Secular Science Resources for Homeschoolers


August 2018

Middle School Biology 01

When I taught the Big History Project I used interactive notebooks and I decided to try that with the younger biology students this year.  I bought the Life Science & Biology Interactive Notebook Bundle from Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy on Teachers Pay Teachers when it was on sale earlier this summer.  Students brought composition IMG_8003notebooks to class and we spent the first 20 minutes or so decorating the covers with duct tape and washi tape.  We also glued in ribbon bookmarks and punched a hole in the back cover so we could attach a rubber band to hold the book closed.  I also had students label the first page table of contents and then skip another page or two for the first activity.

The first interactive notebook activity we did was a lift the flap on the differences between observation, inference and prediction.  I used the example that I observed they were in my science class today, therefore I can infer they homeschool and predict that they will be at my house the following week.  The second activity,  took most of our time and was about the scientific method. Each student received 21 cards that I had cut out the night before on my paper cutter.  The cards consisted of 3 sets of 7 cards, each describing the steps in the scientific method.  IMG_8007The first set was just the steps: ask a question, make a hypothesis, create & perform an experiment, etc.  The second set was pictures of the steps, like a student standing in front of a poster showing them communicating their findings.  The last set of cards were an example of using the scientific method and described each step in detail.   Students took the first set of cards and glued them down into their book showing the order of the steps and then tried to place the other cards on the right steps.  When they got it correct they could put the cards in the pocket.  This took a while mainly because the cards got all shuffled and we had to spend some extra time making sure everyone had a complete set.

IMG_8008We had about 15 minutes left so I gave each student a penny and a disposable pipette and challenged them to see how many drops of water they could fit on the penny before it overflowed.  Next week we’l talk more about the importance of water and some of its special properties.




High School Biology 01

The first class of high school biology discusses ‘What is biology?’ and ‘What is life?’  I asked students to watch the following video before class and read Chapter 1 in their text.

Before we started the lab, we talked about the different characteristics that living things have:  able to reproduce,  take in energy and use it, made of cells, react to stimuli, etc.  I Unknownalso had them listen to an excerpt from audio book version of The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton.  About 7 minutes in to Chapter 20,  a scientist brings in a black cloth, a watch and a rock and says they are alive.  He claims the black cloth is alive because if you place it in the sun it absorbs energy and gets warm, the watch is a live because the radium on the hands is decaying and giving off light and the rock is alive but its life span is so much longer than ours that we don’t know notice it.   The point of this is that life can be hard to define and we find it difficult to recognize life on another planet because it may differ considerably from we are used to.   biology inquiries I found the lesson on the Andromeda Strain in Biology Inquiries, Standards-Based Labs, Assessments and Discussion Lessons by Martin Shields.  I used quite a few lessons from this book last time around and will probably do the same again this time.

For the lab, we did, ‘Is Yeast Alive?‘ that I found on the internet.  To test if yeast is alive we placed yeast in test tubes with sugar and water to see if it could break down the sugar and produce a gas (carbon dioxide).  Students had 4 test tubes and filled them 4/5 of the way with warm water.  They put 1 tsp of sugar in test tube 1, 1/2 tsp of sugar in test tube 2 and no sugar in 3 and 4.  They then put 1 tsp of yeast in each test tube, stirred and then covered the tubes with balloons.

Our test tubes were pretty big – 50 ml or so and after looking at the results I think we should have used less yeast.  If a gas is produced the balloons should inflate.  We had some problems with balloons leaking but you could also see a lot of bubbles, roughly an inch of foam, on the top of the yeast mixture that included sugar, and not much action in the test tubes that were just yeast and water.

We also looked at some yeast in water with the microscope and could see that it appears to be a single celled organism.


So it appears that yeast does use energy and is made of cells, 2 characteristics of living things.

We also discussed viruses and whether they should be considered a live or not.  Here’s a video on that topic.

High School Biology

Holt Biology text

I’m going to be teaching biology at both the high school and middle school level this year (2018-2019).  For the high school students I’m going to use the Holt Biology homeschool package.  The Homeschool Buyers Co-op has a pretty good deal where you get a real textbook and access to an electronic version and online resources, including lab descriptions and handouts,  for less than a hundred dollars.   I used Holt Chemistry the year before last and I felt it was a solid program and decent textbook.  When I

biology text
Honors level textbook

taught biology a few years ago I used Biology: Life on Earth by Audesirk, Audesirk & Byers. I really liked that book but being a college text,  it is a bit more than most high school students need.   For my students wanting an Honors level biology course I suggest they use the Audesirk text but in general I’l be following the Holt Biology text.

Students will also be required to have a lab notebook in my high school class and I  recommend The Cartoon Guide to Genetics by Larry Gonick & Mark Wheelis.  I’m also going to suggest they read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  I read this book the last time I taught biology and found it very interesting, I had never heard of the story before and it brings up some interesting questions in regards to ethics.A1n4-TMyCFL._SL1500_61wG0L5qfyL._SX397_BO1,204,203,200_


Most of the fall semester will be spent on cells and genetics and in the spring we’l cover ecology and animal/plant diversity.  I’m going to skip the human anatomy chapters because I feel our planet really needs people to know more about ecology and our environment.  There may be some other books that I recommend students pick up over the course of the semester but this is what we’re going to start with at the end of  August.

Climate Change

climate-bookI try to do at least one short science class each summer, and this time I decided to do a class on the science of climate change using Blair H. Lee’s book that came out in 2017.  Her book, The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course,  is available as an ebook or a you can purchase a print version, you can also get it as a kit with the supplies you need for the activities.

I taught this over 4 classes (2 hours each), adding some of my own labs to help the kids understand some basic chemistry and left some of the activities in the book for them to do at home.  The first class was about the Greenhouse Effect and we went over atoms and molecules and a little bit about the periodic table and scientific notation.  I did the same activity I always do, where I give the students a blank ‘atom’ and have them write in the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus and then color in the right number of electrons for each atom.  Then we discussed how certain atoms prefer to bond with others because they want full shells.  I had students do the box activity from the book, where you make a small box and calculate how many air molecules are in the box and then how many different green house gas molecules, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are in your box.  Even though each of the greenhouse gases are a very small percent of the atmosphere there are still a huge number of them in the box.  Because we’re talking about BIG numbers we went into scientific notation a bit and did some practice problems using scientific notation.

Imolecules also had the students build all the molecules commonly found in air (listed on a table in the book) with the snatoms (shown below) and zometools that I have.  This is where I found an error in Lee’s book, the author shows carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide as bent molecules like water and they are linear molecules so I corrected the table on p 14 with the correct shapes and printed out copies for my students.  I also had the cards from the zometools which showed how to make the molecules. img_8366

I showed the following videos in class on the first day:

The second class started with the greenhouse effect experiment from the text.  We took IMG_7560two beakers and put a thermometer in each one and covered one with plastic wrap to simulate a greenhouse.  We placed both beakers in the sun and recorded the temperature over 30 minutes and discussed our results.

We then moved on to combustion, observed a candle burning and discussed the different things required for combustion to take place and the products formed.  I have a few interactive notebook projects for chemistry that I’ve bought on so I had the students put together the one on combustion.    I also burned a piece of Mg ribbon to show how different things can produce different amounts of light and heat, you can read more about it in a previous post.

The problem with greenhouse gases is they absorb sunlight and then emit infrared radiation (heat) back into the atmosphere. We looked at graphs of the concentration of the different molecules in the


atmosphere over the years and talked about how scientists can look at air bubbles trapped in ice core samples to determine what the atmosphere was like 10,000 years ago!  To demonstrate
how different molecules can be identified by looking at the light they emit or absorb, I did the flame test demo where I placed different salts in a flame and students observed the different colors they produced.

We watched the following videos on day 3:

The text has a worksheet where students are to make a feedback loop for methane but instead of having them write in the steps, I grabbed some photos off the internet and had them glue each photo in the right spot.  After that we did the activity from the book where you look up the weather for a particular date for that past 30 years and talked about the difference between weather (short term) and climate (long term).  I dug out IMG_7569another interactive notebook activity, this one on the scientific method that came with a life science bundle from Getting Nerdy with Mel & Gerdy.  I gave examples for the scientific method based on the video we watched on the methane bubbles in the ice.  Lastly we did the carbon sink activity from the book where you drop antacid tablets in warm water and cold water and observe the behavior of the carbon dioxide bubbles.  I was actually pretty surprised by how dramatic a difference there was.  The tablet dissolved very quickly in the warm water so make sure the kids are watching as they drop them in.IMG_7576


On the fourth and last class day we looked at the pH of different household chemicals using red cabbage indicator.  To make the indicator chop up a red cabbage and place in a big pot with water, boil 10 minutes and then let it cool.  Strain out the leaves and you’re left with purple pH indicator. If its really dark you can dilute with more water.  I did this the night before class.  Below you can see the tubes filled with a variety of colors indicating acids (red/pink) to neutral (purple) to bases (green/yellow).


We did this lab because one of the other changes happening is that the oceans are becoming more acidic which is harmful to marine life.

Finally we did a few more interactive notebook activities for recycling and renewable energy.  These were also from the life science bundle from Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy, in the Ecology lessons.IMG_7622

I didn’t want to leave the class depressed with all the doom and gloom of climate change so I showed the following video on different ideas that some people have come up with to help with the problems.

I ran out of time to show them this one about different things we can do reduce our carbon footprint.

This was a fun class and I think I may do it again next year or offer it during the year as a short course.  It makes for a nice way to introduce some basic chemistry, scientific method and scientific notation along with some current events/problems.

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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 (