Month: June 2015

How far would you go for healthy kids? – Part 4

baby CF sreen


On certain dark days Alyson Babson wonders what the success of genetic screening could mean for the future of her daughter, Maggie. “If we stop having kids with CF,” she asks, “how will we get more drugs and therapies for those who do have it?”

“There is something strange,” adds Biesecker, the genetic counselor, “in that as a society we’re pouring money into cystic-fibrosis research–while pushing abortion of cystic-fibrosis fetuses.”

But experts say there’s little possibility that cystic fibrosis will disappear. “If the purpose of this screening program were to try to eliminate cystic fibrosis, it would be unsuccessful and also inappropriate,” says Michael Mennuti, M.D., the secretary of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “First of all, the test won’t get to everyone. Some important percentage will decide not to have the test, and some proportion wouldn’t terminate even after prenatal diagnosis. And there will still be an enormous interest in finding the definitive treatment and cure for this disease.”

How far would you go for healthy kids? – Part 3

cystic fibrosis


Prepared for what, some critics of screening ask. “Geneticists talk about `making informed choices,'” says Barbara Biesecker, genetic counselor at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. “But there are lots of concerns that genetics is just a search-and-destroy mission, which in a sense it is.”

From an insurer’s perspective, the justification for screening thousands of Americans for cystic fibrosis is to save the $1 million or so it costs to provide care for the average CF patient. In other words, screening for the disease doesn’t make much sense unless at least some parents choose to abort.

How far would you go for healthy kids? – Part 2

baby with cf

It’s that ability to choose that makes many other people uncomfortable about the move toward routine screening. That’s because CF isn’t really comparable to many other genetic diseases doctors screen for during pregnancy. To have a child with the genetic disorder known as Tay-Sachs, for instance, is “to have five years of watching a child go downhill with no possibility of intervention,” says Peter Rowley, a geneticist at the University of Rochester in New York.

How far would you go for healthy kids? – Part 1

Rachel, Jenna, and Jared–1-year-old triplets dressed in pink, white, and blue onesies–scoot over the floor of their Durham, North Carolina, home like plump caterpillars, inching toward their 13-year-old sister, Cindy Lynn, and her violin. While their mother struggles to keep the babies from toppling the music stand, Cindy Lynn, a slip of a girl with light brown hair and braces, sight-reads through a Bach concerto.


Watching the triplets in the thrall of their sister and her music, it’s easy to forget a rather strange fact: They were created to be different from her. Like approximately 100 other children around the world, the triplets grew from eggs that were painstakingly harvested, fertilized, and tested in a laboratory to be free of the genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis (CF), the disease that has in many ways defined Cindy Lynn’s life.

For couples like the Rays—each of whom carries a single mutation of the gene that causes CF–having children the old-fashioned way is a bit like playing a game of Russian roulette. There’s a one-in-four chance that any child they conceive will inherit two defective copies of the gene, and thus suffer from thick secretions of mucus clogging the lungs, pancreas, and other organs. The Rays took a gamble with two children after Cindy Lynn, and they were lucky: Jason, now 9, and Josh, 6, are both healthy. A few years later, the Rays–he works as a computer engineer, she has a degree in education and homeschools their children–were having trouble conceiving a fourth child. As the couple started looking into various artificial reproductive techniques, they learned that a geneticist could screen their embryos and implant only those free of the mutant genes.

The Rays are opposed to abortion. They understood that scientists would have to fertilize more of Cindy’s eggs than would actually be implanted in her body, and that the non-implanted embryos would never become children. But Cindy and Russell were willing to “split hairs,” as she puts it, in order to guarantee themselves a CF-free child. The two of them haven’t regretted the decision. Early in Cindy’s pregnancy, Cindy Lynn, then 11, had to be hospitalized suddenly with one of the painful lung inflammations that are all too common in cystic fibrosis. “That was good motivation for us,” says her mother, a straightforward, bespectacled 34-year-old who wears her chestnut hair in a neat pageboy. “It wasn’t like we didn’t love Cindy Lynn. But her disease is so hard.”


For several years you’ve been hearing about the day when doctors will take a little blood or a swab of cells from the inside of your cheek, extract the DNA, and put it on a silicon chip to provide a readout of all the illnesses you’re susceptible to. For now, at least, this is a pipe dream: Most diseases are too complex, and their causes too poorly understood, to be predicted merely by examining your genes. Cystic fibrosis is an exception. Since 1989, when scientists discovered the CF gene, we’ve known that two defective copies automatically causes the disease. Not only that, but CF mutations are alarmingly common, especially in Caucasians, of whom one in 29 is a carrier. In September the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists mailed out guidelines instructing its 40,000-plus members to offer CF-gene screening to all pregnant Caucasian women. If a woman tests positive, her husband is tested; if he is also positive, the fetus can be screened. Eventually more than a million couples a year are expected to be screened for CF.

Many people welcome the chance to make the choice the Rays did.

Dena Moore wishes screening for the disease had been routine when she was pregnant with her now 2-year-old son, Jacob. He was 4 months old when Moore, 38, found out he had cystic fibrosis. “Jacob will never be mentally retarded, he’ll never be crippled, and I love him more than life itself, but I still would rather have had the opportunity to choose,” says Moore.

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

How to write your own preschool curriculum

1. Simple list of preschool goals

Get started with a simple list of preschool goals, based on skills your child will need for kindergarten. Add library materials, study books, craft supplies and educational toys, suitable to your child’s developmental level. If you wish to have a more academic program, concentrate on a few basic subjects. For instance, based on your child’s needs, you might prioritize specific categories for language arts (communication and reading readiness–associate sounds with letters), writing (crayon/pencil grip, lacing and tracing), mathematics (meaningful counting through 10, concepts of size and time). Focus on basic skills needed for success in kindergarten such as how to speak clearly in sentences, use the toilet independently, follow directions, recognize letters and numbers, match objects, recognize shapes, string beads, and use safety scissors.


If you don’t want to create goals from scratch, pick and choose elements from a variety of ready-made resources. World Book offers a free, downloadable “Typical Course of Study,” at For a Christian perspective, also consider ABeka’s Scope & Sequence: Preschool Through High School,

2. Rewrite the information

Specifically for your unique child. You are the world’s greatest expert on your own child. Begin at your child’s current level, and list the skills your child will need to develop next. Gently guide your child to the next developmental step, and celebrate each success, no matter how small. Add social, spiritual and emotional goals (such as developing a concept of God as a Heavenly Father), according to your family standards. Easy Peasy–All in One Homeschool,, provides free online lesson plans for preschool through high school, written from a Christian perspective. The site includes suggested reading materials, which you could adapt to meet your child’s needs.

3. “Test drive”

“Test drive” various homeschool philosophies: accelerated education, character-based education, Charlotte Mason, literature-based, cottage schooling, classical, homeschool cooperatives, Lapbook/Notebook Method, Maloney Method, Montessori Method, Robinson Method, traditional homeschool, unit studies, unschooling, and Waldorf education, to name a few. Research some of these terms in your favorite internet search engine, to get a broad view of what is available.

4. Try out ideas from books.

Such as Rebecca Rupp’s Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School and Better Late than Early, by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. Other inexpensive resources include Slow and Steady Get Me Ready by June Oberlander and M. Jean Soyke’s Early Education at Home: A Curriculum Guide for Parents of Preschoolers and Kindergarteners. Also check out Mary Pride’s The Big Book of Home Learning: Getting Started. It introduces all major homeschooling methods and answers your most frequently asked questions. See what works best in your family.

5. Flexible

Your homeschool philosophy may evolve over the years, necessitating changes in your curriculum, so try to stay flexible. Remember, your plan is not set in stone. Periodically review your list and reevaluate your curriculum, checking off mastered skills and adjusting as necessary. If you have concerns about your child’s growth, discuss them with your pediatrician.

how to design homeschool curriculum

6. Active

Preschoolers naturally think in literal terms, and are concrete, active learners. Please don’t sit your little one at a desk, unless you both really want to “play school.” Instead, find hands-on activities using all the senses, including touch, to learn. For instance, count with building blocks, increase visual perception (needed for reading) by working puzzles together, and prepare for writing by tracing in dot-to-dot wipe-off books.

7. A desire for repetition is one reason young kids love to hear the same books read over and over.

Classical educators describe this as the beginning of the Grammar stage in education, which continues up through Grade 6. Develop your child’s ability to learn by rote with nursery rhymes, finger plays, memory games and songs (such as the ABCs). Cultivate a relationship with your local librarian, to find fun books to fit your child’s interests and abilities. Find a book list for preschool and beginning reading at celoop/1000primary.html.


8. For many families, character education and spiritual development are paramount.

Whatever homeschool method you choose, your child will need to develop self-control as well as communication skills. Preschool is prime time to include Bible memory verse activities in your plan. Find out more from Gail Martin’s book, What Every Child Should Know Along the Way: Teaching Practical Life Skills in Every Stage of Life, and 52 Ways to Teach Memory Verses: Easy-to-Do Activities for Ages 2-12 by Nancy S. Williamson.

9. Share your preschool curriculum and goals

In spiritual, social, and academic training, don’t forget to enlist the help of willing grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other relatives. Share your preschool curriculum and goals; you might be pleasantly surprised at their ideas and even receive donations!

If you don’t have an older, more experienced relative available, prayerfully consider picking a godparent–perhaps an experienced homeschooler. A godparent is a serious responsibility, so choose wisely!

Plan a time, at least once a week, for a visit with your child’s grandparent or godparent (in person or through a virtual resource such as Skype). Consider providing a resource, such as Grandma, Tell Me a Story: 52 Bible Stories for Children, to help grandparents teach biblical truths to their grandchildren using contemporary stories. If Grandma or Grandpa can visit personally, your child can spend time with them coloring a picture to illustrate Bible truths.

10. Of course, much as you love your preschooler, an occasional break from routine can be a welcome break for both of you. In your preschool plan, include field trips, play dates, and activities with like minded homeschool families, as well as through your local church.

11. If you think you might enroll your child in a public or private school at some point, coordinate your preschool curriculum to prepare your child for your local (and state) kindergarten standards. Check your state’s current standards at Look ahead at your homeschool journey, with resources such as Robin Sampson’s What Your Child Needs to Know When: According to the Bible, According to the State: with Evaluation Check Lists for Grades K–8. You can also find information in E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s book, What Your Preschooler Needs to Know: Get Ready for Kindergarten. However, try to resist burdening your child with too much academic education before he or she is developmentally ready.

Planning your homeschool curriculum is the beginning of a great adventure, for you and your family. Whether your youngster is developing typically, or presenting with challenging special needs, God is faithful.

Racing concrete canoes takes both physics and physiques – Part 3


Called the America’s Cup of civil engineering, the National Concrete Canoe Competition is a three-day event that culminates thousands of unpaid hours of research, design and experimentation as well as thousands of dollars in fund-raising for materials, transportation and lodging at the competition site.

The competition is divided into written and oral presentations, which make up 60 percent of the final score, and canoe races–distance and sprints, single-sex and coed–which make up the remaining 40 percent. Then there is the Swamp Test, in which the canoe must prove itself able to float in spite of being filled entirely with water. Points are also given for boat names, which tend to run toward unfortunate puns like Aggregated Assault (University of Maryland), Rockamole (University of Tom at San Antonio) and Wisconcrete Woody (University of Wisconsin).

Outside help is allowed, and when it comes to gathering building materials, money or expertise, almost anything goes. Besides being understaffed and underfinanced, Florida Tech was especially weak in the paddling department. To remedy this they brought in Dennis Beek, a champion canoe racer, who offered to coach the students as much as they could stand it, which turned out to be three to six times a week for a year.

13concrete canoe Buffo-Kyle Buffo and Steven Saleh  paddle duirng the mens sprint competition during the 2013 Pacific Southwerst Conference Concrete Canoe competition at the Santa Fe Dam Recreation area in Irwindale April 5, 2013.

Florida Tech’s arch rival, die massive University of Alabama at Huntsville, enlisted NASAs help in the form of some surplus reinforcing materials from the Space Shuttle. Not surprisingly, graphite-impregnated tape that has been incorporated into an epoxy matrix by being baked in an oven the size of a school bus is hard to whip up in the average college lab. This engendered some hostility from some of the other teams regarding what they believed was an unfair advantage.

Dr. John Gilbert, the faculty advisor for UAH’s concrete canoe team, put it all in perspective: “The competition is very close to real life,” he said, “and real life is not always fair.” Nonetheless, UAH’s team, which has taken first place at three of the past five national competitions, has since elected to distance itself from NASA.

In Cleveland last June, however, none of that mattered. Not even NASA could have stopped Florida Tech. Playing David to an army of Goliaths, including UCLA, Michigan State and the unsinkable UAH, Florida Tech took the 1997 Nationals by a bow length with a score of 122 total points to Alabama’s 119. UC Berkeley came in a distant third with 91.

“It’s not money or manpower that wins this competition,” said Florida Tech’s captain, Montemayor, whose team also won the Spirit of Competition award for prevailing in spite of overwhelming odds. “It’s desire and design. I guess we just wanted it more. ”

Florida Tech’s victory came as quite a blow to the heavily favored UAH; like Dennis Connor losing the America’s Cup to New Zealand. There’s a good chance Florida Tech and UAH will meet again at the 1998 Nationals, which will be hosted by the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City in June. Don’t be surprised if Alabama has changed the name of its canoe from Knot Crackin’ to No Prisoners.

Racing concrete canoes takes both physics and physiques – Part 2

In 1987 the event went national after it picked up sponsorship from Master Builders Inc. At the 1997 National Concrete Canoe Competition, held in Cleveland, Ohio, last June, 25 regional winners from the U.S. and Canada were represented. Their sleek, hydrodynamically sound racing crafts showcased cutting-edge concrete technology, and many of the 16- to 20-foot boats had cut their weights to less than 100 pounds. Some entries weighed less than 70 pounds (a typical 17-foot Grumman or Old Town weighs about 85 pounds), and all were made with the ASCE regulation minimum of 75 percent Portland (water-based) cement.

It hardly seems possible and, until very recently, it wasn’t. People have been trying to get concrete to float for a long time–with mixed results. In 1848, the French nobleman Joseph Louis Lambot built concrete boats for use on his estate in Miraval, France, but for some reason the idea never caught on. Following this, the infant technology languished until severe steel shortages during World War I forced U.S. naval engineers to take another look at it. One notable attempt, the Atlantus, can still be seen 150 yards off the beach at Cape May, New Jersey, where for the past 70 years or so it has served as an apartment building for fish.


So why can’t these folks just face facts and let it go?

Because, in the sapient words of former ASCE president, Edward O. Groff: “The value of the competition should not be minimized because it is focused on a seemingly absurd concept. Many of the wonders of civil engineering were projects originally dismissed as ludicrous or impossible, such as the Brooklyn Bridge.


The secret to making concrete float is not in the cement, but in the stuff it’s mixed with; that is, the aggregate (concrete = cement + water + an aggregate). The aggregate in traditional concrete is sand and gravel; it’s heavy and things made with it tend to sink like stones. The aggregate in a concrete canoe, on the other hand, might be composed of tiny, hollow ceramic spheres; foam beads from beanbag chairs; or Perlyte, which is made from volcanic dust that pops like popcorn when it reaches a certain temperature and, just like a kernel of corn, its volume increases enormously while its weight stays the same. When you mix any of these substances with water and cement and then let it cure for a few weeks, the result is a concrete that actually floats, even in slab form.

But a canoe cannot win by flotation alone.

“We were at the Southeastern Regionals,” explains Tomas Montemayor, captain of the Florida Institute of Technology‘s ’97 concrete canoe team. “Vanderbilt was there, and as soon as they put their canoe in the water it crumbled into little pieces, just like a cracker. I guess they hadn’t taken their loads and stresses into consideration.”

Apparently not, and this is why you don’t see more concrete boats around. Because, while concrete is great under compression, it doesn’t flex worth a damn, and next to flotation, flexion is what naval architecture is all about. This is where steel mesh and geotech plastic weave (otherwise known as gutter guard) come in to take the place of steel reinforcement rod, which supports concrete when it’s under stress. To further increase flexibility, polymers like latex are added to the concrete mixture.

Part 3:

Racing concrete canoes takes both physics and physiques Part 1

The National Concrete Canoe Competition is an annual event for engineering students. Contestants use advanced technology to build canoes with flotation and flexibility. Written and oral presentations and canoe races determine the winner.

It’s been raining for days and the normally docile Potomac River is swelling toward flood stage, with lightning flashing over the Washington, DC, skyline and thunder rolling ever closer, two-man crews armed with racing paddles and ferocious deltoids launch their canoes into the torrent.

But these are not your average canoes, and the people paddling them are not your average canoeists. The boats are all homemade–of concrete–and the paddlers are America’s brightest engineering students. They are competing, not only for $9000 in scholarships, but for heavy industrial glory: the raw satisfaction of pushing the envelope of concrete construction farther than anyone believed possible.


This race is a sprint, and when the gun goes off the crews, some from small technical schools and others representing monster universities from the Big 10, immediately start digging into the current, paddling their guts out toward the finish line. The slicker-clad crowd on the river’s sodden bank is going wild when all of a sudden something pulls their attention away from the lead boat.

One of the canoes is disappearing; she’s not sinking exactly–she’s breaking up! The University of Kansas boat has broken in two, literally paddled to pieces by teammates Gerald Miller and Bryan Jahelka. While bowman Jahelka continues paddling valiantly, practically willing the forward half of the canoe across the finish line, teammate Miller, forced to abandon ship, swims alongside him, urging him on.

So goes a typical day at the races; typical at least, if you’re watching the National Concrete Canoe Competition, an annual event sponsored by Master Builders Inc., an international manufacturer of cement products, and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Every spring, several hundred students from North America’s top engineering schools emerge blinking from their dimly lit labs to defy common sense, not to mention several laws of physics. Their objective: to prove that concrete not only can float but can, with a couple of strong paddlers, shred water with the best of them as well.

Needless to say, concrete canoe racing has not been sanctioned by the NCAA, but it has been embraced by the ASCE, and for the past 25 years, a rare breed of engineering student from collegiate ASCE chapters around the country has devoted thousands of uncredited hours to this obscure but fiercely competitive contest. In the early 1970s, when the competition was in its infancy, the entries tended to be graceless, concrete dugouts that weighed upwards of 400 pounds and paddled about as well as a New Jersey Turnpike barrier (and sank almost as fast). It was funny at first–an engineering nerd’s version of keg tubing. But then they got good.

Part 2: