Toolik Lake Field Station- Day 2

My work team includes an outreach educator from the University of Colorado, a kindergarten teacher from Falmouth, MA, and about a dozen graduate students from Norte Dame and the University of California – San Luis Obispo. We had a camp orientation the night before to learn the in and outs of camp life. I am impressed with the organization and creature comforts. The food is fantastic. I wasn’t expecting 8 flavors of homemade ice cream in a remote tundra camp.

Our day started with a walking tour and overview of the history of Toolik Lake Field Station. There is an impressive board walk that connects the research plots across the tundra. Our first stop was one of the first projects to build artificial warming chambers to study the affect of warmer temperatures on arctic vegetation and soil ecosystems. The first chambers where established in 1986. You can see a dramatic difference in height and composition of plants inside the greenhouses. There are enclosures that test a variety of variables including increased nitrogen and phosphorous production that occurs when bacteria increase their growth in warmer soils and longer growing seasons.

Our first project is called a PLUK study.  We will be sorting plant samples from an area burned in a tundra fire in 2008. Researchers are studying how composition and speed in which the plants grow back after such a disturbance. The fire was started by a lightening strike. Thunderstorms are uncommon in the arctic, but their frequency is increasing as the average temperature increases.

We spent time reviewing how the samples where collected. It was a hot day. 70 degrees in the tundra seems like 90 elsewhere. It was a relief to escape the heat and mosquitos to help with samples collected before we arrived. Fifteen of us squeezed into a lab tent to learn how to sort and label samples, working in groups of three. We started at 11 am and finished our sample at 8 pm. There was a break for a wonderful dinner of seafood scampi and more ice cream.  I may brave the mosquitos to take some evening photos.


Toolik Lake Field Station – Day 1

This summer I was invited to join researchers as at the Toolik Lake Research Station. Each year researchers invite educators to work on their Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) projects. I jumped at the chance to travel to this outpost above the Arctic Circle, on the north side of the Brooks Range. My job will be to develop a lesson plan to share what I learned with my students.

I arrived at Toolik Lake Field Station after a 2 hour flight from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay. I was greeted at the airport by the Toolik Taxi drivers. Two station staff, who’s duties include driving a largely unpaved 130 mile section of the Dalton Highway from Prudhoe Bay to this remote research camp. I had met some of the scientists and teachers I would be working with in Anchorage.  It was relatively easy to pick out the science types from the crowd of workers flying into to work in the oil fields. My group included 2 other teachers, and an assortment of researchers and graduate students. We threw our bags in the back of the truck and split up between a passenger van and the truck space for our trek down the haul road. Two Muskoxen, 4 cranes, 4 Northern Harriers, 1 Gryfalcon, several Glaucaus Gulls, 2  ground squirrels and many bumps later brought us into camp.

I love the colors and the smells of the Tundra. The Brooks Range provides a dramatic background to the somewhat familiar Arctic terrain. The mosquitos are fierce and I look forward to starting our projects tomorrow.

11pm sun across Toolik Lake
The sleeping accommodations have comfortable beds and electricity. Quite luxurious.



My Adventures with Google Classroom: Data Analysis

One of the challenges of teaching science by distance learning is giving students immediate feedback.  It’s pretty easy to teach content and vocabulary by distance ed, but teaching thinking skills requires a bit more effort than a multiple choice quiz or a digital worksheet.  One of my favorite tools is interactive models from PHET and the Concord Consortium, but I struggle with how to make these really deep data analysis activities.

I use of Nearpod to walk them through how to use an individual data collection tool. Nearpod gives me a way to control their viewing and get interaction from them to make sure they are on the same page with me. It’s similar  to creating a synchronous digital worksheet and getting immediate formative feedback. This is a good way to start.  I can tell if the students are listening, participating, and understanding immediately. Nearpod also has self paced options but their is now way for me to leave feedback for students as they work.

My goal is to evolve to this next level. I want students to become more independent learners. It’s hard to cut them loose from synchronous and direct teaching. Especially when your are 400 miles away and you can’t look over their shoulders. Last year I attended a conference where I had a chance to hear Alice Keeler speak. Wow, was that good timing. I was so impressed with her energy, and strategies for giving immediate student feedback to students. I made so much sense for my next step. But it was hard to absorb all her tips and tricks at once.

I went back and did a lab with students where I created a Lab Report Template in Google Slides and grouped my students in small groups.  It was a mess to get them to learn how to make a copy and share with each other. But we did it and I wondered if maybe I should bite the bullet and use Google Classroom to make the sharing more straight forward.  It was really cool to watch my students add data and comment on their progress. I really felt like a coach and I was able to get better quality work from the student. I learned a lot about where they got stuck and I could prompt them to continue with comments and feedback in our live class session. In the past I would assign labs and get frustrated when they would get stuck and not ask questions until the next day when I asked them to turn in their work.

So this year, I want to refine my skills at using Google tools. I want to test the waters with adding Google Classroom to my already overflowing toolkit.  I felt the need to get some expert advice and have signed up for Alice Keeler’s online class, Next Step with Google Classroom.

I was really nervous about diving into Google Classroom. I have always thought that Moodle was my LMS and adding Google Classroom would make things way too cumbersome and confusing. But, now that I am taking a class in Google Classroom and experimenting more, I am becoming convinced that it is the right direction for me. I also found a blog post by Alice Keeler  that helped me with the question should I use Moodle or Google classroom?

This week I reworked a data assignment that I usually handout in a worksheet and have the students print and turn as a scanned document with  screenshot of their graph. I assigned it in Google Classroom and made a copy for each student.  This was a dream compared to having them copy my original and struggle with permissions as I had done before.  It was also much easier to find their copies and start giving them feedback right away. It probably saved me a good 30 minutes over my old technique. I like the Done, Not done and Returned features. It makes grading very clear for me and my students. It is interesting that all of these features are available in Moodle, but not organized in a way that makes them as visible or easy to use.  Commenting on students work is also much more streamlined.

Here’s My Assignment if you want to take a peak at it. I also recorded a short screencast of the directions for students who needed to listen to them a second time. This need became obvious as I see 15 students have not completed this activity after ample class work time. I left a comment for all students that this video was now available. I graded everyones assignment on the day we started it and returned assignments to students with their grades and comments. The next day I had 4 requests to regrade. Now I just have to work on the stragglers. But I do feel like I gave them every opportunity to get help and ask a personal question and they chose not to pursue this. It’s a tough topic. I also encouraged them to ask a classmate who had completed the assignment  for help, another good, Alice Keeler tip.


Adventures in Customizing Textbooks

Our first book has hit the classrooms. This is a huge experiment in using open source text books. LKSD has implemented our first customized Biology Text district wide.  We customized a book using templates and tools made available through and their Flexbook platform.

My interest began as I struggled to use commercial books that were loaded with academic language and lengthy chapters filled with thousands of concepts at once. I was searching for books that would be ESL friendly, but still rich in content and rigorous. The books are arranged in concepts vs chapters which present a more digestible chunk of knowledge at one time. We can also edit the book and use our own analogies and local pictures and terms.  A team of teachers worked on customizing these books over the summer. Books are available in print and digital format.

KYUK recently did a news story about our efforts.


Paper Circuitry Engineering and Design: A Steam Project

I have made the Paper Circuit greeting card assignment an annual tradition in my Physical Science Class. This year we made the cards after learning about simple and parallel circuits in an Electricity Unit. I challenged my students to apply what they learned about electricity by designing greeting card that lights up with a paper circuit. It was a great opportunity for us to use the terms insulator, conductor, parallel circuit,  volts, amps, resistance (ohms) in concept. We also talked about the engineering design process and how this is a different from an inquiry investigation as we are applying what we know to create something.

This lesson is a work in progress. For next year, I plan to add a reflective writing piece that uses the strategies an engineering notebook would. We will also have nanometers next year and then we can analyze the current and resistance of our designs.

A big thanks to the folks at Nexmap And Chibtronics inspiring this projects. It’s one of our favorites.


Working towards better readers and Argument Driven Inquiry

Last year, I stumbled upon the Argument Driven Inquiry process with a little nudge from a great colleague. After struggling with the Learning Cycle Model and Inquiry Science for many years, it was a relief to find a process that gave me more direction and structure to support the development of the inquiry process with my students.

My district hired ADI to provide an introductory training in the ADI process. I feel like I have been given a life preserver at sea. The ADI structure is giving me the framework and the tools I need to develop my craft as an Inquiry Science teacher. I am beginning this journey and will share more as I develop my skills. Its so exciting to see my students start to get it.

What I like about the labs is they start with a short-targeted reading that gives students the background information they need to design an investigation and unravel meaning. The readings are relevant and purposeful. This really helps my students.  The folks at ADI have some great scaffolding materials too.

Here’s  a sample of student writing submitted after our first lab:

Student Group 1:


Some of my students are less verbal, but they are spot on:

Student Group 2