Secular Science Resources for Homeschoolers



Big History Science Reading List

Since quite a few high school students are going to use the Big History Project as their history or world geography as well as science (astronomy/earth science), I’ve put together a list of books that I think go along well with the course.  I haven’t read all of them yet,  but was able to find most of them in the local library and read the first chapter or two.  I don’t expect anyone to read them all but hope they will read 2 or 3 of them over the year. Most of them are non-fiction, but I threw in a few novels as well.  Most, if not all of these should also be available as audio books.

51BS1xe6xgL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan.   Great discussion on critical thinking and spotting ‘faking news/science’.

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe by Lisa Randall.

The Martian by Andy Weir – Excellent novel and movie about surviving on Mars.

Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickinson, Adolf Schaller. (If students get interested in star gazing this is a good book)

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen. My older son had to read this for his freshman college seminar and recommended it to me.  Its a very interesting read about Darwin’s life after the Beagle voyage and how he finally came to share his ideas on evolution.

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin.  This is also PBS series.5101H2lhtXL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.

The Illustrated Longitude: The True Story of the Lone Genius who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel.

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf.  I haven’t actually gotten my hands on this yet but its waiting for me at the library.  Alexander von Humboldt was an explorer, scientist, polymath and father of modern environmentalism.  There’s a graphic novel about von Humboldt by this same auther.

In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall.  This reads almost like an adventure novel and is her own account of studying primates in Africa.

4174Q3aRZlL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgJurassic Park: A Novel by Michael Crichton.

The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite by Ann Finkbeiner.

The Fourth Age: Smart Robots, Conscious Computers, and the Future of Humanity by Byron Reese.



Climate Change

climate-bookI try to do at least one short science class each summer, and this time I decided to do a class on the science of climate change using Blair H. Lee’s book that came out in 2017.  Her book, The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course,  is available as an ebook or a you can purchase a print version, you can also get it as a kit with the supplies you need for the activities.

I taught this over 4 classes (2 hours each), adding some of my own labs to help the kids understand some basic chemistry and left some of the activities in the book for them to do at home.  The first class was about the Greenhouse Effect and we went over atoms and molecules and a little bit about the periodic table and scientific notation.  I did the same activity I always do, where I give the students a blank ‘atom’ and have them write in the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus and then color in the right number of electrons for each atom.  Then we discussed how certain atoms prefer to bond with others because they want full shells.  I had students do the box activity from the book, where you make a small box and calculate how many air molecules are in the box and then how many different green house gas molecules, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are in your box.  Even though each of the greenhouse gases are a very small percent of the atmosphere there are still a huge number of them in the box.  Because we’re talking about BIG numbers we went into scientific notation a bit and did some practice problems using scientific notation.

Imolecules also had the students build all the molecules commonly found in air (listed on a table in the book) with the snatoms (shown below) and zometools that I have.  This is where I found an error in Lee’s book, the author shows carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide as bent molecules like water and they are linear molecules so I corrected the table on p 14 with the correct shapes and printed out copies for my students.  I also had the cards from the zometools which showed how to make the molecules. img_8366

I showed the following videos in class on the first day:

The second class started with the greenhouse effect experiment from the text.  We took IMG_7560two beakers and put a thermometer in each one and covered one with plastic wrap to simulate a greenhouse.  We placed both beakers in the sun and recorded the temperature over 30 minutes and discussed our results.

We then moved on to combustion, observed a candle burning and discussed the different things required for combustion to take place and the products formed.  I have a few interactive notebook projects for chemistry that I’ve bought on so I had the students put together the one on combustion.    I also burned a piece of Mg ribbon to show how different things can produce different amounts of light and heat, you can read more about it in a previous post.

The problem with greenhouse gases is they absorb sunlight and then emit infrared radiation (heat) back into the atmosphere. We looked at graphs of the concentration of the different molecules in the


atmosphere over the years and talked about how scientists can look at air bubbles trapped in ice core samples to determine what the atmosphere was like 10,000 years ago!  To demonstrate
how different molecules can be identified by looking at the light they emit or absorb, I did the flame test demo where I placed different salts in a flame and students observed the different colors they produced.

We watched the following videos on day 3:

The text has a worksheet where students are to make a feedback loop for methane but instead of having them write in the steps, I grabbed some photos off the internet and had them glue each photo in the right spot.  After that we did the activity from the book where you look up the weather for a particular date for that past 30 years and talked about the difference between weather (short term) and climate (long term).  I dug out IMG_7569another interactive notebook activity, this one on the scientific method that came with a life science bundle from Getting Nerdy with Mel & Gerdy.  I gave examples for the scientific method based on the video we watched on the methane bubbles in the ice.  Lastly we did the carbon sink activity from the book where you drop antacid tablets in warm water and cold water and observe the behavior of the carbon dioxide bubbles.  I was actually pretty surprised by how dramatic a difference there was.  The tablet dissolved very quickly in the warm water so make sure the kids are watching as they drop them in.IMG_7576


On the fourth and last class day we looked at the pH of different household chemicals using red cabbage indicator.  To make the indicator chop up a red cabbage and place in a big pot with water, boil 10 minutes and then let it cool.  Strain out the leaves and you’re left with purple pH indicator. If its really dark you can dilute with more water.  I did this the night before class.  Below you can see the tubes filled with a variety of colors indicating acids (red/pink) to neutral (purple) to bases (green/yellow).


We did this lab because one of the other changes happening is that the oceans are becoming more acidic which is harmful to marine life.

Finally we did a few more interactive notebook activities for recycling and renewable energy.  These were also from the life science bundle from Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy, in the Ecology lessons.IMG_7622

I didn’t want to leave the class depressed with all the doom and gloom of climate change so I showed the following video on different ideas that some people have come up with to help with the problems.

I ran out of time to show them this one about different things we can do reduce our carbon footprint.

This was a fun class and I think I may do it again next year or offer it during the year as a short course.  It makes for a nice way to introduce some basic chemistry, scientific method and scientific notation along with some current events/problems.

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.

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hanging out and hanging on in life and the movies (listening to great music)


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 (