Secular Science Resources for Homeschoolers


May 2016

Physics – Quantum Moves

quantum movesI follow a lot of science related organizations on facebook and this game called Quantum Moves by Aarhus University popped up on my feed this weekend. Its part of where apparently they are designing games/apps for  the public to play and then using the results of the game play to design better experiments in the lab.  The Quantum Moves games displays an atom as its wavefunction stuck in a potential well, and you have to move the potential well around to move the atom to a desired location. It starts off easy enough but the problems get harder and harder as you go.  I think this is a great game for physics students since its kind of hard to play with wavefunctions in a highschool lab.screen640x640

Big History 032 – The Future

Last week we did a field trip to KQED a public TV and radio station in San Francisco.  It was a fun tour with an excellent guide and it was FREE!  IMG_2894

Today was our last Big History class and since we had a couple of students who just came back from international trips we were treated to slideshows of Europe (Greece, Italy, Paris, London!) and Peru (Machu Pichu!).  If you’re interested, the student who was in Europe has a blog at

The last unit in the Big History Project is about the future and since NASA had their announcement a few weeks ago about the huge number of exoplanets they’re finding with the Kepler satelite I decided to do yet another activity from the Universe at Your Fingertips DVD, Sending a Message into the Unknown.  We talked about the Voyager Spacecraft and how scientists put some information about Earth on the ship so if somebody finds it they can learn about us.  The activity has the students search through magazines to find 10 pictures they would include in a message to the unknown. No words allowed since whoever (whatever?) finds the message won’t know English (or any other Earth language).  They seemed to have fun with it.  IMG_2974.jpg

One student made 2 collages out of his different pictures, which came out pretty cool – posted below. I asked each kid to show me their 10 pictures and interpreted them as if I was an alien and only had their 10 images to go.  From one collection, I thought Mickey and Minnie mouse were the representative race and they seemed to really like food, so I asked the student to add a picture of people and perhaps a building/structure.  Some were mostly people, so I would ask for them to add a nature/animal shot or a map, photo from space of earth, etc.  This was a nice relaxed activity for the last class.


Over the summer I’l be preparing for Chemistry (a high school and a middle school class) in the fall and teaching a few summer science classes – short 1 day or 3 day classes on different topics, including some foresenic science kits (Lyle and Louise Mysteries) that I haven’t used yet.

Using Youtube as your science teacher/inspiration for you and your children

May 16.pngI’m leading a discussion on using youtube to help teach science, particularly when you don’t know the subject material. is a great website for secular homeschoolers, they have a section of curriculum reviews and a forum where you can ask questions about anything homeschool.  Click on the image above to see the discussion.

Here’s my post from Monday:

Teaching science is one of the hardest subjects for most homeschoolers for many reasons, one of which is that the parent feels inadequately prepared to teach science because it was so hard and/or boring when they took science in school. This is exactly why I hate teaching English/grammar/Literature and unfortunately my hatred for writing has rubbed off on my oldest. But you are not too old to learn science along with your children, and with the resources available on the internet, particularly youtube, it can be very entertaining. When people ask me if I feel like I’m wasting my degree in physics staying at home with the kids, I say NO! I’m still learning, in my first year of homeschooling alone, I learned more history than I ever learned in school. I’ve also learned Japanese, some basic piano (before my child shot past me on the learning curve), and a whole lot of science which I did not know 10 years ago.

Even though I have a degree in physics, that does not mean I’m equally comfortable teaching biology, earth science or chemistry. So last year when I taught high school biology using a college textbook, I was basically one week ahead of the kids. I had never had biology in college and my high school biology class??? I guess I had one but I have absolutely no memories of it. So I was learning as I went and youtube was my hero. The text we used was really good and I understood most of what I read, but it was nice to go to Youtube and watch Hank Green, the Amoeba sisters or Khan Academy explain the concepts as well, not to mention its more fun to watch Crash Course than to read a textbook. Youtube is also a gold mine when looking for labs, especially labs you can’t or don’t want to do in your kitchen. We actually did quite a bit of dissecting in our biology class and I would watch videos on youtube as a preview so I would know what we were looking at in class. These videos are also great for the kids who just don’t want to dissect as they can watch somebody else do it without all the mess.

The Royal Institution (RI) has some amazing videos, especially their Christmas lectures which I guess are special lectures for the public they do around the holidays that are just jammed pack with amazing demos. I was just going to show the first 30 minutes of RI’s Chemical Curiosities to my chemistry class and they begged to watch the whole show, so we did. The Science of Fireworks! is another fantastic one for getting kids interested in chemistry.

One of my go-to favorites for chemistry is Tyler DeWitt, I really like the way he explains things, I’m thinking I may just use his videos for the lecture portion of my high school chem class this fall. Let the students watch the video lectures at home and do the labs in class. Doc Schuster does great physics lectures and he’s very entertaining as well. Physics Girl doesn’t have a complete class of lectures but its worth watching the ones she has made. Mr. Anderson’s videos at Bozeman science are useful as well and I think his videos have gotten better but sometimes his voice puts me to sleep. Arvin Gupta has series of videos called Toys from Trash and most of those ‘toys’ are actually science demos that you can make with stuff around the house, straws, soda bottles and plastic cups – useful when you’re doing science on a budget.



Physics 034 – Bohr Atom

This was our last regular physics class of the year, though a few of the students are taking the SAT Physics subject test next month so we’re going to meet a few more times to review for the test.  The last chapter of Light & Matter is about Bohr’s model of the atom.  There are some excellent youtube videos on the subject, and I basically made my lecture notes watching Doc Schuster’s videos.  If you’re trying to learn physics on your own I think you would fair pretty well just watching his videos.  He’s very entertaining.

And Paul Andersen at Bozeman Science has a nice video on this topic as well.

Since I don’t have a spectrometer, we couldn’t do the usual spectrometer lab to look at the Balmer lines of hydrogen, so I cheated and gave each of the students a photo of the spectrum to use as their ‘data’.


I found this lab online and basically just used the first page.  I had the students find the first 6 energy levels for a hydrogen atom and draw the energy level diagram. Then they used the wavelengths above for the Balmer series to determine the ionization energy, or ground state energy level of hydrogen.  This involved using a spread sheet to make some calculations and plot the data, find the slope and from that we found the energy of the ground state to be 13.7 eV very close to the accepted value of 13.6 eV.  This lab was more an excercise on using spreadsheets and finding slope than actual lab work but I still think its useful.


Big History 031 – Industrial Revolution

I had to cancel class last week since I wasn’t feeling well, so this week we covered two topics, the Industrial Revolution and Radio communications.  I found this great lesson on the Coffee Cups & Lesson Plans which used a famous photograph of a girl, Addie, standing in a factory. The lesson has the kids look at the photo and write down everything they observe about the girl: young, thin, dirty, barefoot, working in a factory.  Some of them made some inferences, like she must have just started working there because she still has all her fingers and toes, and one thought she probably died shortly after the photo was taken because she was so skinny/unhealthy looking.

photo by Lewis Hine

After they had written down a bunch of clues I had them read an article “Searching for Addie, The Story behind a Famous Photography” by Elizabeth Winthrop.  This article chronicles the story of the search for the real Addie, and what happened to her.  Its a really interesting story, especially if you’ve done any geneaology research, you’l recognize the methods; looking through census records, cemeteries and marriage records.  It ends up that Addie lived to almost 100 years old!  The kids read through the article highlighting information on Addie and then added the addition information to their notebooks.  We talked about how you could learn different things by looking at different sources of information.IMG_3487.JPG

We watched a few videos on the Industrial Revolution, including this great little youtube video that I suspect was made for a class project.

Horrible history has a few skits on children and factory worker but unfortunately it looks like many of them have been taken off youtube.

We also watched these videos on the inventions and changes in transportation that came along with the Industrial Revolution.

The other topic we covered was radio communications.  I used yet another lesson from the Universe at Your Fingertips dvd, Decoding Radio Messages from Space.  The dvd comes with the audio files, basically its beep-drum-beep – beep kind of message that the kids have to decipher.  As the audio plays they color in a square on the grid when they hear the beep and leave it uncolored for the drum sound. When the file is done they should have a picture in their grid.  It was pretty interesting to see the pictures of the kids who accidentally (or purposely) got off by a block.  IMG_3493.JPG

This week our class also did a field trip to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, which has a large collection of artifacts, including actual mummies, from ancient Egypt.  We had a guided tour, and I have to say he was the best guide I’ve ever had for any museum.  He really knew his stuff and how to explain it in a way to keep the kids interested.  The school field trip was actually more expensive than if we had just entered as individual families but the extra money for the guide was worth every penny.  DSCF5526.jpg

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