121 Ways to Teach Yourself About Science

If you’re like me, you might have hated science in school. Or just didn’t understand the value. Or didn’t retain a single thing. Maybe all of the above.

My freshman honors biology class was like torture, sitting in a lab that we never touched. My college anatomy class was hours of note taking that never got applied to anything but test taking. Conversely, my physical science class was so basic that I hardly ever went.

When I look back at my science education, the word boring comes to mind in big neon lights. But now, STEM is evolving. It’s engaging and humorous and really, really exciting. The truth is that STEM has always been this way, but we were just more disconnected from it. Now, we have more information at our fingertips. I mean, Elon Musk just launched a Tesla Roadster into space and we get to see pictures!

If you find yourself wishing that you’d paid more attention in science class, especially as your kids learn, there are tons of resources out there. Here’s my ultimate list of resources to teach yourself about science!

Some of the links included in my posts are affiliate links. That means that if you follow the link and purchase something, I earn a small commission for my recommendation. This support helps keep my site free and is much appreciated!

Books

Biology

Chemistry

Mathematics

Physics and the Cosmos

Religion & the Afterlife

Technology & Engineering

Women in Science

Miscellaneous Reads


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Streaming Series and Documentaries

I have limited time and brainpower these days (see: two toddlers), so I do a lot of science consumption by video. Here are some of my favorites on popular streaming services!

Netflix

Bill Nye Saves the World – Bill Nye the Science Guy for grownups
Brain Games – entertaining series exploring the tricks our brains can play on us
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – an incredible series about our universe
Dinotasia –
CGI storytelling of prehistoric creatures
Edge of the Universe – latest cosmic discoveries
Einstein’s Biggest Blunder – scientists explore Einstein’s theory of relativity
The Farthest Voyager in Space –
all about NASA’s 1977 launch of space probes
Great Human Odyssey –
scientists map humans’ journey from Africa
Horizon: Secrets of the Solar System – 
advances in astronomy
The Inexplicable Universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson – Neil talks technology and wonders of the Universe
Into the Inferno – amazing footage of volcanoes
Life – explore the variety of life on Earth
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World – the history of the internet
The Mars Generation – teenagers at Space Camp
Mega Builders – engineering of awe-inspiring structures
Nature’s Greatest Events – how seasonal changes affect wildlife
Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey –
this series gets bonus points for female hosts
Planet Earth –
 travel the Earth from your couch (Note: all of the BBC Earth documentaries are worth a watch, like The Blue Planet, Planet Earth II, Frozen Planet, etc)
Race of Life – how wild animals continue to survive
The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms –
how they work and where we can find them
The Story of Maths – the history of math, from ancient Egypt to today
Tesla: Master of Lightning – awesome biodoc about Nikola Tesla
White Rabbit Project – from the producers of “MythBusters”, history’s greatest hits

Hulu

Destination Wild – travel around the world to see wildlife in their natural habitats
Hello World – a global look at the inventors and scientists of the future
How It’s Made – how everyday objects are engineered and manufactured
Mojo’s The Circuit – latest tech and gadget news
MythBusters – 
the classic show that busts urban legends and myths
NASA 360 – a look at NASA developed technology that’s changed our lives
NASA X – new innovations by NASA scientists
Secrets of Your Mind – an inside look at case studies about the human brain
StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson – all things space with Neil

Amazon Prime

The Amazing World of Gravity – all about the physics of gravity
Bacterial World: Microbes that Rule Our World – all about bacteria
Birth of the Earth – the story of our planet
Clouds Are Not Spheres – a look at fractal geometry
Edison: The Father of Invention – a biodoc about the inventor
Einstein and the Theory of Relativity – learn about the theory and the scientists still conducting experiments about it
Everything and Nothing: the Science of Empty Space – 
a unique look at empty space
The Fabric of the Cosmos – a look at what makes up the Cosmos
The Fantastical World of Hormones – a look at the chemicals that control our bodies
Hawking – a biopic about Stephen Hawking and his incredible contributions
Henry Ford –
a biopic about Henry Ford and his innovations
How the Grand Canyon Was Made – new evidence of how the Grand Canyon was carved
Life on Us: A Microscopic Safari –
 a microscopic look at the creatures that live on our bodies
Mapping the Future: The Wonder of Algorithms – how algorithms can predict our lives
The Mystery of Dark Matter – explore what we know about dark matter
Nikola Tesla: The Genius Who Lit the World – a look a the father of our modern technological age
Order and Disorder: The Forces that Drive the Universe – a look at the laws of the Universe
The Poisoner’s Handbook – a screen adaption in the spirit of the book
Ring of Fire – explore the geological wonders of the Pacific
Sahara: Altering the Course of History – a look at the great Saharan Desert and the life that used to live there
Sight: The Story of Vision – how our eyes and brains help us see
Sonic Magic: The Wonder of Science and Sound – how sound has shaped our history
Virus Empire: From Sars to Ebola – how viruses have evolved and affect our world

Other Ways to Learn

There is a ton of information out there on the internet. Not all of it is good information, but there are piles of awesome YouTube videos, blogs (like mine, right?), and websites just waiting to answer your most burning science questions. If you’re ever wondering about something, look it up! Add terms like “101” or “introduction” to the subject matter and see what you can find.

One of my favorite ways to learn is to visit local museums and science centers. Some communities have more resources than others, but most of us find ourselves within driving distance of something! Also, check out your local museums, community centers, libraries’ adult programming departments, and universities for opportunities. You never know who might be coming to speak!

And as always, you can send me a message with a topic you’d like to see covered!

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Did I miss any awesome resources? Leave a comment or send me a message to update the list!

5 Science Gifts for Tiny Toddler Scientists

Birthday party season is upon us! For some reason, a large cluster of the Science Kids’ friends were born in the spring/summer. I feel like we spend most of our weekends during this time attending birthday parties of the kids we love!

And what else would the Science Mom give, but science? (Dinosaurs, actually. We are kind of known for always including something dinosaur-related. But that’s still science, right?) I keep these bookmarked on Amazon Prime, so they’re ready to be ordered, tossed in a gift bag (along with a book and possibly a dinosaur or two), and head out to a friend on their special day!

So, without further ado, here’s my list of my five favorite, fun science gifts to give our tiny scientist friends!

Please note that some of the links included are affiliate links. That means that if you follow the link and purchase something, I earn a small commission for my recommendation. This support helps keep my resources free and is much appreciated, so please consider using the link if you decide to purchase something from one of my posts!

1. GeoSafari Jr. My First Microscope

At under $20, this little “microscope” is a fun way to introduce science equipment to little scientists.

It features 2.5-8x magnification, which is more like a magnifying glass and obviously significantly less than a standard microscope. However, that’s why I like this microscope for toddlers. At these lower magnifications with a larger field of view, little brains can begin to understand how microscopes work and what they’re looking at.

It also features an LED light, and non-skid feet to keep it in place. Its chunky design is also great for little hands to still be able to manipulate it independently.

On a personal note, I gave my daughter and her best friend both this microscope for Christmas two years ago. I’ve been surprised by how durable it is, in part thanks to its plastic lenses. My kids are not delicate and it’s surviving just beautifully! They’ve both been having fun looking at leaves, dead bugs, their hands, and random household items.

2. Primary Science Binoculars

For around $13, this is a really adorable pair of binoculars for little bird watchers and nosy toddlers.

I love the chunky design here too. Combined with the rubber eye pieces, plastic lenses, and textured grips, it is really designed for little hands to hold and use independently. I also like that the neck strap is a breakaway design.

The binoculars have a 6x magnification, which is, again, just the perfect amount for them to begin to understand the concept of using binoculars and also what they are actually looking at.

My daughter has taken her pair all over the place, from road trips to the park to local music events.

3. Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set

Coming in under $20, this lab set is probably my favorite thing to gift little scientists. The pieces in this set are “iconic” science, right?

This 12-piece set includes everything they need to start exploring the lab world, including a beaker, magnifying glass, funnel, eyedropper, flask, tweezers, goggles, and test tubes! It also comes with activity cards to inspire both them and the adults helping them.

Again, the chunky design of these tools makes them ideal for little scientists to work semi-independently and feel like they’re in control of their own experiments. While they’re plastic and kid-friendly in every way, they’re still functional and we routinely use them in our experiments at home!

If you’re looking for something more, there’s also a 45-piece deluxe lab set that expands to include more lab equipment and a ViewScope. Learning Resources also makes a kid-sized lab coat that’s at the top of my daughter’s wish list!

My First Mind Blowing Science Kit

I mean, who isn’t excited when they see the title of this science kit? Mind blowing! And for only $15!

It’s packed with fun goodies to conduct a variety of science experiments and introduce STEM principles, including things like test tubes and a pipette, as well as chemicals like red cabbage powder, citric acid, and baking soda. There are some household items you’ll need to supplement the kit, so check the list before you plan to get started.

This kit definitely requires some adult supervision and assistance, but you definitely don’t need to be a scientist to help. Adults will have as much fun as their little scientists with activities like a sunset in a tube, a color-changing volcano, and jiggly crystals.

5. Boley Big Bucket of Dinosaurs

At around $15, this 40-piece dinosaur set provides lots of fun play for budding little paleontologists.

This set combines realistic-looking (not cartoony, like so many sets) dinosaurs and landscape pieces that encourage a lot of imaginary play, but can also open the door for lots of educational questions and talk about dinosaurs.

We’ve had this set in our house for over two years now and the figures have held up really well to almost daily play. I also like that it comes with a storage bucket, so they’re not all over the place. That being said, we did convert our train table into a dinosaur landscape for a while, thanks in part to some of the landscape pieces that come in this bucket. It was a lot of fun to see my daughter’s imagination at work as we constructed it!

Do you have a go-to science gift that didn’t make my list? Leave me a comment!

Our Wild Backyard {Learning About Herpetology}

IMG_0600Our house has lovingly been nicknamed “the zoo”, because along with our more traditional pet dogs, we also have four tortoises: two sulcatas and two Hermann’s. Everyone knows my husband as the “crazy animal lover guy”, so it’s not uncommon for us to get a phone call about a stray/homeless pet or a wildlife rescue question. Our number of pets may wax or wane at any moment.

Well, because of this reputation, our tortoise family just grew by one more sulcata! Ruby (our human toddler) has grown up with our existing tortoises, who my students named before she was even born. We were excited to let her name this one, while we continued the search for her owners. Ruby has settled on “Happy Thank You”, or just “Happy” for short.

Today, I wasn’t sure what our experiment would be and was pondering as I arrived home… to find an alligator in our yard! That’s right. A real, live alligator, just passing through. So, with that, I decided to forgo the traditional “experiment” and instead, share a little bit about our tortoises, reptiles and amphibians, and the field of herpetology.

 

Our Tortoise Family

IMG_0602Our sulcata tortoises are named Argus, Dumbledore, and Happy. Argus and Dumbledore are both 4-year-old males and Happy is a female (who we estimate is 5 or 6 years old). Sulcata tortoises are the third largest tortoises in the world. The biggest is the Galapagos tortoise, followed by the aldabra tortoise. Sulcata tortoises are also known as the African spurred tortoise because of the spurs on their thighs.

Sulcata tortoises are naturally found in North Africa, along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, down through the more arid countries (like Mali and Ethiopia) and along the coast of the Red Sea.

IMG_0603Although these little hatchlings start out less than 2 inches small, they quickly grow and can end up weighing more than 100 pounds and even live to be older than 100 years. They like warm and dry climates, like their natural habitat, so they’re best kept in Southern areas where temperatures are mild in the winter. Obviously, with a tortoise this size, they must be housed outside, so they can enjoy roaming and grazing on fresh grasses. Because of their size, life span, and habitat requirements, sulcata tortoises are a major commitment for their owners. After all, many sulcatas will outlive them. We actually have included accommodations for our tortoises in our wills!

Our Hermann’s tortoises are named Turbo and George. They are both seven-year-old males. They originally lived in my classroom, before I became a full-time mom.

Hermann’s tortoises are named after French physician and naturalist, Johann Hermann. This species originated from the Mediterranean region in southern Europe, which is a fairly moderate habitat in terms of temperatures and moisture.

These tortoises stay fairly small, only growing to 5-10 inches, so they’re better suited for families with smaller yards and less space to be shared. They still enjoy being outside, roaming, and eating fresh grasses, so they’re not the best suited pets to be kept indoors all the time. In fact, they’re quite feisty, with lots of personality and are excellent climbers. They still require a lot more space than you’d think a little 10 inch tortoise would need! And even though they’re smaller, they can still live to be about 75 years old, so they’re a lifelong commitment for their owners!

 

Tortoises vs. Turtles vs. Terrapins: It’s all chelonian to me!

All tortoises, turtles, and terrapins can be grouped together not only as reptiles, but also as “chelonians”, because they’re all part of the taxonomic order Chelonia, which actually stems from the Greek word for tortoise.

So, if they’re all chelonians, why do we call them different names? Good question. The differences mostly pertain to their habitats. A habitat is where a certain plant or animal naturally lives.

A tortoise lives on land and eats lots of different plants (weeds, grasses, shrubs, even cactus). Their feet are designed for life on land, so they’re short and stumpy. Some people say that tortoise feet remind them of elephant feet! Many tortoises will dig burrows to escape their hot, arid natural climates. The burrows fill up with water when it rains, creating a cool and damp place for them to escape the heat and sun!

IMG_0601A turtle lives mostly in the water, although it can sometimes leave the water to bask in the sun. Turtle feet are different than tortoise feet – they’re usually webbed and better designed for swimming in water than for walking on land. Some turtles live in the ocean (like sea turtles), while others will live in fresh water. When it gets cold outside, some turtles will burrow into the mud until spring brings warmer weather (and water) back.

A terrapin lives both on land and in water and usually lives along the banks or shores of a body of water. They’re often found in swampy areas like the one my family lives in, here in Southeastern Louisiana. The term “terrapin” is for some reason not a very popular one, so most people stick to “tortoise” or “turtle” when classifying these types of reptiles.

You may notice that all of these cold-blooded animals (also called ectothermic animals) have a mention about what they do to cool down or warm up. That’s because cold-blooded animals react to the temperature of their surroundings and can’t regulate their own body temperatures. So, if they need to warm up or cool down, they must change their surroundings and go somewhere else!

 

About Herpetology

Herpetology is a branch of biology/zoology that studies reptiles and amphibians. The word stems from the Greek word “herpeton” which means “creeping creature” and “herpien” which means “to creep”. Pretty appropriate, right?

Reptiles are cold-blooded vertebrates like snakes, lizards, crocodiles, and turtles. They usually have dry, scaly skin and breathe air. They also lay their soft-shelled eggs on land, instead of in the water.

Amphibians are also cold-blooded vertebrates, but they have gills to breathe and live in water as larvae, before developing lungs to breathe air as they grow older. They have moist, slimy skin without scales, like frogs, toads, and salamanders. Another fun amphibian fact? Their skin also helps them breathe through a gas exchange. They actually can absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide gas right through their skin!

IMG_0604Like many scientific fields, herpetology can be a tricky one to enter professionally. So, if you really love reptiles and amphibians, expect a harder road to finding a job working with and studying them. If you succeed, you’ll be called a herpetologist, a person who studies, you guessed it, reptiles and amphibians. You’ll likely work in a research lab, zoo, or university. There aren’t really college programs designed to study herpetology exclusively, so you’ll likely find a related major and build expertise through specialized projects and independent studies with qualified faculty.

If you choose not to study reptiles and amphibians, you still might end up a herper (a person who catches reptiles and amphibians in the wild as a hobby) or a herpetoculturist (a person who breeds and/or keeps reptiles and amphibians as a hobby or to sell them).

 

Are you a reptile and amphibian fan… a herper maybe? I’d love to hear from you!

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