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Friday, June 28, 2013

Common Core Science & Technical Standards: Let's Get Organized!



Lesson Planning Grids, and Checklists!

The day has come.  You cannot put it off any longer.  Sticking your head in the sand isn't going to make it go away.  Common Core is here (has been for a while now!) and you cannot put it off any longer.  It is time to get organized and begin to tailor your teaching and lesson planning around these standards.

Don't despair. If you are a science teacher that has been doing what a science teacher is supposed to do (experimentation, problem solving, critical thinking, etc.) then you probably will not have to make major changes to your teaching style or curriculum.

For example, in looking at the standards for the Science and Technical Subjects, the third standard for the various grade levels says:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks."  
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.
I have already been doing this in my classes, and I bet you have many activities and teaching lessons that would cover this standard, too.  So, for me, I first needed to get familiar with the standards for the Science and Technical Subjects, and then get organized to insure I was covering them in my daily planning and teaching.

For organizational purposes, I developed a set of  lesson planning grids and checklists.  I am a meticulous and careful planner, as most teachers are apt to be.  I needed to be able to prove to myself (and to my admin) that I was addressing the CCSS standards in my classroom. 

Lesson Planning Grids:
These Lesson Planning Grids will save you time and will help you become better organized in your daily planning of the Common Core Science & Technical Subjects.  I included one page for each of the 10 standards.  This is an easy way to keep track of the standards you have covered and when you covered them. Use them to record plans for the entire class, or to provide an individualized plan for a special-needs student.


Student Checklists:  Four Different Versions.
At my school, teachers belong to small groups called PLC's (Professional Learning Community).  At various points during the school year our PLC must provide evidence of our CCSS planning and teaching.  These student checklists are a great record-keeping method. You can record each time a standard is introduced, reinforced, or practiced for mastery.  The checklists allow you to provide evidence of your teaching of the CCSS Science & Technology standards, and they can be organized  for class progress or for individual student progress.







Checklist #1:  All 10 Science & Technical Standards are listed on one page.






Checklist #2:  This three-page document for each individual student allows you to monitor individual student progress, how the standard was assessed and the outcome of the assessment.







Checklist #3:  This class record allows you to monitor one standard at a time for the entire class.  





Checklist #4:  This class record allows you to see at a glance which students have mastered the standards, and which students have not.

In my lesson planning grids and student checklists, I have focused on the standards for only the Science and Technical Subjects.  As science teachers, we are going to be expected to cover many of the ELA standards on informational text. As the new school year quickly approaches for many of us, I wish you good luck in your teaching and in your implementation of the Common Core standards.

I have a FREE activity that I always use at the beginning of the school year.  It is a great science writing activity that is a perfect start to the implementation of the CCSS standards in your class.  Click here for the free download.

Links to a few of my Common Core  products:




Monday, June 24, 2013

Byer's Lake: Our 7- Mile Hike in Alaska




Byers Lake Nature Hike
Talkeetna Area, Alaska

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Alaska.... a trip that has been a dream of mine for many years.  I have been writing about some of my experiences there. If you have missed the first few posts, you can read about the Fairbanks area and Denali National Park by clicking these links.

Byers Lake is a small lake located in Denali State Park.  "Small lake" is a relative term.  Everything in Alaska is HUGE, so I guess this qualifies as a small lake.  The lake is 1.23 miles in length and .6 miles in width, and has a shore length of 4 miles.  Our hike was not limited to the immediate circumference of the lake.  We trekked through the woods quite a bit, extending the length of the hike.  According to the Wikipedia, the maximum depth of the lake is 160 feet.  As you can see in the above photo, the lake was still partially covered in ice during the first week of June.

I would like to dedicate this post to our trail guide, MacKenzie.  MacKenzie is a college grad spending the summer in Alaska before continuing on with graduate school this fall. Mackenzie was fantastic!!  (Thank you so much, MacKenzie for an awesome outing!!) She is knowledgable, fun, has a great personality, and in short, she made the hike a most enjoyable day.  I was very much impressed with her ability to identify just about anything that I spotted in the woods.  As you will soon see as you continue to read this post, MacKenzie has a thing for fungi, especially the bracket fungi!

Bracket fungi, or shelf fungi, are types of fungi that belong to the phylum Basidiomycota.  They typically have fruiting bodies called "conks" that are grouped together in interconnecting rows.  MacKenzie can spot a conk a mile away...and she had interesting information on each and every different species we saw!



This is called chaga.  It is a parasite on birch trees, and is, oddly enough, a sterile conk.  It is not the fruiting body, but rather, a mass of mycelium.  It is black due to large amounts of melanin.  Apparently chaga can be brewed into a tea for medicinal purposes.







This is called the Tinder Conk fungus.  A well known use of tinder conk is its use as tinder in making a fire.







Beware this Devil's Club!  It is covered in brittle spines. The plant can grow 3 - 5 feet tall.  The spines easily break off and are painful in the hand!!







As expected, the lichens were gorgeous and plentiful.  Air quality around Byers Lake must be exceptional if judged by the proliferation of lichens.

Fairy Horn Lichen

Fairy Puke

Leaf Lichen

Old Man's Beard


This is False HelleBore.  It is a beautiful plant, but it is extremely toxic!!  If eaten, symptom's begin with nausea and vomiting.  If untreated, toxins will slow respiratory and cardiac function, leading to death.




This, however, is wild cucumber, and is delicious!!








A big highlight of the hike was a visit to a waterfall!









As we progressed around the lake, i did not think that the scenery could get any better....but it did.  These are two of my favorite photos.

The reflection in the water....priceless!

A rare view of Mt. McKinley.
It was a fabulous day!  The only thing missing??  I wanted to see a bear!!  I did see a really cool bear track, though.....  Better luck next time.



Thursday, June 20, 2013

My Daughter is in Costa Rica and All I Got Was......



My daughter is in Costa Rica and all I got was an email and these pictures!!

Kids today have opportunities available to them that I could only dream about when I was their age!  I am so super excited for my daughter for having the opportunity to study abroad in Costa Rica this summer.

(Sweetie, if you are reading this, I am just kidding about the title!!)  My daughter has been in Costa Rica for only one day and is already sending me amazing information and photos.  Within hours of landing at the airport, she was already in the classroom.  From her email, "Our teacher is an electrical engineer who worked for various wind and geothermal plants in Costa Rica.  Our first class covered the history and basics of electricity as well as the basics of the standard power grid."   It thrills me that my daughter is interested in "green energy" and ways to protect our environment.

The biology teacher in me was very excited when she sent me this picture!


Notice that the ant is carrying this entire leaf in its jaws!  The ants are amazing creatures.   I actually have an old blog post on ants that contains some really interesting information.  (Click here to read about ants!)

To my sweet baby..... Have a wonderful and glorious trip!!

To my readers..... Here are a few closing photos from Costa Rica




Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Join the Science Teachers Blog Hop!



Are you looking for more science teaching blogs to follow?  

Well, you have come to the right place!   I know that I am always looking for new and fresh ideas, and I would love to have some new science teaching blogs to follow.

This blog hop is being hosted by Mrs. Harris Teaches Science, so many thanks to her for getting this ball rolling.  Let's see how many great science teaching blogs we can get to link up.  Please add your blog to the linky, and write a short post for your own blog.  Oh ..... and don't forget to spread the word to all of your science teacher friends!

Have fun teaching!


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Alaska Trip -- Denali National Park

Denali National Park:
One of the Most Amazing Places I Have Ever Visited!


I have just completed the trip of a lifetime!!  Since school is out for the summer, and I have nothing to currently share from my classroom, I thought I would share a bit of the biology of Alaska.  I apologize if Science Stuff becomes more of a travel blog than a science teacher's blog.

This is my second post about the land of the midnight sun.  
The first can be viewed by clicking this link.


What I quickly realized about Alaska is the diversity.  As you travel about the state, it changes so much.  If you plan a trip, you must not go to a single location.  If you do, you will see only a fraction of what Alaska has to offer.  On our trip, we moved from Fairbanks to Denali National Park to the Mount McKinley area to Anchorage and finally to the glacial areas of the inside straits passage.  Each location was completely different than the one before.


All of the photos of this blog post are from Denali National Park.  We were blessed with fantastic weather on this trip.  In 17 days, we had only one day of rain.  All of our days were filled with sunshine (a little unusual for June in Alaska) and temperatures ranged from 60 - 75 degrees each day.  We could not have asked for more perfect weather!  The mountains were absolutely gorgeous, and these pictures do not do them justice.  


Wildlife was abundant ..... but my ability to capture the wildlife on camera, not so good!
There are four caribou in this photo, but my photo is more like a "seek the picture" type of puzzle.  Snow was still plentiful, but was quickly melting.  It was very common to see a bright green meadow right along side a huge snowbank.

Thankfully, my daughter is a much better photographer than I.  She captured the caribou perfectly!


  You are not allowed to drive a car in the National Park.  There is only one road into the park, and to enter you must take one of the park buses.  There is a driver/guide on each bus.  Our guide, Lindy, was especially knowledgable, entertaining, and had the patience to endure my many questions.  The rules are simple and strictly enforced and are designed to protect the park and all of its many plant and animal inhabitants.  You cannot stick anything out of the bus window.  This includes arms, cameras, etc.  You may not speak in a loud voice while viewing animals.  And, of course, there is no feeding of the animals.

I was very pleased at the behavior of the park visitors.  Everyone went out of their way to follow the rules, making a wonderful experience for all.

The animals were plentiful.  We saw moose, caribou, bear, and eagles.  While the caribou were easy to photograph, the moose were not!  Usually the moose would leave before I could get my camera ready.  This was the best moose picture I could get!  You'll just have to take my word for it...it is a moose!


I had much better luck photographing the moose food!  This is a willow bush/tree and is the favorite food of the moose.


The lichens were beautiful.  I love the lichens and look for them wherever I go.  Good, healthy lichens are a sign of excellent air quality.  As expected, the lichens in Alaska were very healthy!


I initially thought this (see photo below) was a type of liverwort.  It was in a very damp, boggy area.  But i was told that it is a lichen and is called Frogs Pelt Lichen.


I love to identify wildflowers.  Unfortunately, most of the wildflowers had not bloomed during our trip. Evidently, Alaska had a very late spring this year.

This flower is called Pasque flower....and it is beautiful!

 This is wind flower.

Here are some facts about Denali National Park that you might find interesting:
  • The park is 6.2 million acres bisected by one single road.
  • As you enter the park you travel through taiga forests that gradually give rise to tundra.
  • The park is home to Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America.
  • Denali National Park is home to an abundance of wildlife, but the most striking inhabitant is probably the wood frog-- the only amphibian to call the park home. Denali's wood frog is different from the others of its species by virtue of it evolutionary adaptation that causes it to actually freeze solid during the winter. The frog's heart stops beating and its lung do not breathe again until the spring thaw.
  • 400,000 people visit the park each year.
  • The only road into the park is 91 miles long.  The first 15 miles are accessible by private vehicles.  If you wish to go further into the park, you must use one of the park buses.  Only a small fraction of the road is paved.
I will leave you with a few final photos...









Saturday, June 15, 2013

Our Alaska Trip - First Stop Fairbanks!

We have just returned home from the trip of a lifetime.  After much scrimping and saving for several years, we took our family on a trip to Alaska!  I promise not to bore you with all the details, but this is a summer slump of a time to try to post about biology teaching.  Since there is A LOT of biology going on in Alaska, I thought I would try to share a bit of it with you.

First stop.....Fairbanks!!

The Riverboat Discovery tour took us on a river cruise aboard a sternwheeler.  We cruised up the Chena River to the point where it meets the Tawana River.  The Tawana River is the largest glacial fed river.


The Tiwana river is carrying silt from the glacial runoff.


Along the way, we stopped at a replica of an Athabascan Indian Village.  It provided a wonderful insight into their traditions and customs.


These animal pelts allow for survival during the bitter cold winter months when the temperatures can reach 40 - 50 degrees below zero.  This photo shows the pelts of timber wolves, lynxes, ermines, minks, muskrats and wolverines.


From left to right:  caribou, moose, grizzly.

Domesticated reindeer!

Salmon being smoked for a winter food source.


Another highlight of Fairbanks was the Gold Dredge 8 tour.  I was very excited to see the Alaskan Pipeline.



Panning for gold.....


Between four family members, we netted a total of $72 in gold flakes.


Next stop......Denali National Park!