February 7th is an important day in chemistry and science – it marks the publication of the first attempt at organizing the known elements. Two weeks ago our young scientists celebrated the day in science classes with activities related to the periodic table of elements. It was a fabulous day of learning.
On that February day in 1864, British chemist John Newlands published the first periodic table with elements organized by their increasing masses, five years later Russian chemist Dimitri Mendeleev created the framework which became the periodic table of elements which is familiar to many of us.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving morning, and I was up early as I usually am. I am the early riser in our home.
Thanksgiving for our family is quiet, there are only three of us, five, if you include our dogs. Our daughter is home from college and our married son is spending time with his wife’s family.
We used to travel for Thanksgiving, but now we stay home. Last week, I listened to my students talk about Thanksgiving break. Some shared they would be travelling while others mentioned they would spend the break close to home.
I imagine for many of my students, yesterday was spent enjoying the day with family traditions, family recipes and food, and maybe listening and learning their family story. And there were phone calls to family that aren’t here or close. I spoke with my brothers early Thanksgiving morning who are a thousand miles away and called my stepmother later in the afternoon.
However, you spent Thanksgiving Day, I hope you enjoy the break.
Last week I emailed a plea to collect plastic shopping bags to be donated to the Loaves and Fishes food pantry.
Last Thursday and Friday, I observed several students bringing in garbage bags filled with plastic shopping bags to contribute for their Achieve class.
Welcome to the first post since 2018 on semper sharkus dot org. Semper sharkus is Mr. Watkins’s classroom blog. I created the blog in 2017 to share what is happening in the science classroom with parents and make the learning that our young scientists are doing visible.
The blog name semper sharkus comes from Latin and a made-up word.
My children attended Wheaton Warrenville South High School where the motto is Semper Tigris. The high school was established in 1876 as Wheaton High School and has a rich history and distinguished alumni that include Edwin Hubble (a state high jump champion), John and Jim Belushi, and Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.
Several years ago, I began signing all my correspondence with semper sharkus. Until 2020, no one questioned the complimentary close and signature line. A parent replied to an email that they had searched semper sharkus and could not find out what the phase meant.
Can I please ask what is semper sharkus? I was unable to find it on google. ??
Thank you for asking about my signature – Semper Tigris. I ‘stole’ it from my son’s and daughter’s high school principal – Dave Claypool at Wheaton Warrenville South. He signed everything ‘Semper Tigris’ – meaning, once a tiger, always a tiger! Mr. Claypool retired at the end of 2020 and is a hard act to follow.
I thought it was catchy and adopted Semper Sharkus years ago – it’s Latin for “always a shark” – though sharkus is entirely made up. Pistris is the Latin word for shark, and I think using that would thoroughly throw middle schoolers for a loop!
You are the first person to ask me what it means – thank you for being curious and full of wonder. It’s my expectation for my students!
Also, I adopted the phrase as my Twitter and Instagram handles and post photos of learning in the science classroom from time to time.
Lunar eclipse Early Tuesday morning there will be a lunar eclipse. The next lunar eclipse won’t be until 2025.
It’s exciting news because tomorrow our students don’t have school. What better opportunity to get up early and go back to bed after watching a rare phenomenon?
This week we are beginning our unit titled Can I Believe My Eyes? It’s the first physics unit of the year and we learn and discuss the conditions needed to be able to see any object. It is also the unit where we introduce and explain how scientists use models to help explain phenomenon.
We will be using the 4 C’s plus two to explore and discover scientific principles that we’ve used since we began school in August.
Also, in class we watched this video in three of my five science classes today (every class except for period 3 and 7). The video is produced monthly by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. The video is short and provides three short sky watching tips for the coming month.
Finally, it’s a pleasure and a joy to teach your children science. I hope they are learning as much from me as I am learning from them.
I plan to continue to use this platform to provide background about what our young scientists are learning and how they are growing as scientists and people.
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.
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.
Upstander – a person who recognizes injustice in society and works to end the injustice, also known as an activist.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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.”