Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Interesting toy inspires lots of creative thought!

So I found this new toy in the Target Dollar Spot last night.  Turns out its not really a new toy, it's just "new-to-me."  It's called ZOOB.  And ever since I found it, I can't stop thinking about how I could use it in my classroom.

It seems I am constantly showing my students new applications of the idea that a molecule's shape influences its activity.  But since we can't readily SEE molecules, how can we even appreciate that they have shape?  We teachers usually compare molecular shape to things that CAN be easily seen - locks and keys, hands in gloves, satellite dishes - anything that works with something else that only comes in a specific size and shape.  I've used colored pipe cleaners with beads, some foamy bendy stuff or we refer to Lego or pop beads and all kinds of other fit-together items that students might recognize and understand.

The ZOOBs are really interesting and cool because of their different designs.  Unlike Lego that stack together but are just basically the same shape over and over, the ZOOBs have different shapes.  Unlike K'nex that comes in different shapes and colors, the ZOOBs can move once they are snapped together.  So you can string a set of ZOOBs together like a protein's primary structure, then bend it all around into shape to show secondary and tertiary structure.

That's just one of a million ideas I have coursing through my brain since I discovered this toy.  If molecular shape is important in your class, you might want to RUN to Target and pick up some ZOOBs.  There are 15 in a pack for just $3.  And although this is cheaper than any online site I've seen, you can get them on Amazon or Ebay if there isn't a Target near you.

I'll be developing some science activities to use with these really cool toys.  Watch for them!

I'd love to hear how you use a toy in an unexpected way in your classes.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Recording Reptiles and Amphibians

Yesterday was a beautiful day in northeastern Pennsylvania!  Lauren, Steve and I had a great time learning about reptiles and amphibians from John Jose, a field biologist who worked for 8 years in our county before moving to Vermont.  After a short introduction to the kinds of frogs, salamanders and snakes we might encounter in our community, we headed out to the Hemlock Farms trail to see what we could discover.

We learned that it's really important to consider an animal's preferred habitat when looking for them, so we'll be more likely to find them, and know how to identify what we've found.  John had described all sorts of characteristics from physical characteristics to sounds and calls, and we tried really hard to keep it all in mind as we searched.

The first place we looked was a pretty dry and rocky area on the edge of the woods.  After turning over just a few rocks, our group discovered this beautiful specimen!  It's a Northern Ring-necked Snake, Diadophis punctata.

It was maybe a foot long, and Lauren loved holding it!  John explained that it was fairly easy to find this guy because we chose the right spot - a place where there were lots of flat rocks to hide underneath.  Snakes love to lie under flat rocks because they heat up and warm the snakes.  These snakes like to eat salamanders and slugs, so it was likely we'd find salamanders nearby.

We walked up the trail into the woods.  The ground became wetter - more suitable for salamanders.  After upturning only a few rocks, we found several of these Eastern Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).  Slimy!    

We learned that it's important to keep them from drying out, so we couldn't hold them or keep them uncovered too long.  And we learned the right way to return them to their hiding places.  Return the rock to its place, then put the salamander beside the rock so it can find its way underneath on its own.  It can take a really long time for the microhabitiat to form underneath a rock or decaying log, and we shouldn't go disrupting it and leaving it disturbed.

Closer to the edge of the stream we found this Northern Two-lined Salamander, Eurycea bislineata.  It was under the rocks in the water saturated soil.  Our guide was careful to keep it on his net that he had soaked in the water, so we could keep it out long enough to be photographed so we could document having found it.

A little further along the stream, we found this gooey glob of eggs.  They're yet another species of salamander, the Spotted Salamander, Abystoma maculatum.  We didn't see any adults, but we know they've been there!  John waded out into the stream to scoop these eggs up gently with his net, and it was all I could do to keep Lauren from following him into the water.  She was a very eager student and wanted to see and do and hold everything.  All the hands you see in these photos are hers!  Even around the gooey mass of eggs!

We'll be spending a lot of time in the woods and at the streams looking for reptiles and amphibians.  Maybe the most important thing we learned was about how to report our findings to PARS, the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey.  PARS gathers information from its "army of citizen scientists" to help determine the distribution and status of these important members of our ecosystem.  Reptiles and amphibians can be important indicators of the health of our natural surroundings.

To learn more about the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey, visit their website at http://paherpsurvey.org/

Thanks to John Jose, proprietor of Otter Creek Environmental Education Services, for his interesting and inspiring workshop.  http://www.ottercreekenved.com/

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

WIN lots of free teaching materials!!

My store is one of fifty fantastic Teachers Pay Teachers shops featured in the 200 Followers Giveaway by Creative Teaching Supplies!  The prize from my store is WINNER'S CHOICE.  You can choose from these products, or pick something else that you might like!


Click the giveaway logo to enter!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

It Finally Feels Like SPRING!

Today is the first day of more than a week off from school.  A very much needed respite from a long, cold, especially snowy winter.  Its sunny and in the high 50s outside.  The sky is a spectacular blue.  The windows are open, and I can hear birds singing!  Who doesn't love spring?!

Spring provides another chance at renewal.  The reawakening of the trees and the animals inspires me to begin anew too.  Start again to be better... to DO better for myself and my family, for my students... to take care of the things that have gone neglected during winter's cold.

I have been working hard to enrich my classroom with lessons and activities that will motivate my students and invite them to experience learning about science and nature in a meaningful way.  My own motivation ebbs and flows, but in spring I find it easy to toss out the old and begin fresh with new enthusiasm.

Family activities consume much of my time and attention year round with the regular chores, kids' activities, parties, shows, appointments and meetings.  In the spring it's easier for the kids to get me outside with them.  I mind the "mommy taxi" much less when I can roll down the windows and crank up the music.  The sunshine and fresh air make even the mundane seem cheerful.

I feel rejuvenated.  And knowing that there's a week ahead of me without work, with less scheduled routine, moves me to spend more time doing the things I haven't felt the drive to do in several months.  I want to move more, I want to eat healthier foods, I want to get a haircut and a manicure.  I think I'm blooming, too!

Cheers to you, Springtime!  I'm so glad you have finally arrived.

How's the spring making YOU feel?