Inquiry Science Archives - Eva Varga

September 28, 2016

Understanding science is necessary in the modern world. It is a key part of understanding breaking news, interacting with our planet, choosing and using technology, and even making healthcare decisions. Therefore, high school science prepares students for their adult life regardless of the career path they choose.

According to conventional wisdom, teaching science at the high school level is really hard, intense, and definitely not fun. Most likely, you may have serious doubts about your ability to offer a high school level science course at home.


Welcome to Finishing Strong ~ a weekly link-up dedicated to families homeschooling middle & high school kids. Each Wednesday, moms just like you share their best tips, encouragement, advice, and more for teaching older kids at home.

Finishing Strong is hosted by me here at EvaVarga along with my friends – Heather from Blog She Wrote, Megan and Susan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight.

integrating-science-inquiryThis week, I would like to highlight posts that were shared last week that focus on teaching science at the high school level. Teaching science at the high school level should not rely solely on reading a textbook and doing the accompanying lab activities. Quality science instruction should provide opportunity for students to ask questions and thereby develop investigations to pursue answers to their questions.

I would thereby like to encourage homeschool educators to take a look at the course, Integrating Inquiry for Educators. This is a fabulous online course offered through Cornell University and Bird Sleuth that walks participants through the process of using an inquiry approach to science.

Finishing Strong Favorites

My daughter has started high school and thus, I am more cognizant of what material we cover over the course of the school year. Ann’s post, The Complete Guide to High School Course Descriptions for Homeschoolers, is thereby very helpful. It is not a surprise that her post received the most clicks last week.

altTeaching science is not always easy. It takes time to gather the necessary materials and to set up lab experiences. For many, dissection in high school biology makes them squeamish. Cindy outlines How to Teach High School Dissection in 5 Easy Steps.

“altHeidi’s post, 10 Secular Science Curriculum Options provides a great springboard if you are looking for material from a secular perspective. If you have used any of the materials she lists, I would love to hear your thoughts. Which do you like best? least? Why?


As always, thank you for helping us to make Finishing Strong a key resource for families who are homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

What are you going to share with us this week?


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September 23, 2016

When we lived in California we had a tropical bird-of-paradise in our yard. While it was not a native flower, we could agree that it was extravagant. When we traveled to Peru, we enjoyed a nature walk at the Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu where we observed over 100 different native orchid species in their natural habitat.

Tropical species provide an interesting point of discussion in the classroom, sparking questions such as: “Why are our local flowers different?” or “What characteristics do the wildflowers we find here in North America share with tropical species?” These questions offer a perfect springboard into science inquiry.

inquiry-skills-birdsleuthWhat is Science Inquiry?

When most people think of science class, they picture classrooms of students all engaged in the same canned activity, following a scripted set of procedures that lead to a predictable outcome. Inquiry based science education is much more. Inquiry science engages kids in inquiry-based science lessons provides them with a way to explore on their own. It removes the teacher as somebody who is providing them with information that they need to memorize. Instead, the kids are experiencing, discovering, and developing their inquiry skills as they go. That is what real scientists do.

Although inquiry based instruction has been written about for decades, it is not widely used in science classrooms. Open inquiry, in particular, is often thought to be difficult to use in the classroom. Perhaps one explanation for this is the perceived difficulty in moving students toward the development of experimental questions.

Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.

Many home educators have experience in leading their children through guided nature studies and observations. Keeping a nature journal is a popular pastime amongst many.  When we take a group of kids outside, however, you will quickly observe that the majority of their questions are reference questions. Questions they can answer relatively easily with experience identifying and using reliable sources.

If your goal is for students to generate questions that inspire investigations, then you need to be able to guide learners into reframing their questions. The Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices online course is a wonderful guide designed to help you – the educator – do just that.

integrating-science-inquiryScience Inquiry Skills for Educators

If you wish to go further with inquiry and citizen science, I strongly recommend Cornell University’s BirdSleuth online course Integrating Inquiry for Educators. They have designed this self-paced course to help educators explore the process of science inquiry and investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation.

I was provided free access to this course in exchange for an honest review. Having completed the course, I would gladly have paid three times the course fee of just $49. I was very happy with the design of the course as well as how the material was delivered. The course text (eBook option is FREE), videos, assigned NSTA reading materials, case studies, interactive quizzes, and the application assignments were all nicely balanced.

The online course both challenged and piqued my interest in science inquiry. I am now – more than before – looking forward to engaging my kids in a inquiry based science explorations in the years to come.

You can also elect to earn two optional Continuing Education Units (CEUs) if you successfully complete the course. All online materials will be available to you for six months following your enrollment.

Whether you choose to enroll or not, you can support student inquiry by taking the opportunity to download their free Investigating Evidence lessons which will guide you towards supporting scientific questions through citizen science. To accompany these lessons, they have also compiled an extensive list of resources including power points and videos.

Enroll Today

Publish Student Work

In addition to the course materials and other online resources, their annual publication BirdSleuth Investigator provides students with an opportunity to share their research. You will find rich pieces of work done by students in grades K-12 throughout the country. Written by and for students, is also beautifully illustrated by youth.

The goal with BirdSleuth Investigator is to encourage students to pursue their scientific interests through inquiry and investigation by showing them that their hard work can get published. They accept bird-related submissions from all students. Submissions can take the form of artwork, poetry, or scientific reports; anything that a student has truly put effort into has the potential to get published.

To share your students’ projects with us, submit them here. Students certainly feel rewarded for their hard work when they find their work in a published journal! Read the submission guidelines for more details.

March 12, 2016

Most people don’t realize that the Sugar Maple is not the only tree that yields syrup. We had thoroughly enjoyed our first experience maple sugaring when the kids were toddlers. Now that we have returned to Oregon, we are delighted to revisit our sugaring experience with Tap My Trees.bigleafmaple

We received a Tap My Trees starter kit in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

There are 13 species of maple trees that grow in the United States. The Sugar Maple (Acer saccharin), one of America’s best-loved trees, is the most well known due to its historical and economical importance.In Oregon, Sugar Maple is an ornamental and found only on college campuses and occasionally in someone’s yard. Oregon’s most prevalent native maples are Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) and Vine Maple (Acer circinatum). Learn more about Our Native Maples in my earlier post. 

bigleafOur Maple Sugaring Experience

I shared a more in-depth look at Science of Sugaring a few months ago. From everything we have read and from our past experiences, we knew that sap would immediately start to flow after tapping the tree if the weather conditions were just right. Cold nights and warm days were what we needed.

We waited. We watched the forecast. Then my dad telephoned, “This week looks to be a good time to go sugaring?!” Yippee! We gathered our gear and piled into his truck.

Oregon Geography

The Oregon Coast is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast Mountain Range on the east. It is 30 to 60 miles (48 to 97 km) wide and averages around 1,500 feet (460 m) in elevation above sea level. Temperate rain forests with high peaks and steep ridges dominate this region.elliotstateforest

In the southernmost section of the Coast Range where we live, you can find the Elliott State Forest. The forest is home to over 50 mammal species, over 100 species of birds, and nearly 30 reptile or amphibian species that spend significant portions of their life cycle in the mountains. It is here that the Big Leaf and Vine Maples grow.

Tapping the Trees

It took about an hour to drive up to the forest and locate the Big Leaf Maples. We found a several in the mid elevations on relatively dry slopes. As the terrain is so steep, most were out of our reach but we did manage to find a couple near the road. Sadly, when we tapped them, the sap was not running. Dad said this was an ominous sign but we hung our bucket anyway and gave it a go.

rainforestWe then drove to a lower elevation in a narrow, moist valley where we located a grove of Vine Maple. You can see in the photo above the abundance of ferns and bryophytes in the understory. When we tapped the Vine Maple, the sap started flowing immediately.

Maple sap is a clear fluid and resembles water. The collection amount may vary. Some days you will collect only a small amount and other days your buckets may overflow if not emptied.

We thereby hung several bottles amongst the vine maple shrubs that covered the hillside. For these smaller trees, we recycled a plastic soda bottle by poking a hole in the side and sliding the bottle onto the spile.


Collecting the Sap

We returned a few days later to retrieve our materials and any sap we collected. Much to our chagrin, the bucket on the Big Leaf was dry. It was just the wrong time. We’ve wanted to try again but the weather hasn’t been very cooperative this year. We’ve had an unseasonably warm winter and lots of rain.

The vine maples, however, were more cooperative. We collected about a quart of sap which when processed yielded only about 2 tablespoons of syrup. Enough for one pancake serving anyway. We all agreed it was very similar to the pure syrup we purchase, but with a little more tangy taste.

It is clearly much more work and effort to tap trees in Oregon, thus making the endeavor economically disadvantageous. This is due in part to the difficulty in reaching the trees but also that a larger quantity of big leaf or vine maple sap is needed to produce equivalent volumes of syrup than the sugar maple.

However, I highly recommend the sugaring experience to families, especially if you have access to maple trees where you live. It is great opportunity to get outdoors and bond together over shared memories – not to mention all that one can learn through the process.

While 2016 wasn’t a good year for tapping the Big Leaf Maple in Oregon, we’ll be sure to try again next year. Sugaring has become a lifelong hobby everyone in our family enjoys.

Maple Sugaring with Tap My Trees

Tap My Trees is the #1 provider of sugaring supplies for the hobbyist. Devoted to educating families about the practice of maple sugaring Tap My Trees has made donations of supplies to nature centers hosting maple sugar events and they’ve made quite a few products available for teaching Maple Sugaring at Home.

They offer 4 starter kits with the highest quality supplies to tap maple trees at home. You can also customize your kits by ordering sugaring accessories individually. The instructive guidebook outlines the steps to making the maple sugar and contains all the information you need for a successful sugaring from identifying the appropriate tree to how weather affects the sap run, when to collect, and how to boil down the sap.

The lesson plans also include a timeline beginning in the winter and go month by month listing the topics for each month leading to the sap collection and syrup making. Sugaring is a fabulous unit study covering botany, ecology, meteorology, physics, and even history!

Connect with Tap My Trees

Tap My Trees is committed to sugaring education and they provide recipes and other information on social media. Their products are also available on Amazon, if you prefer. Be inspired!

Facebook § Twitter § Instagram § Pinterest

January 25, 2016

Though we are in the middle of winter, we’ve been immersed in a study of maple trees. A few weeks ago, I shared a post relaying the science of sugaring.

The United States has 13 native maples, with at least one species native to every state except Hawaii. I’ve selected seven to highlight today – with particular attention to the species native to Oregon.

Our Native Maple Trees @EvaVarga.netGenus Acer

Maple trees are classified in the genus Acer in the Maple family (Aceraceae) and nearly all of the species are deciduous. Three traits that can help you identify a maple tree are:

* Leaves palmate and lobed (for most species),

* Opposite branching, and

* Winged seeds called samaras.

Acer trees and shrubs are commonly known as maple. There are approximately 128 species, most of which are native to Asia, with a number also appearing in Europe, northern Africa, and North America.

Acer saccharum

The Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) is one of America’s best-loved trees. In fact, due to its historical and economical importance (both in the production of maple syrup and as a timber species), more states have claimed it as their state tree than any other single species (New York, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Vermont).

The simple leaves of Sugar Maple measure from 3 to 5 inches long and are in an opposite arrangement on the twigs. They are usually five-lobed, dark green on the top surface and paler underneath. They are generally smooth on both sides, although the veins underneath may be slightly hairy.

Acer nigrum

Black Maple (Acer nigrum) is a species of maple closely related to A. saccharum and treated as a subspecies of it by some taxonomists. Identification can be confusing due to the tendency of the two species to form hybrids and to share habit, range, and quality and use of wood.

BigLeafMaple*Acer macrophyllum*

Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) is native to the Pacific Northwest and grows in mountainous regions. It is widespread in the Coast Ranges, the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, and the foothills of the Cascade Range and the northern Sierra Nevada. It is also commonly known as Oregon Maple for its prevalence in our state.

The deeply lobed leaves are generally 6-12″ in diameter but have been known to exceed this in favorable conditions. The samaras have a fuzzy head, unlike the other species in Oregon.

*Acer circinatum*

One of the most beautiful sights in our woods and forests has got to be the native Vine Maple (Acer circinatum). Found as an under story plant to tall evergreens, from southern BC to northern California and east to the Cascades, Vine Maple is a hardy species.

This elegant tree grows quickly to 10-15′ with multiple trunks and spreads to 20′ widths, much like a vine. Brilliant red and orange colors signal the arrival of autumn, while showy white flowers appear in early spring. It features 3-5 lobes and smooth-headed samaras that grow in a “V” shape.

*Acer glabrum*

Douglas Maple (sometimes referred to as Rocky Mountain Maple) is native to both sides of the Cascades, from southeastern Alaska to southwestern Alberta and south into New Mexico and California.

Its leaves feature 7-9 lobes, easily distinguishable form its close relative the Vine Maple. Hardier than Vine Maple, this tree is often multi-stemmed, with greenish-yellow flowers, and samaras that are oriented in a “V” shape.

Our Native Maple Trees @EvaVarga.netAcer saccharinum

Native to eastern and central North America, Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) gets its name from the silvery undersides of its leaves. The simple, palmately veined leaves are 3–6″ long and 2–6″ broad, with deep angular notches between the five lobes. With slender leaf stems, a light breeze can produce a striking effect as the downy silver undersides of the leaves are exposed. 

The winged seeds or samaras are the largest of any of the native maple. They are produced in great abundance annually, providing many birds and small mammals with food. Silver Maple and its close cousin Red Maple (with which it can hybridize) are the only Acer species which produce their fruit crop in spring instead of fall.

Acer rubrum

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is one of the most common and widespread deciduous trees of eastern and central North America. One of the best named of all trees, it features something red in each of the seasons—buds in winter, flowers in spring, leafstalks in summer, and brilliant foliage in autumn.

Produces red (sometimes yellow) clusters of small flowers winter to spring and features medium to dark green leaves 2–6″ in length with 3 lobes and sinuses that are irregularly toothed.

 * * *

Other Maple species found throughout the United States include Ashleaf or Boxelder Maple (Acer negundo), Canyon or Bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum), and Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum).


But are Sugar Maples the only trees that can be tapped to produce maple sugar? This is a question that has long intrigued my father. Together, we’ve undertaken an investigation to discover the answer for ourselves.

Join me again in a few weeks as I share with you our own experiences in tapping maple trees on the Oregon coast.



*Acer species found in Oregon

December 11, 20142

muscular system

The Muscular System

The muscular system is responsible for the movement of the human body. Attached to the bones of the skeletal system are about 700 named muscles that make up roughly half of a person’s body weight. Each of these muscles is a discrete organ constructed of skeletal muscle tissue, blood vessels, tendons, and nerves. Muscle tissue is also found inside of the heart, digestive organs, and blood vessels. In these organs, muscles serve to move substances throughout the body. There are three types of muscle tissue: visceral, cardiac, and skeletal.

Visceral Muscle is found inside of organs like the stomach, intestines, and blood vessels. The weakest of all muscle tissues, visceral muscle makes organs contract to move substances through the organ. Because visceral muscle is controlled by the unconscious part of the brain, it is known as involuntary muscle—it cannot be directly controlled by the conscious mind. The term “smooth muscle” is often used to describe visceral muscle because it has a very smooth, uniform appearance when viewed under a microscope. This smooth appearance starkly contrasts with the banded or striated appearance of cardiac and skeletal muscles.

Cardiac Muscle is found only in the heart, cardiac muscle is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body. Cardiac muscle tissue cannot be controlled consciously, so it is an involuntary muscle. While hormones and signals from the brain adjust the rate of contraction, cardiac muscle stimulates itself to contract.

The cells of cardiac muscle tissue are striated—that is, they appear to have light and dark stripes when viewed under a light microscope. The arrangement of protein fibers inside of the cells causes these light and dark bands. Striations indicate that a muscle cell is very strong, unlike visceral muscles.

Skeletal Muscle is the only voluntary muscle tissue in the human body—it is controlled consciously. Every physical action that a person consciously performs (e.g. speaking, walking, or writing) requires skeletal muscle. The function of skeletal muscle is to contract to move parts of the body closer to the bone to which the muscle is attached. Most skeletal muscles are attached to two bones across a joint, so the muscle serves to move parts of those bones closer to each other.

Skeletal muscle cells form when many smaller progenitor cells lump themselves together to form long, straight, multi-nucleated fibers. Striated just like cardiac muscle, these skeletal muscle fibers are very strong. Skeletal muscle derives its name from the fact that these muscles always connect to the skeleton in at least one place.

musclegroupsExercising Muscle Groups – Whole Group Demonstration

The kids had a lot of fun with this activity – I hadn’t expected that they would enjoy it so much. In groups of three, students took turns to do a few lifts I first demonstrated. I chose to do bicep curls, bench press, and squats – but any weight lifting exercise will work.

Students should choose weights which are comfortable to use, but heavy enough to do 15-20 reps. Students rotate three times (each time a new exercise is demonstrated) so students have the opportunity to do each task.

  • The lifter of each group will slowly lift the weight up and down in a “bicep curl” with their dominant arm.
  • The other group members will observe all muscle groups working/moving while the lifter is doing the bicep curls. One member can use a skin-safe marker to circle the muscles that are being used.
  • All students should then write down exactly what type of movements the group observed while the bicep curls were happening.

Students should then switch group roles, and then repeat the steps listed while performing a “bench press” exercise with the weights and finally the “squats”.

Encourage students to make a sketch of what they believe the circled muscles should look like after recording their observations and circling the muscle groups that are moving on the arms of the lifters. Students will need to consider where each muscle connects to the bones in order for them to be activated during each different exercise movement.

Muscle Fatigue Lab – How does fatigue affect performance?

I then led the group through a lab activity that is perfect for integrating math skills – graphing, finding mean and range, and finding percent of decrease and increase. I was the timer for the whole group and I trusted each student to count

Each student places their right forearm flat on a table so the back of the fingertips are flat on the tabletop. He/she closes and opens the right hand as fast as possible until the timer says stop, being sure the fingertips touch the palm when closed and the fingertips touch the table when open.

The timer times each trial for 30 seconds and upon calling stop, students record their count on a data table or chart in their notebook. This process is repeated for six 30-second intervals with one 30-second rest interval between the 3rd and 4th trial.  After the activity has been completed for the right hand, repeat the steps for the left hand.

Using the data collected students are then instructed to create a graph. The data and graph can then be used to discuss the results of the activity.

Bring it Home

  • Calculate your horsepower. Weigh yourself on a bathroom scale (pounds). Measure the vertical height of a flight of stairs (meters). Use a stopwatch to record the time it takes you to walk up the stairs (one step at a time). Calculate your weight in newtons (your weight in pounds multiplied by 4.45). [A newton is a unit of force – in this case, the force of gravity that you must overcome to climb the stairs.] Calculate the work you did climbing the stars in joules (your weight in newtons multiplied by the distance or height of the stairs). Calculate the power in units called watts (work in joules divided by the amount of time it took). Lastly, calculate the horsepower used by dividing the watts by 746 [one unit of horsepower (hp) is equal to 746 watts] .
  • Gluteus maximus, soleus, sartorius – why do we call muscles by Latin names?
  • Keep an exercise chart for one week. At the end of the week, evaluate your effort. How well are you exercising? Write a good health goal to improve. List three steps you can take to reach your goal.
  • Are you an athlete? A swimmer, runner, or basketball player for example. Research the muscle groups that are most used by athletes in your sport of choice and write a 5-paragraph essay describing how these muscles are used and what one can do to strengthen these muscles. This activity choice will count for two points.
  • What is muscular dystrophy?
  • Present a simple exercise routine done to your favorite music.
  • Interview a coach and ask about sports-related injuries to the muscular system. Share what you learned with the class.
  • Take a poll. Ask your friends and family how much time they spend on daily exercise. Create a graph to share the results.
  • Learn how to control the muscles in your face. Find a diagram online or in a reference book of the facial muscles. What muscles do you use to: a) open / shut nostrils, b) pull scalp back / down, c) pull ears back, d) raise ears, e) open mouth wide, f) wink with one eye, then the other, g) pull top lip down, and h) pull mouth corners up / down.
  • Cut apart a chicken leg (drumstick and thigh still attached) and carefully observe how they are attached to the bone. Also look at the joint. Sketch and label in your notebook
  • If you and your child think of other activities, go for it!!

My kiddos wanted to create a skit to share what they had learned about the importance of dynamic stretching before exercise as well as what to do in case of a sports related injury. Here is their video that I originally posted to Facebook:

Next week in STEM Club, we will explore the Digestive System.

December 8, 20141

The new school year is well under way. In many science classrooms around the world, students are engaging in hands-on science experiences. Many are beginning to give thought to the annual science fair project that often takes place in the spring.

Inquiry based science fair projects are the keystone of student science fairs. They follow the scientific method rather closely and have several parts including a control and a variable.

Inquiry based science projects allow students the opportunity to become the scientist themselves, using their own observations and experiences to ask questions and form hypotheses. Ultimately students design an experiment to test their hypothesis against variables.

Independent Variable: What the scientist will be changing during the experiment
Dependent Variable: What the scientist will be measuring or observing.
Controlled Variable: What the scientist keeps the same during the experiment.

100sciencefairMany educators believe all hands-on science is inquiry science, but that is not accurate. Inquiry implies that students are in control of an important part of their own learning where they can manipulate ideas to increase understanding. As students learn to think through the designs and developments of their own inquiry, they also develop a sense of self-responsibility that transcends all subject areas.

At the elementary level, science depends on the ability to identify and accumulate facts (grammar stage), organize and analyze those facts (logic stage), interpret and theorize about the facts, and communicate those interpretations and theories to others as they move investigations into their communities and participate in solutions to science and technology issues (rhetoric stage).

The 5 features of science inquiry

  • Student Engages in Scientifically Oriented Questions
  • Student Gives Priority to Evidence in Responding to Questions
  • Student Formulates Explanations from Evidence
  • Student Connects Explanations to Scientific Knowledge
  • Student Communicates and Justifies Explanations

Although each component is important, helping students use evidence to create explanations for natural phenomena is central to science inquiry. You can reinforce the creation and critiquing of arguments in your classroom by asking, “How do you know?” Student answers (both verbal and written) should include evidence. Additionally, you should look for opportunities for students to critique the use of evidence in science news, reports and other media.

Students should practice science in the classroom the way that scientists and engineers do. Provide opportunities to work in collaborative groups to solve problems and explore challenges. Science and engineering practices should not be isolated inquiry activities, but 
permeate the entire curriculum.

Below are 100 ideas for incorporating inquiry science into you curriculum and to kick-start the planning for your science fair project.

100 Science Fair Projects

Life Science

  1. Study the conditions under which mold grows best.
  2. Figure out what is the best preservative to prevent mold growth.
  3. Do plants really respond to music? Affection? Sound?
  4. What type of fertilizer or “plant food” works best?
  5. Sugar level in plant sap at different times and dates
  6. Effect of salinity on brine shrimp or other organism
  7. Can paper chromatography be used to identify different species of plants?
  8. Study the effects of phosphates on aquatic plants.
  9. Compare organic fertilizer versus chemical fertilizer.
  10. Test the effects of heat, light, carbon dioxide, pH level, etc. on the germination rate of monocots compared to dicots.
  11. What factors affect the rate of photosynthesis (temperature, light intensity, water, carbon dioxide, part of the light spectrum, etc.)?
  12. Do the numbers and sizes of leaf stomate vary with different plants?
  13. Study the effect of light or temperature on Vitamin C content of orange juice.
  14. What are the effects of water temperature on the color of fish?
  15. Do the non-smoking sections in a restaurant protect you from second-hand smoke?
  16. Does caffeine have an effect on blood pressure?
  17. Are herbs (or essential oils) a viable alternative to modern medicines?
  18. Which is better – commercial antacids or herbal remedies?
  19. Does playing video games affect heart rate?
  20. What time of bread grows mold the fastest? Compare the buns of various fast-food restaurants.
  21. Are some types of makeup more prone to bacterial growth?
  22. Compare the rate of mold growth on different milk samples (Vitamin D fortified, 2%, 1%, RAW, etc).
  23. Study of insect of animal behaviour versus population density.
  24. Study insects’ adaptations to pesticides or availability of food. Does their body structure change over time?
  25. What is the effect of caffeine or tobacco on the growth of mealworms?

getting started cover

I have written a guidebook to inquiry science with middle school students. It is available in my store.

Earth Science

  1. Does the height of a volcano affect the viscosity of the lava?
  2. Grow a crystal garden. What factors affect the rate and size of crystal growth?
  3. Is there a relationship between sunspot cycles and earthquakes?
  4. Study the small scale wind currents around buildings.
  5. What effects the rate of evaporation the most – temperature, humidity, wind speed, or other factors?
  6. Make observations of geomorphic factors in your local area.
  7. Do the phases of the moon affect the barometric pressure?
  8. Make an instrument to test the soil and find out how compacted it is.
  9. Study the effects of solar activity on radio reception.
  10. What factors affect the slope stability of sand/gravel hillsides?
  11. What substance is best to use in blocking floodwaters?
  12. Study the impact of feed lots on the environment.
  13. How does particle size affect the porosity of soil?
  14. Explore methods of controlling erosion.
  15. Compare the erosion rates of different soil types.
  16. How does the weather affect the salinity of natural aquifers (lakes, rivers, bays, etc.)?
  17. Some intertidal animals in the low tide zone and others in high tide zones. How much time does each zone spend out of water during a tidal cycle?
  18. When are tidal height differences the greatest?
  19. Study the effect of water depth on wave velocity.
  20. Does the moisture content of soil affect the color?
  21. Can mapping earthquakes help identify fault lines?
  22. Build a simple model system to simulate underground water flow, simulate various underground conditions, and test your predictions on water flow.
  23. Which materials make the best compost?
  24. How does soil affect the pH of water?
  25. Investigate how the volume of wet sand changes under pressure.

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Physical Science

  1. Explain how trajectory affects flight distance and vice versa in paper airplanes.
  2. Explain how putting a spin on a ball affects the flight pattern. (How does a curve ball work?)
  3. Which anti-bacterial hand lotion is most effective? (Grow your own bacteria in a petri dish.)
  4. Which brand of popcorn is best? (As judged by which brand leaves the least amount of kernels unpopped.)
  5. Which stain remover works best?
  6. Analyze soil samples for their components, ability to hold moisture, fertility, and pH.
  7. Test the mineral concentrations in hard and soft water.
  8. Compare the results of a common gak or silly putty recipe using different types of glue.
  9. What types of paper decompose the most rapidly when buried?
  10. Compare the surface tension of various liquids.
  11. Study the radiation patterns from different antenna types.
  12. Do bends in fiber optic cable cause loss of audio data transmission?
  13. How does the curvature or materials of different lenses affect a light beam?
  14. Does water droplet size affect rainbow brilliance?
  15. How will the height from which an object falls affect the distance another object moves when struck?
  16. How is the density of a substance/object changed as its temperature changes?
  17. Measure your reaction time and compare it to your friends and family with this fun experiment.
  18. How does the position of a violin or guitar affect the volume?
  19. Do different businesses play different tempos in background music?
  20. Do different businesses use different air fresheners or scents to influence their customers?
  21. Determine how high a basketball bounces on different surfaces relative to the height from which it was dropped.
  22. Find out how the simple aperture design of a pinhole camera works to control the way light enters the lens of your camera.
  23. What setting of a digital camera takes the better picture of a small object?
  24. How does the shape of a bottle affect the sound when you blow across the top?
  25. Test the absorptivity of different materials (sorbents) to discover which ones are best at removing oil from water.

science fairs

I wrote a five day series earlier this year, The Ins & Outs of Science Fairs, to provide a step-by-step approach to creating a successful science fair project.

Engineering & Design

  1. How do different bridge designs affect the strength of the bridge?
  2. What is the most efficient design for a windmill?
  3. How does the weight and shape of an object affect the rate by which it sinks?
  4. Why do the inside of cars get so hot in the sun? What ways can you reduce this heat?
  5. Design and build an automatic recording weather device. Test it over a period of time.
  6. Create a 3-dimensional, free-standing marble run.
  7. Comparing insulative properties of various natural and commercial insulators. Which are the best?
  8. Which style of roof truss is the strongest?
  9. Demonstrate how an AM radio detector can be constructed out of scrap materials and explain the function of the various components.
  10. How does air pressure, materials, and construction of a ball affect its ability to bounce?
  11. Design a spaghetti noodle and mini-marshmellow tower.
  12. How much force is required to advance a lag bolt (large wood screw with a hex-shaped head) into a piece of wood? How do different types of wood compare?
  13. Is there a correlation between electric motor cooling and efficiency?
  14. What is the most efficient design for a windmill?
  15. Invent a device that can launch a pom pom or marshmallow (the farther the better).
  16. Design and construct a robotic insect.
  17. Create a Bristlebot (made from the head of a toothbrush, a battery, and a small motor) and compare the speed of different toothbrushes.
  18. Test a variety of skateboard wheels on their ability to make a 90 degree turn.
  19. How does ski wax affect the sliding friction of skis? You can model this with an ice cube sliding down a plank: how high do you need to lift the end of the plank before the ice cube starts to slide?
  20. Can you design a toy car that is powered by wind? What is the best design?
  21. Build a water clock.
  22. Can aquatic plants promote pesticide breakdown?
  23. Determine the best gear ratio for your bike, to get the highest speed after a curve and onto a straightaway.
  24. Can rooftop gardens also keep your house cooler and lower your energy bill?
  25. Investigate how changing the angle of an inclined plane affects how the Slinky walks down it. What angle will enable the Slinky to go for the best walk?


For more science resources, check out these wonderful 100 Things posts by my friends at iHomeschool Network:



This post is one of 100 posts compiled by the bloggers of iHomeschool Network, 100 Things. Be sure to visit and enter to win over $370 in cash and prizes.