Super Blue Moon Eclipse — Super Science Activity or Super Bust?

Super Blue Moon Eclipse

On January 31, 2018, the Western Hemisphere will experience a Super Blue Moon Eclipse. That’s a mouthful. What does all that mean?

Super Moon: A full or new moon occurring when the moon is at or near its closest point to the earth (perigee). A new moon at perigee does not exactly make for big excitement. The term “Super Moon” most often refers to the condition when the moon is full and at perigee.

Blue Moon: “Second full moon in a calendar month” is the accepted 20th century layman’s definition of the term, though not technically correct. The historical meaning of a Blue Moon was simply a rare or absurd event. The precise scientific definition of the term is so complicated even astronomers have trouble explaining it.

Eclipse: A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the earth’s shadow. The penumbra is the lighter outer shadow during which the moon is only partially blocked. The penumbral shadow is usually not noticeable. The umbra is the dark center of the eclipse shadow.

Residents along the Northern Gulf Coast will find the moon low in the west before sunrise January 31st. To see anything, you will need a clear view of the western horizon. Will you experience enough of the eclipse to warrant waking a house full of homeschool sleepyheads before the crack of dawn? Let’s see.

The time required for the earth’s dark umbral shadow to pass over the moon will be approximately three hours and 23 minutes. Totality will last a little more than one hour and fifteen minutes. We used the US Naval Observatory’s Lunar Eclipse Computer to pull up the following information.

The January 31 Super Blue Moon will enter penumbra at 4:49 AM, umbra at 5:48 AM, and totality at 6:51 AM. (Central Standard Time).

Pensacola – Moonset: 6:41 AM

Mobile – Moonset: 6:45 AM

Gulfport – Moonset: 6:48 AM

New Orleans – Moonset: 6:52 AM

Beaumont – Moonset: 7:09 AM

Umbra is where the excitement occurs, with totality representing the fullness of the umbral shadow. Locations east of New Orleans will not experience totality before the moon sets. The Big Easy will get about one minute of it. Our friends in Beaumont with unobstructed views of the western horizon will witness almost 20 minutes of the moon’s complete disappearance.

For most Northern Gulf Coast families observing the eclipse from neighborhoods where trees and homes obstruct the horizon, there will not be anything to see. If you have access to a clear western view, are an early riser, and don’t mind the cold, you might just catch a glimpse of the Super Blue Moon Eclipse.

Original photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash

© 2017-2018 Northern Gulf Coast Home Educators

Field Trip: Coastal Bird Banding

Homeschool Field Trip Coastal Bird Banding

Remember our Reluctant Scientist Series with activities and field trips for students who don’t exactly love science? Here’s our latest installment! NGCHE has an opportunity to attend one of the most interesting conservation events along the Gulf Coast — Coastal Bird Banding at Fort Morgan.

Coastal Alabama is a stopping point for birds migrating long distances. Bird banding allows ornithologists to track and study the birds’ migratory patterns. The late Bob Sargent and his wife Martha began banding hummingbirds in the 1980’s in their own backyard near Birmingham. They expanded the project to collect data on a wide variety of species crossing the Fort Morgan Peninsula on their spring migration over the Gulf of Mexico.

Coastal Bird Banding Collage

The Coastal Bird Banding event allows the public a unique opportunity to observe the capture, banding, and release of migrating birds. Stations around the site will give visitors an up-close, personal look at the process. Researchers will be available to explain the steps, answer questions, and educate visitors about conservation efforts.

NGCHE has the opportunity to attend this year’s event. Dr. Andy Coleman, Program & Science Director for the Birmingham Audubon Society, recommends that we attend on a weekday. Because weather will be a factor, he also advises that we wait to choose the exact day we plan to attend. Please pencil in the 17th – 20th of April and stay tuned for an official announcement of the date as the event draws closer. See the Birmingham Audubon Society’s article Coastal Bird Banding for more information about this year’s event.

What can we expect to see in the nets? Just a few of the possibilities include bluebirds, buntings, Chuck-will’s-widows, eagles, fly catchers, gnat catchers, hummingbirds, kestrels, nuthatches, owls, swallows, tanagers, thrashers, thrushes, vireos, warblers, wrens… and more.

Visitors should bring adequate water, food, sunscreen, and bug repellent. Chairs or blankets are also suggested. There is no charge to attend the Bird Banding, but an admission fee is required to enter Fort Morgan park.

To join our mailing list for this field trip, drop us a line at Please include “Coastal Bird Banding” in the subject line. Families on our list will be the first to know when we set an official date for our group’s attendance.

Children of all ages are welcome. Parents of youngsters be advised that the banding will take place in and around the coastal forest. Be prepared to keep an eye on your little ones so that they do not wander into the wooded areas and get lost.

Plan to bring your family, friends, neighbors and join us. Everyone’s welcome in our group. We look forward to learning together about the birds that visit our local habitat.

© 2017-2018 Northern Gulf Coast Home Educators

Field Trip: Mobile Medical Museum and the Medicinal Garden

skeleton-2711096_1920Is your student fascinated by human anatomy? How about the history of medicine? Or perhaps a love of medicinal plants? Join us on November 3rd at The Mobile Medical Museum for November’s stop in our Reluctant Science Student series.

Our Reluctant Science Student field trips are intended to give older students who might not be wild about science experiments the hands-on activities they need. But these trips are not limited to just the shy scientists among us. Everyone’s welcome!

Our field trip will start with a tour of the museum. See an array of fascinating medical artifacts including an iron lung; leeches and a blood-letting demonstration; a functioning heart/lung machine used in the first heart bypass surgery in Mobile. The lecture portion of our tour will focus on human anatomy. But there is much to be learned at the Mobile Medical Museum — everything from civil rights to medical equipment to midwifery and pharmacy.

Students will spend time learning about the plants in the museum’s medicinal garden. They will work on medicinal booklets that include recording information on plant species, care, habitat and traditional uses in medicine.

Mobile Medical Museum Tour and the Medicinal Garden
Date & Time: Friday, November 3, 2 PM – 3 PM

Location: The Mobile Medical Museum is located on the campus of USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital, just off Springhill Avenue. Turn off Springhill into the hospital’s main entrance (Walshwood St.). Take the first left into the parking lot just past Ronald McDonald House. The Museum is at the end of the driveway behind the parking lot.

Cost: $4 for students and chaperones

Instructions: Meet in the parking lot by 1:45 PM. Due to space constraints, the museum asks for no more than one chaperone per six students. Adults who would like to attend the field trip should indicate their willingness to chaperone when they sign up. However, we may not be able to accommodate all parents.

Suitable for middle and high school. Sixth grade and up, please. Parents with elementary or preschool siblings are encouraged to make other plans for the field trip hour.

As with most of our more academic field trips, a very limited number of tickets are available. If you plan to attend, don’t delay! One person who RSVP’s ahead of time and completes the field trip will win the cost of his or her attendance back at the end of the program. See our Contests & Promotions page for details!

You are also invited to join us for The Bone Lab our December science lab field trip at the Archaeology Museum on the campus of the University of South Alabama.

Sign-up instructions are here.

©Northern Gulf Coast Home Educators, 2017

Field Trip: The Bone Lab

Bone Lab Field Trip


The Bone Lab field trip is another event in our Reluctant Science Student series. Some youth are not particularly thrilled with science and/or hands on activities. I know… I raised two of them. They both tried their best to convince me that science labs are not necessary to their education. They were unsuccessful.

The dread of the non-preferred activity can sometimes be eased by taking the experience outside the normal routine of home or co-op. The opportunity to fellowship with old friends and meet new people is also a plus.

Our Reluctant Science Student field trips are intended to give students hands-on experience. But they are not limited to just the shy scientists among us. If your high school student has an interest in archaeology, forensics, or just thinks bones are cool, join us for The Bone Lab. Everyone’s welcome!

Science and Archaeology Museum Tour with the Bone Lab
Date & Time: Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, 9:00 – 10:30 AM

Location: University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum

Cost: $5 for students and chaperones

Instructions: Meet in the lobby of the museum by 8:45 AM. In order to accommodate USA student workers’ class schedules, the field trip must begin promptly at 9:00 AM. Museum tour from 9-9:45 AM. Bone lab from 9:45-10:30 AM.

Suitable for high school. Ninth grade and up, please.

Attendees will be emailed a map, parking instructions, and other guidelines once registered for the trip.

A very limited number of tickets are available. If you plan to attend, don’t delay! One person who RSVP’s ahead of time and completes the trip will have his or her cost of attendance reimbursed at the end of the program. See our Contests & Promotions page for details.

Sign-up instructions are here.

©Northern Gulf Coast Home Educators, 2017

Biology for the Reluctant Science Student

There is no doubt my son and daughter both have the “squeamish” gene. No amount skeleton-2266078_1920of encouragement, begging, pleading, wailing, or gnashing of teeth could convince either of them to embrace the study of biology. My son would take failing grades on science projects rather than so much as look at a specimen of any kind, much less touch one. My daughter has also firmly dug in her heels over laboratory dissections.

Both my son and daughter have real physical responses to others’ descriptions of medical problems and to viewing medical or scientific procedures. Sympathy pains, if you will. It matters not at all if the subject at hand is an already dead though well-preserved laboratory specimen. The act of dissection alone is enough to cause them so much dread and discomfort as to render the whole experience nearly useless.

As a result of all this, Kathryn’s high school biology got put off as long as possible. But we can’t kick the can down the road any longer. This is her senior year. It’s now or never. What to do about this conundrum?

Learning biology strictly from textbooks or videos is, in most folks’ opinion, akin to a crime. That leaves us with two options — a co-op class or do it yourself. My opinion of co-ops is generally very low, especially for high school students, and most especially for core courses like science. But that’s a blog post for another day. Back to our little problem…

In actuality, there are other choices for us on the Northern Gulf Coast. Here we have a warm climate and access to wildlife refuges, nature centers, museums, and research facilities. Instead of doing all of our bio labs around a kitchen table or stuck inside a fellowship hall, we are taking as many of our labs as possible into the field.

Our first bio lab took place on the beach at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores — Discovering Sea Turtles. Students watched an in-depth video on sea turtles of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Gulf State Park naturalists were on hand to provide commentary, answer questions, and educate us about the turtles and conservation efforts. Following were hands-on beach activities that taught students how trained volunteers determine the site of a nest, dig without causing harm to the eggs, and properly mark the nest.

Discovering Sea Turtles

Our group on the beach analyzing simulated turtle tracks and excavating a mock nest

Rain sprinkles prevented students from using paper forms to record collected data. But that was easily remedied by the biology instructor (in this case, me) at home. The field trip was turned into our first bio lab to be entered into our biology journal. With a little extra time and effort, you can make these experiences work for you and your student.

Moms, don’t be put off if your children don’t care for a particular subject. Look for ways to make it more enjoyable before throwing in the towel. Sometimes it just isn’t possible. Sometimes we have to learn the lesson of pushing through experiences that don’t please us one little bit. I’d love to say that field trips work miracles on my daughter’s attitude regarding biology, but that would be disingenuous. The subject still hasn’t made it onto her top-10 list. But the dread of the bio labs is replaced at least somewhat by the curiosity sparked from learning “in the field.”

The best part about our inaugural Discovering Sea Turtles field trip is that it was free, though we did leave a donation for our friends at the Gulf State Park Nature Center in appreciation for providing such a great value for our time. More science labs as field trips are in the works for this school year.

Currently on the schedule:

Check out our Homeschool Events page for all the latest field trips and special events.

©2015-2017 Heart of a Homeschooler