Homeschooled Children Are Fearless about Their Ability to Learn New Things

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.

The view of Mono Lake from The Mono Inn

Much Love,

I hope to see you in Atlanta,


Stargazing Supplies for The Stargazer’s Notebook: a Unit Study

Stargazing Unit Study, based on The Stargazer's Notebook by Blair Lee, MS. Secular astronomy curriculum

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 Notebook came 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.

Stargazing Unit Study, based on The Stargazer's Notebook by Blair Lee, MS. Secular astronomy curriculum, astronomy unit study

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.
stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

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.
stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

If you are using the ebook version of The Stargazer’s Notebook you will want a clipboard for the Night Sky Maps.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

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. 

Celestron Skymaster Binoculars:

I have the 20 x 80 binoculars

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

The Stargazer’s Notebook is written for ages 10 to 100. Here is a selection of books to bring younger learners up to speed.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

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.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study
These chairs with backpack straps are great for taking when you need to find the perfect location.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

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.
stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

How could stargazing be complete without your very own set of pens from NASA to use to chart the stars!

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

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.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study







SEA drink tumbler for hot drinks: My husband takes coffee out, my son is a hot chocolate guy, and I have to have tea!

Numi Turmeric tea with ginger is the best for staying warm on a chilly night.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

Fair Trade Hot Cocoa Mix for those who like it a little sweeter.
stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

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.
stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

What stargazing unit study would be complete without solar system lollipops? I want Saturn!

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

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.

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study

stargazing unit study, astronomy unit study


*This post has affiliate links in it.

Come Meet Blair & Check Out the Stargazers Notebook in Atlanta, July 12 - 15!

Passionately Engaged: A Scientist’s Journey

Woman in Science Blair Lee - Scientist

Women in Science: Why I Became A Scientist

by Blair Lee, M.S.

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.

Other posts by Blair Lee

2018 Commencement Speaker
A Science Lab in Your Home
Why Neutral Science Isn’t Neutral

Academics after a Traumatic Brain Injury & with Post-Concussive Syndrome

secular homeschool conference School Choice Week 2018: Academics after a Traumatic Brain Injury & with Post-Concussive Syndrome

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.

secular homeschool conference School Choice Week 2018: Academics with Post-Concussive Sydrome

Blair’s Bio

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.

Let’s connect on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Good Reads, Amazon, and Google+.

Check out all the talks for  2018 School Choice Week, Homeschooling Children Across the Learning Spectrum.

Post-Concussive syndrome is a problem for many children. This is caused by complex concussion. Because it can cause long-term effect, it is important to let the brain heal completely. 

Meet Blair Lee In Atlanta!

homeschool conference

November 2017 Letter from the Editor

Blair Lee - Letter from the Editor, Secular Homeschool Conferences

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!

Much Love, Blair

Secular Homeschool Conferences

Blair Lee: A Science Lab in Your Home? It Really Isn’t that Hard. Trust Me, I’m a Chemist.

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 You can learn more about Blair Lee’s “Evolution in Homeschooling” here.

The Science of Climate Change Print on Sale Now
Bugging Around on Sale Now

The Science of Climate Change Explained

The Science of Climate Change Explained, Blair Lee, Secular Homeschooling at SEA Homeschoolers

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
Carbon dioxide 10,075,000,000,000,000,000
Methane 46,075,000,000,000,000
Nitrous oxide 8,250,000,000,000,000

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.

Illustrator: Alina Bachman

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.

Illustrator Alina Bachman

 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.

Map courtesy of NOAA
Illustrator: Alina Bachman


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.

Graph Courtesy of NOAA

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.

The Science of Climate Change Explained - Blair Lee, M.S., Secular Homeschooling at SEA HomeschoolersEarth 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.

Blair H Lee MS has been involved in science education for over two decades, first as a college professor and then as an author of science courses. She is an author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey. She is also the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers.  Check out Blair’s new book The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course for kids ages 9 to 15. The 92-page course weaves 18 hands-on activities throughout the straight-forward science-based explanations of global warming and climate change.

“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

A Science Lab in Your Home
Why Neutral Science Isn’t Neutral
Stargazing Supplies

The Science of Climate Change Explained - Blair Lee, M.S., Secular Homeschooling at SEA Homeschoolers

Review of R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2

Review of R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2

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.  


Sign up here for a chance to win R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy 2 Student and Teacher Guide!
The Winner will be announced September 10, 2017.       

Check out our post on observing the Perseid Meteor Shower here.


Observing the Perseid Meteor Shower

Observing the Perseid Meteor Shower

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.

When Experiments Don’t Work, That’s When the Science Really Gets Fun!

Homeschool Science by Blair Lee

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

Teaching the Science of Climate Change to Middle Schoolers
Vetting Science Curriculum
A Science Lab in Your Home

Our Journey Together

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.

Love to all, Blair

The Scientific Method: Defined, Applied, Learned

Scientific Method

The Scientific Method: Defined

The scientific method is an investigative method based on experimentation, observation, and deductive reasoning. The purpose of this investigation is to explain a phenomena occurring in the natural and physical world.

The hypothesis is an educated guess. The word “educated” is a key word in this sentence. When a scientist makes a hypothesis they are not just guessing in the way you might guess the outcome of a coin toss. They are basing their guess on what they know about the area of science the experiment focuses on. This is one reason it is critical to understand the foundational fundamentals of a scientific discipline. It is also why it is necessary that science courses begin at the beginning and very clearly build from there with a thoughtful increase in the level of skill required to conduct the experiments.

The procedure is a list of the steps needed to conduct the experiment. The procedure should not include techniques that are too advanced or complicated for students to understand. The procedure in a science experiment is very important.

“A scientific theory is a widely accepted explanation of something observed in science. Theories are based on experimentation, observation, and reasoning—the scientific method. Before something can be called a scientific theory, it must be tested many times by different researchers, who get results that are consistent with that theory.” R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2

If the procedure is not well written or not conducted in the same way every time, an experimenter can get “results that are not consistent with that theory”. Because scientific theories depend on many different researchers getting results that are consistent with that theory, it is essential the procedure be written and understood clearly.

Once the experiment is set up, it is time to conduct the experiment. While they are conducting the experiment, students will make observations. Observations are the collected data from the experiment. Observations made during an experiment lead to a better understanding of how the natural and physical world works.

It is necessary that scientists and science students be able to report their observations in a meaningful and cohesive manner. The data and results component of the scientific method is where the data, calculations, and observations are written, calculated, and explained.

When deductive reasoning is applied to the data and results, a conclusion is determined that supports the observations. If many different scientists conduct an experiment and get the same conclusion based on their analysis of the data and results, the observations made during the experiment can change or support scientific theories and scientific models.

“A scientific model is a simplified representation of a real system. Scientific models are based on the scientific method. Scientific models make it possible to study large, complex scientific principles and systems.” R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy and Earth Science 2

The Scientific Method: Applied

When students determine their hypothesis they are applying their understanding of basic science principles with respect to the experiment.

When a student conducts an experiment the procedure is applied in two different ways. As a student reads through the procedure they are reading a set of instructions explaining techniques used in science. Since all scientific theories and models are based on experimentation, a basic understanding of the techniques used in science is a far-reaching component of the foundational fundamentals of science. The second way the procedure is applied is by conducting the experiment. Understandings in science come about through experimentation. It takes countless hours of laboratory work to develop a scientific theory or model. Learning science without conducting experiments is like learning to sew without actually sewing. Science is an active endeavor, not a static one.

The observations and data are applied by using them to determine the results of the experiment. Making observations, collecting data, and using these to determine results are a meaningful application of applied math as it relates to science. The ability to use math applications is an essential skill in science in the same way punctuation and spelling are essential skills for the craft of writing.

The final step when applying the scientific method to an experiment is to use deductive reasoning to determine a conclusion for the experiment. This synthesis of information and application of the foundational fundamentals that should be in the conclusion are more than just an application of the scientific method. It is also a natural and intuitive lesson in logical thinking.

The Scientific Method: Understood

Most of the time students and educators do not pay enough attention to the hypothesis other than to write it or make sure it is written. A student’s hypothesis should be evaluated critically, but not with criticism, to look for how well the student understands the science the experiment is based on. A good strategy to use when your student writes a hypothesis is to ask them what scientific principles or knowledge they are basing their hypothesis on. When this is done students will come to understand how scientists arrive at their hypotheses based on educated guesses.

When students read and then work through the steps of an experiment they come to understand some of the basic procedures real scientists use when conducting experiments. They also come to understand at an intuitive level that scientific theories and models are determined and developed through the application and manipulation of science practices.

Observations made while experiments are conducted are the basis for the data and results that are used to develop scientific theories and models. Students spend a lot of their school time learning math. Using data and observations to determine results helps students understand how math is used to help explain how the natural and physical world works. When experiments are well paired with theory, observations made while conducting experiments greatly increase and add to a student’s understanding of the theory taught. Making observations, collecting data, and then using these to determine results also leads to a better understanding of the work scientists do and the type of deductive reasoning and analysis used for their conclusions that lead to the development of scientific theories and models.

Scientific theories and models are a synthesis of conclusions from many different scientific experiments. It is through conducting experiments in academic situations that students come to understand how conclusions determined using the scientific method can explain how the natural and physical world works.


The Scientific Method: Learned

When science is learned in a manner where theory is carefully paired with experiments chosen so they relate closely to that theory, the scientific method is learned through reasoning and observation. It is also learned intuitively. Instead of relying on a rote memorization of terms and their definitions to explain the scientific method, students understand in a meaningful way how the scientific method works, how scientific theories, models, and principles are developed. Most importantly they learn how these theories, models, and principles are used to explain how the natural and physical world works

This article first appeared on the Pandia Press blog:

30 Travel Tips from a Worldschooler

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“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag

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Machu Picchu, Peru, 2012

Travel is a big part of our homeschooling journey. When we can, we worldschool. Worldschoolers incorporate travel throughout their children;s journey through learning. My husband and I want our son to be a global citizen. We want him to understand that many different cultures have looked at situations and come up with equally viable answers, one not necessarily better than the other. We want him to experience and appreciate different cultures and this big beautiful planet he lives on. We started traveling with Sean when he was two years old. Over the past 14 years he has been to 15 countries and traveled to many locations in the United States. Here are some travel tips I learned along the way. 

1. You might never come this way again.  We  do not worldschool 24/7.  If it’s raining outside, cold, or you’re tired, even if the kids complain, do not let it stop you from going out and seeing the sights. I like to tell Sean, he will thank me when he’s 30.


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Spain, 2015: It was rainy and chilly.


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It was worth seeing even in the rain.


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When you worldschool, you understand how much there is to learn by being where the history happened.

2. Worldschoolers, travel enough to know to unexpected and be patient with whatever happens. “The best laid plans of mice and men go awry every now and then.” It doesn’t matter how well you plan, something is going to come up. Life is short, you can’t have one second of it back, so why spend your time while traveling angry or annoyed. Some of the best times we had while on the road happened when something went wrong.

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The plane we were supposed to take from Lima for California broke. They only had one flight out a day for California.
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Jim is not happy.

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Three days later, it was all smiles. The next day we flew home.

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And then there was the time we got stuck in a rain storm while driving through Chartes, France at night. We liked the town so well we stayed there 3 nights.

3. Tipping differs depending on the country. Tipping is common in some countries and not in others. French servers are insulted when Americans tip. Irish servers hear the American accent and put you at the best table while giving you the best service. Before leaving on your trip find out what the tipping policy is in that country. If you’re traveling, though, and it feels too weird not to tip, go ahead and tip. What’s the worst someone can say about you for doing it, “That you’re too generous?” I wonder if there are some worldschoolers who do not tip? I don’t think I could be on the road long enough to break that habit, but maybe. 

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Worldschooling France, 2005

4. No, it’s not going to be just like it was back home. This is a good thing, but it can cause some homesickness, especially for kids. Be prepared for it. If your kids are worried about their pets or want to check in with family or friends, Skype is a great tool to use to stay connected. This is one of the most important lessons kids who worldschool learn. It is an essential understanding of a global citizen. 

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Cuzco, Peru
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Jaipur, India
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5. Be as impulsive and free-spirited as your personality will allow. Worried you might make a fool of yourself? You might be right, but wouldn’t it be worse not to get the full experience. And hey, they’re not laughing at you, they’re laughing with you. That’s what I tell my son. There were a couple of years when he was too worried about how he looked to just get up and let himself go. I didn’t let that stop me though. Now at 16, he joins in the fun.

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Worldschooling 101: Whether you are dressing in a sari with a bindi or charming a snake, you will have more fun if you just enjoy the ride.

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This is the monument where Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. After this photo was taken, I stood at the base of it and recited the Gettysburg Address from memory. Sean will appreciate me more when he is older. 😉

6. Where should we go next? When we travel, we only have a loose plan. We like to go to places we have never been before. Because of that, we aren’t sure until we get there, what we are going to want to see and experience. I like to ask locals, “If you could tell someone one place in your country not to miss, what would it be? And why?” I’m not looking for the touristy answer with this either. We prefer non-touristy locations. Sometimes it is just happenstance where we will head next. I might be looking for craft beer and see the name Mammooth Beer. Why would there be Mammooth beer in a store in Granada, Spain? I had to know. It turns out they have been digging up mammoth fossils nearby. Then I learned about Orce Man. On the way out of Granada, we took a detour to see the 1.8 million year old hominid fossil. They had to open the museum for us. No one else was there. Later I learned that Orce Man is very controversial. Archaeologists swear it is a real hominid fossil. Creationists are sure it is a hoax. I am so glad I saw that beer!

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Mammooth Beer In Granada!
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Adventures in worldschooling. Is it a man? Is it an ape? Is it a donkey?

7. Where should we stay? When we travel, we do not want to stay in the hotels with all the other foreign travelers. Before leaving home, we do some research to learn where people from that country stay when they take their vacations. Doing this we meet more local people, and it costs less.

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Worldschooling India: At a Homestay in Jaipur India
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This is a common type of cook top in India.
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Homestays are the Indian equivalent of a B&B.

 8.  Worldschoolers should get an International Driver’s license. Unless you are positive you will not be driving, you probably want to get an International Driver’s license. While you’re at it check to see if your auto insurance covers you when driving a rental car in another country. In the United States, International Driver’s licenses can be gotten at AAA offices.

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Before leaving for France and Ireland. Jim also wanted to get a license before going to India, but I told him there was no way! Driving in India is crazy!

9. Leave the lesson books at home. The first time we went on a major trip with Sean, we spent a month in France and Ireland. I brought along books for him so he could continue his studies. That was in 2005. I have to laugh at myself now. It is not a mistake I’ve ever made again. I spent an entire month lugging heavy books around that we were too busy to use.

10. Make it educational. That’s not to say we don’t make it educational. You don’t have to run around to see all the sites to make it educational either. Simply by traveling, observing, and interacting with other people and cultures is an educational experience.

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One type of worldschooling is roadschooling. There is a lot to see in your own country.
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Old Faithful in Yellowstone, Wyoming: We started 10th grade with a 5 week driving trip. Sean is studying geology and environmental science this year. We drove from California to South Dakota. From there we drove to Yellowstone, then out to the West Coast of Washington State and down the volcanic chain along the Pacific Ring of Fire studying plate tectonics and their effects.

11. Check out bookstores. It is really fun to see what people in other cultures are reading. If you’re reading this I’m going to assume you can read English. Lucky you. I have never been into a bookstore in another country where I couldn’t find something that had been translated into English.

12. Learn a few phrases in that language. There are some phrases you really need to know. Do not assume everyone is going to speak English. Even in countries where many people speak English, we have never found that everyone we wanted to ask a question of spoke English.

  • “Does anyone here speak English,” is probably the most important phrase to know. I have used that phrase mainly while entering the country. Just remember, you are going to be tired and stressed from hours of travel. Unless you are fluent in that language, you will probably struggle to say exactly what you want if there is any issue.
  • If you have any dietary restrictions, make sure you know how to tell someone about them. I am a vegan, and I never leave home without being able to tell someone that in their own language.
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Catching some Z’s in the Carpathians, Ukraine.

13. Try to get on the sleep cycle. Jet lag is a problem, especially when worldschooling with friends. The younger your children are, the more important this is. If at all possible, try to sleep while you’re traveling too. Because it is inevitable that when you first arrive, you will be tired and burned out, we always have a place booked to stay for the first three days of our trip.

14. Pack light and make the clothes you do pack comfortable.

  • You are traveling with your children, for most of us that means we do not need a suitcase full of fancy clothes. The longer you were going to be on the road, the more important it is that you have clothes you’re comfortable in. Ask yourself, do you really need that bulky camera, the heavy laptop, or three pairs of high heels? Or would you be better off taking your pictures on your phone, using an iPad, and only bringing along sandals and walking/hiking shoes?
  • Only take shoes that have been broken in. Most of us do a lot of walking when we are traveling. It is a big mistake to have new shoes with you.
  • Make sure you pay attention to what the people in that area wear. I didn’t have to dress conservatively when I was in India or Dubai, but I felt more comfortable doing so. Often when you are traveling, it’s nice to just blend in. To do that you want to be dressed in a similar fashion to the people of that country.


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Cuzco, Peru: We hiked (and in Sean’s case rode a horse) to Machu Picchu. Even when I wasn’t hiking, I dressed casually. The hiking boots I am wearing were broken in perfectly.

Worldschooling, worldschooler, worldschool, worldschoolers., seahomeschoolers.comCasual and comfortable is a great combination when traveling for weeks. Just remember, unless you stay in the same place the entire time, you will be carrying your clothes with you every time you move from one location to another.

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I have hiked mountains in those flip flops! Really!

15. There are a few things every worldschooler should pack.

  • Earplugs: Even if you have never used earplugs before, you should pack some for your trip. Most people are used to the night noises at home. The night noises when you travel are going to be different, and this can keep you or your kids up. There is nothing worse than being tired the entire time you travel.
  • Hand sanitizer: The germs are different where you are going. That makes it really easy to catch infectious germs your immune system has never seen before. When that happens you can get sick. Make sure you bring small bottles of hand sanitizer, and use it often. The most common places to pick those germs up are handrails, elevator buttons, and money. Most people do not wash their hands after touching those three things. Use hand sanitizer whenever you or your children touch them. I very rarely get sick when I travel. 
  • A first aid kit: You are traveling with children. It’s a good idea to be prepared with Band-Aids, Neosporin, and necessary first-aid supplies.
  • Plugs for that country: You don’t want to get to a foreign country and find out you can’t charge any of your electronics. Do not assume you will easily find these plugs when you are out of the country. That has not been our experience. 

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16. Make sure everyone has a bit of cash. One of the most annoying things parents deal with is their children constantly asking them to buy things. We solved this by giving Sean a set amount of money he can spend. How much depends on where we’re going and how long we’re going to be there. Doing this also cuts down on the tension from you telling your child you can’t believe that’s what they want to buy. It’s their money so they can buy whatever they want with it, even if it’s not something you would buy.

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Worldschooling Ireland: Sean bought that hat in Galway, Ireland, much to my husband’s chagrin. The next day we were in a pub, and Sean went to peek into the adjoining bar. The bartender came over and told us we had to see what Sean was doing. He had pulled out and was playing a harmonica he also bought on the trip. After that he passed the leprechaun hat around so people could throw money into it. He made 42 euros!

17. Is your passport up-to-date for the rules of the country you are traveling to? Do you need a visa? In May, 2015 we traveled to Spain. We were also planning on traveling to Morocco. The trip was planned months before we left. We all checked our passports to make sure we didn’t need to renew them. Two days before leaving for Spain, I happen to read the information sent to us from our airlines months before. It informed us that when traveling to Spain our passports would need to be valid for at least three months beyond our intended departure date. My passport expired one week early to meet that date. We actually ended up changing the date I was to fly back by one week. Then when we got to Spain changed my departure date to its original date and time. In addition to that, we couldn’t go to Morocco, because I wasn’t sure I would be able to get back into Spain. How much stress did this add to the beginning of our vacation? I had a serious cold sore by the time I got to Spain.

18. Journal daily. The first trip we took out of the country with Sean was to Costa Rica. We had been home just a few months when I realized we were starting to forget many of the details from that trip. We had taken lots of photos, but I couldn’t recall many of the details with those alone. Since then I always journal every day when we travel, and blog about it . We love going back through the journals. I have encouraged Sean to journal daily as well. Some of his entries from when he was young are pretty funny.

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This is the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland. Sean didn’t almost die, but it was a bit scary to be so high above the ocean on a windy day.

19. Take pictures of flowers. It is lovely to have a photo record of flowers from around the world. 

20. Try local specialties. One of the best things about worldschooling is the food. I am one of those people who are very curious about food. I have had some interesting conversations with people about what they are eating. Many times people gave me a bite of food from their plate. The irony of this is, I am a bit of a germaphobe, but I just go for it.

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It was a little spicy, but so very yummy. Yes, that is street food I ate in India!
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Chernivtsi, Ukraine: I have a sweet tooth. I love to try desserts wherever we go. It is surprising how much desserts vary for different parts of the world. We made friends with the people who owned this restaurant in the park when I got to talking to them about food.
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Worldschooling Ukraine: Aperitifs in Carpathians. It was a strange brew. I kind of liked it, so all the Americans handed me theirs. 
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Coca tea in Peru

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Worldschoolers see the coolest things! Guinea pigs running around the house eating leaves from a coffee plant…

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and hand roasted coffee beans. I definitely want a cup of that coffee!

21. Meet and talk to local people. I have been told by one of my stepsons that I like to have random conversations with random people all over the world. This is a trait that has brought pleasure to all of us, as we have found ourselves in interesting and unique situations.

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Worldschoolers in Hungary: Whether it is getting us invited into someone’s wine dungeon in Hungary…
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wine, palinka, and dinner. They did manage to find someone who spoke English, which was nice but not essential. After some palinka nothing is essential.
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or into a high security building in the Ukraine my traits of being gregarious, curious, and really liking people have opened many doors for us while on the road.

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22. Bring both digital and physical copies of your passport, visa, driver’s license, birth certificate, health insurance card, and important phone numbers. An important worldschoolers tip: The best thing to do is to take pictures of all of these and save them on your phone. It’s a good idea for everyone who is traveling together to have copies of these on their phone as well.

23. Volunteer. Volunteering as a part of your worldschooling adventure is a great way to learn about an area and to meet local people. It can take work to find opportunities if your children are younger, but they are available. The academic enrichment your children will gain through volunteering can’t be duplicated in any other way.

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Sean volunteering at the Vidya, Munirka school in Delhi, India

24. You are with your children, so you want to make sure everyone can stay in contact. Before you leave, make sure your phones are set up so that it is easy and as inexpensive as possible for all of you to stay connected.

25. Plan activities for everyone. When traveling with a group where there is a range of ages, the best thing to do is to take turns planning activities.

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When Sean gets to do things like this…
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and this…
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he is happier about doing this!

26. Whether you are wordlschooling or just on a vacation, you are better off seeing fewer places and getting to know the place instead of cramming as many places as possible into your trip. This is especially true if you are traveling with children. There is a movement called slow travel. When you slow travel, you spend a week or more in a place, and take the time to get to know that place and truly enjoy it. Slow travel leads to a much greater appreciation of where you are, and keeps all of you from feeling rushed and stressed out.

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We spent a week in Baltimore, Ireland to recharge.

27. Read nonfiction and fictional books about and/or from that country before you go. You can do this in the car while you’re traveling too. If you happen to travel through La Mancha, Spain, and you realize you are the only person who knows the story of Don Quixote, you have some reading to do aloud for your fellow passengers while traveling toward Seville.

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I read this to Sean leading up to our trip to Peru.

28. Make sure you have downloaded good music, videos, and books on tape. Sometimes when parents travel with kids they are concerned their kids will want to be plugged in the whole time. It has happened to us, so before we go I always lay out the ground rules for how much time can be spent on the electronics. On the other hand, part of travel is getting there. It is nice for you if your kids have some way to check out when they’re sitting at airports or in the car. This helps prevent you from going insane during these times.

29. If you are on the road for any length of time, yes, you are going to have to wash clothes. I have found you’re better off not getting too behind on this.

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Hand washing clothes and worldschooling goes hand in hand!

30. Just do it! I have people tell me all the time that they would love to travel like we do. They want to know how we manage it. We start by treating travel as if it is a priority, then we save, plan, and make it happen. 

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Across the street from Leonardo da Vinci’s house in France.

If you can think of any tips I missed, add them to the comment section. Who knows, maybe I will use your tip on our next adventure!

Read more about Worldschooling & Secular Homeschooling

The Friendly American

1406266378Blair Lee loves to read, cook, laugh, hang out with friends, and homeschool. In 2015, she co-founded Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers SEA Homeschoolers on Facebook. Blair writes for the Real Science Odyssey Series,  as well as blogs and magazines. Blair speaks about eclectic, academic homeschooling, science, and travel at homeschool conventions. You can follow her at Twitter, and Facebook.

Secular Academics for Homeschoolers Webinar

Secular Academics, podcast, seahomeschoolers

Secular Academics for Homeschoolers Webinar, Secular Academics, podcast, seahomeschoolersI was so busy moderating the session Secular Academics, I did not really listen to it until just now. What a great talk! What an amazing group of homeschooling parents! WOW! You can click on this link All About Secular Curricula to listen to this as a podcast. I will apologize ahead of time for the audio on my end. It could be better; I am sorry. Everyone else sounded great though! We have it in both the auditory version and the written version, because we are homeschoolers, so you know we are all about making sure people can access the information in what ever way works best for them! 😉

These are the edited show notes from this talk about secular academics. I like to write as I think, so I asked the panelists to write their answers to the questions I would ask them before the talk. These are the answers they sent me. Jason Grooms gave some fantastic answers, but you are going to have to listen to the taped talk to hear those. These notes include two answers, one from Kate and one from Sonja, to questions I didn’t ask during the talk but had asked them ahead of time to please answer.

The topic of this talk was Secular Academics as it applies to Homeschool Curricula and Programs, this includes curriculum, co-ops, and live & online programs. If you are new to homeschooling or you are reading this to decide if you want to homeschool I can tell you that one of the most challenging issues for homeschoolers is choosing curriculum and programs for their kids. For those of us who want secular academics, finding curriculum and programs that we like, that work for our kids, can be extremely challenging. It’s how I came to be writing science courses for our community.

Before introducing our panel members I want to broaden the scope of secular academics for our discussion of science curricula and programs beyond the basic definition of secular. The science curricula and programs the members of this panel endorse are those that present the accepted facts, principles, models, and theories explaining how the natural and physical world works as recommended by a majority of practicing experts in that area of science. We do not approve of science curricula and programs that exclude or misrepresent scientific facts, principles, models, or theories considered core ideas in that field of science. I would like to call your attention to the word exclude in the statement above, “We do not approve of science curricula and programs that exclude scientific facts, principles, models, or theories considered core ideas in that field of science.” This is an important distinction, because some secular science materials exclude core scientific concepts. We do not endorse or approve of materials that do that.

The panelists to discuss Secular Academics

Kate Johnson is the president of Pandia Press Inc, which publishes History Odyssey, History Quest, and REAL Science Odyssey courses all secular academic materials. She has four children, ages 8 to 21, and has homeschooled for 15 years since 1997. Kate’s oldest, Sarah, is a pre-med student finishing up her bachelor’s degree in Biology at FIU in Miami. Kate began homeschooling because she moved to an area with one very poor school choice available, and she started a homeschooling curricula company because of the lack of secular curricula choices available. Her education is a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy and a few credits short of a Masters in Education. Kate owes her success to surrounding herself with talented people. She works with about a dozen history and science writers (including Blair Lee) across the country to bring the homeschooling community much needed secular curricula.

I first met Thom Jones through the [email protected] group. A group that is still active and I recommend highly. There are many veteran homeschoolers in that group, and some of the best information that I have ever gotten when I needed help homeschooling was through this group. I will admit to being a little intimidated the first time I read something that Thom posted. Thom is eloquent, erudite, and really knows what he’s talking about. It is always great to hear what he’s doing as he homeschools his kids. I was delighted when he agreed to be on our panel. My son is taking 2 of his online classes right now. The classes are History in Context and Introduction to Law, Sean, told me on Friday that they were his favorite classes this quarter. I am totally jealous because this means he likes Thom’s classes better than my science! How could I have a non-science crazy kid!?!

I first met Sonja Kueppers at the Nash conference. Sonja brings so much to any discussion; when Sonja speaks on an issue I listen. Sonja is on the secular alliances committee with me. She wrote the standard for secular academics on what constitutes secular history curriculum, and it is good. We’ve worked to develop standards for history and science to enable us to evaluate curricula and programs in the future.

Jason Grooms is a fellow scientist. He has published two science books, one on zoos and animals & the other a bug book as well as other secular science materials. Jason owns The Brainy Tourist, a site where you can find original reviews and unique educational materials that can enhance your visit to local tourist spots. Before Jason gives his bio, I would like to point out that 2 of the 6 people on this panel are men. While it is true that most of the education in the homeschool community is done by women, there are men doing it too, either alone or in conjunction with their significant other. Secular academics and breaking down stereotypes that’s what we’re about today.

Blair: I want to take the first question myself. Many people wrote in questions without specifying which panel they wanted to answer the question. I decided to answer the following question because I think it goes to the heart of why there is a need for a panel discussion about secular academics and choosing curriculum and programs.

The question is: How do you tell what is enough without drowning them?

Actually, this isn’t easy. It isn’t easy for homeschooling parents, and it isn’t easy for traditional school teachers either. It just isn’t easy – there is so much to be learned, plus what is too much for one student is not enough for another – In particular it is difficult to figure this out when you first start homeschooling. Good curricula and programs solve this problem. Choose material meant to be done over a certain period of time, and when your child is done, they are done with what they need to cover. The real shocker often for newbie homeschoolers is how fast homeschool kids get done with a year’s worth of material. That’s why homeshoolers have so much play time!

There are two things you need to pay attention to when choosing materials.

1.) The first is to make sure that the material was developed by someone who is an expert in the area, someone you trust as far as content knowledge. If the person is an expert in the field you can expect them to have a good idea of what material should be taught and how to cover it. In the homeschool community you also need to make sure the material is academically secular. For example, I write most of my son Sean’s science material, but occasionally I will sign him up for a science program that adds to what we’re learning. I ask before signing him up if the program is secular and by secular I don’t mean neutral, I ask “do you teach evolution and what is your position on it?” That is a hard question to ask fellow homeschoolers even for somebody who has outed herself as a secular homeschooler, but it’s important. I’m certainly better equipped than my son is to deal with this if the answer is no. If you are buying material get on a chat group and ask others what they know of the material.

2.) The 2nd thing, If I can find it, I prefer secular academic materials that were developed by someone who homeschools, because they have an idea of how to get through the material in a year. If I can’t get that then I at least want a schedule with a timeline giving me advice about how to schedule the material. Take a traditional school science textbook for example. Public school texts are written to be used by a teacher who has some knowledge, sometimes a lot of knowledge in the upper grades, about that subject. Those textbooks are written with much more material than is expected to be covered in year. There is so much material because the publishers want teachers to have choices, and they want to be able to meet the state standards of multiple states. For example the state standards for middle school biology in California are different than those in Oregon or Georgia. To meet all those state standards you have to have much more material than you would need for only one state or yearlong class. As a homeschooling parent how do you know what to cover and what not to? Materials written by people with experience homeschooling are generally a better fit timewise for homeschoolers.

My final tip on this, if something looks interesting but you are not sure, ask to see a sample. If they won’t give you one, think twice before purchasing it. Even if you know someone who had really good luck with that program, always remember – one-size-fits-all, does not. I give you this advice because I don’t even want to admit how much money I’ve spent over the past 9 years on material that wasn’t a good fit for us, that I didn’t check out beforehand, that I couldn’t return.

Now this isn’t the only reason for using secular academic curriculum and materials, most veteran homeschoolers would tell you the enrichment to their child’s education from these materials is an even larger benefit.

My first question for the panel is for someone who is enriching my child’s education right now.

Secular Academics How to Choose Materials

Thom, what are your thoughts on the following question: How do I know I can trust the material if I am not an expert in the discipline? Are there any questions or things that you think someone should look for?

Thom: The idea of mastery of an entire discipline is somewhat artificial.  Specialization in every academic field has rendered this idea moot, although it is still attractive to many.  In one of the oddest insults in my life, I was called a dilettante by a history professor who lamented that I wanted to study too many different things.  My response was that it used to be the norm that people would delve into many areas.  If you think about the great minds in history, they studied science, art, history, religion, music, philosophy, and so on.  Those we point to were truly exceptional intellects who were able to establish themselves as masters of intellectual inquiry.  Fast forward to the present, and you can turn this same question to teachers in schools.  They go through education programs where they spend a great deal of time on process, and little on content–believe me, I’ve taught enough education majors in my day.

If we can accept that we don’t have to be masters of everything, then we can turn our attention to the issue of coupling our focus on our children’s growth with reliable, engaging materials.  There are multiple ways to ensure that you’re not getting into a set of materials that are not usable.  Start by asking other homeschoolers who’ve been there if they used the materials and what their thoughts are.  Consider the source of the materials.  Are they published, presented, or created by a reliable person or company you trust to develop secular academic materials?  If you’re not sure, then find out what you can about the person who wrote or created the materials.  If they are offering a chemistry curriculum, do they have training in chemistry?  Read the introduction, if possible.  Often, you can find out about the scope and focus of materials this way.  Finally, this is a very unscientific comment, but consider the way the materials are advertised.  Do they promise something that is ridiculous?  The one thing that I always look for is whether materials require or encourage critical thinking.  I tell all of my students that I don’t care about memorizing lists of dates or names.  You can look all of that up on the internet.  Rather, I want people to think.  This allows for the meshing of different backgrounds and learning styles, which is at the heart of homeschooling.  In my opinion, reliable materials should allow for this.

 Emily, this whole issue must be really hard for publishers and authors who are developing secular academic curriculum. What do you have to say to the person who asks, “Shouldn’t secular history and literature curriculum avoid all mention of God and Christianity?”

Emily: I hear it in regards to history, poetry, and literature that might mention a deity or reference Judeo Christian thought and ideals. History needs to be taught in the context of religion (Crusades, Tudor England, 30 Years War, etc. make no sense if you exclude all mention on Christianity). Cultural literacy – stories from the Judeo-Christian bible need to be taught at some point, because so much of the cannon of Western Civilization is built upon a common understanding of the them.

You had to think about this issue too Sonja when writing the history standard. What are your thoughts?

Sonja: To say that the study of history, literature, or art should avoid all mention of a God or Christianity would be to leave out important aspects of these fields. It’s not possible to engage in a serious study of any of these disciplines without considering the impact religion has on human societies and on individuals. The difference for secular academics between a secular curriculum and a non-secular curriculum is that a secular curriculum addresses the role of religions in history and culture without judging the religious belief as “true” or “false.”

To look at a simple example illustrating this difference, a Christian history curriculum might tell us that Constantine saw a vision from God, instructing him to paint a Christian symbol on his soldiers’ shields before an important battle. After he won the battle with God’s help, he became a convert to Christianity and ushered in an era of religious tolerance in the Roman Empire. A secular curriculum might tell the same story (we are assuming here that neither of these curricula treats the matter in any kind of depth), but instead of saying that Constantine saw a vision from God or won the battle with God’s help, it would say that Constantine *reported* that he had seen a vision from the Christian God, and credited his victory to divine intervention.

Incidentally, this brings up an important side point, which is that just because a curriculum is secular doesn’t mean it’s a good curriculum. A *good* history curriculum doesn’t treat history as a series of facts and stories, as in my example here, but instead encourages students to ask questions about *how we know* what we think
we know.

Jason, you are the author of some secular academic homeschool curriculum, and you and your wife have seen a lot of other curriculum over the last 18 years. Actually I should also plug Jason’s wife who writes a blog called homeschool game school that does a really nice job of evaluating and recommending material for use by homeschoolers. She is also running the Homeschooling high School panel discussion on Thursday. Jason, one of the most common problems for homeschoolers looking for secular academics that I hear is that it is hard to find secular curriculum. Do you have any suggestions for these people?

Jason: You will have to listen to the podcast for Jason’s answer. It is a great answer !

Secular Academics and the Rewriting of history texts in Public Schools

Because of my lack of accent, most of you would not guess where I went to high school. I went to high school in Conroe, Texas. So I have been watching the Texas textbook controversy very closely. Sonja, what was the recent controversy about the adoption of history textbooks in Texas? and does it affect homeschoolers?

Sonja, because of its size and the nature of its textbook approval process, Texas has long had a significant influence on textbooks nationwide. Textbook publishers have historically desired to publish textbooks that met the adoption criteria in Texas, which have then also been sold in other states.

The latest controversy has to do with the current US History standards in Texas, which require students to “identify the individuals whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents, including those of Moses.”

Reputable historians tell us there is no evidence that the founding fathers were influenced in any meaningful way by the ideas of Moses, so these Texas requirements aren’t based in a reading of the historical record in line with good scholarship.

While this has a major effect on school students in Texas, and may have some effect on school students in other states, the effect on homeschoolers is fairly limited, because most homeschoolers don’t use public school textbooks. We normally either use textbooks written for the homeschool market, or books on specific topics, sometimes referred to as “living books,” that aren’t written as textbooks.

This next question fits in perfectly with the Texas textbook controversy. Kate does choosing secular academic material mean I won’t have to worry about bias?

Secular Academics & Bias

Kate: Short answer is no, you do still have to worry about it. I’m going to use history as my example because it is the subject most susceptible to subtle and not so subtle biases even in secular courses (but this is applicable to science as well). It’s a commonly held belief that history narratives are inherently biased or at least slanted in one way or another. The actual history itself, like science, is not biased. It is what it is, facts that happened. But the reporting of those events will go through the subjective filter of a human being. Even when trying to be as neutral as possible, writers selectively use the parts of history they are favorable to, and discard/suppress the parts of history that are unfavorable. And some history is intentionally biased, providing a very slanted perspective in attempt to influence students (e.g. liberal versus conservative, pro-Palestinian versus pro-Israeli etc.) So what are you to do? Not study history? Absolutely you should study history, and even more so because of the biases. The main reason to study history is to seek to understand humanity. “He who forgets will be destined to remember.” Learning different interpretations of historic facts encourages analytical skills. I recommend trying to seek out history courses that do a good job of presenting both sides; require students to analyze multiple sources especially primary sources; that present mostly a fact-based account of history but then encourages students to formulate and express (thru essays and reports) their own perspective on history. If you do that, you will avoid as much bias as one can hope to.

Jason you’ve been homeschooling a long time. You have an 18-year-old daughter and you’re a scientist. Based on your observations, what are the areas of biggest bias caused by religious influence?

Jason:  Listen to podcast for answer.

Sonja, bias even in secular materials is something that you have had to think about while writing the history standard for NASH. What do you have to say in answer to the question, “What are the areas of biggest bias caused by religious influence?”

Sonja: As Kate was saying, it is impossible to avoid bias when studying history. Every historical account has some kind of bias, whether deliberate or unconscious.

History curricula sold in the United States are usually told from the perspective of Europeans and of European settlers in the Americas. This type of cultural bias incorporates inherent religious bias, as can easily be seen in the way Christopher Columbus is typically portrayed. He is usually depicted as devoutly Christian, with a sincere desire to convert the native people he encounters in the Americas to Christianity. His cruelty toward the indigenous people is rarely mentioned, nor is there much of an attempt to consider the question of whether conversion to Christianity was desirable.

Another area where we frequently see religious bias is in the narrative of our nation’s founding. Children are taught that the first English settlers came to America in search of religious freedom. What does not often come up is how little religious freedom actually existed in the colonies and the lack of equality under the law experienced by members of minority religions, such as Catholics and Jews. This is an example of Protestant Christian bias.

But really, this just scratches the surface. I could go on for quite some time on this one!

Are Secular Academic Materials Anti-Religious?

Emily, what would you say to the person who wants to know if secular academic material is anti-religion?

Emily: Not at all – secular just means non-religious. The great thing about secular materials, is that anyone can use them – whether they are atheist, Muslim, Jewish, or Pagan or whatever. Because the material is secular, you don’t have to worry about sifting out the content that doesn’t fit your worldview, and you can easily add in materials that do.

 Kate, what are your thoughts? Is secular academic material anti-religion?

Kate: Not inherently, no. But it could be in history (biases and slants, discrediting religious groups like all Muslim groups are terrorists, or the Catholic church portrayed as evil, sort of thing). Not possible in science. Not teaching a faith belief, such as creationism, is not being anti-religion. It’s just being scientific.

Secular Academics and Science

I have been asked to answer the following question.  What’s wrong with a science curriculum that bills itself as ‘neutral’ or as ‘not addressing origins’? Can’t parents just add information about evolution?”

Blair: To begin with, science by its very nature is neutral. Taking topics out of science courses to fit your world view or to sell more courses is not neutral. It goes against the very nature of what science is, and calls into question the entirety of the course that does it. How can you trust a biology course that doesn’t teach about how all organisms came to be or an astronomy course that doesn’t teach about how all matter came to be? You can’t.

So, why can’t you just add these topics in? Why is there such a problem with that? You can, but are you sure that you’re adding all of them back in. Are you sure that you know enough about what is offensive to certain groups or what constitutes the foundational fundamentals of a science discipline that you will cover everything that has been omitted. For example, I was surprised when I was writing biology to learn that some people in the homeschool community take issue with teaching about different cell types, by this I am referring to prokaryotes which are a cell type with no nucleus, and eukaryotes which are a cell type that has their DNA in a nucleus. Bacteria are prokaryotes and as one example humans are eukaryotes. What’s the problem with teaching about these two different classifications for cells and organisms, other than their names are really hard to pronounce? I’m really not sure, to be honest. It probably has something to do with evolution. Would you have known to include that topic? In chapter 2 of biology I teach about the cell theory – I use the word theory several times starting there before getting to chapter 20 where I define the science usage of the word theory. After that, I occasionally weave the concept of theory in the text. I do this so kids using my text will have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of what science theories are. Would you know to do this? Would you know that this is the best way to teach that; to teach conceptually along with the definition? Because the word theory as used in science is not just a word it embodies an entire concept. Evolution and genetics cannot be separated as subjects – the entire science of genetics rests on the premise that organisms evolve. Modern classification systems (not the old Linnaean system used only for naming organisms) use shared derived traits and common ancestors.  There is no scientifically accurate way to teach genetics or classification without discussing evolution. Would you know all that, it is a lot to add in. Chemistry and physics are not immune to this, by the way. Chemistry is the scientific discipline that proves evolution occurs – do you know what gets taken out of neutral chemistry courses, well neither do I, but I will in a year when I start writing chemistry. Would you know the reason physics and geology courses now focus on developing and interpreting scientific models? It has to do with the politicization of certain scientifically accepted models such as those for climate change, the expansion of the universe, and evolution. Wouldn’t it just be much better and easier to choose materials that included these woven throughout the course in the first place?

Thom I was wondering if you have anything to add to the discussion about the previous question. I think that this crops up in history too. I have seen public school history texts that have removed most discussions of religion from them – or they only teach about one religion. To me this seems like they are trying to provide neutral history. It might be offensive to some groups, but the facts are that religion has driven a lot of what has happen in history. You provide science and history programming for the homeschooling community. What do you have to say about the attempted neutralization, by this I mean deletion, of core concepts from some disciplines?

Thom: In science, as you know, there is a big segment of the homeschooling community that specifically seeks curriculum that does not discuss evolution, and in some cases, climate change.  In my opinion, the problem is not so much a deficiency in a child’s understanding of a specific area.  Realistically, we can survive without a deep knowledge of evolution, and many people who readily accept its validity can’t really discuss it in anything other than the most basic terms.  The problem is more in the way of thinking about science.  There is a fundamental lack of understanding of how science works in this group that thinks they can opt out of certain areas.  If they feel that they can deny the veracity of an entire field of science based on conflicting beliefs, then they really do not accept the scientific method and the integrity of scientists at large.  This leads to the idea that everything can be debated in non-scientific terms.  While it is true that scientists must continue to question and willingly alter their hypotheses when faced with evidence, the “neutral science” crowd feels that opinion is as strong as empirical evidence.  So, really, if they are young earthers, they not only believe that evolution is fake (and probably evil), but they also deny basic laws of physics, geology, astronomy/astrophysics, and much of chemistry.  I had one father ask me whether the physical rules that show that rocks or fossils are older than 6000 years could have changed, making the young earth idea valid.  This shows something deeper than ignorance of these areas of science.  It shows an active attempt to undermine the rules and twist the term science to fit a religious agenda.

As for history, this one is slightly different because the neutralization occurs in multiple ways.  In some cases, the importance of a specific religion is highlighted, while other religions are downplayed or even portrayed as villains.  Yes, this is terrible, but subjectivity pervades much of historical writing, and I find this type of intellectual tripe easier to identify than some of those treatments that aren’t so obvious.  Of course, this is problematic when it gets into the hands of unsuspecting students who believe that history is truth.

More significant is the attempt to alter the meanings, culpability, and impacts of religious activities when discussing important historical events.  There is a ubiquitous meme about religion being a major cause of war throughout history.  In response, there is a denial that this is the case, with some pointing to Stalin as the anti-religion monster.  Here’s where it gets dangerous and where most history curricula are unable to adapt.  In history, most people tend to think in a linear fashion, which is sensible enough, but they also only go about one degree of separation when analyzing causation.  How many wars were started with a leader stating, “We are going to war to protect or spread our religion?”  Pretty much none, so that means that a neutral history can claim that religion is never the cause of war.  It requires a deeper understanding of the social and cultural traits which allow a leader to tap into religious zeal and anti-other religion feelings to move the people to war.  By scrubbing this level of contextual analysis from history texts, a false message is promulgated and students are left unable to fully comprehend history.  A good example of such an occurrence might be the war in Iraq.  Did W say we were going into a religious war?  No, and many people will suggest that his intentions were other than that–oil, money for cronies, neocon geopolitical necessity, revenge for the attempted assassination of his daddy–but, the reason that we, as a country, rushed into this mess was a willingness to blame and attack “the other” in religious terms.  Christians isolate Christians who kill as “not true Christians” or as crazies, but lump Muslim extremists in with all the others who hate violence.  Tapping into this anti-Muslim religious feeling was crucial for getting us into two unfunded wars, and this religious element will not be mentioned in most history texts.

Check out the Homeschooling High School Webinar here.

Learning Science

Learning Science, Secular Science Homeschooling

 Homeschooling and Science

A Winning Combination

Sean Lee learning about the science of aviation.
Sean Lee learning about the science of aviation.

I am reposting this article in response to an article in the New York Times. There is a link to that article at the bottom of this post.  The article validates what I am detailing below about how science is best learned!

Learning science is something I have spent 24 years working at in one aspect or another. Today I want to talk about what I have learned over these years educating in various venues and to a broad range of age groups. This is the text from a talk I gave at the California Homeschool Network Convention, CHN Family Expo, in June, 2014.

I was a college professor, teaching chemistry and biology at community colleges before retiring to homeschool my son. I also write secular science textbooks for the Real Science Odyssey series. This is a series of textbooks that have been written primarily for use in a homeschool or small co-op setting. As you can imagine, at our house, we definitely take time to learn science. In the school year 2013/2014, these two areas, facilitating my son’s science education and my textbooks, combined when I taught a homeschool science co-op using the REAL Science Odyssey Biology 2 Course I wrote. I learned some things teaching this co-op. I will touch on some of those things today, but if you want more, you should go to my articles in my blog where there is information detailing what I learned about teaching a science co-op for homeschoolers.

First I would like to ask a question. Have you ever had a great science course? If you have, what made it great? I doubt that even one person thought of a science class that only had reading text and listening to lectures! People approach me all the time worried about the job they are doing teaching science. So many people have had a bad experience in school when it came to science. Those same people want their children to learn science but they do not know what a good science course looks like.

When I think about what a great science course looks like, I recognize that the elements for it are best met with the type of environment we have in the homeschool community, whether in our own home or in a small co-op. I’ve come to understand that the homeschooling environment is absolutely the best environment for learning science.

So how can I say this? There are many people, notable scientists among them (Bill Nye comes to mind at the top of the list), who believe the exact opposite.

Of all academic subjects, science is the one that is the best fit for the homeschooling environment. Why? Because science is best taught where there is the time and space to ponder, research, explore, and get up and experiment. With the right tools and support you don’t need a science degree either. All you need is a willingness and desire to have your child learn how the natural and physical world works.

Start early:

  • Serious subjects are taught beginning in grade school.
  • Why isn’t the subject that teaches how the natural and physical world works serious enough to start teaching early?
  • Starting early allows for more depth and complexity.
  • I hear from people that they can wait to teach science, that kids are not ready to be taught science in grade school. I don’t understand the logic behind this. Science explains how the natural and physical world works. Why isn’t grade school the perfect time to begin teaching science? It’s sad, because kids want to know about plants and butterflies, stars and planets, how cooking works, atoms and energy. Young children are fascinated by these things. I actually think a big part of the problem with science education is that parents are not fascinated by it anymore, and it’s really a shame. Adults are not fascinated by it because their science education was so poor. We as homeschoolers can change that.
  • Recently I volunteered at the Intel International Science and Education Fair, the Intel ISEF. It is a huge international science fair. They consider it a science talent search with thousands of high school students from across the globe competing for a total of $4 million in prize money. I always enjoy myself immensely at these gatherings because it’s the only time I get to sit around with a whole bunch of scientists and talk science. At lunch time I happened to sit down with 6 female scientists. Three of them were, or had been, high school science teachers and one was a community college teacher who taught people how to teach science. We all got to talking about what we did or had done and of course it came to homeschooling science when they wanted to know what I did. It was very interesting. You might think this group would not be proponents of homeschooling. I did. You and I would be wrong. These women had been to many science fairs as volunteers and what they saw, again and again, was that increasingly often the best science fair projects were from homeschooled students. I was told that more often than not the homeschooled kids are the ones that win the science fairs. I was curious to find out why they thought homeschooled kids were doing a superior job of learning and experimenting with science. They said to me that the problem stems from when traditional schools begin teaching science. According to them, science is being taught later and later in schools. This is due to the current state of public education and the testing which affects a school’s funding. Schools pour time and money into language arts and math, because if test scores are low in those areas a school’s funding is cut.
  • Teachers focus all their energy and resources on math and language arts to the detriment of science. If kids are lucky enough to get science before high school it is as a component of language arts. It isn’t science for the sake of science. Now this touches on several things I want to talk about in a minute. But when science is a component of language arts, it’s about reading science. It’s not about doing science and there’s a big difference. It’s why a lot of adults think science is boring. So what happens when you don’t start science until high school is that you have students who come into high school weak in science. Therefore the science teachers have to start teaching at a much more basic level then they were teaching in years past.
  • If you’re curious to see the difference in levels, go to the Pandia Press website and look at the difference in REAL Science Odyssey Life 1, Chemistry 1, and Biology 2. RSO Life 1 is written for early grade school, Chemistry 1 is written for late grade school, and Biology 2 is written for middle school. You can look at them in the ‘Try It before You Buy It’ section. I really encourage you to look at them side by side. I encourage you to compare the two biology texts and to look at the progression within these books. There’s a big change. There’s a certain amount of knowledge that you begin to anticipate and expect that students are going to have. Students who start a new school year with some knowledge have an advantage. This is similar to what is done in math or language arts. You do not want to be teaching high school students phonics or basic spelling chunks. You want to be discussing literature with them.
REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S.
REAL Science Odyssey Chemistry 1, Blair Lee M.S.

Focus on the fundamentals:

  • Scientific Method
  • Good Foundation means a good grasp of how the various pieces relate
  • Good Foundation allows for a better understanding of new concepts
  • Good Foundation leads to a better ability to analyze data, models, and theories about how the natural and physical world works
  • When I talk about fundamentals, I am talking about the underlying principles that are the root knowledge required for a more advanced understanding of a subject. These are things that high school students in traditional schools are no longer coming into the science classroom knowing.
  • Scientific Method: An important aspect of learning science is learning how to use the scientific method. Using the scientific method depends on knowing the basic facts of science. The absolute best way to learn the scientific method is through applying it. The scientific method is based on experimentation, observation, and deductive reasoning. One reason that the homeschool environment is superior is because homeschoolers are given the time and space for experimentation, making observations, and deductive reasoning. It really is the best environment for learning science. Teasing out the answer to a problem is not something you can set a time limit for accomplishing. Schools, by their very nature, are forced into giving students time limits to learn and apply science concepts.   This doesn’t lend itself to a practical understanding of how the scientific process really works.
  • A solid foundation in the basic fundamentals of science will result in students who have a good grasp of how the various pieces in science relate, which leads to a better understanding of new concepts. A strong focus on the foundational fundamentals also leads to a better ability to analyze more complex data, models, and theories for how the natural and physical world works
  • There are certain fundamental principles that are the basic building blocks for understanding science concepts. For example atoms; all matter is made of atoms. Every single science principle where we explain how the natural and physical world works at its core is talking about atoms. Even a graduate student studying complicated scientific principles and theories must understand the basics of atoms. An understanding of atoms is one of the foundational fundamental principles in all of science and is necessary to understand how other pieces of scientific information relate.
  • I think it is a problem that often there is not a focus on the basic fundamentals for two reasons. The first is that the students’ knowledge base is not complete. The second thing I see happening in middle school and high school texts and classes is that concepts that are too complicated are brought in before there is an understanding of the underlying principles. This leads to spotty knowledge which results in people thinking they’re not good in science when it is actually the quality of their education that’s not good. In these situations, some students will learn the new material, but most students will just breeze right over it. I like to use foreign language as an example here. If you’re sitting in a restaurant and you overhear someone speaking a language you don’t know you tune the speaker out. But if you know a little of that language you will listen, try to understand what they’re saying, maybe even start a conversation with them. It’s the same thing with science. If I start talking about polarity and water molecules and you don’t even understand the basics of what a molecule is, you don’t know what I’m talking about and your brain glazes over or moves on to something else. If you do have some knowledge of molecules and polarity, you will pay attention and engage in the conversation, adding to your knowledge base.

Learn each discipline as a single subject:

  • Does not create artificial boundaries
  • Allows for an in-depth understanding of the foundational fundamentals, instead of a “Jack of all Trades, Master of None” approach
  • Mastery of each science discipline is superior for that discipline and for making connections across disciplines
  • On the face of it, it might sound like spending an entire year every four years on a single subject creates artificial boundaries between science disciplines. While it is important that the material you use to teach points out and makes connections between the different disciplines, the best approach is to learn the fundamentals of each discipline and make connections once the basics are understood. This creates a cohesive body of knowledge which enhances a student’s ability to make connections between the disciplines.
  • Often science is learned with a grab bag approach, which I call the smattering approach. When I told the gals at the Intel ISEF fair that I was not a fan of the smattering approach they said that in the past they would have agreed with me. But that now, the state of the science being taught is in such a shabby state that they would even like it if people went back to the smattering approach. It turns out that the smattering approach for learning science is better than not learning it at all. So I guess if it’s between the smattering approach and nothing at all, the smattering approach is okay to use. Otherwise, any good science teacher will tell you you’re better off teaching science as a single subject, just as we do every other academic subject we care about our children learning.
  • This really goes back to teaching the foundational fundamentals. You start to build on concepts, creating a firm foundation, adding more and more complicated material on top of it. Anyone who has worked with their child in math knows exactly what I’m talking about. There is no other subject that we take seriously that we do not teach as a single subject. There is a reason for that.

Rely on one or more good textbooks:

Real Science Odyssey Biology 2
RSO Biology 2
  • Comprehensive
  • It helps to have a guide, someone who is an expert in that field, to help you figure out the scope and sequence of the material to cover.
  • Different students access information differently.
  • Focus on the fundamentals.
  • Make sure the text is secular teaching the theories and models that are central to each science discipline.
  • Don’t teach a co-op class without a text.
  • I write science textbooks that are long and complete. I do not write fluffy science. So it should not surprise people that I am a fan of having some sort of guide and guidance to follow for each subject that I’m having my child study over the course of the year. I learned my lesson with first grade biology that even someone who is very knowledgeable in the field could use some direction. When I homeschooled my son in first grade I had a guide and reference material for every subject he was learning, except biology. I thought, “How hard will it be? I taught biology at community college. I have a biology degree from UCSD. Biology is going to be a piece of cake.” It turns out, with all the other subjects he was working on I was overwhelmed when it came to planning and figuring out a course of study as I went along. In fact, when my son was in second grade I had him work through RSO Life 1 and Earth and Space 1!
  • I will be honest; my reference material is not always a textbook. In history we use video courses and material where someone else has put together a complete package. Science is a little different than history though, because you are still going to need lab sheets, material lists, and I really think it’s good for students to be able to read the information if they need it.
  • Choose texts that are comprehensive and do not skip over the basics, introducing advanced topics and language with a focus on the fundamentals. I do not think it matters which science discipline you start with, but I would suggest waiting until 3rd grade for chemistry and physics. When your child is ready for their multiplication tables they are ready for chemistry. It has to do with the abstract nature of chemistry.
  • Every area of science has a lot of information to it. It helps to have a guide, someone who is an expert in that field, help you figure out the scope and sequence of the material to cover. I believe there is no way to teach the foundational fundamentals or to teach science as a year-long single subject without a textbook. In every science class I have ever taught, I have been handed a stack of textbooks. I was given the teacher’s textbook, the lab manual, the answer key, and test making software, because a committee of people at the community college where I was teaching decided that was what the course was going to look like that year. Perhaps this sounds limiting, but I did not find it so. You can use the textbooks as a touch point if you want, but it is essential to have a guide so that the material is covered in a complete fashion.
  • The other important thing about having a good textbook is that students access information in various ways. I learned how important it is to have reference material when I taught a co-op class this year. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t have my son take a science co-op class if there wasn’t a textbook because if the subject gets complicated your child needs something to reference, not the Internet either. I think it is important to have something they can hold in their hands, something they can underline, highlight, and make notes from. A source that you can both go to.
  • Along the lines of accessing information I’ve actually been thinking about making some videos for my text and putting them on my blog for kids who are struggling with some of the more complicated concepts. The genetics unit in my biology textbook, for instance, is an area kids find very difficult. I think if students had me lecture out of the book to them, those kids who were feeling challenged by the concepts would be able to understand the information better. I’m very into making sure there are multiple ways to access information.

 Carefully pair theory with labs and activities

  • All theory and no labs, what a bore
  • All labs and no theory, teach cooking instead 

Let’s be clear about what I’m talking about when I call something a good science course. I am not talking about sitting in your seats. I am talking about getting up and moving around, getting your hands dirty. I’m talking about taking those foundational fundamentals and applying them to real-world labs and activities that relate well to the theory. This is where science becomes fun.

  • When scientific theories are paired well with labs and activities it enhances an understanding of the scientific method and science learning. It demonstrates through use and practice how hypotheses are formed and conclusions determined based on science facts that are presented in the text.
  • Sometimes I see science being taught where it is all theory with no labs or activities. The science theory is the science information in the written text. Other times I see science being taught with all labs and activities but no theory. Neither is adequate.
  • Honestly all theory with no labs and activities, why bother. That’s where science gets a bad name. For parents I know that the labs and activities are work. I know you do not always feel like setting them up. I know this because I teach my child science, and I don’t always feel like setting them up, but I do it because it’s important to me that my son gets a good science education. A good science education has labs and activities that are carefully paired with the text and theory.
  • All lab and activities with no theory might be fun, but you are not learning science cohesively. You’re not learning the foundational fundamentals. For example, how many of you understand the complicated process that occurs when you bake a cake? By this I mean the physics and chemistry involved in the baking process. To bake a cake you don’t need to know the underlying science because that is not your reason for baking it. It is about making a yummy treat for your family. In order for it to be called science you would need to understand the physics and chemistry of the process. And to know and understand the science you need to have studied the theory and then done the experiments. That way it all ties together.
  • When this is done; the pairing of the theory with the labs and activities, no place outside a college lab that is thoughtfully paired with a lecture course can match the homeschool community. It might be another reason why we are winning all of those science fairs.

5 Steps to a Great Science Education

  1. Start Early
  2. Focus on the Fundamentals
  3. Single Subject
  4. Good Textbook &/or Reference Materials
  5. Carefully Paired Theory and Labs & Activities

I hope that this helps any of you who are worried about your children’s learning of science, and that this doesn’t sound complicated to you. All you need to facilitate your child learning science is a desire and the resources to make it happen. I want to close with, “Science is so much fun to do, to share and interact. I really hope you take the time to explore science with your child. Who knows, maybe the next time someone asks you if you have had a great science course you will raise your hand, because the years of science you did while homeschooling your child were just that good!”

Update: In December of 2014 the New York Times published an article about college reinventing how science is taught and better learned using the principles and methods I am advocating here!

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Check out this list for materials to use for your own homeschool science co-op here and read some of my Lunar Ramblings here.