Secular Science Resources for Homeschoolers


July 2015

iPad Apps for Science

Everyone in our family has their own iPad and we used them constantly.  The boys paid for their own when they got tired of getting our hand-me-downs.  We can track our schedules, read books, including a good portion of our ‘school’ books, learn and practice foreign languages, watch educational videos (Brainpop & youtube) and of course, play games.  Here are some of our favorite and most used apps that we use for science.

solarsystemSolar System by Touchpress… actually any of the apps by Touchpress are just beautiful.  They’re usually pretty pricey, $8 to $15 but they were on sale just last week for $3 or less. I snatched up a couple more that I didn’t have. I use the Solar System app and The Elements by Theodore Gray in my classesElements quite a bit.  When my kids were younger they enjoyed the Barefoot World Atlas.   Skulls by Simon Winchester is another gorgeous app by Touchpress Limited.  You can rotate 3D images of skulls of different animals with a swipe of your finger – great for biology.

icon._video-physics._hero.001.100.100For doing physics experiments, the Video Physics app by Vernier I mentioned in my earlier post on Physics is fantastic.  We’l be using that one a lot this next year.  They also make a Graphical Analysis app that you can use to make nice graphs and do linear fits to your data.

sound uncoveredSound Uncovered by the Exploratorium is a fun, and FREE app that has 15 interactive lessons on sound.  The kids were fighting over this app in my class.  You can test what frequencies you can hear and  learn about the sound equivalent of optical illusions.  If you’re unfamiliar with the Exploratorium, its a huge science museum in San Francisco and they have a great website full of experiments and activities you can do at home.  They also have an app on color/light,  Color Uncovered which is worth checking out.

brainpop2Brainpop is probably the most used educational app in our house since my youngest, now 12, was watching 3 or 4 videos every night before bed for a few YEARS and I use the videos in my science class frequently.  You can access some of the videos for free, on the app and on the website, but its well worth having the subscription, typically $99 a year, to have full access.  When I used to sit at my computer and preview the videos for class, my kids would hear Moby (robot character) beeping and come running to watch the video over my shoulder.  They have a site for younger kids called Brainpop Jr. but I don’t have much experience with that.

world of gooWorld of Goo is a great game where the kids will learn some physics and engineering  without realizing its educational.  Crazy Machines is another great app but it looks like the first version has disappeared, I only see Crazy Machines 2 on the app store and my son told me that it wasn’t quite as good.  We used to have Crazy Machines for our desktop computer the kids would play that for hours. crazy machines2 Usually there is a puzzle to solve… trying to get a ball into a basket by building a Rube-Goldberg type machine, or you can just build your own contraption.

We have a lot of astronomy apps.  I usually go to Planets first if I’m trying to figure out what planets are visible. It can use the gps in your ipad/phone so you can hold up you iPad to the sky and its shows you a labeled picture of the sky.  PlanetsBut it also has a screen with a table showing each planet and when they will be visible that day, which I find very useful.  Star Walk 2 is another astronomy app that you can hold up to the sky and see the constellations etc.

Simple Physics is an app that the kids played a lot but I haven’t messed around with it.simple physics  You have to build projects, but the trick is that you have to do it within your budget – so you have to build simply and not over complicate matters.  The game also allows you to see the stress in your structure so you can fix your design.

NOVA elementsNOVA Elements is another good app (and FREE)  for exploring the elements and actually building atoms.  With a finger tap for each proton, neutron and electron you can build any atom on the periodic table. The kids in chemistry had a lot of fun with this one.

We use a lot of other educational apps but these are first ones to come to mind for science.  I’l talk about the other apps in my next post.


Science books for the younger crowd

Here are some books for elementary kids that my kids liked and we still have on our shelves because they won’t let me get rid of them!

1. millions to measure Millions to Measure by David M. Schwartz, pictures by Steven Kellogg.  The also did a book called How Much is a Million which is worth  having as well.  These books try to give the reader a feel for big numbers and how to measure them.   Both the author and the illustrator have done lots of great books, which you can usually find in your local library.

science verse2.  Science Verse by Jon Scieszka.  We went through a period when my kids LOVED everything this author put out.  His humor can be a little off kilter but I think that’s why my kids and I enjoy his books so much.  The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is another favorite but not really science related, its making fun of the Gingerbread Man story among others.  My older son also read all the authors Time Warp Trio books and we watched all the cartoons – they were great.  The time warp trio are three kids who have a book that  takes them back in time and they have to find the book so they can get back to the present, this usually involves interacting with famous historical figures or events.  Its a great series for learning some history in an entertaining way. Some of the books are even available as graphic novels.

Magic School bus3.  Magic School Bus… any of them!  These books are full of great science and all the cartoons are now on Netflix instant!  I read these aloud to my kids and one of my kids re-read them over and over again, so they’re worth buying if you can.  I bought a set of them off eBay and would find them at Scholastic book fairs. Most libraries have at ms frizzleleast some of them as well.  As your kid’s reading level improves they have chapter books,  but we never got into them as much as the picture books.  There are some history books with the Magic School Bus, called Ms Frizzles Adventures which are also excellent.  Ms Frizzle’s Adventures: Medieval Castle was my younger son’s favorite.  He loved the cut away view of the castle.

Science books for strewing

What would be called the formal living room in our house is called the library, for good reason.  I had one person comment on how I decorate with legos, but there are more books than legos on the shelves… I think.    Here are some books that have been a real hit with my kids and others in my classes.

wonderful elements1.  Wonderful Life with the Elements: The Periodic Table Personified by Bunpei Yorifuji.  This book is translated from Japanese and is a very  unique book on the elements. The kids loved it when I used it in chemistry class to explain how the different elements behaved.  The author has made each element into a character and their age (when the element was discovered), shape (gases looks like ghosts in the leg area and heavier elements are overweight), hair (family in periodic table) , clothing (what its used for), represent different qualities of the element.  But we warned, not all elements are fully clothes and they are drawn anatomically correct… sort of.  It also comes with a fold out poster. I heard many kids in class asking their parents to buy this book.

Marie curie2.  Great Figures in History by Ykids.  These are manga style biographies of famous people; Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Marie Curie, DaVinci, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.  A lot of kids borrowed these to take home and read.  The books follow the main character from childhood to old age/death.  The stories are very interesting and the manga style with the exaggerated facial expressions grab the kids attention.  I just wish they had made more of these, but I think they went out of business because their website doesn’t work anymore. You can still find the books on Amazon.

the way things work3. The Way Thing Work by David Macaulay.  I have the original book, but it looks like there is a newer version, The New Way Things Work.  This book is a great ‘go to book’ when you kid asks, “How does a sewing machine work?”  The illustrations, complete with mammoths, explain how things work with great cut away views and explanations.   Topics include simple machines (gears, pulleys, levers, etc),  floating, flying, pressure, heat, jet engines, light, photography, sound, music and even electricity.  I’v gotten a lot of his books out of the library and have enjoyed them all.  The Motel of the Mysteries was especially entertaining since it was a tale of an archaeologist in the future finding a hotel and trying to figure out what all the things were used for – including a toilet which he believes is used for communicating with the gods!  I’m probably going to suggest that book for my Big History class.

the way science works4.The Way Science Works.   I really like this book and think it would stand as a spine for some basic science at home with middle school or younger.  Its a beautiful book with great explanations and experiments to do at home scattered through out.  It covers chemistry and physics:  matter, atoms, elements, forces, energy, heat, sound, light, color, electricity and magnetism.

stunning science5. The Stunning Science of Everything.  I already mentioned this book in another post.  Great book by Horrible Histories/Science that starts with the big bang and moves on from there.

Horrible Histories

horrible-historiesOk, so this isn’t science, but my boys and I love these books and the BBC series based on them.  Think Monty Python doing education television.  They used to be available on Youtube but most of them gotten taken down.  If you search you’l find a few, but its getting harder.  Here’s one channel that has still seems to have some. horrible-histories-bbcMake sure you check out the music videos.  The books are mostly European history with the nasty bits left in as they put it – perfect for kids who enjoy reading about the gross details of history.  My boys used to read these as their ‘fun’ reading, just to give you an idea of how entertaining they are.  I’ve bought just about all the books from Horrible Ray at, his prices are hard to beat. I believe he also sells the dvd sets for the TV series.

stunning scienceThere are some Horrible Science books as well but my boys never got into those as much as the history books, with one exception, The Stunning Science of Everything. I read this out loud to my kids when they were young and then my eldest read it himself a few times.

Honors Physics

The other class I’l be teaching this year is physics for homeschooled high schoolers, mostly 10th graders, including my oldest son.  Last year we did honors biology, using a college level textbook, Biology: Life on Earth with Physiology (9th Edition) and weekly labs, including dissections.  biology textA couple of the kids took the SAT subject test at the end of the year and did great.  Never having had biology in college, this was a tough course for me to teach, I basically was learning along with the kids.  This year will be so much easier since I used to teach college physics, and more fun… I’d much rather play with slinkys and lasers than dissect pigs.

I bought a few next physics textbooks when trying to decide which book to use this year but I just couldn’t find one that I liked until I looked at Light and Matter by Benjamin Crowell – a FREE text available on his website as a PDF. Light and matter cover I found it to be very readable and hope the kids will too.  The text is intended for an algebra based physics course and should prepare the kids to take the AP Physics 1 & 2 exams at the end of the year, or at least the SAT Physics Subject Test if they want to.  We’l do weekly labs, a lot of which I got out of the AP Physics Lab Manual.  We’l be using iPads and Video Physics to take data.  Video Physics is a great app that allows you take a movie with the iPad’s camera and then mark the object of interest, for example a falling ball,  in each frame, and if you give it a frame of reference, like a meter stick in the movie, it will graph the position of the object vs time.  I think this is a lot more intuitive than just using a few photo gates.

Usuallylab notebook I lecture at the beginning of class and then we do a lab, but this year we’re going to dive right into the labs and if needed I will ‘teach’ during the analysis part.  Students will be doing all their work in laboratory notebooks so that at the end of the year they will have the ‘proof’ to show to college admissions that they did indeed take a laboratory course.  We did this last year with biology as well.

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George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (