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.

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. 

Student Text Access

The Frustrations of Online Courses

Net-Text is cumbersome, time consuming, clunky. Navigation is poor. Visual appeal is poor.

I need to make my own web page.

One Earth

Planet Earth

Source: National Geographic

Essential Questions

  • How is it that a one-time collection of cosmic dust has gradually changed over time and produced this incredible planet with its tremendous biological diversity?
  • What transitions has Earth gone through and why?
  • How does evidence of the deep past inform us about today’s conditions?
  • How does the Earth’s geological carbon cycle act as a thermostat?
The above essential questions were assigned to me to reflect on. That first one is a huge question; I don't think anyone knows exactly how life began on this planet.

Over the course of Earth's existence she has gone through a lot of changes and continues to change today as she grapples with pollutants in her water, increased carbon dioxide in her atmosphere, and habitat destruction on land. Earth has moved from a red-hot, toxic, uninhabitable planet 4.6 billion years ago to the amazing, beautiful, diversified planet on which we now live. Fossil and geologic records provide a trail for us to follow to understand Earth's ancient past.  Earth has redesigned and redefined herself many times. She started out a red-hot, boiling sea of molten rock-- a magma ocean formed by whirlwind collisions of space rock that transferred both matter and thermal energy between atoms and molecules. She cooled, crusted over, and let steam off to condense into clouds and rain, further cooling her surface. More clouds formed and storms raged, covering Earth with water. Water, our life-giving substance.

The oceans formed and Earth became a blue planet. Or mostly blue because she kept some rock exposed and resting on plates that moved with the internal workings of her still molten mantle. The tectonic plates have been traveling around Earth's oceans 3.9 billion years, carrying with them evidence of their movements and the life they have seen.

Planet Earth has had an eventful history of climate changes -- warm periods and ice ages -- and species evolutions and extinctions. Lives lived on the planet are documented in Earth's diary of fossil records. By reading Earth's geologic diary we can learn how she adjusts, how the atmosphere responds to certain conditions, how Earth uses and recycles carbon dioxide to regulate her surface temperature. Earth leaves us this history in rock, readable through close examination and radiometric dating, so we may better understand her temperament.

Source: Scienceworks 
The first primitive, single-celled organism appeared about 3 billion years ago, yet simple multicellular organisms did not appear until about one billion years ago. Then came "Snowball Earth" period. The snowball earth theory claims that Earth's surface was nearly entirely frozen; she wore glacial ice from pole to pole, with perhaps a few cracks in it. This theory is based on sedimentary fingerprints left  of glacial activity about 716.5 million years ago. During this time, her continents were clustered at the equator. The theory goes that plants colonized the Earth making it cooler by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen gas. The bloom of oxygen gas made it possible for animals to grow skeletons and to grow larger.This intense glaciation ended about 580 mya, resulting in a great proliferation of animal life -- an evolutionary "big bang" as it were.

This is just all to say that Earth is sensitive, and we can get perturbations that can lead to a different world.  ~ Francis Macdonald, quoted by Dell'Amore, Christine. "Snowball Earth" Confirmed: Ice Covered Equator."National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 04 Mar. 2010. Web. 31 July 2014.

What Order Topics

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
- John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra , 1911, page 110.

Connecting Course With Text

The goal of the environmental science course is to provide you with an understanding of the interrelationships of the natural world and humans impact on those interrelationships. It will address the application of scientific process to environmental analysis, the management of natural resources, and analysis of private and governmental decisions involving the environment.  Since there will be no money for textbooks for the new environmental science course, my students will be accessing a free online textbook, The Habitable Planet published by Annenberg Learner.   To facilitate this, I am taking an online course using the text. [Oh yes, what a good idea, Sandra! I knew you'd agree.]

The order of the textbook makes perfect sense because the climate controls the planet systems, but I wish to start by showing how interconnected everything is, as it says in the quote above [one of my favorite quotes]. So I think I have the order worked out, with a reasonable separation between the fall and the spring semesters. I am still trying to decide if the first unit of both courses should be the same or if the spring semester should have a summary of the fall, or if I should just not worry so much.

Habitable Planet
The Habitable Planet, Table of Contents
The Fall course focusses on Earth systems -- geophysical, atmospheric, oceanic, and ecosystems -- as they exist independently of human influence, and on climate change.

Unit 1 Science and the Environment
Unit 2 The Dynamic Earth
Unit 3 Organization of Life
Unit 4 Ecosystems and How They Work
Unit 5 Land, Food, and Agriculture
Unit 6 Water Resources
Unit 7 Atmosphere and Climate Change

The Spring course explores the effect that human activities have on the different natural systems, such as energy, environmental hazards and human health, economics and public policy, and the political economy of sustainability.
Environmental issues

Unit 1 Science and the Environment [??]
Unit 2 Understanding Populations
Unit 3 Biodiversity and Its Decline
Unit 4 The Environment and Human Health
Unit 5 Mining and Mineral Resources
Unit 6 Energy Challenges
Unit 7 Waste
Unit 8 Economics, Policy, and the Future

Deciding the order consumed quite a bit of thought but now I am ready to start filling in the pieces. If you think I lost the ocean unit from the book, fear not - I integrated it into the Dynamic Earth unit. I have a preliminary pacing schedule which looks impossible to keep without assigning a lot of homework. Ugh - I'm not a big fan of homework but it seems necessary.

Formulating An Environmental Science Curriculum

dogwood sprout
Dogwood  Tree Sprouting
This fall the high school I work at will have two honors environmental science courses that will run in sequential semesters and I get to teach them! I am very excited about this, but I will have no paper-based textbook and the curriculum needs to be assembled. Looking at courses online, most are designed for AP Environmental Science, which is not what the courses will be. The courses will also be linked to the Pentucket's Safety and Public Service Academy.

The goal of the environmental science courses is to provide students with an understanding of the interrelationships of the natural world and humans impact on those interrelationships. Both courses will address the application of scientific process to environmental analysis, the management of natural resources, and analysis of private and governmental decisions involving the environment. Course I will focus on "ecology, energy flow, ecological structures, earth systems". Course II will focus on "energy, environmental hazards and human health, economics and public policy".

The students will need a text to refer to and give them structure and study material, so I am looking at using the free Annenberg Press The Habitable Planet as a baseline for them. There are other units I will need to add, plus I need to split the work into two reasonable sections.

Dogwood Tree Blooming
I will be using this blog for reflecting on the units as I read the text, find supplementary materials, and put the courses together.Student lessons will be posted separately from this blog.

Blogger Technical Issues

Learning protocols takes patience and time. If students don't get protocols instilled in them at the beginning of the year, the rest of the year will be a struggle.  It's worth the beginning-of-the-year lag to do it right.

Students have been having difficulty understanding how to post, tag, and add pictures. Since I've been trying to assess their understanding, and they have not posted, I took time today to go through the steps once again, but this time on the whiteboard in class with students, not at computers. It seems that repeat, repeat, repeat is necessary for the students to get the hang of posting their work. Some students were making a new blog each time they were supposed to make a new post. Most students were not labeling with key words. Each week for the past month I increased the blog reflection requirements. Today was a good time to review the entire scope.

  1.  Where the blog name is:  It's not the student username. It's not an email address. It's not the title at the top of the page. It's not the url when in edit mode. The blog name IS the url when in "view blog" mode, and is followed by "".

  2. Add a new post, NOT a new blog. Each blog has to have a unique name (see above) so adding a blog every time you want to say something is going to get complicated when it comes time to keep track of your posts. It is much easier to put all of one topic (or course) under one blog.  

  3. Compose or HTML? Know which format you are typing in! Compose is a "what you see" format where html requires coding for formatting bullets and numbers and such. You can work in either, just be aware! I recommend you keep you options (see image below) clicked to"Interpret typed HTML" and "Press enter for line breaks".

  4. Record labels.  Labels are "key words" that help others find your awesome discoveries. Key words are often the major points or topics of your post. Key words are separated by commas. In blogger they are called "labels" and are in the settings choices on the right. (In wordpress they are called "tags".)

  5. Include pictures to add interest. Cite pictures you did not take. Give pictures a descriptive or interesting caption. Pictures are added by clicking on the little picture frame at the top and following the directions that follow. The school library computers may have blocked you from doing this, in which case you will need to complete at home or on my computer after school.

  6. Include links. Links are helpful for sending a reader to the definition of a technical word you use, and for directing the reader to more information and/or your sources of information. 
  7. Publish when done. No one, including your teacher, can read what you did not publish. If you go back and edit your post, then you must "update" to save. How does it look?