Monday, December 27, 2010

Final Project

The overall question for this class asked me how I can use digital resources to integrate into Alaska ways of knowing in order to better enhance my student's learning.  Over the course of the semester I used what I learned in many ways, but I think that the most applicable was a science lesson involving state change, and another lesson involving Salmon fishing and fishing management.

The state of matter lesson was very close to the one from Module 8: Phun Physics of Phase change in which we graph the amount of energy needed to go from a solid to a liquid to a gas. However, my class did it backwards....

Here is a copy of the lesson:

States of matter – graphing

Daily Goal:
Students will observe, measure, and graph the energy of a substance (water) as it cools down over a period of time and changes states of matter from a gas to a liquid to a solid.

  • Bucket of water
  • Several temperature probes
  • Stopwatch
  • Computer with the appropriate software

The activity itself is spaced over several hours, depending on the ambient temperature outside.

  • Begin the lesson with a review of the concepts from yesterday – Ask the kids what happens when the molecules of a substance in an excited gaseous state lose energy (heat)? Ask them to demonstrate it like they did yesterday. If they can do this then you are ready for the day’s lesson
  • The class should agree on a prediction – that when a substance loses energy, its molecules should slow down until it is in a solid state. Write this prediction up on the board.
  • Ask the students if they know exactly how much energy it takes for a substance to transform states from a solid to a liquid or a liquid to a gas? Can they think of a way to find out? See if the students can create an experiment (Help them by asserting that as far as we are concerned, heat is energy. So how do we measure heat?)
  • The students will come up with the idea of taking the temperature of melting ice, then again as they are boiling it. Tell them that in this case we will work backwards, by sticking a temperature probe into boiling water then letting it cool and freeze. The probes will record the temperature over a period of time.
  • Bring water to a boil and then place a probe into it and place it outside on the roof. You can check back to it after a few hours depending on the temperature.
  • Once the water is frozen, take out the probe and hook it up to the computer. It should display the data given. Plot this on a chart with the temperature on the Y axis and the time on the x-axis. Put this plot up and ask the kids to show you on the graph “where the state of change took place?” Ask them why they think it is at that part.
  • On the graph should be a flat line in the middle of the data at 32 degrees for some time as all of the ice froze. Ask the students why that line is there, why didn’t the temperature drop any more over that period of time? (it is a cooling process, and it takes time for ALL  the water to lose enough energy to freeze)
  • Discuss the principle of the cooling process with the kids, using an overhead of the graph. Circle key points on the graph and ask the students to explain in writing what the molecules are doing at that point.

Students will be assessed on their participation in the project and on their understanding of the what is taking place during the change in state of matter. I will use the writing to determine if the student understands the dropping energy levels causing a change in state.

The probes we used were Stainless Steel Temperature Probes from Vernier and they looked like this

one end went into the water and the other end hooked into a computer to download the information.  The graph we ended up making looked a lot like the one from module 8 (below)
Except instead of the line looking like a staircase going up, ours looked like a staircase going down. It took the kids a few minutes of discussion and then they got it: in the graph above, the water was getting heat added to it, so over time the temperature climbed. In our experiment, we left the water outside to cool, so as time went on the water was losing energy.  Simple to you and me, but I was pretty happy that they came up with that on their own.

The other lesson came from the the Alaska Seas and River's Curriculum.  The lesson was geared for fifth graders, but I used it at third with a few modifications.

The lesson involves each students being a "fisher" and having to compete against other students to capture "fish" in a community "ocean". If the student does not catch enough fish then they are out of the game, so there is plenty of incentive to catch more than your buddy - the trick is that each year the fish left uncaught reproduce and are added to the stock: the more fish in your ocean, the more fish each person can catch per season (of course this is extremely oversimplified, but it gives the idea).

here is the link to the lesson
AK Seas and Rivers : Investigation two - Fishing for the Future

We played the game several times, and each time the students got better. The first game they wiped out the fish stocks within several rounds, and then they figured out that if they came up with self imposed limits, then the resource would last longer. By the end they went so far as to come up with a managment plan that all the students agreed to.

My rationale for teaching this lesson was very simple  - Alaska fish stocks are down. The Halibut Individual Fishing Quotas, or IFQs are being cut once again, and it has been brought up that the main cause of this is overfishing. This is a real issue that faces Alaskans every day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Module 9 How are climate, terrestrial ice and Alaskan indigenous cultures all connected


  One thing that I learned in this unit was that there is a difference between terrestrial ice and sea ice - I thought that ice is ice: a few hydrogen and an oxygen held together below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. As it turns out this is not the case...

Terrestrial ice, such as glaciers, are constantly on the move. This is evidenced by the moraines and scars cut into the rock by the advancing or receding ice.  I recently learned that this movement can be a problem. I was lucky enough to be involved in a project done by the City of Sitka's Electric Department to explore the possibility of building a hydroelectric project out of Takatz lake On Baranof Island.

This is an aerial view of Takatz Lake

The project proposes running a power line across the island to supply the city with power. The problem is, there is a glacier that cuts across the head of Takatz Valley and it bisects the proposed route for the Transmission line. We obviously cannot build on ice that is moving...

I also am interested in glaciers (especially the parts of the unit that involve the Mendenhall Glacier) because I love to spend time exploring them. I got to go The National Mountain Rescue Association conference in Juneau last year and learn about glacier travel and rescue. The following photo is me on the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau


  I was excited to see the TD resources about Antarctica Ice because we study the continents in the Third grade and I will be able to use those this spring.  I have already used the Drop in the Bucket activity where I asked my students to guess where all of the earths water is stored. Interestingly enough, all of my students way overestimated the amount of water that was in the air. I guess in rainy Southeast it feels like you can drown standing up...

We will study glaciers some, but they will hit that topic more in fourth grade. All I get to teach them about glaciers is how they can move rock and sediment from place to place. This is a photo that I use to help illustrate that - it's the receding edge of the Mendenhall taken from a Tempsco Helicopter. That rock came from way up the valley...

 How is understanding ice relevant?  Well, at first it might not seem like it would matter to most Sitkans and my students.....until you think about it a while.  Ice will directly affect whether we are able to harness hydroelectricity from Takatz Lake, if the project goes through. That energy will power Sitka for who knows how many years to come. I never thought about ice being a barrier - until I had to cross a glacier. Now I have to know how to pull someone out of a crevasse and what to do if I fall into one.  Terrestrial ice is certainly not on the forefront of our minds, but it is connected to many things that we do without our knowing it...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Module 8 - How are Arctic sea-ice, climate and culture all connected?


  This unit was a good one for me, mostly because I have never seen true sea ice. Here in Southeast, we simply don't have any sea ice to speak of, so the whole idea of a large body of frozen water is pretty fascinating and seems impossible. Likewise the idea of being affected here by a change in this sea ice that I have never seen before is a new concept.

 I was interested to learn about the ICC Canada and the summit to deal with these sea ice changes.  It was good to see that people from all over the world come togather and discuss the things that they have in common and work toward a common goal.  Here in Sitka we have the Sitka Conservation Society and their members bring in speakers and have forum discussions about topics of interest around the Tongass National Forest. Below is a poster for their latest local film festival.

 How will I use this new information? Well, first I need to make it relevant - which will be easy to do since we live on an island in Southeast and sea is a very large concern. If we had working computers here I would play the TD video about Shishmaref and point out that it is also a village along a coastline, just like us.

I loved the lab about watching ice melt and seeing the change in volume. I will probably use that when I teach states of matter later on this year. I point out that water, with its unique bonds, is the only substance in the world that's solid is less dense than it's liquid state. To illustrate that, we also take wax  and add heat and watch it go through the state changes. In both cases when you add a piece of solid wax to the liquid wax, it sinks like a rock.

I will also try and explain the positive feedback system to my students but I will most likely use a different example, one that they can more easily visualize. - I like the idea of a snowball rolling down a hill: the bigger it gets, the heavier and the faster it goes and the bigger it gets...


How is this relevant? Well, as a resident of a coastal Alaskan village, any change in the sea directly affects us. However, the challenge is to illustrate that to my kids, none of which have ever seen any signigicant sea ice.  I like the NASA Sea Ice  interaction to illustrate just how much change has occured in such a short period of time.  As I teach it to my students, the earth's systems are all in balance with each other like two kids on a teeter-totter -  as things change slowly over time, the different systems adapt to adjust for it, the same way the kids balance each other.  Any change that is to major or to fast, and somone falls off and then the whole system crashes.  The Polar Ice caps are just another one of those systems that we need to keep in balance...


I visited Martha who had a really neat picture of Prince William Sound.

I visited Sabrina at Sabrina Sutton's Excited about Alaska who had an interesting point of view about Microbes and how cliamte change affects their ability to break down matter.

I visited Chena Lakes Farm and was interested in what is happing up at Fairbanks since I left. This is expecially interesting to me since I have spent a long time there and still have family up there.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Module 7 How is the earth's climate connected?

How is the earth's climate connected to geological, biological, and cultural systems?


  It's easy to understand how climate affects cultural and  biological systems - just look at evolution and some of the physical characteristics that people and animals have evolved to survive, and it's easy to understand that the climate drives changes in plants, animals, and people.  I can teach this to third graders so they can understand it.  Stretching a little farther, I can also teach them that geological processes such as volcanoes like the one at Mt Redoubt  pictured below
put out enough gasses into the atmosphere to change climate (and as far as cultural and human connections, well, anyone who had to fly past Anchorage during those two weeks and was grounded knows firsthand how geological processes can affect us).  Where the going gets tough for me is teaching the other direction - getting my students to understand that culture can have an effect on geological processes.

It's tough to conceptualize that people can change climate, especially for a little kid - "The climate is big and lasts a long time, I'm small and will be alive for a short time, therefore I don't matter" is kind of along the lines of their thinking. This unit taught me that this is not true, and I'm trying to teach that to my students. Explaining something like global warming and glacial rebound in a way that an eight year old can understand it is, to say the least, a challenge.


  So how do I explain it? Well, to start out, because earth is a closed system - ie: all the material, elements, ("stuff"), in the world are here already,  we don't  get or grow any new "stuff" - we simply shuffle  from one place to the other.   A good way to teach this is to place the carbon cycle game, designed by Alaska Project Wild where students are each an atom of carbon that goes from place to place in the classroom - living organisms, the atmosphere, and even carbon sinks such as the ocean or the rock. It is a good way to get kids to understand the recycling of carbon.

Another lesson that I haven't used that is similar to that is one my buddy in Wrangell taught - He started it out by passing out pretzels and saying "You are eating the same salt that your grandfather ate". Kinda gross, but it gets the kids of sit up.

I also use The Alaska Science Forum to get information for my class. This linked article was on Glacial Rebound in Lituya Bay. I explain that by telling the kids to imagine that the earth's crust is like a water bed - if there is a bunch of ice on the crust that is like someone sitting on the bed. When the ice melts and runs off, the bed springs back up.

The TD movies are good but I think the only one I would use with my class is Global Warming and Greenhouse Effect.  I don't expect them to take to much away from it, but I want them to understand that the amount of greenhouse gasses does effect our environment.


How is this relevant?  Well, understanding that, (with the exception of a few trace elements coming in from meteors) the "stuff" that we have here on Earth is all we will ever have and we will just keep reusing it, it's very relevant that we know how to protect it.  Mankind has figured out how to tap into carbon sinks like natural gas, fossil fuel, and coal, and are releasing carbon into the atmosphere faster than nature has ever been able to do before. This will affect the balance of the earth systems.

You cannot be an Alaskan and not affected by oil. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline  (below) literally crosses our state.

According to Pipeline facts, over 15 billion barrels of oil has moved through the pipe, and each barrel has been burned and released into the atmosphere.  Whether this is a bad thing or not, it is important to understand that burning fuel can and will shift the balance of the climate systems, and be aware of what those shifts will result in, before we make our choices.

Three C's

 I visited Esther's blog who has an interesting story about getting sunburn in Hawaii and oceans absorbing heat.

I visited Amy at Amy's Explore Alaska who thought that the video of Arctic haze was interesting and  wondered what it will be like fifteen years from now...

I visited my buddy Matt Hunter (just to see if he did module seven yet) and got a good recommendation for the book Firecracker Boys

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Module 6 : How are the Earth, atmosphere, and cultures all connected?


    In this module I got a lot of new information. I guess this is a topic that I never really thought about -  which when I think about it is surprising, especially since atmosphere is everywhere and linked to everything.

Here in Alaska, weather is everything: It determines what activity you can do outside, how difficult a task is going to be, what equipment will be needed, etc.  My relatives down south simply don't understand that I can be pinned down for days in a cove on outer Chichagof by a low pressure system that comes up out of the gulf, because in their world waiting for the weather simply doesn't happen on that scale. I've always been very attuned to the weather - especially the wind and sea state, but I never wondered where it came from before....

I found the TD post about the jet stream very interesting, because recently my home newspaper, the Sitka Daily Sentinel, published an article that the jet stream is supposed to shift southward this year.
 As a result, Southeast will have a colder, more snowy winter.  This will heavily affect the deer population, which is the source for most of my winter meat - heavy snows drive deer down to the beach, where they slowly starve because the nutritional value of kelp is not enough to sustain them.  The deer taken below was down near the beach very early this year, and weather forecasts like this make me worry about the hunting over the next few years.

Air pollution is another thing that I hadn't thought about that frequently - I certainly understood the idea of  Arctic haze from my time spent in Fairbanks, but I always attributed that to the output from our own cars and the fact that the smog would settle over the Tanana Valley. Because there wasn't enough diurnal change in temperature, the air would settle for sometimes weeks. I didn't know that pollutants from far away would drift to the poles, and that not all of what I was seeing was caused by Alaskans....


  How will I use this information in my classroom?  Third grade earth science includes a unit about weather and another about survival, so I will probably use the TD posts on the jet stream and weather. I also find that the NOAA weather website to be very helpful and I teach my kids how to read the marine forecasts in our local area.

Another way I use NOAA is for myself - I'm planning to be gone on a weekend hunting trip, and because the satellite images look like this:

I think it would be prudent to make sub plans for Monday, just in case this thing hits before then and pins me down somwhere...

Another lesson I did which I really liked, was when I taught in Fairbanks we boiled water, stuck electronic temperature probes inside the jars, and placed the containers outside over the course of the afternoon and waited for them to cool. When we melted the ice and graphed the results.  The graph looked like a descending staircase - just the opposite of the graph posted in the Phun physics lab, and it illustrated the energy expended in a state change because the graph was flatter there. If I could find those nifty probes here in Sitka, I would love to teach it again....

How is this relevant?  Well, as I said before, wind and weather mean everything to an active rural Alaskan. I would say that if my students choose to stay in the state, there is very good reason to learn how to use satellites, images, and forecasts to inform your decisions on where to go and what to bring.  Culturally, the pollution in the atmosphere is affecting the flora and fauna, and those in turn will affect the people that live here.

As I stated in the beginning, I always accepted the weather as a given - it was what it was, and I never asked why. I never thought that I could do anything about it, but when I learned that particulates can land on the snow, causing it to melt faster and reducing snow pack and polar ice caps, I thought that I might be wrong, that humans can have an effect on the weather.

Three C's

I visited Carolyn who was wondering about the garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean.

I visited Emerson's explorations who had an interesting fact about gold in salt water.

I visited Kris who got me interested in a mystery class activity that students do collaboratively

Friday, November 5, 2010

Module 5:How are climate, cultures, and oceans all connected


  Because I live next to the ocean many of the topics discussed in this week's module were already familiar to me. Here are a few of the things I related to:

The cultural connections between seasons and the lifestyles of indigenous peoples, many of my students go to Dog Point Fish Camp during the summer months where virtually all of hte resources are taken out of the ocean. In march the whole town of Sitka turns out to watch the herring opener.

The discussion on specific heat capacity immediatly made me think of the thick fog that hangs over the channel on clear nights - moisture condensing between the cold land and the warm ocan currents.

The unit about latitude and heat brought to mind a conversation between my friend and I on the opening of moose season - I was up and Fairbanks in 20 degree weather in the daylight while my buddy hunted in Wrangell in the twilight at close to 50 degrees.


  These materials that I came across in this unit are not those that will probably use in my classroom, but the concepts are - expecially those involving ocean currents becasue that is somthing that we focus on here (each year the Paths across the Pacific Conference is held here - focusing on human migration and the ocean currents.

One recource that I use (honestly because I am a part of the study) is the study of the Floating bathtub toys pictured above - these were spilled in the Gulf of Alaska ten years ago, and we've been beachcombing them ever since. Using data on where we found each toy and when, Dr. Ebbesmeyer has been able to plot out the gyres and using a computer model predict where things will float over a given time. By the way, that's my dad in the photo and we've found over a hundred toys. These finding are published along wiht other beachcomber news at Beachcomber's Alert


The study of the ocean is very relevant at all levels, but at grade three I have to be careful not to overload them. It is time like these where I wish that I taught higher level kids. Still - a slight change in ocean temperature would be disasterous for the fishing stocks where many of my kid's parents make their money...

Three "C"

 I commented on Allison's Blog

I commented on Janet's blog

I commented on my buddy Matt's Blog (and I have to give him credit for showing me how to get this infernal machine to make links).

Monday, November 1, 2010

Module 4 Cataclysmic events

Essential question:  How do stories of cataclysmic events inform students about geoscience and learning... this question cam from Explore Alaska


 First of all I was very interested in this week's coursework simply because I get excited about cataclysmic events such as natural disasters.  I literally grew up in the shadow of Mt. Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano, that sits in the harbor of Sitka Sound, and have thought more than once about what I would do if I saw smoke curling from the top (incidently, in the 1970's a local jokester set fire to a pile of tires one April Fools morning and gave the town quite a stir).


 How would I use this in my classroom?  Well, part of what I teach to third graders is a unit on social studies and I've found that talking about natural disasters of any kind gets them interested. I know it worked for me for several reasons:

My mother lived through the good Friday Earthquake in Anchorage and only had to tell me once about crouching in the corner of the Lou's Market while glass broke and  dry goods spilled from the shelves.  I think I was in fourth grade when she told me this, but I still remember her describing how the boxes of cheerios tumbled over her and her brother. 

I was also lucky enough to live in the same town that Howard Ulrich, the small boy that rode out the monster wave in lituya bay.  Listening to his interviews was enough to get me so interested, that I decided to go over to Lituya bay and see for myself.

We took our boat over la Chaussee Spit and saw the rock scraped bare up to 1700 feet.  I've got pictures of Crillion Glacier and the slot where the rock fell from. I also have old pictures that I took from the UAF archives that show the damage the next day.

 All these stories put a spark in me to learn more, and I think it works for my students as well.  i show them pictures of my mothers, pictures I've found, and even pictures I've taken as I tell these stories....  I hope that my kids are also curious enough to try and see for themselves what happened and the science behind it.

Another interesting connection that I made last year with my students - when the Chilean Earthquake happened last spring there was a tsunami warning here along Southeast Alaska. I showed my students how to connect to the NOAA website and monitor the alert.  Afterward, we watched the prices of copper climb after the copper mines on Conception were shut down


How is this relevant?

That's an easy one. Most of the material is to in-depth for my students to understand the science behind it, but the concepts aren't  - There are some major Seismic forces at work in Alaska and have been for a long time. There are some amazing conclusions that have been drawn from looking at the history of these events and what they have to tell us, and it's exciting to really study these.  If nothing else, this stuff should get my studetns interested and involved in exploring the evidence that they can understand.