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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....

Introduction to Ecology Complete Unit Plan Bundle

I am well on the way to completing my summer goals.  My first goal was to spend as much time as possible with my family and enjoy having my daughter home from college.  I am delighted to report that this goal is going splendidly!!

My "school-related" goal is to work on and improve my teaching materials for ecology.  There is so much material that has to be covered for our state "End of Course" test, that I have found it best to break the material down into "mini-units".  As a result, I teach ecology in 6 mini-units:  Introduction to Ecology, Population Ecology, Community Ecology, Energy Flow and the Recycling of Matter, Biomes of the World, and Humans and the Environment.  The news here is "One down, and 5 to go."  I have overhauled my Introduction to Ecology unit by preparing a photo-packed PowerPoint for my students, and by adding several new activities.

If you are wondering what concepts I include in a mini-unit called "Introduction to Ecology", here they are:

  • What is ecology?
  • The Role of Climate: What is the difference between weather and climate? What factors affect climate?
  • The State of Today's Environment: The exploding human population, the sixth mass extinction, the damage to the ozone layer, and climate changes.
  • The greenhouse effect, greenhouse gases, human activities that contribute to the greenhouse effect.
  • The Effect of Latitude on Climate: Polar zones, temperate zones, and tropical zones.
  • Heat Transfer in the Biosphere: Winds, currents.
  • Levels of Ecological Organization: Biosphere, ecosystems, communities, populations, and organisms.
  • The living and the nonliving components of an ecosystem.
  • The theme of interconnectedness and interdependence in ecology.
  • Biotic and abiotic factors
  • Habitat -vs- Niche.
By teaching this overview of ecology first, the ground work is laid for teaching the more challenging concepts that will follow.   I have bundled together all of the materials that I use to teach this mini-unit into one digital download from my TpT store.

The bundled unit contains everything you need, from start to finish, to teach this unit.  Since this unit involves ozone depletion, I have added a new activity that is a WebQuest on ultraviolet radiation.  In this activity, students will visit a web site maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to learn about ultraviolet radiation.  The student will gather data from the site to analyze the UV Index in their area.  Graphing skills are reinforced as the student places this information on a graph.

This activity can be completed at school, or can be assigned as a homework assignment.  I am really excited about this new activity and am looking forward to trying this with my students next year.  

Tomorrow I am getting in the car for an 1100 mile trip to the Great Lakes area -- the upper peninsula of Michigan!  I am looking forward to cool temperatures and beautiful scenery.  You know I am a nature lover, so for the next ten days, I 'll be posted pictures of every cool nature thing I can find.  Stay tuned....

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.

Click image to
download free lesson.
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.
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......