Secular Science Resources for Homeschoolers



Homeschooling High School Biology

biology textI did a homeschool biology class the year before I started this blog, but I do have a list of the labs we covered so I thought I would share it for those of you looking to do biology at home.  The textbook we used was Biology: Life on Earth with Physiology (9th edition) (LoE) by Gerald & Teresa Audesirk and Bruce E. Byers.  I used an older edition because it was soooo much cheaper and it was only a couple of  years old.  I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot of biology – my degree is in physics abiology inquiriesnd I hadn’t taken biology since high school!

I did get access to the instructors guide for Biology: Life on Earth and it was pretty good.  You’l see below that I used a lot of the discussion activities and labs from it, they’re all marked with LoE .  I also used some activities from Biology Inquiries: Standards-based labs, Assessements and Discussion Lessons by Martin Shields  (BI) and the book, How to Disssect: Exploring with Probe and Scalpel – Special Projects for Advanced Study by William Berman – I believe that book came with the dissection specimens, but I’m not sure.  I have a youtube playlist with all the videos I showed for this class and probably some I didn’t share with my class.  They are probably in reverse order, if they’re in any order at all, so you’l need to start at the end of the playlist. Some of the photos below are from the middle school biology class that I was teaching at the same time, but that class pretty much followed Real Science Odyssey Biology level 2.

Chapter 1, Life:  Viruses, Alive or Not – lecture activity from LoE instructor guide, basically students are asked whether viruses are alive or not.  This is a topic that is still up to debate.  Students can use their books or the internet try to answer the question.  Discuss.     Is Yeast Alive? (lab I found online).

Chapter 2, Chemistry: Exercise in Chemical Bonding, another lecture activity from LoE instructor guide. Students look up an element that has the atomic number equal to their birth month – born in August, then atomic number 8, Oxygen then fill in a diagram showing the number of protons, neutrons and electrons (in shells) for their atom.  We discussed how atoms want a full outer shell and they see if they can ‘bond’ with anyone else’s atom to make them both ‘happy’.

Chapter 3, Carbon: History of Carbon discussion from Biology Inquiries (BI) and we built molecules with Zometools ( I bought a huge set of these – basically includes all the small sets, from Homeschool Buyers Co-op a few years ago).  I would recommend buying Snatoms now that they have come out.

Chapter 4, Cell Structure: We looked at cheek and onion cells in the microscope and watched the first episode of The Cell by BBC.  Its a great documentary if you can find it.  Here it is on Youtube but its kind of dark.

Chapter 5, Cell Membrane: We did two labs, we looked at red onion cells under the microscope (BI) while putting salt water on the slide – you can watch it shrink! And we did osmosis with eggs which is Lab 5.6 in the LoE instructors guide.  I’ve actually posted about these two experiments before because they were really cool.

Chapter 6, Energy Flow:  Endergonic & Exergonic Reactions, Lab 6.2 from LoE and Lactaid Action Lab 6.3.  The lactaid lab was interesting, we used glucose test strips to test for the presence of glucose in water, milk, sucrose solution, glucose solution, lactose free milk and almond milk.  Then we added lactaid enyzme to each solution and tested it again.  We were surprised to see glucose in lactose free milk before putting in the enzyme and found out that lactose free milk already has the enzyme added to it.

Chapter 7, Photosynthesis: Rate of Photosynthesis leaf disk lab from AP Biology, you can search the web and find lots of variations of this lab.  I believe there were some videos on youtube as well.

Chapter 8, Cell Respiration: modeling respiration with zometools, made glucose and oxygen molecules then took them apart to see how many water and carbon dioxide molecules they could make.  Each group researched a mitochondrial disorder and shared what they found with the class.

Chapter 9, Cell Reproduction: Looked at prepared slides of mitosis and used Pop beads to make stop motion movies of mitosis.  I’ve posted about the pop beads before – they were great for this activity.  We spent a second class on this so students could  make stop motion movies for meiosis as well.

Chapter 10, Genetics:  Did a punnett square activity (BI) where each student chose their ‘pet’ and then bred it with another ‘pet’ in the class and determined the characteristics of the 4 offspring.

Chapter 11& 12 , DNA: Watched NOVA on DNA: Secret of Photo 51,   set up fast plant 72 hour genetics experiment, discussed here and we did a DNA replication activity that I found on the web called Modern Genetics for All Students.  It looks like it might have changed since I downloaded it. Students put together a string of bases (printed out on cardstock) then found the matching pairs, split them up and replicated it so they had two complete strands of DNA.

Chapter 13, Biotech: DNA extraction – some kids did their own spit, some did strawberries.  We also tallied up the fast plant data and looked at the results.

Chapter 14 & 15, Evolution: Gene drift and gene flow exercises with pop beads representing allele. I can’t find the exact source for the lab we did but if you search for gene drift or gene flow and beans you’l find labs using beads or beans. I just used the pop beads since I had them.  Here’s one handout that might be what we used.

Chapter 16, The Origin of Species:  The Lost World activity from BI. Students were given a skull and asked to design an animal. They had to look at the eyes, teeth, etc to figure out what they could about the animal.  They sketched it, took measurements and then drew the rest of the animal as they imagined it.  I happened to have some actual skulls for this activity but you could use photos.

Chapter 17, The History of Life: students made a timeline of life on earth – there’s an activity for this in LoE instructor guide where you print a bunch of cards and students put the events in order then place them on a timeline.  We watched BBC Origins of Us.

Chapter 18, Systematics:  Classifying Oak Leaves (BI), students visually compared three oak leaves and decided if they were separate species.  They made various measurements to support their conclusions.  They were then given three sets of DNA data to compare and used that to decide on the relationships between the oak leaves.

Chapter 19, Prokaryotes, Bacteria & Archae:  Looking at bacteria in yogurt under the microscope and made a virus papercraft.

Chapter 20, Protists: pond water identification with microscope.

Chapter 21, Plants: Walked around the neighborhood finding different types of plants, vascular vs nonvasculat, moss, cycads, angiosperms and gymnosperms.

Chapter 22, Fungi: Found mold, mushrooms and lichens around the yard and looked at them under the microscope.  Lichens are very cool under a microscope, with some you can see the algae inside them.

IMG_6982Chapter 23, Invertabrates: dissected earthworm, sea star and clam – different lab groups did different specimens.  2nd class dissected crayfish and grasshopper and we looked at triops with a microscope.  We also looked at the compound eye of the grasshopper (photo to the right) and wing of a dragonfly with the miscroscope.

Chapter 24, Vertebrates: dissected perch, dog fish shark (which was amazing) and a turtle.

Chapter 43, Plant Anatomy: plant dissection and field trip with local ranger

Chapter 44, Plant Reproduction: pollen tube formation under the microscope, flower and IMG_7562bud dissection.  Students planted African Violet leaves  to grow new plants.  They also took home  cups with corn and bean seeds pressed against the side of plastic cups with a damp paper towel so they could watch them sprout.  I highly recommend looking at as many types of pollen as you can find with a microscope.

Chapter 45, Plant Responses: demonstation of gravitropism – put bean plants on their side in dark boxes and on a window sill, both stems bent as the plant tried to grow upward.  We also had seeds in different positions and showed that the roots always grown down.

Chapter 25, Animal Behavior: Students performed behavior experiments with isopods – see if they preferred dark or light environments,  wet or dry, etc.

Chapter 26, Population Growth & Regulation:  Effects of age at 1st reproduction on population growth (discussion activity from LoE), and we did the Fox and Rabbit game.  You can find many variations of the fox and rabbit game on the web.  I printed out some clipart rabbits and foxes to use.

Chapter 27, Community:  we watched a bunch of videos on keystone and indicator species, each student researched an invasive species and share what they found with the class.

Chapter 28, Ecosystem: Watched videos on food chains, trophic cascade and the effects of wolves on Yellowstone.  We did an activity on the nitrogen cycle and food webs.

Chapter 30, Biodiversity: Watched video on using insects as a food source, Crash Course Ecology #12.  Students had the choice of researching new science inventions and plans for fixing the climate, solving energy or population issues or doing a food chain art project (one of the  middle school student’s project is below).IMG_8563.jpg

Chapter 32 Circulation:  Dissected fetal pigs.

Chapter 36 Defense against Disease: Played You Make Me Sick board game and watched videos on the  immune system. (I couldn’t find the files for the actual game pieces, looks like the website has changed, but the link above has some of the information about the game).

We spent a class or two studying for the Biology SAT, taking practice tests and going over the answers.   For the dissections I watched youtube videos of biology teachers doing it and I have a friend who’s a nurse who helped out.  She really knew what she was doing and was able to do thing like inflate the lungs of the animals with a ‘snot sucker’ and that was really amazing to watch the lungs inflate.


Big History 016- Life

Today we started Unit 5, Life, of the Big History Project.  Since most of the students were in my biology class last year I didn’t want to repeat the same Darwin/evolution classes so I searched the web for a tree of life activity.  I found this very cool website on NOVA that has various tree of life ‘puzzles’ for you to solve.  I was having some difficulty figuring it out but my 15 year old came up behind me and immediately solved the puzzle. I emailed the link to the students before class.

We started class by taping in the Threshold 5: Life card in their notebooks and the ‘How Closely Related Are We’ activity from the Big History Project website.  In the later activity they have to figure out closely related we are to chimpanzees, fruitflies, and bacteria to name a few – its just a matching activity.  I let them discuss it among themselves for a while and then we watched some videos off youtube.

Sci Show on Mary Anning

The Evolution of Life on Earth by ASAP Science

Can Science Explain the Origin of Life by Stated Clearly

and Are We Really 99% Chimp? by MinuteEarth.

I also recommend watching First Life by David Attenborough – it can be found on youtube, but since its an hour long we didn’t have time to watch it in class.

After the videos we did modeled the process of evolution with legos!  This project was a great hit and the kids worked on it enthusiastically for over an hour.   You have each group start out with a very simple lego creature consisting of just 2 bricks – a body and a head.  They have a deck of cards which consist of three kinds of cards: repetition, mutations and split.  If they draw a repetition card, their creature stays the same, but if they get mutation they get to add or change something on their creature.  IMG_1661If they get a split card it means the population is split so they have to make another creature and each population will mutate/evolve separately.  By the end they will have 3 or 4 very different looking populations.  Students are sketching each generation in their notebooks.  I found two sources for this activity, Lego Tree of Life  – this one actually made a whole new creature for each generation but we didn’t have enough legos to do it that way, and Lego Cladograms on the betterlesson website.  The betterlessons site makes you join but it was free and then I was able to download the cards and a powerpoint file with the instructions. They also had videos demonstrating how to do it in a class.  I hadn’t come across this site before and it warrants further exploration because this was a great activity.


Here are a few other species that evolved in class today, and just incase you’re wondering about the stars around the ‘cutey pie’ at the bottom of the chart above – it mutated to become ‘magical’.IMG_1712IMG_1710IMG_1714


Big History 009 – Threshold 4 & Planets

We started Unit 4.0 in the Big History Project this week which means we’ve reached Threshold level 4, the formation of our solar system and planets.  I had the kids tape in the Threshold 4 card into their notebooks as they arrived and then we watched Crash Course Astronomy video on Exoplanets because I wanted to make sure they realized that our solar system is not the only one with planets.  

After the video we discussed how our solar system formed and I asked them what they knew about each planet.  Then they did the Big History Project lessoplanet card sortn 4.0, Planet Card Sort, and cut out the pictures of the solar system in various stages of development and tape them into their book in the proper order.

The last activity, making a flip organizer for the planets, took the longest and some kids didn’t quite finish.   I got this idea from the Earth’s Place in the Universe Interactive Organizer, but I was disappointed to see they gave the planet data in miles, and the acceleration due to gravity in ft/s^2!  There was no way I was handing those out, so I redid the activity in metric and changed a few of the facts, gave the mass of the planet in Earth masses so they could tell how much more or less massive the planet was compared to Earth. I also gave them blank cards with just a circle on them so they could color it in to look like one of the planets, put the name of the planet on it and then they had a sheet of planet facts they had to sort through and put the right facts on each card.  I had the facts clumped together so one table had orbit radius on it, so they could actually just put those in numerical order and the one with the shortest distance from the sun must be for Mercury, etc.planet organizer  The other set of facts had orbital period, how long it takes for the planet to go around the sun, so again, they could put the table of facts in order, shortest period would be the Mercury, etc.  I did include Pluto on the organizer because everyone loves Pluto, especially with the latest data from the New Horizon.   I had left the number of moons fact empty so they had to look that up on the web or in the Solar System app by Touchpress.  There was also a spot on the card for them to write at least one unique feature about the planet, for example, Venus is considered Earth’s evil twin, Saturn’s famous for its rings, Jupiter for its spot.  Most kids didn’t get to this in class because we ran out of time.  But when taking pictures for this post I noticed my son put Matt Damon on Mars… lol, we’re big fans of The Martian.mars

Biology Experiments with Wisconsin Fast Plants

Wisconsin fast plants are genetically altered plants that grow really fast and are great for science experiments.  You can order them from either as just seeds or in kits.  We used the Wisconsin Fast Plants® 72-Hour Genetics Kit which comes with 4 seed packets from 3 different generations so you don’t have to spend months growing each generation, harvesting the seeds and then planting the next generation. The kit also comes with petri dishes and everything you need to do the experiment.    The kit I bought was for my class, but they do sell kits for individual students and a variety of kits are available for different experiments.

fast plant seedsThese are called fast plants for a reason. We put the seeds on moist paper towels in the morning and they were sprouting that night before we went to bed!  The first photo was taken about 14 hours after setting up the experiment and the second one is only  3 days later!  You can see from the second photo that the seedlings have some variety  – some have purple stems and some are green.   If I remember there are also some that are hairy and some that are smooth.  The kids counted how many purple vs green stems there were in each generation and figured out which trait was recessive.  This whole experiment can be done in 3 days! fast plants day 3 No need to keep it going for weeks and weeks, though if you have a kid who wants to do that, you can start with two pure seed packs with different traits, grow the plants, fertilize them (did you know they sell dried bees to put on sticks to do this??), harvest seeds and then start all over again.    Either way these fast plants are excellent for biology, genetics or even a little botany fun.

Biology: Osmosis Experiments

osmosis red onionFor the chapter on cell membranes we did two labs last year.  The first experiment involved looking at red onion cells under the microscope while adding salt water to the slide.  The salt water increases the concentration of solute outside the cell so water leaves the cell causing it to shrink.  This is very obvious with the red onion cells because the red/purple area shrinks away from the cell walls as you can see in the photo.  The cells at the bottom of the picture have not be in contact with the salt water yet so they still look ok.  close of red onion cellAs we watched through the microscope we saw the membranes shrink and the red/purple color become more concentrated in the center of each cell – this is called plasmolysis and you can find the lab I used at

The second lab we did involved chicken eggs.  A few days before class, we soaked the eggs in vinegar to dissolve the shell.   During class the  students found the mass of the eggs and made a prediction in their lab books about what they thought would happen to the eggs.  The eggs were then either soaked in water or corn syrup.  eggs osmosisEvery 30 minutes they pulled the eggs out of the liquid, patted them dry and recorded their mass again.  Everyone was very surprised to see that the egg soaking in corn syrup actually shrunk and the egg soaking in water swelled up.  Students found the percent change in mass of each egg and made graphs of their results.  The egg in the corn syrup, hypertonic solution,  shrunk (egg on the left in the photo) because the water left the cell (yes, a chicken egg is just one big cell!) to try to dilute the sugary surroundings, while the egg soaked in water, a hypotonic solution, absorbed more water trying to dilute its interior (egg on the right in the photo). You can see in the picture if was a pretty obvious change.  The middle school class did these labs too, but we only measured the eggs twice, at the beginning and the end of class so it was more of a demonstration.   We actually let the eggs soak for a few days after class,  just to see how much more they would change. shrunk egg The egg soaking in water didn’t really change much after the first few hours but the egg in corn syrup basically turned into just the yolk (see photo).

biology inquiriesThis and some of the other labs we did can be found in Biology Inquires: Standards-Based Labs, Assessments, and Discussion Lessons by Martin Shields.  

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