Category Archives: Homeschooling

The Veritas Homeschoolers’ Future City essay

Veritas Homeschoolers
Teacher: Mary Ann Ekstrom
Engineer Mentor: Ken Ekstrom

One of the most critical issues facing Taiwan during the early 21st century was the country’s reliance upon imported energy.  Due to minimal energy sources, Taiwan received 98% of its energy from China.  For this reason, great needs existed for Taiwan to develop its own energy resources and to establish aggressive conservation and efficiency standards.  To ensure the sustainability of its people, and the security of their nation, nuclear engineers from Xiwang, Taiwan, have developed a safe, efficient, form of energy called “HBfuse.”

With the ability to generate power without the radioactive waste of nuclear fission, Xiwang’s primary energy source, HBfuse, consists of the aneutronic fusion of hydrogen and boron fuels.  First researched in the United States during the early 21st century by Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, and tested at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Xiwang’s nuclear engineers have developed decentralized reactors for commercial use.

HBfuse uses dense plasma focus reactors, made up of two cylindrical beryllium copper electrodes set inside each other, inside a vacuum chamber filled with low-pressure gas. A blast of electricity from an energy storage device, called a capacitor bank, is released across the electrodes. The extreme current flows from the outside electrode to the inner electrode, through the low pressure gas, last just over a few millionths of a second. As the current heats the gas, it develops a powerful magnetic field.  The current molds itself into a slim coating of blazing, electrically-conducting plasma gas. Next, the plasma enters the end of the inner electrode, where the magnetic fields create an electric field. An electron beam heats the plasma to an unprecedented temperature, 100 times hotter than the center of the sun. The astonishing temperature created is approximately 2 billion degrees Celsius.

The benefits of aneutronic fusion are many.  Both nuclear fission and conventional neutronic fusion generates heat requiring turning water to steam in order to spin turbines to generate electricity.  In contrast, aneutronic fusion creates electricity directly.  This is due to the positively charged helium ions, which create neutron-free nuclear fusion.  Since electricity is created directly, valuable land which would otherwise be used to house large power plants, can now be conserved.   Costs associated with building and running a power plant are saved along with the water that would have been needed for a conventional power plant.  In addition, aneutronic fusion does not produce neutrons as a product of the reaction.  This is unlike nuclear fission, where a neutron splits a large atom into smaller atoms, releasing more neutrons for a radioactive chain reaction.  Nuclear fission also has many concerns, such as nuclear proliferation and containment.  In contrast to conventional neutronic fusion, aneutronic fusion does not involve the fusion of deuterium and tritium.  Tritium is in short supply, is radioactive, and can be used in nuclear weapons. Non-radioactive helium gas is the only “waste product” from HBfuse. Furthermore, the materials to create hydrogen-boron fuels are common. Hydrogen comes from water, and boron can be extracted from natural sources such as sea water.  HBfuse is an amazing source of safe, radiation free, and clean energy.

Each HBfuse reactor consists of a 5 megawatt system, producing enough energy to power 1,000 homes.  Compact in size, HBfuse reactors are so small, they take up no more space than a standard two-car garage.  Due to energy efficiency, many family units live in large residential towers.  These towers each have an HBfuse reactor adjacent to them, while our communities with single family homes have 2 reactors per community.

Xiwang chemical engineers and researchers have created revolutionary bio-fuels from waste rice straw. Rice is the number one crop grown in Taiwan. After harvesting the grain, rice straw is left behind. Instead of going to waste, the material is turned into bio-fuel. This inventive fuel provides a net energy gain, which means that the energy used to harvest it is less than the amount of energy produced. In addition, rice straw is produced without reducing food supplies.

Making wise use of Xiwang’s unique natural resources, additional energy is provided by wind, geothermal, and solar power.  Due to Xiwang’s coastal location, harnessing energy from the ocean was considered.  However, after considering the environmental impact that wave, tidal, and deep ocean turbines might have on marine life, the decision was made to omit all forms of ocean energy.

Sustainable energy in Taiwan is transmitted via computational systems thinking machines(CSTMs), advanced smart grids created by Xiwang’s electrical, IT, and telecom engineers.  These grids provide excellent two-way communication between Xiwang’s energy sources and its energy consumers.  In order to handle excess energy within the grid, large scale power storage, using technologically advanced nanomaterial batteries, consisting of sodium and potassium water based electrolytes, are used.  For additional energy storage, pumped-storage plants, producing hydroelectricity, enable widespread use of renewable power. Excess energy produced in Xiwang is sold to neighboring China, and transmitted through submarine cables.

Due to increased energy demands, Xiwang’s software engineers, electrical engineers, scientists, and researchers are strongly committed to energy conservation, efficiency, awareness, and education. Through the use of superior energy management, Xiwang’s electrical engineers regularly measures and tracks the energy performances of all operations, and have implemented steps to increase energy efficiency.

With the use of energy monitoring dashboards and software, Xiwang’s residents are now able to successfully manage their own energy.  Efficient 4th Generation Platinum LEED buildings conserve natural resources while protecting Xiwang’s environment.  Water conservation and recycling, along with advanced energy efficient appliances, and walking to work helps Xiwang’s residents to conserve energy and use very little fuel as well as maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Due to the dedication of Xiwang’s engineers, Taiwan is no longer reliant upon other countries for its energy needs.  Now a world leader in research and development, sustainability, and conservation, Xiwang is a proud example of what can be achieved when an entire community works together to make a better, safer tomorrow.

Back to main story


City of Xiwang takes first in Future City

Veritas Homeschoolers won 1st place in the regional Future City Competition at the finals on Saturday, Jan. 28.

Front row: (from left) Jesse Friedman, Cambrie Hickman, Rachel Fisher, and Timothy Graunke. Back row: (from left) Guest speaker Randii Wessen, Ken Ekstrom and Mary Ann Ekstrom.

Students Jesse Friedman, project manager, Cambrie Hickman, Rachel Fisher and Timothy Fraunke  created the City of Xiwang – City of Hope in Taiwanese – an island off the coast of Taiwan in the year 2162. Their display included a monorail-type system with light up balls that moved around the perimeter of the city, a marina complete with fish inside and an entire underground view of systems and energy sources.

The students were guided by engineer mentor Ken Ekstrom and teacher and sponsor Mary Ann Ekstrom, who said the kids learned a lot through their participation in the competition.

“At this point we will begin preparing for the national competition by rethinking some of the questions they were asked by all the judges, considering other questions that may be raised or asked and talking with several energy experts,” Mary Ann said in a press release.

For the competition, each student group was required to write a 1,000-word essay describing their use of an alternate energy source that would generate electric power for their city without depleting natural resources. They then gave a presentation to judges.

Link to full essay

Required to use an alternate energy source, these students chose to use hydrogen boron fusion or HB fuse. The students also explained how solar power is used for energy and light. Rooftop gardens are aesthetically pleasing as well as practical for absorbing heat and all extra energy is sold to China through an underwater cable. They also say the city also has “smart buildings” equipped with advanced communication systems and an extensive amount of night life and activities.

Veritas homeschoolers were asked, “Why use solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels and fusion as energy sources?” To this they replied that these were all readily available and could be used as backups if an energy source failed.

Garden Lakes Elementary won 2nd place, Canyon Breeze Elementary were 3rd, Colonel Smith Middle School received a 4th place award and Orangedale Junior High won 5th place. Pictures of the 2nd through 5th place winning groups were taken by volunteer and pro-photographer John Jacoby, and can be seen in his online gallery. — Amy Vogelsang

Free curriculum material online

I downloaded the 526-page first grade eBook from the Head of the Class website to see what was there. It lists all the skills covered for first grade, like “Knows the ‘sk’ Initial Consonant Blend,” “Completes Story Problems Using Single-Digit Subtraction with Illustrations” or “Uses Glue and Glitter to Create a Spider and Its Web.” The eBook also has worksheets for activities to teach concepts in the curriculum with teaching process cues and supplemental resources on the Head of the Class website.

The supplemental resources include videos and multimedia presentations on the web with activities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and participate in the lesson.

After you register on the website, you’ll find a lot of material available free. There is some advertising, and some supplemental materials will be sold through the site, but basically it’s available at no charge.

I watched a nine-minute video featuring Miss Ana on how to make a bird out of clay for one of the art projects. Max and Happy, Max’s dog, are two characters who show up in illustrations and lessons on the website and they made a “live” appearance in the video. The video was clear and concise and professionally made and edited.

Clearly a lot of time and effort went into content for Head of the Class, which currently covers preschool through fifth grade. Head of the Class software will help you monitor your children’s progress and keep track of what they have done. If parents are looking for curriculum materials for homeschooling or to supplement their child’s school curriculum to reinforce skills, this website is valuable — but still it takes a lot of work, direction and guidance for a parent to make it work for their child.

Update: Curriculum content for Preschool and Kindergarten has been added to the site as well as information on pregnancy, and developmental activities for newborns to age three.

The Pregnancy thru toddler material is available at

All photos are screen grabs from the Head of the Class website.

Dan Friedman

Friday FUN photos from school: Your response was overwhelming!

EDITOR’S NOTE: I asked the moms, dads, teachers and others who get our e-newsletter to help me build our “Friday FUN Photos from School” feature in this blog. What a fun (and overwhelming!) response we got! Here are some examples. Look for more in coming weeks and keep sending your pictures! We love to share examples of creative, positive, joyful and whimsical moments in the school day, all of which offer their own unique lessons to the Arizona kids we’re so busy raising. — Karen Barr

Principal David Finley, Ph.D. really cracks the whip at Entz Elementary in Mesa. This photo was taken during a recent Halloween celebration. Photo by Robert Turchick.

Cate Johnson, a contributor with Scottsdale Moms Blog, homeschools her three older children (ages 8, 7 and 6). "In our 'school' we have the freedom to explore and learn outside a traditional setting," she wrote. "Here, my oldest is learning science and farming lessons by feeding a baby kid at the Simple Farm."

Kindergarten teachers at Horizon Community Learning Center in Phoenix dressed up as women from the Revolutionary War to teach students about the war and problem-solving. Photo submitted by Melissa Hartley.

Want to see your school featured next Friday? Send your FUN photos to:

If you’d like to get our e-newsletter, which features links to web-exclusive multimedia content and RAK Giveaways, send your email address to Circulation Director Brandy Collet: Put “opt in” in your subject line.

Curious about virtual education? Arizona Connections Academy hosting free info sessions

Arizona Connections Academy, a tuition-free, fully accredited virtual public school, will host free information sessions throughout Maricopa County for families interested in learning about its online program and individualized approach to education. Arizona Connections Academy is available to students in grades K-12 who reside anywhere in the state of Arizona.

Participating families will learn about:

• the school’s program and curriculum
• the enrollment process
• teacher interaction with students in the virtual classroom
• personalized learning opportunities
• accelerated learning and gifted programs
• college preparation
• social events including field trips, clubs, student council
• the role of the parent or learning coach
• use of technology
• the extensive selection of electives and clubs
• opportunities for community experiences

Scheduled sessions include:

Saturday, March 26
Arizona Association for Gifted and Talented
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU
1026 S. McAllister, Tempe

Tuesday, March 29
6:30-8 p.m.
Hampton Inn
1563 S. Gilbert Road, Mesa

Thursday, March 31
Holiday Inn Express
1313 N. Litchfield Road
Goodyear, AZ 85395

Thursday, April 7
6:30-8 p.m.
Hampton Inn & Suites
16620 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

Connections Academy is a fully accredited provider of high-quality, highly accountable virtual schooling for students in grades K through 12. Through tuition-free public schools, and both full- and part-time private school programs, Connections Academy delivers personalized education for students with a great degree of freedom and flexibility. Learn more.

Smart Phone learning Apps help bring lessons everywhere

Parents may have to hand over their smart phones to their kindergarten to third grade kids. Dr. Gary Bitter, Professor of Educational Technology at Arizona State University has developed Math Apps called MathReady for young school-aged children to learn basic math skills on the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad.

The 12 different Apps, which are available from the Apple Store for $2.99 each, go through simple math problems to help give K-3 students a little extra practice. In the kindergarten Apps, kids will learn to use words like “big, biggest, large and largest,” learn how to identify basic shapes and how to count to five.

First grade Apps teach kids how to do basic addition and subtraction with numbers up to 18 as well as beginning lessons on time and money.

Second grade Apps focus on time and money as well as continuing addition and subtraction and fractions.

Money and time continue to be a part of the third grade programs as well as learning how to add and subtract with numbers up to 100.

These Apps are great if you have somewhere to go with your kids that may require a lot of waiting. Instead of playing mind-draining games, they can get ahead on what they will be working on in school. They could also be good in-car activities for long road trips to keep your kids busy and keep your sanity. Having these Apps available on such portable devices makes it possible for you to take your child’s learning anywhere without having to drag books or textbooks along.

Using these kinds of Apps are very effective for students especially as the technology world is ever changing, however it is important that parents also understand these pieces of technology. To a lot of parents, these new developments can be very confusing. Unlike their kids, they didn’t grow up in the age of Internet, email, and text messaging.

Technologies like Smart Phones and iPads are becoming more and more popular in schools all over the country. A January article from the New York Times showcased some of the schools that are filling classrooms with iPads so students can bring their learning home. Pinnacle Peak School in Scottsdale was one of the schoolsl mentioned after 36 iPads were brought in for the new school year.

If your early elementary school child starts to be frustrated trying to understand the Smart Phone programs, make sure you’ll be able to help them figure it out. You may have graduated from school years ago but the learning won’t be stopping anytime soon.

Visit the MathReady website to learn more about the programs and look for them to become available on Android and Microsoft Smart Phones in the future.

Dr. Pat Stone: Tips from a Tutor

It was when Dr. Pat Stone was working as a special education teacher that she learned to “think outside the box.”  The result is a booklet of tips (in five sections: reading, written language, math, study skills and “other useful tips”) that she published in 2003.  She sent me a copy of the booklet recently, and I can tell you: there are lots of tips in this booklet!

For example, in the math section, her tip on times tables is that there is a point “where students must memorize their multiplication and division facts.”  Just knowing this would have helped me be a better math student—I still remember rebelling against filling my head with numbers, but if my parents had attached some conditions to the must by giving me some reward other than being able to be “faster” at math (which I hated then, respect now and still have a lot of trouble doing), perhaps I would be better at math today.  Perhaps if they had offered to buy me a new book each time I’d memorized a times table…

In the section of miscellaneous tips, Dr. Stone focuses on educational opportunities during holidays, and gives one of the best documents I’ve ever seen on how to have a quality parent-teacher conference.

For more information on how to obtain this useful book, contact Dr. Stone by email at or by phone at either 623-340-6143 or 623-939-6143.