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.)

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.


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.


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.

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!

The Holiday’s are Almost Over – Back to Normal?

On Monday, January 8; most of the United States will return to a “normal” work/school week. For us the holidays are over and we must return to that hectic existence we have built for ourselves.  Social and sport groups are resuming full swing, and just look at that in box for the email.  (It is enough to make your head spin.) 

For homeschoolers, we have a bit of a choice.  We can return to that hectic existence on a more reasonable pace.  We can choose to focus a bit, put a bit more quality into our curriculum and not have to throw ourselves headlong back into the U.S. interstate speed culture.

So, from a science perspective; why not take a bit of time to reflect just how fast science can change our perspective and fundamentally our lives.  On January 8, 1642 Galileo Galilei died.  On the same date in 1980, John William Mauchly (with Presper Eckert – the co-inventor of the ENIAC – Electron Numerical Integrator and Computer – the first general purpose computer) died. And, in 1997 – Melvin Calvin died, a Nobel Prize winning chemist and discoverer for the Calvin Cycle, carbon fixing in plants.

All three of these individuals radically changed our lives.  So, here are some suggestions based on these three individuals:

  • Make a telescope (There are several internet how to’s – youtube videos, plans and kits available.  Because, every home has a different set of materials, I am not posting a particular one as it may not fit your specific resources.)
  • Visit the ENIAC Museum Online
  • Learn more about the Calvin Cycle from National Geographic Education

A gift that continues to enhance a life

As the holiday season is in full swing – many of us are looking for that special something to give.  For me it has always been books.  I love to read.

Reading enhances many aspects of life – it opens doors, it expands curiosity, it activates the imagination, it stimulates thinking, and it promotes communication.  For many of us – reading is second nature – but for some – it is a luxury.  For example in a recent interview with David Risher on NPR he tells of an experience in Ecuador where the library was locked and children did not have access to the books.  This experience has inspired him to work with tools that are available in developing countries to get books into the hands of children.  While it may seem counter intuitive – eReaders and cell phones – seem to be a great solution.

There is a meme going around on Facebook – showing a child sitting on Santa’s lap saying that the toys wanted for Christmas included space travel, rocket ships, jungles, animals, etc.  Santa gives him a library card.  

As a child we moved all the time (I am from a military family) – one of the first places I went in our new hometown was the library as it opened the doors to the community and that is where the books were.  My home is filled with books (my husband made the mistake when we first were married saying he would never question my expenditures on books – not sure he still shares that sentiment as we now have more books than many small town libraries).  

So the gift of reading to me is invaluable – reading to children is a way of spreading that gift.  Books allow people to explore without every leaving the comfort of their favorite chair.  We have gotten away from reading due to the television and video on demand – but reading, at least to me, is much more expanding and thought provoking.  

Reading teaches, reading shares life stories, reading opens opportunities, and creates visions.

So – this holiday season – or anytime – give the gift that expands a person’s world – a book.

For you science lovers – here is a link to the podcast from the AAAS describing this year’s science book recommendations for young readers. My particular favorite is Rosie Revere, Engineer.



November 18 Inspiration for Hands-On Science Fun

For most people – if you ask what happened this day in history on November 18 – not much comes to mind.  It is not as famous as Veteran’s Day.  But, there are events which occurred on this day – that can spur a flurry of fun science activities – particularly in the area of photography.  Nov. 18, 1928 – was Mickey Mouse’s debut on the big screen as “Steamboat Willie”. In 1929 on this day – Dr. Vladimir K. Zworykin demonstrated the Kinescope – a forerunner of the video tape machine.  And, in 1787, Louis-Jacques Daguerre was born – the namesake for the daguerreotype – an early type of photograph.

So here are some fun hands-on activities to help explore concepts of photography and moving pictures:

* Pinhole Camera – Instructions from Kodak

* Flip Book from Wikihow – also if you do a quick search on flip books – you can find out how to do them online.

* Using lenses and prisms to bend light – here is one with a magnifying glass  – you can

* Fiber optic demonstrations -from the University of Rochester

One other “cool” event for this day in history is the discovery by US Navy Capt. Nathaniel B. Palmer – Antartica

Have fun and stay safe with your hands-on activities.