Thanks to Education World for use of my Mrs. Waffenschmidt illustration.

Thanks to Education World for use of my Mrs. Waffenschmidt illustration.
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Monday, April 29, 2013

Watch Out for Space Junk!

Using news stories in your classroom...

Junk, you see it littering the highways. There's also junk in space, LOTS of it. Scientists estimate that 20,000 man-made objects are orbiting the Earth, much of the junk in low-Earth orbit. Debris includes rocket boosters, old communication and weather satellites and even tools dropped by astronauts  while outside the International Space Station. And, scientists say there are more than 500,000-tens of millions of  itsy bitsy pieces of junk! And, it's not just floating along in space. Scientists say space debris travels at speeds of about 17,5000 miles per hour.All this space junk zipping around in space could be a safety issue to space missions! Scientists are meeting in May to discuss  the topic and what can be done about it. Scientists in Great Britain are developing a giant harpoon which could grab some of the space junk and pull it down toward Earth where it can burn up. Other scientists are suggesting a net which could catch space junk or a gigantic robotic arm that could grab the space junk and pull it back to Earth. Still another idea is using a ground laser that could take aim and  knock space junk off of a path with  space crafts and satellites. 

Extension Activities:

1. Ask students to come up with ideas that might be used to clean up space junk. Draw a picture of their idea and write a paragraph explaining how it would work.
2. Pretend you are a wrench, chip of paint or other space debris. What do you see in space? Tell about a day in your life as you zip through space.

More Information on Space Junk:


Photograph from

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cicadas to Soon Arrive!

They're coming....After 17 years, cicadas are about to return. From states along the eastern coast, billions  and billions of the insects will soon be making an appearance. The cicada,a relative of the katydids and crickets, have been living underneath the ground and are now ready to make an appearance above ground to chirp loudly,find a mate, lay their eggs and...die. Actually, the cicadas that will be showing up are the children of those that visited back in 1996. They are being called Brood 2. There are 2500 species of cicadas. Some appear yearly in Japan. Others wait 13 years and those in the northeast  wait the 17 years to make their visit.  Black and red in coloring, and about 2 inches in length, the males' chirping can be heard up to 1 mile away by the female of the species! Harmless to humans, their sound can be a bit hard on the ears as it can reach 100 decibels(about that of a lawnmower). The commotion lasts several weeks and usually stops at sunset through April and May. 

Photograph from

Additional information:

Learn more about the cicada:

Extension Activities:

Draw a picture and write 4 facts learned about cicadas from this link: 

Listen to the sounds of cicadas:  

Do a word search on cicadas(easier)

Read a short story, The Ant and the Cicada: 

Draw the life cycle of a cicada after watching this 2nd grader's presentation onn the life cycle of the ciada:

Pretend you are a cicada. Write a creative writing story telling about a day in your life after you have emerged from the ground after 17 years. What do you see? Hear? Feel? Etc. Include 3 facts learned about cicadas.

Fun facts: 
* Only the male chirps
* Cicadas have the loudest insect in the world
* Interestingly, all of the cicadas returns are years which are  prime numbers.
* A theory suggests the chirping isn't to attract a mate but to "bug" birds and keep them from being eaten.
* Although  some people call them locust(a type of grasshopper), cicada aren't!
* Females can lay 400-600 eggs before they die.


Friday, April 19, 2013

I've posted many different career surveys(they are all free)...check them out at my website for teachers/young people at this link:   Here is the latest posting...

Peter Kirk, Chairman of the British Tarantula Society
Tarantula Expert!
                                           * Photograph from Peter Kirk
Yikes...a tarantula the size of a dinner plate has been found in the country of Sri Lanka! Measuring up to 8 inches in diameter, the tarantula has been named Poecilotheria rajaei. As with other arachnids, this whopper of a spider, has eight eyes, two fangs and eight legs.About the size of a human face, Poecilotheria rajaei has daffodil-yellow markings on its legs and has a pink ring around its body. Although the bite of the Poecilotheria rajaei is NOT fatal, it's being killed by those who find the rare spider. The tarantula is large enough to feed on mice, small birds and lizards. Although certainly a very large tarantula, it doesn't equal the size of the South American Theraphosa blondi, considered to be the largest known tarantula. Known as the Goliath Birdeater, that tarantula can reach 12 inches in diameter! Read this interview with Peter Kirk who was involved in the discovery of the face sized tarantula!

1. How did you become interested in spiders? Did anything as a student play a role?
When I was about 4 years old we moved to  a town close to Epping Forest in south-east England.My earliest memories were finding stag beetles, toads and newts (similar to salamanders) which I kept for a little while and then released.  At the age of 6, I moved close to another big woodland – the Chilterns.  Again, here there was lots of wildlife to be seen which further stimulated my interest.  My brother was interested in the mammals and birds whereas I was interested in the invertebrates and reptiles; when we went out, we didn’t miss much!

2. Do you have a specific memory that you'd like to share about tracking down the face sized tarantula recently discovered in Sri Lanka? Any cool facts you'd like to share with kids?
Finding your first tarantula in the wild is always the most exciting thing.  It wasn’t the biggest, by any means, but it was definitely the best.  It was in Sri Lanka, but up was way up in the cool highlands.  After a long walk up through the tea plantations we reached the summit of the hills surrounding the town of Nuwara Eliya. After hours of walking through the mountain forest, getting cut on the thorns and bushes, I found an old, dead tree with a hole about 15 feet up. Still adept at tree-climbing, I put on a head-torch (to keep both hands free). I climbed up and wedged myself in place so I could see the silk-covered hole more clearly.  Carefully removing the silk, I switched on my torch(flashlight) and peered into the hole to be greeted with the distinctive black and white banded legs with their beautiful flash of orange/yellow of the beautiful Poecilotheria subfuca. I was so excited I almost fell out of the tree…..

3. Any thoughts for young people who may be interested in spiders, specifically the tarantula?
Join an organization, such as the British Tarantula Society to find out more about tarantulas.  Under no circumstances should they rush out and buy a pet tarantula without carrying out the appropriate degree of research first.  Some species are quite robust and will survive under a number of different condition, but some require very specific conditions without which they will simply die.  Before getting any animal as a pet, especially those considered to be ‘exotic’, you must find out about them BEFORE you get one. Also, I don’t recommend handling tarantulas as it could lead to them getting bitten, getting tarantula hairs in your eyes (which can lead to some fairly serious problems) or you may drop your tarantula which is likely to kill it.

4. Do you have any tarantulas at your home?
The number I have at any particular time can vary depending on what aspect I am looking at and at the moment I have relatively few.  I have had in excess of 300 – and many people I know have more than this! Feeding and maintaining my spiders takes time. At the moment I am looking at describing some new species, so many of the spiders I have at the moment are dead, preserved specimens which are constantly under my microscope comparing and establishing the differences between the different species.

5. What locations in the world have you traveled? Have you faced challenging locations or situations? If, so, could you share a particular memory?
I have travelled mostly in the far east; India, Sri Lanka and Sabah and Sarawak (in Borneo).  I have wonderful memories from all of these places and have seen some incredible wildlife, leopards, king cobras, elephants, crocodiles…..  One time though, in Sri Lanka during their civil war, I was alone at night in a forest that I had been told it was dangerous to be in.  After having startled a troop of monkeys and a herd of deer I had walked for another half an hour before almost stumbling into a military camp.  I quickly turned round and got out of there as quickly as possible.  Once a safe distance away, I started to move quicker when, on the ridge above me I saw a light moving at the same speed as me .  I thought it was an armed soldier so I switched off my head torch and dived behind a tree.  After a couple of minutes of listening and not hearing anything, I peered out from behind the tree to see the light (not moving) still there – it was the moon!  It was rather embarrassing so, on this occasion, I was glad I was on my own!
6. Can you share a couple of cool facts about tarantulas  with kids? Why do you think many people are afraid of spiders?
There are over 850 different species of tarantulas.They can range in size from about inch to over 12 inches in diagonal leg span.  They are all venomous, but none are known to be dangerous to humans and there is no record of a single death from a tarantula bite.  They have eight eyes, eight legs, two fangs and two pedipalps (which are like two small legs which act as ‘feelers’).  Some species, such as the Mexican red-knee, can live for almost 30 years in captivity! I especially study the  ornamental tree spiders of India and Sri Lanka (Poecilotheria) and some of the arboreal (tree-dwelling) spiders of the far east. The Poecilotheria are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful tarantulas on our planet – the are large, fast and can be defensive (a term I prefer to ’aggressive’) – they have a little bit of character.

1. Write a diary pretending to be Peter Kirk, tell about a day searching for a tarantula.
2. Pretend to be the Sri Lanka tarantula which was recently discovered. Tell about a day in your life. What did you see? Feel? Hear? Etc.
3. Draw a picture of a tarantula and write 3 facts learned about tarantulas on your drawing(in complete sentence form)

Learn more about tarantulas:

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Invasion of the Giant Snails...Using the News in Language Arts.

The invasion of the Giant Snails sounds like a science fiction movie title but in Florida, it's very real. The giant African land snail has invaded the state and since they have no natural enemies, the snails are causing quite a problem. As their name suggests, the snail is very large...think the size of a rat. And, the giant African land snail multiplies quickly. Just one female can produce 12,000 eggs in one year! The giant African land snail like to nibble on plaster and stucco to get calcium for their shells. The snails are also eating many species of plants in the state and they leave behind a lot of yucky slimy trail! The snails also carry a disease that can make humans ill. The Florida Department of Agriculture Division of Plant Industry have started an advertising campaign to alert Floridians to the problem. At least 1000 of the giant snails are being caught each week in one Florida county with 117,000 caught in the state since the fall of 2011!The snails have also been spotted in the state of Michigan.

1. Ask the students look at a photograph of the snail and describe the snail using as many adjectives as possible.
2. Have the students write a Haiku poem on the snail
3. Write a day in the life of the giant African Land snail. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? Etc. Encourage students to share their writings with the rest of the class.
4. Make a poster educating the community about the snail and why people should be on the lookout for these invasive species.

Photograph from


Sunday, April 14, 2013

I really enjoyed ending the school year with a short unit on economics for my 6th graders. The students really seemed to enjoy the unit and all the different activities we did to explore the concepts such as scarcity, monopoly vs. competition, being a good consumer, budgeting and especially advertising. My latest resource is a unit on economics including notes, activities, fun facts and links. I've also included a quiz.  Did you know that there is more SALT in a 1/2 cup of pudding than a slice of pizza?  Next week, I plan to add a couple of  short stories I've written on different economic concepts.Perhaps, you may find the resource of value to use with your students. Check it out here:

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Although I love winter(I am a skier), I am SO VERY MUCH looking forward to the return of my beautiful and colorful flowers  to return to my gardens. Daffodils are starting to sprout through the surface as are some of my tulips. Color is slowly starting to take hold in the lawn and I eagerly watch for budding on the trees. To me, flowers always make me smile!When I retired from teaching I created a teacher garden. Teaching themed chimes hang from shepherd poles and I have a wonderful lilac chair(my favorite color), a gift from the school on my retirement which sits at the top of the garden so I can see and take in all the flowers as they show off their colorful splendor. Thought you might like to share with your students some cool facts about...DIRT. 
We walk over it all the time. It gets onto our shoes and gets tracked into our homes.We really don't think much about it, do we?  But, just what is dirt? As Leonardo da Vinci once wrote, We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot."  Check out  "Get the Dirt on DIRT!" at my website for teachers where I recently posted some fun facts on dirt.


Friday, April 5, 2013

NEWEST WEBQUEST: Exploring the Renaissance(A Webquest/Extension Activities)


I found webquests to be a wonderful learning tool. That's why I continue to develop them even now that I am retired from teaching. As with all my web quest,(I used to write them for Scholastic's Instructor Magazine), I try to include lots of information in the question as well so students don't need to have any prior knowledge on the topic before doing the resource. Here is an example of what I mean:

1. The word, Renaissance comes from a French word meaning____________.The renaissance began in the of country _____________.Many of the crusaders returned to this country from the Holy Lands to cities such as Venice, Florence, Milan and Genoa. It was this country where Marco Polo returned from China and where he wrote his book about his travels to China. Trading from all the travelers that came to these cities made many people wealthy. Some used their money to support the arts hiring people like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to create works of art. What invention helped to spread ideas and sparked the renaissance?____________________ Find the answers at this link: renaissance.html

Just finished a new and fact pack webquest on the Renaissance. I really think it will be of value to anyone that teaches this topic. There are 10 web questions and 15 extension activities. I have also started to include comprehension questions to review the entire webquest lesson. Although the webquests can be one class period, they could be used over a couple of days depending on the number of extension activities you chose to use.
Hot off the presses:

Off to work on the next webquest on Mt. Everest and Nepal!
Have a wonderful weekend.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Banning Dodge Ball?

A New Hampshire school district has banned the game many of us grew up playing and probably supervised during recess as adults. The school board felt that the game, which involves human targets, is not appropriate. Here's my humble opinion.

Although dodge ball was something I used to play(after my favorite-kickball) and as a teacher,an activity I  used to supervise during recess, I DO agree that perhaps we need to rethink some of the things we do at school and the game of dodge ball is on this list.  

Kids CAN get hurt with a rubber ball(and not a nerf ball) that is usually used. Dodge ball has also been linked to bullying with some students targeted for being hit. Also, the less agile students who fair poorly in dodge ball are often teased. Do we as educators need to encourage such an activity during school hours?

So, personally, I think the New Hampshire school district made the right call on banning activities such as dodge ball from their campus!

What do you think?