10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling

10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling

Deciding to homeschool is a big step. It is a big responsibility to oversee your child’s education. Deciding to secular homeschool can make the job seem even more challenging. However, there are some tried and true tips that can make the job of secular homeschooling much easier. Continue reading to learn more, and if you’re interested in joining the SEA Homeschooling community, join our Facebook group or become a member today!

1. Know why you are choosing a secular homeschool path

For most homeschoolers, the How (to do it) takes up most of their time. Before working on the “How”, it is a good idea to document the “Why.” Every secular homeschooler I have ever met had one thing in common. We care deeply about our children’s education. This is part of our why, but there is usually more to it. Writing a mission statement, a brief statement of your Why, will keep you grounded and on track.  

A well-crafted Mission Statement acts as a compass. It sets boundaries and provides clarity and direction. It provides a guidepost when you feel scattered or overwhelmed. It can also be used in moments of indecision when choosing between options and paths. And the more innovative and eclectic you are, the more options and possibilities you will look at. Your Mission Statement can help you narrow these.

2. Get to know how your learner learns. 

Children learn in different ways. A major benefit of homeschooling is the ability to develop a learner-centered education for your child. When you focus on how your child learns, you can connect them with the unique way their brain works. Getting to know how your child learns allows you to implement strategies for promoting learning paths where they are naturally skilled as well as provide scaffolding for those your child finds more challenging.

3. Find your state groups, local co-ops, and local playgroups.

In the US, homeschooling is regulated on the state level. The first thing to do when you decide to homeschool is to check the regulations for homeschooling set out by your state’s board of education. Each state has some differences in the procedure you need to go through for homeschooling. While you are at it, check to see if there is a statewide secular homeschool organization. That is a great place to get the information you need. Many of these organizations also have information about local secular homeschool co-ops and playgroups that can help you connect with homeschoolers in your area.

4. Find an online community.

Finding an online community is especially important for secular homeschoolers. When you decide to secular homeschool, it puts you in a smaller cohort of the homeschool community. The good news is that the secular homeschool community has a large online presence. There are free online secular homeschool conferences, secular homeschool magazines, and on Facebook, there is the SEA Homeschoolers Group with 77,000+ members. Our group functions like a huge teacher’s lounge where you can ask questions and get input and trusted advice from experienced homeschoolers.

5. Find secular homeschool curriculum (which can be harder than you might think!)

The most frustrating part of creating a secular homeschool is the amount of misinformation about whether resources are secular or not. Many publishers have misleading statements about what should be in secular materials. It is not just publishers, either. There are blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook groups, and websites that list materials as secular that are not. This is another reason you will want to find a trusted online secular homeschool community. The best place to get information is in a public forum with a reputation for being honest about what is and is not secular.

6. Customize to honor you and your learners.

A major benefit of homeschooling is that you can choose and customize resources. This can be done to reflect your student’s metacognitive needs. It is also increasingly being done to teach topics within subjects that parents and students feel are undertaught. For example, in the secular homeschool community, first-person African American, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ voices are often added to history lessons. Customizing resources is also done to address the underteaching in traditional schools of core topics like science. Secular homeschool students generally get much more science learning than their traditional school peers.

For some secular homeschoolers, it can be scary to customize curriculum. As long as they are academically rich, alternatives aren’t just okay, they can often be better. As secular homeschooling has gained in popularity, potential bosses and colleges are coming to realize the benefits of including this cohort at work and on campuses.

7. Go into it with your eyes open about the workload.

Homeschooling is work. As obvious as that statement is,  the amount of work that goes into planning and implementingit can catch new homeschoolers off guard. Toss in the work needed to ensure resources are secular, and it can feel overwhelming. If you begin to feel that way, take a step back and focus on why you are homeschooling. The rewards and benefits for your children and family are significant when there is a focus on meaningful, learner-centered education. 

You will want to relax too. Enjoy this time with your child. Do the best you can do, and that is the best you can do. In addition, choose good secular homeschool resources that work for your learner and then relax. You are doing a great job!

8. Collect, compare, and share work samples. 

Collecting work samples can relieve so much stress. These samples are the best way to track a student’s progress. The best time to collect work samples in every subject is at the beginning and end of each semester. It is also a good idea to collect monthly samples. Put these in a folder with a date on them. Compare work to monitor progress, and then share that work with your child so they can see their progress. You, as the person facilitating their learning, and your children, the learners, should feel proud of their progress.

Work samples can also help when troubleshooting. If progress is stagnant, it could be the materials being used. It could also be a cognitive or developmental issue. If this turns out to be the case, it can feel scary. However, for these issues, early intervention is important. The good news is that once you know what issues need accommodations, there are a plethora of resources available to help you help your learners. 

If your child is flying through the material, it generally means their needs are not being met. Make sure that the choices meet your learner where they are at academically. Learners with high academic needs benefit from regular check-ins to ensure the materials are a good fit.

9. Evaluate with a growth mindset and a mastery approach.

In an age where multiple-choice tests and red pens to essays are the norm, is it any wonder that evaluating work has negative connotations? The issue is not the evaluation, however. It is how and why it is done in traditional school. Just remember, you have a secular homeschool. You can evaluate in the way it should be used.

The evidence that evaluations done right benefit learning is substantial. The phrase “benefit learning” is where energy should be focused. Evaluations give information about whether a student has mastered course material. If not, take the time to slow down and focus on those areas the learner needs more time with. Be thoughtful when giving feedback. Learning is a process and scaffolding through the thoughtful and kind feedback of a limited number of skills is the best way to mentor student progress.

10. Decide whether you want to leave it open for kids to go to traditional school.

Many homeschoolers want to leave it open for their children to go to traditional school. Homeschoolers that want this should definitely choose to secular homeschool. History and science materials used by secular homeschoolers align closer in topic with traditional school than non-secular homeschools do.

Whatever your reason for wanting to secular homeschool, you have got this. You really do. It starts with one step, and then gets easier as you go along. There is so much joy and pleasure to share learning with your child. Relax, get advice when you need it, and know that you are a part of a big, warm, and welcoming community!

Secular Homeschooling – Vetting Secular Science Curriculum

A grandmother plays with her granddaughter.

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum

10 Ways to Make Sure Your Science Curriculum IS Secular

Phew! You have finally done it. You spent hours, days, and weeks planning the courses and materials you will use for your secular homeschooling during the coming year. Your excitement over planning the best year of homeschooling EVER results in you sharing your plan at a park day or on Facebook. Instead of the expected accolades, you hear from people that your choice for science isn’t secular. Wait… what? The website you purchased the science from didn’t say the science wasn’t secular. Or worse yet, the website said the materials were secular and you are now learning that is not the case. Or perhaps you are using another homeschooler’s recommendation. Whatever the reason, you now have to go back to the drawing board and figure science out, AGAIN. What is a secular homeschooler to do! Vetting secular science curriculum can be tricky, but we’ll discuss some ways you can make sure your curriculum is truly a secular science curriculum. At SEA Homeschoolers, we offer secular materials and more for your homeschool science curriculum! Be sure to check out our site and read on to learn more.

Why Vetting a Secular Science Curriculum is Important

Secular science curriculum and materials use empirical, evidence-based information that include and present scientific facts, principles, models, and theories as recommended by a majority of practicing experts in each scientific field. Even with the extra work that vetting secular science curriculum entails, there is a good reason to ensure you are using exclusively secular science materials when homeschooling.

That reason is academic integrity. Academic integrity is the ethical policy that forms the guiding principles for what and how academic materials are presented. Companies and individuals who present themselves as entities that have the credentials to determine what people learn should be held to the highest standards of academic integrity.

From the standpoint of materials and programs that are created to teach children, academic integrity has to do with the honesty and rigor science authors use when determining what and how facts, principles, models, and theories are presented. Only science materials that are secular are developed by people who have academic integrity. Now that you know why you should put in the extra time vetting secular science curriculum, how can you make sure your homeschool science curriculum really is secular?

A young student stands in front of a chalkboard.

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum: 10 Tips to Make it Easier

We hear all the time in the Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Facebook group what a problem it can be to make sure the materials you choose are secular. There is obfuscation on the part of some textbook publishers and authors. There are also new materials being published regularly. Let me share some of the tips we use when we are vetting secular homeschool science curriculums.

The Science of Climate Change textbook.
A teacher and a student.

1. Search the publisher’s website.

My favorite word to search for is evolution (but climate change and the Big Bang are good choices too). Evolution is the central thematic element that should be woven throughout biology. No secular biology course above the early elementary school level will be missing a discussion about evolution. In short: your secular science curriculum should not avoid or shy away from teaching evolution. This example from Friendly Biology shows you how this is explained by nonsecular publishers.

“What is the difference between the Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology and the secular version of Friendly Biology?

The Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology gives credit to God as the creator of all living things. This credit is omitted from the secular version. The theory of evolution is not included in either version as it was our goal in writing the course to present currently accepted observations of living creatures in today’s world.”

Even if you are not looking for a biology course, the omission of this word from a biology course indicates that all science materials put out by the publisher are not secular. Note the phrase “currently accepted observations.” Advocates of “observational science” will tell you that they only teach students science where the material presented in the theory can be observed. Nonsecular publishers attempting to publish a “secular” version will tell you that evolution cannot be directly observed. (Neither can climate change, the Big Bang, geologic time, or a cosmological explanation for how heavy elements are created in stars.) Anyone who writes a biology course without evolution as a thematic element of the course will not have secular chemistry, astronomy, earth science, or physics.

2. Look for science materials that advertise you can skip the chapters containing core science theories like evolution or the Big Bang without it impairing the course.

In fact, you cannot omit central concepts that are essential for making connections across disciplines without it impairing the course.

Evolution is a thematic element that gives context and meaning to the whole of biology. The Big Bang is a scientific theory for how the universe and everything in it came to be. A homeschool science curriculum course written so that the section on evolution can “just be skipped” is not presenting entire areas of biology, such as genetics, anatomy and physiology, systems of classification, and medicine, as would be recommended by a majority of practicing experts in the field of biology. Here is an example of the publisher of Elemental Science and Sassafras Science omitting these.

“In the intermediate years, the pages that deal with the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are included as optional studies.” Secular science courses do not consider the two central scientific theories, one explaining how all organisms and the other explaining how all matter got here, to be optional.

This same publisher goes on to say this.

“In the high school years, we do schedule the chapters from the standard CK-12 textbooks that deal with the theories of evolution and the Big Bang as we believe it is important for students to be familiar with these.”

This is an interesting word choice to use “to be familiar” instead of “to learn.” Publishers of secular science curriculum courses recognize the importance of learning these theories and all the science topics they are woven through in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of science.

3. Search through the FAQs on the publisher’s website and Facebook groups for information about the worldview of the materials.

Another good search term is “opposing viewpoints.” Many products written from the perspective of intelligent design claim their science products are more credible because they encourage students to explore opposing viewpoints. In the series Real-Science-4-Kids, a science curriculum written from the intelligent design perspective, Rebecca Keller makes the following claim:

“All of the books introduce real science to students and this means scientific facts and theories that are currently accepted by the scientific community. However, the books also introduce students to the philosophy of science and encourage students to explore opposing viewpoints when it comes to interpreting what these facts and theories may mean to individuals, groups, and the larger community.”

The above statement is misleading for two reasons. The first is that the materials DO omit key topics such as evolution which most certainly IS currently accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. The second and possibly more serious issue is that Keller puts a family’s worldview on par with centuries of scientific research, conclusions, and evidence, something not done in secular homeschool science curriculum materials. It isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works.

Here is an example of how the worldview of the publisher Friendly Biology makes it important for them to redefine secular science curriculum as only presenting “accepted observations” that omit evolution.

“What is the difference between the Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology and the secular version of Friendly Biology?

The Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology gives credit to God as the creator of all living things. This credit is omitted from the secular version. The theory of evolution is not included in either version as it was our goal in writing the course to present currently accepted observations of living creatures in today’s world.”

If you are looking for secular science courses, you do want those that present accepted observations. However, that should include ALL accepted observations, such as the theory of evolution.

4. Search the website to look for terms the publisher redefines from their science usage to everyday usage.

“At Elemental Science, we treat scientific fact as fact and scientific theory as theory. So we are not Christian or Secular – we are just science.” This is an important distinction and good to understand if looking for secular science. Science curriculum should treat scientific facts as scientific facts and scientific theories as scientific theories. Many nonsecular science materials use the definitions for fact and theory based on their everyday usage, not on their science definitions. In everyday usage facts take precedence over theories. In science the opposite is true.

“Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true”. … Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” National Center for Science Education

In science, facts are an observation of a phenomenon. Theories are big and profound, weaving numerous facts, experimental results, and scientific laws into them. The concept of scientific theory is a central dogma of science. No mainstream scientist or science educator would intentionally misuse the term or attempt to redefine it. The end goal when a publisher works to redefine a term like scientific theory is to undermine those scientific theories the nonsecular community takes issue with, such as the theory of evolution, germ theory, and the theory explaining the climate crisis.

Here is an explicit example from Paige Hudson, the publisher of Elemental and
Sassafras science doing this. “In other words, using the word theory tells other scientists that this idea is still be (sic) worked on, but the word fact says that this idea is proven to be true.”

There are several parts of this statement to unpack. Scientific theories do not become facts. Scientific theories explain facts. To call something a theory does tell scientists that an explanation for how something is happening (“this idea”) is being worked on. This is not a weakness of a scientific theory. Instead, it is important as a central concept to science that our understanding of the natural and physical world continues to “be worked on.” Hudson also states that “the word fact says that this idea is proven to be true.” This is an incorrect definition of a scientific fact. It is also incorrect to indicate that facts prove theories to be true. Scientific theories do not give absolute proof of a science phenomenon.

Hudson is not the only curriculum developer to do this. In fact, this is one of the most common tactics used by nonsecular publishers. Here is another example from Layers of Learning.

“Layers of Learning is a springboard for pursuits of knowledge. We provide facts, topics, resources, questions, and experiment ideas, and then allow you to explore and establish theories, beliefs, and ideas.”

In this case, scientific theories are being equated with beliefs, which is an incorrect analogy. Another issue is that young learners do not have enough science knowledge, nor do they have access to the type of science equipment and research needed to “establish their own scientific theories” and neither do most of their parents. Keep this in mind when choosing secular science curriculum materials for your homeschool science curriculum.

5. Use the contact form on the website; this should be the first step if the website does not have a search function.

Ask the publisher directly if the materials are proper for a secular homeschool, and how the publisher defines secular materials. Make sure the publisher knows what criteria you expect when choosing a secular science curriculum. While you are on the phone ask if evolution, the Big Bang, climate change, and the age of the Earth and the universe (in billions) are discussed in their science courses. If you are still in doubt, ask for the specific language used to explain evolution, environmental topics (especially climate change and global warming), and the age of the Earth. Make sure the publisher knows you will return the materials if they are not secular using your definition for secular not theirs.

The evolution of the human skull.

6. Visit a secular homeschool conference or curriculum fair.

These are a fantastic place to get your hands on the materials which can make vetting secular science curriculum much easier. They are limited to the vendors who are there, but nothing compares to perusing materials yourself. Look for the same key concepts and terms that you look for on a publisher’s website.

7. Check out the speakers and vendors at the Great Homeschool Convention.

The Great Homeschool Convention (GHC) is known for excluding secular science materials at its conferences. In the area of science, if a speaker or vendor is at GHC they are not secular. This group is not open to or welcoming of secular scientists as speakers. GHC regularly has Jay Wile, author of the Apologia series, Jonathan Sarfati, author of Refuting Evolution, and Paige Hudson, the author of the neutral science series, Elemental. By looking at the list of speakers and vendors at GHC you can learn which materials are NOT secular.

8. Facebook groups and pages can be great sources.

Unfortunately, these sites are also one of the reasons there is so much confusion over which science materials are secular. Determine what the operating definition for the word secular is for groups and sites you get curriculum recommendations from. If inclusivity is a part of the organization’s definition of secular, it generally means intelligent design and neutral materials are reviewed and recommended as secular.

Another issue arises when nonsecular publishers use their social media platforms to confuse and miseducate about whether their product is secular or not. This is an example from the Supercharged Science Facebook page.

“You will not find any mention to timelines. We present facts and then encourage you to experiment, research, and pursue further knowledge. That’s what scientists do! They are always trying to experiment and explain. Layers of Learning is a springboard for pursuits of knowledge. We provide facts, topics, resources, questions, and experiment ideas, and then allow you to explore and establish theories, beliefs, and ideas,” (like “millions of years”) or origins or evolutionary changes. Since we have so many students from all over the world, we’ve found this approach to be best in order to serve such a wide audience.”

At least the last part of this statement is honest that the intent is to sell to as many people as possible. The issue with this is that the geological timescale and evolution are core thematic elements that cannot be omitted from science courses without compromising the science taught in the course. However, as with Layers of Learning, this claim states that users will be able to “establish their own theories.” In this case specifically about the Big Bang theory and the Theory of Evolution. Under no circumstances would a secular science curriculum or publisher make the claim that by using their materials that your child would be qualified to establish their own theories explaining how the universe and all the organisms in it came to be.

9. Google science authors to see what they’ve published and/or where they teach.

This isn’t foolproof however, as evidenced by Supercharged Science, developed by scientist Aurora Lipper. Lipper taught at Cal Poly and worked on a project for NASA, credentials she uses to sell her products. However, Lipper has developed a science program she defines as “creation neutral.”

“This program is designed to serve all families, regardless of individual beliefs. Each lesson has been carefully structured so that it is “creation neutral.” This means that if you choose to incorporate a religious perspective into your child’s education, this program will easily allow you to do so, and will not conflict with traditional religious perspectives. However, if you prefer to keep science separate from religion, this program will be perfect for your family as well. There are no references to any religious concepts or belief systems in any of the lessons. Religion is a very personal choice, and I totally respect that. As such, this program leaves it to you as a parent to decide if you want to incorporate religion or not.”

When you read a statement like this one, directly comparing science and religion, it does not matter what the author’s credentials are. Secular science curriculum does not take religion into account because science and religion are not the same academic disciplines. The purpose of science is to accurately and adequately explain how the natural and physical world works. When a science author leaves topics out because of issues of faith, the science is not being accurately or adequately taught.

While Googling, investigate if they are a part of the Intelligent Design community as Rebecca Keller the publisher of Gravitas Press is. Keller is a signer of “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” published by the Discovery Institute, a conservative think-tank that promotes Intelligent Design. Unfortunately, this information is becoming harder to find as those in the Intelligent Design community work to mislead that Intelligent Design uses empirical evidence-based information as they sow doubt about science information that is at odds with Creationism and conservative politics. The Intelligent Design community also misrepresents theories like evolution as controversial in the scientific community. Something they are not. This quote from an op-ed article by Keller shows how this is done.

“Not only should students learn that reasonable people disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data, they should learn that scientists disagree, too. In fact, disagreeing about how data should be interpreted is what scientists do. That is science. The history of science illustrates that disagreements in science are the very thing that fuels scientific discovery.

Evolution as a secular creation story is already being preached from the classroom pulpit. Teaching the controversy helps keep religion, of any flavor, out of the classroom.”

The majority of scientists would tell you that innovation and scientific research are the very things that fuel science, not disagreements about data. Scientific data is the information collected while conducting experiments. If a scientist does question the data, they conduct their own experiment and collect their own data. Scientists might disagree about the interpretation of the data or in rare cases how the experiment was set up, but they do not spend a lot of time arguing about it. Keller’s reason for attacking data instead of the interpretation of the data supporting evolution, is that outside of the Creationist community, there is no arguing about the scientific consensus that evolution occurs. The data supporting the theory of evolution is conclusive. That evolution occurs is a primary fact the theory incorporates and builds on to explain why and how evolution occurs.

The Intelligent Design community and Keller’s sowing of doubt regarding data is irresponsible and far reaching. If scientists spend a great deal of time arguing about data, then the data must be open for interpretation and not be well understood. It is untrue that scientists commonly put out information that is not well founded. The public health crisis surrounding the misinformation and disinformation about vaccines and masks as well as climate change denialism use this tactic to weaken the public’s confidence in scientific data.

Keller goes from a paragraph written to indicate that scientists often disagree about data to a discussion about evolution. This is artful in its pairing even if the former does not logically lead to the latter. After stating that arguments over data fuel scientific discovery, Keller uses religious metaphors to support her real purpose for the article, to convince people to teach the controversy in science classes. In other words, teach Creationism along with evolution in a side-by-side manner. She goes so far as to claim that teaching Creationism helps keep science out of the classroom. In effect, she is redefining Creationism as science instead of religious dogma.

10. Compare the table of contents of traditional textbooks,

like Holt, for instance, with the table of contents for the homeschool science curriculum. The materials will not align directly, but the same core subjects should be in both.

Remember, it isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works. To have an adequate and accurate understanding of science, it is essential that the science materials used are secular. Contact SEA Homeschoolers with any questions or to get started.

* Neutral science materials are not secular. They omit core science topics pandering to a non-secular worldview. You can follow this link to read my article, Why Neutral Science isn’t Neutral.

Also please see this article: The Definitions for What Constitutes Secular Academic Materials

Remember, it isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works. To have an adequate and accurate understanding of science, it is essential that the science materials used are secular. Contact SEA Homeschoolers with any questions or to get started/ 

* Neutral science materials are not secular. They omit core science topics pandering to a non-secular worldview. You can follow this link to read my article, Why Neutral Science isn’t Neutral.

Earth Day Online Scavenger Hunt

Earth Day Online Scavenger Hunt

It’s Earth Day! Normally this is a day when communities have lots of organized activities to help people learn about and improve the environment, but with the current global pandemic that is not an option this year. So, we created this fun and educational online scavenger hunt that families can complete together while sheltering at home. We hope that as you check off all of the challenges on this list, you will learn about important environmental issues and find ways you can reduce your family’s environmental impact & help solve the climate crisis.

1. Find pictures & population data of 5 endangered species.

2. Find an image, video, or article about rain bombs.

3. Find a picture of an invasive species (plant or animal) that has been found in your area and look up information on why it is problematic.

4. Find information about local recycling programs. Make a list of items that can be recycled in your area and hang it near your trash bin as a reminder.

5. Find pictures of healthy coral reefs and pictures of coral reefs affected by ocean acidification. Discuss the differences and the environmental effects of ocean acidification.

6. Use a website like carbonfootprint.com to calculate your household’s carbon footprint. Examine the results and discuss ways you can reduce your carbon footprint.

7. Look up water usage for baths vs showers of various lengths. Calculate how much water your family uses for baths and showers over a week, month, and year.

8. Locate an area impacted by severe drought. List at least 3 ways the region has been impacted by drought beyond water needs.

9. Look up data on sea ice loss since you were born. Find a video or graphic to help you visualize what that loss looks like.

10. Look up information or watch videos about the pressing environmental issues related to disposable and one-time-use plastic products. Take a tour of your home and make a list of plastic products you can commit to replacing with items made of other materials and disposable products you can replace with reusable versions within the next year.

The Other Science Crisis: Climate Change

The Other Science Crisis: Climate Change

Everyone, everywhere is talking about the coronavirus right now and for good reason. But this Earth Day, let us remember that there are at least two major science crises going on right now:

  1. The global warming that is causing the climate crisis
  2. Of course, the coronavirus

The science explaining the coronavirus is not yet well understood. The science explaining climate change is. And there is no time like the present to learn the science of climate change. In part because,

“Scientists have long warned that climate change will impact not just our environment, but also our health by increasing rates of infectious disease.” (Ibrahim AlHusseini)

Long after a vaccine has been developed for the coronavirus, the climate crisis will be an ongoing problem. We need to be working to find solutions for it. The first step to doing that is to understand the science explaining it. Whether your kids are home for a short time (school under teach this issue) or for longer, make this the year your family learns what climate change is, how it happens, and what you can do to help.

To celebrate Earth Day, SEA Publishing has put The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course on sale for almost 80% off (April 22-24, 2020). Check out the book the National Science Teaching Association calls, “a much-needed resource for understanding climate change and gets into the details of climate change in a way that increases understanding for both kids and adults alike. This is a great, user-friendly book for all of us who need to understand the complex issue of climate change.”    

Why “Neutral” Science Isn’t Neutral

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral - Secular Homeschooling

Why Neutral Science Isn’t Neutral

by Blair Lee

Are there any science types reading this title wondering who I am? Or do you know who I am and think I’ve finally lost it? I am not talking about science as it is practiced and taught at most universities throughout the United States. I’m talking about the special brand of “neutral science” found in the homeschool community and increasingly in public schools in the United States.

The neutral science I’m referring to is science that suffers from omission. These are middle and high school level science courses that leave out the bits they think will offend people because of their faith and philosophy of life, or omit things to obfuscate the importance and acceptance of science principles and theories. Any middle and high school level science course that does not include the main principles and theories that are the foundation of that science is not neutral at all. In fact, they would be the opposite of neutral. “Neutral” science allows for a pernicious form of proselytizing that for the most part goes unnoticed. It allows for groups such as the intelligent design camp to sneak their views and beliefs into texts that look like they only teach science. Texts that are infused with someone’s religious beliefs are actually well-disguised religious treatise and dogma. They are not neutral, and do not represent mainstream science.

If you had told me a decade ago I would be arguing against religious extremism in science I would have thought you were nuts. I am a scientist, not a religious scholar, or a religious philosopher. As such, I write about science not religion and not philosophy. Unfortunately, there are authors of science texts who allow their faith to affect their writings about science. For someone who is a passionate advocate for the teaching of science this is actually offensive to me. It is also disappointing when I see people unwittingly recommend courses that have this sort of religious dogma hidden within them.

Personal beliefs don’t have a place in science courses. It isn’t the job of science to support an individual’s philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works, even when scientific explanations are at odds with the person’s philosophical beliefs. Science by its very nature is neutral. What is neutral for science is to report the facts, accepted principles, and current theories. As a textbook author, I do decide what to include and what not to include in my books. My decisions for this are based on what is taught at well-regarded universities. I choose the best of those courses, look at what they include and how they are structured, and then write courses structured similarly, for the appropriate grade level. This is what you should expect from a course you are using to educate your child.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral candy chromosome

Candy chromosome: Basic genetics is often left out of or under taught in neutral science courses, because a good understanding of genetics leads to an understanding of how evolution occurs.

How can you as a non-scientist figure out what to use? There are some key things to look for in a middle school or high school level science course that is truly neutral:
• The inclusion of evolution: Here is a neutral statement from the science of biology, “Evolution happens.” When we talk about the theory of evolution, the theory part refers to the processes of how evolution works. For example, there are theories about how multi-cellularity and eukaryotic cells evolved; no one knows exactly how either of these evolutionary steps occurred. That evolution occurs is a fact. No neutral middle school or high school biology course would omit it. No neutral biology course would omit how all the organisms on earth came to be here.
• Is the word design used in place of the word evolution? Fashion designers design clothes. Scientific researchers design experiments. Organisms evolve; they are not designed.
• Is the word created or creation used when discussing how organisms, the universe, or matter came into existence? Organisms evolved; they were not created. The universe and matter formed from events starting with the Big Bang; they were not created. There is simply no evidence any of these were created. The only topics and statements that belong in science courses are topics and statements that have evidence supporting them. Topics and statements based on a person’s beliefs with no supporting evidence belong in a philosophy course, not a neutral science course. When scientists do not know the answers to questions, for instance: “how the first organism evolved, and what its exact chemical makeup was” or “what was it like right before the Big Bang,” it is inappropriate to answer with personal beliefs.
• The inclusion of the Big Bang Theory: Here’s a neutral statement from the science of astronomy, “The universe is over 13 and a half billion years old. The best explanation for how it came into existence is the Big Bang Theory. The evidence for the Big Bang Theory grows all the time. The Big Bang Theory explains how all matter and antimatter in the universe came to be, even the matter that makes humans.” This is a scientifically neutral statement. An astronomy course that does not include an explanation similar to that about the Big Bang Theory is not neutral.
• Another neutral statement, “Humans have been burning fossil fuels in increased amounts since the Industrial Revolution. This has led to an increase in carbon dioxide and other molecules in the atmosphere that absorb sunlight in the form of heat. The more heat trapping molecules that are in the atmosphere, the more heat that is trapped, and the warmer the planet becomes. It is simple thermodynamics. The increase in absorbed sunlight is causing climate change on a global scale.” Any geology or environmental science course that does not include this topic is not neutral.
• Does the middle or high school level biology course only teach the old Linnaean system for classifying organisms? This is the system that uses kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. This might seem like a minor point, but scientists and universities only use the Linnaean system for naming organisms. The Linnaean system is popular with courses that are not neutral because it supports the philosophy of the “Great Chain of Being.” The modern method for classifying organisms used by scientists and taught at universities is phylogeny and cladistics.

You might think chemistry and physics are immune and you don’t have to worry about these two subjects. The problem is what is being left out. What key parts of these courses are omitted? As Bob Seger says, “Deadlines and commitments; What to leave in, what to leave out.” If scientists are writing these courses, and I’m not always sure they are, what are they committed to? No scientist committed to adequately educating people in these areas of science would omit these facts and theories. They must be omitting key parts of these science disciplines to further an agenda other than quality science education.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral

Here’s the problem with a chemistry or physics textbook that omits key parts:
• Chemistry is the science that definitively proves evolution occurs.
• Physics is the science that gives the clearest evidence the Big Bang is how the universe came into existence.
• Physical chemistry is the area of science used to study and explain climate change.

Many of the so-called “neutral” science courses omit the parts that provide the evidence supporting these facts and theories. If you use these “neutral” science courses for your middle or high school chemistry and physics courses, your child will be left without the necessary science background to understand evolution, the Big Bang Theory, climate change, and other key science principles. If you use these “neutral“ science courses for middle school and high school biology, astronomy, geology, or environmental science, your child will not even be getting the necessary background in these areas of science to understand that science discipline. I think you’ll agree with me, that isn’t neutral at all.

1406266378Blair Lee M.S. is the the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. When she’s not busy doing these things, she’s busy writing or working on service projects. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Real Science Odyssey Biology 2 and Chemistry 1, http://www.pandiapress.com/publications/real-science-odyssey/. She is currently working on Astronomy and Earth Science 2 for the series.

Passionately Engaged: A Scientist’s Journey

Woman in Science Blair Lee - Scientist

Passionately Engaged: A Scientist’s Journey

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

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

International Day of Women and Girls in Science: There’s Still Work To Be Done

International Women and Girls in Science Day

International Women and Girls in Science Day

International Women and Girls in Science Day is upon us, and it’s interesting to think that we need a day to recognize the female interest in and contributions to science, but here we are. We absolutely need to celebrate it. And while I hope this is an inspirational piece of writing, I also believe that the time for well crafted words has passed and now, more than ever, is a time for action.

Women have always been involved in science, from the ancient wisdom of healers who used the natural world for observation, practice and teaching to the women who defied societal expectations to live a life of scientific inquiry, to the women now who are combining science and technology with entrepreneurship. We have also always been the subject of science, both with and without our consent. Women are still marginalized in scientific and technology focused communities, and not because of a lack of interest, but because of a longstanding history. Women in science still report their abilities being questioned, their advancement slower, and their exclusion from contributing important work, particularly if they choose to start a family. Most of the technology product design and start up industry is still dominated by men. Science and technology created for women is still predominantly created by men because of the slow changing nature of culture. These are serious issues that merit not only a day of observance and conversation, but a substantial effort towards change.

International Women and Girls in Science Day
Photo by S.Cook of her daughter, a budding veterinarian. For the record, they both believe girls can be any combination of princess and scientist they choose.

Click here to learn more about International Women and Girls in Science Day

When we celebrate science and technology, we are also celebrating the history of innovation and invention, the art of design, the mathematics of precision, the collective community of the users. The lines between subjects are a myth, a construction by the conventional education system to compartmentalize learning. This separation of subjects was particularly harmful to girls, as it allowed for the bias that still assigns an aptitude for certain subjects according to gender. As an educator, I have taught in almost every kind of environment and my experience has taught me that education has a primary role in changing society. The more I came to understand how much harm it has done to see different subjects as isolated and autonomous, the more dedicated I became to changing the paradigm and advocating for interpreting science and technology in a personal way.

As I experimented more with centering the acquisition of skill around the specific needs of the learner, I was able to utilize our family’s considerable participation in the maker movement and open a workshop designed specifically for children and their families. We formed a non-profit and began a 5 year experiment in hacking the way STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and maths) education could be presented and individualized. The most essential value we embodied at Curiosity Hacked was that each of us could choose the role science and technology plays within our lives, and I actively recruited women as mentors with a variety of interests and skills so that girls had solid role models of women makers and boys did too. The foundation of our programs was that using science, technology, art, and design thinking not only created skilled makers, but children who embraced and mastered creativity, innovative thinking, resilience, resourcefulness, and networking. These are the kind of strengths that are invaluable in a quickly changing world. For girls, the experience often dramatically and positively changed their self image and what they thought themselves capable of. Science is interesting and valuable in its own right, independent of future occupations, and that the earlier girls are empowered to pursue their own interest in it, the more prepared they will be for a future that depends on their science and tech confidence.

I also saw mothers learn new concepts and skills that they had never been exposed to or did not think to/were intimidated to try and it transformed them, not just personally, but also in the way they parented and their increased support of science and technology initiatives. We can’t change the future for girls if we don’t hold the space in the present for adults to gain the knowledge and skills that the younger generation is fluent in. Adults need to understand the essential value of science and technology as more than electronics, academics, entertainment, and healthcare. Our society often focuses on the future of girls in STEM fields, but their enjoyment of it, and the education of the adults influencing their lives, right now in the present is just as crucial.

Whether or not science and technology is part of an educational trend through STEM/STEAM initiatives, women and girls have always engaged with their innate sense of curiosity. The idea that we need to encourage them to love science and technology is placing the burden on those who already bear the cultural conditioning of many generations. Girls and women already love science and technology. What needs to be encouraged is policy and cultural changes that support their interest and leave girls with no doubt that they belong and are respected in their chosen field. This is a privilege most men have experienced for thousands of years.

Framework that protects and supports women, like family leave, flexible work schedules, and affordable quality child care, creates a pathway for women to be able to return to their work instead of being forced to choose between their career and their family. Work culture that has no tolerance for discrimination or inequity holds the community responsible for creating a safe and supportive work environment. Well funded educational opportunities for girls to innovate and be mentored by women who believe in them build engaged learners who grow up to pay it forward. These are the things that create change quickly.

Just as important than all of the above, though, is the relationship we foster between girls and science from the very beginning. Read books on science and scientists, particularly female scientists. Cultivate an environment of slow science, where observation and appreciation become a sensory experience. Provide an abundance of ingredients and materials to experiment with. Build a relationship with technology that serves as a tool – not just for education but for enjoyment and for community building. Stop shaming children for asking questions, making messes, or for the interests they are passionate about. Examine your language for gender assumptions around science and technology. Stop telling your kids they are smart and start telling them they are capable, good problem solvers, or innovative. Stop telling kids they should go into science or technology just because they’ll get a great paying job, and encourage them to choose their work based on passions and strengths. Look for ways science and technology has changed lives and helped people, particularly for women and girls.  Elevate the acquisition of science literacy in your home and in your community. Demand family friendly legislation from your elected officials. Elect more women. Donate to scientific studies led by women. Donate to Kickstarters in which women are designing new technology projects. Finally, when your girls are older, share this history and its bias with them so that they know what we celebrate every year.

More Posts by Samantha Cook

Learning Through Making
Project-Based Learning and Making

Valerie Grosso Teaching Scientific Concepts to Younger Kids

Teaching Scientific Concepts to Younger Kids, Valerie Grosso

Valerie Grosso: Teaching Scientific Concepts to Younger Kids

Valerie will highlight some tips and strategies for teaching real (and super cool) scientific concepts to young kids. We are often told that certain concepts are “too tough for kids to understand,” but that is often because they are not being taught the right way. If a variety of visual, tactile, kinetic, and exploratory strategies are used to introduce concepts, there is no limit to the number of “higher level” concepts our kids can understand. Learn how to show kids that real science is about the joy of understanding how something beautiful works, and not just the process of taking three measurements and averaging.

Leave your comments below for Valerie’s talk

Valerie Grosso is a microbiologist who is curious about all the microscopic things that make up our world. She holds BS and PhD degrees from Yale and Harvard, respectively, and is a former college professor who is passionate about teaching science by making higher-level scientific concepts part of every kid’s life tool kit. She lives in New York City with her husband and two young daughters (who try out all the mini-courses) and spends her free time knitting and roaming around the American Museum of Natural History (not necessarily at the same time).

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

A Science Lab in Your Home, Blair Lee, Saber Tooth, Orce Spain

A Science Lab in Your Home? 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 1I 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.

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


Blair Lee M.S. is the founder of SEA Homeschoolers and author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Series. Blair has been handcrafting the education of her non-linear thinker for over 11 years. During that time, she has learned as much about how learning happens from him as he has learned from her. Blair is a passionate advocate of innovative academics using secular materials. Through her speaking and writing, her goal is to empower homeschoolers to dare to be innovative and create something unique and academically-rich when handcrafting their child’s journey through learning. You can follow her at SEAHomeschoolers.com. You can learn more about Blair Lee’s “Evolution in Homeschooling” here.

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

How to Put Together the Best Science Field Trip

Science Field Trip

How to Put Together the Best Science Field Trip

Field trips aren’t just fun; they are also educational! Field trips give kids opportunities for hands-on learning, allow for new experiences, and lead to a better understanding of topics. By taking science field trips, kids can experience things that expense and expertise put out of most people’s reach. By following a few simple tips, you can ensure the science field trips this year are the best ever.

When planning what your children will study in science during the coming year, start thinking of when and where field trips would make sense. Include these in your overall homeschool plan for the year. Field trips are meaningful academic endeavors and deserve to be treated as such.  Spend some time on homeschool group pages, YELP, and TripAdvisor asking about and investigating potential places to visit. It helps to be fairly specific about what you are studying and what you hope to see. That way it is easier to decide if the visit will add much to your academics.

Think outside the box. If you are studying geology, for example, a field trip to a Natural History Museum is a great idea. When studying the rock cycle, a hike where you identify types of rock and gain knowledge about the geological processes that occurred where you live can be even more educational. If studying chemistry, visit a fireworks display after researching what compounds are used to make each color. Studying biology this year? Call your local hospital and see if they give guided tours. With some ingenuity and research you will be able to use field trips as a way of focusing on those areas of science you want to highlight.

Once you find a place to visit, it is a good idea to call to get information about some of the logistics. Find out if there is a best time and date. You are a homeschooler, so you can tailor your trip so that it doesn’t coincide with those times that are busiest. Make sure and ask about special exhibits, tours, and any field workers or researchers available for questions. If there is anything in particular you want to see, make sure and ask if it is going to be available. Once, on a trip to Vienna, I was very excited about seeing the Darwin exhibit at their museum. I did not see it however, because the only full day we had in Vienna was the one day the museum was closed. Too bad I didn’t check their hours of operation ahead of time. We could have scheduled things differently. Many institutions have reduced or no cost for educational field trips for public schools. It is a good idea to ask if they will pass those savings on to you. I once received a discount for our homeschooling group at a planetarium by scheduling to come at the same time a public school class was attending.

Take the time to front-load, pre-teach, some of the science information. All learners, including parents, get much more out of field trips if they know something about what they are seeing. Think of the times you have gone to an event with someone who is passionate about the subject. She might be an expert, but she enjoys herself immensely, often more than any of the non-experts. Have you ever noticed how those experts almost always make connections from things they see?  What is known about a subject gives a person “hooks” to hang information from and improves the overall learning experience. At a minimum, kids should be familiar with the general vocabulary and core concepts you want to focus on when you plan the field trip.

On the day of the field trip go, enjoy, and immerse. Take the time to walk through, investigate, and explore. Save the quiz and the questions for the next day or on the way home. If you think there is something worth highlighting, though, make sure and do that. Just remember, different people absorb this sort of experiential learning differently and at different rates. A tactile learner may not seem to get as much out of a field trip as a person who learns through talking about what they see, when in fact it is just two different ways of accessing and processing information as a person gains ownership of it. When you do discuss it, be thoughtful about what you saw and continue to bring elements that make connections into your science classes throughout the year. This helps what is learned during the field trip stay pertinent and memorable.

If you are lucky, the field trip might even spark a new interest. I know for homeschoolers this is a double-edged sword as you try to cover all the course material. But in science, these sorts of interests are where most scientists come from.  One of the nice things about a field trip that has been paired with the course you are studying is that even the rabbit holes relate to what you are studying. Field trips are something most homeschoolers go on without much prompting. By using the few simple tips above, those field trips can be even better than ever.

Check out our review of Math and Magic in Wonderland here.

Mom, it isn’t really math. it’s too fun.

Mom, it isn’t really math. it’s too fun.

The idea that math…of all things…is fun, well, who would have thought it! Lilac Mohr’s self-published book, Math and Magic in Wonderland is a whimsical story where math and science are interwoven with literary prose. It is both engaging to read and at the same time, it is educational. We often talk about the journey through learning at SEA Homeschoolers and this book fits that sentiment. It is a fitting tribute to the Carroll masterpiece upon which it is styled.

Mohr’s degrees in Engineering and Computer Information Systems provide a solid basis for her educational and insightful offering while keeping the interest of students and parents alike. The educational aspects should not be overlooked simply because this book is so entertaining.  The journey in the book is much like life’s journey.  You learn as you go, and the only way to move forward is to solve your current problem.

The rich eloquent flow of the author’s prose will transfix readers from the first line. And don’t let the Math in the title intimidate you.  The answers are included, and the process is clearly explained for all.  To quote my son, “Mom, it isn’t REALLY math, it is puzzles and stuff. You know fun, not like math!” So, it is math, but not really.

If you adhere to the left vs right brain theory, you will particularly like Math and Magic in Wonderland. This book allows for creative and unique ways to develop pathways between these opposite sides of the brain.  It is difficult at times to apply literature this way.  By teaching different modalities and weaving subjects together and applying them in a real-life way, you create an excellent project-based learning unit that weaves math, science, and literature. The experience is further enriched by the free unit study available on the SEA Homeschoolers’ website which ties in the science component seamlessly. The unit study really brings the lessons from the book up several notches. I often find it hard to apply math to real world situations in ways that my children find engaging. With the pairing of the science unit study and Math and Magic in Wonderland, Mohr does it for her readers. My children and I are fans of this book, and we all hope she writes more of these types of books and unit studies.

This unique and clever book is a must read for all ages.  It is one of those rare books to be treasured and shared within generations, not just for the intrinsic educational value of the book itself, but for the delightful story that unfolds as you are transported via Mrs. Magpie’s Magical World.  I enjoyed reading and working through this with my 9 and 14-year-old children.

This review contains an affiliate link.

Check out our post on a home school dad’s service trip to Guatemala here.

Be Naturally Curious Review

Be Naturally Curious Review
Be Naturally Curious specializes in science mini-courses. Each of these mini-courses focuses on a different scientific concept written by a different Naturally Curious expert. Each mini-course includes a beautifully illustrated story, a craft or manipulable, a game, and an experiment or outdoor field activity.
Subject Area: Science
Type of Course: Unit Study each expected to take your child 5 to 10 hours.
Age Range: K – 5
Format: PDF
Cost: $9.99 each

Titles in the Series

Jill Harper’s Review

My son, who is 12, helped me work through a few courses of Be Naturally Curious. He loves the desert and desert animals so we started with the course on Life in the Desert. My son is older than the recommended age, but even he was drawn in by the artwork and the story. Together we read through the whole unit. The beginning introduced deserts and went over important concepts and vocabulary. Then the course switched to animals in the desert and here is where my son had a lot of fun. My son is a very creative kid, and he decided he and I would read the next part like a play with each of us taking different parts. This works because the story is set up almost like a tv show which allows for kids to get creative in their reading while at the same time learning the concepts.

Here is an excerpt of the text to illustrate my point:

“Sure, Sandy. Well, as you can see behind me, there’s a lot of sand in the Sahara Desert. In fact, there isn’t much of anything other than sand in many places. Sometimes it gets really windy here, and the sand blows all around. We camels have some great structural adaptations that protect us from the sand. First, check out my amazing nostrils! I can close them to keep out sand. Can you do that, Sandy?”

“Er, uh—Calvin, I’m a plant. I don’t have nostrils.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry about that. Anyway, now check out my long, gorgeous eyelashes. I have two rows of eyelashes that help keep sand out of my eyes. How many rows do you have, Sandy?”

“Calvin—I’m a plant! I don’t have eyelashes.”

After reading through the text we came to the activities. There are 4 activities per course, and the activities are there to reinforce the concepts while being fun for the kids. For the desert unit there is a game, a craft and journal activity, a hands-on activity that allows the kids to act out what they have learned, and an experiment that can easily be done with materials you have at home. The activities are well thought out and there to reinforce what is learned in the course. The parent will need to print out the materials for the activities and have time to go over them prior to the lesson. This is especially true for the games in the courses. These games are not simple games you can throw together in a minutes notice. You will have to print out the pieces and the board, do some cutting, and read all the instructions.

The mini-courses all end with a Curiosity Corner which is a page of links to other sites that reinforce the concepts of the unit. My son and I clicked through all of them in the desert unit and the links all worked and went to sites that were worth our time. I was very happy with this feature. Next is the Tools for your Toolkit section which reviews vocabulary and concept for the student. In addition there are tool icons that the student can glue or tape to their toolkit. The mini-courses end with a glossary of terms.

I thoroughly enjoyed working through these units and would have loved to have these when my kids were younger. Be Naturally Curious is very engaging for a variety of ages with wonderful illustrations and clever stories. The activities support the concepts in a fun way. Even though my son and I are over the recommended ages, we had a blast working through them. The only negative is that it is for a variety of ages, so some of the activities might be too hard or too easy for certain students depending on their age and/or skill level.

I would also like to add that I think these mini-courses would be wonderful to use with twice-exceptional students. The material is engaging, which this group of students would love. The illustrations and story will draw these students in, and the activities are fun and at a high level especially for younger elementary students or for older students working at a lower level. The courses are also short, which is a help for twice-exceptional students and their parents.

The only drawback of Be Naturally Curious is that it is for a variety of ages, so some of the activities might be too hard or too easy for certain students depending on their skill level. Also for some older kids the stories may seem young to them although with my own son this was not an issue. 

Blair Lee’s Review –

I saw this engaging and highly educational collection of unit studies covering a range of science topics at a conference a couple of years ago. There are twelve books in the series. Each book could be used as a stand-alone mini-course or could be incorporated in with another course. These books would work very well in a science co-op or in a home setting, although you will want to make some minor adjustments for the group activities.
Each book starts with an explanation of the theory. This is the science knowledge kids need to know about the science topic that is the focus of the book. This section, including the illustrations, is well written and the science in it is good.
There are a nice range of activities, including labs with data sheets, that follow. Each activity illustrates a different concept or builds on the previous activities. The activities do a nice job of highlighting specific concepts presented in the theory portion. This pairing of theory with labs and activities is something I look for in science material. It is essential to pair these two for a good understanding of how the scientific method works. The materials needed to complete the activities are inexpensive and easy to find things you probably already have laying around your home. Many of these activities will require parent help. Many are group activities so it will take some thought to turn these into activities to be done with just your child and you.
The activities are followed by a section called Curiosity Connector. This section has links to other resources to learn more about each topic. This is followed by a section called Tools for Your Tool Kit.  In this section there are a small number of questions and badges that kids can add to a toolkit which comes with each book. This is a nice way for parents to keep track of what kids have learned. It also gives kids a sense of mastery by highlighting the concepts they have learned. The last section of each unit study is a glossary. I think glossaries are very important in a course used by homeschoolers. It tells users of the material the specific definitions used by the author for each science term. This is important when kids aren’t sure of a word and definition.
I highly recommend these unit studies. I did have a few minor quibbles, but they were very minor. These unit studies are good for a range of ages. That is sometimes a problem, because the text and activities do not always match exactly with the intended age. If you are using these with multiple children of varying ages however, that could be a plus. In most cases, with parental involvement, this slight issue could easily be dealt with.
I also thought the drawings of the atoms and molecules in the two chemistry unit studies were a bit confusing. I emailed the author about these and I have included Valerie Grosso’s replies to my questions. 

In one of the illustrations in The Adventures of Carbon, one of the oxygen atoms in carbon dioxide is drawn missing 2 of its valence electrons, but in another they are there. (If you are wondering about the reason there are only 6 valance electrons in the correct drawing, Google carbon dioxide resonance.) Valerie’s reply, 

“You have a good eye! The lack of two valence electrons in the bottom image on pg. 4 of the Carbon mini-course is, in fact, a typo. Or, to be more accurate, a slip with the illustration. It is on the list to be fixed but part of the issue is that the illustrations for this particular mini-course were originally done in watercolor, so correcting isn’t as easy as it seems! 🙂 But it most certainly will be corrected in the near future.” 
The author of these unit studies also gives atoms of the same element that are in molecules and the same parts of the atoms different names. Since every electron is an electron and every oxygen atom is an oxygen atom, I would prefer that they have the same name. (For chemistry buffs, yes I know this ignores isotopes and ions). From a scientist’s point of view I worry this will make the subject a bit confusing, and it something a parent will want to be aware of in case your kids have questions. Valerie’s reply, 
“Our feeling was that having the atoms have different names (Ollie Oxygen, etc.) made it easier for kids to track these discrete “units” through the Carbon Cycle…same applies to the Molecules mini-course. In the latter case, we wanted kids to be able to focus on individual electrons (to allow them to envision the pairing up process) and thought that having distinct names would make that a lot easier. Hopefully that is the case!”

I thought this might be the case. Like I said, these are minor points. It is with pleasure that I highly recommend these wonderful science materials.

Check out our post on SEA Homeschoolers LGBTQ here.

Science and the Secular Homeschooler

Science and the Secular Homeschooler

Science and the Secular Homeschooler

I live in Southern California. I taught science at community college, and now I write about it. Those two sentences convey a lot of information about how easy it is for me to negotiate my way through the homeschool community.

Where I live in California, there are many large secular or inclusive homeschool groups. In my experience in California, unless a group states that it is faith-based, it is understood that it isn’t. With one exception, the religious homeschoolers I have met in California have never seemed put-off by my stance about science or my being secular. I once overheard a homeschooler I knew to be a Young Earther tell another homeschooler, who had just explained to me that dinosaurs didn’t really go extinct, because dinosaurs were lizards and lizards still exists, “She taught science at a college. You know how scientists are.” This was the first time, but not the last being a scientist earned me a free pass to participate in activities with religious homeschoolers without my secularity being an issue. I admit though, when I socialize, I don’t talk science with people who don’t want to talk about it.

In 2013, after homeschooling for seven years, my eyes were opened to what it might be like for secular homeschoolers, who are not scientists living in areas with large secular communities. That is the year my biology course came out. It is one thing to be a homeschooling scientist who lives in California. It is quite another to be a homeschooling scientist, who lives in California, and publishes materials that say, “It is a fact that evolution occurs. The theory part is how it happens.” On May 22, 2013 the first review of my Biology book was posted on Amazon. It was 3-stars; the complaint was that it “Teaches Evolution and global warming”. I have always felt fortunate it wasn’t 1-star. Then in June of 2013, I was at a homeschool convention in California and was approached by someone who wanted to argue that any science text that did not include a discussion of the book of Genesis, when explaining evolution, was flawed and biased. One of the conference organizers overheard and put a stop to the conversation, telling the person they were at a secular conference. See what I mean about secular homeschooling in California.

Despite these two occurrences, I continued living in my “California bubble,” thinking it was similar for other secular homeschoolers. Then in September, 2014, I traveled to Georgia for the National Alliance of Secular Homeschoolers, NASH, Conference. It was there I realized how different it was for secular homeschoolers in other parts of the country. It was then that I came to understand how important it is for those of us in areas where we can comfortably tell others we are secular homeschoolers to provide support for homeschoolers in areas less tolerant of their secular homeschooling neighbors. I met homeschoolers who lived in communities where there was not another secular homeschooler. I met homeschoolers who had to make the choice between finding groups where their children could socialize versus being honest about the fact that those children learned from secular materials. I also met homeschoolers who were willing to brave the storm and isolation, and admit that they were secular homeschoolers. That is hard to do. It really is.

Before attending the NASH conference, I understood the importance of writing science materials for the homeschool community that include topics like evolution and the human causes for climate change. That did not mean I understood the importance for those of us living in areas where the consequences for doing it are negligible, of standing up, raising a hand, and saying, “I am a secular homeschooler”. Homeschooling by its very nature can be isolating. When you live in a community where being secular isolates you further, it can get lonely. What can our global community of science-loving secular homeschoolers do?

  1. If you live in one of those areas, start a science co-op. You do not need to be an expert or a scientist to start one. All you need are good reference materials, one or more people to run it, and a location.

Science is not the only academic discipline with fault lines drawn between secular and non-secular homeschoolers, but it is where most of the problems arise. That is because some of the well-established facts and theories of science are at odds with a literal interpretation of religious doctrine from several different faiths. There is continued agitation by some to change science to fit religious doctrine. The problem is science doesn’t work that way. When you change or omit science facts and theories to fit your philosophy, and then teach using those changes or omissions, you are no longer teaching science. I suppose you are teaching religious philosophy with some science woven through it. Scientists take issue with this for two main reasons. First, it is a denial of some of the foundational and fundamental principles all science is based on. For a scientist, this is incredibly frustrating and seriously misrepresentative of how the natural and physical world works. Scientists obviously care a lot about science, or they wouldn’t spend all those years in college studying it. 🙂 Second, the people and users of these non-secular materials continue to call it science while these materials clearly, at least to a scientist, are not really science.

No homeschooler would be surprised by the statistic Gallup released in 2014 stating that 42% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. That is certainly a dismal figure, but it has a good side too. 58% do not believe that. And while it is true that many of the people who do believe that are homeschoolers, there is no way ALL the people who do not believe God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago live in California 😉 Starting a science co-op is a great way to find the other members of your local homeschooling community who understand the difference between philosophy and science. In addition, running a secular science co-op provides an important service by promoting science literacy.

  1. Join secular Facebook groups and forums. When you live in areas where there is not a good-sized secular community, it can be hard to find discussion about good secular materials, especially science. Online secular groups and forums can be a great place to get information about and recommendations for secular academic materials.
  2. Those of us who are in areas where we can do it, or who feel comfortable doing it no matter where we live, need to make sure we stand up and be counted as secular homeschoolers. It might not seem important in a state like California, but it is important to recognize your advocacy and support might resonate in places you have never been and with people you have never met. It seems part of the human condition to want a group to belong to and a community where we feel understood. I think we evolved that way 😉

For more homeschooling tips, check out the FREE SEA Homeschoolers Magazine here!

There Were Mammooths in Andalusia

A Science Lab in Your Home, Blair Lee, Saber Tooth, Orce Spain

There Were Mammooths in Andalusia

Sean woke me up early. “Mom, I have broken out in a bad rash, or bites, or something all over!” Well, that will get a mother up and going! We could not figure it out. No one else had any bumps. Could it be that Sean was allergic to the detergent used when we washed clothes, or maybe it was the 30 to 40 nispero (fruits from the tree in the backyard) he ate over the course of 1&1/2 days? We still are not sure. In two itchy, scratchy days they were gone. It did get us going earlier than expected though.

The night before we finally planned the last bit of our trip. We would spend 1 night getting there, then stay in Sitges for three days. Sitges is a small beach community just south of Barcelona and north of Tarragona. The last night we would stay at an airport hotel in Barcelona. Today we would drive to Orce, Spain and sleep where the wind took us as long as it was in the direction of Sitges.

You might think the pronunciation of Orce is ors, but it is orth, with the th drawn out. Early in our trip. Jim noticed it sounded as if people were saying grathious instead of gracious. At first he thought it was a lisp. He quickly realized the entire population of Spain most likely did not have a lisp. When he asked about it, it was explained to him that the c is often (but not always) pronounced as th.


When I heard there were mammoth fossils being excavated in the Granada area, I Googled it right away. Not only have they found mammoth fossils, but they found the remains of humans dated to over a million years old. This sort of detour is why we prefer to travel like we do. It does mean that sometimes we cannot get the tickets to a palace we would otherwise visit, but it also means we have the flexibility to take an unplanned detour to see fossils.

Traveler’s Tip: If you visit the Orce area between July 6 to September 7, you can visit one of the digs with people working at them. If you read about it here and go, I want photos! I will be super jealous, but I still want to hear about it!


orce where they are finding fossils

We like to travel off the beaten path. Orce, Spain qualifies for this. We were the only 4 people in the entire museum. They unlocked it for us. Gave us some cards explaining what we were looking at, and left us to look. I should start a hashtag #PlacesInSpainWithNobodyThere. Here is what is sad, people should be visiting these places. These places have all been seriously cool.

The scene depicts pre-historic life in Orce. There were species of tiger living in the Iberian Peninsula, but this exact species of tiger wasn’t one found here.

I am including photos from literature given to use while visiting the museum.

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Display case B

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It is now thought that the first people living on the European continent lived in Southern Spain and were from Africa. Looking at the geography this makes sense. Some scientists think people were living in Europe as early as 1.8 million year BCE. It is thought there might have been a land bridge between north Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. The countries of Spain, Portugal, and Andorra make up the Iberian Peninsula.

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When Orce man was discovered there was great excitement in the scientific community. It was then suggested that the fragment was that of an equine species. Tests done since support the scientific theory that the fragment is of human origin. The other evidence that has been excavated in Orce are several human teeth and stones that have been sharpened to make tools. Until I was back in the States I did not appreciate what I was looking at when I looked at the skull fragment. In Orce, I was more excited about the tooth on display. Little did I know that the skull fragment was one of the key pieces of “evidence” creationists use when attempting to discredit the occurrence of evolution. The skull fragment was found at one of the four excavation sites surrounding Orce.Andalusia


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This is a fossilized human tooth. The human lived over a million years ago.
These tools show evidence of having been shaped. It made me think of finding arrowheads in Bridgeport, California.

What the creationists say about Orce man.

Orce man: Found in the southern Spanish town of Orce in 1982, and hailed as the oldest fossilized human remains ever found in Europe. One year later officials admitted the skull fragment was not human but probably came from a 4 month old donkey. Scientists had said the skull belonged to a 17-year-old man who lived 900,000 to 1.6 million years ago, and even had very detail drawings done to represent what he would have looked like. (source: “Skull fragment may not be human”, Knoxville News-Sentinel, 1983) http://www.nwcreation.net/evolutionfraud.html

The statement is misleading and they do not use a solid science reference. it also has not been updated to include the latest evidence using albumin analysis, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02436194#page-1, which isn’t very new, but I thought you would find it interesting.

I had no idea when I chose science as a discipline of study, that I was heading down a path with controversy. I am a secular, academic, homeschooling scientist who writes about evolution, the Big Bang, human causes of climate change, and living on a multi-million year old planet in a multi-billion year old universe, though, so… As you can imagine, I was over the top excited when I realized I saw the oldest human fossils to be discovered on the European continent!!!

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There are 2 floors. The carnivores and human fossils are on the first floor, and the herbivores are on the second floor.


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I love hippos!

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An extinct species of elephant. If you look hard enough you can see it.

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We drove for the night until we were ready to be done. This put us near Peniscola where we found a room for the night. I read about it on my phone and it sounded like a good place to stay. This is where the Spanish tourists hang out. (In droves! It felt like the beach area in California in the summer on steroids!) The people were friendly, the beach lovely, and we could not wait to get out of there the next morning. Imagine a Disney Hotel at max capacity and then add more people!

Sand sculpture in Peniscola
Sand sculpture in Peniscola

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People kept asking if we were British. I asked, and was told that is because Peniscola is not a destination Americans go to. It was eye-opening though, and I am glad we stayed, because now we know the Spanish do vacation. When I said something about the hotel staff not being able to distinguish between a U.S. and British accent Sean made a great point. He asked why someone who barely speaks English would notice the difference. Several people told me I speak Mexican Spanish. Sean pointed out that I couldn’t tell the difference between that and Castillian Spanish.

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After dinner we rode around Peniscola in a pedal cab. Sean and Jim did most of the peddling. Then Sean took over and did it all. Just one of the perks of bringing a fit 15-year-old boy with you! We were laughing so hard. Don’t you love the sound of kids laughing!


Here is a list of the articles I read about the fossils in Orce.

Check out the previous post from Spain here

Mammoth fossils here