Secular Science Resources for Homeschoolers


Big History Project

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.


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

Big History 030 – Columbian Exchange

Today’s class focused on the Columbian Exchange – the exchange of goods, animals, plants and people between the New World and Old World. When the kids arrived I had papers spread out over the table from the Big History Project Columbian Exchange Snap Judgement (Unit 8) activity.  Each sheet of paper had one word one it and the kids had to decide if they thought it originated in the New World (Americas) or the Old World (Eurasia/Africa).  Some of the items, like llamas, turkeys and cocoa were pretty easy to identify as New World, but many of the students hadn’t heard of rubber trees so they weren’t sure where they were from (New World), and cinnamon (Old World)  and vanilla (New World) stumped most of them.

original-23769-1.jpgThen the students did another activity , the Columbian Exchange Trade Route Activity by Michele Luck that I bought off Teachers Pay Teachers.  It was almost $7 but it saved me a lot of work and I liked that it combined regular history type questions with some geography.  Bascially three stations are set up, Americas, Europe and Africa. There are cards at each location showing plants, animals, diseases, etc that originate in that location.  The kid have one sheet where they write down a few items for each trade route.  They also have a sheet of questions at each station.  To help them answer the questions there is a one page article for each location that contains most of the answers.  To answer the geography questions they used an atlas or iPads to look up ocean names, etc.

After everybody had done all three stations we watched these two videos on the Columbian Exchange.

Not too much ‘science’ in today’s class but I managed to sneak in some more geography and since we talked about plants and animals taking over an ecosystem, not to mention diseases brought to the New World, I suppose we did some biology/ecology.  Next week we move on to Unit 9 of the Big History Project.


Big History 029 – Latitude & Longitude

IMG_3775 As soon as the students arrived I put them to work building quadrants.  This way the glue had time to dry while they watched presentations.  There are a LOT of free patterns available on the internet for making quadrants.  The one I downloaded had little sights to glue in place but I prefer having a straw to sight through.  Some of the kids tied beads to the ends of the string instead of  a washer and that works fine, they just serve to weigh down the string.

While the glue was drying I gave a presentation on Prince Henry the Navigator and Portugal’s efforts to explore the African coastline. Unknown Again I used material from The Road to There, Mapmakers and Their Stories by Val Ross to update an old slideshow I had from when we did Story of the World classes.  51-2KkH5gyL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_Another book I used was Around the World in a Hundred Years, from Henry the Navigator to Magellan by Jean Fritz.

I also found this nice slideshow on latitude and longitude by Mr. Kreeger. I switched out some of the images and deleted some of the slides but it was so nice not having to start from scratch, so thank you Mr. Kreeger.  We talked about the difference betweeen latitude and longitude, how latitude is found easily in the northern hemisphere by measuring the altitude of Polaris (the north star) and how longitude was a much more difficult thing to determine.  51lhFBbetmL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_I talked about the Longitude Prize and John Harrison the carpenter who made a huge leap in accurate time keeping pieces on land and sea.  There is a very good book, Longitude,  on this subject by Dava Sobel and a movie that can be found on youtube.  I actually got the illustrated version of Longitude out of the library.

Here’s the full length movie Longitude, which I have not watched,

and a 30 minute program on Harrison and the longitude problem by BBC, this I have watched and its pretty good.

IMG_3767To practice using the quadrants I taped a pieced of paper high up on my wall with a ‘north star’ on it and the longitude of Tokyo written on it, but not the name of the city.  The kids were told to sit in a certain spot and measure the altitude of the ‘north star’, then find the coordinates on the inflatable globe, in effect finding their ‘location’.  They then found the coordinates for another location and put up ‘north stars’ of their own and the other students had to find the latitude then try to find the secret location on the globe.  This worked pretty  well and is an activity I found on The Universe at Your Fingertips DVD.  I think using the globe instead of a flat map made it more meaningful as well.IMG_3774

For homework I asked the students to try to find the north star (Polaris) tonight and see if they get the right latitude for where they live.



Big History 028 – World Zones

Unknown  We started Unit 8 of the Big History Project today.  I made a slideshow from the article “Four World Zones: Climate and Geography Divide Human Populations.” by Cynthia Stokes Brown, which is available as part of Unit 8 on  Then I told them about the story of Cheng Ho from  “The Road to There, Mapmakers and Their Stories,” by Val Ross.  I haven’t read the whole book yet, but I have really enjoyed what I have read and plan on having both my boys (16 & 13) read it.  Cheng Ho was abducted at the age of 10 and given to a Chinese prince as a slave.  He was educated and ended as the Admiral of the great Chinese Treasure fleet.  I had never heard any of this story and was pretty amazed by it.  I won’t ruin it for you, go get a copy of this book and read it yourselves.    Cheng Ho’s story is just one of many in this book.   I learned of this book while browsing the Build Your Library curriculum  (additional info below) and managed to get a copy from our library.

After the presentation we played the World Zone Game from the Big History Project.  I found a better score card on the teachers forum (yammer) that somebody had been nice enough to post.  The kids split up into four groups and each group makes up their own country, decides if its a continent or an island chain, comes up with a name, describes its geography and climate and comes up with 6 resources.  Then they roll 12 and 10 sided dice to determine their population growth and earn inventions, pick up cards that might cause population decreases (plague, conflict, natural disasters, etc) or population increases (discover new land, gain an invention, etc.)  The kids had a lot of fun with the game and they learned some geography since they had to answer questions to gain a community chest card.  Big History Project had questions based on their material but I wanted to put some more geography into the lesson so I had them point to continents, rivers, countries or trace out the path of Cheng Ho’s voyages, one of the youngest members of the class pegged that one!

As a side note, I’m pretty intrigued by the Build Your Library curriculum, its secular and the book selections look really good.   She’s got a number of books that we’ve already read and enjoyed, so when I saw the April sale (20% off)  I went ahead and bought the 8th grade curriculum (focused on science and I already own some of the books) and the WWII unit study.  The curriculum is just a pdf so pretty inexpensive if you can manage to get the majority of the books and videos from the library. I hope to start doing the WWII unit study with my boys this month and start the 8th grade curriculum this summer or next fall. I’l give a proper review after we complete the WWII unit.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑


Learn from Yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not stop questioning ~Albert Einstein

graph paper diaries

because some of us need a few more lines to keep everything straight

Evan's Space

Wonders of Physics

Gas station without pumps

musings on life as a university professor

George Lakoff

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 (