For Homeschooling

Welcome Homeschoolers!

Classroom teachers from middle school through high school use Sky Lights as a resource for teaching astronomy, meteorology, and earth science. They tell me it’s been a valuable supplement to their regular course content. I believe Sky Lights can benefit home schoolers too.

I know there’s a lot of parents out there trying to do homeschooling for the first time — by choice or necessity. I taught math and science for 30+ years so I know it’s not easy, but I’m here to help. If you need one-on-one educational guidance, Ask a Question and I will respond within 24 hours.

Not surprisingly, even if you’re an expert in science and math, it can be difficult to get children interested. They’re generally good at visual learning due in part to growing up with computers. So I include graphics, photos, and videos in each post to clearly illustrate the topic at hand.

We have an archive of posts dating back to June 2004 (nearly 600 as of this writing). You can browse or search that archive for whatever topic or content you need. You’re almost certain to find what you’re looking for.

Here’s a few things you should know about Sky Lights:

  • Sky Lights is a supplement designed to stimulate curiosity, guide inquiry, and provide explanations for difficult concepts. It is not a substitute for a textbook, online or in print.
  • The average readability grade level for Sky Lights is grades 7-9, but precocious 5-6th graders find it understandable.  Content is tested for readability here: http://www.readability-score.com/
  • Topics focus on astronomy, meteorology, and earth & space science, with occasional forays into other areas. My choice of topics is largely driven by current events, astronomical cycles, and questions from readers.
  • Most content on this website is copyrighted. Some is in the public domain. For more details, see Legal.
  • You don’t need a telescope or other special equipment to benefit from Sky Lights. Binoculars can be useful, and most any type will work fine. The only “experiments” suggested relate to visual observations.
  • You’ll find lots of astronomical names in Sky Lights. Educators need to use the correct pronunciations more so than anyone — and I’ve heard some astronomers get these wrong. For your reference, I’ve produced a document that covers most of the names you’re likely to encounter, including stars, planets, moons, surface features, and constellations. Download my Astronomical Pronunciation Guide here.  
  • My Links page contains additional resources you might find useful. I’ve reviewed them all for pedagogical value. I try to avoid commercial sites with ad content. You can trust my links.

Using Sky Lights for homeschooling:

Many homeschoolers feel lost when it comes to science and math. I get that. Reading and writing are far easier. But for science and math, whether you’re trying to supplement an existing curriculum or trying to come up with your own from scratch, here’s some ideas you can try:

1. Use Sky Lights as a research assignment for a written report. I recommend citation exploration as a requirement. Most Sky Lights posts contain links to outside resources and/or earlier posts. Any post can stand on its own as an educational tool, but for greater depth these links will be useful. Most links access government or academic institutions, but now that Wikipedia has matured I’ve been using it more often. For a student research assignment, consider using this template.

2. For math, browse for a Sky Lights post that includes a mathematical formula. Maybe half of them do. Some are easy and others take some work to use. Have the student find one they feel comfortable with and actually do the calculation with the goal of getting the same answer. Then, do it again using different data from a different physical scenario. Calculators are allowed, but their work and results should be submitted on paper.

3. If your student is an artist, browse for a specific graphic or animation and have them revise it with an editor to show modified or additional features. They can also opt to create a new graphic or animation from scratch. Write a report explaining what new science is being shown.

4. If your student is a scientist, have them invent an experiment they can do at home based on something they learned about in Sky Lights. After doing that experiment they should write a report explaining what they learned.

5. Turn the tables! Have your student create a test for their teacher (or parent). They can write ten questions (with an answer key) based on the content of a specific post. In this case, the student will grade the teacher. How cool is that?

6. Direct your student to http://heimhenge.com/ and see if something there might be of interest in their learning goals. There are many free downloads they might find useful. There are also lessons for advanced students available for a micropayment.

One closing note on the topic of grading.

This is a totally personal choice and gets into such difficult areas as fairness and objectivity and student self-esteem. I would not presume to recommend any one method over another in general. It needs to be what works best for you and your student. That said …

Numerical grading (e.g., 90%) is fine when you need precision and have an app that can keep track of everything for you, otherwise be prepared to a lot of arithmetic. But it’s probably overkill for homeschooling.

Letter grading (e.g., B+) is easier, and if you need to calculate an average you can set an A+ as 12 and an F as 0. Some grading apps accept letter grades, but not all. Written records and arithmetic may be required.

Using a pass/fail system can work, but there needs to be a “contract” between parent and student that clearly defines what is required to pass. Note that using pass/fail could cause complications should the student later seek college admission.