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Vacationing in the Great Lakes Area

For the next ten days I will be vacationing in a log cabin along Lake Huron.  This was the view from the deck of our little log cabin this morning.


My great-grandfather built the cabin in 1903, and I drive 1100 miles each summer to return to this gorgeous area for a family vacation.  We arrived last night to this beautiful sunset....



This morning, while the family was asleep, I took a walk through and around the woods.  This wetland was so still that there was a perfect reflection of the trees in the water.


And the wildflowers are absolutely gorgeous....




Backyard Ecology Freebie


Backyard Ecology: An Ecological Assessment of Your Neck of the Woods

Every once in a while, we should abandon the textbook and take a look at the world around us.  There's a lot going on out there!  Many schools now have outdoor classrooms, but even if you don't have an official outdoor classroom, there is still a lot of nature going on in your school yard.  Unfortunately, most of us are tied to a very strict science curriculum, and of course, the dreaded season of standardized testing.  The ecology of your local community isn't going to be on "the test" but it is still a vital and important lesson for our science students.

Here's an activity that you might find helpful and beneficial.  And best of all ... it's FREE!  I created and used this with my students for the first time this past school year.  I was so pleased with the activity that I decided to share it with all of you.

This activity is a 23-question worksheet that the student should complete at the beginning of a unit on ecology.  The student should be given the worksheets in advance and given a few days to work on it.  The questions are designed to get the student thinking about the environment, especially about things that happen in their own home and community. Some of the items on the questionnaire can be completed at school, but a few will require just a bit of research.    The end result is that our students will learn many things about their local environment and community.

A few sample questions include:

  • Name 5 plants that seem to be native to your area.  For each plant, list one reason why it is important to humans.  For example, can these plants be used as a source of food?  Are they used in landscaping?
  • What agricultural products are grown in your area?  Is there a problem in obtaining the water necessary for growing these crops?
  • Other than recycling, what is done in your home that could be considered “conservation”?    
  • List three organizations or agencies in your area that are involved in the conservation and protection of the environment.  Describe the purpose of each agency/organization.
Click image to download this freebie!
I was very pleased with the results.  My students put time and energy into supplying thoughtful answers that generated much classroom discussion during our unit on ecology.  I hope you enjoy this freebie!

Have fun teaching!



I Fed a Giraffe!

Today was the best day ever!  I got to feed the giraffes at the zoo!


This summer, our zoo started this program of giraffe feeding.  For $5, you are given a really big handful of romaine lettuce.   You climb up a pretty tall platform that puts you at head level with the giraffes and then have the most amazing experience ever!!   They are very sweet and patient.  They nuzzle against you and wait patiently for your lettuce.  Their tongue is very rough, and feels much like sandpaper. And it is the longest tongue!!  They do not mind rubbing up against you, but they do not like it if you reach out and try to touch them.  According to the zookeeper, since the giraffes so rarely have any living organism near their head, the sight of your hand coming toward their face is disturbing to them.



A few giraffe facts for you:

  • Giraffes eat about 75 pounds of leaves everyday.  They spend 16 to 20 hours a day eating.
  • The giraffe's tongue is 18 inches long!
  • Although it is usually for them to make any sounds, they can moo, hiss, roar or whistle to communicate with one another.  (We heard no sounds.)
  • They have the longest tail of any animal.  It can reach a length of 8 feet.
  • Their heart is two feet long and can weigh 25 pounds.
  • They have the highest blood pressure of any animal.  Their blood pressure averages 280/180 and the heart beats 170 times per minute.
  • The heart pumps 16 gallons of blood per minute.
  • Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world, reaching heights of 16 to 18 feet. 
  • Males can weigh 2000 pounds.
  • The only real predator to a giraffe is a lion, but the giraffe can easily use its hooves to defend itself.
  • The giraffe can run 30 to 35 miles per hour.
  • Gestation period is 15 months.
  • Life expectancy is 25 years.
This was an incredible experience.  If you ever get the opportunity to feed giraffes, you must do it!!

FREE Ecology Crossword Puzzles


Here is a FREE teaching resource for you!


At the end of each school year, I evaluate the units and materials I used in my teaching during the course of the year.  One of my summer projects is always the same ..... Improve the weakest part of my curriculum!!

This summer I am working on my materials on "ecology and the environment".  As you can tell by my previous posts, I have completely revamped all of my teaching PowerPoints on ecology. In response to changing the core material that I teach during this unit, I am also making changes in the supplementary materials that I use to support my lectures.

I love crossword puzzles as a teaching and reviewing tool.  They are wonderful in hammering down key concepts, and it doesn't hurt to have reinforcement in spelling, either!  I have written one crossword puzzle for each of my ecology units:
1.  Introduction to Ecology
2.  Population Ecology
3.  Community Ecology
4.  Ecosystems and the Biosphere Part 1:  Energy Flow and the Recycling of Matter
5.  Ecosystems and the Biosphere Part 2:  Biomes of the World
6.  Humans and the Environment.

I have posted the complete set of 6 puzzles in my TeachersPayTeachers store as a FREE item.  I hope that you will take advantage of the free download and that you find them helpful in your teaching. Click the image below to download these puzzles.




Have Fun Teaching!

Teaching Ecology Post 7: Humans and the Environment


This topic of ecology, "Humans and the Environment" is what I always think of as a "backward lesson" in my biology classes.  Throughout the school year, I constantly ask my students to consider how the environment affects a particular process or an anatomical structure, but in this lesson I am asking my students to consider how THEY affect the environment.

The role of the environment as an influence in Natural Selection is a common theme in my class.  We revisit it over and over again throughout the year.  In this ecology topic, the theme is completely flipped.  Now it is time to reverse this common thread and have our students consider how we, the human species, have affected the environment.

Humans have had an impact on this planet for most of human history. Activities such as agriculture, logging, mining, urban development, the burning of fossil fuels, the clear cutting of forests and exponential population growth have no doubt changed the surface of our planet.  Because of these activities, this may very well be the most important unit we teach our students all year long.  The students sitting in our classrooms today are the protectors and caretakers of the Earth of tomorrow.  It is imperative that we give these students the knowledge and the tools they need to be good decision makers of the future.  The fate of our planet is literally in their hands.

It is interesting how a typical high school biology class is a microcosm of our society.  When discussing these issues, the students immediately take sides.  The range of opinions is all over the place, from "protect the Earth at all cost" to "I will always drive this huge pickup truck" to everything in between.







If you are looking for some lively classroom debate and loud arguing, this is the perfect lesson!!  

Much of the clipart used in this PowerPoint was created by my dear friend, Tracee Orman.  You may know Tracee as the author of tremendously popular Hunger Games lesson plans and activities, but she is also quite accomplished at creating clip art.  You can view all of her clipart HERE.

Have FUN teaching......

Teaching Ecology Post 6: Biomes of the World



Biomes: 
An Interesting Look at our World

A biome is a group of ecosystems that has the same general climate, and contains a particular group of plant and animal species.  A biome is characterized by certain soil and climate conditions.  An organism cannot live in just any old biome. Each species of organism has a set of particular adaptations that makes it well suited for a particular biome. Each plant and animal species has a different tolerance level.  Tolerance is the ability to survive and reproduce in conditions that are outside of the optimum conditions for that organism.  For example, an animal adapted to living in a desert has a high tolerance, since this animal can tolerate blistering hot temperatures during the day, and freezing temperatures at night.  An insect that lives in a rain forest, however, would die quickly if the temperature became too cold.

A biome has climax communities with little of no succession taking place.  The climax community is the result of succession.  In succession, the community proceeds through a series of stages until it reaches a stable end point. At each stage of succession, the organisms present alter the physical environment in ways that make it less favorable for their own survival, but more favorable to the survival of the species that follow them.  The climax community is the result of succession.  The plant and animal species of this climax community are stable populations that will remain constant over a long period of time.

Events called disturbances may change the face of a particular ecosystem.  Examples of disturbances include forest fires, floods, and volcanic eruptions.  These events have drastic effects on the organisms living in the community.  When these things happen, nature starts over (succession) in restoring living organisms to the area.

All of this is very interesting and my students are generally quite eager and receptive when I teach this information.  In almost every day of their life, these students are exposed to news events of hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, etc.  It is important that our biology students understand the impact of these disturbances and how these changes will affect a geographic area.

How many biomes are there, and how should we go about teaching them to our students??  In my experience, there is not a definitive answer to the "how many" question. It depends on which textbook or other informative source you read!  I begin with a simple explanation: There are terrestrial biomes and aquatic biomes.  I am sure that there will be some disagreement with this, but I have found that teaching 8 basic terrestrial biomes works the best for my students. Which 8?  I break them down into the following:

  • tundra
  • taiga
  • chaparral
  • temperate deciduous forests
  • temperate grasslands
  • deserts
  • savannas
  • tropical rain forests
The aquatic ecosystems can be subdivided in many ways as well.  You might first differentiate between ocean zones and freshwater zones.  Oceans zones would include photic zones, aphotic zones, intertidal zones, neritic zones, oceanic zones, benthic zones and estuaries.  Freshwater areas would include lakes, streams, rivers, marshes, bogs and swamps.


As you can see from above (I hope!), teaching the biomes should be very visual.  My students love pictures and visual examples of the concepts I am teaching.  In my PowerPoint presentation, I try to include as many photographs as possible.  There is only one drawback..... When you show a classroom full of students a LOT of pictures, they will ask a LOT of questions!!  But this is what makes teaching so much fun!  Here are a few of the slides from my Powerpoint presentation on biomes:






Have fun teaching!

Teaching Ecology Post 5: The Flow of Energy Through the Ecosystem


Over the last few days, I have been telling you about my attempt to make teaching a unit on Ecology more appealing to both me and my students.  If you haven't been keeping up, here is a quick review:

  • I'm not wild about teaching ecology.
  • My students are not wild about learning ecology.
  • I was looking for a better way to teach it.
  • I broke it down into 6 different units of study:  Intro to Ecology, Population Ecology, Community Ecology, Energy Flow Through the Ecosystem, Biomes, and the Human Impact on the Environment.
  • I have already written blog posts about the first 3 units.
  • Here is the blog post about the 4th unit!
Whew! Now you are caught up!!

So today brings us to the 4th unit of study:  The Flow of Energy Through the Ecosystem and the Recycling of Matter.   Now THIS is a lesson that I can get into!  I have said all along.... I think ecology is important and I definitely need to make sure that I teach it to my students, but I am a cell physiology type of person.  I like teaching the "micro" rather than the "macro".  The flow of energy through the ecosystem is right up my alley since my favorite topics of instruction are photosynthesis and respiration!!  

As with all of my teaching PowerPoints, I think that a captivating visual display is essential in today's classroom.  Our students are so used to special effects, that we must include as many graphics and photographs as possible in order to keep their attention.  Take a look at a few of the slides I prepared for this lesson:





Topics covered in this lesson are:
1.   Energy Flow Through the Ecosystem:  Sunlight as a source of energy, importance of photosynthesis, conversion of energy into glucose and other organic compounds.
2.   Autotrophs, producers, examples of autotrophs, chemoautotrophs and chemosynthesis.
3.   Heterotrophs, consumers, examples of heterotrophs, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, detritivores, decomposers, the essential nature of decomposition.
4.   Feeding Relationships:  One way flow of energy through the ecosystem, food chains, examples of food chains, food webs, trophic levels, primary producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, tertiary consumers.
5.   Productivity of the Ecosystem:  Two ways to measure productivity, gross primary productivity, the role of glucose in productivity, biomass, net primary productivity, factors that determine productivity in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
6.   Energy transfer between trophic levels, ecological pyramids, percentage of energy that moves up to the next trophic level, reasons why the transfer of energy is so low.
7.   Given a hypothetical food chain, the student will identify the autotroph, the primary consumer, secondary consumer, and tertiary consumer as well as calculate the amount of energy passed to each trophic level.
8.   Ecosystem recycling:  the recycling of matter, the essential need to recycle carbon, nitrogen, water, and phosphorus, biogeochemical cycles.
9.   Water Cycle:  Location of water, evaporation, precipitation, transpiration, condensation, steps to water cycle, students will complete a diagram of the water cycle.
10. The Carbon Cycle:  The importance of carbon to organic compounds, the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the carbon cycle, the role of erosion and volcanic activity in the carbon cycle, decomposition, burning of fossil fuels, steps to the carbon cycle, the student will label a diagram of the carbon cycle, the human impact on the carbon cycle.
11. The Nitrogen Cycle:  The importance of nitrogen in building proteins and nucleic acids, nitrogen fixation, ammonification, nitrification, denitrification, assimilation, the role of various bacteria in the nitrogen cycle, students will label a diagram of the nitrogen cycle.
12. The Phosphorus Cycle:  The importance of phosphorus to ATP and nucleotides, the movement of phosphorus through the ecosystem.
13. Limiting nutrients.

Thanks for visiting and ...... HAVE FUN TEACHING!