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.


Drought.  What immediately comes to mind?  If you live west of the Mississippi River in the United States, water or lack there of is usually the first image that occurs.  This morning’s news indicated that while California is getting some much needed rain, an estimated 6 to 7 inches over the next few days, they need over 47 inches to make up for the extended drought that is currently taking place in that region.

States like Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado are very familiar with drought.  And even though this past year has helped – there are still areas behind in precipitation.  The Oklahoma and Texas still have a number of counties that are listed as being in a severe drought.  Still, it is not the worst it has ever been that distinction, for North America,  is still held by 1934.  (See a Science News Article) {The current United States Drought Map can be found here and current world conditions can be found here.}  Water is a very precious commodity that many take for granted, yet wars have been fought over it.  Boundaries are defined by it.  And, movies plots are based on it – Interstellar, 2014; Leap of Faith, 1992, and The Man who Fell to Earth, 1976.

Because of this natural link to water, which is required for our very survival.  The word drought is a very powerful thing.  There can be droughts of kindness, droughts of thought, and a drought of feeling.  In today’s society, as evidenced by just turning on the television and watching the news; there is a drought of understanding and connection to ones own neighbor, and potentially even to ones self.  We have lost our sense of connection both to others and to our natural world.

It is time to reconnect.  To make the links between where the water from the tap or the milk in the refrigerator comes from.  It is not just a pipe or the local grocery store.  For water there is a grand cycle – rain to ground to ponds, creeks rivers, underground reservoirs, and oceans, then evaporation back to clouds and back to rain.  Yet, for its presence; too much can be a hazard, in the form of snow or excess rain, and too little have a huge impact.  Almost 800 million people (water.org) do not have access to clean water.

During this season, let us begin to reconnect.  Make links.  Show connections between individuals. Show the things that we have in common, rather than our differences.  Look at cycles.  Look for chances to renew bonds.  Look for the good and fulfilling – rather than the barrenness that drought in all its forms brings.

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.

Continue the Love of Science Over the Summer

The 2013-2014 school year is winding down (and in some locations already done). But, that does not mean learning or the enjoyment of science stops – in fact this can be the best time of year to explore and build upon what your students have learned (or you for that matter).

My husband and I recently took a trip to part of the United States we had never been before – the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the “North Woods” area of Wisconsin.  Having just taught Earth Science – I found myself looking at the geology and the weather with a different eye.  We even had discussions about the true technical names of various features and debates how to categorize various items.  Here are some examples:

* What is the name of a rock or boulder left behind by a glacier?  – An erratic

* What is the name of the hillocks left behind by a glacier? – Moraines

* Where is the ice age trail?  The North Woods area of Wisconsin

* Just where does the Mississippi-Missouri drainage basin fit in terms of drainage basins in the world?  It is number 3 – the Amazon is number 1.

Questions like these come up while you are traveling place to place.  You may also have the fun mythology of the formations as well – why is Minnesota the land of 10,000 lakes?  They are the foot prints from Babe the Blue Ox.  Or, from geology – they are the result of glaciation.  PS – the name comes from the Dakota word for “clear water”. It is an easy way to bring in literature, folklore and science – without the stuffiness of a text book.

You can use the time to enhance observations – just check out these pictures – taken during our trip. The following are two different examples of cloud formations.  They were interesting to the eye.

The sky above Lake Erie

The sky above Lake Erie

Ponca City Oklahoma

Ponca City Oklahoma

Here are some other observations from the North Woods – are they mushrooms?  What is the plant going to be?  Fungi

New Plant

And look at how the dew decorates the fir tree.


All of these – are just observations – but lead to questions – and questions lead to exploration.  Use this time to explore.


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.

Volcanoes – Beyond baking soda and vinegar

Are you working on a volcano lesson plan?  Want to do something more than just the traditional baking soda and vinegar eruption?  How about exploring the properties of liquids?

When studying volcanoes, the topics of molten rock, lava flows, lahars, and pyroclastic flows are typically included.  Depending upon your lesson plan, you might have a brief mention of how different materials “flow” at differing rates, or how different lavas have different flow properties based upon the silica content.  This flow property is called viscosity – i.e. the property of a fluid that resists the forces causing the material to flow.

Everyone has some hands-on knowledge of viscosity.  Think about the difference in the flow of water versus maple syrup or motor oil on a cold morning versus a hot day.  Yet, we typically don’t do any hands-on science related to this physical property of fluids.  An Earth Science – Volcano lesson is a wonderful place to add this hands-on activity.

Now for your recommendations.

From SEED – A laboratory on the Viscosity of Liquids

From the Royal Society of Chemistry – Viscosity

Or, from Sophic Pursuits – Viscosity Explorations

Some safety precautions.  Know the materials you are using.  The Viscosity Exploration uses dish soap, vegetable oil, corn syrup and water.  It also looks at the change in viscosity with temperature.  So children need to work with an adult to make sure there are no burns.  But, the experiment can be done using ice water, cold water and hot tap water.

Just remember to be safe!