Archive for Science

FundaFunda’s Online Biology Class for homeschoolers

Online biology class

This year FundaFunda will be offering a high school online Biology class for the first time. To let you know more about the class, I interviewed the instructor Dr Dana Underwood.

What does each unit look like?

Dr Dana UnderwoodDr. Underwood: We do small projects for each unit – not worth a ton in terms of points, but the goal is to have students work with the material at a deeper level.  They can draw, write, make a chart, do a computer animation, sculpt, etc.  Some approaches work better with certain material – nobody has ever sculpted glycolysis – but I also want for them to learn that, if there is an approach to learning that helps them (writing, modeling, acting it out, whatever) then they can use it to learn even if they’re not specifically assigned to make a 3D model.

In my last few years of college and in grad school, I kept play-doh at my desk so that I could make a model of anything that I couldn’t visualize (and just sniff it if I needed to channel my non-stressed 6-year-old self).

I see you assign a textbook. How do you use it in the class?  

Dr. Underwood: The textbook is there so that students can refer back in case their notes from the lectures are missing anything, and to look at specific figures and diagrams. Occasionally short passages are assigned for students to read, but it is not the primary way the material is taught.

Are there tests?

Dr. Underwood: We do one test per unit, which ends up being 4 per semester. The last unit is set up to be a little shorter so that the last test is 1/2 new material, 1/2 cumulative.
How are students graded?

Dr. Underwood: In addition to the test gradesstudents get points for homework and projects, but what I keep emphasizing to them is that usually if they do all of the work, they learn the material enough that the points don’t matter.  Except in the (rare) cases where students have some sort of learning/test taking disability, homework pulls up test grades by no more than one letter grade.  I can do difficult material and they don’t fear that they’ll bomb it because they have homework to ‘pull them up’, but for most students the act of doing the work causes them to learn the difficult material.  I emphasize that even the absence of the assignments that I give, they should still use the techniques – making up practice tests, drawing, making flowcharts or lumping things into categories – to study anything.

Biology is a lot of studying – how do you help the students do that?

Dr. Underwood: We talk about how to approach different parts of the class – for genetics, I tell them to treat it like math and practice many problems.  For the parts of the cell, I tell them to quit saying that they’re ‘confused’ because it’s mostly a list to memorize and they just need to buckle down and do it because they cacelln’t do much else until they know the parts, and for the metabolism and replication/transcription sections, I tell them that they need to think through flowcharts because it’s a process – they can memorize the steps, but they can also choose to think logically about what has to happen next to get to the end result and they’ll end up understanding what’s happening.

We do learn a lot of material.  Much of it is molecular biology and even students who don’t especially enjoy the topic are impressed with its complexity and how much they learned.  At the end of the year, we do ecology, which most students find to be easier – it’s a good way to end the year.

How does this class prepare students for college?

Dr Underwood: The entire class is set up to teach students how to prepare for a college class, in addition to the biology content.  Instead of dcell diagrametailed questions for homework, I give questions that they should use as a study guide – in college they might not give you homework questions asking ‘why is x important’ or ‘why does y have to come first in the pathway?’, but hopefully at the end of my class you’ve learned that if you’re given a list of 8 reasons that something is important, you should familiarize yourself with it, and if you’re presented with a pathway or flow chart, understanding why it happens in that order is important.

What are students likely to gain from this class?

Dr. Underwood: Alas, as much as I think that biology is the coolest subject ever, I know that many of them will use the study methods more than they’ll use the details of cellular metabolism.

Anything else you do that most biology classes don’t?

Throughout the year they write article reviews about the science articles of their choice, so they can either do something with topics that they find interesting or they can learn about current ‘science in the news’.

To sign up for this class click here. And you can view our other FundaFunda Academy classes for homeschoolers here.

Roominate: an Engineering Toy Designed by Girls for Girls

Roominate Kits: Engineering Toy for Girls

Thanks to one of my students, Sofia T., for this review of Roominate. The links in this review are affiliate ones (and Sofia will be getting part of any money earned to say thanks for a great review). It doesn’t cost you anything more to buy through these links. Roominate did not pay us to write and post this. But this is a product I am excited about and want others to know about. This is an engineering toy for girls designed by two female Stanford students after they realized how few girls got to play with cool building toys.

 ♦   ♦   ♦

What would your dream room look like? Have you ever dreamed of designing and building a miniature room with working lights and motors? With Roominate, an engineering-oriented building toy for girls of all ages, you can create fully furnished rooms and buildings involving lights and motors powered by circuits. I highly recommend Roominate, because it inspires creativity and problem-solving skills, while being extremely engaging and enjoyable.

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Each Roominate set includes several panels for building walls, connectors, and pieces that can be connected to form furniture such as tables, chairs, shelves, and even bunsen burners! There are endless possibilities for room designs, functions, and even the way items as basic as a chair are constructed. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy Roominate.

Sets also include at least one light or motor. These can be operated by attaching a button or by plugging in the circuit wires. Incorporating these into the design teaches both problem solving and creativity. For example, when I was trying to design an elevator by wrapping string around a motor and attaching it to a small ‘cab’, the cab spun when I wired the motor, and the string easily became tangled. However, I solved the problem by tying the string around a connector attached to the motor.This shows how Roominate can reinforce problem solving skills and teach children to be creative in their solutions.

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Another way Roominate encourages creativity is not only through designing the furniture, but through decorating the room. Most Roominate sets include colored paper to tape onto the wall pieces, or cut decorations out of. They also include stickers of flowers, fish, dogs, desserts, and candy. However, there are many more options for decoration beyond these stickers and sheets of paper!

For example, I made posters of the solar system, atomic models, and the periodic table for my Roominate science classroom by cutting out rectangles from paper and drawing on them. I greatly enjoy building with my Roominate sets, and believe that you will enjoy exercising your creativity and problem solving through this toy, too.


Hands on Activities to Teach Kids About Electricity

Hands On Electricity Lesson

Have you ever wished your kids knew more about the force and phenomenon that drives so much of today’s world? Electricity is a huge part of all of our lives, and most people don’t even know how it works at a basic level. There are some great resources on the internet about electricity education, and here are some of my favorite hands-on activities to teach kids about electricity!

Flying Grocery Bag


static electricity


Ever wanted to something fly? Try a plastic ring and a balloon! This fun activity is a cool way of demonstrating of static electricity.

Activity Instructions

Make a Battery (out of a Potato!)


Potato Batteries

This is a fun way to explain how batteries work. This where electrochemistry comes in…which can be a really interesting topic, especially when potatoes are involved!

Activity Instructions

Soda Can Race

This is a great way to show how static electricity can attract, as well. This is fun, and even competitive, to keep every kid excited and involved.

Activity Instructions

Build an Electroscope!

This neat device can be used to test objects for electric charges, and is a great way of visualizing static electricity!

Activity Instructions

Electric Play-Dough

Play Dough Electricity

This is probably my favorite of all the activities, it’s a really fun and interactive way to make circuits and learn how they work! Play dough makes everything fun, and when you add in LED’s and motors, it gets even better!

Activity Instructions


Thanks to Charles Weber for this post, based on activities he did at a local hands on science museum.

Science Fair Projects: Tips to do your best

Today we have a guest blogger, Madeline Binder, who has years of experience with science fairs. If your children have taken part in one, please share their experiences in the comments below.

There is a lot of pressure on today’s kids to be the best, whether it is the best in sports, the best in academics or the best in some other skill. While this demand for being the best can be overwhelming to many students and deplete their enjoyment of their school years, science fair projects can be used to give kids the chance to develop their science skills and their desire to be the best scientist that they can be in a very fun way. To help students do well in a science fair a few simple concepts need to be integrated into their project.


One of the most important characteristics that science fair judges look for in winning science fair projects is innovation. Innovation is important in science fair projects because it is the driving force behind the science industry. Innovation in science fair projects can be demonstrated through unique takes on common science fair project topics, through unusual project topics and through creative experiment designs. Think out of the box!


Another important characteristic that science fair judges want is a topical project. To be topical a science fair project has to explore something that is relevant to today’s issues. Projects that explore out-dated or overworked science topics that have little impact on modern life are not going to be scored as well as projects that explore topics and science concepts that have a large impact on modern life. Example: global warming, global water supply, energy conservation.


The value of the science fair project will also impact the score that a project receives from science fair judges. Value can be based on a number of factors including relevance to modern problems, the discoveries that were made by the student and the implications that are drawn from the project. To get the best score possible students need to make sure that their project contributes something to some field within the science community.


While all of the above characteristics will improve a student’s chances creating a winning project, your project must include all the 6-steps of the scientific method. A complete science fair project will have a well defined hypothesis, an experiment design that tests specifically for the variables identified in the hypothesis, results will need to be collected and analyzed and conclusions will need to be drawn. Furthermore, the project will need a well designed display board that clearly details the progression and findings of your experiment.

The Step-by-Step Infographic Cheat Sheet outlines every step you will need to do a winning project.


Winning at the science fair may not provide students with an automatic get into college free pass, however, it provides them with a prize that is far more valuable. Just doing a science fair project will teach you a process that you will be able to incorporate throughout your life: encouragement to continue the development of your science skills, spurs on your thirst for knowledge, ignites your competitive nature and it provides you with the confidence required to reach for their dreams.

Madeline Binder, often referred to as the SciFairLady, has been helping kids complete a successful science fair project since 2004.

Main Photo by C.C. from Flickr courtesy of terren in Virginia 

Building Sets for Boys

Building Sets were some of the toys my boys played with the most. They were always excited to received them as gifts, and my sons spent hours and hours creating amazing structures. My nephews have been just as excited with building kits. Children do not perceive them as ‘educational’ toys, but just see them as a lot of fun. But, of course, the beauty of it is that there is an incredible amount of learning that will be absorbed while children are playing with these kits.

And although I am assuming with this post that these toys will appeal mainly to boys, I must say my girls have been very happy to join in and build as well.

Here are some of our family’s favorites:

1. Erector

I asked my teen son what his favorite building set had been growing up – and without hesitation, he answered “Erector”. The sets offer endless varieties of engineering-type projects, and kids learn physics without realizing they are doing so. Connect metal beams with screws,  nuts and bolts and use pulleys, gears and motors to make them move.

Erector sets offer sufficient challenge that parents and grandparents will want to join in the fun. Erector Build and Play sets have bigger pieces and can be enjoyed by kids as young as 5.

2. Lego

Although Lego bricks have been around since the 1950s they have not lost their appeal. Younger children can start with Lego Duplo and then move on to the smaller bricks. Lego continually brings out sets that tie in to movies that are currently popular.

Lego offers a huge range of sets – you can buy some small enough to use as stocking stuffers, and ones large enough to almost fill a room. And they range in complexity so it will be quite a while before your boys outgrow them. As teens my boys built robots using their Lego Mindstorms kit. Or buy Lego Technics sets which add gears and motors and other items that make the structures more moveable and take Lego to another level. And when kids have a lot of Lego, there are books available with ideas for building projects.

3. K’Nex

Plastic rods and connectors are used to build a variety of contraptions. My son built a mini Ferris wheel from K’Nex one year, while I was reading him the story of the first Ferris wheel.

There are many other building sets one can buy like Megabloks, Lincoln Logs and a variety of different marble runs. All of these offer good value-for-money and hours and hours of fun and learning for children.

Photo courtesy of, photographer Bucklava

Disclaimer: the links to the products are affiliate links and we do make a small commission on sales made through these links.

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