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How to Find Knowledgable People to Talk to Kids About Advanced Topics?


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Does anyone know of any resources to find mentors or knowledgeable people who are willing to chat with kids about advanced topics for fun?  

 

Right now, I’m specifically looking for science subjects, but I changed the title because the issue I’m asking about is not specific to this subject area but applies in any area where our kids’ interest exceeds our knowledge.  Books and websites can provide information, but sometimes having a discussion with another person is invaluable.  So, how do we find these people?  Do they exist?

 

For example, my daughter (14 yo / 9th grade) has been toying with a thought experiment about what would be the effect of having a hole in the universe - just a place where the universe doesn’t exist - and what would happen to matter in our world that came in contact with the hole - would it pass through? bend around? get cut into pieces? would the hole be detectable at all?  I’ve tried to encourage her thinking in the area and brought in as many concepts to intrigue her as I could think of that might be relevant - e.g., talked about how Einstein’s Theory of Relativity started with a similar thought experiment, discussed vacuums, worm holes, multiple dimensions / Flatland, invisibility cloaks, etc.  But my knowledge is limited so I’m sure there are tons of things that I don’t even know to mention, and I can’t really push or challenge her thinking effectively.

 

Similarly, she’s really intrigued about biology and she is interested in prion diseases and had me buy her a book about protein-folding.  I can’t even discuss this with her because I know nothing about it.

 

I wish I knew some really good college-level professors who I could invite over for dinner periodically to have interesting discussions about such things!  But unfortunately I don’t.  

 

So, are there any good resources out there for such fun, informal discussions, where knowledgable teachers are participating?  Is there a way to find a mentor who’s willing to work with kids to keep piquing their interest?  Would it be a good idea to look for a tutor and ask them to plan a series of intriguing discussions?

 

I know this question is really vague and kind of odd, but I’m hoping someone might have a suggestion!

Edited by songsparrow
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Look at doctoral students at a nearby university to find who is a good match and then ask if they might be interested in tutoring your child.

 

Keep an eye out for lectures at the university and attend them. Sometimes they are duds, but sometimes they are great and you might meet some interesting people.

Edited by bibiche
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So thinking about the first question... By analogy, I reasoned a black hole was like an infinitely deep pit in curved space time so sort of like a simple hole... but wait with a hole you have no gravity source... in fact if absent anything for gravity to traverse, maybe things would instead pucker the other way... If a black hole is a slowly expanding pit that everything falls into maybe this sort of empty hole is a slowly expanding peak everything drains away from...

 

More importantly my speculations reminded me of Lewis Carroll Epstiens book "Thinking Physics" which explore these sorts of thought riddles, which reminded me of Randall Munroe's book "What If". People would be better but both of these books recreate some of the fun of calculating how hot the fireplace mantle would have to get to spontaneously combust or how large a 33 1/3 rpm record would have to be to have the rim be spinning at the speed of light.

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Agree with the above. Go to talks, grad students are often an awesome resource. For kids who can handle it, check into conferences-some actually have special student pricing for high school and below-and sometimes cheap pre-college teacher pricing, too (The regional ACS meetings do, for example). Join professional societies-better meeting pricing, journals, and private discussion forums. Student memberships usually aren't bad, although it can be fun to try to verify student enrollment for a homeschooled 9 yr old in a system designed for grad students(BTDT!).

 

 

Also, Twitter. A parent has to own the account under 13, but it's been a great resource. Find people to follow who are interesting. Pretty much every big organization will have an account. I have found the academic side of Twitter to actually usually be very informative, interesting, and fun without generally being unsafe for DD, although I admit I do moderate pretty heavily. Facebook can be useful as well, but if you want to actually discuss, that happens on Twitter.

 

In the same ilk, discussion forums. We actually started those earlier than Twitter. Again, I own the account, but DD shares. For DD's snake ones, I asked in advance, and have it in the .sig.

 

Oh, and on the invite over for dinner thing....grad students love food ;)

Edited by dmmetler
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Hopefully, you are near a few universities? Maybe she can attend some open-to-the-public talks on topics of interest and chat with some of the attendees. Is there an astronomy club near you? We will attend our first astronomy-related thing next month at a library. An astronomer is putting on a talk and then there will be a time for observing with some fancy telescopes after. My son cannot.wait. I'm hoping this will lead to more opportunities in this vein, as he is desperate to have discussion with another science fan who will engage with him on his level.

 

I know that when I was young (I think middle school or maybe early high school, pre-having internet access in my home) I was curious about some advanced science topic I had stumbled across. I couldn't find answers on my own, so I looked up the relevant department at my local university and left a message for a professor. He called me back and we had a nice chat. My dad recalls answering the phone and grilling the man, like "who are you and why are you calling my daughter?" hahaha.

 

Are there any science centers in your area? Maybe they can point you to meetup groups or events.

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Oh, and on the invite over for dinner thing....grad students love food ;)

Indeed they do, and I have fed many a grateful grad student myself. I would suggest to the OP, however, to do this strictly on a social basis and not as a reward for dog tricks: it is no less impolite to ask a grad student to dinner in exchange for conversation than it is to ask a lawyer or a doctor (or any other profession, really) to dinner in exchange for professional advice. :)

Edited by bibiche
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We have a "Science Circle" locally at a prestigious university for Middle schoolers and above. They meet once a week and a professor runs the circle leading discussions on scientific topics. Could you find one such group locally? 

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More importantly my speculations reminded me of Lewis Carroll Epstiens book "Thinking Physics" which explore these sorts of thought riddles, 

 

I wholeheartedly agree with this.  Epstein also has a book on modern physics, Relativity Visualized, that you and your dd will enjoy.  

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Would it be a good idea to look for a tutor and ask them to plan a series of intriguing discussions?

Does your 14 year old has an email? What we did was look for a tutor. Then we paid the tutor for weekly hourly sessions on a per session basis. We would consolidate the questions our kids raised that is within the tutor's domain knowledge and email the tutor before the session. That way the tutor can prep a little like bring materials if he/she want to. What we found was that many people may have the domain knowledge but can't explain. While those that can explain don't/can't explain deeper. So we shelve the tutoring plan for now.

 

The tutors told us that he/she could follow the standard curriculum to prep for SAT/AP or he/she could do interest led. But for interest led, the child has to plan because the tutor won't know how the wind blows when it comes to interest led.

 

My oldest is Mr Why and we found paying for a trial session with a tutor is worth it as the chances of a bad fit is so high especially when my boys are not advanced across the board and their math need to catch up for them to further their science interest. Kids ask things that are out of the box because the box is not drawn and the adult tutor is left thinking because the tutor did not expect a question of that nature.

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We have a "Science Circle" locally at a prestigious university for Middle schoolers and above. They meet once a week and a professor runs the circle leading discussions on scientific topics. Could you find one such group locally?

That's awesome! I would do just about anything for DS to have access to a resource like that. Seriously seething with envy! :)

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That's awesome! I would do just about anything for DS to have access to a resource like that. Seriously seething with envy! :)

This is the link, you can see past topics and instructors. My oldest can apply next year but even if he manage to get in by lottery, it may be a bad fit. My youngest did the math circle by the same university and the pace was not a good fit.

https://sciencecircle.stanford.edu/middle-school-program

 

Move here :lol:

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This is the link, you can see past topics and instructors. My oldest can apply next year but even if he manage to get in by lottery, it may be a bad fit. My youngest did the math circle by the same university and the pace was not a good fit.

https://sciencecircle.stanford.edu/middle-school-program

 

Move here :lol:

Ha! My parents would love it if I moved home. Instead, DS did get to do a cool program for middle school students at MIT. That'll have to do, I guess. :)

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