Happy New Year – Return to Normal?

Frosty Field

All of us have this definition of normal.  With the holidays completed, there is this sense that we are going to return to normal.  But, what is that?  Really, what we are saying is that we are returning to that ordinary state of routine.  For families with children, this means that we are returning to a school routine.

January is also a time when we reassess our school year goals and set some new goals as well.  So, what are your goals for the remainder of winter and into spring?  Have you though about adding some science activities?  January is actually a great time to look at your science curriculum.

The homeschooling catalogs will be coming out soon.  So, it is a great time to start thinking.  But, there are other resources that come out during January.  Here are some good ones to start your creative juices flowing:


Sky and Telescope has come out with their 2015 Observing Calendars and Information.  There are other sites as well – the Sea and Sky has their Celestial Events Calendar  out as well as Stargazing Tonight.

Science Fairs

It is time to think about those science fair projects (if you haven’t already started).  The International Science and Engineering Fair is in May – and students are required to participate in qualifying fairs.  You can find information about affiliated science fairs here. Many local fairs are in February – so if  you haven’t found your dates – it is time to look.

Global Science Events

Every year there are a number of scientific and medical meetings held around the world.  And while, they may not be directed toward you and your family personally, many of these meetings have auxiliary events.  For example, the American Chemical Society which will be meeting in Denver in March and in Boston in August usually supports a science activity for families and school children as part of their meeting.  Thus, looking to see if one of these events is coming to your area may inspire an activity or a lesson plan.  You can find one listing of Science Events here.

Weather and Climate

In addition to astronomy, there is also sky watching as related to weather, clouds, climate, etc.  Winter is a great time to look for the Aurora Borealis – you can find the forecast for viewing here. Of course there are a number of sites that follow weather – there is the NOAA.gov and Weather.com.  These should provide you with lots of activities.

Check out the Calendar

Earth Science Week  – has extended their celebration to the entire year.  National Engineering Week is February 22-28, 2015 and information can be found here.  Earth Day is April 22 and many professional societies have activities planned.  Pi Day is March 14 and this year is special because of the year.  (You might also search STEM activities – UCF is holding a STEM Day on Jan. 30, 2015, and STEM Saturdays are being held at Northern Illinois University. There are a host of other Colleges and Universities that are doing STEM outreach – so checking your local community college, or other higher learning institution may also provide you with inspiration.)

Finally, watch the museum and library calendars you never know what might turn up there.

October is…… And, the winner is ……

You could say that October is Science Month!

Next week features the announcements of the Nobel Prizes.  So, look for a number of science related stories and features from various science organizations and businesses.  You can anticipate that the news will be filled with science applications connected to the winners of the Prizes in medicine, chemistry and physics.

Additionally, October generally features announcements for various science competitions.  Check out the Intel, Siemens and other notable companies as they begin to announce their regional and national activities.  (You can also check out Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and Science Channel – for many activities, lesson plans, etc.)  There are sites with monthly themes such as the Siemens Science Day in addition to topic specific sites.


October features National Chemistry Week (October 19-25, 2014).  This years theme is the Sweet Side of Chemistry – Candy.  There are a number of activities planned around the United States.  These will be hosted by Local Sections of the American Chemical Society, as well as Student Chemistry Clubs.  You can find teacher resources and associated materials at the American Chemical Society NCW website.  Of particular note – related to this NCW topic – was the dedication of the second National Chemical Historic Landmark related to the production of sugar on October 1.  This Landmark recognizes the work of Rachel Holloway Lloyd, a woman chemist.  (The first recognized the work of Norbert Rillieux, whose birth record states “Norbert Rillieux, quadroon libre, natural son of Vincent Rillieux and Constance Vivant. Born March 17, 1806. Baptized in St. Louis Cathedral by Pere Antoine.”  More information about the work and life of Rillieux can be found here.)

October is a great time for slime, glowing science, bubbling punch, and other fun home/class experiments.  Take a few minutes to do a quick search of the American Chemical Society education resources while you are looking at the Sweet Side of Chemistry – to find a bunch of “goolish” fun activities.  (You can also find sites related to Zombies, Bone Chilling Science, Vampires, and even a bit of graveyard science.)

Have fun and don’t forget to stay safe!  (PS if you need safety resources you can always pick up a copy of Staying Safe while Conducting Hands-On Science.)

The School Year is Here

Now that Labor Day Weekend is here – School is officially back in session. It is time to get back into the swing of things. Do you need science lesson plans? Do you need some interactive ideas? Looking for free resources? Here are some places to start:

From Discovery Education – http://www.discoveryeducation.com/ – In addition to their usual offerings – there is a new package from the Navy.

From National Geographic – http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/?ar_a=1

From the USGS: http://education.usgs.gov/

From the American Chemical Society – http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education.html

From NOAA: http://www.education.noaa.gov/

From NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/ specifically from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/index.cfm?page=115

Have a great year in Science.

Getting ready for the new school year! Science Resources

Are you getting ready for the new school year?  Have you even thought about it yet?

For many homeschoolers, July is the time to savor the last bits of summer and to start thinking about the new school year.  So, it is planning season.

Are you planning a science curriculum this year?  What resources are you going to use?  No matter what resource you are planning – you need to stay safe.  Sophic Pursuits – has a book for you.

Cover Hands without Spine

This book is designed primarily for the home school parent to help them assess the experiments and activities that can be found in books or on the internet.  You can get this book through your distributor or it is available in paperback, KindleTM ebook, and a downloadable PDF.  More information can be found here.

Are you looking for a high school chemistry curriculum?  The big challenge here is not finding a good text, it is finding a laboratory portion that can be done at home.  Sophic Pursuits is working to help you here as well.


Cover pic

This laboratory course is designed to accompany any chemistry text or can stand alone.  The course is written so that any parent or instructor can us it – whether you have a science background or not.  It focuses on basic laboratory skills that the high school student will need for that freshman laboratory in college – measurement techniques, chemical calculations, laboratory note taking, and laboratory reports.

The chemicals and experiments are designed such that you can use traditional laboratory equipment or items from your kitchen. It comes with an equipment needs list with references about purchasing the required items.  Sophic Pursuits has worked hard to make this course affordable and the required items should be easily obtained at a local hobby shop, hardware store, grocery store or the internet.  A sample laboratory activity – a chemical scavenger hunt – has been posted here.  In this activity, the student will be looking for chemical information: name, physical properties, etc., as well as establishing a laboratory notebook.  Instructions for the activity; background information about chemicals and chemical formulas;  and information about setting up a laboratory notebook are included as part of the laboratory.

The  laboratory course includes:

  • A Safety Information Scavenger Hunt
  • A Chemical Information Scavenger Hunt
  • Accuracy and Precision
  • Measurement
  • Density
  • Physical Properties and States of Matter
  • Moles, Molecular Weight, and Molarity
  • Freeze Point Depression
  • Writing a Laboratory Report
  • Exploring Solubility
  • Precipitation Reactions and Yield
  • Exploring Chemical Reactions
  • Putting It All Together to Determine an Unknown

There will be both a student and instructor manual.  Sophic Pursuits is looking for 10 families to pilot the program.  These pilot families will receive drafts of the student and instructor information as well as a support from the author.  The idea behind the pilot will is to refine the draft manuals in order to provide a better overall product.  If you are interested in piloting the first semester course please contact us. Remember the number of free programs are limited.


Basic Laboratory Skills

I have been working on a laboratory course that can be taken as a self paced course at home or to be used by teachers in a small classroom, a cooperative school system, or even a regular classroom/laboratory setting. The idea behind this course is that you don’t need to have a lot of expensive laboratory equipment to be able to gain some essential hands-on laboratory experience and investigate a variety of chemical concepts.  Of course, you still need to be safe, and you still need to use good technique; but expense and specialized items should not be a barrier.

Thus, I have set off on this adventure, and have been very surprised at what I have found so far.  If you look at the current education standards there does not seem to be a list of laboratory techniques that students should be exposed to or master while in elementary, middle, or high school.  There is a lot of discussion about observation, understanding of concepts, and reviewing/analyzing data, but nothing related to a hands-on technique based experience.  There are comments about the importance of the laboratory experience in science, but not  anything specific about the fundamental skills that should be obtained.  Of course, this presents a challenge.  To do science, you need to have some basic skills.  But, we haven’t articulated what those skills are.

When I teach Kindergarten students, I tell them that scientists observe, measure, and predict.  Of course, this is a simplified version of the what we really do – but it boils the scientific process to the essentials.  Scientists observe their surroundings and phenomena.  Then formulate a hypothesis about what they are observing, and develop an experiment to test that hypothesis. During the experimentation, they gather data through more observation and measurement.  Finally, they analyze the information obtained, re-evaluate the hypothesis, and start the cycle again.  Also, at some point communicate their observations, findings and conclusions.

From this assessment of the process, three things stand out:

1) Observation skills are necessary.

2) Communication skills are necessary.

3) Measurement skills are necessary.

Hopefully, the first two skills are readily addressed through many aspects of the educational process.  Even very small children are making observations about their surroundings and are trying to communicate about what they see.  Parents and teachers are always working to improve these skills. These skills have to be refined a bit for the scientific process, i.e. note taking and scientific writing, but there are being worked on throughout the learning process.

Measurement is another matter.  For many of us, measurement comes naturally.  How many yards of fabric is needed for a pattern?  How many miles is it to the next town?  How tall am I?  Or, the old adage: measure twice cut once when building something.  However, due to changes in our society, measurement is not as routine as it once was.

Think about it.  We buy prepackaged sandwich meat, and don’t go to the deli counter.  Thus, if you had to cut/slice a ham for two pounds of lunch meat (and actually calculate how much that would be at certain price per pound), would you be able to do it?  How many people make a recipe from scratch?  (Do you know how many teaspoons there are to a tablespoon?)  When was the last time you bought nails, not to mention nails by the pound?

Even when we do measure, we don’t necessarily worry about precision.  If we are a little over or under, it usually doesn’t make a big difference.  But, in scientific measurement; precision is important.  Thus, those skills associated with measurement become very important.  Precision in measurement is communicated by the use of significant figures.  And, the concept of significant figures is lost on most individuals.

A number is written to communicate the measurement; 3 is fundamentally different from 2.54.  These numbers are communicating a different level of precision.  (2.54 is the number of centimeters to an inch; 3 is a rounded 2.54.) For most measurements, the level of precision is not of particular note or issue – unless we are paying for the difference.  For example:  Today’s price per ounce of gold is $1246.01.  This means every one tenth of an ounce is worth $124.60.  So, the difference between 3 and 2.5 is $623 – which is not trivial.  Thus, precision is important.

Measurement and the precision of the measurement are extremely important.  Thus, measurement and the precision of the measurement need to be taught and perfected as they are incorporated into both the language and the process of science.

So, get those students out there measuring with devices – rulers, thermometers, measuring cups, graduated cylinders, scales, balances, tape measures, protractors, etc.  Look at the precision, i.e. the markings on the devices.  Look at how precision impacts the result.  A little error in our measurement can result in huge problems later.  So, how that error gets magnified over time.  Look at the implication of error.  And, learn this essential skill.

Exploring Weather and Other Fluids

It is spring time in Oklahoma – so that means weather (severe weather) is just around the corner. And, it also means some really cool science that can be done to explore concepts like Archimedes’ Principle, Bernoulli’s equations and principles, and Pascal’s Law. Here are few links to keep you busy:

Here is a quick weather book of experiments

One for Archimedes’ Principle

And another for Pascal’s Law

Teaching Earth Science – Oh Boy am I behind!

For many homeschoolers – the phrase “Oh, Boy am I behind!” is a frequent one.  In January and February – the world seems to get fully back in swing – indoor sports, scouts, Church socials, a couple of holidays, and winter weather.  We get caught up in these day to day activities – Wham! March is hear and we realize just where we are exactly and say – I am behind!  Well, as you can see it happens to all of us.

This semester I have been teaching Earth Science and have been very busy looking for resources to make some parts of the curriculum more interesting. For me – rocks aren’t the most exciting.  And, well the rock cycle is only so interesting.  However, I have come across a number of resources that may benefit your programs, no matter what age group you are teaching and whether or not you have access to interesting rock formations in your area.  Here are my suggestions:

From the West Virginia Geological Society – I particularly like the Adaptive Earth Science Activities.  Most of their resources are in downloadable PDFs so you can use them right away.

Those of us teaching anything Earth related – Earth Science, Environment, Ecology, Science in Society, etc.  The United States Geological Survey is a must have link and resource.  Their educational materials are located here. They have videos, pamphlets, lesson plans and a host of interactive features.

Geology.com has a number of resources as well.  Their site has links to experiments, resources and various interactive materials.

You might also try virtual museum tours such as the one at the Smithsonian’s Dynamic Earth or follow the Series How the Earth was Made from the History Channel.