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.

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?

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.


February is Snack Food Month

Besides Valentines Day and Presidents Day – February is Snack Food Month.  Makes sense in the month leading up to Lent, the month of the Super Bowl, and a day focused on chocolates (Valentines Day) – that February would be dedicated to the ever present snack food.

There are lots of activities that can demonstrate science principles using food – so it seems appropriate for snack food month to highlight some food related science.  Penn State has a great food science website that points to a number of other sites that focus on various science activities.

So – explore how molecule handedness changes how it smells.

Find the speed of light using a marshmallows.

Measure the “energy” in food.

Test for glucose and starch.

And have some fun!  – But be safe!