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.

Success vs Failure

Most of us have at least one or to stories about great failures or unrecognized genius. Common names that come to mind are Ford, Macy, Honda, Disney, Gates, Einstein, Goddard, Schultz, and Seuss Giesel. These individuals have become part of the common lore. Success doesn’t always come in a conventional way. These individuals had what at the time were perceived as radical ideas and were told it wouldn’t work or there was no market, or that they were …. You fill in the blank. While these individuals have been inspirations for current generations – who came before? What ideas were presented as success after failures??

Turns out that history has quite a few examples of success after abject failure or what may have been perceived as failures. And, with these the mix of huge successes seemly out of nowhere. Take for example, the development of electricity and ultimately electromagnetic theory and quantum mechanics. There is a wonderful website that outlines a brief timeline of history. This timeline isn’t just about the observations, discoveries, and inventions as they relate to electricity – but it also conveys the foibles of individuals, the narrow view of the world, egos, money, and ultimately a history of society through the development of something that most don’t even think about anymore.

If you live in the United States – you probably think that electricity was a discovery of Benjamin Franklin. It is not the case, he was just continuing a tradition of scientific inquiry; but he is responsible for the selection of the direction of current (turns out he picked wrong, but we carry on with this assumption to this day). The scientific inquiry started with the Greeks or at least that is Western view. Because of the lack of documentation – who knows what was happening in Eastern Cultures or in Persia?

For those of you interested, the traditional view of electricity shows that Bradley, Gray, du Fray and others made observations of “static” electricity and in 1745, two years before Benjamin Franklin, Leyden Jars were invented. A Leyden Jar is a device that “stores” static electricity, a type of capacitor.

The story continues mixed with heated debates, creation of new languages, the language of science mathematics, and competitions. Laplace, Lagrange, and Gauss are all working toward explaining observed phenomena, but today are better known as mathematicians than scientists. (Of course, during this period they weren’t scientists either, but Natural Philosophers.) And, electricity wasn’t even the really big topic of the time, it was light and optics. The electrical observations were asides, interesting phenomena.

The 1840’s and 50’s appear to have been a hot bed of debate in science. You have Lord Kelvin (William Thompson), Henry, Faraday, Doppler, Helmholtz, and Kirchoff all working to explain various phenomena. New ideas about the nature of light – is it the same or different than sound? And, a couple of very radical ideas emerge – heat is a form of energy, and energy is conserved. These are two key ideas in the understanding of how the universe works. These ideas are so radical that the esteemed publication of the time Annalen der Physik rejects them for publication (Mayer in 1842 and Helmholtz in 1847). Yet, today these ideas are fundamental to physics and chemistry. They are fundamental to the development of much of our everyday life: the power we use to get us from point A to point B, devices we turn on with a flip of a switch, and allow us to travel to the edge of the solar system and land on comets. Yet, the ideas were initially rejected as “too speculative.”

These were the role models for Maxwell (mathematician/physicist), Planck, and Einstein. Which of course are the role models for Fermi, Feynman, Bohr, Rutherford, Oppenheimer, and the list goes on.

The history of electricity – is our history, It shows the development of us as a society. It has its ups and downs. Its disputes. Its family feuds. Its “I’ll prove you wrong”. And, ultimately our acknowledgements of who has the last say (at least for now). The question now is – what is that fundamental concept that has already been presented – that has been discounted by the knowledgeable establishment?

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.

Oh, My where has the time gone! – Preparing to Learn Science

Life has a tendency to catch up with all of us.  And, it even becomes more challenging when spring is in the air.  I started this blog to help those that wanted a bit of enrichment to add to their science curricula – whether a home school or a classroom situation.  Also, wanted it to be fun for the whole family.  My intent was to do something weekly – but as with all good intentions things happen.  And, so with me.

A little background – in January I took a position as an instructor of science (physics, chemistry and Earth science) at two year college.  I am now teaching full time – lecture and laboratory.   This has definitely helped me with topic areas for the blog and insight into new ways of communicating science.  However, April became a bit busier than I thought as I have been actively working on my college curricula.  With the semester winding down, I am able to pick up where I had left off – and hopefully bring some new insights in preparation for taking and teaching science.

During this past semester – I have learned a great deal about student preparation for their first two years of college – or the preparation of the returning student to college.  Hopefully, I will be able to incorporate and share some of these through this blog.  So, while I will continue to bring fun science activities to this space – I am also hoping to help parents, teachers and even students to prepare to learn science.

For most people there is a perception that science is hard.  (In reality, all learning in any form or subject can be considered “hard.”  Science is no different but the attitudes about science are.)   It has been my observation that there are two fundamental reasons for this and they are both related.  It is the language of the scientist – i.e. the terminology and the math.  Math is the language of the physical scientist – it shows the relationships and communicates specifics.  This mixed with the terminology, the names and jargon, and scientists and practitioners of science tend to “scare” people.  It is because of your human nature – people fear what we don’t understand. And, thus because the language being used is outside of the norm for most individuals – science is hard.

But, stop and think for a minute – what is science?  Science at its most fundamental level is observing your surroundings and trying to understand how things work or why the physical world is the way it is.  Why is the sky blue?  Why is the grass green?  How do plants get the energy they need to grow?  Why does the ball fall to the ground when you drop it?

I have always said it is much harder to teach science to a bunch of preschoolers or kindergartners than high school students. The first is because you have to teach the science in a terms that are understandable for the age group.  But the biggest reason is because they are not conditioned to ask the “right” questions, i.e. a preschooler will ask a very difficult question where a high school student may not even ask a very simple one.

As I mentioned previously – it is the learning that is hard – not the subject matter.  And, what we are seeing particularly in science is that students have yet to understand how to best approach the process of learning.  Sure, in most public or private schools; students have been exposed to the subject matter, have been taught how to prepare for the test, and how to meet the expectations of the course.  But, because of the changes in our systems – note taking skills, using technical literature, practical application of the material, etc. are not as emphasized.  These skills are vital to success at the next level.

Over the next three months, Sophic Pursuits will be working on developing tools, resources, and reference material to help prepare students for the transition into the college and/or upper level course environment.  The focus will be on utilizing the resources that are now available to the student such as virtual laboratories, youTube short lessons, simulations, ect.  As well as focusing on the more traditional type of resources – note taking, “how to read a chapter in a science text”, or “how to succeed in science”.

For those of you in this transition phase or those working with someone in that transition – I would love to hear from you to learn what challenges you are facing.  I would also like to know what questions or concerns that you may have.  And, would love to know what resources you have found helpful.

Stay tuned and hopefully there will be something that helps you take the next steps.  And, you can be better equipped to take those first science courses in college.

Fun Activities for November

Now that Halloween has past and we are beginning to look toward the holiday season – there are a number of activities that can be integrated into any curriculum.  In the northern hemisphere – fall colors are in full display.  In North America – Canada and the US – Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And, the summer season is starting in the southern hemisphere.

So here are some ideas for some fun science!

Natural dyes are great this time of year – as fruits, berries and spices are abound.  The Learning Channel has a “how stuff works” activity on natural dyes. There is an integrated science-art lesson plan from the University of Minnesota.   And, there is a quick article from Gardening Know How, which will help you to integrate science into everyday life.

While food science is fun any time of year – in the US and Canada – November is a feasting month.  Chemistry and physics abound in the kitchen – look for anything written by Shirley Corriher (Cookwise and Bakewise) – she has wonderful descriptions of what is happening during the cooking and baking.  Penn State has a list of several food science activities.  The American Chemical Society has an activity page for food as well.

So have fun in November – doing great science while playing in the kitchen.

Don’t forget to stay safe while conducting any hands-on activities with children.  These activities should be conducted under the supervision of an adult and should be reviewed prior to conducting them.  For more safety tips for hands-on activities.  Return to http://www.sophicpursuits.com/Educational-Materials.html.

Welcome to Sophic Pursuits Blog on Science Education!

Sophic Pursuits is dedicated to helping parents and students get excited about science.  As individuals who homeschooled their two children through high school and have volunteered at numerous community events where science demonstrations are given, we are pleased to start this new business venture to bring science education materials to parents, students, and others.

Our first release is a guide to keeping hands-on activities safe for everyone.  Soon we will be releasing a chemistry laboratory program for the home school high school curriculum.  We intend for this laboratory program to help better prepare students for a college level chemistry course and to provide the needed laboratory experiences.  Soon after that release – a chemistry text, followed by a physics laboratory program and a physics texts.

In the meantime – we will be producing a Daily Science News twitterTM (@Sophic_P) and FacebookTM (Sophic Pursuits) feed to help families bring science into the forefront.  Additionally, this blog will bring news, link to activities, and share fun events with a science theme.  We hope that you will keep coming back to read and enjoy!

Have Fun with Science and make every day a day of discovery!