Dr. Michelle Parrinello-Cason has a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis on rhetoric and composition. She has more than a decade of teaching experience including six years of full-time college experience. She has designed workshops and classes for elementary, middle, and high school students and is a homeschooling mom of two.
Her passions include pop culture, moral philosophy, essay writing, and reading skills. She designs classes that take a multi-disciplinary, integrated reading-writing approach to make sure learners have context and purpose for everything they create.
During her time as an English professor, Michelle specialized in teaching “developmental” writing, which means she was working with the students who had been deemed unprepared for college-level writing. In that work, she formed a teaching philosophy deeply centered on trust.
She believes that students learn best when they know that their instructor genuinely trusts them to do well. She works hard to avoid assignments and classroom dynamics that create antagonistic power structures. Instead, she wants learners to see her as a supportive guide who genuinely aims to help them reach their own goals.
Michelle’s doctoral work heavily focused on the history of writing instruction in America with an emphasis on the way writing pedagogy reinforced structural power dynamics. This work has committed Michelle to a lifelong pursuit of pedagogical practices that resist such power dynamics. She aims to create — through the practical impacts of assignments, course discussions, and feedback — educational experiences that empower learners to use their own voices.
Our Teachers Are Experienced
Educators, Authors, & Content Developers
Meet the Teacher: Blair Lee, M.S. Science, Project-Based Learning, & More
When teaching at her local community college, Blair found that many of her students were lacking in basic foundational science upon entering college. She believes science can be and should be taught from the beginning of a child’s education. She began working with her own son and his friends on methods of teaching science concepts usually reserved for high school or college students. The results of her research, teaching, and writing are concept-rich, hands-on courses that engage young people’s minds and lay a firm foundation of science concepts.
Blair Lee, M.S. is the primary author of Pandia Press’s critically acclaimed REAL Science Odyssey Series, and she is the author of The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course and Project-Based Learning Creating a Modern Education of Curiosity, Innovation, and Impact. Blair earned Bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Chemistry and Master’s degree in Chemistry at the University of California San Diego. She is a passionate advocate of innovative academics using secular materials.
Blair is the founder of Secular Eclectic Academic (SEA) Homeschoolers, a supportive community of over 46,000 members that advocates for the exclusive use of secular, academic materials. She spends time in the SEA Facebook group answering questions and offering advice for that community. She lives in California with her husband, son, many dogs, and several guinea pigs. When not homeschooling her son and writing textbooks, she loves to ski, cook (most chemists are good cooks), read, and hike. You can contact Blair directly with questions about REAL Science Odyssey and SEA Homeschoolers at [email protected].
Our Teachers Are Experienced
Educators, Authors, & Content Developers
Everyone, everywhere is talking about the coronavirus right now and for good reason. But this Earth Day, let us remember that there are at least two major science crises going on right now:
The global warming that is causing the climate crisis
Of course, the coronavirus
The science explaining the coronavirus is not yet well understood. The science explaining climate change is. And there is no time like the present to learn the science of climate change. In part because,
“Scientists have long warned that climate change will impact not just our environment, but also our health by increasing rates of infectious disease.” (Ibrahim AlHusseini)
Long after a vaccine has been developed for the coronavirus, the climate crisis will be an ongoing problem. We need to be working to find solutions for it. The first step to doing that is to understand the science explaining it. Whether your kids are home for a short time (school under teach this issue) or for longer, make this the year your family learns what climate change is, how it happens, and what you can do to help.
To celebrate Earth Day, SEA Publishing has put The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Courseon sale for almost 80% off (April 22-24, 2020). Check out the book the National Science Teaching Association calls, “a much-needed resource for understanding climate change and gets into the details of climate change in a way that increases understanding for both kids and adults alike. This is a great, user-friendly book for all of us who need to understand the complex issue of climate change.”
Several days ago Pandia Press reached out to Pandia authors & SEA Homeschoolers Samantha Matalone Cook, Amy Sharony, Lindsey Sodano, and Blair Lee and asked us to collaborate on a unit study focused on the history and science of the causes, cures, and responses of pandemics. Here it is as a direct download. We worked to create something usable for a large grade range. Much of the science is excerpted, rearranged, and edited (to be specific for this topic) from RSO Biology 2. All the rest is newly written. Even the science has some new labs and activities focused on protecting yourself against pathogens that is suitable for all grades.
This link is a direct download link to the Pandemics – Unit Study:
Please feel free to share anywhere and with anyone you want.
Much Love during this stressful time, Blair
Letter from the Editor May 2018: Happy Almost Summer Everyone!
I have a story I want to share with you. My 18 year-old son, homeschooled since first grade, wanted a summer job. He gave it some thought, looked at what was out there for an 18 year-old and decided he wanted to apply for a job as a sous chef.
“What?” I asked in shock. “You have never shown even the slightest inclination to learn how to cook, despite me trying everything I could think of to change your mind.”
“Well,” he replied, “If I get this job, your desire to have a son who knows how to cook will be answered.”
So, he went and interviewed at a restaurant he thought he would like working at. He felt like the interview went well. They told him they would get back to him. They were looking for someone with some experience, so my husband and I told him even with a good interview he might not get the job. When they didn’t call him back in a couple of days, he called the restaurant and asked if he could come in and work for half a shift so they could see that even though he didn’t have experience he was a fast learner and good at paying attention.
The restaurant owners liked his attitude and had him come in. You will not be surprised to find out that he got the job. He started three weeks ago, and he loves it. He even cooked for me on Mothers’ Day!
Homeschooled children are fearless about their ability to learn new things.
This, to me, is such a homeschooled kid story. When I pointed out to him that he couldn’t cook, my son responded by telling me he knows how to learn what he doesn’t know. Then when the owners didn’t call him back, he called them and asked them to give him a try, because he also believed he would be able to learn what they needed him to. It is a trait of homeschooled kids to be fearless about their ability to learn new things. They grow up understanding that they can learn anything through doing. These are the most important traits of a lifelong learner and very common traits of homeschooled kids.
Homeschooled children grow up understanding that they can learn anything through doing.
My guess is, this year, you had some parts of your homeschool journey that were stellar, some that were mediocre, and some that didn’t work well. We did too. I also know it can be hard to evaluate how your journey is going to turn out from the beginning or middle of it. As long as you kept your eye on what really mattered, and I believe you did (even if you aren’t sure), one day you will realize you raised an individual who can tackle anything he or she sets his or her mind to, because your child has an intimate connection with the unique way he or she learns. And once a person know that, anything is possible.
An Astronomy Unit Study presented in the guise of a Stargazing Unit Study: The Stargazer’s Notebook
When I was writing R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 the idea for The Stargazer’s Notebookcame to me. The Stargazer’s Notebook focuses on learning about the universe by observing the night sky. It is an astronomy unit study presented in the guise of a stargazing unit study. I didn’t want kids to just learn the science of astronomy from a book. My hope was that kids would get an understanding of the universe by making direct observations. I felt this would greatly enhance students’ passion for and knowledge of the subject. For two years, my son, my husband, and I stargazed once every month, saw every special sky event we could, and got up at 2 a.m. to see every meteor shower.
I am a scientist, so my life has been filled with scientific inquiry and learning. From the standpoint of family, the two years of stargazing were the best for both of those. My family and I took road trips so that we would have the best viewing of meteor showers. We hosted a solar eclipse party for the families in our neighborhood. Several friends made a point of showing up for dinner time on the nights we were stargazing. These friends would bring their own chair, blanket, and snacks to share.
There are some tools you might want for stargazing. None are really essential, but some almost are. Others are worth it if you want the “whole” experience. Still others are fun, but definitely optional.
Essential Supplies for a Stargazing Unit Study*
The Stargazer’s Notebook: The visible universe is vast and so is the amount of information about it. The Stargazer’s Notebook provides the ideal instruction manual, planner, journal, and cosmos laboratory for the astronomy student, amateur stargazer, and anyone else wanting to learn more about the stars, planets, and celestial objects that occupy our skies.
The Night Sky Planishere: Apps on your phone are great, but they can not completely substitute for a star map (a planisphere). Make sure you get the correct latitude range of planisphere.
Red light flashlight: I have used this flashlight every time I have stargazed. It has a red light setting and a white light setting. After your eyes have adapted to the dark, you can ruin the adaptation with a blast of white light. Red light does not have the same effect.
Almost Essential Supplies for a Stargazing Unit Study*
Binoculars & Tripod
If you want to be able to do things like see the individual stars in the Beehive Nebula or the moons of Jupiter and rings of Saturn then you will want binoculars and a tripod. You might wonder where the telescope is on this list. I found binoculars to be much easier to use and more practical than a telescope. There are things that you need a telescope to see. If you do choose to go out with a telescope, make sure you have practiced using it before going out.
The Stargazer’s Notebook is written for ages 10 to 100. Here is a selection of books to bring younger learners up to speed.
The couple of times I went out without a reclining chair and a warm blanket, I regretted it. Recliners are almost essential for stargazing! It is really nice to be able to lay on your back comfortably and warmly when observing the night sky.
These chairs with backpack straps are great for taking when you need to find the perfect location.
Essential for a Stargazing Unit Study? No. Fun to Have? YES!*
I wouldn’t take it out stargazing in case it adds light pollution, but a glow-in-the-dark constellation blanket for dreaming about stargazing adventures is fun to have.
How could stargazing be complete without your very own set of pens from NASA to use to chart the stars!
No evening spent stargazing would be complete without drinks, snacks, and theme music.
SEA water bottle: Do not forget the water in re-usable bottles. That way you are taking care of planet Earth while observing the rest of the visible universe.
Numi Turmeric tea with ginger is the best for staying warm on a chilly night.
Fair Trade Hot Cocoa Mix for those who like it a little sweeter.
Use these vegan cupcake toppers for a fun treat on nights you stargaze. It is super yummy with this recipe for delicious chocolate cupcakes and white buttercream frosting, both vegan and the cupcakes can be made with gluten-free flour.
What stargazing unit study would be complete without solar system lollipops? I want Saturn!
The night could not be complete without theme music to get everyone in the mood. I have spent more than one night with family and friends discussing the likelihood that there is music on at least one other planet in the universe.
*This post has affiliate links in it.
Come Meet Blair & Check Out the Stargazers Notebook in Atlanta, July 12 - 15!
My journey to becoming a scientist is one a homeschooler can appreciate. I became a scientist by falling down a rabbit hole while pursuing an interest that grew into a passion. I come from an entrepreneurial family. One that, for the most part, thinks the only reason to get a science degree is to become a medical doctor. I have always loved to read and write and if you’d asked my family what I was going to be when I grew up most of them, including me, would have said that I would become a book editor, attorney, or author. Science was not on my radar before college.
When I went to college I had no idea what I wanted to major in. So I took five classes in five disciplines my first semester: math, speech, science, English, and history. I very quickly fell in love with science. There is something about how the real world works that captivated my imagination. Take chemistry for instance, when you look at the relationship between energy, matter, and atomic particles it borders on magical. Except that it’s real.
The area I found the most captivating was how small changes on the molecular, atomic, and subatomic level can have large ranging consequences. Topics like evolution, the Big Bang, the destruction of the ozone hole, and radioactive decay are fascinating. I challenge anyone to look at how atomic particles behave, interact, change, and make matter to not be intellectually engaged. It is just so cool! When it comes to sheer coolness factor, Harry Potter and his cohorts have nothing on science.
Another thing I love about science is its changing nature. For example the theory of evolution, Darwinian evolution focuses on observations but doesn’t include genetics, because Darwin didn’t know about genetics. Now that scientists understand the mechanism driving evolution, genetic variability and mutation, genetics has become the centerpiece of evolutionary biology. I love how in science that the more we understand, the more we know what we don’t know. There is no end to what is left to be discovered. Studying science is endlessly engaging as your brain keeps having new information to work through and to include for a deeper understanding, but you never get to the end of what there is to learn.
One of the side notes to having very little science knowledge when I started college was that I had to spend a lot of extra study time learning the basics. During the first year, I was cramming all the time and making myself a pest during my professor’s office hours. My need to go back to the basics and learn not just science concepts and facts but also how science worked is how I came to write the style of science books that I write, where there is a focus on foundational fundamentals and basics and on how science is best learned not just as a discipline but as an active endeavor.
I graduated with two bachelors, an Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution degree from the biology department and a general chemistry degree. I was officially a scientist. After that I went to graduate school. This was a turning point in my life, and one of the most angst filled. I had planned and dreamed of graduate school. It turned out that I did not like the day-to-day grind working in a lab. What I did love was the teaching I was doing as required by the chemistry department for their first year graduate students. But… I had never wanted to be a teacher! Maybe after I got my PhD… but before… NO!
It took a serious bout of reflection about what was important. Was my doctorate more important or was it more important to be passionately engaged? So, I got out with a master’s degree in chemistry. While I was in the process of doing this, I received a phone call from a professor I had. He had taken over the chemistry department at a local community college. He offered me a job. I knew I made the right choice almost right away when I started teaching.
You might be wondering why I didn’t switch from a PhD in environmental chemistry to getting a PhD in science education. It didn’t occur to me to do that for years. I actually wrote a query letter to two PhD programs after I finished R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2, and was offered a spot at one of them. In the intervening years since retiring from teaching I have focused on affecting the conversation and methodology surrounding how science is best learned. I started writing science courses, because I think if you are going to discuss how things should be different you should give solid, practical examples. After being accepted into a PhD program I had a decision to make. I decided to turn the spot down and keep writing science courses and pushing for change within the secular homeschool community. I think there is a revolution in education happening right now, and much of the energy for it is coming from this community!
I think it’s really important that science literacy becomes a focus of education. You don’t have to look further than climate change denial to understand how important science literacy is. At this point in my working career I am devoting my time to developing materials that give a solid foundation in basic science concepts, where the focus is on how science is best learned as an active endeavor where a concept is presented and immediately followed by a direct application of that concept. Through this work I’m hoping that more people will have ownership over how the natural and physical world works.
Science is a discipline where the answers are open ended. It is the discipline that explains the fabric of how the natural and physical world work. Scientifically it makes no sense that you would be more fascinated by science if you have an X and Y chromosome as opposed to two X chromosomes.
As an undergraduate and graduate student in college, I was the only female in some of my science classes. I was in those classes because the discipline fascinated me. It didn’t matter to me what the gender of the other students was. Probably because of how interested I was in the material, by an overwhelming majority, my male colleagues, professors and students, were welcoming and encouraging. But if they hadn’t been it would not have bothered me.
My advice to any female who wants to become a scientist is to go for it. If you choose a physical science such as chemistry, you will find that most of your fellow classmates are males. As happened to me on a handful of occasions, you might even run into men who wonder why you, a female, are pursuing science. The best advice I can give you is to ignore them. If they don’t know why you are there, then they probably don’t find the topic as fascinating as you do. A better question would be what they are doing pursuing science.
Academics after a Traumatic Brain Injury & with Post-Concussive Syndrome Talk Description
In 2011, my son was in a serious ski accident. He sustained a traumatic brain injury resulting in a severe complex concussion. Overnight everything changed, academics, activities, personality, and more. It wasn’t something we dealt with in the short-term. Because of the impact, there were long lasting effects resulting in post-concussive syndrome. I homeschooled him at the time. Whether you homeschool or not this talk is for you. Post-Concussive Syndrome is something many parents deal with. There are some very basic things I learned while facilitating my son’s education during this time. This talk offers tips for how to manage academics if your child has post-concussive syndrome.
I am the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. I homeschooled my son for 12 years. Over the past two decades, I have been involved in science education, first as a community college professor and secondly as an author of science courses. Now, I write concept-rich, hands-on science courses for secular homeschoolers, co-ops and small classrooms. These include mainstream science while presenting the accepted facts, theories, and models as would be recommended by the majority of practicing experts in each field of science.
I am a passionate advocate of innovative academics where the focus is on how subjects are best learned. Much of my understanding about this comes from my years spent in science education. Science is best learned when there is a thoughtful pairing of information followed directly with a hands-on application of that information. This philosophy is also reflected in my science courses such as, The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course. In addition, I am an author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Series.
Secular Homeschool Conferences hosted by Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers
In this issue we are celebrating the 3 annual conferences Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers hosts! Two of our secular homeschool conferences are online and one is an in-person conference. Each of the online conferences has a themed focus. These conferences are an important part of our commitment to providing support for the secular homeschool community. I have been involved in education, both traditional and non-traditional, for many years. The only things I miss about being involved in the traditional school setting are the insight, connections, and conversations with other educators. The many Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Facebook groups provide much of this type of support. The conference talks fill in the rest. I consider the on-line secular homeschool conferences to be a community service, designed to give homeschooling educators new insights into what other educators are doing.
The talks for our January conference will focus on homeschooling neurodiverse (or neuro-atypical) children with different degrees of learning and attention challenges. The talks will be free to attendees thanks to our friends at Sequential Spelling!
The Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Conference Committee is hard at work on the July in-person conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The best price of the year for tickets to this conference runs from December 1 through December 7.
I want to thank you as a subscriber to the Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Newsletter. It is an easy and important way that you support us. As a thank you for your support, we have a special giveaway this month! We will give away three conference tickets to the Atlanta Conference: 1 adult ticket, 1 teen ticket, and 1 child ticket!
I am always caught off guard when homeschoolers worriedly ask me about setting up for and performing labs at home. It makes me think of how I came to write my first book, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Chemistry 1. I asked a good friend of mine, who was also homeschooling, what 3rd grade chemistry looked like. She told me it was terrible. She couldn’t find any good resources and was struggling with labs and how to structure the topics. I started rattling off how I would do it. Her response, “That’s easy for you to say. You are a chemist who taught chemistry!” The purpose of this talk is to help you get over your concerns about having your child perform lab science at home. I promise you, it is easier than you think.
Leave your comments below for Blair’s talk
A Science Lab in Your Home? It Really Isn’t that Hard. Trust Me, I’m a Chemist
to be entered to win cool prizes!
Blair Lee M.S. is the founder of SEA Homeschoolers and author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Series. Blair has been handcrafting the education of her non-linear thinker for over 11 years. During that time, she has learned as much about how learning happens from him as he has learned from her. Blair is a passionate advocate of innovative academics using secular materials. Through her speaking and writing, her goal is to empower homeschoolers to dare to be innovative and create something unique and academically-rich when handcrafting their child’s journey through learning. You can follow her at SEAHomeschoolers.com. You can learn more about Blair Lee’s “Evolution in Homeschooling” here.
The world is in the middle of an environmental crisis.
The first step to solving this crisis is to understand the science explaining it.
Climate change, Global warming, The greenhouse effect: You hear these terms a lot, but what do they mean? Are they the same thing? Do they somehow relate to each other? If you are wondering about this, you are not alone. And you might be surprised to learn that the science is actually fairly simple. The real issue is there are several pieces that need to be brought together.
Understanding global warming and climate change starts with the molecules that make air. Air is a mixture of gas molecules. The main gas molecules in that mixture are nitrogen and oxygen. The air has other gas molecules in much lower concentrations including, argon, carbon dioxide, neon, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide. But even in low concentrations, the air contains a huge number of these molecules.
1 liter of dry air contains 25,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules
Type of gas molecule
The number in 1 liter of dry air
Though the gas molecules carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide might be in air in low concentrations, they have a big effect. These molecules, called greenhouse gases, absorb (trap) energy from the sun and transfer this energy to air in the form of heat. The warming effect from these molecules is called the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect has been important for the evolution of life as we know it. Without the greenhouse effect the average temperature on Earth would be -18 oC (0 oF). At that temperature it would be so cold, that the water on Earth, including in the oceans, would freeze, and life as we know it would not exist. Greenhouse gases do not just keep the air warmer during the day, they continuously radiate heat, thus warming Earth even at night.
Trap, Absorb, Transfer: You will see all three of these words used to describe how energy from the sun when it comes in contact with greenhouse gases warms the air. It can be confusing. These words are not synonyms. How can they be used interchangeably to explain something in science?
When energy waves from the sun come in contact with a greenhouse gas molecule, the bonds between the atoms of the molecule vibrates and transfers the sun’s energy, in the form of heat, to the air. In effect, this traps or absorbs energy from the sun that would escape into space if greenhouse gas molecules were not present. It can be thought of as heat absorption through vibration.
The sun radiates the same amount of energy to Earth each year. The average global temperature is a result of the amount of heat energy absorbed by molecules less the amount that is reflected back into space. Greenhouse gases are the primary molecules that transfer heat energy from the sun. Fluctuations in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the air lead to fluctuations in the amount of the sun’s energy that is absorbed, therefore causing fluctuations of the average global temperature.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, over two hundred years ago the amount of greenhouse gases in the air began to increase. The Industrial Revolution was a period in human history when animal and human power was replaced by machines. Machines are powered by a chemical reaction called the combustion reaction. The combustion reaction takes gasoline, oil, or coal and combines with oxygen to make energy that powers the machines. In addition to energy, the combustion reaction releases greenhouse gases and water vapor.
Global warming can be thought of as a simple budgeting phenomenon where
more heat-trapping molecules in the air cause the average global temperature increase.
During the past two hundred years, people have come to increasingly rely on machines and machine-made goods and services. This has led to an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the air. More greenhouse gases mean that more of the sun’s energy is transferred as heat into the air. The increase in the amount of transferred heat is causing an increase in the average global temperature, though the increase is not uniform. This temperature increase is called global warming.
Global warming is causing climate change
Some of the confusion with understanding climate change and recognizing that it is happening now is that many people treat the terms “weather” and “climate” synonymously. The difference between weather and climate has to do with the amount of time each is measured. Weather is a short-term measurement, measured in hours and days. Climate is a long-term measurement, measured using weather data averages collected over 30 or more years.
Since the Industrial Revolution, there has been a long-term increase in the average global temperature which matches the increased concentration of greenhouse gases. While the increase in the global temperature might not seem like much at 0.94°C (1.69°F), it must be remembered that this is an increase in the long-term average.
The increase in temperature is an average across the globe. Average long-term temperatures have increased by more than this in some areas, notably the polar regions, and less in equatorial areas. Global temperature is not the only thing affected. Earth is experiencing an increased incidence in powerful storms, rising sea levels, and changing ocean chemistry to the detriment of many ocean organisms.
Earth is 4.56 billion years old. Over its long history, the climate has changed many times. So why is it a big deal now? What is different about the current climate change is the rate at which it is occurring and the fact that one species, humans, is causing climate change. The rate the climate is changing is outpacing the rate of evolution for many species. The evolution of new traits takes time. Under stressful conditions, such as rapid climate change, those species that need more time to adapt are at risk of extinction. The rate of extinction is increasing as the rate of global warming and climate change increases. The current rate of extinction is happening so fast that scientists believe Earth is in the middle of the sixth documented mass extinction.
This doesn’t sound very hopeful does it? But don’t despair! Each of us can take some simple steps to slow the rate of global warming and climate change. The first and most important step is to understand what is happening and why. Next, use less energy from sources that generate greenhouse gases. In the short-term, you can help by reducing your energy consumption, such as using mass transit or driving energy-efficient cars (hybrids or electric vehicles), stop drinking bottled water and use reusable containers, change to energy efficient light bulbs, recycle, choose foods from near-by sources, and eat less meat. In the long-term, we need to end our dependence on the fuel sources that generate greenhouse gases: coal, gasoline, and oil. This can be accomplished by investing in and using alternative sources of energy.
One person or one country did not cause the current environmental crisis. Just like the warming causing climate change, this is a global problem. We need a global solution; with all of us working together to stop or slow the rate of global warming that is causing global climate change.
People are pretty smart.
If everyone came together, we could solve this problem.
“The Science of Climate Change is a secular program containing peer reviewed, objective science. Even children who don’t yet consider themselves to be “good at” or engaged with science will be able to interact thoughtfully with the material presented here.”
Rebecca Pickens, home|school|life magazine
Other articles about secular homeschooling by Blair Lee
R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 from Pandia Press brings top quality secular science into your home or classroom in an engaging hands-on manner. Scientist and author, Blair Lee, has a conversational writing style that opens up serious science topics to students in a way that invites them on a journey through learning. The combination of thorough science education, fun labs and activities, and the author’s ability to share vast amounts of information without overwhelming a novice makes RSO Astronomy 2 an excellent course for both students who love science, and those who do not. The writing style, uncommon for a textbook, paired with the rigorous academic material it teaches allows this course to meet the needs of students throughout the publisher’s recommended 6th – 10th grade range.
The student text for this course functions as textbook, workbook, and lab book all in one, which makes organizing this course quite easy for students, parents, and teachers. The text is divided into three units, each containing four chapters,and a unit exam. In each chapter, students will learn through thought provoking written lessons as they build a solid foundation of science concepts. These lessons are thorough, teaching not only astronomy, but also explaining the chemistry, physics, and math needed to truly understand the material. Students will explore these concepts further with hands-on labs, activities, and scientific models. There is an outstanding focus on scientific modeling woven through the entire course. Students will not only learn how and why scientist use scientific models, but also gain a deeper understanding through using existing working scientific models, as well as creating and developing their own. Some labs in this course require written lab reports, this formulaic writing is an important skill every student should learn. There are also labs with math components, as math and science often go hand in hand. All of the math is clearly explained and examples are given. This is an excellent example for students of how mathematics is applied in subjects beyond their math studies.
Through the twelve part Famous Science Series, students develop and expand research skills while learning interesting history related to astronomy, including topics like famous scientists, scientific discoveries, and space crafts and programs. While the questions in this series will help guide student’s research, how that research is done is left more open ended. This allows you to easily adapt these assignments to the appropriate level for your student. My 9th grader found researching Edwin Hubble for chapter 2, William and Margaret Huggins for chapter 4, and Tycho Brache and Johannes Kepler for chapter 6 quite fascinating. He will be expanding what he learned in the Famous Science Series into more formal research papers on each. The “Show What You Know” section at the end of each chapter gives students a chance to demonstrate the knowledge they’ve gained and provides parents and teachers with a quick and easy way to assess if students have a solid understanding of key concepts. Because each chapter builds on the one prior, this also lets you know if any information should be reviewed before moving on. Doing the “SWYK” section orally led to some long and fascinating conversations in my house.
I have often heard people ask if a teacher’s guide is really necessary, in this case my answer is absolutely yes. The teacher’s guide for RSO Astronomy 2 is so much more than just an answer book. Of course it does include answer keys and lesson reviews, but also guides to help with scheduling, grading, learning goals for each chapter, details on the math used in various labs, and more. Need a more detailed explanation or want to dig deeper into a topic? Each chapter in the teacher’s guide includes lists of books, videos, websites, and/or podcasts to explore. This pair of books provide an exciting and solid astronomy education regardless of your own science background.
R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 is presented in a way that is open, inviting, fun, and user friendly for students, parents, and teachers. Yet it never over simplifies or compromises on the quality of the academic material. Whether your students dream of a career exploring the universe or just enjoy gazing at the night sky, upon completion of this course they will have a thorough understanding of the core principles of astronomy and the processes used to develop those principles…and will certainly have some fun while learning it.
Just imagine your children’s faces when you tell them that you will be waking them at 2 in the morning. When I wrote R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2, my family and I did our best to observe all special night sky events. We have spent some very special moments communing in the middle of the night. Some of the events themselves fizzled, but every single one was worth viewing together. My family’s favorite night sky viewing events are meteor showers. Meteor showers are the most immediate evidence that we are on a ball hurtling through space at a very high speed!
To understand why there are bright streaks of light during a meteor shower, imagine walking on a very windy day into an area with a lot of loose dirt. As you walk, pieces of dirt will hit the front of your body, because you are moving into the blowing dirt. That is sort of what it is like for Earth during a meteor shower. Meteor showers occur when Earth moves into and through fields of dust and debris. When this dust and debris strikes Earth, which is traveling at 108,000 kilometers per hour, the pieces burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
The Perseid meteor shower is named for the constellation Perseus where the meteors seem to come from. The debris from the Perseid meteor shower is left over from the comet Swift –Tuttle. As a comet travels it leaves a trail of dust and debris in its path. Swift-Tuttle crosses through Earth’s orbital path every 133 years* leaving dust when it does. Each year when Earth travels through this dust there is a meteor shower. There are recorded observations of the comet Swift-Tuttle in 322 BC, 69 BC, 188, 1737, 1862, and 1992. Swift-Tuttle will be visible from Earth again in 2026. I wonder if the meteor shower is spectacular the year following Swift-Tuttle’s crossing through Earth’s orbital path.
Meteor showers have a lot to offer night sky viewers. If you go out at the right time in the early morning, you will see meteors. You do not need any special equipment to view a meteor shower. They are best viewed with your unaided eye, because you have a wider field of view that way. There is something exciting about watching streaks of light go across the sky.
Check out our post of R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 here.
We have all been there, even me. It is the situation where your child and you set up and perform a science experiment only to have it fail. For most people this is frustrating. When this happens parents often wonder if their children are learning from it. As a scientist, I find it interesting that our response is frustration and doubt instead of delight. R. Buckminster Fuller said it best when he said, There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes. Unexpected outcomes should be treated with a sense of wonder. You have just been handed a logic puzzle that requires the scientific method to try to solve it.
Unexpected outcomes from an experiment are when you get to practice real science like scientists do. Most if not all the experiments in the courses you are using have been performed successfully or they would not be assigned. That means that the experiments in science book have expected outcome predicated on the consistent results from the huge number of times the experiment has been performed. If you get an unexpected outcome, you and your child get to brainstorm to figure out what set of conditions changed.
For most of us the first thing we do is question whether it was us. We pore over the experiment’s set up, procedure, and materials to ensure that we didn’t miss anything or make a mistake. If we didn’t make any mistakes, we conclude that the problem must be with the experiment itself. This series of steps is exactly what you should do if the experiment yields unexpected results. While looking over the written instructions and troubleshooting your procedure discuss the learning goals for the experiment. Ask your child if the learning goals were met since the experiment didn’t give the expected results. If the answer is that they were not met, why not? What do you need to do to meet those learning goals?
One of the main learning goals for all scientific experiment is that kids begin, through use, to come to an intuitive understanding of the scientific method. It helps to focus on the scientific method when troubleshooting an experiment. A hypothesis is an educated guess. When a scientist makes a hypothesis, they are basing it on the observations and results their fellow scientists and they themselves have conducted. When scientists get results that are not consistent with previous experiments before rethinking a hypothesis they look over the procedure used to see if anything was changed. That should be you next step as well.
While poring over how the experiment was conducted there are several questions to ask with regard to the procedure. Is it possible that there is a typo in the procedure? Maybe you missed a step? Perhaps there are multiple ways to interpret one of the steps? Sometimes there is a step that is very finicky and needs to be followed exactly. When that happens it can make the experiment more complicated to duplicate than the author realized. Do not be shy about contacting the publisher or author of the lab. They should welcome the feedback and will often try to help you duplicate his or her results. I have been contacted several times about experiments that weren’t working in my science courses.
I start troubleshooting with the materials. Problems with materials are the most common cause of unexpected results in an experiment. This is the observation phase of the scientific method as applied to the situation. It’s important to focus on each ingredient. In my science courses there have been three instances where experiments failed because of materials. I have learned that cornstarch can absorb a lot of moisture in very humid environments, and that this can cause problems for some experiments. It turns out that in the last five years manufacturers have begun putting an ingredient called hi-float into balloons before they fill them with helium so that the balloons will lose helium more slowly. Did you know that in some states it takes a much higher concentration of bleach to turn food color in water colorless than in other states. We went ingredient by ingredient observing how each was behaving in the experiment to determine what was causing the unexpected results. It was a lot of fun and great science practice both at the same time. 🙂
At the end of this you might or you might not know what gave the unexpected results. Either way it is good to discuss the results and observations and come up with some conclusions from the experiment. Good statements to include in the conclusion of all lab reports is how this experiment could be improved on to meet the learning goals of the experiment. This is especially important in an experiment where you got unexpected results.
I’m hoping that most of your experiments go the way they are intended. The next time an experiment gives unexpected results, instead of getting frustrated, I hope you realize how much fun and learning can happen by applying the scientific method to logically deduce what led to the results. I promise you, you do not have to be a scientist to enjoy the process.
More Secular Homeschool Science Posts by Blair Lee & SEA
About 11 o’clock Friday night February 3, I got the call every parent with a teen aged driver dreads. My 17-year-old son had been in a car accident, and they were taking him to the hospital. He will be okay. He had part of his small intestine removed and a tear in his colon sewn up. As I sat in his hospital room, I reflected on our homeschooling journey and homeschooling in general. This might seem like a strange thing to be thinking about; perhaps it was because the weekend was supposed to be a work weekend focusing on finishing this newsletter. Instead I sat in a hospital room watching my child breath, listening to the machines attached to his body beep, smelling the mild antiseptic smell that permeates hospitals, and my mind drifted to something that has been a big part of our journey together.
There is an interesting dynamic that homeschooling parents have to deal with. On the one hand, we face the same issues all parents do no matter where our children attend school. On the other hand, as homeschooling parents we have taken sole responsibility for our children’s education. For many of us this can lend a job-like nature to this part of our journey with our children. The reasons for homeschooling are myriad, but for many of us it has to do with a desire to have a deeper more meaningful connection with our children. There is nothing job-like at all about that.
This dual nature of homeschooling, part job-like versus a focus on closer bonding, can be a conundrum for homeschooling parents. Many of the struggles parents and kids have when homeschooling come about when parents get into the job mode with their child’s learning. You know those times when you treat your child’s academics like a to-do list that needs to be checked off or a job that needs to be completed. Part of the problem is kids are not mature enough to be great employees; we are expecting them to function in a way they are not yet ready for. Another part of the problem is that the message of “learning is a joy” is at odds with treating it like a job, even if you really love your job. Children cannot help it; they would rather be nurtured than put to work.
For homeschooling parents it’s a balancing act though. There really are a series of tasks that need to be accomplished to master a subject. Learning is a joy, but sometimes you don’t appreciate it until you have acquired the knowledge and can start applying it. And honestly, how much more nurturing can you be than to dedicate a significant chunk of your life to educating your child.
On Monday, my son asked me nervously what was going to happen with the classes he was missing. I told him it was okay; all the work could be made up. He told me that wasn’t entirely true. He is taking classes through others, taught by people who might give him a few days’ break, but at the end he will have to work to catch up in those classes by a certain deadline, or he will not pass them. I assured him we can make the work up, that it will all be okay.
Did you notice that I said, “We can make the work up?” That is the duality of homeschooling in one pronoun. His education has become a responsibility both of us share. I don’t do his schoolwork for him. If the situation calls for some intensive tutoring however, we will work together to help him catch up. If I could take a can opener, open his head, and pour the knowledge in, I wouldn’t. I am raising a lifelong learner, where the learning is about the journey not a destination.
That’s the real truth about homeschooling. Even when it is at its most job-like, it is nurturing; it is bonding. I came to understand as I watched my child’s chest rise and fall, how hard it is to appreciate the journey when you get off track, when life inserts itself, and there is nothing you can do to control it. The two of us embarked on a journey eleven years ago that along the way has included laughter and joy, fighting and bickering, and everything in between. Along the way, he has taught me just as much as I have taught him. What a pleasure it has been for me to hold this child’s hand as we walk through this part of our journey together.