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  • The First Noel
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas
  • Oh Come All Ye Faithful
  • Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • We Three Kings
  • Away in a Manger
  • Silent Night
  • What Child Is This?
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • Joy to the World
  • Angels We Have Heard on High
  • I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
  • It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
  • Jingle Bells
  • Frosty, the Snowman
  • Let It Snow
  • Holly, Jolly Christmas
  • The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)
  • I’ll Be Home for Christmas
  • I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas
  • Deck the Halls
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Important Children’s Songs and Artists

  • The Alphabet Song
  • Rock-a-Bye Baby
  • Ba Ba Black Sheep
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Star Light, Star Bright
  • Hush, Little Baby
  • Skidamarink
  • Knees Up Mother Brown
  • Down by the Bay
  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Frere Jacques
  • Lollipop, Lollipop
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • Skip to My Lou
  • The More We Get Together
  • This Old Man
  • The Ants Go Marching One By One
  • Are You Sleeping, Brother John?
  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Five Little Monkeys
  • Ring Around the Roses
  • Old McDonald
  • Three Blind Mice
  • Nick Nack Paddywack
  • Pop Goes the Weasel
  • Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush
  • Hey Diddle Diddle
  • Jack and Jill
  • London Bridge Is Falling Down
  • She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain
  • This Little Piggy
  • Little Bo Peep
  • Sing a Song of Sixpence
  • A Tisket a Tasket
  • Little Boy Blue
  • Old King Cole
  • Little Miss Muffet
  • The Muffin Man
  • Over the River and Through the Woods
  • The Farmer In the Dell
  • Baby Bumble Bee
  • Do Your Ears Hang Low?
  • John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
  • Ring Around the Rosey
  • Pat-a-Cake
  • This Little Piggy Went to Market
  • Where is Thumbkin?
  • Here is the Beehive
  • Peter Piper
  • Hush, Little Baby
  • Pop Goes the Weasel
  • Are You Sleeping, Brother John?
  • Five Little Ducks
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • I’m a Little Teapot
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • The Wheels on the Bus
  • Old MacDonald

Important Popular Artists (Rock, Country, Rap and More)

  • AC/DC (Thunderstruck; Back in Black; Highway to Hell)
  • Aerosmith (Sweet Emotion; Walk This Way)
  • Al Green (Let’s Stay Together; Love and Happiness; Take Me to the River)
  • Eurythmics/Annie Lennox (Sweet Dreams [Are Made of This]; Here Comes the Rain Again)
  • Aretha Franklin (Respect; [You Make Me Feel Like a] Natural Woman; Chain of Fools; I Say a Little Prayer)
  • B.B. King (The Thrill Is Gone; Every Day I Have the Blues)
  • Barbra Streisand (The Way We Were; You Don’t Bring Me Flowers; Don’t Lie to Me)
  • Bee Gees (Stayin’ Alive)
  • Bette Midler (From a Distance; I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today; Wind Beneath My Wings)
  • Bill Withers (Just the Two of Us; Lean on Me; Ain’t No Sunshine)
  • Billie Holiday (Blue Moon; God Bless the Child)
  • Billy Joel (Piano Man; New York State of Mind; We Didn’t Start the Fire)
  • Bing Crosby (Christmas album; Swingin’ on a Star; Let Me Call You Sweetheart)
  • Blondie (Call Me; Heart of Glass)
  • Bob Dylan (Like a Rolling Stone’ Blowing in the Wind; Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door; Mr. Tambourine Man; The Times They Are a-Changin’)
  • Bob Marley (Don’t Worry Be Happy; Three Little Birds; No Woman No Cry; Could You Be Loved; I Shot the Sheriff; One Love)
  • Bob Seger (Old Time Rock ‘n Roll)
  • Bobby Darin (Dream Lover)
  • Bobby “Blue” Bland (I Pity the Fool; Farther Up the Road; Cry, Cry, Cry; Turn On Your Love Light)
  • Bonnie Raitt (Something to Talk About; Thing Called Love)
  • Boston (More Than a Feeling)
  • Brian Wilson (In My Room; Don’t Worry Baby; Carline, No)
  • Bruce Springsteen (Born in the U.S.A.; Dancin’ in the Dark; Streets of Philadelphia)
  • Buddy Holly (Everyday; That’ll Be the Day; Peggy Sue)
  • Carly Simon (You’re So Vain)
  • Cat Stevens (Wild World; Morning Has Broken; Cat’s in the Cradle; Where Do the Children Play; Blowin’ in the Wind)
  • Celine Dion (The Power of Love; My Heart Will Go On; It’s All Coming Back to Me Now; Where Does My Heart Beat Now)
  • Chicago
  • Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode; No Particular Place to Go; Maybelline; Roll Over Beethoven; Sweet Little Sixteen; You Never Can Tell)
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival (Have you Ever Seen the Rain?; Bad Moon Rising; Proud Mary; Who’ll Stop the Rain; Down on the Corner)
  • Crosby, Stills and Nash (Long Time Gone)
  • Curtis Mayfield (People Get Ready; Superfly)
  • Cyndi Lauper (Girls Just Want to Have Fun; True Colors; Time After Time)
  • Darlene Love (He’s a Rebel; Christmas (Baby Please Come Home); He’s Sure the Boy I Love)
  • David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust; Let’s Dance)
  • David Ruffin (Ain’t Too Proud to Beg; My Girl; Walk Away From Love)
  • Diana Ross
  • Dion (Teenager in Love, The Wanderer, Runaround Sue, Abraham, Martin and John)
  • Dolly Parton (I Will Always Love You; 9 to 5)
  • Donny Hathaway (The Ghetto, Pt. 1; Where Is the Love; A Song for You)
  • Doris Day (Dream a Little Dream of Me; Que Sera Sera; Perhaps, Perhaps)
  • Duke Ellington (It Don’t Mean a Thing [If It Ain’t Got That Swing])
  • Ella Fitzgerald (Cheek to Cheek; Dream a Little Dream of Me; It Don’t Mean a Thing [If It Ain’t Got That Swing])
  • Elton John (Can You Feel the Love Tonight; Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Rocket Man)
  • Elvis Costello ([What’s So Funny About] Peace, Love and Understanding)
  • Elvis Presley (Can’t Help Falling in Love; Love Me Tender; Blue Suede Shoes; Hound Dog; Jailhouse Rock; Don’t Be Cruel; All Shook Up)
  • Eminem (Slim Shady; Without Me; Not Afraid; Godzilla)
  • Eric Clapton (Tears in Heaven; Wonderful Tonight)
  • Etta James (At Last; Something’s Got a Hold on Me)
  • Fats Domino (Blueberry Hill)
  • Fleetwood Mac (Go Your Own Way)
  • Foreigner (Starrider)
  • Frank Sinatra (My Way; Fly Me to the Moon; New York, New York; That’s Life; I’ve Got the World on a String)
  • Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers (Why Do Fools Fall in Love)
  • Frankie Valli (Sherry; Big Girls Don’t Cry; Walk Like a Man; Can’t Take My Eyes Off You)
  • Gladys Knight (Midnight Train to Georgia; I Heard It Through the Grapevine)
  • The Allman Brothers Band (Midnight Rider; Whipping Post)
  • Guns N’ Roses/Axl Rose (Paradise City; Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door; Welcome to the Jungle; November Rain)
  • Jackie Wilson (Lonely Teardrops; [Your Love Keeps Lifting Me] Higher and Higher)
  • James Brown (Get Up [I Feel Like Being a] Sex Machine; I Got You [I Feel Good])
  • James Taylor (Five and Rain; Sweet Baby James; You’ve Got a Friend; Carolina in My Mind)
  • Janis Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee; Piece of My Heart; Summertime)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire; Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On)
  • Jimmy Cliff (Many Rivers to Cross, The Harder They Come, I Can See Clearly Now)
  • Joe Cocker (With a Little Help From My Friends; You Are So Beautiful)
  • John Coltrane (A Love Supreme, Parts 1-4; Naima)
  • John Denver (Take Me Home, Country Roads; Annie’s Song; Rocky Mountain High; Home Grown Tomatoes)
  • John Lee Hooker (Boom Boom)
  • John Legend (Glory; All of Me; Ordinary People)
  • John Lennon (I Feel Fine; Strawberry Fields Forever; Imagine; Happy Christmas [War Is Over])
  • John Mellencamp (Hurts So Good)
  • Johnny Cash (Ring of Fire; I Walk the Line; Hurt)
  • Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now; Help Me; Big Yellow Taxi)
  • Journey (Don’t Stop Believin’)
  • Kanye West (Gold Digger; All of the Lights; Jesus Walks)
  • Kool and the Gang (Jungle Boogie)
  • Led Zeppelin (Stairway to Heaven)
  • Lionel Richie (Easy; Stuck On You)
  • Little Richard (Good Golly, Miss Molly; Tutti Frutti; Long Tall Sally)
  • Lou Reed (Walk on the Wild Side; Perfect Day)
  • Louis Armstrong (What a Wonderful World; Cheek to Cheek; Unforgettable)
  • Luther Vandross (Love the One You’re With)
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd (Sweet Home Alabama)
  • Madonna (Vogue; Like a Virgin; Material Girl; Like A Prayer; La Isla Bonita)
  • Mariah Carey (I Don’t Wanna Cry; Without You; Hero; Bye Bye; One Sweet Day; Vision of Love; Emotions; O Holy Night; We Belong Together; Always Be My Baby; Fantasy)
  • Mark Ronson (Uptown Funk)
  • Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (Dancing in the Street)
  • Marvin Gaye (Let’s Get It On; I Heard It Through the Grapevine; Ain’t No Mountain High Enough; Mercy Mercy Me)
  • Mavis Staples (I’ll Take You There; What Happened to the Real Me)
  • Merle Haggard (Pancho and Lefty)
  • Michael Jackson (Thriller; Bad; Black and White; We Are the World; Billie Jean)
  • Miles Davis (Blue in Green; So What)
  • Moody Blues (Nights in White Satin)
  • Muddy Waters (Mannish Boy)
  • Nancy Sinatra (These Boots are Made for Walkin’; Bang Bang)
  • Nat King Cole (Unforgettable; When I Fall in Love; Mona Lisa)
  • Natalie Cole (Unforgettable; This Will Be [An Everlasting Love])
  • Neil Diamond (Sweet Caroline)
  • Neil Young (Cortez the Killer; Rockin’ in the Free World; Sugar Mountain)
  • Nina Simone (I Ain’t Got No/I Got Life; Sinnerman; I Put a Spell on You)
  • Nirvana/ Kurt Cobain (Smells Like Teen Spirit; Come As You Are; In Bloom; Lithium)
  • Otis Redding (I’ve Been Loving You too Long [to Stop Now]; [Sittin’ on] the Dock of the Bay; Try a Little Tenderness; I’ve Got Dreams to Remember)
  • Patsy Cline (I Fall to Pieces; Walkin’ After Midnight; Crazy)
  • Patti LaBelle (New Attitude; On My Own)
  • Paul Anka (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
  • Peter, Paul and Mary (Puff the Magic Dragon; Blowin’ in the Wind; If I Had a Hammer; Lemon Tree; We Shall Overcome; Leaving on a Jet Plane)
  • Pink Floyd (Money; Another Brick in the Wall Part 2)
  • Prince (Kiss; 1999; Purple Rain)
  • Queen/Freddie Mercury (We Will Rock You; We Are the Champions; Bohemian Rhapsody; Another One Bites the Dust)
  • R.E.M. (Losing My Religion; Everybody Hurts)
  • The Ramones (Blitzkrieg Bop; Sheena Is a Punk Rocker)
  • Ray Charles (Georgia on My Mind; Night & Day; Hit the Road, Jack; I Got a Woman)
  • Rod Stewart (Have I Told You Lately?; Forever Young; You’re in My Heart)
  • Roxette (She’s Got the Look)
  • Roy Orbison (Only the Lonely; Oh, Pretty Woman)
  • Sam Cooke (A Change Is Gonna Come; What A Wonderful World/Don’t Know Much About History)
  • Sam & Dave (Soul Man)
  • Sammy Davis Jr. (I’ve Gotta Be Me; Candy Man)
  • Simon and Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water; Scarborough Fair; Mrs. Robinson; The Sound of Silence)
  • Sly and the Family Stone (Hot Fun in the Summertime; Family Affair)
  • Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (Cruisin’; You Really Got a Hold on Me)
  • Solomon Burke (Everybody Needs Somebody to Love; Cry to Me)
  • Sonny and Cher (I Got You Babe)
  • Steppenwolf (Born to Be Wild; Magic Carpet Ride)
  • Stevie Nicks (Talk to Me)
  • Stevie Wonder (I Just Called to Say I Love You; Isn’t She Lovely; Signed, Sealed, Delivered)
  • The Animals (Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood; The House of the Rising Sun)
  • The Band (The Weight, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down)
  • The Bangles (Walk Like an Egyptian, Manic Monday; Eternal Flame)
  • The Beach Boys (California Girls; Surfin’ USA; I Get Around; Good Vibrations)
  • The Beatles (In My Life; Strawberry Fields Forever; All You Need is Love; Come Together; Hey, Jude; Let It Be; Yesterday; Yellow Submarine; Ticket to Ride; While My Guitar Gently Weeps; With a Little Help From My Friends)
  • The Byrds (Mr. Tambourine Man; Turn! Turn! Turn!)
  • The Carpenters (We’ve Only Just Begun; Close to You; Yesterday Once More; Rainy Days and Mondays)
  • The Champs (Tequila Song)
  • The Clash (Rock the Casbah; London Calling; Should I Stay or Should I Go)
  • The Doors/Jim Morrison (Light My Fire; People Are Strange; Riders on a Storm; Break on Through to the Other Side)
  • The Drifters (Under the Boardwalk; Save the Last Dance for Me)
  • The Eagles (Hotel California; The Long Run; Take It Easy)
  • The Everly Brothers (All I Have to Do Is Dream; Bye Bye Love; Wake Up Little Susie)
  • Four Tops (Reach Out [I’ll Be There]; I Can’t Help Myself [Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch]; Baby I Need Your Loving; Walk Away Renee)
  • The Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia (Workingman’s Dead; Uncle John’s Band)
  • The Isley Brothers (Shout, Parts 1 and 2; This Old Heart of Mine [Is Weak for You])
  • The Jackson 5 (I Want You Back)
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Jimi Hendrix (All Along the Watchtower; Purple Haze)
  • The Police (Message in a Bottle; Every Breath You Take; Roxanne)
  • The Righteous Brothers (Unchained Melody; You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’)
  • The Rolling Stones ([I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction; Paint It Black; You Can’t Always Get What You Want)
  • The Ronettes (Be My Baby)
  • The Sex Pistols (Anarchy in the U.K.; God Save the Queen)
  • The Shirelles (Mama Said; Will You Love Me Tomorrow)
  • The Spencer Davis Group (Gimme Some Lovin’)
  • The Staple Singers (I’ll Take You There; Respect Yourself; Let’s Do It Again)
  • The Supremes/Diana Ross (Baby Love; Where Did Our Love Go; Stop! In the Name of Love; You Keep Me Hanging On; You Can’t Hurry Love; I Hear a Symphony)
  • The Temptations (My Girl)
  • The Who (Baba O’Riley; I Can See For Miles; Won’t Get Fooled Again)
  • Tina Turner (What’s Love Got to Do With It; Proud Mary, Simply the Best)
  • Tony Bennett (Fly Me to the Moon; I Left My Heart in San Francisco)
  • Tracy Chapman (Give Me One Reason)
  • U2/Bono (Beautiful Day; With or Without You; I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For)
  • Van Morrison (Brown Eyed Girl; Gloria [Them])
  • Whitney Houston (I Will Always Love You; Greatest Love of All; I Have Nothing; I Wanna Dance with Somebody; Run to You; Saving All My Love for You; Where Do Broken Hearts Go)
  • Willie Nelson (On the Road Again; Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys; Always on My Mind)
  • Wilson Pickett (In the Midnight Hour; Land of a 1,000 Dances; Mustang Sally)
  • Adele (Hello; Someone Like You)
  • Fats Domino
  • Alanis Morissette (Ironic)
  • Lil Wayne (Lollipop; How to Love)
  • Justin Bieber
  • Beyonce (If I Was a Boy)
  • Macy Grey (I Try; Stay)
  • Jay Z (Forever Young)
  • Kenny Rogers (The Gambler)
  • Lee Ann Womak (I Hope You Dance)
  • Enya (Orinoco Flow/Sail Away)
  • Bad Company (Can’t Get Enough)
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers (Under the Bridge)
  • Phil Collins (Another Day in Paradise; In the Air Tonight; You Can’t Hurry Love)
  • Macklemore (Thrift Shop; My Oh My)
  • Alan Jackson (It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere)
  • Drake
  • Gordon Lightfoot (Sundown)

School in a Book: Essential Skills: Physical Education

No one is saying you need to become an all-star. But learning the basics of a wide variety of sports helps you understand your options and, almost certainly, find something you will enjoy long-term.

For each of the activities below, learn the basic rules of the game, experience playing the game multiple times, and learn proper form for as many of the skills involved in the game as possible. (This is particularly important with swimming and running.) YouTube videos are an invaluable resource for this.

Important Physical Education Skills

  • Volleyball
  • Soccer
  • Baseball/Softball
  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Hockey
  • Badminton
  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Running
  • Roller Skating
  • Ice Skating
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Sledding
  • Yoga
  • Hide and Seek
  • Capture the Flag
  • Tag
  • Sardines
  • Dodgeball
  • Kick the Can
  • Obstacle Courses
  • Frisbee
  • Keep Away
  • Billiards/Pool
  • Snorkeling

Other Physical Education Choices

  • Gymnastics
  • Dance (including square dancing, line dancing, ballet, jazz, tap, swing, ballroom, rumba, hip hop, salsa, and tango)
  • Parkour
  • Rock climbing
  • Martial Arts
  • Diving
  • Weight Lifting
  • Wrestling
  • Snow skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Water skiing
  • Wake boarding
  • Surfing
  • Sailing
  • Rafting
  • Golf
  • Table Tennis/Ping Pong
  • Pickleball
  • Cricket
  • Wiffleball
  • Skateboarding
  • Surfing
  • Frisbee Golf
  • Lacrosse
  • Jump Roping
  • Wrestling
  • Canyoneering
  • Horse Riding
  • Polo
  • SCUBA diving
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Shooting
  • Archery
  • Raquetball
  • Squash
  • Handball
  • Hang Gliding
  • Paragliding
  • Kite Flying
  • Rodeo Sports
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Rafting
  • Rowing
  • Auto Racing
  • ATV Racing
  • Dune Buggying
  • Go-Kart Racing
  • Aerobatics
  • Parachuting
  • Foosball

School in a Book: Biology and Genetics

I remember learning basic biology in school. It was a long time ago, and yet, most of this stuff stuck. It’s everywhere, after all–in the news, in other books. And yet, after creating this list, I was struck by the fine delineations, especially regarding the differences between genes, genetic traits, chromosomes, alleles, and DNA. Interesting review here.

Basic Biology

Living thing/organism: An organized system with the following characteristics: respiration (usually air respiration); reproduction; movement; digestion of both water and nutrients); metabolism; death; and cell-based structure.

Animal: An organism with the following characteristics: a distinct orientation (a top and a bottom); symmetry; and mobility. (Mobility is different from movement in that it is wider in range. For example, a plant may move closer to the light and grow roots, but it takes a long time, is limited in area, and does not wholly move.)

Classification/taxonomy: The organizing of things into groups according to their shared features.

The eight levels of the taxonomy of living things: Domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. (Many species are also divided into subspecies called races, breeds or varieties. These are not separate species because they can interbreed.)

The three domains and six kingdoms of living things: Bacteria, archaea and eukaryota. (Bacteria and archaea are both prokaryotes, so some scientists consider there to be two domains: prokaryota and eukaryota. Prokaryotes have no cell nucleus, while eukaryota do.) While bacteria and archaea are their own kingdoms as well, most scientists divide the eukaryota into four kingdoms: plantae, animalia, fungi and protistas.

Plant kingdom: Made up of the living things that get energy from the sun

Animal kingdom: Made up of the living things that get energy from living, biological food

The human taxonomy: Domain: eukaryota; kingdom: animalia; phylum: chordata (since they have a stiff rod that supports the body); class: mammalia; order: primates; family: Hominidae; genus: Homo; species: Homo sapiens.

Common name: Name commonly used for a species of animal or plant

Biological name: Official name of an animal or plant. This is usually in Latin and made up of the genus and species names, but sometimes also contains the name of the sub-species.

Species: The taxonomic level at which all the members can mate and reproduce offspring of their kind

Life cycle: The stages of growth and development of living things. This is different for different species; for example, frogs have a tadpole stage and caterpillars have a cocoon stage.

Generation: All members of a species bearing offspring around the same time

Male: Boy offspring; fertilizes the egg

Female: Girl offspring; produces the egg(s) and sometimes births the offspring

Reproduction: In animals, the producing of offspring by parents

Sexual reproduction: Reproduction involving two parents, one male and one female

Asexual reproduction: Reproduction involving only one parent

Fertilization: Adding DNA to the egg that starts its growth

Mating: The pairing of opposite-sex animals that results in fertilization

Food chain: A series of plants and animals that use each other for food. It starts with a plant that gets food from the sun, then continues with the animal that eats that plant and so on.

Food web: A series of interlinked food chains. Creates interdependence.

Cell: Smallest unit of living matter, but still visible under a microscope. (Try looking at a thin slice of onion membrane.)

Mitosis: Cell division resulting in two genetically identical cells, each with a set of the same chromosomes. Happens when the nucleus of the cell divides.

Cytokinesis: The second stage of cell division in which the cell plate forms to divide the two cells

Fungi: Living things that lack chlorophyll and feed on living and dead things

Bacteria: A type of single-celled organism that exists everywhere on earth. Most types have not been studied.

Protozoa: Single-celled eukaryotes that feed on organic matter

Amoeba: A type of protozoa, fungi, algae or animal that can change shape, usually by extending out pseudopods (fluid-filled sacs in the shape of arms or tentacles)

Excretion: The elimination of metabolic waste

Parasite: Living thing that feeds on other living things and also uses them as their home

Host: The living thing that homes and feeds a parasite

Homeostasis: Biological equilibrium, when a living thing’s internal conditions (such as temperature and mineral levels) are steady

Decomposition: The process by which organic substances break down into small pieces, which then get recycled

Dormant: Asleep; not dead but not reproducing, as a dormant seed

Evolution: The long series of changes that happen to all living things

Extinction: The dying out of a species

Natural selection: The natural process by which some species adapt and survive and others die out

Artificial selection: The human-controlled process by which some species change and survive and others die out

Mass extinction: The large-scale dying out of many species (and biodiversity) on earth. Happens due to major weather changes brought on by major events, like an astroid hitting the earth.

Adaptation: The process by which a species changes over time to adapt and survive

Biomass: The combined weight of all living things of a certain type in a certain area. The biomass of plants is higher than of animals. At each level of the food chain, the biomass is lower.

Basic Genetics

Genetics: The study of genes and heredity

Gene: The instructions inherited from parents that tell the body how to develop a particular characteristic or characteristics in the body (what qualities that characteristic will have). They are in every cell of the body (except red blood cells).

Genetic trait: A single trait that is expressed due to the instructions of the related gene. There can be multiple traits expressed by a single gene.

Heredity: All the traits passed from parents to their offspring

Genome: All of the genetic material of an organism (DNA or RNA)

Gene map: Shows the arrangement of the genes on a chromosome

Chromosome: The bundles that hold all of the individual genes. They are stored in the cell’s nucleus. Humans have 46 chromosomes: 2 sets of 23. Each chromosomes holds many, many genes.

DNA: Dioxyribonucleic acid. The chemical makeup of the genes. Always in a paired double strand and in the shape of a double helix.

RNA: Ribonucleic acid. This molecule reads and regulates genes. Sometimes called a messenger.

Nature and nurture: Heredity and environment. Both produce characteristics of an individual living thing, but how they interact is usually often unknown.

X and Y chromosomes: The chromosomes that determine gender. Everyone has one X chromosome, but males have a Y and females have a second X.

Dominant gene: The gene in the gene pair (the allele) that dominates the recessive one, and therefore gets expressed in the organism. Most genes are either dominant or recessive.

Recessive gene: The gene in the gene pair (the allele) that does not dominate the other. The recessive gene is expressed only when there are two associated recessives present, one from each parent. 

Co-dominance: Occurs when the contributions of both genes are visible in the organism

Allele: One of the two associated genes in a gene pair

Homozygote: Both of the alleles of a gene (both copies of a gene) are the same

Heterozygote: The alleles of a gene (both copies of a gene) are the same

Carrier: An organism that has a recessive allele for a genetic trait but does not display it. Can pass the allele onto offspring, who will express it if they inherit the same one from both parents.

DNA profiling/genetic fingerprinting: Determining an individual’s unique DNA code, usually by sampling a particular section of it

Genetic engineering/modification: The direct manipulation of an organism’s genes using biotechnology

GMO: Genetically modified organism

Gene splicing/ recombinant DNA (rDNA): DNA molecules formed in a lab bringing together genes from separate organisms

Cloning: Producing genetically identical individuals of an organism either naturally or artificially. In nature, many organisms produce clones through asexual reproduction.

Hybrid: Subspecies made by crossing two species

School in a Book: Botany and Zoology

Ahhhh … smell that fresh air. That’s the smell of you on a walk in a park with your kids, naming the trees and flowers you pass, then explaining sexual versus asexual reproduction.

Basic Botany

Parts of a plant cell: Cell wall; cell membrane; cytoplasm containing chloroplasts, chromoplasts, other organelles and the nucleus; a large vacuole containing water, sugar and other dissolved substances

Photosynthesis: The process plants use to make food. Steps: 1. Leaves, roots and stem take in water, sunlight and CO2. Chloroplasts in leaf cells contain chlorophyll which absorbs sun’s energy. Energy is used to combine H2O and CO2 to make carbohydrates and oxygen. Some of this can be stored as starch. The carbs and oxygen are then used to release energy, CO2 and water. At night, there is only respiration using stored energy. In daytime, photosynthesis is faster than respiration, so more energy is stored.

Roots: network of string-like structures (fibrous roots) or tap roots (like carrots). Absorb water, nutrients, anchors the plant.

Parts of a root: Primary root; secondary roots; root hairs; root cap

Types of roots: Fibrous roots (many equal-sized primary roots); advetitious roots (roots that grow out of the stem, like the hairs on an onion bulb); aerial roots (as in ivy); prop roots (for trees)

Stems: Transports nutrients; include trucks, vines, central points of grass

Parts of a stem: Buds (small growth that becomes a new shoot or a flower); shoots (new stems that grow off the main stem); main stem

Leaves: Food-making parts of plants. Leaves have veins and holes on their undersides to let in water and air. These can open and close. Note that leaves include pine needles.

Vascular tissue: Carries food and water through the plant

Bark: Dead protective tissue on the outside of a tree. Bark is formed in a living layer underneath the current layer after that layer gets pushed out by the new rings that are forming. It has tiny raised openings that provide oxygen and CO2 exchange, and it protects the tree from disease and helps hold in moisture. Since it can’t grow, it peels off and new bark is formed underneath.

Heartwood: The oldest rings of the tree; can’t transport water anymore

Sapwood: The newer rings; still transport water

Annual ring:A single layer of secondary thickening in an older plant, which takes one year to form

Seed: Has an embryo, food supply and protective coat. Seedlings grown in the dark are different from those grown in the light. Grow taller to seek light, but are weaker structurally. Seed gets energy from storage, not sun, but shoots require sun.

Flowers: Enable reproduction by containing male and female sex cells (gametes). Parts: petals that produce nectar to attract insects needed for pollination; stamens (the male part which contain pollen); and the carpel or pisitil (the female part that contains ovules in their ovary and can trap pollen). Some plants have male and female parts in all their flowers. Others have flowers of each type, and others have only male or female flowers, and need to be cross-pollinated with another plant of their genus or species.

Fruit: The part of the flowering plant that holds the seeds. This includes nuts, succulent fruits, berries, pods (like pea pods), kernels (like wheat kernels) and more.

Cones: The part of conifer trees that hold the seeds. They start out open, then after pollination, close up. When the seeds are ripe and the weather is warm and dry, the scales open and drop the fertilized seeds so they can find dirt to grow in. The cones then remain on the plant for a year or so. Note that conifers have male and female flowers and self-pollinate. Seeds are dispersed through animal excrement, wind, water and catching on animal fur.

Asexual reproduction: Reproduction that doesn’t involve a male and female sex cell. Algae, ferns and mosses do this because they don’t have flowers. But some use spores to reproduce also, alternating sexual and asexual reproduction.

Vegetative reproduction/vegetative propagation: When a plant can reproduce itself by itself asexually. Examples: plants that grow from bulbs (like tulips), from runners (like strawberries), from tubers (like potatoes), from cuttings and even from just a few cells (as in a lab). Note that for growing from cuttings, the cutting might need to stand in water and grow roots first before being planted in dirt.

Reproductive structures of plants: Flowers, cones, and spore capsules. Divisions (phylums) are made in the plant kingdom according to the form of the reproductive structures.

Anthers: male part of reproductive structrues; produce pollen

Ovaries: female part of flower – contains eggs that get pollinated by anthers, grows into the fruit, with each egg a seed.

Pollination: The transfer of pollen from the male part of a plant to the female part of the plant

Growth season: One year of a plant’s life

Plant lifecycle types: Annuals (die out except the seed each year); biennials (die in two years); herbaceous perennials (roots live many years but above ground parts die each year); woody perennials (most of parts above and below ground live on); ephemerals (very short lifecycles)

Dormant: Still alive but not actively growing; a seed. To see if a seed is still alive, try to grow it.

Germination: The waking up of a dormant seed

Soil: Dirt that is suitable for plant growth

Tropism: A plant “sense”

Autotropism: The ability (as of a plant) to make one’s own food

Geotropism: The ability (as of a plant) to sense gravity. Plants grow away from gravity, even if the soil is upside-down.

Phototropism: The ability (as of a plant) to sense light.

Thigmotropism: The ability (as of a plant) to sense touch.

Deciduous tree: Tree that loses its leaves each year

Evergreen tree: Tree that doesn’t shed its leaves all at once. They have tough, waxy leaves that don’t lose as much water.

Fungi: Not plants, but plant-like. Grow in damp and dark. No chlorophyll, so feed on dead or living things. Inc: mold, yeast, mushrooms. Some are helpful, as yeast and cheese mold. Some are poisonous to animals and plants.T

Angiosperm: Plant that produce flowers

Hydrophyte: Plant that grow in water. Include algae, seaweed, lily pads and more

Waterlogged: Oversaturated with water. Water-holding capacity is better for rich soil but poorer for sandy soil.

Aeration: The air flow to plant roots. Roots need oxygen, though plants take in CO2 and give off oxygen. Leaves transport sugar but can’t transport oxygen.

Drought: An extended dry period

Erosion: Bare soil exposed to elements. Prevent it by maintaining a vegetation cover. Erosion lowers soil quality since topsoil is richest.

Soil management: Maintaining proper balance of soil nutrients, airflow and water in soil

Soil conservation: Erosion prevention

Crop rotation: Rotating crops in order to balance the mineral levels in the soil since plants use and add different amounts of various minerals as they grow

Basic Zoology

Parts of an animal cell: Cell membrane (no cell wall like plants have); cytoplasm; organelles, including mitrochondria, which convert substances into energy for the cell, vacuoles, which house fats and liquids, the nucleus, which controls everything that happens in the cell, and the Golgi complex, which stores and distributes the substances that are made inside the cell (the warehouse). Cell also has centrioles, ribosomes to build proteins, and lysosomes. Note: See a picture of cell division to view these stages. Also note that different cells specialize according to their job.

Tissue: Cells of the same type combined together to do a particular job

Organ: Tissues of different types working together to do a particular job

System: Organs of different types working together to do a particular job

Body structures of animals: Most have a fluid-filled cavity and a skeleton to hold the cavity in place and allow for movement. All have an outer layer to enclose their bodies, which can be skin, an exoskeleton, a cuticle, scales, shells, prickles, fur and more. Animals also have a part or parts of the body to provide for locomotion, such as fins, flippers, wings, legs, etc.

Biped: Animal with two legs

Quadraped: Animal with four legs

Vertebrate: Animal with a backbone

Invertebrate: Animal with no backbone (as a snail)

Arthropod: Animal with an external skeleton/ exoskeleton (as a grasshopper)

Warm-blooded animal: Animal that can regulate its body temperature

Cold-blooded animal: Animal whose temperature changes with its environment

Herbivore: An animal that eats only plants

Carnivore: An animal that eats only meat

Omnivore: An animal that eats both plants and meat

Types of animal communication: Body language, such as preening or dancing; making noises, such as using vocal cords or rubbing body parts together; sending out chemical messages through pheremones or by spraying; and changing color.

Parts that animals use to sense their environment: Eyes; ears; specialized body parts for sensing balance; specialized body parts for sensing water pressure and currents; whiskers; tentacles; taste buds; parts for detecting electric pulses given off by other creatures (sharks do this). Note that birds may be able to sense Earth’s magnetic field and use it for migration, too. Also, animals detect gravity.

Types of animal reproduction: Animals either lay eggs (before or after fertilization) or give birth to live young

Larva: The form some animals take before beginning metamorphosis

Pupa: A hard shell that forms on larva inside of which metamorphosis occurs

Metamorphosis: The total restructuring of an animal’s body, sometimes inside a pupa or cocoon

Hibernation: A period of inactivity in some animals that includes the slowing of the metabolism

Migration: The large-scale movement of a species from one place to another

School in a Book: Basic Spanish Vocabulary

Lots of people will tell you that learning a new language is easy. And it can be . . . but it usually isn’t. The problem isn’t with the actual difficulty of the language, though. The problem is that we don’t practice.

Unless you live among native speakers, it’s a problem that’s not easily remedied. My suggestion: every few months (more if you’re in a hurry), play some audio recordings of words with translations or children’s music in the car on repeat. Language learning is not an all-at-once thing; you’ll need lots of time and repetition to let it sink in. If possible, be casual about it, but be consistent.

If you’re a person who enjoys reading and writing, copy your word lists onto flash cards or foldable lists. Personally, I spend countless hours writing and rewriting my lists when in full-on language learning mode.

You can also make games out of your vocabulary words–all kinds of fun games. At the end of this post I provide a story you can tell your kids that incorporates practice and repetition (theirs or yours).

Complete Beginners’ Spanish Word List


Hello: Hola
Good morning: Buenas dias
Good afternoonL Buenas tardes
Good evening: Buenas noches
Goodbye: Adios; chau
What is your name?: Como se llama?
My name is …: Me llamo; mi nombre es …
Pleasure to meet you. Mucho gusto.
How are you: Como esta (for a less familiar person); Como estas (for a more familiar person); Como esta usted (for a formal situation or older person)
Where are you from: De donde viene
I’m from …: Soy de …
See you later: Hasta luego.
See you tomorrow: Hasta ma­nana

Almost-Free Words

Important: Importante
Interesting: Interesante
Perfect: Perfecto
Excellent: Excellente


Thank you very much: Muchas gracias
You’re welcome: De nada
Execuse Me: Disculpe; perdoname; con permiso
Goodness: Caramba
Please: Por favor
I’m sorry: Lo siento
Forgive me: Disculpe
Help me: Ayudame
Danger: Peligro
Forbidden: Prohibito
No smoking: No se fuma
Fire: Fuego; incendio
Emergency: Emergencia
Hurry up: Appurase; rapido
For sale: Se vende
For rent: Se alguila
Look: Mira
Stop: Pare
Watch out: Cuidado
That’s fine: Esta bien
Go away: Dejeme
Bienvenido: Welcome
Oops: Opa (an expression from Greek)
True: Verdad
Of course: Por supresto
It’s okay/don’t worry about it: Tranquila; no se preculpe
Are you sure: Seguro
What do you mean: Como
How do you say: Como se dice
At what time: A que hora
Qual es: Which is it

Small Words

Me, I—mi, yo
You—tu (familiar) usted
They, them; ellos o ellas
Because—por que
Actually—-En verdad
The—la, e, los, las (depending on gender)
In—por, en
a—un, una
maybe—quisas o tal vez
She-he—-ella, el
Her’s/his.—la , le
Your—tu (familiar form)
Yes/no —si y no (shaking one finger is the most common form of no in South America—the index finger)
Therefore—por lo tanto
Of the —del
Like/similar to—paracido
Here—(different words used depending on distance aqui, aji, alla)
Together —-conmigo, contigo (familiar)


To be—Ser (permanent): soy, son, es; estar (less permanent): estoy, esta
To do—hacer…hago, hace
To feel—Sentir sineto , sienta
To be there—hay
To want—querer, quiero, quiere, quieres
To like—Gusta, me gusto, se gusta
To go (irregular verb) voy, vas, viene,
To live—vivir—vivo, vives, viva
To eat—comer como, comes, come
To drink—For non-alcoholic beverages: Tomar: tomo, tomes, tome; For alcohol: Beber …bebo, bebes, bebe
To cost—cuesta
To carry/transport—Llevar
To Exit—salida( noun)
To Arrive:—Llegar, llego, llegas, llega
To park: Estacionar
To Wait: Esperar, espero, espero, esperamos
To speak: Hablar, hablo, hables, habla
To say—digo, dices, dice
To stay put—quedar, quedense (command form)
To Help—ayudar, ayudo, ayudas, ayuda
To be able/capable—Puedar, puedo, puedes, puede
To understand—entender entiendo, entiendes, entiende
To comprehend—Comprender, comprendo, comprendes, comprende
To Hope—Esperar, espero, esperes, espere
To know/be acquainted with (person) Conocer, conozco, conoces, conoce
To know (facts) Saber, se, sabes, sabe
To charge/exchange—Cambiar, cambio,
To travel—viajer, viajo, viege
To close—Cierrar
to find—encountrar
to wash—lavar, lavo (clothes)
to clean—limpiar, limpio,
to buy—comprar, compro, ustead compra
to sit—sentar
to smoke—fumar
to take—tomer
to walk—cambiar-=–cambio, cambias, cambia
to search for—buscar, busco, buscas, busca
to see—ver veo, ve
To give—dar, doy, da
To pay—pagar, pago, paga
To sign—firmar, firmo, firme
To need—necesitar, necesito, necesita
To cook—cocinar cocino, cocina
To reserve—reservar,
To confirm—confirmar
To take a photo—sacrar una foto
To Call—llamar, llamo
To accept—acceptar, acepto
To sleep—dormir,duermo,duerma
To work—trabajar, trabajo, trabaja
To think—pensar, penso
To believer—creer, creo, cree
To stop—parar
To return—volver
To sell—vender,vendo, vende
To exit—salir, salgo
To come—venior, vegno, viene
To lose—perder, pierdo, pierde
To win—ganar, gano, unstead gana
To study—estudiar, studio
To dance—baillar, bailo, bailas
To sing—cantar, canto, canta
To play—jugar..juego, juega
To hate—odiar
To love—-amar, encantar, encanto, encanta


Slow—despacio o despacito
Good—bueno, bien
Bad—mal, malo
Handsome—guapo (word also means hard working in some contexts)
Hot—caliente (refers to heat, piquante refers to spicy)
The same—mismo
Necessary—necesito (this is a verb, not an adjective) Necesito eso, or necesita eso (you need this)
Not necessary—no necesito
Second hand—segundo

People and Animals

Everyone—todos las personas
No on—nadia
Children—ninas, ninos
Uncle/aunt—tio, tia
Men/man– hombres, hombre


Pair of glasses—lentes
Parts—partalores, partes
Garbage cans—basero
Everything—qualquier cosa


19 —diecenueve
20 —viente
80 —ochenta
1 million—un million
101—cineto uno
1100—mil cien
1300 mil trecientos

Days and Months


Question Words

What is it—que es esto
Where —donde esta
How much—cuanto?
Who is it?—quien es
Why—por que
Why not—por que no
What time is it? Que hora es?


Green—verde (careful in using this description, though: some things that are green are considered dirty, i.e. pornography or a “green” magazine)


Department store—almacia
Country—campo (refers to terrain/geography)
Exchange store—casa de cambio
Parking lot—estacionamonte
Bus stop—parade de autobus
Mall—cinto commercial
Shoe store—zapateria
Police station—comisaria
Post office—el correo
Place—lugar, parte, locale
School—escuela secendaria (secondary school); escuela escuela primaria (grade school)

Body Parts


Foods and Drinks

To eat—comer
Drink –beber o tomar
Miner water—aqua mineral
Soft drink—gaseosa
Bottle of wine—una botella de vino
Red/white wine—tino /blanco vino
Cold veggie soup—gazpacho
Pineapple—pina o anana
Ice cream—helado
Milk shake—batido de leche
Espresso—un expreso
Butter—mantequilla o Manteca
Steak—chursasco, carne
BBQ—churrasco , churro
Roast beef—rosbef
Mashed potatoes—pueredo papas
Potatoes—papas (careful to use las papas because the word is feminine. El Papa refers to the pope)
French Fries—papas fritas
Chicken breast—suprema de pollo
Soysauce—salsa d soya

Restaurant Words

Plate—un plato
Cup—una taza/copa
Teaspoon—una cuchariva
A can —una lata
Box—una lajo
A jar—un pomo
Menu—la carta
What is today’s special?—Cual es el plato del dia
I’dlike to order—quisiera pedar
Bill—-la cuenta
Fast to go—comida para llevar
Fast food—comida rapida


Where/there—aqui, aji
Here is—aqui tiene
One block—una cuadrenta
Opposite from—frenta a
Next to—junto a
In Front—frente
In back—al antes
Everywhere—en todas partes
No where—ninguna parte


Month—la mesa
Morning—la manana
Later—despues, lluego
Every day—todos las dias
1:00—una hora
1;15—la una y quince/cuarta
1:30—uno y media
1:45—cuarto al dos
1:01—la una y una
The end—el final


That’s all—eso es todo
Half kilo—medio kelo
A bit of—un poco de
Too much/too many—demasiado
Not enough—no bastante
A little—poco, poquito

Money Words

Travelers checks—chequs de viajero
Exchange rate—cambio
Small change—suelto
Signature—la firma
The payment—le debo
Credit card—tarjeta de credito
ATM—el cajero

Nature Words

Mosquito—los mosquitos

Medical Words

Doctor—-El Doctor
What’s wrong>–Que le pasa
I’m sick—Me siento enfermo
Headache—dolor de la cabeza
Flu—la gripe
It hurts here—me dula aqui
I feel dizzy—tengo mareos nauseas
Stomach ache—dolor to estomacho
Backache—dolor de espalda
I feel—siento
Vaccinated—vacundo (a)

Travel Words

Business trip—viaje de negocios
Baggage cart—carnto para maletas
Room—cuarto, habitacion
Single bed—habatacion con una sola cama
Private bath—bano privado
Oceanview—vista del mar
Car—auto, coche
Ticket—boleta, pasaje
Roadmap—mapa de carreteras, plano de ciudad
One-way ticket—billete de ida
Round-trip ticket—billete de y vuelta
Tourism/tourist—turismo, turista

Miscellaneous Words

One more time—ulta vez
County –pais (refers to actual country, not a general description)

“The Spanish Backyard” Story and Game

Harriet and Toby were just regular kids, living in just a regular house. Still, they had what many people don’t: they had a wonderful backyard.

Sometimes their yard was a wide, deep ocean. Other times it was a space station. But Harriet and Toby’s favorite times of all were when the yard became a magical kingdom far away, where anything they spoke in Spanish appeared.

The catch: they had to speak the sentence properly three times in a row.

One day, Harriet and Toby were hungry. They were waiting for their parents to finish cooking a large meal. So, they decided to make food appear in their yard–every kind of food they could imagine.

What do you think Harriet and Toby asked for? What would you want to make appear?

Note to teachers: Here, have your students make sentences with the word list you’re working on currently. Change the scenario to fit the types of words you want to practice. Each time the student gets the sentence right, draw what they said or say, “Look! It’s a …”]

Harriet and Toby continued playing The Spanish Backyard until the sun was all the way down.

School in a Book: Music

You’ve heard the term “music appreciation.” While appreciation classes vary widely, they usually cover a historical overview of the subject, a sampling of the subject in question, plus a smattering of basic terms and technical knowledge–exactly the sort of overview this book seeks to offer. (The samplings can be found in the Resouces section of this book.)

Music History:

Prehistorical music: Early hominids and humans sang, hummed and whistled. Later, they made flutes and pipes out of bone and percussion instruments out of wood and rocks.

Later, folk, indigenous and traditional music developed.

Oldest known song: The oldest known song was written in Syria in cuneiform. Soon after that, the first known musical notation was made in the same script.

Music of ancient times: The bagpipes and a seven-holed flute was used elsewhere. The first bowed fiddle was discovered in India. The ancient Persians had an elaborate music culture.

Music of ancient Greece: The music made by ancient Greeks included: double pipes, the double-reed aulos, a plucked string instrument, the lyre, mixed-gender choruses and more. They used musical notation to record their songs. Music was used for entertainment, celebration and spiritual reasons. Boys were taught music starting at age six.

Music of ancient Rome: The music made by ancient Romans included: harps, lyres, trumpets

Music of the Middle Ages: In the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic music obtained the highest degree of complexity yet known. Musical progress was primarily made by Roman Catholics in monasteries and abbeys.

The chants that were composed devoutly followed the sacred Latin texts in a fashion that was tightly controlled and given only to the glory of God. Music was very much subservient to the words, without flourish or frivolity. It was possibly Pope Gregory (540-604 AD), who is credited with moving the progress of sacred music forward and developing what is now called Gregorian Chant, characterises by the haunting sound of the open, perfect fifth. the music remains distinct and vitally important as it moves away from plainchant towards polyphony. By 1500s music was a dominant art in taverns to cathedrals, practised by kings to paupers alike. It was during this extended period of music that the sound of music becomes increasingly familiar. This is partly due to the development of musical notation, much of which has survived, that allows us a window back into this fascinating time. A full gamut of wind, brass and percussion instruments accompanied the Medieval music, although it is still the human voice that dominates many of the compositions. Towards the close of the high medieval period, we find the emergence of instrumental pieces in their own right which in turn paves the way for many musical forms in the following period: The Renaissance. Before leaving this period of music it is important to mention the Troubadours and the Trouveres. These travelling storytellers and musicians covered vast distances on their journeys across Europe and further afield into Asia. They told stories, sung ballads and perhaps most importantly, brought with them influences from far and wide that seamlessly blended with the western musical cultures. … guitar possibly invented in medieval spain

The Renaissance (1450 – 1600) was a golden period in music history. Freed from the constraints of Medieval musical conventions the composers of the Renaissance forged a new way forward. Josquin des Prez is considered to be one of the early Renaissance composers to be a great master of the polyphonic style, often combining many voices to create elaborate musical textures. … the establishment of each recognisable family of instruments comprising, percussion, strings, woodwind and brass. Keyboard instruments also became increasingly common and the advent of the sonata followed in due course.


The baroque era: (1600-1760), houses some of the most famous composers and pieces that we have in Western Classical Music. It also sees some of the most important musical and instrumental developments. Italy, Germany, England and France continue from the Renaissance to dominate the musical landscape, each influencing the other with conventions and style…Baroque music began when the first operas (solo singers accompanied by orchestras) were written. During the Baroque era, multiple, simultaneous independent melody lines were used. Songswere richly ornamented. Baroque music was performed all over Europe by small ensembles including strings, brass, and woodwinds as well as for choirs and keyboard instruments (pipe organs, harpsichords, and clavichords). Opera was only sung in Italian. … G F Handel, Bach, Vivaldi and Purcell provide a substantial introduction to the music of this era. It is during this glittering span of time that Handel composes his oratorio “The Messiah”, Vivaldi the “Four Seasons”, Bach his six “Brandenburg Concertos” and the “48 Preludes and Fugues”, together with Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas”…the birth of the Violin…Concertos became ever more popular, giving instrumentalists the opportunity to display their technical and expressive powers…Vocal music continued to include the Mass but now also the Oratorio and Cantata alongside anthems and chorales. Opera appears in earnest in the Baroque period…the system of keys (major and minor), is accepted in favour of modality.

Baroque era composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi.

The classical period: The musical era that followed the baroque era. Classical music was more voice-like, singable, more melodious and less contrasting. Opera began to be written in other languages. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…From the ornate Baroque composers of the Classical period moved away from the polyphonic towards the homophonic, writing music that was, on the surface of it at least, simple, sleek and measured…One key development is that of the Piano. The Baroque harpsichord is replaced by the early piano which was a more reliable and expressive instrument…The orchestra itself was firmly established…Opera flourished

The romantic period: Followed by the Romantic period, in which music became more expressivveand emotional. … As the Classical era closed Beethoven is the most notable composer who made such a huge contribution to the change into the Romantic Era (1780 – 1880). Beethoven’s immense genius shaped the next few decades with his substantial redefining of many of the established musical conventions of the Classical era. His work on Sonata form in his concertos, symphonies, string quartets and sonatas, goes almost unmatched by any other composer.

Romantic era composers: Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Bellini and, later in the period, Johann Strauss II, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner.

as we push forward into the 20th Century the musical landscape takes a dramatic turn. –radio, records, other forms of conveying and recording music — synethesizers, electronic music — popular music with easily singable melodies, commonly with a chorus or refrain and verses

Music Terminology:

The four main vocal ranges, highest to lowest: Soprano, alto, tenor and bass

The four main types of music notes: Whole, half, quarter, eighth







The four types of instruments in an orchestra: Wind, strings, brass and percussion

Wind instruments:

Stringed instruments:

Brass instruments:


Percussion instruments:

Electric instruments:

Sound synthesizer:




What makes a song great:

Accent: Emphasis

Acoustic: Produced by instruments rather than by electric or electronic means

Adagio: At ease; play slowly

Aria: Self-contained piece for one voice, usually with orchestral accompaniment

Beat: The musical rhythm

Canto: Chrous; choral; chant

Coda: A tail or closing section appended to the piece


Crescendo: Growing; getting progressively louder

Encore: Again; a performer returning to the stage for an additional, unlisted piece

Flat: A lowering of a note’s pitch by a semitone

Sharp: A raising of a note’s pitch by a semitone

Forte: Strong; to be played loudly

Fugue: Literally, “flight”; a complex and highly regimental contrapuntal form in music; a piece is introduced in one voice, then in others, with imitation and characteristic development as it progresses

Mezzo: half; used in combinations such as mezzo forte (half loud) and mezzo soprano

Octave: Interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency

Overture: An orchestral composition forming the prelude or introduction to an opera, oratorio, etc.

Reprise: Repeat a phrase or verse; return to the original theme

Staccato: Making each note brief and detached; opposite of legato

Legato: Drawing out each note

Tempo: Time; the overall speed of a piece of music

Timbre: The quality of a musical tone that distinguishes voices and instruments

Virtuoso: Someone who performs with exceptional ability, technique, or artistry

Two main determinants of speaker quality:

Sound synthesizer:



School in a Book: Classic Literature: Children’s

The School in a Book curriculum isn’t just for adults. As soon as children can follow a simple plot, they can begin booking it down this list. They can also enjoy adapted versions of many of the books for adults–even the Iliad and the Odyssey. (I also discuss with them many of the simpler concepts in the science lists.)

A few notes on reading to your kids: If you like, just read. Good syntax and rhythm is an education in itself. However, you might want to incorporate reading comprehension into your experience. You can do this by asking your child to summarize the story or to tell you what they think it means. Both of these tasks prepare them for competence in writing, an activity that depends on clear thinking and good organization. Some education professionals say that most college students can’t correctly identify the main points of a given text; don’t let this be your kid. (Older kids need to start outlining texts in writing as soon as they’re ready.)

By the way, shortcut-takers like me can scout out fun video versions of these stories on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet. Sometimes, I cue up five or six and pat myself on the back for providing my young children with such a great educational head start.

Classic Children’s Stories:

Classic Children’s Books:

Classic Middle Grade Books:

  • A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  • A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A Wrinkle In Time (four-part series), Madeleine L’Engle
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  • Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
  • Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
  • Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson
  • Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
  • Chronicles of Avonlea, Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  • Heidi, Johanna Spyri
  • Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Patterson
  • Lassie Come-Home, Eric Knight
  • Paddle-to-the-Sea, Holling Clancy Holling
  • Paul Revere’s Ride, Henry Longfellow
  • Peter Pan, James Barrie
  • Peter and Wendy, James Barrie
  • Phoebe the Spy, Judith Griffin
  • Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi
  • Pipi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
  • Pollyanna, Elanor Hodgman
  • Stuart Little, E.B. White
  • Summer of the Monkeys, Wilson Rawls
  • The Bears’ House, Marilyn Sachs
  • The Boys’ Book of Survival
  • The Cabin Faced West, Jean Fritz
  • The Children of Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren
  • The Complete Adventures of the Borrowers, Mary Norton
  • The Dangerous Book for Boys, Conn and Hal Iggulden
  • The Daring Book for Girls, Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz
  • The Door in the Wall, Marguerite de Angeli
  • The Encyclopedia Brown series, Donald J. Sobol
  • The Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Scarlet Pimpernell, Emma Orczy
  • The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting
  • The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
  • Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
  • The Yearling, Marjorie Rawlings
  • Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Beverly Cleary
  • Other books from the Ramona series, Beverly Cleary
  • Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Judy Blume
  • Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Judy Blume
  • Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  • James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
  • Matilda, Roald Dahl

School in a Book: Classic Films

I am not a film buff. Still, I don’t want to miss out on the movies that even today, inform our shared cultural conversation. There’s a lot to learn here about love, hope and coming of age–and about writing an awesome screenplay, too.

Classic Films for Older Kids and Adults

  • A Face in the Crowd
  • Airplane!
  • An American In Paris
  • Annie
  • Annie Hall
  • Babes in Toyland
  • Babette’s Feast
  • Bandolero
  • Barcelona
  • Barton Fink
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Bright Eyes
  • Brother Sun, Sister Moon
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • Cabaret
  • Casablanca
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • Crimes and Misdemeanors
  • Das Boot
  • Doctor Zhivago
  • East of Eden
  • Hannah and Her Sisters
  • Godspell
  • Frankenstein
  • Cries and Whispers
  • From Here to Eternity
  • How Green is My Valley
  • How the West Was Won
  • Igby Goes Down
  • Il Dulce Vita
  • It Happened One Night
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Lolita
  • Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Mutiny on the Bounty
  • National Velvet
  • Night of the Living Dead
  • North by Northwest
  • Oklahoma!
  • Oliver!
  • On the Waterfront
  • Orchestra Rehearsal
  • Jesus Christ, Superstar
  • Les Miserables
  • Lil Abner
  • Radio Days
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Platoon
  • Pollyanna
  • Raise the Red Lantern
  • Rear Window
  • Rebel Without a Cause
  • Roman Holiday
  • Singing in the Rain
  • Sophie’s Choice
  • Splendor in the Grass
  • Strangers on a Train
  • Suspicion!
  • Taxi Driver
  • The 39 Steps
  • The Absent-Minded Professor
  • The African Queen
  • The Apple Dumpling Gang
  • The Bells of St. Mary’s
  • The Birds
  • The Exorcist
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • The Importance of Being Earnest
  • The Lady Vanishes
  • The Last Days of Disco
  • The Lives of Others
  • The Lord of the Flies
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance
  • The Music Man
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • 8 ½
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps
  • The Three Faces of Eve
  • The Train
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  • The Unsinkable Molly Brown
  • Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines
  • To Catch a Thief
  • Vertigo
  • West Side Story
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
  • White Christmas
  • Wild Strawberries
  • You Can’t Take It With You
  • Zelig

Modern Classic Films for Older Kids and Adults

  • American Beauty
  • American Psycho
  • American Splendour
  • Wild at Heart
  • A Scanner Darkly
  • Being John Malcovich
  • Chinatown
  • Clockwork Orange
  • Clue
  • Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • Fight Club
  • Four Rooms
  • Gili
  • Pleasantville
  • The Truman Show
  • Naked Lunch
  • Moonstruck
  • Gummo
  • High Art
  • Jackie Brown
  • Kill Bill Volume I & Kill Bill Volumee II
  • Little Women
  • M
  • Man on the Moon
  • March of the Penguins
  • Meet Joe Black
  • Memento
  • Metropolitan
  • Lost Highway
  • Parenthood
  • Parents
  • Pi
  • Primer
  • Psycho
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Requiem for a Dream
  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Summer of My German Soldier
  • Run Lola Run
  • Sabrina
  • Saturday Night Fever
  • Secretary
  • Swimming Pool
  • The Following
  • The Gladiator
  • The Princess and the Warrior
  • The Princess Bride
  • To Live
  • True Romance
  • Adaptation
  • Mulholland Drive
  • Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight

Classic Children’s Films

  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Return to Oz
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
  • Labyrinth
  • The Neverending Story
  • Goonies
  • The Karate Kid
  • Star Wars: A New Hope
  • Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (original version)
  • Ghostbusters (original version)
  • The Muppet Movie (original version)
  • The Lord of the Rings series
  • The Chronicles of Narnia series
  • The Harry Potter series
  • The Anne of Green Gables series
  • The Anne of Avonlea series
  • Bambi
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • The Lion King
  • Cinderella
  • Aladdin
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Snow White
  • Pinocchio
  • Dumbo
  • The Sound of Music
  • The Parent Trap (original version)
  • Swiss Family Robinson
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Lilo and Stitch
  • Benji
  • Old Yeller
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Hugo
  • The Red Balloon
  • The Jungle Book
  • Pippi Longstocking
  • The Adventures of Milo and Otis
  • Totoro
  • Grave of the Fireflies
  • Spirited Away
  • Finding Nemo
  • Frozen
  • Moana
  • Babe
  • Freaky Friday
  • Big
  • Home Alone
  • Home Alone 2
  • Matilda
  • The Incredibles
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • Wall-E
  • The Sandlot
  • Enchanted
  • The Iron Giant
  • Tangled
  • A Little Princess
  • Escape to Witch Mountain
  • Pete’s Dragon

Classic Christmas Films

  • A Christmas Carol
  • Miracle on 34th Street
  • A Christmas Story
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol

Classic and Modern Classic Documentaries

  • 13th
  • 20 Feet from Stardom
  • 306 Hollywood
  • 500 Nations (1995)
  • 500 Years Later (2005)
  • A Lego Brickumentary (2014)
  • Abacus
  • Amanda Knox
  • Being Elmo
  • Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)
  • Bisbee ’17
  • Black Gold (2006)
  • Blackfish
  • Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004)
  • Bowling for Columbine (2002)
  • Breakthrough
  • Broken Rainbow (1985)
  • Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
  • Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
  • Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary (2008)
  • Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  • Chernobyl
  • Citizen Four
  • Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey
  • Crumb (1994)
  • Devil’s Playground (2002)
  • Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?
  • Earth (2007)
  • Empire (1964)
  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
  • Faces Places
  • Food Matters
  • Food, Inc.
  • Free Solo
  • GasLand (2010)
  • Gates of Heaven (1978)
  • Gaza Strip (2002)
  • Ghosts of Cité Soleil (2006)
  • Going Clear
  • Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
  • Good Hair (2009)
  • Grey Gardens
  • Grizzly Man (2005)
  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  • Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)
  • Hell House (2001)
  • Herb and Dorothy
  • Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977)
  • Hoop Dreams
  • How to Survive a Plague
  • Human Planet (2011)
  • I.O.U.S.A. (2008)
  • Icarus
  • In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914)
  • Inside Deep Throat (2005)
  • Invisible Children (2006)
  • Iris
  • Jaguar (1968)
  • Jesus Camp (2006)
  • Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi
  • King Corn
  • Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
  • Lake of Fire (2006)
  • Las Hurdes (1933)
  • Life Itself
  • Life and Debt (2001)
  • Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)
  • Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
  • March of the Penguins (2005)
  • McQueen
  • Microcosmos (1996)
  • Minding the Gap
  • Mojados: Through the Night (2004)
  • Momentum Generation
  • Murderball (2005)
  • Nanook of the North (1922)
  • Night Mail (1936)
  • Night and Fog (1956)
  • No End in Sight (2007)
  • Paper Clips (2004)
  • Paradise Lost
  • Paragraph 175 (2000)
  • Paris Is Burning (1990)
  • Planet Earth
  • Powaqqatsi (1988)
  • Primary (1960)
  • RBG
  • Restrepo (2010)
  • Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001)
  • Rize (2005)
  • Room 237
  • Salesman (1969)
  • Sans Soleil (1983)
  • Scared Straight! (1978)
  • Searching for Sugar Man
  • Shirkers
  • Shoah (1985)
  • Sicko
  • Sour Grapes
  • Spellbound
  • Stop Making Sense (1984)
  • Strong Island
  • The Act of Killing
  • The Arrival of a Train (1896)
  • The Atomic Cafe (1982)
  • The Barkley Marathons
  • The Celluloid Closet (1995)
  • The Cove
  • The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)
  • The Future of Food
  • The Gleaners & I (2000)
  • The Hour of the Furnaces (1968)
  • The Keepers
  • The Last Race
  • The Look of Silence
  • The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)
  • The Rachel Divide
  • The Silent World (1956)
  • The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
  • The Staircase
  • The Thin Blue Line
  • The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
  • The War Game (1965 TV Movie)
  • The Wolfpack
  • This Is It (2009)
  • Three Identical Strangers
  • Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman
  • Titicut Follies (1967)
  • Trekkies (1997)
  • Triumph of the Will (1935)
  • Undefeated
  • Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)
  • Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)
  • War Dance (2007)
  • Wasteland (2010)
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?

School in a Book: A Ridiculously Concise Elementary through High School Self-Education and Reference Book

Twelve years of elementary and high school plus extracurricular studies leaves us with a lot of information. Too much information, sometimes. Since we can’t retain everything, our brains have to pick and choose. And sometimes they make pretty bad decisions. We might live with our in-depth understanding of the oboe forever, say, but can’t recall whether Alexander the Great lived before or after the Roman Empire. If we don’t want our most important knowledge areas to fade out, then, we do well to periodically review the basics.

That’s where School in a Book comes in.

For each subject listed below, I’ve written a knowledge checklist of sorts: a collection of essential terms and other information. It’s not a textbook; instead, it’s an overview, a handy guide to help you strengthen your weak points and gain a wider perspective of the topic.

I’m having lot of fun–so much fun!–writing these lists. If you find any mistakes or other opportunities for revision, please let me know.

School in a Book Sections:

Essential Knowledge: World History Overview and Timeline

Essential Knowledge: Prehistory

Essential Knowledge: History of North and Central America

Essential Knowledge: History of South America

Essential Knowledge: History of Europe

Essential Knowledge: History of Africa

Essential Knowledge: History of the Middle East

Essential Knowledge: History of Russia

Essential Knowledge: History of Asia

Essential Knowledge: History of Australia and Oceania

Essential Knowledge: Chemistry

Essential Knowledge: Physics

Essential Knowledge: Astronomy

Essential Knowledge: Biology and Genetics

Essential Knowledge: Botany and Zoology

Essential Knowledge: Human Body and Medicine Science

Essential Knowledge: Computer Science

Essential Knowledge: Technology

Essential Knowledge: Geology, Ecology and Meteorology

Essential Knowledge: Geography

Essential Knowledge: Grammar and Punctuation

Essential Knowledge: Writing

Essential Knowledge: Literary Analysis

Essential Knowledge: Arithmetic and Measurement

Essential Knowledge: Algebra, Geometry and Statistics

Essential Knowledge: Philosophy

Essential Knowledge: Logic and Rhetoric

Essential Knowledge: Psychology

Essential Knowledge: Sociology

Essential Knowledge: Political Science

Essential Knowledge: American Government

Essential Knowledge: Religion and Spirituality

Essential Knowledge: Music

Essential Knowledge: Art and Architecture

Essential Skills: Writing

Essential Skills: Mathematics

Essential Skills: Arts and Crafts

Essential Skills: Physical Education

Essential Skills: Social, Emotional and Life Management

Essential Skills: Other Educational Recreation

Essential Resources: Classic Literature: Children’s

Essential Resources: Classic Fiction: Older Kids and Adults

Essential Resources: Classic Nonfiction and Other Nonfiction Resources

Essential Resources: Classic Films

Essential Resources: Classic Songs and Musical Artists

Supplemental Sections

I just couldn’t help myself: Here, additional advanced sections to be compiled for a supplemental edition of this book.

Supplemental Knowledge: Mandarin Chinese Vocabulary

Supplemental Knowledge: Spanish Vocabulary

How to Use This Book

Subject-specific suggestions for memorizing and applying the lessons in this book can be found in the brief overviews provided. Here are a few other general tips:


As you peruse the lists in this book, you will find many facts you already know. This is a good thing. If you have the book in print form, you might want to mark your retained facts as you go. There’s a saying in psychology: “Shrink the change.” The more facts and lists you master, the more encouraged you’ll be to move on to more challenging areas. (Check marking also prevents you from wasting time re-reading old-to-you material.)


Almost all of the material in this book is available in multiple forms somewhere on the Internet. Because websites change constantly, linking to recommended Internet resources isn’t necessary or even very helpful. Most terms you search for will yield a wide variety of accurate, well-stated, brief and even entertaining articles, videos and tutorials. No longer under copyright, classic books and stories are freely available as well. When working with my children on these lists, I often find relevant videos on YouTube–one under-ten-minute video per term or story. I queue up five or six in separate tabs, and my kids are fully engaged with free, educational material for an hour.


The most difficult part of this book to write was the history section. Timelines feel natural, yet I avoided this presentation as much as possible since they don’t facilitate memorization. (Question: The year 1789. Answer: ???) Instead, I arranged the information in the same way the other lists are arranged, with recognizable names and other terms followed by their “definitions.” If you can buzz down a list, identifying each of these with your hand covering the explanations, you’ve mastered that section. Better yet, create your own flash cards. The act of writing the information will help you retain a surprising amount of it.


Unlike many other textbooks, this book has very little filler. Everything here is meant to be both understood and retained. Don’t just read over the definitions to determine whether or not you “get it”; quiz yourself on them. It’s always interesting to notice how much harder it is to bring something back to mind than to simply understand it.

School in a Book Advantages

Finally, since I love lists so much, here’s another one for you: the eight main advantages of this book.

But first, two disadvantages: While much of the information presented here is straightforward and ready to memorize, the Essential Skills and Essential Resources lists require further research, reading and practice. In addition, School in a Book is, unapologetically, a generalist, liberal arts curriculum. It is a straightforward, basic overview of each topic–nothing more. It goes without saying that there is more to life than fractions and the Mayflower, so take these basic concepts and use them to build yourself into a great generalist … then branch off from there in the directions of your choice.


Educators love to debate the relative merits of a generalist versus specialist education. My feeling is that life is long and learning is an innate human need; however, humans don’t innately know what they should specialize in. By establishing a wide knowledge base as early as possible, areas of interest present themselves more readily.


The book’s biggest advantage, I think, is a hidden one: By reading the entire outline of a topic in one sitting, you’re able to feel, maybe for the first time, that you truly understand it. Here’s a metaphor I like: If a physics textbook is a detailed travel guide to the world of that subject, the School in a Book physics checklist is a physics map. By reading the checklist all at once, you’re able to see the bigger picture: physics has to do with energy, motion, gravity, electricity, magnetism, light, sound and nuclear forces. Understanding this builds confidence as well as competence.


School in a Book won’t waste your time. Enough said.


I know, I know: memorization is out of fashion these days. But let’s not take our emphasis on critical thinking and creativity too far. If thinking skills are the toolkit, facts are the raw building materials. It’s impossible to arrange an interesting proposal, plan, article or analysis–or even have a fluent conversation on a topic–without the facts–the building blocks–in hand. (Okay, it’s possible, but we all know what that looks like and it isn’t pretty.)

The very best way to use School in a Book is as a tool for memorization. This is the stuff you’ll want to know–to retain–for the many efforts, decisions and conversations to come in your life.


You might be surprised at how much you don’t know about the world, even if you’ve completed twelve or more years of school. I was. (Okay, that’s not quite true. I knew how badly I needed help.) Our minds don’t always pick and choose well. They might record every word our favorite teachers say, but almost nothing from certain entire textbooks. Here, discover what you missed on the days you slept in, as well as what you forgot.


Though this resource purports to be an elementary through high school educational reference text, the checklists were designed to cover 101-level college material (and, in a few cases, levels higher than this). This is because I believe that college 101 classes are generally meant to catch up incoming college students on the subjects they should have learned in high school, but didn’t.


I love organizing. I love brevity, too. Almost in a romantic sort of way. Other books spread out the essential knowledge between pages of description, introduction, images, callouts and the like. School in a Book eschews such inefficient use of space in order to provide extremely easy access to a broad range of information. The book can be used as one large checklist that you work through at your own pace. In addition, lists are organized by type of learning required: Essential Learning, Essential Skills and Essential Resources. When facts, books and skills are all mixed together, the checklists become much harder to work with. Studying facts requires different mental and environmental preparation than does practicing a skill or reading a book.


I hope that you find these terms and lists as useful as I have, but if you don’t, wait a few years. By mastering the School in a Book material, you’ve paved the way for an easier high school and college experience. You’ve also obtained a good knowledge foundation that will serve you well your entire adult life.

Don’t believe the rumors: you can be a generalist and a specialist both. Why not? Life is long, and learning is life. Be curious. Be unafraid. Read nonfiction every day. Watch documentaries. Find a passion (or six). Be great.

Oh, and have lots of fun while you’re doing it.

School in a Book: Astronomy

Everyone loves space. Why? I don’t know. It just sort of blows our minds, I guess. The following will give you many of the main astronomical terms and ideas, but do also read The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene and Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. There’s also a great memoir by Scott Kelly of living on the ISS for a year called Endurance, as well as many excellent space documentaries.

Basic Astronomy

Space: The area outside the earth’s atmosphere, without air. Behind planets, space is far below freezing. Facing the sun, it is hotter than boiling water.

Universe: All of the billions of galaxies in existence. The Universe is slowly expanding, but it’s held together by gravity. It is mostly empty space, with material like stars at distances away from each other that are comparable to the distance of particles in an atom. This is why there aren’t more collisions, despite the many and varied paths taken by celestial bodies.

Gravity: The force everywhere in the Universe that pulls every object towards every other object simultaneously. The greater the mass an object has, the greater gravitational force it exerts. Gravity is sometimes called the “weak force,” as opposed to stronger forces that hold particles together.

Star: Ball of very hot gas in space. Stars can be white, red, yellow or blue.

Sun: The only star in Earth’s solar system. It is medium-sized: one million times the size of Earth and ten times the size of Jupiter. On its surface, the sun is 5,500 degrees.

Planet: Spinning ball of rock or gas that travels around a star (or a black hole) in an orbit. We can only see a few planets outside our solar system.

Moon: Mini planet that revolves around a regular planet instead of revolving around a star. The earth’s moon is dry and dusty with many craters. It takes 27 days for the moon to spin once, and 27 days for it to orbit once around the earth, which is why it doesn’t seem to be spinning. It is always facing away from us, so we’ve never seen the other side. People have gone to the moon several times. It takes about three days to reach the moon and each crew spent about three days there.

Phases of the moon: New moon (no light); waxing crescent moon (getting more visible and in a crescent shape); first quarter moon (half moon); waxing gibbous (getting more visible and in a lopsided circle shape); full moon; waning gibbous (getting less visible); last quarter moon (half moon); waning crescent; new moon. This cycle takes 29.5 days.

Solar system: A group of planets revolving around a single star or a group of stars, or just a small group of stars revolving around each other.

Sol: The name of our solar system. It orbits the center of the Milky Way.

Galaxy: A group of solar systems. Many galaxies have millions of stars. Sometimes galaxies cross paths and collide. It’s likely that most or all galaxies have a black hole at their center. Many galaxies orbit other galaxies, but not all. It is difficult to determine what galaxies like our orbit, if anything, due to the slowness of their movement and limitations of technology.

Milky Way: The name of the galaxy our solar system is in. It is about 100,000 light years across. It has eight planets, many of which have moons, and an asteroid belt. The Milky Way doesn’t orbit anything, but other galaxies orbit it and Andromeda, the closest neighbor galaxy.

Galaxy cluster: A group of galaxies

The Local Cluster: The galaxy cluster our galaxy is in

Supercluster: A group of galaxy clusters

Virgo Supercluster: The supercluster our galaxy is in

Orbit: Circular path taken by a planet or moon. As gravity pulls them toward their star or planet, their own momentum pulls them away and the dual forces keep them in balance.

One day: 24 Earth hours, which is one spin on Earth’s axis. The part of the earth facing the sun has light, and the other doesn’t. It takes 365 days to orbit around the sun once.

The Big Bang: The explosion that might have occurred that resulted in the stars and planets. Happened 15 billion years ago. All of the energy and matter currently in existence was created in one place, then suddenly exploded and became randomly distributed in space. Then, as it all cooled, due to gravity, larger bits attracted smaller bits and grew into stars and planets.

Comet: Ball of dirty ice floating around space. When close enough to the sun, the ice melts partway and the solar wind blows a trail of gas and dust behind it, making a tail.

Asteroid: Big lump of rock or metal in space

Meteoroid: Dust or small space rocks (house-sized to coffee-ground sized) in orbit around the sun.

Meteor/shooting star: A meteoroid that burns up in a planet’s atmosphere

Meteorite: A meteoroid that hits the surface of a planet

Rocket: An engine that burns fuel to achieve thrust and lift a spacecraft

Astronaut: Someone who goes to space to work. (Russian astronauts are called cosmonauts.) Astronauts learn to fly and land the space shuttle, fix parts of the space station or satellites, do scientific experiments and more. Some of their training is done underwater to simulate space conditions.

Space shuttle: A rocket that brings astronauts and supplies to the ISS and other satellites, then returns to Earth as an airplane. Booster rockets and fuel tanks fall off after they’re used. The crew compartment is at the top and it holds the flight deck and other areas for working and sleeping.

Hubble Space Telescope: Big telescope with a camera that orbits the earth and takes clear photos of deep space from outside our atmosphere. Uses solar panels to power it.

Flight simulator: A replica of the inside of a rocket or airplane that allows astronauts to practice.

Space walk: Going in space, outside the station or shuttle, to check or repair equipment. A strong spacesuit regulates temperature and carries air.

International Space Station (ISS): A series of connected compartments and solar panels where astronauts live and work. It is located 230 miles above Earth. On the station, all water (including pee) is recycled. Many scientific experiments are done.

Satellite: Anything in space that orbits a planet or the sun other than planets and moons. These include man-made satellites that investigate space, carry radio signals around Earth.

Space probe: Man-made robots that explore other planets and moons. Some even leave our solar system and carry information about Earth, looking for other life forms.
*Future space missions will include more space tourism–maybe even a space hotel–space bases on Mars, maybe even a space elevator.

Our eight planets, in order from the sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Gas giants: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Rest are rock. Jupiter is largest, Mercury is smallest. Juiter has the Great Red Spot, a permanent gas storm. Saturn is very light, light enough to float in water.

Light year: The distance light travels in one year. It is used as a measurement of distances in space.

Solar mass: The mass of our sun. It is used as a standard unit of measurement of space bodies.

Andromeda: The nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way

Star cluster: Groups of stars that form together

Nebula: Big cloud of gas and dust that stars are formed in

Supernova: A very large star that has reached the end of its life (and its supply of gas) and is exploding

Red Giant: A smaller or medium-sized star that is near the end of its life and has swelled up and turned red

White dwarf: A star that results from the Red Giant’s exterior gas burning off. After a time, it cools and fades away.

Black hole: An invisible, very dense ball of matter and energy with gravity so strong even light can’t escape it. Some are the remains of very large stars that, instead of dying, collapsed. Some black holes are only a few miles across, while others are several million miles across. Black holes continuously draw in more matter and expand due to their huge gravitational force.

Event horizon: The boundary of the region of a black hole from which no escape is possible

Pulsar: A collapsing star that instead of becoming a black hole keeps spinning faster and faster and getting denser as it collapses. It gives off waves (pulses) of electrons.

Solar wind: The stream of charged particles in the form of plasma that make the air glow at Earth’s magnetic poles, creating the aurora borealis (the Northern Lights).

Solar eclipse:

Lunar eclipse:

School in a Book: Physics

Of the hard sciences, physics is definitely my favorite. Biology is the most relatable and chemistry is possibly the most practical, but physics is the most philosophical. What is energy? What is matter? What is reality? How did it all begin? We’ll be debating these questions for a very long time.

Basic Physics

Physics: The study of movement and energy. This includes the study of gravity, electricity, sound, light, magnetism, nuclear energy and more.

The theory of everything: A theory that has not yet been found that explains how all of the different theories and laws (such as the law of gravity and quantum physics ideas) can work together in the same universe, even though they seem to contradict each other. The main two theories of everything are general relativity and quantum field theory. General relativity is the theory that all events are caused by gravity, while quantum theory discusses the interplay of the strong force (subatomic particles), the weak force (gravity) and the electromagnetic force. These theories are separately confirmed, but seem to contradict; it seems that even though they are both correct, they cannot both be correct. Since general relativity is used for large-scale problems and quantum theory is used for small-scale problems, their incompatibility is usually avoided.

String theory: The current favorite theory of everything since it attempts to marry general relativity and quantum theory by proposing that the four fundamental forces were, at the time of the Big Bang, a single force, and every particle in the universe is, at the smallest level, a pattern of vibrating strings with its own vibration pattern.


Energy: The invisible, indescribable, mysterious thing that allows for movement and work. Energy is not made of particles and doesn’t have mass or volume. We cannot directly observe it, but only understand it through its effects. Note that everything in the Universe is made of either matter or energy. Note also that energy cannot be either created or destroyed; in order to get energy out of a system, you must first get it from somewhere else and put it in to the system. (It can convert into a different form, however.)

Energy conversion: A change in the form of energy from one type to another. For example, during photosynthesis, sun energy becomes stored energy, then kinetic energy used for growth.

Energy chain: The chain reaction that occurs as energy is converted to another form, then that energy is converted to another form, and so on.

Energy storing materials: Energy is stored in wood, fuel, batteries, light, food, etc.—anything that releases energy when burned. (Remember, food isn’t turned into energy. It stores energy, then releases it from the food.)

The two fundamental forms of energy: Potential (stored) and kinetic (moving)

Kinetic energy: Energy that is currently active, such as wind energy and the movement of water.

Potential energy (stored energy): Energy currently in storage, such as seed energy or the energy inside a full balloon. In order to have potential energy, the material must be in a position to be affected by a force, such as gravity.

Important types of energy: Chemical, electrical, mechanical, thermal, nuclear, gravitational, radiant, elastic and solar

Solar energy: The light and heat that radiates from the sun

Nuclear energy: The energy found in an atom’s nucleus

Heat energy: A form of energy that flows from one place to another because of a difference in temperature. It is really the motion of the particles that feel hot. (So in a way it’s kinetic energy.) Heat energy flows from hot to cool to even out, like air pressure moves from high to low and water flows downhill.

Chemical energy: Energy stored in the bonds of atoms and molecules. It is released in chemical reactions in the form of heat.

Electrical energy: The energy carried by electrons in an electric conductor.

Mechanical energy: The energy something has due to its motion

Thermal energy: The energy something has due to its heat levels (temperature)

Gravitational energy: The energy something has due to the effects of its gravitational field. Example: A raised hammer has gravitational energy that is converted to heat energy after it lowers and hits the nail.


Newton’s First Law of Motion: “A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force.”

Newton’s Second Law of Motion: “The force acting on an object is equal to the mass of that object times its acceleration.”

Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Example: A balloon full of air is let go. The air goes one way and the balloon goes another.

Equilibrium: When forces or energies or systems are in balance

E=mc2: Energy equals mass times speed of light squared. This is the formula that Einstein discovered that shows the rate at which matter is converted into energy and vice versa.

Dynamics: The study of how forces affect movement

Freefall: Any motion of anything where gravity is the only “force” (source of movement) affecting it. Objects in freefall are weightless because nothing is pulling it toward itself. (This is also why the weight of objects are different on different planets: there is a different amount of gravity working on the object.)

Weightlessness: Freefall, but not quite, because the object is inside of something, such as a spacecraft

Drag/air resistance: Friction that occurs between air and any object moving through it. With no friction at all, objects falling toward the earth would fall at the same rate.

Velocity: Measurement of speed as well as the direction. Velocity changes when direction changes even when speed stays the same.

Terminal velocity: When something falls through gas or liquid it accelerates at a decreasing rate until it reaches its maximum constat velocity. This is terminal velocity. Happens when force of gravity equals air resistance to its falling.

Centripetal force: The “force” that causes something turn in a circle instead of in a straight line. It is not actually a force, but the net result of all the forces acting on the object that result in the circular movement.

Inertia: The property of a stationary object to remain stationary and a moving object to remain moving unless acted upon by another force. (Including friction and gravity.)

Friction: The resistance of one surface to slide over another. Friction is everywhere. Without it nothing would stop moving. Wheels lose less motion to friction because they don’t have to slide at any time. Oil reduces friction. Friction causes movement energy to be converted to heat energy. The movement energy isn’t loss, it’s transferred!

Fluid dynamics:

Hydrometer: Water displacement instrument of volume measurement

Surface tension: Sideways and downward attraction on a liquid’s surface. Happens because molecules in water at top are more attracted to molecules in water below than to molecules in the air.

Cohesion: When molecules of one substance are more attracted to each other than to the substance they’re touching. Ex: surface tension.

Adhesion: Opposite: Molecules are more attracted to substance they’re touching than to each other – ex: glue. Occurs often with liquids.

Diffusion: Molecules spread out to fill a space more evenly. Occurs often in gases.

Corrosion: Chemical reaction from metal contacting oxygen. Metal forms an oxide on the surface and gets tarnished.

Galvanizing: Covering metal with zinc. Done to car parts, etc.

Turbulence: The uneven movement caused when an object moves through air or water

Gyroscope: Wheel that spins fast within a frame and keeps frame from toppling over due to centripetal force

Generator: A device that uses kinetic energy to create electrical energy by using a turbine with magnet

Mass, Force and Gravity:

Force: Any push or pull on an object. This includes the force of gravity, the force of a human hand picking something up, and much more. All objects not in motion still have forces acting on them at all times, but when not moving, these forces are canceling each other out. For example, in order to sit still I must hold my body upright in a way that perfectly balances the force of gravity on it.

The four fundamental forces in the universe: The strong force (the nuclear force that holds subatomic particles together), the weak force (gravity, which is much less powerful than the strong force), the electromagnetic force, and the weak interaction (the force responsible for the radioactive decay of atoms).

Gravity: The force of nature that causes all things with mass or energy to move toward each other. This includes planets, stars, galaxies, electrons and even light. Gravity is what caused the planets to attract more particles and structures and grow larger. It holds heavenly bodies in orbit around each other, it causes the Moon to pull Earth’s water toward it, creating tides, and it gives things on Earth weight. It is sometimes called the “weak force,” (referring to the four fundamental forces of physics) even though it is not actually a force at all.

Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity: Gravity is not a force. It has no inherent power. It is not energy. It is a simple result of the curvature of spacetime which in turn is caused by the uneven distribution of mass across the universe.

Matter: Anything that is made of particles, takes up space (has volume), and has mass. In other words, matter is everything except energy.

Volume: A measurement of the amount of space something takes up

Weight: A measurement of how resistant something is due to the forces (gravity or other forces) that try to hold it in place

Mass: A measurement of something’s absolute heaviness that doesn’t change when the forces (such as the gravitational force) change

How to measure mass: One liter of water has a mass of one kilogram. Anything we measure the mass of, we compare to the mass of one kilo of water. If the water were on the moon, and we compare it to a book, the number ( plus or minus the kilo of water) is same as it would be on earth.

Density: The measurement of something’s mass per unit of volume. Dense objects are heavier than other, less dense objects that take up the same amount of space.

Black hole: A supercondensed, superheavy space body whose gravity pulls in everything near it and from which nothing, not even light, can escape.

Event horizon: The place near a black hole from which everything is irrevocably pulled into the black hole

Electricity and Magnetism:

Electricity: The effect caused by the presence and movement of charged particles (specifically, the electrons in the charged particles)

Electromagnetism: The term denoting the entire force of electricity and magnetism, both of which occur between electrically charged particles. This force is commonly shown as a spectrum, with visible light in the center, which is known as the electromagnetic spectrum.

Electromagnetic wave: Air waves made of continually changing electric and magnetic fields that can move through solids, liquids, gases and even a vacuum.

Electromagnetic spectrum/radiant energy: All parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, whether or not they are visible to the human eye, including (in order): gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet rays, visible light, infrared rays, radar, FM, TV, shortwave and AM.

Electric field: An area in space that surrounds an electric charge or an electromagnetic wave that exerts force on other charges

Electric current: A flow of electric charge

Conductor: An object or material that allows an electrical current to flow in one or more directions

Insulator: An object or material that does not allow an electrical current to flow freely or easily through it

Static electricity: An imbalance of electrical charges causing some charges to seek a path away from their present location

Magnet: A material or object that produces a magnetic field

Magnetic field: All the (invisible) space around a magnet that attracts iron. The field is strongest at the poles. Note on Earth’s magnetic field: The Earth acts as a huge magnet. There is a magnetic field around Earth. Not strong enough to pull all iron to the poles, but strong enough that magnets with reorient to be parallel to the field. This is why compasses work.

Properties of magnets: 1. They only act on iron and iron-containing materials; 2. They have two ends, or poles (north-seeking and south-seeking); 3.They have a magnetic field; 4. Opposite pole attract, like poles repel (though both ends are attracted to iron); 5. Their magnetic fields pass through the other materials.

Ferromagnetism: The magnetic quality of certain materials (such as iron) that allows them to permanently attract or repel. (There are also many other materials that have a magnetic quality, but more weakly and not permanently.)

Magnetic north/south: The magnetic poles of the earth, which is a huge magnet. (These poles are slightly different from the geographical North Pole and South Pole.)


Light: A form of energy made up of electromagnetic waves

Visible light spectrum: The parts of the spectrum that are visible to the human eye/mind connection. Visible light is a very small part of the light spectrum.

Speed of light: The speed that light travels in a vacuum (over 186,000 miles per second). It is also the highest possible speed at which all other massless particles can travel including gravitational waves and electromagnetic energy. (Particles with any amount of mass can never reach this speed.)

Luminous: The giving off of light (as opposed to the mere reflecting of light) by an object

Light intensity: The measurable amount of light (or another property) present

Transparent: See-through

Translucent: Almost entirely see-through

Opaque: Not see-through

Umbra: The darkest part of a shadow

Penumbra: The faded part of a shadow

Laser: Machine that creates a beam of intense pure color of one wavelength and frequency. Its waves are coherent—travel in step with each other and stay in a narrow beam. Lots of energy is transported in a small space.

Color: The parts of light rays that become visible when light reflects off an object. The human eye can’t see the light rays that gets absorbed by the same object. Since every object absorbs light differently, objects reflect light differently, too.

Fluorescence: The property of some substances that cause them to glow when exposed to light. This occurs because the material is able to absorb high-frequency wavelengths, like UV light, which is invisible to the human eye, but then emit visible light from that absorbed light. UV light works best to create the glow effect because it is a high-energy frequency. Note that some energy is lost in the energy conversion process, so high-energy frequency is needed so there’s enough energy left after conversion to cause the glow.

Phosphorescence: The property of some substances that cause them to glow. Unlike a fluorescent material, though, a phosphorescent material doesn’t immediately re-emit the radiation it absorbs; instead, it can re-emit it up to several hours after the absorption. Examples include glow-in-the-dark paint or toys. The reason for this ability to hold the energy has to do with quantum mechanics.

Dispersion: For example, at sunrise and sunset light has to travel through more of the atmosphere before reaching your eyes. Blue is scattered before you see it, leaving lower frequency red and orange.

Prism: An object, such as a diamond or a piece of cut glass, that bends the white light that hits it, thereby splitting it and causing a rainbow to appear

Convex lens: A lens that is shaped like an upside-down bowl

Concave lens: A lens that is shaped like a bowl

Mirror: A piece of glass with a silver-painted backing behind it that causes all light to reflect back to the viewer

Converging lens: A lens that converges rays of light that are traveling parallel to its principle axis. This kind of lens corrects farsightedness.

Diverging lens: A lens that diverges rays of light that are traveling parallel to its principle axis. This kind of lens corrects nearsightedness.

Reflection: The bouncing of waves off a surface and back the opposite direction

Refraction: The change in path of a wave. We see light waves change path when we put a straw in a glass of water. The straw appears bended due to the changing of the path of light when traveling through air to traveling through water and vice versa.

Interference: The changing of a wave’s path resulting from an outside force

Constructive interference: The increase in a wave’s size due to interference

Destructive interference: The decrease in a wave’s size due to interference

Diffraction: The splitting of light waves into two or more separate light waves when passing through small openings or encountering an obstacle


Three types of heat transfer: Convection, conduction and radiation

Convection: Heat transfer through moving gases or liquids, such as ocean currents or warm air currents

Conduction: Heat transfer through solids using direct contact, such as a pan on a burner

Radiation: Heat transfer through the air or through space, such as the sun heating the atmosphere or a radiator heater heating a home’s air. The air does not have to be moving to transfer the heat energy.


Sound: The vibration that occurs in a hearing ear after sound waves contact it. Sound waves are only sound if they find a hearing ear. The sound waves bump the particles in the air and transfer the movement energy from particle to particle till it gets to the ear. (Note: Sound waves transfer movement energy while light waves travel as electromagnetic radiation. Sound will only travel through gas, liquid or solid, but not through a vacuum – no particles are there to transfer the energy. Light does, though, and thus it moves much faster than sound – 186,000mps rather than .2mps.)

Sound vibrations: sometimes included as a form of energy.

Sound wave: The wave pattern of sound vibrations

Vibrations: Fast back and forth movements of any kind

Tone: Any prolonged sound note

Pitch: the specific note (A, B-flat, etc) – Made by tightening or loosening vocal cords, guitar strings, etc. and slowing or speeding up the vibrations.

Sound intensity: The loudness of the sound

Frequency: the speed of the vibration. High f=fast, low f=slow.
More tension = faster vibration = higher frequency = higher pitch.

Amplitude: Distance traveled from one side to another of the sound wae. More distance = louder sound.

How sound is made from voices: By passing air through the larynx and at the same time putting tension on the vocal cords. (To feel the vibration, touch the throat while talking.)

Echoes: Result of sound waves bumping hard surfaces and changing directionsTelephones change sound vibrations into electric signals. Same with cell phones, etc. Changed back to sound waves at the listener’s end.
Human ear can only vibrate/pick up 20-20,000vibrations per second frequencies.

Infrasound: Sounds at frequencies below the ability of humans to hear it

Ultrasound: Sounds at frequencies above the ability of humans to hear it


Supersonic speed:

Subsonic speed:

Sonic boom: The sudden crashing sound that results when a noise breaks the sound barrier

Sound barrier:


Echo location: The ability of some animals, such as bats, to locate solid objects by emitting sound and hearing the echo come back to them; a sense

Sonar: A way of bouncing ultrasound waves off far-away objects to determine their location

Ultrasound scanning:

Nuclear Energy:

Nuclear power: Using controlled nuclear energy for power, either from fusion (marrying of nuclei) or fission (splitting in half of nuclei).

Nuclear weapons: Produce uncontrolled nuclear reactions. Atomic bombs use fission, hydrogen bombs use fusion.

Nuclear reactor: Nuclei are bombarded with neutrons and split (fission). Energy is harnessed for use.

Radioactivity: When a substance’s atoms release nuclear energy as radiation.

Renewable energy: Energy derived from renewable resources [move to ECOLOGY]

Renewable resource: A natural resource that renews itself fast enough to keep up with human rates of use. These include sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat.

Non-renewable resource: A natural resource that does not renew itself fast enough to keep up with human rates of use. These include minerals, metal ores, fossil fuels (coal, petroleum and natural gas) and some groundwater.

Fossil fuel: A fuel derived from organic fossils (decayed plants and animals with highly concentrated energy) deep inside the Earth

School in a Book: Sociology

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Sociology is the subject you learned without realizing you learned it. This is because as one wends their way through discussions of news, politics, culture and more, the following terms are encountered many, many times. Consider this list a refresher.


Sociology: The study of human social life. Sociologists study human groups of all sizes and varieties, often with the aim of determining how people are socialized, how culture is formed and how society can be improved. Major areas of interest are: class structures; political structures; social upheaval; the role of religion; inequalities; culture; institutions; relationships; group dynamics and more.

Auguste Comte: The father of sociology. The upheavals of both the French Revolution, then those of the industrial revolution inspired him to found a new social science outside of the current social sciences of politics and history. He argued that industrialization is to blame for class struggle. Working in the early 19th century, he sought to hold sociology to the fact-based standards of other sciences.

Emile Durkheim: One of the first sociologists and the person who established the first department of sociology. He largely agreed with Comte’s ideas. These, in tandem with the controversial ideas of Karl Marx and Max Weber, helped the new science gain traction.

Karl Marx: The sociologist/philosopher who theorized that capitalism was the cause of class struggle. He argued that sociology should include not just facts, but social critique.

Weber: The sociologist who blamed secularization and rationalization for class struggle. Like Marx, he believed that social critique should be included in studies of sociology. After World War I,

Post-World War I advancements: Michael Foucault, Charles Wright Mills and others expanded the subject further, creating new research methods and focusing on a wider range of topics, including primary socialization, race issues and the corrupting nature of power. By the mid-twentieth century, sociology had gained traction in the academic community. Today, sociological research is used by businesses, governments and other institutions.

Socialization: The process whereby individuals learn to become competent members of a group

Primary socialization: Social learning from the immediate family

Secondary socialization: Social learning from people outside the immediate family (as from society)

Role: A set of norms, values, and personality characteristics expected of a person based on the setting he or she is in

Self: The part of a person’s personality consisting of self-awareness and self-image

Identity: The personality, beliefs, looks, social groups and more that make a person (or group) unique

Value: A culturally determined belief about what is right or wrong, desirable or undesirable

Ideology: A set of values on which people base their religious, political and other choices

More/norm: A socially constructed guideline for behavior

Social status: A person’s social rank in a particular setting

Status symbols: Outward manifestations of prestige, such as expensive clothing. Some status symbols are not chosen and can be negative, such as one’s need for glasses.

Positive sanction and negative sanction: Socially constructed expressions of approval or disapproval

Peer pressure: The social pressure applied by groups, often unintentionally, to encourage conformity

Social control: The ways a society devises to encourage conformity to norms

Deviance: The violation of a norm

Stereotype: An assumption we make about a person or a group, often on the basis of incorrect or incomplete information

Stigma: A trait or characteristic we possess that causes us to lose prestige in the eyes of others

Taboo: A norm so strongly held by a society that its violation brings extreme disgust

Assimilation: The process whereby members of a group give up parts of their own culture in order to blend in to a new culture

Social integration: The degree to which an individual feels connected to the other people in his or her group or community

Resocialization: The learning of new norms and values that occurs when life circumstances change dramatically

Society: A collection of people who share space and culture

Culture: The commonalities of the people in a society, including shared objects, shared values and more

Subculture: A group that espouses a way of living that is different from that of the dominant culture

Consumerism: The acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts

Conspicuous consumption: The acquiring of luxury goods and services with the goal of public display

Popular culture/mass culture/pop culture: Ubiquitous cultural elements during a given time period

Mass media: Various communications media that direct messages and entertainment at a wide audience

Cultural relativism: The theory that in order to understand the traits of another culture, one must study them within the context of that culture

Social construction of reality: The theory that the way people view reality is based on how those around them view it

Social capital: The non-monetary resources available to a person that stem from their human interaction, including information, opportunities, power and influence, liking, reputation, cooperation and more

Group: Two or more people who interact regularly, have a sense of belonging and have their own chosen norms

Aggregate: A collection of people who happen to be at the same place at the same time

Network: A series of social ties that can be important sources of information, contacts, and assistance for its members

Nuclear family: One or both primary caregivers and their children

Primary group: A group that has emotional intimacy, a great sense of belonging and meets frequently, such as a family

Secondary group: A group that is more formal and less personal than a primary group but still meets regularly, such as a workplace or neighborhood group

Reference group: A group people compare themselves with for purposes of self-evaluation

Group dynamics: The ways in which an individual’s thoughts and behaviors are influenced by their groups

Master status: The main trait or status that a person is known by, such as their occupation (i.e. stay-at-home mom)

Groupthink: The tendency of people to follow the majority opinions of the group, leading to narrow, uncreative views and solutions

Multiculturalism: The existence and fair-minded acceptance of multiple cultural heritages living side by side

Ethnocentrism: The tendency to judge another culture by the standards of one’s own culture

Contact hypothesis: A hyposthesis stating that prejudice declines when people in an in-group become more familiar with the customs, norms, food, music, and attitudes of people in an out-group

Race: Shared physical characteristics corresponding (sometimes loosely or with complexity) to a genetically similar group

Ethnicity: however, refers to cultural factors, including nationality, regional culture, ancestry, and language.

Gender socialization: The tendency for boys and girls to be socialized differently

Feminism: An ideology aimed at achieving the full equality of the sexes

Sex: One’s anatomical gender

Gender: One’s felt or experienced gender

Cisgender: The quality of having the same anatomical and experienced gender

Transgender: The quality of having an experienced gender different from one’s anatomical gender

Transsexual: A person who has had gender reassignment surgery

Non-binary gender: An umbrella term for genders that fall somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum and are neither strictly male or female

Queer theory: A field of critical theory that interprets literature, culture and history through the lens of non-binary gender issues

Body dysphoria: Discomfort experienced because of the difference between gender and your sex, role, or gender expression

Social alienation: A condition of rejection or incomplete integration into a community

Disenfranchisement: The revocation of the right to vote and other legal rights

The Other: A person or group of people thought to be different, even alien, by another person or group

Human rights: Rights all people are entitled to and that some people fight to lawfully support

Pluralistic society: A society composed of many different races, ethnicities and cultures

Class conflict/class warfare/class struggle: The political tension and economic inequalities that exist between social classes

Power: The ability to achieve one’s goals, even in the face of resistance

Socioeconomic status (SES): A calculation of one’s education, income, occupation and possibly ethnicity and gender that results in a nonscientific social categorization

Social mobility: Movement up or down within the social hierarchy

Stratification: The hierarchical ranking of a society’s members members

Caste system: A social system based on ascribed statuses, traits or characteristics that people possess at birth

Class system: A social system based partly or largely on achieved statuses, traits or characteristics that are earned and chosen

Social classes in the United States: Upper class, new money, middle class, working class, working poor, poverty level

Elite: A small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power, or skill in a society

Power elite: A small group of the most wealthy, powerful, and influential people in business, government, and the military that are thought to run a society

Nobility: The highest stratum of the estate system of stratification whose members had significant inherited wealth and did little or no discernible work

Upper class: The class of people with inherited wealth and a recognizable family name

New money: The class of people whose wealth has been around only for a generation or two

Bourgeoisie and proletariat: In Marxist theory, the bourgeoisie is the class of people that owns the industrial means of production, to whom the much larger base of working class proletariat sells their services

Middle class: The class of people who earn their money by working at professional white-collar jobs

Working class: The class of people who earn their money by working at blue-collar jobs that require less training

Working poor: The class people whose work leaves them vulnerable to falling below the poverty level

Poor/poverty level people: The class of people who live below the poverty line

Meritocracy: A system of stratification in which positions are given according to individual merit

Skilled worker and unskilled worker: A skilled worker is a worker who is literate and has experience and expertise in specific areas of production or on specific kinds of machines. This is in contrast to an unskilled worker, who does not.

Domestic worker: A person who works within an employer’s household

Poverty level: An estimate set by the federal government of the minimum income that a family needs to survive

The American Dream: The idea that all people, regardless of the conditions into which they were born and their current SES, have the chance to succeed

Social darwinism: The late-nineteenth century theory that the strong should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease

Primogeniture: A law stipulating that only a first-born son could inherit his father’s wealth

Industrial society: A society that uses advanced sources of energy, rather than humans and animals, to run large machinery

Postindustrial society: A society that features an economy based on services and technology, not production

Industrializing nations/developing nations: Countries that are in the process of becoming industrialized

Institution: A set of norms surrounding the carrying out of a function necessary for the survival of a society

Bureaucracy: An institution with a hierarchy of rigid, rule-bound officials

Neocolonialism: A theory concerning the tendency of the most industrialized nations to exploit less developed countries politically and economically

Hegemony: The political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others

The modern period/modernism: The historical period lasting from roughly the beginning of the nineteenth century and ending in the mid-twentieth century, which followed the Enlightenment period and was followed by the postmodern period.

The postmodern period/postmodernism: The postmodern period is the historical period that began in the mid-twentieth century as a reaction to the wars of the early part of the century and other political and social upheavals. Postmodernism is the underlying belief in the absence of truth, certainty and/or absolutes. It is a broad movement across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism, marking a departure from the more traditional views of modernism.

Patriarchy: A society in which men hold most of the power, including political, moral, financial and social power, and places of leadership.

Secularization: The transformation of a society from close identification with religious values and institutions toward nonreligious values and secular institutions

Urbanization: The process by which a large percentage of a population migrates toward urban centers

Gentrification: The process of change that occurs when wealthier residents and businesses move into a neighborhood or area in large numbers

Sociocultural anthropology: The study of human behavior within a particular cultural group in the context of that group

Recidivism: The tendency of convicted criminals to repeat offenses

White-collar crime: Nonviolent crime committed by middle class professionals, often in the context of the workplace

Victimless crime: Crimes in which laws are violated but that lack an identifiable victim

Revolution: A violent overthrow of the government by its citizens

Polygamy: Marriage between one man and more than one woman

Sect: A religious group that sets itself apart from society as a whole

POC: Person of color

Racial prejuduce: The unavoidable mental associations and generalizations every person retains concerning race

Racial discrimination: A statement or act that seeks to remove power or dignity from a person of color. Discrimination comes in numerous forms, including: ignoring a person of color’s input or ideas, making statements that reveal racial prejuduce and remaining silent in response to an act of discrimination

Racism: The systemic, institutionalized discrimination and prejuduce that pervades every level of society, including workplaces, governments, the criminal justice system and many more

Microaggression: A statement or act that betrays a person’s racial prejuduce and in some way diminishes a person of color but does not overtly discriminate against them. An example is a careless statement about a person’s hair texture or not looking at a person of color when talking to a group.

White supremacy: The assumed intellectual, cultural and moral superiority of white people, as opposed to people of color. The term was first used to refer to white people who worked for racial segregation and the oppression of people of color, but is now widely used to refer to the innumerable cultural messages that permeate Western society.

White privilege: The sum total of the many small and large benefits of being white

White fragility: The defensiveness displayed by many white people during discussions about race, which leads them to provide overly simplistic solutions, dramatize their own suffering, display anger, avoid discussion, shut down discussion/change topic or focus, seek white solidarity and more.

The New Jim Crow: The modern system for denying numerous civil rights to people of color in the United States, particularly, but not limited to, people previously convicted of felony crimes. The New Jim Crow includes laws which allow for unconstitutional acts, such as search and seizure without cause, racial profiling, targeted policing, cruel and unusual punishment, unfair trials and much more. People with felony records are made second-class citizens and routinely denied access to job opportunities, business licenses, gun licenses, housing, food assistance, insurance, loans, educational assistance and much more. They are also unable to vote, serve on a jury and perform other civic duties. One of the results of the New Jim Crow is that currently, one in three black men in the U.S. will serve time in jail at some point during their lives.

Mass incarceration: The legally sanctioned imprisonment of over two million people in the United States, 40 percent of whom are people of color, and many of whom are required to provide very low-cost to free labor to many U.S. corporations working through contracts with the prison system. Overall rates of incarceration in the U.S. have gone from 350,000 in 1940 to over 2 million in 2015, with the majority of all prisoners worldwide residing in U.S. prisons. This statistic does not include inmates in detainment centers for undocumented workers and their families, which largely resemble U.S. prisons and are growing at a rapid rate.

School in a Book: Political Science

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Before you debate, learn your stuff. Here’s what you need to know in order to do your civic duties well.

Note that some political terms are not mutually exclusive; for example, the U.S. can be described as a democracy, a republic, a capitalist country or a federation.

Find U.S. elected officials on

Basic Political Science

Politics: The complicated, multi-part process of choosing laws and lawmakers

Government: On a state or national level, a politically based institution that makes and enforces laws; conducts foreign affairs; conducts war and related self-protective acts; and performs many other specified duties, such as education and infrastructure building and maintenance.

Political science: The study of political history, processes, people and ideas

Political party: A named group that shares political preferences and seeks to have their representatives elected

Suffrage: The right and ability to vote

Power: The ability to get others to do what you want

Political ideology: A set of beliefs about the right, practical and preferable function, structure and powers of government

The main political ideologies: In order on the political spectrum: anarchy; libertarianism; conservativism; progressive liberalism; socialism, communism, fascism/totalitarianism

The political spectrum: A way of organizing political ideologies according to the amount of government control and, conversely, the amount of individual freedom the adherents believe is proper, practical and preferable. Commonly, the political spectrum is viewed as a straight line, giving rise to the “left-right” terminology commonly used. It might also be viewed as a circle. The political spectrum is as follows, starting at the right: fascism/totalitarianism; anarchy; libertarian capitalism; conservative capitalism; progressive liberal capitalism; socialism; and communism.

The two main types of political issues: Economic and social. Economic issues also concern the size, structure and power of government, the amount of individual freedom and liberty and foreign policy. Social issues are many and diverse and are often also directly economically salient; therefore, the division between these issues is at times confusing and irrelevant. Social issues usually capture a greater amount of popular interest, but economic issues are usually more foundational to a country’s functioning.

Important present-day political issues: As evidenced by the political ideologies, the main political issue is the size and powers of the government in question and, conversely, the amount of individual freedom and liberty allowed by that government. Other matters of governmental structure, plus economic policy and foreign policy are also highly significant.

Important present-day social issues: abortion, affirmative action, agricultural policy and land reform, animal rights and animal testing, capital punishment, censorship, internet censorship, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, Internet taxation, climate change policy, direct democracy, disarmament and nonproliferation, drug policy and reform, education policy and reform, electoral reform, foreign policy, gay rights and gay marriage, gun rights and gun control, health care policy and reform, immigration policy and reform, Israeli–Palestinian conflict, language policy, lobbying, medical marijuana, NATO expansion, nuclear testing, political corruption, race relations, science and technology policy, separation of church and state, space policy, stem cells and the stem cell controversy, tax reform, terrorism, counter-terrorism, welfare reform and more.

Republican: A member of the U.S. political party called the Republican Party. Republicans value small government, low taxes, a laissez-faire economy and freedom from government intervention.

Democrat: A member of the U.S. political party called the Democratic Party. Democrats value social justice, moderate or high taxes, greater government intervention in business and economic processes and a more robust welfare system.

Independent: Citizens who do not belong to or identify with either political party

Third party: Any of many U.S. political parties other than the democratic or republican party

Democracy: A political system or ideology in which leaders are (directly or indirectly, through elected representatives) elected by the general public of eligible voters. New elections occur regularly.

Constitutional democracy: A democracy in which the rights and powers of the people are described in a constitution, which is the foundational law of the land.

Conservativism: A political ideology promoting slow change, restricted government (particularly central government), efficient use of government resources (to the detriment of social reform and publicly funded institutions), and traditional social values. An economic conservative espouses only the ideology’s economic ideas, and a social conservative espouses only the ideology’s social values. The Republican Party is the conservative party in the U.S.

Liberalism: In the U.S., a political ideology promoting social and economic reform, higher taxes and greater governmental power. It is sometimes also called progressivism. The Democratic Party is the liberal party in the U.S. In Europe, liberalism is the opposite and very similar to conservativism. This type of liberalism contrasts with the Labour Party, which is similar to U.S. liberalism.

Republic/democratic republic/federal republic: A form of government in which leaders, including a supreme leader and many local representatives, are elected democratically. These leaders then make laws and vote on them on behalf of their constituents.

Constituents: Voters and other citizens being represented by political leaders

Presidential government: A republic with a separate executive branch from the legislative branch that is led by a president.

Islamic republic: A democratic republic that is also a theocracy, as all laws must be compatible with the rules of Islam.

Commonwealth: The traditional English term for a republic.

Parliamentary government: A form of government in which the executive branch, including a main leader and an advisory cabinet, is chosen by a legislature or parliament. The leader is called a prime minister or a chancellor. This branch can be dissolved by the parliament and can in turn dissolve the parliament.

Parliamentary democracy: A democracy in which the legislature is elected by the general population and the prime minister is elected by the legislature based on party strength resulting from elections.

Parliamentary monarchy: A parliamentary democracy in which there is also a ceremonial monarch who is not directly involved in lawmaking.

Prime minister: The leader of a parliamentary government

Capitalism: A political system or ideology based on private ownership, free-market competition and the profit motive.

Welfare capitalism: Capitalism that also includes an extensive social welfare system, including universal health care, education and more.

State capitalism: Capitalism that is highly regulated by the government.

Socialism: A political system or ideology in which the democratically elected leaders attempt a large-scale redistribution of wealth

Communism: A political system or ideology in which the state, usually run by a small group of leaders, controls everything, including the economy. The state eliminates private ownership of property or capital, claiming that all people share ownership of these resources. Leaders are not elected democratically.

Marxism: A form of communism devised by Karl Marx in the late nineteenth century that he claimed would free the proletariat (workers) from exploitation by capitalists (business owners), resulting in a classless society.

Totalitarianism/authoritarianism: A political system or ideology in which state authority is total and brutally enforced. Political matters, economic matters and even attitudes and beliefs are tightly controlled.

Fascism: A form of totalitarianism that existed in several nations during World War II

Nazism: National Socialism, the form of fascism that existed in Germany during World War II

Libertarianism: A political system or ideology that seeks to maximize the freedom of the individual and minimize the size and powers of the government. It is an extreme form of conservativism.

Anarchy: A political system or ideology characterized by a lack of governmental authority and resulting lawlessness. Most often, anarchy is the result of continuous civil war and political upheaval, though anarchists promote anarchy as a preferred system.

Monarchy: A form of government led by a single supreme leader. The leader’s powers vary by state. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch is limited and guided by a constitution, the foundational law of the land. An emirate is a form of monarchy ruled by an emir (the ruler of a Muslim state). A sultanate is ruled by a sultan.

Oligarchy: A form of government that is led by a small group of (usually wealthy and well-connected) individuals

Dictatorship: A political system or ideology in which a single ruler or a small group of rulers has absolute power unconfined by any law

Federalism/federation/confederacy/confederation: A general term for a political system or ideology in which a group of individual states or provinces are united under a central government with limited powers

Theocracy: A form of government in which a deity or religion, as interpreted by religious professionals, is supreme. An ecclesiastical state, such as Vatican City, is a theocracy that is led by the church itself.

Feudalism: A past political system in which loyalties and monies were exchanged for food, land, military service and more. It operated in Europe in the Middle Ages, and is also known as the feudal system. Peasants were loyal to knights, knights to lords and lords to kings.

Foreign policy: The government’s theoretical standpoints and actual involvement in international politics and affairs. Foreign policy has far-reaching consequences, leading to war, effective trade, trade disputes, nuclear proliferation, nuclear war prevention, humanitarianism, environmental affects, terrorism, the prevention of terrorism and more.

Major foreign policy strategies: Diplomacy, foreign aid (either military or economic) and military force

Isolationist: A person who advocates non-intervention or low intervention in international affairs

Internationalist: A person who advocates taking an active role in international affairs

Interest group: An organization of people who share a common interest and work together to protect and promote that interest by influencing the government. Can be either economic or noneconomic. Business special interest group are the most common type, but labor groups (representing labor unions) are also powerful and seek the interests of skilled and unskilled workers. Interest groups are not allowed to recommend a certain voting decision. Interest groups are not allowed to donate money to campaigns directly, but they can contribute money through their

Political action committee (PAC): A group of people representing various special interests (such as corporations) who donate to and support political campaigns. Some PACs write legislation, then pass it to legislators, who introduce it verbatim. An example of a highly influential PAC is ALEC, who contributed significantly to the growth of the prison-industrial complex by promoting longer sentencing, three-strikes-you’re-out laws and more.

Lobbying: The attempt to influence lawmakers in their policy and voting decisions. This is done professionally by large organizations and by individuals and smaller groups as well. Lobbying is highly effective, but its ethics are complicated as many lobbyists promote self-serving policies that might do harm to the large body of citizens the representative is responsible to.

Lobbying techniques: Persuasion, information, material incentives, economic leverage, disruption, amicus curae (court briefs to influence court decisions) and litigation. Lobbyists sometimes get only two or three minutes of an official’s time to make their case. Former government officials often become lobbyists and earn a high salary as such.

Grassroots activism: The process of mobilizing large numbers of people to achieve the interest group’s goal. Grassroots techniques include: letter writing campaigns, rallies and marches, petitions, initiatives, Hill visits by normal citizens, advertising, writing policy education materials such as voter guides, publicly posting positions of members of Congress on key issues, meeting attendance (including local meetings of city councils, boards of education and more), campaigning, working for a party organization.

Soft money: Unregulated money given by interest groups. This was outlawed but loopholes are constantly being sought.

How to register to vote: In the U.S., legal residents over the age of 18 can vote. Register online, at a state or local election office or at the department of motor vehicles. Update your voter registration if you change addresses.

Other ways to get involved in politics: Serving as a poll worker, donating to candidates, running for local office, joining a citizen advisory board, creating a petition, writing about and discussing your issue or candidate of choice. Note that it is more effective to send letters to state officials than to DC. Calling is more effective than writing letters, and in-person visits are best of all.

Legitimacy: The acceptance of a governing authority by its citizens

Authority: The ability of a governing authority to govern without the use of force

Sovereignty: The right to of self-government, as the right of a nation to choose how to govern itself. When a state’s citizens can appeal to a higher body (such as state judicial decisions being appealed to the Supreme Court), that state is not sovereign.

English colony and U.S. protectorate: A state that mostly governs itself but recognizes the right of another state to interfere. These are not sovereign.

Forms of political organization: The main form is the nation-state, also called a nation, a state or a country. Other forms are international political organizations, such as NATO, non-government organizations (NGOs), outlaw regimes and more.

Regime: Any particular government that is in power at a particular time (i.e. “the current regime”)

Constitution: Written agreement that outlines the foundational law of the land, including the powers of the different branches of government and the powers of citizens.

Nationalism: The idea that each nation should hold sovereignty, without being unduly influenced by global politics and organizations such as NATO

Egalitarianism: A belief in the inherent equality of all people, and the right to political equality of all people

Political corruption: The use of entrusted powers by government officials for private gain. This includes extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, pork barreling, embezzlement and conflict of interest exchanges.

Extortion: Bribery

Cronyism: The favoring of friends

Nepotism: The favoring family members

Patronage: Working for the interests of a single person or group instead of for one’s own purposes and interests

Graft: Various ways of using public monies for private gain, including granting lucrative contracts to friends who might then pay you

Pork barreling: Representatives trading favors with other representatives to bring more money to their area. This is frequently done by agreeing to vote for another lawmaker’s bill if benefits to their area are added to the same bill, even if the benefits are unrelated.

Embezzlement: Stealing money you’re entrusted with but that doesn’t belong solely to you

Conflict of interest: An ethically problematic situation in which a person in power holds two different responsibilities that might have conflicting goals, resulting in difficult choices on the part of that person. An example of this is a state representative who is also a member of the board of a large company, such as a drug manufacturer, who might pressure the representative to pass legislation that is amenable to their cause.

Rider: An addition to a law that has nothing to do with that law, added to gain favor with the representatives who benefit from the rider

Party identification: Loyalty to a political party, whether or not one is an official member of that party

Duopoly: The condition in which political power is shared by two political parties

Partisan journalism: Media sources that are clearly and openly biased in a party’s favor

Yellow journalism: Reporting shocking stories to attract a larger audience

Public policy: Any rule, plan, or action pertaining to issues of domestic national importance

Bureaucracy: The people who administer government and other very large organizations

Machine: A hierarchically organized, centrally led state or local party organization that rewards members with material benefits

School in a Book: American Government

Most of the following information comes from Direct quotes are indicated as such. To read the documents described here, visit

Basic American Government

The United States of America: The United States is a federal republic, a federation of many states under a centralized government. It includes fifty states, fourteen U.S. territories, tribal nations and the District of Colombia (the federal capital city which is not part of any state). States are largely self-governing but subject to federal restrictions vis a vis the U.S. Constitution. Residents of U.S. territories have varying rights and varying levels of independence.

The three branches of the federal government: The legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch.

The system of checks and balances: The ability of each branch of government to change the decisions of the other branches so that no single branch is able to take control. “The president can veto legislation created by Congress and nominates heads of federal agencies. Congress confirms or rejects the president’s nominees and can remove the president from office in exceptional circumstances. The Justices of the Supreme Court, who can overturn unconstitutional laws, are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.”

Important American political ideals: Liberty, democracy, equality, laissex-faire capitalism, civil rights, limited government

The Constitution of the United States: The foundational law of the land. “The foundation of the American government, its purpose, form, and structure, are in the Constitution of the United States. The Constitutional Convention adopted the Constitution on September 17, 1787.”

The Declaration of Independence: The document that started it all. In it, the original thirteen colonies declared independence from Great Britain. This was agreed upon at the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, making this date the official birth date of the country.

The Bill of Rights: The first ten amendments to the Constitution, which are a part of the Constitution. Each of these amendments contains multiple civil rights. “There are 27 constitutional amendments in all. The 27th Amendment, which was originally proposed in 1789, was not ratified until 1992.”

In order, the rights in the Bill of Rights are: freedom of religion, speech, the press, peaceable assembly, government petition; the right to create a militia and bear arms; the right to refuse to house soldiers; the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures unless there is a warrant with probable cause; the right to a jury trial, freedom from double jeopardy, the right to choose not to testify against onesself (this is called “pleading the fifth”), the right to not be denied life, liberty or property without due process of law and the right to not have property taken for public use without compensation; the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury, the right to be informed of the accusation, to be confronted by the witnesses against him, to have counsel (a lawyer), and to have the opportunity to find witnesses in his favor; right to a trial by jury in civil cases in the federal court (though this type of case is no longer heard in the federal court system); freedom from excessive bail, excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishment; the retaining of other civil rights not listed in the Constitution; and the rights of states and the people to powers not specifically delegated to the federal government and also not prohibited by it to the states.

The Federalist Papers: A collection of essays written by the founding fathers and published in newspapers attempting to convince voters to vote to ratify the proposed U.S. Constitution.

Who comprises the executive branch: The president, the vice president, and Cabinet members. It also includes many other government agencies, such as the Forest Service and the drug Enforcement Agency, that support its work.

Duties of the president: To serve as head of state, head of the U.S. government, and the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military. The president signs the budget into law and signs bills into law, and can veto bills Congress decides on. “The president serves a four-year term and can be elected no more than two times.”

Duties of the vice president: To support the president and to serve as the presiding officer of the Senate

Duties of the cabinet members: To act as the president’s advisors. “They include the vice president, heads of executive departments, and other high-ranking government officials. Cabinet members are nominated by the president and must be approved by a simple majority of the Senate—51 votes if all 100 senators vote.”

The National Security Council (NSC): A collection of security policy experts who are part of the White House Staff and advise the president on security issues, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Joint Chiefs of Staff: The heads of all the branches of the military and others.

The duties of the legislative branch: To write and proposes bills, then vote on whether or not to make them into law; to confirm or reject the executive branch’s nominations for various agencies and the Supreme Court; to declare war; to collect taxes; to borrow money; and to revise and approve the annual budget (make and agree on budget resolutions).

The two parts of the legislative branch: The Senate and the House of Representatives. It also includes many other government agencies, such as the Library of Congress, that support its work.

Who comprises the Senate: 100 elected senators, two senators from each state. Each senator is elected by their state’s citizens and serves a six-year term.

Who comprises the House of Representatives: 435 voting representatives, with a different number from each state as determined by the population of that state. Each representative is elected by their state’s citizens and serves a two-year term.

Who comprises the judicial branch: The Supreme Court and all other federal courts. (Note that there are separate state and local court systems as well.) The Supreme Court has nine justices who are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate by a simple majority. All nine justices hear and vote on each case. The majority opinion is the decision. Opinions are written to explain the decision, but dissenting opinions can also be written.

The duties of the Supreme Court: To decide whether or not laws violate the Constitution

Which court cases are heard by the Supreme Court: Lower court decisions are appealed. A few cases are heard orally and others are reviewed on paper. The appeals usually come from federal courts (courts that deal with federal law) but occasionally a state court case comes to the federal court if it deals with federal/constitutional law.

The federal budget: A detailed spending plan for the following fiscal year decided on by the Congress. In 2018, the federal government spent 4.11 trillion dollars.

Where the money for the budget comes from: Taxes (from individuals and businesses); loans from other countries (savings bonds, notes and Treasury bills that are sold); social security payments; miscellaneous other sources, such as fines and licenses

What the government spends money on: Lawfully protected agencies (such as Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid); interest on the national debt; discretionary agencies and programs (those Congress is not required by law to support but votes to support in that year’s budget); national defense

The budget process: The President creates a budget; it is reviewed by Congress in detail and committees and subcommittees hold hearings on it; revisions are made; Congress passes it

National debt: The accumulation of monies borrowed by the U.S. government from other countries that have not yet been repaid

Appropriation bills: The thirteen bills that are part of the budget and contain all of the discretionary spending

Grant: A bestowal of federal money to state and local governments for special programs in response to grant proposals

State governments: These have the greatest influence over most Americans’ daily lives. Each state has its own written constitution, state legislature, court system and code of laws. There are often great differences in law and procedure between individual states, concerning issues such as property, crime, health and education, amongst others. The institutions that are responsible for local government within states are typically town, city, or county boards, water management districts, fire management districts, library districts and other similar governmental units which make laws that affect their particular area. These laws concern issues such as traffic, the sale of alcohol and the keeping of animals.

State powers: States cannot form alliances with foreign governments, declare war, coin money, or impose duties on imports or exports. However, states have all other powers of government not granted to the federal government by the Constitution and not in conflict with federal law, including the government of: property, education, welfare programs, the justice system, state highways and much more. States are subject to special federal mandates as well, such as pollution-related mandates and handicap-related mandates.

State budgets: On average, states generate more than one­-third of their revenues from personal income taxes and another one­-third from general sales taxes. The remaining revenues are split between excise taxes (on gasoline, cigarettes and alcohol); corporate income and franchise taxes; lotteries; and taxes on business licenses, utilities, insurance premiums, severance, property and several other sources. Elementary and secondary schools receive funding from all the different levels of government

State court system: The system of courts administered by states. In some states, supreme and lower court justices are elected by the people, while in others, they are appointed by the legislature or the governor.

State constitution: Each state has its own constitution which is similar to the U.S. constitution in structure and which it uses as the basis for its laws. All state governments consist of the same three branches as exist in the federal government: executive, legislative, and judicial. State constitutions can be amended when both the legislature and the citizens vote for the amendment.

Governor: The highest elected official of each state. A governor can serve either a two or four year term. Thirty-seven states have term limits on the governor. Roles: appointments to state agencies and offices, serve as chief of state/ chief Executive – draws up budget, also has clemency and military powers; Veto Power: Like the U.S. President, a governor has the right to veto bills passed by the legislature. Vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds or three-fourths majority in the legislature. In many states, the governor has the power of a line-item veto. In some states, the governor has the power of an amendatory or conditional veto.

Lieutenant Governor: Succeeds the governor in office and presides over the senate.

Secretary of State: Takes care of public records and documents, also may have many other responsibilities.

Attorney General: Responsible for representing the state in all court cases.

Auditor: Makes sure that public money has been spent legally.

Treasurer: Invests and pays out state funds.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Heads state department of education.

County: A subdivision of a state. In some states, counties have their own governments, while in others, they are merely geographical splits and the towns and cities provide the government of them

Mayor: the The highest elected official of a town or city

Tribal nations: “Dependent domestic nations” that must follow federal law but not all state laws

Citizen legislation: Legislators don’t wield the only legislative power in state government. In many states, the people can perform legislative functions directly.

How a bill becomes law: The bill is proposed by a representative and sponsored by another representative. The bill is introduced to the House of Representatives. It goes to the proper committee (a group of representatives that have chosen to write legislation on certain areas of expertise). Subcommittees might also be asked for their opinion. After being approved by the committee, it is reported to the House floor and debated by the U.S. House of Representatives. During these debates, changes are made. Then the bill is voted on and referred to the Senate, where it goes to the Senate committees and subcommittees, then is debated and voted on on the Senate floor. Finally, it is sent to the President, who either passes the bill or vetoes the bill (sending it back to the House). If it is vetoed, another vote might be taken and if it passes both houses by a two-thirds majority, it still becomes law.

Filibuster: A technique used by Senators to prevent the passing of a bill

Petition: A request for a bill to be created or for a law to be put on the ballot, often made by average citizen and usually requiring a certain number of signatures

Initiative: A law proposed by citizens for direct vote which bypasses the legislature

Referendum: A law proposed by legislature, but voted on by citizens

Recall: The removal of elected officials from office through a citizen vote

Eligibility for office: To be eligible for public office, candidates must be a resident of their state (and presidential candidates must be a natural-born U.S. citizen). Representatives must be at least 25 years old. Senators must be at least 30 years old, and president and vice presidents must be at least 35 years old.

General election: The final election that fills public offices

Primary election: An election prior to the general election in which voters select the candidates who will be named on each party’s ticket. In an open primary, voters choose their party on election day. In a closed primary, only preregistered party members can select candidates and must do so prior to the general election

Presidential primary: A primary election in which presidential candidates for the major parties are chosen

Electoral College: A group of people called “electors” that cast the official votes for the president and vice president. The electors (usually) vote according to the popular vote. The number of electors in each states is equal to its number of representatives in both houses of Congress.

Office-block ballot: A ballot that groups candidates by office name

Party-column ballot: A ballot that groups candidate by party affiliation

Split-ticket voting: A ballot that allows for voting for candidates of different parties in the same election

Straight-ticket voting: A ballot that only allows for voting for candidates who are all of the same party

The flag’s symbolism: The flag represents the shared values and history of the American people, particularly the value of liberty. The 13 red and white stripes represent the 13 original colonies, while the 50 white stars represent the 50 states. The red color represents valor and bravery. The white color represents purity and innocence, and the blue color represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.

The Pledge of Allegiance: The Pledge is a statement made while standing at attention and facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. It is as follows: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Rules for flag flying: The flag shouldn’t be flown in inclement weather unless it’s an all-weather flag; when displayed at night, the flag should be properly illuminated; in a time of national mourning, the flag should be hung at half-mast; the flag should be flown right-side up; when flown with another flag, it should be placed to your left when crossed; when stored, flag should be folded into a triangle with the union (blue section) visible; if damaged, the flag should be disposed of with dignity, usually by burning; the flag should not touch anything below it or rest on the ground.

Major U.S. welfare programs: Social security; medicare and medicaid; supplemental security income (SSI) (aid to elderly and disabled people who do not qualify for social security benefits); food stamps; the earned income tax credit (EITC); public/subsidized housing; rent vouchers; unemployment benefits

No Child Left Behind Act: A 2001 act that provided more money to schools but required all schools in the country to meet certain educational standards in return

School voucher program: Federally funded vouchers for low-income parents that can be used to pay for tuition at a private school of the parents’ choice

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict: A major foreign policy issue is stabilizing the Middle East, particularly by resolving the conflict between Israel, a state the U.S. has historically supported, and the Palestinians, an ethnic group in Israel that seeks to establish its own country. The U.S. has a great deal of financial interest in the stability of the entire Middle East due to its oil trade with these countries. The longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict has resulted in many holy wars that have included many other Middle Eastern states. Many Middle Eastern states support the Islamic Palestinians, while many Christian countries support the Judaic Israelites.

The Iraq war: In the Gulf War of the early 1990s the U.S. and its allies liberated the Kuwait from its Iraqi occupiers, forcing the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, to end all his weapons programs. In 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq, believing Hussein was still creating weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). A democratic government was put in place, but a shortage of troops, a lack of evidence of WMDs, anti-American violence and more have prevented success and stability there. Some people want the U.S. to leave Iraq immediately, while others believe doing so will allow it to become a safe haven for terrorists.