Teaching Science: What Does a Spoon Have to Do with Science?

Spoons can Cause Spontaneous Learning Opportunities

My son was staring at his spoon.
      It was strange.

“Mom, I’ve always wondered why my reflection is upside down in my spoon. What’s even more confusing is that when I turn it around, my reflection is right-side-up.”

              I laughed aloud. 
                               Not at him.

Let me explain.
I have had the pleasure of reviewing an Optics and Light Curriculum and had just read about that same phenomenon the day before. It made me laugh aloud because no one in my family ever noticed the upside-down reflection before.
As a homeschooler who struggles teaching science, I often neglect science in general. I don’t mean to neglect science, I just get lost along the way.
Carolyn from Engaging Science Labs is here today to help bring science to life for us.  She combines independent learning and hands-on activities with real life science to present our kids with fun and practical ways to explore science.

I love science experiments and I love sharing these with my children and my students. 

When I returned to the classroom after raising my kids and spending a stint in museum education, I knew I wanted to bring the fascination of hands-on exhibits to our learning. Rather than use a packaged curriculum, we shaped our learning around experiments and explorations that we did every day. 

We started with themes and topics that connected to their humanities studies and branched out from there. As I began to curate a collection of experiments and explorations, I asked myself a few questions:

Value: Is the concept essential to our course of study?
Appropriateness: Can my students understand the science behind this activity?
Thoughtful: Does it make me think and ask intriguing questions about what’s going on?
Authentic: Is it similar to real science done by scientists or can I change it so that it is?
Engaging: Is this something I find interesting and want to spend time on?
Observations: Is something interesting happening or is there something worth looking at?
Data: Is there something I can measure or collect?
Repeatability: Can I do this over and over with the same results?
Fit: Is this the best experiment for investigating this phenomenon?
Complexity: Can my students follow the directions successfully?

While no experiment satisfies each of these parameters, most address more than one. For me, the first three are key factors and if an activity fails on any of these I’ll keep looking for a better fit.

Here’s a simple idea that would pass our test.

How can a lens make an image?
Find a convex lens, which is the type used in magnifying lenses and reading glasses. 
You’ll need some type of light-colored, flat surface to act as a screen (a blank wall works fine) but if you want to be mobile, a piece of poster board or a lid to a plastic bin will also work well. 

Place yourself in a dim, shadowed area where there’s a bright light or window nearby. 

Hold the lens up to the screen so that it’s between the bright window and the screen. 

Move the lens back and forth until you see an image come into focus. (If your screen is in bright light, there will still be an image on it, you just won’t be able to see it since the ambient light will wash it out). 

Once you’ve mastered this, you can investigate further. Determine whether the image is flipped in any way. Figure out if the image is smaller or larger than the object. Can you tell if the image is brighter or dimmer than the object? You can also try other lenses (different powers and sizes) and see how they compare to the first one you investigated.

How can a clear piece of glass cast a shadow?
Find a concave lens, which is the type used in glasses needed for a nearsighted person. 
Find a blank wall or other screen and some type of light to shine on the screen. 
Hold the lens so that it is between the light and the screen and see what you see. 
Try to make an image as you did with the previous lenses. 
What do you notice now? 

Since you’re now interested in shadows, the best type of light to make crisp shadows is either the sun or a clear, not frosted, light bulb.

This investigation is further developed in the video you can watch here.

If you’re interested in a more formal approach to this you can check out this activity, which is part of the complete curriculum on light.


Carolyn started as a high school physics teacher before spending ten years at the Smithsonian writing educational materials for the National Air and Space Museum. She now writes full time and enjoys her favorite pastime of developing science curriculum.

8 (and a Half) Tips that Create a Relaxed Homeschooling Environment

Inside: Homeschooling can be rip-your-hair-out hard. These Tips will help you hold on to your sanity and all of your hair.

I almost hit my goals with homeschooling.
I know, "Almost doesn't count except in horseshoes, hand grenades", and homeschooling.

Grandma always said, "you cannot hit a goal unless you have a target."

I aim for being a loving wife, a cool mom and a relaxed homeschooler.

That is my target.

Relaxed homeschooling. Yep. I try to hit that one every day, week, month and year of homeschooling.

Sometimes, I even hit my goal!

It has taken me years to realize that relaxed homeschooling is not lazy homeschooling.
I know some of you just did a palm to the face while thinking, "Duh!"

What does Relaxed Homeschooling look like to me:
  • I am calm.
  • I am prepared.

Stop. Stop right there.

Those two things are the "hinge pin" to relaxed homeschooling. Everything you do depends on those two things!

Related: Grab your Mindset Checklist {printable} at the end of this article.

If I do not have my act together, the kids know.
  • They sense my panic and gang up on me. 
  • They ask me questions. 
  • They challenge my lessons. 
  • They disappear while I try to formulate an answer.

There are so many ways to homeschool. 
   This method, that method.
         That curriculum, no curriculum.
                Teacher-centered, child-centered.

Only you know which method will work for you, but I will let you in on a secret...

Spazmatic homeschooling fails.
Lazy homeschooling fails.

Relaxed homeschooling succeeds.

Now before your coffee come up through your nose as you snort at the idea of your home being relaxed, remember I understand. I have five boys.

Relaxation does not just happen in a house filled with boys.
I mean really. Who am I kidding?
That old "Calgon take me away!' commercial was created for moms of boys.

But relaxed homeschooling is possible.

8 and a Half Tips that Create a Relaxed Homeschooling Environment
  • Mama, be calm.
  • Get a goodnight's sleep (whenever possible).
  • Eat well.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Wake up before the kids and be ready before they roll out of bed.
  • Have a plan. Minimally, know what is on the agenda for today: all meals, schoolwork, and errands.
  • Ideally, have at least a month of school penciled in at a time.
  • Map out week by week, then break it into day by day lessons.
Here's the half tip. It's the most important one: Be flexible.

Bonus Tips:

  • Save time to read aloud.
  • When you fall in love with a story, or place, or historical event... dig deeper.
  • Embrace Notebooking.

Explore, discover and learn together.

Bottom Line: Breathe.

The Easiest Tip that we ALL forget. Get outside every day. It's Scientifically proven to help kids learn.

Simplify your agenda.
Does your kindergartener really need to have six subjects and three extracurricular activities?

Know your long-term goals: By the time my little one graduates from High School, what do you want your kids to know inside and out?

Relaxed homeschooling takes a bit of planning, but not the "Complete page 12 and answer questions" type of planning.

How about you? Do you relax Homeschool?
If you could change one thing about homeschooling your kids (besides switching kids:)) what would it be?

Download your FREE "Homeschool Mindset Checklist" {printable}

Download your FREE  "Make it Memorable" {Printable}

Do you need help establishing goals?
Click on the "Yes, I want Help!" Button below to get your copy of my Homeschool Guide.

Homeschooling LAZY Boys

Sitting by a warm fire.
               Drinking coffee.
                          In my jammies.


Don't be. I just don't feel like doing anything today. I have my lazy turned up to high.

Since I am not characterized by being lazy, my family is simply pleasantly surprised that I am "chilling". They are curled up with books or movies in this same room. Heaven.

When dinner comes around, I will not win friends and influence people if I say, "I forgot to make dinner" though will I? Not in my house full of men. They want to eat:).

Laziness is one of those strange things. It is so appealing on a rainy afternoon, like today as I write this. But laziness to the point that responsibilities are neglected is simply intolerable.

Now three things personify laziness:
A male lion lazing in the shade,
                          An over fed house cat,
                                          And a 12 year old boy.

So how do we Homeschool a LAZY 12 year old boy?
(moms of girls, you'll have to let me know if these truths are universal)

The first thing I will share with you is that NO ONE has all the answers you need except the Lord.

I do have some practical things to share with you, but they are foundational truth’s.

I wish there was a list of  “4 steps to having obedient, cheerful, self-less, and hardworking children”.

Oh, there are lists. But most of them belong in the garbage can.

Let's get started. 

First, get in sync with your husband.

If there is any division between you at all, prioritize your marriage.
Homeschooling can be a wrecking ball to a marriage when mom is frustrated about being frustrated and dad tries to help.

My husband does not help me with 'day to day' homeschool, but he is the one that helps me see the Big Picture. 

It took me years of dying to my self before I was willing to listen to his counsel. I’m embarrassed to admit that, but I want to be honest with you.

Watch this scene from Captain America with your son.

Seriously watch that scene from Captain America with your son and explain that this is the season of life he is in. God is going to transform him from his 12-year-old self into a Godly man, if he is fully committed and trusts Him. There will be struggles, there will be battles, but you believe in him and are looking forward to the day the capsule steams open and your Godly Man-Son emerges.

Third, Apologize to your son for allowing him to be lazy.

Tell him, with a humble heart, that you are committed to raising him in excellence. You have made the mistake of allowing laziness to creep in.
Confess your own laziness.

Assure him that you are committed to teaching him to be diligent, hardworking, kind, obedient, etc… and will simplify his life as much as necessary to allow him to concentrate on mastering those qualities.

Promise him that you will not allow things and activities to hinder his ability to do first things first. If he is struggling with laziness, you and your husband will begin stripping things out of his life until he has overcome laziness. (suggestions: tv, video games, computer time, toys, bedroom doors, team sports, extra-curricular activities, etc). Mama, you need to mean it.

Because you are making a fresh start, do not remove anything yet, unless there is something obvious that needs to go.

He will fail in about 32 minutes, because he is 12, so you will need to remind him that you are not longer allowing _______________ (attitude, laziness, etc.) and it looks like he has too many distractions.

Forth, Establish Your Homeschooling Goals

I am going to assume that you are like I was.

You know what grade the kids are in, you have teaching materials or curriculum, but you do not have a list of fundamental goals that define your homeschooling.

My fundamental homeschool goals, the goals that I run all activities, learning experiences and curriculum through before they come into my house (Unless I get lazy) are:

1. Share our faith with our five boys.
2. Make sure they master their basic math facts (some of my kids did not do this until 8th grade. That’s ok)
3. Instill a love for reading. My kids will be readers and I will expose them to excellent literature. In this day and age, you can do anything if you can read, but you can’t do a thing if you can’t.
4. Train them to be excellent communicators: Both written and oral. I have five sons. I have made sure that I incorporate public speaking so they will not faint if they have to deliver and sermon or business presentation when they are grown.

Are you overwhelmed?

Don’t be.

I would encourage you to grab a copy of my homeschool guide by clicking the image below.

I send out a spoonful of homeschooling goal setting, planning, encouragement, wisdom and what not to do’s a little at a time. 

More resources about Homeschooling 12-year-old boys:

Emotional Boys: What's a Mom to Do?
Master Chore List: Because 12-year olds need to sweat
Raising Independent Learners: Raise the bar and teach them to be organized!
My Son Almost Died Today
Dad's Role in Homeschooling
Download your FREE "Raising Men" Cheatsheet {printable}

Homeschooling With Patience: The Pencil that Broke Mom's Back

Some discussions with my children make me want to throw a hissy fit. Big ones.

I'm not sure why I have such an emotional response to ridiculousness, but I do. 
My blood pressure rises. 
         I huff. 
               I puff. 

And I declare with all the patience of a two-year-old, "That is NOT a pencil."


All five of my boys have mastered the skill of destroying a pencil and then declaring it their most prized writing utensils. 


Why does one have to destroy a perfectly beautiful number 2 pencil?
Why does the pencil only become valuable if you can only measure it in millimeters rather than inches?

I don't know. But these questions keep me awake at night. 
There are kept company by other boy related questions like: 
  • Why is farting in a brother's face the proper response to being wronged?
  • Why do socks need to be worn inside out?
  • How will boys learn to lift the lid if no one will confess that they are the ones who pee all over the seat?
  • When is it ok to pull the wings off of bugs?
We work hard training our sons to be kind, considerate, and hard working. 
We consistently remind them what godliness looks and sounds like. 

I swear, some days I wonder if it will all work out in the end. Will they grow up to be kind hearted, considerate hard working men? Or will they be pencil destroying, toilet peeing, face farting fools?

This is why I need God.
Because nothing unravels the peace in my home faster than when I throw a fit.

Teaching Algebra: Tip- Algebra and Lying Do not Mix

I'm a liar.
             What is worse? Getting caught by my 9th grader. 

               Now, I never meant to lie, most surely I did not.

I made a promise and got lazy.

There I was, sitting next to my 9th grader explaining his algebra lesson for the day when I was suddenly caught in my lie.

I had a sudden flashback to the time I broke a window as a little girl.
I was about 5 years old and was throwing rocks at the corner of the house.  I missed.

Actually, I hit my mark.
I intentionally threw the rock at the window and it shattered.

I was five. I did not know I had the super-human ability to shatter glass!

I ran inside to try to fix the broken glass (because I was five) and cut my finger.

I was not only in trouble but dying from my wound. (yes, I was a drama queen).

Of course, my mom saw through my lie when I told her I was not trying to break the window. She was gracious with me, but I still remember the guilt over 40 years later like it was yesterday.

So there I was next to my son, stumbling over his lesson while trying to put up the front that I knew exactly what I was doing.

I am the teacher after all.

I couldn't let him know I lied to him when I told him I would always be at least one lesson ahead of him in math (so I would not confuse the tar out of him).

But there I was like Brer Rabbit stuck to the Tar Baby.
       (I love Uncle Remus. If you have never read these aloud to your kids you are missing out!)

I had decided I had this "Algebra Thing" by the horns.

And then I didn't.

How is the ratio of the volume of two figures related to 
the ratio of the corresponding sides of the figures?

       I tried.
              I panicked.
                        I was tempted to swear.

And then I confessed. I had not even looked at the lesson before we sat down.
I gave him a lighter math assignment and sent him on his way and then I repented of my sin.

I found a quiet place and worked out the math. I may have shed blood, but I don't want to freak out any of you who are still teaching your kids shapes.

Finally, I figured it all out and I created my notes.

I am happy to report that the next day I was able to happily teach my son about ratios being related to one another. Half way through the lesson I paused and said, "This is what it like to be taught by a teacher who is prepared. It's better isn't it?"

He said, "Definitely!"

Our kids may not all be learning Algebra and ratios today, but they do all deserve our best. 

I had forgotten my own words of wisdom on page 9 of my Homeschooling Guide.

I can't say that I will never fail again because that would make me a repeat liar, I am I am determined to be better prepared each day.

How about you? Have you ever "lied" to your kids?
Confession is good for the soul...

Inspire Kids to Read by Hanging Them

My son is terrified of needles.
           And swarms of bees.
                         And sour cream.

Strange boy.

But I am not exaggerating when I say nothing makes that boy of mine run faster than presenting him with a book that he needs to read.

You see this is a problem.
I am a homeschool mom. My sons must read. It says so right in the homeschool Bible.

How can I successfully homeschool if my boy don't read and rite? (wink)

All four of our older boys learned to read. So I was determined to trick my youngest bugger into reading too.

I reached deep into my homeschool bag of tricks and pulled out the one labelled "hang 'em".

Ok, not with a rope... with a book!

I love to keep kids hanging in a story.
Actually, I have found that this s the true secret to kindling a desire for reading.

Here's the recipe for hanging a kid:

Get cozy.

Read aloud (regardless of the age of your kids).

Read with enthusiasm and creative voices.

Climb to an exciting point in the story...
...and close the book.


The boy in the hammock was caught and couldn't put the story down once hooked.

Forget that he hates needles.
                 Laugh at the bees.
                              Enjoy an extra large scoop of sour cream on that burrito.
The boy is reading!

Some recent Leave them hanging stories:

The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques.
The Great Brain Series by John Fitzgerald.
Eragon by Christopher Paolini

My boys have taken up the habit of reading to each other as well.
It warms my heart to hear a big brother reading to a younger brother.

Better than that is when an older brother leaves them hanging in a story like I do.


What do comic books have to do with learning?

Spiders and bug spray were meant to be introduced. 
Don't you think?
Sure, we need spiders. Lots of them in fact. Why? 
          Because spiders eat flies. That's why!

I hate flies almost as much as these 8 legged wonders.

OK, I don't HATE spiders.
I think they are pretty amazing.
I just do not want to share the same space with them. Is that too much to ask?

But what do spiders have to do with anything homeschool related?

My boys would roll their eyes at us and scream, "Spiderman!".

While I try to teach them the abilities of arachnids, they would be trying to invent that cool webbing stuff that comes out of Peter Parkers wrists that enables him to swing through New York above rush hour traffic.

But now that I have the boys' attention, I'm going to try to keep it.

Why not find some way to science and comics?

When I heard there were comic books that could help my children learn science, I was excited. 
My kids love comic books and the magic of Manga learning tools seem like a perfect fit!


What is Manga?

It's a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, typically aimed at adults as well as children.

Why does it matter? And what does it have to do with learning?

I've discovered this tremendous resource for teaching kids science and all about the human body. Rather than a dry text and diagram textbook, concepts are covered in a story-based format that's also visual, so learners of all kinds have more to glom onto, and it's easier to recall. Sort of like our trusted and true pal Ms. Frizzle of the Magic School Bus, but for a slightly older children depending on the book. Last but certainly not least - it makes learning fun! Imagine if your child requested to re-read a science text book. That's what these amazing books can inspire.

We started on the Survive! Inside the Human Body series, and even I am learning!

Topics covered in this book series about the human body: Human Body (anatomy), Digestive System, Circulatory System, Nervous System, Personal Wellness, Effects of Food on the Body, Medicine & technology, and Genetics.

But there are also advanced topics in this format like the Universe, Physics, Linear Algebra, and more available from Shockingly Awesome Learning on

See inside the books in this cute video: