Secular Science Resources for Homeschoolers



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 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.

Big History 025 – Civilizations

Today we went over culture and what makes a civilization.  I gave them 2 handouts before the slideshow, one a graphical organizer where they wrote the word culture in the center and then filled the circles around it with things that define a culture.  I said, “What if I dropped you off in another country and didn’t tell you where you were.  How would you know where you were? What clues could you use?”  Some kids immediately responded with language, clothing and one said the effiel tower which led them to put down architecture or buildings.  I gave them some time to fill that out and then they had a matching worksheet where they had to match the word to its definition.  These words were all things that define a civilization: government, economy, urbanization, specialization, etc.  This was a bit tougher, especially for the younger kids (9 years old), so after they worked on a bit I went ahead and did a slideshow presentation where I talked about all the words on the sheet.  I used examples from Egypt, Mesoamerica and Mesopotamia for each subject.  IMG_2494

I used a freebie from,  What is a Civilization? by Kelly Grant Horrocks as the basis for my slideshow and that is where I got the worksheets.

I had the kids do one more activity (labeling a world map) because I noticed in a previous class that many of these students could not identify the continents on a world map and this kind of blew my mind.  I grew up with National Geographic maps glued to our bathroom wall and when my kids did Story of the World when they were younger we didn’t do all the map activities, but I made sure they could label continents.  When ever we talk about a particular country we locate it on a map or the globe first.  Another activity we did when the kids were elementary age was put a sticker on a world map for items we bought,  bananas from Ecuador , go put the sticker on the map, apples from Washington State, sticker on the map, cotton shirt from Egypt, put a sticker on the map.  The kids loved doing this and I think its a great way to make geography a little more interesting.

Homeschool Perks – Extended Field Trips

fieldtripI haven’t posted in a while because we were on a field trip….to Scotland!  One of the biggest perks of homeschooling is being able to travel any time of the year, and for us that usually means fall.  Its a lot easier to use frequent flier miles in the fall and there are a lot fewer tourists to compete with.  This year we spent almost a week on the island of Orkney off the northern coast of Scotland and then a few days in Edinburgh before heading home.

Orkney is a very remote location but the island, well actually it is a group of islands, is covered with sites of historical importance.  Four of the sites, Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe and the Stones of Stenness are lumped together as a UNESCO World Heritage site called the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.    Orkney is also home to the Ness of Brodgar, but the site is only uncovered for a short while in the summer months while they’re excavating.  The Ring of Brodgar (photo above and below) is a ring of standing stones that predates Stonehenge and unlike Stonehenge, you can walk right up to the stones. Those are my two boys standing to the right in the picture below.

ring of brogan
Ring of Brodgar

Maeshowe is a chambered cairn/tomb built about 5000 years ago.   Unfortunately they don’t allow photography once you are inside, but here’s a picture of our approach.  The fun thing about Maeshowe is that Vikings broke into it during the 12th century to wait out a storm and carved runes, graffiti,  into the walls, things like, “Tholfir Kolbeinsson carved these runes high up”.

skara brae
Skara Brae

Skara Brae is a prehistoric village built about 5000 years ago (before Stonehenge) that was uncovered during a storm in 1850. What’s remarkable about Skara Brae is that the houses were very complete and give a great view of what life was like 5000 years ago.  Furniture and carved objects were found in amazing condition. The shelves in the center of the picture is believed to be a dresser where people stored items and the box on the left was for sleeping. There’s a picture book for kids about this site called, “Skara Brae: The Story of a Prehistoric Village”.

dwarfie stane
Walking up to the Dwarfie Stane, Hoy.

We spent a day on the island of Hoy with our guide, Kinlay Francis of Orkney Uncovered (who I highly recommend), who gave us a tour of the Dwarfie Stane (another neolithic site) and some World War I and II sites.  As you can see in the photo, we did experience some great Scottish weather on this trip, but being from drought ridden California we actually enjoyed the rain.

Sundews on island of Hoy

My oldest son was really into carnivorous plants when he was younger and I had read that some were native to the island of Hoy, so while walking through the bog in the rain to the Dwarfie Stane we were searching for tiny sundews.  I was very surprised that we actually found some and we got to teach our guide some botany.

We also stopped by the Brough of Birsay, which you can only access during low tide, Broch of Guerness, the Stromness Museum and the beautiful coast at Yesnaby.  Orkney is small island, but there is plenty to see and do.

Hands on geology.
Hands on geology.

After 6 days in Orkney we flew down to Edinburgh, spent a few hours in the castle.  This was our 3rd trip to the castle so we had already seen it before, but if you go, plan on spending at least one full day if not two exploring the castle. The photo of castle was taken from the window of the Apartment by Castle where we stay. Its physically impossible to stay any closer to the castle and it is a great little apartment.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

We only had two full days in Edinburgh and spent most of it in museums.  The Surgeon’s Hall Museum had just reopened and its a fascinating museum about the history of medicine and anatomy with lots of body parts and tumors in jars.  Fortunately for you, no photography is allowed inside that museum.  We also spent a few hours at the National Museum of Scotland, which happened to have a special exhibit on Victorian Photography. The National Museum of Scotland has a bit of everything, natural history, geology, cultural history and of course Scottish history, definitely worth a few hours of your time, if not a whole day.  The boys noticed on their own that a lot of the items in the museum actually came from sites we had visited in Orkney.  We also stopped in at the Camera Obscura, a museum of optical illusions and walked down the Royal Mile to the Palace at Holyroodhouse.

Palace at Holyrood
Palace at Holyrood

We were only gone 11 days (2 of which were spent on planes…ugh) but we managed to cram in a lot of history. I think we all learn a lot more actually visiting historical places then just reading about them.  Besides all the museums and historical sites we also managed to see the aurora borealis two nights in a row while on Orkney.  A very successful field trip.

Aurora on Orkney, taken by Jake Siders
Aurora on Orkney, taken by Jake Siders

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