Secular Science Resources for Homeschoolers



Round 2 – High School Physics 01

UnknownThis is my 2nd time teaching a high school physics class for homeschoolers, many of the labs will be the same but I will continue to post after each class this year, even if its just to point to a previous post.  We’re using “How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life” by Louis A. Bloomfield, which is an algebra based physics text.  The majority of the students are freshmen.

Before class I recommended students watch the following videos (and observe the eclipse that occurred the day before class).

The Map of Physics which gives a nice overview of Physics.

A clever way to estimate enormous numbers by Michael Mitchell – which describes Fermi estimates.

And a Crash Course Chemistry video on Unit Conversion & Significant Figures.

I gave the students a handout on lab notebooks and lab reports and had them label the first page of their lab notebook as Table of Contents.  Lab notebooks are the student’s proof of doing real scientific labs which is especially important for homeschool students.

The lab today was pretty much the same thing I did last time, estimating the length of a hallway, measuring it with their feet (not a ruler, but their actual feet) and then with a meter stick.  Last time I had them use hand spans but this was a longer distance so I had them use their feet, heal to toe.  We talked about the sources of error, out lying points (1 measurement was off by almost exactly a meter so they probably mis-counted), calculated the average of everyone’s measurements and made a histogram of the feet measurements.  You can check out a more detailed description on the original post on metric units and measurements.

I also had them do some worksheets in class on scientific notation and significant figures.  Next week we’l look at speed, velocity and acceleration, Chapter 1.1 in How Things Work.


Science happens

My kids watch a lot of youtube channels, many of them science related and its not uncommon for them to bring me a video and ask if we can do the experiment/demo shown on the video.  Well, now that they are both teens it appears that I’m not needed any more. My youngest (13) asked me for a bulldog clip and I saw him wandering around the house with a ziplock of water… hmmm.  A few minutes later he proudly showed me his ziplock full water and pencils and toothpicks.  Cool!IMG_3458.jpg

Big History 019 – Hominids

We did a bunch of different activities today and of course I forgot to take pictures..ugh. Since we’re starting a new threshold, the first thing kids did when they arrived was put the Threshold 6 card in their notebooks.  Then I handed them a page with 5 pictures of hominids on it and they had to cut them out and put them in order from oldest to most recent ancestor.  This Early Ancestor activity can be found on the Big History Project website.  Once they were done with that we talked about the difference between observations and inferences. I gave the following example: when I come out to the kitchen in the morning and see a bowl sitting on the counter with a bit of milk in the bottom, I observe that there is a bowl on the counter, but I can infer that my son had cereal for breakfast.  I didn’t SEE or OBSERVE him eating the cereal, but from seeing the bowl I can infer that he did.  I might be right, or I might be wrong, perhaps my husband had the cereal.  This activity was found in the Teaching Paleontology in the National Parks and Monuments: A Curriculum Guide for Teachers of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Grade Levels.

The main activity for today was mapping fossil locations for different hominids on a world map. This activity served two purposes, it showed the kids the distribution of fossils for each group and it gave them a lot of practice using latitude and longitude to located a place on the map.  I had a lot of trouble finding this activity. Lots of websites mentioned it but the links weren’t working. I finally found a pdf with the fossil locations and map here:  Fossils and Disperal Patterns of Early Hominids.  I also printed out this image from so the students could see the different hominids on a timeline.


The students worked in groups potting the locations on the world map – each one just plotting one type of fossil, like neanderthals for example. Then they worked together to answer questions using their maps and the timeline.

I wanted to show some videos but didn’t get around to it, so we’l start off next week with some youtube videos.

I’m going to email a link to the Becoming Human website and suggest the kids play around with it. Its got some interactive stuff and video clips that go along well with what we’re studying.

Physics 019- Electricity

This was a long chapter but for at least some of the kids it was all review. We’ve done electrons, charge, electric force and circuits many times before.  So once again I dusted off an old keynote presentation and did some demos for static electricity: rubbing a balloon on my head and making hair rise up to meet it,  pulling off strips of tape and see that they repel or attract, how to make an electroscope and demonstrated the use of a fun-fly-stick that generates electric charge.  Then the students built some simple series and parallel circuits and measured the current and voltage in different places, confirming that resisters in parallel have the same voltage drop across them but different currents flowing through them (if their resistance is different) and that resisters in series must have the same current flowing through them, but different voltage drops across them.  Some of the students had fun building burglar alarms and lie detectors with our large snap circuit collection.  I high recommend buying snap circuits for young children, along with the 51yrF1nRERL._SX425_Student Guide.  All the sets come with manuals and instructions on building various projects but only the Student Guide explains how they work.  We have so many sets I finally bought the hard case when the boxes they came in fell apart.  Looks like you can  actually get the case full of snap circuits as well.

While looking for links on the demonstrations I came across this youtube video on to make your own static flyer that does the same thing as the fun-fly stick.


Here’s a nice Ted-Ed talk, The science of Static Electricity – Anuradha Bhagwat:

Jefferson lab has some nice videos for science demonstrations, including this one on static electricity:

I had planned on showing this SciShow on Nikola Tesla in class but we ran out of time:

And for those who enjoy epic rap battles of history: Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison:



Big History 018 – Fossils

We had a guest speaker in class today who filled my kitchen with his fossil collection and gave a talk about all his wonderful treasures – most of which he or his family found! DSCF4048 My older son and I are members of a local rock club and I knew Bill had a fossil collection and frequently talks at schools so it was easy enough to get him to come share his collection and knowledge with our class.  He really blew us away with the quantity and quality of his fossils, including some absolutely beautiful ferns and trilobites.


After Bill’s show and tell the kids broke into groups and got to dig through a bowl of rocks and find their own fossils, which they got to keep. Some of the fossils were left over from a fossil hunt kit that I had bought a few years ago but the local rock club frequently does this IMG_1771kind of activity for classes and at their rock and gem show so they donated some to replenish our ‘dig’.  The kids found brachiopods, crinoids (sometimes called sea lilies, because they resemble flowers but they are actually animals), ammonites and shark teeth.

Once everyone had exhausted their rock pile they each got a piece of raw amber to polish and a couple of the kids got lucky and found insects or leaf parts in their amber. I bought the raw amber kit from  I was going to just buy the raw amber and not the kit, but I wanted the bigger pieces.   Polishing amber is pretty simple, all you need is some sand paper of different grit – rough to fine and a bit of work.  For the fine sand paper you get a much nicer polish if you wet the amber a bit first.   Here are some photos through our microscope of one of the bugs we found.IMG_1780


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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 (