“Men work together,” I told him from the heart,
“Whether they work together or apart.”
The Internet provides exceptional opportunities for homeschool students to participate in real academic research projects in a wide variety of fields. The Lunar Society is another big and wonderful River Houses plan that will bring those students together. Instead of leaving homeschoolers to work in isolation, the Lunar Society will encourage students who are participating in online research to share their accomplishments with other members of the River Houses each month on an easily remembered occasion: the day of the full moon.
Here is a selected list of some of the online research projects that are available now and that we think are suited to homeschoolers working at an advanced middle school or high school level. You and your students can join any of these projects today, independent of any River Houses affiliation. These projects cover a wide range of academic fields and research areas and so will appeal to many different interests; some require active participation while others are more passive; some are indoors and some are outdoors; all will help students learn valuable skills.
- Benchmark Hunting (geocaching.com/mark) — Benchmarks are fixed geodetic survey markers used in map making. Tracking them down in the field is not only fun, it also helps contribute to nationwide mapping efforts.
- Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) — This is an umbrella project supporting a great variety of individual research applications that use your computer’s idle time to work on scientific calculations. All you have to do is download a small application that runs in the background on your computer, and while you’re sitting back and relaxing, it will be analyzing data on earthquakes or proteins or galaxies. Here at Headwaters House we already participate in three of these projects:
- Einstein@Home (einsteinathome.org) — A project to search for gravitational waves and pulsars in deep space.
- MilkyWay@Home (milkyway.cs.rpi.edu) — A project sponsored by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to study the structure and history of the Milky Way galaxy.
- SETI@Home (setiathome.berkeley.edu) — A project sponsored by the University of California to search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. (Really!) Here’s a “team” page that all SETI participants in the River Houses will be able to join — it’s just a place-holder at the moment, but it can serve as a starting point from which to grow. (See also the wonderful animation of data transfers for the SETI@Home project.)
- eBird (ebird.org) — A project to map bird observations in your local area and around the world, sponsored by Cornell University. eBird includes the Great Backyard Bird Count (every February) and Project FeederWatch (specifically for backyard bird-feeder watchers). Here’s the local park we’ve been tracking at Headwaters House, just as an example; you and your students can pick a location near you and help to document it as well.
- Fireball Monitoring at the American Meteor Society (amsmeteors.org) — A project to track fireballs (exceptionally bright meteors) and estimate their altitude, direction, and possible areas of impact. Here’s the very basic profile page for the observations I’ve contributed; we may be able to use something like this to create a River Houses team page at some point. This is a difficult project to work on consistently because it’s naturally unpredictable, but if you enjoy skywatching you should look into it so you will know how to document any future observations you may make.
- Library of Congress Crowdsourcing (crowd.loc.gov) — An excellent new opportunity to help transcribe historical documents at the Library of Congress. If you have history-minded students in your homeschool this site is definitely worth investigating. (Here are some “For Educators” recommendations on how to use these projects with students.)
- Nature’s Notebook — Help scientists track the progress of the seasons across the North American continent with this “citizen science” project sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Phenology Network.
- Personal Weather Station Network — Get your own weather station for your backyard and connect it with thousands of others around the world.
- Wikimedia Commons Photo Challenge — Do you have a budding photographer in your homeschool? The Wikimedia Foundation (sponsor of Wikipedia) has a monthly photography contest to encourage people to produce freely available images on a variety of themes in order to help improve Wikipedia. The Photo Challenge includes the special Wiki Loves Monuments contest (every September).
- Zooniverse (zooniverse.org) — The big clearinghouse for “citizen science,” with dozens of research projects available in many different fields. This is one of the best places to explore if you want to find a new homeschool project to take up.
Look these projects over and see if any of them catch your interest and the interest of your students, and before you know it your little home academy will become a research powerhouse. 🔬 🔭 🖥 🦋 🔍 🦆 ⚗️ 🌸 ✒️ 📖 🌲 😊
But … what does all this have to do with the moon? 🌕 Well, there was a famous science-and-technology club in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s called the Lunar Society of Birmingham (because they met each month around the time of the full moon). They discussed current scientific developments, shared new research results, talked about new inventions, and generally had a grand old time.
I’m hoping that within the River Houses we’ll be able to bring together homeschoolers participating in a number of these group research projects, and each month at the full moon we can have a kind of round-up of the things our members have accomplished (and we can have a grand old time, too). Imagine hundreds (thousands?) of homeschoolers across the country learning about and contributing to interesting research projects with their River Houses friends. That’s the Lunar Society — a nice idea for the future.
What scientific discoveries have you made in your homeschool this month? 😊