Modifications Teachers Do

This past semester I had an extremely small class of bright but shy students. No matter how much "wait time" I gave or how carefully I phrased discussion questions, dead silence followed. I'm not one to run a monologue so I had to do something. I started handing out 3x5 file cards when I wanted to get some dialogue. Students would write their thoughts down, I'd collect them and leave another for the next question. Then I would share responses and phrase a follow up based on what I read. It is not a perfect system but it got us going through the first half of the semester until the students became comfortable enough with each other to speak out loud.

Critics will say that I did not help them become more independent but I did what I could for pushing thinking about the subject matter (I did force a couple research presentations). Short thoughts I would write on the smartboard so we could organize ideas and expand on them.
I post this in the interest of saying: 
Dear government administrators, teachers naturally modify lessons every day based on individuals, individual classes, class dynamics, and current events. We don't have to write out every modification we do and document it on a form - none of us have time to do that for every situation we modify!- we do it naturally. Teachers are professionals, so please give us that respect.

(Readers please note that I am speaking to all those that would add "accountability" in the form of documentation and not to my personal administration.)

From Tap To Toilet: Interruptions in the Water Cycle

Students learn about the water cycle starting in early elementary grades. They learn how Earth's water is changes forms, between liquid (rain), solid (ice), and gas (vapor), and how it moves from the atmosphere to Earth’s natural systems. But one thing is usually left out: human interruptions in this process.  Even this marvelous interactive map from the USGS misses one big interrupter: humans pulling water from surface waters or groundwaters, using it, and discharging it through septic systems or wastewater treatment plants.

Drinking Water, Wastewater, and Humans

The environmental science class took a field trip to a water treatment plant and a wastewater treatment plant to see for themselves what makes it ok for them to take a drink of tap water and to flush a toilet. As a result of this field trip, class labs, textbook readings, class discussions, etc. students were asked to write an entry describing human interruptions to the water cycle. Items students were asked to include were:
  • ·         Water withdrawal and how it can diminish the groundwater table or dry up a stream, river or lake
  • ·         How humans contaminate water and how humans can prevent some contamination
  • ·         What must be done to clean up water that is flushed down toilets 



Amesbury Water Treatment Facility
Floccing Agent
Monitoring Equipment
Disinfectant Tank

Getting the Tou

Separation Tanks (one empty)

Sludge being skimmed off


Sludge skimming (note white bubbles at far end)

Samples of the Stages


Where our drinking water comes from

Amesbury Drinking Water Source

Settling Lagoon

Thanks for the tour!

Down at the other end of the line is the water that we have used and now needs treating before discharge to the river.

Amesbury Wastewater Treatment Facility

The aeration tank, after the grit is removed.

Happy bugs doing their job.

Settling tank

Taking the tour

Grit removed
Looking at the good bugs.

Lab check for suspended solids

Inside the plant 

Gas Laws Analysis

Assignment for Chemistry Students:

Make your learning a conversation with others!  You have watched demonstrations, read txt, practiced gas law equations, and done some labs, all in the name of understanding how pressure, temperature, and volume were related in a gas.   Now you must take all this learning and write an analysis, a conversation of what you learned. This analysis must be posted on your chemistry blog. 

Write your analysis as a discussion or a story. Please do NOT write your analysis as a list of answered questions, even though you have been given a list of questions.  You will be assessed on 1) knowledge of the subject material; 2) describing the material in your own words and in an interesting manner; and 3) personal contribution to the topic.

Labs you have done related to the gas laws are:

Hot Balloon:  An Erlenmyer flask with approximately 50 mL of water in it and a balloon secured on top is heated, and the circumference of the balloon is measured before and after heating the water.

Cartesian Diver: A 2-liter soda bottle is filled with water and a medicine dropper placed inside. After being capped, the bottle is squeezed.

Soda Can Crush:  A soda can with a small amount of water in the bottom was heated on a hot plate, and then flipped with tongs into ice water.

Pressurized Balloon:  A 2-liter soda bottle that has a balloon inside was pressurized.

Pressure and a Bag:  Two large jars with plastic bags taped over the mouths, one inside and the other outside.

Demonstrations you have seen related to the gas laws include the bell jar vacuum; individually, the following were exposed to a vacuum under the bell jar:  glass of water, balloon, marshmallow, shaving cream, empty water bottle.  You also saw the press of air against an evacuated metal sphere with handles.

Need help with definitions?  WyzAnt has a decent tutorial here.

Snow Days

How Should We Make Up Lost Time On Learning?

The headline reads: Boston in midst of snowiest 30 days on record!

Schools in eastern Massachusetts have experienced an inordinate number of snow days-- ten in my school by mid-February-- and students have been losing valuable learning time. Students not only lose time but they lose the momentum of learning; interruptions in schedule means that the instructor must review and repeat before continuing with the lesson.
If schools take the traditional route of tacking days onto the end of the school year, children will be in school until the last day of June. For some this may not be a problem, but there are many reasons for not taking this standard approach.
  • High school seniors have a graduation date that allows them to get out earlier and do not make up missed days, thus they lose those education hours. Ten snow days results in a 27% loss of learning time for seniors taking a semester course.
  • Other high-schoolers “check out” and lose focus during June and after the seniors graduate. One student phrases this as "At my school, we stop learning new material for the most part around midway through May", and while I disagree about his statement it has been my experience that the students lose focus at the end of May.
  • Many families have pre-set plans for their summer and will take their children out of school to keep their schedule.
  • There are many scheduled exams that students must take and lost snow day hours are added AFTER the exam date will not help them at all. AP exams are the first two weeks in May.  The ELA MCAS exam is March 25th and 26th, the math MCAS is May 12th and 13th, and the science MCAS exam is June 2nd, all of which a student must pass to obtain a high school diploma.
  • Teachers must take summer courses to maintain their certifications and many courses begin at the end of June.
  • Many teachers work a summer job to help support the family.
21st Century education moves beyond standard practices and asks students to be creative, innovative, collaborative, and think outside the box. We should too. Instead of tacking school days onto the end of the year, which will not help students with their state and national exams, or asking students to make up the days on Saturdays or April vacation, which would result in a very low attendance particularly at the high school level, schools should incorporate creative and flexible methods for retrieving the learning time for students. Here are some off-the-top-of-the-head ideas and I'm sure there are many others:
  • ELearning! Children are already consuming information through their smartphones, iPads, and laptops, let's take advantage of that. Online supplemental work could be either independent and on the student’s schedule or it could be scheduled with the teacher present on the other end. Seat time is recorded by the log-in and actions of the student. The examples are endless.  Delphi school in Indiana requires students to log on during snow days. Farmington district in Minnesota uses their "Schoolology" digital platform, and Pentucket Regional School District could use their "Schoolloop" digital platform.
  • Relevant work packets sent home with students that they can do on their own schedule and will count as a given set of hours when turned in. Other states, like New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Ohio have "blizzard bags", which Burlington and Wayland schools have taken up.  This link goes to Contoocook Valley regional schools as an example of one way a blizzard bag could work.
  • Extend the school day one day per week by two hours, adding time to all subjects.
  • Move teacher professional development out of the student’s education time to Saturdays or the end of the year.
Teachers, administrators, and unions need to work cooperatively together to make this school year meaningful and authentic. To get to the job of educating children, let'st stop making excuses for why something CAN'T be done and look at how it CAN be done.

Investigating Ice Cores

Students in environmental science are studying atmosphere and climate change, under the overarching question of What key functions does the atmosphere serve that enables life to exist on the planet?  To gain perspective on this issue students have read the text and watched the "atmosphere", "air pollution" and "climate change" videos on the Habitable Planet, and have brought in current event articles on the Clean Air Act for discussion.  Lectures on the atmosphere, climate, and air regulations have also been presented.

Today students were given "ice cores" to analyze for evidence of air pollution, and to think about the question What can be learned by looking at an ice core?  Student instructions were to 
1.       Identify layers of ice and measure and diagram the layers.
2.       Separate the layers by cutting or breaking the ice.
3.       Measure the mass of the sample. Record results.
4.       Melt each of the layers and measure the pH.
5.       Measure the volume of the sample using a graduated cylinder.
6.       Calculate density.
7.       Carefully extract the ash or boil away the melted ice water and mass the ash.
8.       Report your results on the board.
9.       Compare your predictions to the results of other students.
10.   Look for trends in the data, high and low pH vs. presence of air pollution
11.   Compare your data to the overall class data.

The preparation for this activity required advanced planning.



Current Events

I can't keep up with weekly current events in three different courses. The class time that is. We have had some great discussions in environmental science around the articles that students bring in, but I can't afford the classtime every week. Every two-three weeks works better, and focussing on a unit.


My Environmental Ethics

Assignment To Students:

Write a 300-word blog post on what your environmental ethics are.  You have written in your journal about “what is an environmentalist”; you have learned some new terms such as “sustainability” and “environmental footprint”, and “tragedy of the commons“. You have your own personal reason for being in this class. Combine all of these things with your class learning and tell us what are your environmental ethics. You might also think about things you want to do in the future that you have not done before; for ideas on these, go to What Can You Do?

My 300 (or more) Words:

I am deeply connected to our planet Earth and I think I always have been. My parents raised me to respect the planet, take care of her, and to know the names of her New England inhabitants. My mother would take my little sister and me on walks in the woods and name the trees and flowers and wild herbs. My father used organic gardening methods for our food (and all of our vegetables came from our garden) and was disgusted by builders who clear-cut a lot to put in a house; he knew they could have left some of the trees and still built the home, he felt the builder was just being lazy. This background is the structural foundation for the environmentalist in me.

When it comes to environmental ethics, every individual can make a difference and everyone should do their part. I do what I can. Here are my principles, and how I try to keep them:
  • I respect and care for Earth and life in all its diversity.  Everything in the universe is connected to everything else and has value regardless of its worth to human beings.  In addition, with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and to protect these resources for the future.
  • We should protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life. In my yard I have converted an acre of invasive species (bittersweet, Norway maple, Alianthus) into an acre of native trees and shrubs that provide food sources for birds. With the exception of poison ivy killer, I use no chemicals on my yard. The birds, bats, and dragonflies help control mosquitoes in my yard.
  • I promote the recovery of endangered species and ecosystems. This can be seen in my lessons and teaching of science to high school students.
  • We must manage the use of renewable resources such as water, soil, forest products, and marine life in ways that do not exceed rates of regeneration and that protect the health of the ecosystems.
  • The goal of my life has been life-long learning of the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life. In this regard, I have tried to provide others, particularly children and youth, with knowledge to empower them to contribute actively to sustainable development.
  • It is my belief that every individual has the right to potable water, clean air, food security, uncontaminated soil, shelter, and safe sanitation. As a consumer I make a sincere and definite effort to buy products that are either manufactured in the U.S. or are certified as Fair Trade. Rather than shopping at Walmart, where products are cheap and poorly made and 91% are made in China, I spend the extra money to make purchases from local shops and small online boutiques. If at all possible (which is impossible for some electronics) I do NOT buy “made in China” products; China has an atrocious human rights (non-rights?) record and is the greatest polluter of the planet. As much as I am financially able to, I buy organically grown foods, including free-range chicken eggs and grass-fed beef. I also look for where the product has been grown and choose the one that has traveled the shortest distance, thus has a lower carbon (via transport) footprint.
  • My daily intent is to treat all living beings with respect and consideration, and to promote a culture of nonviolence and peace.  “Peace” is the wholesomeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part. I do not always succeed, but it is always my intent and when I falter I just try again. I do make a lot of mistakes, though.