- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

One of the ways home-schooling families can make use of technology to augment their instruction is by renting videos and DVDs with good educational content. We recently discovered two extremely interesting BBC-produced series on video.

“Hyperspace” is a series narrated by Sam Neill that explores topics such as the origin of the stars and planets, the nature of matter, the solar system, comets, asteroids and meteors, supernovas and black holes.

Borrowing from the film techniques of science fiction, the documentary series uses special effects and animation to create visually compelling images to accompany the narrative. We “see” the black hole pulling the burning hydrogen gas from a nearby star like a spindle winding a thread. We are shown the formation of the solar system, and we see how flying space debris may have caused the moon to bud off from the embryonic Earth. We see Jupiter’s strong gravitational pull acting as a magnet for random asteroids and meteors, sort of guarding Earth from celestial bombardment.

The questions of life on other worlds and the search for other sentient beings are discussed in depth. Also, the question of man’s ability to transplant to other planets a breathable atmosphere and plant and animal life in order to prepare for human life to exist there — terraforming — is described.

This is a beautifully filmed series of six episodes, and it has interviews with various scientists sprinkled throughout, as well as showing how various equipment allows them to perceive the nature of the universe or to measure the activity of a certain entity.

Another series available on DVD is “The Human Face,” narrated by actor John Cleese. In this series, we see the uniqueness of our ability to express emotion, communicate and create relationship through our faces.

This series examines some of the musculature that allows the vast number of expressions we produce, as well as the responses to stimuli and the interpretations we have of facial movement. One interesting segment explores the relationship between facial characteristics and destiny — the habitual expressions we wear actually can predict our later contentment and success in many areas of life.

There are other interesting documentaries available in many consumer rental outlets, such as Netflix or Blockbuster. If you browse in the “Science and Nature” or Imax sections, you will find stunning films that are as visually rich as they are educationally nourishing. After each section or episode, you can discuss the information together, and explore certain areas further.

I suggest combining the film with several follow-up activities: a trip to the library to find books on the same subjects, a field trip to museums devoted to a similar topic or attending a lecture given by someone who does that type of work.

I always made a point of asking my children for a report or other project that could help them retain the information learned. For instance, perhaps they would write up several paragraphs on the material, print out some photos, or paste elements of pamphlets they received through the field trip. Sometimes, they would illustrate reports with their own drawings. Posting reviews about their experience on a Web site is another way for them to incorporate the new material into a memorable format.

Using video products, your learners can “tour” the globe, the microscopic world, and even the vast reaches of space. The entire world is our classroom; let’s explore it to the fullest extent we can.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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