The Perfect School Day

It seems like I have written this blog before, and I have  This perfect day didn’t happen on a Saturday like the previous one, but instead took place both during the school year as well as afterschool.

The day didn’t start out so perfectly.  Some students forgot to do their reading homework.  Others didn’t do the entire math assignment.  Facing both an end of the unit math test this week, MCAS Math next Monday and Tuesday, and MCAS Science the following Monday and Tuesday, I will admit it, I am a bit stressed out about all of this and I am sure I am passing on my stress to my students.  It has been a very difficult year in many aspects with the new mandated assessments.  The students are feeling the heat, as I am.  I’ve been told by a close friend that I get grumpy around MCAS season and she is true.  I am grumpy about it all.  The upcoming middle school transition is also weighing heavily on both students and teacher.  So, I needed something to break the tension, to show me what good learning really looks like, and luckily at 11:30 this morning,that thought came to reality.

Testing the water

We were fortunate to have some guests from the EPA today come and teach us about testing storm water, a topic that the students have been researching during this year.  I love to have outside scientists come and work with my students.  This allows the students to witness scientists at work in their field.  Dr Bryan Windmiller has been an awesome role model for the past two years.  He has permitted the students to come along while tracking turtles, and tracking down nesting turtles.  Brennan Caverhill, from the Toronto Zoo generously skyped with the students for over an hour.  Peter Alden came and talked about invasive species at our Watershed WISE Night.  Lee Steppacher talked about topics that we have been studying this year.  Sue Beede has given throughout the years to many of my classes.  Matt Burne has come down to the vernal pool to help us with species identification.  All of these scientists have so greatly added to my students’ knowledge and today, Dan and Lisa from the EPA followed these great examples.  In the pouring rain, half of the class ventured down behind the school to visit the storm drain.  I’ve been bringing classes down to the river since 2006 and this class has taken a different lens and look at storm water.    So, we were outside for 30 minutes in the pouring rain, learning about what these environmental scientists do with storm water.  The students. as usual, asked great questions.  No one seemed to mind that we were out in the rain watching the water gush from this clay pipe.

Back at the room, 16 students elected to stay on a half day Tuesday and participate in the Great Garlic Mustard Challenge.

Pile of garlic mustard that was picked.

After a lunch break, we ventured down to Cousin’s Field to pull Garlic Mustard.  The students split up into five groups, I assigned each group an area to focus on, and they were off.  I will tell you that originally, I was a little nervous since I thought that some of the group may do more fooling around than actual work.  I was very pleasantly proven incorrect.  All 16 went to work with great enthusiasm.  I couldn’t had been more proud watching them labor on in the light rain on a very raw day.  After about an hour and 15 minutes, I asked them to gather up their pulls and bring it back to a designated area.  I was in awe of the work that they had done.  They were muddy and cold, but I never heard one complaint.  They knew they were doing a good thing for the environment.  Our next problem was how we were going to get it back to the school.  I let them problem solve how to do that best and off we headed down Prairie Street.  One group, wheeling the big trash barrel had numerous problems and every one helped them out.  We were all filthy, cold, and wet, but fulfilled.

So the second part of the day was perfect.  Students engaged in authentic work.  Students engaged in community service.  Students engaged in problem solving and group work.  Even though I am now exhausted and should be trying to figure out how to best prepare them for Science MCAS, I am so proud of the learners they have become.  May we have a few more days like this one before school ends for the year.


A Day at the Zoo

Operating Room at Zoo New England

When one thinks of a zoo, they probably think of visiting exhibits comprised of lions, gorillas, exotic birds, and giraffes.  Today, March 7th, a beautiful spring day, I spent the day at Zoo New England’s Franklin Park Zoo.  But except for a 20 minute stint outside, I spent the day “behind the scenes” in a cinder block building at the back of the property — the zoo hospital.  Today was the day that the Blanding’s tutles were going to be “scoped” to determine their gender.

Last year, our turtles Bowser and Yertle went off to New England Aquarium to have the same operation.  Only one turtle came back, Yertle.  Bowser had been accidentally administered the wrong dose of the medication and he never woke up.  This was an extremely sad time for both the students and myself.  Having the privilege of being a head-starting classroom again this year, with the same students as I had last year, we have grappled with the decision to send Kame and Kachua to determine their gender this year.  Dr. Windmiller gave us the choice – to do the operation or not to do the operation.  And up until a week ago, the jury was out on what we would decide to do.  Finally, we had a big conversation about the operation.  The students had some questions for Bryan, and he sensitively answered both question quickly.  We discussed the purpose of the program and how it was important to determine what gender you were putting back into the wild when we released the turtles.  We finally voted.  The final tally was 13 votes that we should do the operation and 8 votes that we should not.  I notified Bryan and he offered that I could attend if it would make everyone (the writer here included) more comfortable.  So, I put in for a personal day and got prepared mentally to go.

It was difficult looking at the turtles for the past two days.  They couldn’t be fed and unfortunately, they have become creatures of habits – a meal in the morning, a little “afternoon snack”.  Since I was going, I personally got to bring them this morning to the Zoo.  I met up with Bryan and the other 8 turtles and headed into the city.  We arrived without any problems, got let in through the back gate, and were warmly greeted by Sharon, the Manager of the Hospital.  Entering the building, we had to stop on two mats, and then step into a tub of water.  We entered the operating room, where we were met by Susie Bartlett, the veterinarian who would be conducting the scopes.  John B. arrived from the Stone Zoo, carrying their 7 turtles who would be scoped as well today.  They set up the operating room and we were ready to go.  An incubator was set up as a holding tank, and another was set up for those turtles who were sedated and those who were finished with their operation.  John weighed and I recorded the weights of his group.  Then it was time to start.  For me, this was the tense time.  Bowser had been the first turtle up out of his group.  I watched as John held his first turtle as Susie showed Darcy, the “extern” how to administer the anesthesia.  Back into the sedation tank for ten minutes, and then they checked to see if they were asleep.  A shot of lidocaine followed in the area where the incision would be made for the scope to enter.  Sharon gently held the turtle on its right side as Suzy started to put the scope into the incision.  On the computer screen, we got to see the turtle up

It's a Girl!"

front and close.  Intestines, lungs, fat, blood vessels, complete with being able to see the red blood cells moving rapidly through the blood vessel.  It took awhile on the first turtle to find what we were all here for… was this a male or a female.  “It’s a girl!”  someone excitedly called out.   Since female Blanding’s turtles do not reproduce for about 20 years, it is an important goal of this program to find out what gender is being released.  One confirmed female, 16 more turtles to go.  The next six Zoo turtles were also female.  This news was quite unexpected.  Now, it was time for Kachua and Kame to undergo their scope.

Bryan helped me get Kachua out of the holding incubator.  I held its front leg out as Darcy gave a shot first in one front leg, and then another.  I spoke to Kachua softly as I put her back into the sedation incubator.  Within a short time, it was time for Kachua to be brought to the operating table.  I brought her over and Sharon took her.  Being the largest of all the turtles, it took some maneuvering for Susie to find her way through some of the fat.  After what seemed a long while, there again was a set of ovarys.  Kachua is a female, which proves that weight doesn’t mean male.  Kachua got placed into the “recovery” incubator and then I brought Kame over.  Since Sharon had stepped out of the room, I got to hold Kame on the turtle as the lidocaine was administered.  Sharon came back and it was easier this time to determine what gender Kame was — another female!  She groggily got put back into the recovery tank and it was time for another turtle.  I admit, that I was still a little uptight until I saw Kame flick her eyes open and look around.  Kachua seemed to snap out of it fairly quickly and really had her neck out looking around.

By the end of the day, there were 14 females, 2 males, and one undetermined.  When we arrived back in Concord, I heard the familiar clunking around in their carrier tank that I hear when I transport Kame and Kachua home.  They can’t go into water until Friday, so when I put them back in their tank, they were looking at me, looking for the food.  They don’t look any worse for the wear after their big day.

It’s funny that when I first got the turtles back in September 2010, I didn’t want to name them since I didn’t want to get attached to them.  In September 2010, I welcomed a new batch of students who I wasn’t emotionally ready for after a particularly wonderful year the year before.  But, we named the turtles, and I became attached to both the students and the turtles as the year went on.  We lost Bowser and welcomed Lynn-D.  We won 2nd place in a national contest.  I was asked to go to 5th grade, along with these students.  We released Yertle and Lynn-D into Moore’s Swamp and we welcomed a new group of turtles, that I knew, that I would become attached to once again.  And those students, I am very attached to them.  I can’t imagine life after June.  In June, I get to release both the turtles and the students.  Not a moment that I am particularly looking forward to, but I know that the cycle goes on and on again.  20 years from now, I hope that a group of 4th or 5th graders will be looking at a spreadsheet of data and say, look at all the hatchlings that turtle mother 224 and 232 had this year.  That then will be the true circle of life.

So thanks to the folks at the Zoo today for having this teacher present today.  It was awesome to see alveoli, ovaries, intestines, and red blood cells up close and personal.  It was wonderful watching Susie the teacher guide Darcy in doing the 16th turtle of the day’s scope, as well as glow when she spoke of how much she loves her job.  Sharon is also such a wonderfully committed person to animals of all sizes.   Their compassion and skill handling these 17 turtles was amazing.  It was tiring both physically and emotionally, but an overall wonderful day.

Of Signs, St. Augustine, and Storm Drains

Turtle Crossing Signs That Will Be Placed Around Concord

Today was an interesting day with a capital I.  It was a short day for me having after having an appointment with my arm doctor.  When I arrived back at school, laden down with bags, one of the noon-aides told me she had brought a package down to my room.  I admit it, I was grumby since my room is already over crowded with stuff.  There are garlic mustard plants, Norway maples, Purple loosestrife, water testing supplies, books, and stream tables already strewn all over the room.  After settling in, the kids reminded me I had a package.  Expecting more bottles to collect water samples, the box instead was too thin to host water bottles.  I saw the return address — from Stay Safe Traffic.  Suddenly a lightbulb went off in my head.  The kids excitedly gathered around as I opened the box.  Finally, the last piece of tape was off and I was looking at the back of a big metal sign.  Excitedly, I turned it over.  A hush went through the room.  The kids eyes were wide open, their jaws dropped.  Suddenly, a round of applause exploded over the room.  Grins were a mile wide.  “These are real signs,” the kids said.  Proud faces were the order of the day.  It was like Christmas, but instead of the kids receiving a present, they were instead giving a present to the town and to the turtles.  It was indeed a moment to savor by all of us.

After lunch, it was time for social studies.  We’ve just begun our study of Colonial America, and our flipped classroom assignment was to watch some videos on St. Augustine.  My in-laws used to “winter” there and had once offered us to buy out their time share (which we didn’t).  We never got down there and now I regret that.  In the curriculum, the Spanish settlement that we were suppose to focus on was Santa Fe, but I felt St. Augustine might be a better fit with the explorers that we just studied.  So, I started to research St. Augustine, finding that the first Thanksgiving was held on September 8, 1568.  So, I posed this question to the students, why don’t we know about this Thanksgiving, only the Plymouth Thanksgiving.  This led into a great discussion about using different lenses when studying history.

Dry Water Discharge

And now storm drains.  I have to admit it, I am just fascinated with this aspect of the project.  Talk about looking at the river with a different lens!  Today, we needed to get down and do our January river writing.  Once the kids got settled in, I wandered over to the storm drain.  Once again, it was running when it really shouldn’t have been running.  I called the three girls who are studying this area.  They excitedly ran over and started asking all kinds of questions.   I’m not sure where this storm drain study is going to lead, but boy has it been fascinating!

So, it was an incredible three hours of school today!  Signs, St. Augustine, and Storm Drains.

Helping Turtles 101

Tonight for homework, you have the option to do your homework in a green manner or by the old-fashioned way.

For homework, you will need to read two articles and watch a couple of videos.  Then, you will answer a prompt at the end of this post.

Read this article about a sea turtle egg rescue at the Kennedy Space Center

Read this article about children helping river turtles in the Amazon

Then answer the following question:

How is what we are doing with the Blanding’s turtles like what is happening with the Sea Turtles and River Turtles?  Why are these efforts important?