Secular Science Resources for Homeschoolers



Physics 2017-2018

I’ve decided to teach physics again this fall.  For high school physics I’m going to use UnknownLouis Bloomfield’s How Thing Work: The Physics of Everyday Life, the 5th edition.   This book is algebra based, no calculus.  I used an earlier version of this book many years ago for a college course for non-science majors and I thought it was a nice change from the usual textbook.  Its been updated with more pictures and color.  The labs we’l do in class will be very similar, if not the same, as the last time I taught highschool physics.    I am looking to buy a few sensors from Vernier that work directly with iPads.  They have a thermometer that will send data directly to their app on your iPad which would have been nice to have last year for chemistry.  They also have a force & acceleration sensor which we could make good use of in physics class.  They’re supposed to be out in a few weeks and the prices look reasonable, with some as low as $50.


The last time I taught physics (two years ago) we used Light and Matter by Benjamin Crowell and I just saw he has a Conceptual Physics textbook on his website so will recommend that to my students as another text to look at.  Crowell has both of these available on his website as pdfs that you can download for free.

lab notebook

I also recommend the students get the Cartoon Guide to Physics by Larry Gonick and a nice lab notebook.

I’l also be teaching a physics class for younger kids (11-13 years old) using Science Fusion Module I (Motion, Forces & Energy) and Module J (Sound & Light).  You can buy these books from Amazon for $15 or less or buy them as part of a homeschool package on the Homeschool Buyers’ Co-op for roughly $37 each and you’l get the book and online access to digital resources, including an inactive book, labs, etc.  I used these books back in 2013 so I already have all the materials downloaded which will make my life easier.  These books are soft covered books and the students are meant to write in them as they go through them.  Not quite a workbook, but enough to hopefully keep kids engaged and the online access is worth it if you’re kid prefers learning on a computer or might have trouble reading it themselves.


These classes will start near the end of August and I will post about the labs and activities we do after each class.

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.

Homeschool Brag

My younger son, Jake, 13, plays piano and cello and started composing music on his iPad  this past year.  Earlier this month he did a movie making camp for young kids and made the music for the entire short film.  I was pretty impressed by the film considering it was 4 kids, 2 of which were 8 years old and they only had 4 days to write and shoot it.   Jake had to stay up most of Thursday night to finish the music.  Enjoy.

Here’s a link to Jake’s movie reviews – he created this website all on his own last year after doing a bravewrite movie club and adds to it a couple times a month.



Homeschool Planning

planner-pinterestEvery year I search and search for the perfect homeschool planner….and I’m still looking.  I use Circus ponies notebook for most of my record keeping and some forms I got from for most of my planning.  But I just took a look at the new set of free planner forms from 5J’s website and it looks really good.  It has over 200 forms, many are just variations of a particular form, but there are a lot of good looking forms there. I like that they’re not over frilly and no bible quotes so they are secular!    Check it out if you, like most homeschool parents, are still looking for the perfect forms, odds are good you’l find at least a few useful forms.


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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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 (