Science Newsletter – February ’18

How does water shape our world? This is the title and subject of our current science unit. The students and I have been discovering how water moves in our world and how water shapes the land and landforms around us.

We’ve used national parks – specifically Grand Canyon National Park and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to begin the study of landforms and how water moves through these two national parks and has shaped landforms. In the coming weeks, we’ll be using three additional national parks to look for patterns, similarities, and differences: Shenandoah, Rocky Mountain, and Isle Royale.

When we returned from winter break, we used the Vernier Labquest2 hand-held technology and relative humidity sensors to measure the water vapor in the air. We were fortunate to have a cold dry day followed by an unseasonable warmer (10°C / 50°F) January day with relative humidity readings well above 50% in the building and outside. It was an excellent experience for the students to work on their science data collection and analysis skills. The groups used the data to continue to develop their science presentation skills by whiteboarding their group’s results.

Continue reading “Science Newsletter – February ’18”

History Newsletter – January ’18

Upstander – a person who recognizes injustice in society and works to end the injustice, also known as an activist.

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In 8th grade social studies we are wrapping up our unit of study on the American Civil War. Our focus question is:

Was the Civil War a choice or a consequence?

We began the unit by looking at nineteenth century reformers and reform movements – abolition, temperance, and women’s rights. We looked at 36 men and women who stood up against the prevailing attitudes of the day and did what was right. They were Upstanders. Each of the students was assigned a nineteenth century activist and asked to create ‘Today in History’ slide for their date of birth or death. It was an excellent way to expose the 8th graders to people from the past who made a difference.

Some of the people are well-known, others are not so well-known, but they made a difference by calling for and working for the end of slavery, or temperance, or women’s rights.

History is made by people who make a difference. It’s why we study history, so we can be inspired by their acts to make changes in our own time. When we visited the Naper Settlement in December, we learned that only 1% of the population in 1856 was actively working for abolition of slavery. Most people stood by and didn’t take a stand. Today, it seems obvious, however it wasn’t easy to be voice of change.

Even at 1%, we need Upstanders – they affect change and help move our country forward. And it’s not just our country, it’s our community, and our school.

We’ve finished the Upstanders and now we are looking the differences between the North and the South– economically, socially, and culturally. We’ll finish the unit by looking at the reasons for the Civil War and reading Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address which begins with

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Upstanders, we need them.

Our next unit is the Immigration unit and the Ellis Island simulation on February 9th. We are always seeking parent volunteers for Ellis Island Day and I’ll be sending out a request in a couple of weeks, so if you are interested, mark your calendar.

Until then remember Lincoln’s words,

The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future.

It’s important to study our past, but it’s more important for us to be engaged in our present.

Science newsletter – November ’17

First quarter and parent-teacher conferences have come and gone. It’s always good to meet the parents and share how their child is doing in science. One of the most common questions during conferences is about homework and that their child rarely seems to have science homework.

As a result of conversations about homework and how parents can help their child in science, I’ve changed how I will announce homework in science. Each homework assignment will be an assignment on Google Classroom and it will be visible in the calendar of Google Classroom. In fact, all of your student’s homework assignments will appear in the Google Classroom calendar.

I will continue my practice of checking homework for completion. It’s a five-point grade and half credit if it is not completed in time for class. I will also continue to provide five to ten minutes of class to begin the assignment. Most of the homework I assign should take no more than 15 to 20 minutes and the purpose is to prepare for the next day’s class when we will review and correct the assignment. Students are encouraged, and expected, to correct their original work in the science workbooks using a different colored pen or pencil – mark their misconceptions and write the correct answer.

Lately, I’ve been helping students overcome a couple of misconceptions. The first is the difference between mass and weight. Continue reading “Science newsletter – November ’17”

History Newsletter – October ’17

What is inquiry?

You’ve probably heard that word in the past couple of weeks in relation to this year’s social studies class.

Inquiry in the social studies classroom begins with a compelling question – a question that doesn’t have a simple yes or no answer nor is the answer easily searchable with Google.

In our case the compelling question for our first inquiry of the year is:

Was the American Revolution avoidable?

Most 8th graders, and Americans, know the story of the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence, and the American Revolution. The reason for war of ‘No taxation without representation.’ It’s what they’ve been taught since they’ve been in school. But the story behind the American Revolution is much more complex than a simple chronology of events.

Inquiry, is a shift in instruction – which means some of the responsibility for learning shifts from the teacher to the student encouraging students to be engaged and curious and wonder about they ‘why and how’ of social studies.

The question we want our students to grapple with was, was the conflict avoidable or not?

Most adults remember history class as having to remember dates, people, places, battles, and other events. Knowing this information is important, but it’s not about what teaching and learning history should be. In fact, in my years of teaching, I’ve learned it’s what turns most 13-14 years olds off in social studies. Some middle school students love history, but for many students, it’s a drudge.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a Party of the 29th Regt. Boston: Engrav’d Printed & Sold by Paul Revere, 1770. Fine Prints. Prints & Photographs Division.

Continue reading “History Newsletter – October ’17”

Science Newsletter – September ’17

Happy Science Friday!

We’ve been busy in science this year. Science is a hands-on experience and this past week we began exploring the pendulum.

To begin the school year, I introduced the ISN – the Interactive Science Notebook – the notebook we’ll be using this year in science. The ISN has writing space for class notes and information provided in class, as well as writing space for their observations, lab notes, and content the students discuss in their table groups. The left-hand pages ar for their notes, reflections, and for the students to write responses to prompts in science – it can be for their ideas, drawings, and lab notes. The right-hand pages are for content I provide in class via lecture notes and science content I need them to have to provide a base for their understanding of science concepts.

During the first week, I asked students to copy a quote from Rachel Carson, the noted American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. If you were at curriculum night, Rachel Carson’s photo was over one of the tables in the back of the classroom.

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years…the alienation from the sources of our strength.”         Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

I plan to foster a sense of collaborative learning in science class where students develop the skills and confidence to ask questions and be curious and wonder. It’s a BIG WORLD out there with many unknowns. It is going to take a great deal of curiosity, grit, and persistence to be successful in the 21st century.

We’ll finish the exploring the pendulum next week and then we’ll begin Unit 1 – How will it move? The unit explores forces and motion and each student will receive a workbook which includes readings, drawings, diagrams with space for students to respond to questions and record their observations. We will continue to use the ISN for extended responses. Continue reading “Science Newsletter – September ’17”

History Newsletter – September ’17

Happy Friday,

It was ‘hat day’ at Scullen today. Actually, it was hat day at Scullen if you made a dollar (or more) donation to help assist victims of Hurricane Harvey. It was a lot of fun.

In addition to teaching science, I teach social studies and though the four of us have different social studies classes we are all working to develop our students to be #FutureReady204 and prepared for life in the 21st Century.

The social studies curriculum in 8th grade is U. S. History from the early colonies to present. It’s a lot of information to cover in a year, but many nations have histories much longer than the United States. Regardless, we are a product of our past. Abraham Lincoln wrote,

“The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future.”

Currently, we covering the learning about the formation of the colonies along the Atlantic coast in the early seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Continue reading “History Newsletter – September ’17”