Problem Based Learning with William & Mary

This past school year, my kids and I have been inundated in the study of coastal ecology. The kids worked through the curriculum along side me. Memorizing vocabulary and understand the ecology concepts came easily to them as I’ve immersed them in nature studies since they were toddlers.

We enjoyed several memorable field trips whereupon we developed a list of questions based on our observations: Roosevelt Elk at Dean’s Creek & Foraging for Mushrooms.

We also engaged in several nature study investigations to learn more about the organisms we had observed: Slugs, Snails, and Sea Hares Our Native Maple Trees.

I received this product for free and am being compensated for the time to write the review.  This is an honest review of the product.problem based learning

Yet all along, I knew in my heart that something was missing. While they were engaged in our lessons and activities, they were not captivated. I wanted them to be challenged. I wanted them to struggle to find answers to their questions. I wanted a problem based learning experience.

The units created by William & Mary from Kendall Hunt Publishing provide the perfect challenge. The books provide a wonderful framework for getting students to think, presented in such a way that they want to solve the problem. Along the way, students experience the processes and tools a scientist may use when presented with a difficult problem.

What is Problem Based Learning?

Problem Based Learning is a student-centered pedagogy in which students learn about a subject through the experience of solving an open-ended problem. Students gain content knowledge and develop skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.

When I was given the opportunity to review the William & Mary problem based learning materials, I immediately jumped at the chance. The Animal Populations unit (designed for grades 6-8) was the perfect fit to further our understanding of ecology and wildlife sciences.

william & mary

Problem Based Science Units by William & Mary 

The William & Mary science units introduce real-world problems to initiate scientific investigations. All units incorporate a problem based learning scenario as the catalyst for initiating the discussion of content and scientific investigation.

Students not only focus on specific content learning in science, but they also develop scientific investigation skills as a way to develop the thinking skills of a scientist. Students pose questions, then conduct experiments to answer those questions. They also identify independent and dependent variables, constants, and controls as a guide for quality investigations.

Animal Populations Unit

Animal Populations is centered around the problem of a growing population of deer in a fictitious rural community and the increasing number of people afflicted with lyme disease. The story begins with an email a mother writes to her spouse relaying the symptoms their son has developed.

Immediately, both kids were intrigued and were searching for possible causes. As the story unfolded with newspaper articles and additional personal accounts, they began to collaborate to find solutions to the problem.

In addition to staging the problem, the lessons lead students through the process of inquiry and experimental design. Each step is clearly outlined and in context with the big picture or ecology. We started each lesson with a discussion on the vocabulary and review of where we left off in our previous lesson.

I was really impressed with the lessons on the concept of models. While we are all familiar with physical models, the lessons clarified the meaning of conceptual and mathematical models in-depth. The lessons built on each other and really helped the kids (myself included!) understand the mathematical models of a deer population: exponential growth model and logistic growth model.

deer populationsOur favorite lessons were the field studies whereby we implemented a transect survey. We were fortunate at the time we implemented this unit to be able to partner with a local agency to take part in an ongoing bio-monitoring project at the national estuarine research reserve. Not only was our data useful in the context of our lesson but it was also critical for the success of their long-term estuarine research.

We all enjoyed this unit study as it was both challenging and fun. I look forward to implementing more problem based units in the near future.

Other Science Units

Kendall Hunt Publishing offers several other William & Mary science units to choose from, several have received National Association for Gifted Children’s Curriculum Studies awards.

* Where’s the Beach?—Grades 2-4 
* What A Find!—Grades 2-4  (See Erin’s review at Royal Baloo)
* Acid, Acid Everywhere—Grades 4-6
* Electricity City—Grades 4-6
* Nuclear Energy: Friend or Foe?—Grades 6-8
* Something Fishy—Grades 6-8
* No Quick Fix—Grades 6-8

Unit content has been aligned to national standards and meets national grade level standards as well as standards for grades that are two to three levels above the current grade.

Connect with Kendall Hunt

Follow Kendall Hunt Publishing on your favorite social media. By connecting with them you will get regular updates, information about their products, encouragement for teaching gifted learners as well tips and ideas.

Sea Slugs, Snails, and Sea Hares, Oh My!

I love slugs! They are one of my favorite animals, particularly if limiting the scope of the question to invertebrates. In my opinion, they are one of the most beautiful and fascinating organisms.

You’re likely thinking I have lost my mind. “You really think this guy is beautiful?” 

Sea Slugs, Snails, and Sea Hares

Pictured here is the banana slug

Yes, I do. Well, actually, in my mind I was picturing his close relative the sea slug or nudibranch. This summer, I have been volunteering at the new Marine Life Center at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and I’ve thereby had the opportunity to learn so much about these fascinating animals. Let me introduce you to the gastropods.

Class Gastropoda 

The Gastropoda or gastropods class, more commonly known as snails and slugs, are a large taxonomic class within the phylum Mollusca. A very diverse group with 60,000 to 80,000 living species (second only to insects in number of species) that includes snails and slugs of all kinds and all sizes from microscopic to large. There are many thousands of species of sea snails and sea slugs, as well as freshwater snails, freshwater limpets, land snails and land slugs.

Sea Slugs, Snails, and Sea Hares @EvaVarga.net

How many sea slugs can you find in this picture?

The anatomy, behavior, feeding, and reproductive adaptations of gastropods vary significantly from one group to another. The class also inhabits an extraordinary diverse habitats including gardens, woodland, deserts, mountains, rivers and lakes, estuaries, mudflats, the rocky intertidal, the sandy sub-tidal, the abyssal depths of the oceans including the hydrothermal vents, and numerous other ecological niches, including parasitic ones.

Sea Slugs, Snails, and Sea Hares @EvaVarga.net

Gastropoda means the belly-foot animals

Snails & Other Shelled Gastropods

Commonly, snails are those species with a single external shell large enough that the soft parts can withdraw completely into it. Those with a shell into which they cannot withdraw are termed limpets.

The marine shelled species of gastropod include species such as abalone, conches, cowries, periwinkles, whelks, and numerous other sea snails. Each produce seashells that are coiled in the adult stage. In a number of families of species, such as all the various limpets, the shell is coiled only in the larval stage, and is a simple conical structure after that.

Sea Slugs, Snails, and Sea Hares @EvaVarga.net

Pictured here is Hermissenda crassicornis

Slugs or Gastropods Without External Shells

Those gastropods without a shell, and those with only a very reduced or internal shell, are usually known as slugs. The various families of slugs are not closely related, however, despite a superficial similarity in the overall body form.

Sea Slugs

The phrase “sea slug” is perhaps most often applied to nudibranchs and they come in an outstanding variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. With translucent bodies, they appear in just about every color on the rainbow. Of course, these bright colors are cause for warning to potential predators that they are poisonous with stinging cells. It is their colors that so fascinate me.

Like all gastropods, they have razor-sharp teeth, called radulas. Most have two pairs of tentacles on their head used primarily for sense of smell, with a small eye at the base of each tentacle. Many have feathery structures (ceratia) on the back, often in a contrasting color. These act as gills.

All species of sea slugs have a selected prey, that is specifically fitted for them to hunt. Amongst the diverse prey are jellyfish, bryozoans, sea anemones, sponges, and other various organisms including other sea slugs.

Sea Slugs, Snails, and Sea Hares @EvaVarga.net

Pictured here is Phyllaplysia taylori

Sea Hares

The sea hares, clade Aplysiomorpha, are often quite large and sometimes described as large sea slugs. They have a small, flat, internal shell composed of proteins. The name derives from their rounded shape and from the two long rhinophores that project upwards from their heads and that somewhat resemble the ears of a hare.

The greatly modified shape of the sea hare and the fact that it orients its body lengthwise along the leaves makes it almost invisible on the sea grass Zostera. An herbivore, it feeds by grazing the film of organisms, mainly diatoms, off sea grass leaves, leaving a characteristic feeding scar on the leaves.

Take it Further

Learn more about Phyla Mollusca in my earlier post, Echinoderms and Molluscs.  You might also be interested in my in-depth zoology curriculum specifically designed for middle school students.

zoology

Getting Creative with iDO 3D Art Pens

My daughter has always loved anything related to arts and handcrafts. Even as a toddler she would spend hours drawing and making gifts for her family with my craft supplies. It is no wonder that art is one of her strongest passions. She has wanted to try 3D art pens for some time and was delighted to learn I would have the opportunity to review the IDO3D for my readers.

As a family, we have been volunteering regularly at the new marine life center and have made several field trips to a variety of coastal habitats to learn more about the local ecology. When the IDO3D art pen arrived, she knew immediately what she wanted to create … jellyfish.

3D Art Pens

Disclosure: I was compensated for my time reviewing this product and for writing this review.

IDO 3D Art Pens

The IDO3D comes with four pens (or color cartridges): blue, green, red, and yellow. Each pen has a safety seal or cap that will need to be removed. Thereafter you will twist on the cap. Lastly, you snap the blue spotlight holder into place (it clicks into place).

There are instructions on how to use the 3D art pens provided as well as helpful tips and tricks detailed in a short video. I was very impressed with how quickly we got the hang of it. Granted, our lines are a little wobbly and jiggly but as they say in the video, “Practice and patience are the key.”

3D Art Pens

Creating Jellyfish with 3D Art Pens

Using my invertebrate zoology textbook as a reference for jellyfish anatomy, she was underway within just a few minutes. One of the materials in the box was a plastic sheet shaped like a bowl which she used to begin her project; creating the exumbrella inversely. She chose blue ink for this part – though she also opted not to fill in the connecting space as she wasn’t sure if she would have enough ink.

Once it had cured, she proceeded to create the internal anatomy with green ink: mouth, gastrovascular cavity, gonads, and oral arms. She discovered, however, that the space was too confined for the spotlight and she wasn’t able to add all the parts she would have liked. “I probably would approach it a little differently next time,” she stated. “I think I should have created the internal parts separately and then attached them later.”

Lastly, she began to add the tentacles and worked vertically as she did so. This proved to be the most challenging part of the process. As they were so long and thin, they kept leaning in one direction or another rather than staying vertical. Like any art medium, she recognizes that it takes practice and patience.

“I really like this pen. It is easy to use and I can create something right away. Perhaps the jellyfish was too complicated for my first project.”

3D Art Pens

Classes & Projects for IDO 3D Art Pens

We look forward to creating a variety of projects with the IDO3D art pen. There are also several 3D Art Classes from which to choose. When my son saw the following video he said,

“You can do all that?! That’s so cool!”

Where to Buy IDO 3D Art Pens

The IDO3D art pen is available from a variety of retailers nationwide. It is also available on Amazon.

For ideas and inspiration for projects, I encourage you to follow IDO3D on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.

Science Task Cards: Engage, Excite, & Enrich Student Learning

As teachers and parents, aren’t we always looking for methods to get students to be critical thinkers and inquirers? As home educators, many of us also strive to develop traits of independent learners. Students who are capable of seeking out knowledge on their own. Students eager to learn the skills they need to be successful in their chosen career path.

Science Task Cards

Science Task Cards

Tasks cards are a wonderful stepping stone for middle school students to develop their independent learning skills – providing them with a framework to focus their search and just enough guidance to ensure success. Task cards are also a fantastic way to reinforce lessons, review difficult concepts, or provide extra practice for the struggling student.

Task cards are a great tool that any teacher can implement into their home or classroom. They are a full-proof method for getting every student involved in learning regardless of their ability level.

Task cards are generally open-ended and inquiry based questions that make for a great learning tool and help to create an engaging learning environment. The student reads each card, performs the task, and records his/her answer on an answer sheet, on notebook paper, or in their lab notebook. Students may be asked to create a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast, draw an illustration and label important parts, write a letter to a famous person, research a current event, or even take a stance on a controversial topic.

How & When Should I Use Task Cards?

1.  Stations or Centers – Use task cards as station or center activities through with students rotate. I have found it works best to allow students to move at their own pace and visit as many or as few stations as possible. They can even move through the centers with a partner if assistance is needed. This is a great way to engage students because they can move around, work at their own pace, and feel successful!

What is Science Notebooking @EvaVarga.net2. Homework Assignments –  Whether you offer each student the same task card or mix it up and provide them with different task cards of their choosing, task cards work well for  homework. It’s a great way to build excitement for a new unit. Whether you ask students to complete the assignment in their interactive science notebook or on a separate piece of paper to turn in the following day, task cards are fun. Here’s an example of a life science task card:

Life Science: Animals
Scientific Classification

  • Research & Define: vertebrates and invertebrates
  • List three vertebrates and three invertebrates
  • Make a poster of the following: mammal, reptile, amphibian, birds, fish
  • Include a caption for each and summarize each class

3. Assessments – Task cards can be used as a quick assessment of student understanding in the midst of a lesson. Many task card questions can be also used as a more in-depth research paper or project. Alternatively, task cards can be used as a way to review for a test – either individually, in small groups, or as a whole class review game.

4. Engaging Warm-up Activities – I love to use task cards in our STEM Club as an activity to get focused and settled as we wait for the other students to arrive. They may find the assignment on the white board or taped down to the table. They work alone or in pairs to answer the question and we discuss their answers when I’m ready to begin.

typesrocks5. Enrichment Activities – Task cards can be kept handy (perhaps in a basket) for early finishers. After students have completed a project, test, or independent assignment, they can enrich their understanding of the material by selecting a task card of their own choice.

Where Can I Buy Task Cards?

Discovering the Joy of Maple Sugaring at Home

Most people don’t realize that the Sugar Maple is not the only tree that yields syrup. We had thoroughly enjoyed our first experience maple sugaring when the kids were toddlers. Now that we have returned to Oregon, we are delighted to revisit our sugaring experience with Tap My Trees.bigleafmaple

We received a Tap My Trees starter kit in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product.  All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

There are 13 species of maple trees that grow in the United States. The Sugar Maple (Acer saccharin), one of America’s best-loved trees, is the most well known due to its historical and economical importance.In Oregon, Sugar Maple is an ornamental and found only on college campuses and occasionally in someone’s yard. Oregon’s most prevalent native maples are Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) and Vine Maple (Acer circinatum). Learn more about Our Native Maples in my earlier post. 

bigleafOur Maple Sugaring Experience

I shared a more in-depth look at Science of Sugaring a few months ago. From everything we have read and from our past experiences, we knew that sap would immediately start to flow after tapping the tree if the weather conditions were just right. Cold nights and warm days were what we needed.

We waited. We watched the forecast. Then my dad telephoned, “This week looks to be a good time to go sugaring?!” Yippee! We gathered our gear and piled into his truck.

Oregon Geography

The Oregon Coast is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Coast Mountain Range on the east. It is 30 to 60 miles (48 to 97 km) wide and averages around 1,500 feet (460 m) in elevation above sea level. Temperate rain forests with high peaks and steep ridges dominate this region.elliotstateforest

In the southernmost section of the Coast Range where we live, you can find the Elliott State Forest. The forest is home to over 50 mammal species, over 100 species of birds, and nearly 30 reptile or amphibian species that spend significant portions of their life cycle in the mountains. It is here that the Big Leaf and Vine Maples grow.

Tapping the Trees

It took about an hour to drive up to the forest and locate the Big Leaf Maples. We found a several in the mid elevations on relatively dry slopes. As the terrain is so steep, most were out of our reach but we did manage to find a couple near the road. Sadly, when we tapped them, the sap was not running. Dad said this was an ominous sign but we hung our bucket anyway and gave it a go.

rainforestWe then drove to a lower elevation in a narrow, moist valley where we located a grove of Vine Maple. You can see in the photo above the abundance of ferns and bryophytes in the understory. When we tapped the Vine Maple, the sap started flowing immediately.

Maple sap is a clear fluid and resembles water. The collection amount may vary. Some days you will collect only a small amount and other days your buckets may overflow if not emptied.

We thereby hung several bottles amongst the vine maple shrubs that covered the hillside. For these smaller trees, we recycled a plastic soda bottle by poking a hole in the side and sliding the bottle onto the spile.

vinemaple

Collecting the Sap

We returned a few days later to retrieve our materials and any sap we collected. Much to our chagrin, the bucket on the Big Leaf was dry. It was just the wrong time. We’ve wanted to try again but the weather hasn’t been very cooperative this year. We’ve had an unseasonably warm winter and lots of rain.

The vine maples, however, were more cooperative. We collected about a quart of sap which when processed yielded only about 2 tablespoons of syrup. Enough for one pancake serving anyway. We all agreed it was very similar to the pure syrup we purchase, but with a little more tangy taste.

It is clearly much more work and effort to tap trees in Oregon, thus making the endeavor economically disadvantageous. This is due in part to the difficulty in reaching the trees but also that a larger quantity of big leaf or vine maple sap is needed to produce equivalent volumes of syrup than the sugar maple.

However, I highly recommend the sugaring experience to families, especially if you have access to maple trees where you live. It is great opportunity to get outdoors and bond together over shared memories – not to mention all that one can learn through the process.

While 2016 wasn’t a good year for tapping the Big Leaf Maple in Oregon, we’ll be sure to try again next year. Sugaring has become a lifelong hobby everyone in our family enjoys.

Maple Sugaring with Tap My Trees

Tap My Trees is the #1 provider of sugaring supplies for the hobbyist. Devoted to educating families about the practice of maple sugaring Tap My Trees has made donations of supplies to nature centers hosting maple sugar events and they’ve made quite a few products available for teaching Maple Sugaring at Home.

They offer 4 starter kits with the highest quality supplies to tap maple trees at home. You can also customize your kits by ordering sugaring accessories individually. The instructive guidebook outlines the steps to making the maple sugar and contains all the information you need for a successful sugaring from identifying the appropriate tree to how weather affects the sap run, when to collect, and how to boil down the sap.

The lesson plans also include a timeline beginning in the winter and go month by month listing the topics for each month leading to the sap collection and syrup making. Sugaring is a fabulous unit study covering botany, ecology, meteorology, physics, and even history!

Connect with Tap My Trees

Tap My Trees is committed to sugaring education and they provide recipes and other information on social media. Their products are also available on Amazon, if you prefer. Be inspired!

Facebook § Twitter § Instagram § Pinterest

The Science of Sugaring with Tap My Trees

When we first started homeschooling, we did a lot of unit studies. Often, our studies revolved around a book I was reading aloud to the kids.

One of our fondest memories of homeschooling revolves around Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  We had recently read about the Ingalls’ family sugaring time and a few days later, while enjoying pancakes with real maple syrup, Geneva inquired, “How do you make maple syrup again, Mom?”

I have long been intrigued with the notion of tapping trees to make syrup. I quickly took her question to heart and we launched into an integrated unit on maple sugaring.

Read more of our early experiences here, Sugaring Time: Making Our Own Maple Syrup

While Oregon does not typically come to mind when one thinks of maple sugar, I can attest that we do in fact have maple trees. Come along with me as I share the science of sugaring.

reading up on sugaring In preparation for this post, I received a maple sugaring starter kit for free and was compensated for my time in writing it. All the opinions below are mine and I was not required to write a positive review.

The Science of Sugaring

Products derived from Sugar Maple trees are common in house holds throughout the country, particularly the maple syrup and sugar industry in the Northeast. The earliest written accounts of maple sugaring were made in the early 1600s by European explorers who observed American Indians gathering maple sap.

I love real maple syrup. Growing up, even when times were tight, my dad always insisted we had real maple syrup. When I was in middle school, my dad became intrigued with the notion of tapping trees to make syrup. “Couldn’t you also tap other trees?” he would ask. “We have a lot of Big Leaf Maple? Can you make Alder syrup? What would it taste like? What about Willow and Oak? Certainly their sap would be sweet as well.”

The next thing I knew, my dad had ordered a spiles kit and we were hiking into Oregon’s coast range to tap trees. After numerous attempts and modifications to his collecting devices, we were successful.

We managed to collect enough sap from several trees to process into syrup – essentially the sap is filtered and the excess water is boiled from the sap. You would be surprised just how much maple sap is required to make just one quart of syrup … 10 gallons (though this varies by species)!

Our research revealed the most commonly tapped maple trees are Sugar, Black, Red, and Silver Maples. My father’s inquiry experiments proved that while other trees can be tapped to collect sap, including Birch, Walnut, and other maple species like Big Leaf and Boxelder; tapping a Sugar or Black Maple yields the best results.

Tap My Trees

Today, Sugar Maple stands and roadside trees provide private landowners with an annual cash crop as well as a rewarding hobby. I am excited to discover and share with you the #1 supplier of maple sugaring supplies for the hobbyist, Tap My Trees. They are the leading site for home based maple sugaring – the process of sap collection and making maple syrup.

Collecting maple sap is a green, environmentally sustainable process that can be enjoyed by anyone with a healthy, mature maple tree. The Tap My Trees website provides you with step-by-step instructions on how to tap your maple trees and turn that sap into maple syrup.

The process is actually quite simple. It does, however, take some time and a willingness to get outdoors and experience this miracle of nature – Charlotte Mason would be so proud!

sugaringkitThe Tap My Trees kit is a wonderful way to jump into the sugaring hobby. Here’s a peak of what is included in the kit:

  • Maple Sugaring Lesson Plan: Lesson plan for the maple sugaring process. Can be adapted for third grade through high school.
  • Maple Sugaring at Home book: This guide provides step-by-step instructions (complete with pictures) to tap maple trees. Includes information on how to identify maple trees, how to tap trees, collection and storage of sap, uses for maple sap including how to make maple syrup, and frequently asked questions.
  • 1 Aluminum Bucket: 2 gallon aluminum bucket is used to collect the sap as it drips from the spile.
  • 1 Metal Lid: Lids prevent rain, snow, and foreign material from entering the bucket.
  • 1 Spile with Hook: Stainless steel spile (tap) is inserted into drilled hole to transfer sap into the bucket. Hook is used to hold the bucket.
  • 1 Drill Bit: 7/16 drill bit with 3/8 shank used to drill tap hole into your maple tree.
  • Cheesecloth: Used to filter any solids (such as pieces of bark) when transferring sap from the collection bucket to a storage container.
  • Filter: 24″ X 30″ filter sheet to filter sediment from finished syrup. Durapure grade filter.
  • 1 Bottle with Lid: Empty 12 oz. maple syrup bottle used to store finished syrup.
  • Thermometer: Candy thermometer for making maple syrup. Instrument Range: 100 to 400°F / 40 to 200°C. Stainless steel housing with mounting clip

Join me next month for a maple trees nature study post and again this spring as I share with you our own experiences in tapping trees.