Hour of Code

We did Hour of Code today. There just aren’t enough students learning how to program these days. The US doesn’t have as many programmers as just a decade ago. This is a problem, and exposing students to programming may ignite a spark that will help them decide to learn how to program. The kids had fun seeing how to draw on a screen using commands. Here’s hoping that some decide to learn how to control computers.

Brain Dissections

While I teach general science, my schools Gifted and Talented teacher goes into more advanced work with some of the students. Today she brought in a biology expert to do sheep brain dissection in my classroom.

Students were finding the parts of the brain they’ve learned about, from the pituitary gland to the olfactory lobes to the optic nerve crossover. Looking at the gray matter and the white matter.

Some parents came in to do this with their kids. Most kids had fun, but one or two were kind of squeamish.

Sheep brain

Sheep brain

Teaching Newton’s second law

I’ve been teaching Newton’s second law to my 6th graders, and I’m really surprised at how the textbooks try to do the math. When I learned it (back before dirt), I learned f = ma (force is mass times acceleration). Our textbook says a = f/m (acceleration is force divided by mass). But I haven’t seen a textbook use this:

Newton's Second Law

With this, all you do is plug in what you know, and it will show you how to get what you’re missing. For example, if you have force and acceleration, you fill them in, and you have force divided by acceleration. That gives you mass.

You can also think about like this: I want to get the force, so I cover up the f. I’m left with mass times acceleration. Or I want to get acceleration, so I cover up the a. I’m left with f over m.

Now, instead of having to remember 3 formulas (f=ma, m=f/a, a=f/m), I just have to remember this one thing that gives me the 3 formulas. All I really need to remember is that force goes on top (because multiplication is commutative).


Impromptu lesson on light

Friday the 8th grade science teacher was absent, so I got to teach one of the 8th grade sections. I’ve taught 8th grade, and they had just started learning about telescopes, so I taught them about light. I handed out diffraction gratings to the students, and then used spectrum tubes to show the different colors from different elements. I showed neon, argon, oxygen, and hydrogen. The tubes are placed in a transformer that sends high voltage through them to excite the atoms and they give off photons as the electrons return to their ground states.

Narratives of Courage


Narratives of Courage 2014

Every two years we have a very special day at school. We have guests come and the students get to listen to their stories of surviving difficult experiences. Today our guests are:

Mark Barden gave the Keynote on his 8-year-old son Daniel, and his murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. How the family has survived and created a foundation help stop gun violence. This was very powerful. Administrators from Sandy Hook’s school district were present to watch the various presentations, and more importantly, how the students handled the strong emotions. They may be running one of these themselves soon.

My group of 7th graders also saw:

  1. Jeff Veatch, who talked about his son Justin, who died of a drug overdose, and how his friends may have been able to save him if they talked to him about his problem. Justin was very talented musically, and had put out some tracks before he died on his first day of high school. I’ll be sure to listen to them.
  2. Dr. Joseph Sebarenzi, who is a Tutsi who survived the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s. He went on to be the Speaker for the Parliament, until forced out under threat of death. He now is a professor, and also works for the US government.
  3. Dave Stevens, who is a victim of Thalidomide. He was born without legs. But this hasn’t stopped him from playing baseball, football, basketball, and more. He is now an announcer for ESPN.
  4. David Kaczynski, whose brother Ted Kaczynski was the Unabomber. David talked about how Ted grew apart from his family and secluded himself. How David and his wife realized that Ted may be America’s Most Wanted Criminal, and how it affected them and the heart-wrenching decision they had to make.

This is the fourth time our school has done Narratives of Courage, and it remains the most important day for the students. I look forward to many more of these. Many thanks to Andrew W. and Lauryn M. for organizing it.

How small are atoms?

My 7th graders are learning about the atom, and that includes how small they are. So I found out how large a mole of water is (18 ml). Then I filled a small flask with that amount of water with food coloring. Then I wrote down how many atoms are in the flask:
1.0866 × 1024 atoms
180,660,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms
1.8066 septillion atoms
1.8066 yotta atoms
The human brain just isn’t wired to be able to comprehend the scale of these numbers.

Say goodbye to the Peel Watershed of the Yukon

The new government of Canada’s Yukon territory is (most likely illegally) ignoring a 2011 agreement on how to treat the Peel Watershed. The watershed is 77,000 km2, of which some 67,000 are in the Yukon. The indigenous people have been fighting with the mining industry over land use. In 2011 the Peel Compromise set aside 80% as protected wilderness, with the other 20% open to mining.

The new government is very pro-mining, and feels that the agreement is null and void now that they have been elected. They are changing the 80% to 29%, with the other 71% open to mining.

This actually ties in with what I’ve been teaching my 6th graders. We just learned that the 3 main uses people have for land is agriculture, mining, and development. I’ll be bringing this up in class tomorrow.

7th grade did 2 point discrimination lab


The 7th grade is currently studying skin. Today we did a lab on 2 point discrimination. This is the poking lab. Students paired up and bent paperclips so the ends were close together. They then tried seeing if the “pokee” could tell the different between a touch when the tips were 1 mm apart at various body locations (finger, back of hand, back of neck, earlobe, etc.). They tried this with increasing distances until they could tell the difference between 1 tip and 2 tips. Some locations on the body can detect tips that are very close together, others don’t have as many touch sensors and the tips need to be further apart.

Muscle dissection today

Today the 7th graders saw how muscles work to move limbs by dissecting a chicken wing. They worked in groups to cut into a raw chicken wing so they could see the muscles. Then they pulled on the muscles to see how they moved the wing. Digging deeper, they saw the silvery tendons that connect muscle to bone. Deeper still, they saw the ligaments that hold the bones together.

Hopefully no one will have chicken for dinner tonight. 🙂

Teaching with Portals

Portal 2 is a game where you have to use portal guns to create teleportation fields to move around and survive. I’ve head about teachers using it for lessons, especially for physics, but I haven’t had the chance to look into it. There is a website teachwithportals.com which has lesson plans for use with Portal 2. Surprisingly with Language Arts lessons as well as science. I’ll have to look into this.