#Halloween Science

Ok, well it isn’t quite halloween yet but autumn is in full swing and winter is coming! I can prove it, we had sleet on our porch this afternoon. Sleet forms when water drops fall through a cold layer of air that causes those drops to freeze into little ice pellets. As long as the lower atmospheric layers are not warm enough to melt the ice before it hits the ground we get sleet. If the ice melts before it hits the ground we just get a regular old cold november rain. (Yes I just used an allusion[not an illusion]) image2 2015101395171454

Back to the good stuff, that is, the science of the week;Osteology. Deer hunting season has begun with a bow and will soon be open for firearms. I have never had enough land that I needed to worry about someone hunting in my back yard but with our new house that was something I was warned about. To try to let people know where they could or could not go my son and I put up POSTED signs. While we were walking around the front of our property we found something AWESOME in a drainage ditch…a clean deer
skeleton. My son immediately asked, “Dad CAN I BRING IT HOME?!?!?” and I said sure, just run back and grab a box and some gloves. He quickly got back and started carefully picking up the bones and examining them as he put them in the box. Unfortunately the skull was missing as were the femurs, but one of the mandibles with teeth intact was still there. This lead my son to the question where did the other stuff go? I’m not sure but from some scratches on a humerus we think that a coyote might have had a chance to chew on this deer which would explain why the skull and femurs were missing. Those bones hold some ofimage1 the most fatty parts of a deer, marrow and brains (Yummy brainz).

an osteologist studies bones, how they go together, and can even get involved with forensics like in the popular show BONES. Its a pretty ghoulish science but fun if you aren’t to squeamish to play with skeletons.

#Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink

This week was a wet one. Water made the news as we found evidence of liquid water on Mars recently. Why was it a big deal to find water? Because its critical for life on Mars or here on Earth.

Not only was ground water found flowing they also found evidence of ancient lakes!

It rained last weekend quite a bit and again last night and today; now that I mention it this time of year often has a lot of rain associated with it. But where does all that water that falls from the sky come from and where does it go after it falls? Well this week I had to consider some of those questions when the water well in my house stopped working the way it usually does. These questions led me to researching water and how it moves around the earth, this study is called Hydrology. (I also had to engage in some conservationism as well)

The first question was is the well pump working? A quick check showed it was functioning. The next question was what had I done that might have caused this issue? Well…at the advice of a well driller and service guy (hydrologist) I cleaned out my house’s water holding tank. It collects sediment that is allowed to settle out when the water rests in the holding tank. And the sediment was starting to get kind of deep so I thought it might be good advice. Unfortunately to clean the tank I had to drain it which really bugged me since that meant dumping 200 gallons of water; what a waste! I had to constantly stir the sediment into the water to keep it suspended and drain the tank down all the way. Once drained I thought I would just be able to let the well refill the tank, boy was I naive. It turns out that coming off of summer the water table in my area was still low and that meant that my well could only refill itself slowly…a few gallons each hour. So what? its refilling right why does it matter if its slow? Well I have quickly become very mindful of how much water various daily activities use as our family had to plan on how to use each gallon that brought itself back into our house. For example it uses about 1 1/2 gallons to flush a toilet, 10 gallons to take a 10 minute shower (x4 people), 25 gallons to wash clothes with a high efficiency front loading washer, washing dishes by hand uses about 3 gallons. So add it all up and that’s about 80 gallons a day. Pumping in two gallons an hour the well was not able to supply the water we needed so we had to make some decisions. Showers were shortened to 5 minutes each, and we skipped the laundry that day to let the tank fill back up. This reduced our usage to about 30 gallons. This meant that the tank could fill up while the well recharged. I am happy to say that three days later we had a full holding tank again and don’t have to worry as much, oh and we can do laundry again too!

I live right by a lake so this image is almost exactly like what you would see if you mapped out my groundwater(without the granite 😉 )

So the question is with all this rain why wasn’t the well “full”? Well rain falls from the sky because conditions in the troposphere reach a state where the rate of condensation exceeds the rate of evaporation for water and droplets collect into drops until they fall. But then they have to soak into the ground or runoff to some other place. Once it soaks into the ground it has to slowly work its way in between little grains of dirt and sand and other sediments. It continues to soak down until it reaches a layer of rock that it can’t soak through any more. Then it starts moving horizontally and filling up spaces in the soil above it. Because it had been summer and it really hadn’t rained much for the last few weeks the water level underground (the water table) was getting low.

The water cycle is so important but most of us ignore it most of the time.

Now that its getting colder out the air is condensing more water than it evaporates and its raining more, that’s fall for you. The water table can recharge itself and I don’t have to worry as much for now. But wait, didn’t I just post about water issues a couple weeks ago? Why yes I did! Water is one of the most precious resources on this planet and living in a city my entire life I have taken it completely for granted. See if you can find out where your water comes from by clicking here.



The study of water and how to keep it clean and accessible to all is really cool, very important, and pretty political right now. If you are interested in similar stories of disappearing water check out how Saudi Arabia ran into the same problem I did.

Other hot water issues include:

The water project


UN Millennium Development Goals


Great Lakes Water

Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (documentary)



#Sciencisreal and so is this blog’s identity!

Being new to the GRS blogs I have been trying to work out this blog page’s identity; I think I’ve got it! As the blog’s tagline says “#scienceisreal” so I think I want to try to reflect on some real science that I engaged in each week. It is way too easy to teach science without doing science or even being scientific. I like to try to apply my identity as a scientist to my entire life though, not just a persona that I play in a classroom so this moment of reflection should help me think about the things I do in a scientific way throughout the week, or the real science that I notice I engage in on the day to day. Its important to me that my students know that I absolutely practice what I teach, so here goes…

I know there was a lot that I did, using simple machines, computers, technology, co-creating authentic experiments with students that I really did not know what the outcomes would be, but I can not get past the giant science thing that really consumed my life this week. I had…a cold.

Even though I did not choose to engage in this science I was involved and as I drove to and from work and school I had plenty of time to think about the science of what was going on inside my body and in my immediate environment. Not only that but I started to track the source of the cold that I was infected with and actively engaged in practices that might reduce my transmission of the cold to others. What science was I doing? Epidemiology:

  1. Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events (including disease), and the application of this study to the control of diseases and other health problems. Various methods can be used to carry out epidemiological investigations: surveillance and descriptive studies can be used to study distribution; analytical studies are used to study determinants. (World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/topics/epidemiology/en/ )

Colds are a generic term for a group of respiratory viruses that infect people. They are not caused by

The Rhinovirus is the most frequent cause of the “common cold”

standing out in the cold (yes mom I had my jacket on when it got down to the 40’s and 50’s this week). According to the Centers for Disease Control colds are spread through the air and close contact with others. To stop the spread of the cold the CDC recommends:

If you have a cold, you should follow these tips to prevent viruses from spreading to other people:

  • Stay at home while you are sick
  • Avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands
  • Move away from people before coughing or sneezing
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue then throw it away, or cough and sneeze into your upper shirt sleeve, completely covering your mouth and nose
  • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and objects such as toys and doorknobs

(CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/)

Well… as a teacher we had to modify that intervention plan a little bit because I really couldn’t sacrifice an entire week of learning with my students so bullet point number one was out. Instead I focused on points 2-6 and so far none of my students are showing signs of catching my cold but they may still be incubating the virus so I will have to wait until next week to know if my efforts to control the spread were successful.

The other half of Epidemiology is tracking where this disease came from. The short answer is my son, but if I tracked it back further his 5th grade math teacher (in a different school district 20 miles away) had the cold last week and through some interviews (I know these people, I am not running around like a crazy person blaming others for passing on the cold) it turns out that that teacher had caught the cold from a co-teacher who had caught it from their child who is in an entirely different school district yet another 20 miles away. The study of how diseases spread is pretty interesting. This little virus that has very little mobility in and of itself has co-evolved with humans to use us as transportation vectors to spread its DNA as far as it can go.

Because I have a self defined identity of being a “science person” I look at the world through this lens. Other people might just say “i’m sick and suffer, I say “I’m sick how’s that work”. As we discussed in class this week helping students create identities that can create questions like that is a really powerful way to help them engage in science. (Thompson, 2014) If anyone from outside of the class is reading this blog I highly recommend reading it too. See you all monday!

Thompson, J. (2014). Engaging girls’ sociohistorical identities in science. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(3), 392-446.


plutoI have to give credit where it is due, this post title is actually a chapter title from one of my favorite books, How I killed Pluto and why it had it coming by Mike Brown. This week was most definitely one of those weeks in so many ways. If anyone wants a fun book that really explains why Pluto isn’t a planet and never actually was one, this is the book for you! I have about sixty copies because we read it in one of the courses I teach so I can lend a copy out to anyone who is interested. In this particular chapter a whole lot of stuff happens in Mike’s life all at once. I don’t want to spoil too much but quite a few astronomical discoveries are made and some pretty big life changes take place as well. I didn’t really discover anything this week and haven’t had any crazy life changes but that doesn’t mean that this week wasn’t a busy one.

All week my students have started to move from summer mode to learning mode which means that our learning interactions get much more intense. In some cases that was some pretty high frustration levels but it was followed in one particular case by twenty minutes of laughing so in the end it was all worth it for everyone, but especially me (I can be selfish that way, sometimes I enjoy student’s happiness more  and remember it longer than they do).

Monday night I got to meet you all (or more truthfully most of you all) and that was wonderful; Thank You for a great first class!

On tuesday night I was lucky enough to sit on a panel of SUNY Master Teachers to field questions from pre-service teachers. The questions they had were wonderful and refreshing and from feedback they truly enjoyed our responses and found them helpful. Being that our panel was all teachers we structured the forum to force participation so everyone had to write down a question as they entered the lecture hall and then post in on the front board. We each then fought over which questions we would get to answer and began. One of my favorite questions was “when do you breathe?” and my response was that you really have to plan for your resting moments. It isn’t always easy to make yourself take those breaks but you have to for your own health and those around you. (Note to self: plan a break some time soon!) But as soon as I finished giving that answer I had to add another response to the same question. I realized that I really relax every morning M-F at 7:44 when my first class of the day starts. I love teaching and I love my classes and it is almost a zen like feeling that you get from being in the moment teaching. Its really all of the “administrative mumbo jumbo”  that is stressful, teaching is relaxation! (in a strange paradoxical kind of way)

Wednesday was take care of the homestead night which is never boring.

Thursday night was another class.

Friday was a day of science in my mind as I tried to use every ounce of scientific thinking I had to solve a real world problem; My water well was not supplying the water it should to my holding tank. So I attacked the problem starting at 6 A.M. assessed the situation but had to leave for work by 6:45. In between teaching I did real science, I researched my problem and networked with people who had more experience than I. My experts that helped out included a few students, one custodian, a retired auto mechanic/ friend and a professional well guy. At some time tonight we finally had a solution but it was a long process of testing circuits, running experiments, asking questions, reading, researching, trying more experiments, and eventually stumbling across the solution. It just goes to show how applicable learning science is to our every day lives. This wasn’t even a scientific principal that solved the problem it was scientific practice; questioning, testing, experimenting, evaluating, assessing, discussing, communication, research, perseverance, and LUCK! It really could have been anything but in the end after none of the tests that should have identified the problem found a solution on a whsherlockim we removed the three day old sediment filter. Why? Because as sir Arthur
doyleConan Doyle says “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” It runs perfectly now, but like a science guy finding an answer left me with a new question; why did a brand new filter fail?

So if any of you out there run into any well problems or any other issues please remember use science to find your solution! And I always love a good problem to solve so if you need help my brain is yours to tease.


See you all Monday.

Hello 2015/2016 school year!

Its a new school year and I know that I am just as excited as my students to get back in the classroom and collaborate with my students through a great year of teaching and learning, ok maybe I’m more excited than some of my students but I am a positive guy and like to think everyone is looking forward to a year of Earth Science and Physics the same way I do.

I know most people like to devote the first day to getting to know you activities but I really don’t think you can get to know your students in A day, and they can’t get to know me in 40 minutes either, so I like to stretch the introductory stuff out over the first month or ten. In other words as my past students know I will be talking about myself and family, and listening to them talk about themselves and we will do all sorts of activities to learn classroom procedures and practice them until they just become habits that a learning community participates in.

-Mr. D