Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Earth Origins

This week we began a new unit discussing the origin of the Earth.  In order to understand Earth's origin, we first took a look at how the universe was created.  The Big Bang theory states that all of the matter in the universe was concentrated in one small mass that blew apart 10-20 billion years ago.  As that matter spread out, some of it collected in a central mass, contracted under its own gravity, condensed, and heated until forces were so strong that thermonuclear reactions began, thus creating the star that is the center of our solar system.  Some of the questions that we will be tackling this week are:
  • Why is Earth so well-suited for life?  What factors contribute to this?
  • What is Earth's revolution and what evidence do we have for it?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Nobel Prize in Particle Physics!

This year's Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to an American and two Japanese physicists for their work in subatomic physics.  Their discovery, called spontaneous broken symmetry, is a mechanism that predicts the existence of three families of quarks.  "Spontaneous broken symmetry conceals nature's order under an apparently jumbled surface. It has proved to be extremely useful, and Nambu's theories permeate the Standard Model of elementary particle physics," said the Royal Swedish Academy of Science.

Here is an article:  Nobel Prize in Physics

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fundamental Particles

We have been talking about small particles this week.  Atoms, which are the tiny particles that make up matter, were once thought to be fundamental.  That is, they were believed to be the end of the line when it comes to breaking apart substances.  At this point, scientists have found that even atoms can be broken down into smaller parts, protons, electrons, and neutrons, which can also be broken down into even smaller parts (quarks, leptons, force carrier particles).  

Go to the following link to go on a "Particle Adventure."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Here comes the LHC!!

Last night, scientists at CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research) turned on the Large Hadron Collider, the worlds largest particle accelerator located outside Geneva Switzerland.  This experiment will send two protons going in opposite directions speeding around a circular ring 17 miles in circumference.  The protons will then be smashed together and scientists will observe the reaction.  The goal of this project is to find out answers about the makeup of matter and the origin of the universe.  Specifically, scientists are hoping to find evidence for a theoretical particle called the Higg's Boson.  

Here is a video that might help you understand the significance of the LHC:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Welcome and Welcome Back!!!

Gaia is the name that James Lovelock gave our planet when he decided to propose his hypothesis that our planet is actually a living organism in and of itself.  Our planet is surely a massive complexity that can only be understood by breaking down its various parts.  This year, the middle school will take on the challenge of understanding those parts and then synthesizing this knowledge in order to make sense of the world.  
By the way, Lovelock did not invent the term "gaia."  Where is it from originally?

Comment on this question:  Can you prove or disprove Lovelock's hypothesis?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hey...I'm a fungi!

Last night for homework you read an article about the organization, Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life project (AFTOL), which is a federally funded group dedicated to gaining an understanding of Kingdom Fungi. They say that 80,000 different species of fungi have been identified but that there are very likely over 1.5 million species out there. Why is it so crucial that they make progress in this work?
The internet is becoming an extremely useful tool in the process of classification. People from all over the world now have a resource to share and compare their understanding of the organisms in the natural world. One site, the Tree of Life Web Project, is a place to collect and classify the life on the planet. This site is still being built, so not all of the information on specific organisms are available yet.

Go to Tree of Life Web Project.
Click on the mushroom on this page.
Your assignment is to research one type of fungi from this list. Your best bet is to pick one of the top four choices (Basidiomycota, Ascomycota, Glomeromycota, or Zygomycota). Take some time to look through this site before you settle on one species.
Write a detailed paragraph (1/2 page) describing one aspect of the fungi.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Kingdom Protista

Kingdom Protista is an unusual grouping of organisms. It’s as if this is the place to put organisms if you don’t know where else to put them. Within this kingdom, organisms can be grouped in several ways. Protists are supposed to be eukaryotic and unicellular. They are eukaryotic, but not all of the protists are unicellular. Many of the algae-based organisms are multicellular and can grow to enormous sizes (like kelp). You can also group the protists according to how they obtain energy. Some are plantlike, some are animallike, and some absorb food from their surroundings like fungi. The vast differences within the Protist kingdom make it difficult for taxonomists to classify them. For example, how do you classify an organism like Euglena which eats food and conducts photosynthesis!?!

Research one of the following protists using the links provided. Write a detailed paragraph describing the organisms.
Slime Molds
Others worth exploring:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Microbes in our soil

Today we worked on creating the Tullgren funnel, a device designed to capture (and unfortunately, kill) the microscopic organisms that live in our soil. As most of you know, I don’t like the idea of killing things and do my best to avoid doing so. I want us to do this lab, not because I think that microorganisms are insignificant (I actually think they are remarkably significant), but because I truly believe that by studying them you will have more empathy for their existence. Rest assured that we will not be doing any harm to the population of these microbes. Did you know that 90% of the Earth’s biomass comes from microorganisms?

Research one of the following organisms that live in our soil. Using the links provided, write a detailed paragraph about the organism.
- mites (Acarina)
- springtails (Collembola)
- earthworms (Annelida)
- termites (Isoptera)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Soil - A Renewable Resource

Yesterday we discussed the ways that soil is essential to life on land. Almost every fiber of our being, with the exception of the water and the ideas in your head, is a product of soil. Yet, most of us have very little connection to the soil that feeds our bodies. We place a tremendous amount of trust in people that we have never met to manage our soil.


Go to the link and pick one of the articles listed. Provide your peers with an overview of the article. Be detailed in your description of the topic and provide your own analysis of the condition of the soil.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Dirt: It's what's for dinner

Today we began our unit on soil. It can be a little scary to think that one tablespoon of soil holds more living organisms than there are people living on the Earth! Soil is essential to life on this planet and without it we would not exist.

Go to the following website about the 12 soil orders.
Click on the link providing information about the 12 soil orders.
Pick one of the orders (example: Gelisols or Oxisols). Click on it for more detailed information.
Write a summary of one of the 12 types of soil.
Also, make a prediction as to what type of soil we have in our ecoplots.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Zooplankton are tiny animals that are found in most aquatic ecosystems and are a key component to any water food web.

Go to this website and research one of the types of zooplankton listed (example: nanoplanktonic flagellates or phylum rotifera. Write a detailed paragraph about this type of organism.

Friday, March 14, 2008

So what is the synthetic sea of the North Pacific Gyre?

You probably don't want to know.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Threats to the ocean's ecosystem

One overwhelming threat to the ocean's vast ecosystem is the massive quantities of garbage that has been dumped into it. This trash is overwhelming to the plants and animals that attempt to survive there.
Go to the following website and read and/or watch the news report. Answer the following questions:
  • What substance is creating the biggest problem in the pollution of the oceans?
  • What types of organisms are having the most trouble with pollution and why?
  • Why did the report say, "plastic doesn't pollute, people pollute?"

Extra Credit: What is the "synthetic sea of the North Pacific Gyre?"

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Amazing Adaptations

In our discussions on aquatic ecosystems we are discovering some amazing adaptations that organisms have to survive in their unique environments. The mangrove trees, for example, survive in brackish water (a combination of fresh and salt water) and grow wide, above ground root systems. This complex network of roots is a perfect habitat for many organisms, allowing for a high degree of biodiversity.

The Anglerfish has developed extremely unique survival traits that allow it to exist within the harsh and desolate environment at the bottom of the ocean. One of the most disturbing of these adaptations is its method of reproduction. Go to the following website and read about the Anglerfish. Write a comment about the reproductive method of this organism.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mangrove Forests

Today we discussed the coastal wetlands. The mangrove forests, densely populated ecosystems characterized by the mangrove tree, are found in subtropical and tropical zones. Of the worlds mangrove forests, nothing compares to Bangladesh's Sundarbans.
Covering 5.7 billion square meters, this vibrant ecosystem holds a tremendous amount of biodiversity. This is the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger, of which approximately 500 remain.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dissolved Oxygen And BlogTests!

Today we were talking about rivers and we discussed some reasons why there was less dissolved oxygen (DO) available in the water as the river descended down a mountainside. It was a conundrum, because logic would assume that there would be more oxygen because there are more aquatic plants as a river slows down. While it’s true that aquatic plants, like seaweed, do produce dissolved oxygen, there is an overriding principle that guides the amount of DO in a water supply. Temperature of water has a direct impact on the amount of DO available.

By the way, we erred in our method of collecting the sample for DO. I challenge you to find the error.

Your ecoplots have transformed dramatically since we first visited them. Your teams have come up with many astute observations about the ways in which organisms interact. What can you tell so far about the health of the ecosystem?
On a single sheet of paper, write a five paragraph essay. Use at least five facts from your science log to reinforce your observations.
Describe the ways in which your ecoplot is a vibrant ecosystem. Describe the ways that it may be limited.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Fish are an amazing source of nutrition for people. Whether you love tuna fish sandwiches, filleted salmon, or fish sticks, most of us enjoy eating some type of fish. All over the world, people are being fed by the plentiful bounty found within our aquatic ecosystems. But how long can we sustain these practices? Like many of the world’s resources, the population of fish is in jeopardy. Watch this short, “humorous” video about the future of fishing:


Read the article linked below. Answer the following questions in complete, well thought out sentences. You may either hand them in or e-mail them, but DO NOT post them in the comment section. I would like you to provide one quote from the article in the comment section.
What does finite mean and how does it apply to fish populations?
What evidence is there that fish stock is in decline?
What does Dr. Worm say about why biodiversity is so important to marine life?
What is an example of a fishing practice that is extremely damaging to the ecosystem?
What is it going to take to solve this problem?

Article: BBC News: "Only 50 Years Left" for Sea Fish

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Water Monitoring

After collecting water samples of the runoff leading into the Wissahickon we begin our work in analyzing the samples to assess the health of our local aquatic ecosystem. In the next week, we will be analyzing the samples for pH, dissolved oxygen content, nitrates and phosphates, turbidity, and coliform bacteria.

Research Question: Where is Lake Baikal and why is it such a unique ecosystem? What are some of the ecological threats facing Lake Baikal?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Freshwater Wetlands

Today we spent some time learning about the importance of our freshwater wetlands. Not long ago, wetlands were considered wasted space by humans. You can't grow useful crops in a wetland and they tend to be infested with insects. As a result, many, many wetlands have been drained in order to build residential or commercial spaces. Whenever they do this they displace the organisms that use that space, many of which are extremely useful to that local ecosystem. Nowadays, developers are expected to construct human-made wetlands in place of the original. But is this enough and how effective are these reconstructions?

Around 90 years ago, a scientist from the United States Department of Forestry received a packet of seeds from a friend in Australia. The seeds were from the melaleuca tree. The scientist scattered the seeds throughout the Florida Everglades, hoping they would soak up the "mucky wasteland."
Research the impact of the melaleuca tree on the Florida Everglades.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Aquatic Ecosystems

Today we discussed the ways in which organisms have adapted to survive in the varying conditions found in aquatic ecosystems. There are three broad categories of the types of organisms that exist in water; plankton (drifters), Nekton (free-swimming organisms), and Benthos (bottom dwelling organisms). I watched an online news segment about a marine biologist who has been studying some fascinating Benthos organisms, primarily the cuttlefish, and their amazing adaptations for camouflage. Octopi also have a camouflage adaptation and he was following one octopus for a while when he was able to capture this amazing footage:

What is eutrophication? How does it happen? What effects does it have on aquatic ecosystems?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan, a famous astronomer and author, once said that if you saw Earth from far away in space, what you would see is a pale blue dot. Our planet appears this way because 70% of it is covered in water. Every living thing on this planet owes its existence to that miraculous molecule.
In the next two weeks, we will be studying Earth's water systems and we will analyze water in our local ecosystems.
Tell a story about a body of water that you visited (lake, river, ocean, etc). Describe the ecosystem that existed there. What types of plants and animals did you notice? Was the ecosystem healthy, in your opinion? Why or why not?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Podcasts are up!

As we finish our reports on biomes, students have been working to post their research in the form of a podcast. Podcasting is a way to share multimedia resources through the internet. They usually get posted as either an audio or video recording. I have a link posted (under "links") for the podcast page, which is run by "mypodcast.com."


Find the link to the podcasts on this page.

Listen to two of your classmate's podcasts.

Write a paragraph describing what you learned from the podcast.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Space Shuttle

On Thursday, the Space Shuttle launched and headed for the International Space Station. The liftoff was flawless.
Here is a link to the lift off.
Here is a link to live coverage.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Dung Beetles

Today we learned about two fragile biomes, the desert and the tundra. What makes them fragile, you might ask? They are fragile because of the simple food chains that exist within them. Within the tundra during the winter months there are only a few organisms that can survive. If there is a disruption to any one part of the biome, the whole food chain gets disrupted.

However, despite the limiting factors, there are some amazing adaptations for the organisms that do exist in these biomes. There is a tremendous amount of symbiosis that exists between organisms. The Dung Beetle is a great example of this. Dung Beetles have been held in very high regard by many cultures, although they tend to get a bad rap in our country. Why are they such useful creatures?

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Virtual Field Trips

The internet has many amazing attributes. One recent discovery for me is that many people have set up "virtual field trips" where you can visit a place on the planet through the internet. I may never actually make it to the remote location of Easter Island, but this website makes me feel like I am close to being there.


Take a virtual field trip to any of the biomes listed on this link.

Describe three organisms from the biome. Don't forget to write clearly and provide detail.
Above and Beyond: (In addition to the assignment above)
Find a virtual field trip for the biome that you are researching. There are virtual field trips for almost everything! Post a link and use some of the information you find in your final biome presentation.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

To my middle school classes:

You did an excellent job responding to the last post. You made some astute observations and your comments were clear and to the point. I liked Max's comment that the female mole cricket flies silently in order to avoid predators. I wonder how it does that and whether scientists have ever looked at their method of flight to recreate for humans.
Now I have a challenge for you. Look back at the comments and pick one from any of the entries from the January 24th post. Find a website about that organism and it's unique characteristics. Provide the class a link to that website. Describe why the link might be interesting or useful and add one additional fact about the critter. I have provided an example.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Grasslands cover vast amounts of territory within the interior of many continents. A vital biome, grasslands support a tremendous amount of biodiversity. Clearly, they contain a large amount of trapped sunlight when you consider how large some of the organisms can get from feeding off of the grasses. Elephants, bison, herds of antelope (to name a few) thrive in this environment. That is, of course, when their environment is left alone. This habitat has been disrupted by humans for as long as humans have settled there. Because of the fertile soil provided by the grass, humans have used this land for agriculture. This limits the space for animal herds and it can also destroy the soil for future generations. Luckily, many grassland animals are being protected.

The North American Bison, for example, was hunted to the brink of extinction by the early 1900's. Due to conservation efforts, the bison's population has bounced back, going from under a thousand to nearly two hundred thousand.
This link holds information about the bison. Click on the link to watch the video about bison from the documentary "Planet Earth."

Go to the following site:

Pick one of the animals listed and write a comment about three adaptations that the animal has that allows it to survive in the grassland.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How it all ends: Return of the Global Warming Teacher

Here is part two of the thoughtful arguement presented by the Oregonian teacher on global warming. In this version, he addresses the thousands of skeptical comments received after his first video. In addition, he has added spectacular visual effects, the likes of which have not been seen since The Matrix! Watch it and decide if his conclusions are logical or not.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Grasslands are vast territories that have too little precipitation to support large trees. The biome is dominated by smaller plants that need to be adapted to long periods without rain. It is common for these biomes to have a dry season and a wet season. Organisms that live in these regions need amazing abilities to survive the long dry season. For example, many plants have large, horizontal root systems so they can draw water from as large an area as possible.

The following link shows one of the most amazing animal adaptations on the planet.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Today we learned about the Taiga biome, a large band of forest territory covering the northern part of the Earth. Because this biome is located so far North, the organisms that reside there need many adaptations to allow them to survive in extremely cold weather. A snowshoe hare, for example, has an interesting quality that helps it survive. What does it do and how does it survive?
For homework this week you will be completing a webquest. A webquest is a learning activity where students read, analyze, and synthesize information using the world wide web. This assignment is a shortened version of a typical webquest. I'm using this one to start us out. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Oregon teacher's pitch

Will forwarded this link to me. Thanks Will! It is a very interesting presentation about taking action against global warming. I encourage you to take a look and then to respond to what you see. I think he makes a very strong, compelling arguement which should be passed along to everyone, especially as I sit here with my windows wide open enjoying the 45 degree January weather.
However, you should also note that not everyone agrees with this perspective and the truth is the science behind global warming is incredibly complicated and in its infancy. You will need to make up your own minds about whether or not global warming exists. You do that by reading as much as you can and finding evidence for yourselves as to what the reality is.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Birds of Paradise

The Tropical Rainforest is filled with animals and plants with many amazing adaptations. Some adaptations make sense and are logical. For example, as you all figured out in class, plants that are located in the understory have broad leaves in order to capture as much light as possible. Other adaptations that you will find are less obvious.


View the following video and comment on the bird of paradise's unusual behavior.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Tropical Rainforest Biome

In today’s class, we discussed the tropical rain forest biome. We know that tropical rain forests are extremely rich communities, holding the most biodiversity of any terrestrial biome. In addition, they are instrumental in helping to regulate climate throughout the world and play a key role in the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen cycles.
Question to ponder:
What is the reason for the great biodiversity in tropical rain forests?

Homework: Go to the following website:

Blue Planet Biomes

Pick one plant or animal and add a comment to this blog describing the organism and any adaptations it has that allows it to survive in the tropical rainforest.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Biome Study!

Happy New Year!!

This week we are discussing the qualities that define a biome. A biome is defined as " a large region characterized by a specific type of climate and certain types of plant and animal communities." In class, we talked about how biomes are often named after the type of vegetation found in that region, for example, "deciduous forest" or "grassland." It is interesting that, in any given biome, climate is the primary driving force, which in itself is driven by location on the planet. Location drives climate. Climate drives vegetation. Vegetation drives the animals.

Question to ponder:

In what ways have plants adapted to survive in their respective biome?

Example: What structures does this cactus have that allows it to survive in the desert?