1st Unit: Heat Balance through the Earth System
The textbook used for this unit is Weather and Climate. This Unit is basically about meteorology with a specific focus on the transfer of heat to the Earth and around it through the movement of atmosphere, water vapor, and ocean currents. It is broken down into 4 units: 1) Atmospheric composition, 2) Heat transfer in the atmosphere, 3) Moisture in the atmosphere, and 4) Global Oceanic Conveyor. Concurrently with the content is an exploration of hurricanes through real time tracking of their movements, study of their structure as they develop, and an analysis of their damage during landfall.
The essential question of the unit is, “How does the Earth balance the unequal heating of its surface?” It is broken down into sections that correspond to the first three units. 1) Describe where and why Earth is heated unequally. 2) How is the movement of atmosphere (wind) used to balance Earth’s heat energy? 3) How does water vapor balance heat energy from where it’s hot to where it’s not? After each unit is complete, students write a rough draft of their response into their journals and then peer edit it for content using my grading rubric. A final rough draft is done just before the culminating unit test in December after the 3rd unit. They are expected to write a coherent response on the unit test without the benefit of their notes.
Before the holiday break, a short mini unit on Climate Change is explored by first graphing temperature and carbon dioxide data sets from the past 60 years. Classroom discussions afterwards focus on the overwhelming evidence of the global increase in energy and the data that supports it as well as the unknowns in how the climate patterns will change as a result. A further ethical dilemma on what level of responsibility we have and what if anything we are willing to do to prevent or fix any problems that may occur. The last two class periods before the holiday break are usually reserved for viewing the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” to riff on the horrific science shortcuts made by the screenwriters and give time to grade all those unit tests.
When students return from break, students switch out textbooks with Earth’s Waters. One section in particular is outlined on the chemistry of ocean water. It provides the basic foundation for the lab work to be conducted that month. Lab groups create a liquid density tool called a Hydrometer out of common lab materials. It is a very accurate tool that can measure changes in liquid density of as little as 0.001 g/ml. After creating and practicing with the tool, two lab investigations are performed to finish off the lab section of the course. The goal is to have them completed and graded by the end of January so that they can be used in placement considerations.
A final connection between the lab data and the transfer of heat through deep water density currents driven by temperature and salinity is made before moving onto the 2nd unit.
Each unit has a laboratory investigation associated with it that helps identify student placement in the high school science courses. Student analytical abilities and critical conclusion writing are a major component of that assessment. All lab work is done in the lab journal or added into the journal at a later date. The labs are as follows.
- Does Air Have Mass?
- Differential Heating of Sand versus Water
- Energy of Water Vapor
- Salinity Effects on Density of Ocean Water; Temperature Effects on Density of Ocean Water
The 1st lab is used as a baseline to compare student conclusion writing abilities and is graded only for reflection and comparison. Students are purposely given little direction on it to assess their incoming abilities. Great care is taken to be honest with the students about the non-graded nature of this first writing sample so that they understand that they are not being unfairly assessed. Future efforts are graded with the conclusion writing rubric.
Student’s lab skills are also assessed separately. Most labs consist of lab prep half sheets that are taped into the journal and then completed before lab day with hypothesis, procedure information, lab diagram, variable statements, lab tools, and data table. These are best graded during the data collection if possible otherwise the lab journals can become difficult to assess later. Scores are based upon multiples of 5 with small sections a 5 and larger sections 10-20 depending on level of detail. Each score is noted onto the lab journal, recorded on the lab grade sheet, and then entered into the grading system.
Data collection depends upon the information being collected. During data collection, every effort is made to identify discrepant data sets and correct them. Lab groups with serious flaws may be asked to come back on their own time to redo the procedure or lose data collection credit. Points range from 10-20 depending upon length and complexity of data collection. Students are given time at the end of the lab day to make sure each member has an accurate and identical set of lab data as they are required to communicate effectively with each other.
Data analysis consists of two parts: Graphing and discussion. Graphing collected data is usually assigned as homework. Graphing skills are practiced repeatedly prior to lab data being assigned. Lab groups work cooperatively to identify the axes based upon manipulated vs responding variable standard as well as identifying the best interval to use and if a data break is required. Students each plot their lab group’s data set onto the same style of graph paper provided for the assignment. Lab graphs are generally collected the next day and a class data set and graph handed out for the discussion. Pencil plots are encouraged for the initial plotting but ink is required as well as a legend as needed.
Student graphs are compared to each other to make sure that they used the same data sets. Graphs with issues usually stand out from the other lab members and can be set aside for a more thorough assessment as needed.
Data discussion starts of the conclusion writing exercise. The hypotheses are discussed and compared to the data collected. Graphs are used to identify the trends present in the data and qualitatively described in the lab journal analysis to assist in their conclusion writing efforts later.
Conclusion writing is done individually as soon after data discussion is complete, preferably that same day. The format is rather formulaic with a restatement of the hypothesis and whether or not it is correct, a body section where the data trend is described qualitatively and then supported with appropriate use of data sets, and then concluded with a restatement of the correct hypothesis.
The 4th section on ocean currents is a stand alone lab unit that reinforces the content from the first three portions but in terms of the fluid in the ocean instead of the fluidity of the atmosphere
A comprehensive Final is given after the 3rd unit due to time constraints. It takes two days to complete and consists of a multiple choice section (60%), the essential question response (20%), and 2 choice questions (10% each). The choice questions are students selected and given out a week before the final in order for students to prepare. Each represents a certain aspect of the content and allows for the students to choose their strengths. Scores on the choice portion are also used in placement as representative of their work ethic.
The textbook is used as a foundation to explore the concepts but is extended through class discussion and activities. To support the coursework, certain sections are outlined by the students and assessed using an open note outline quiz to encourage good notetaking. Guided notes are used to enhance the textbook through the use of analogies and visuals.
To enrich the unit and add a little excitement to the year, an in depth investigation into hurricanes is sprinkled into the curriculum as current events allows. Right away the students are exposed to certain weather imagery that will be used in weather briefings through the unit. The focus is on the Atlantic as it spawns the storms that affect Massachusetts but whenever a strong storm develops the class pauses to study the structure of the storm and the factors that lead to its formation, strengthening, and dissipation. Once a major storm appears to be on course for landfall with a populated area, the destructive forces of the storm are investigated and current examples collected through online reports. Finally, an ethical dilemma is presented on why people evacuate or not when faced with a impending hurricane through a case study of Hurricane Ike that hit both Cuba and Texas in 2008. Students write a personal belief statement on which they value more, saving lives by forcing evacuations or respecting freedoms and leaving people in harms way.
2nd Unit: Human Biology
The textbook used for this section is Human Biology and Health. This unit begins at the start of the 3rd term so as to allow for enough time to complete the curriculum. Major hurdles during this term are the April break, preparation for the 8th grade Science MCAS test, and the math and science testing schedule.
A brief review of cell structures starts off the unit. In place of outline quizzes, students study vocabulary for spelling and definitions. Quizlet is used outside of class and those students who demonstrate mastery of the vocab on the 1st quiz do not have to show proof of studying later by logging into my teacher account and registering their user id for tracking.
After completing the opening content on cells and homeostasis, the major systems explored this unit are the Skeletal, Muscular, and Skin in the first subunit, Digestion for the second, Respiratory and Excretory for the third. After each system a short ethical dilemma on a major concern for human biology is assigned. The topics are Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Organ Donation and Cloning, and Genetic Modification. Surveys are sent home to the parents for each dilemma to give them a chance to discuss their family or religious position to the topics as well as to encourage any questions they may have for me. Survey results are tabulated and shared with students after they have written their own position statement.
The major lab assignment for this unit is the creation of Poster Child. Each group is given a 6 foot sheet of butcher paper and they attach a somewhat life size skeleton to the sheet in an active pose. Students name their child after some celebrity and eventually decorate it with various bling and accoutrements related to their character. Some muscles are added to demonstrate skeletal muscles. The full digestive system, respiratory system, and excretory systems are added as well.
There is one mandatory dissection involving a comparative between a chicken wing and the human arm as well as an extra credit dissection of a rat held after school.
Instead of the outline quizzes, vocab quizzes are given. Each major system has a content quiz associated with it except for Digestion, Excretory and Respiratory which happen late in June and are included in the Human Body Systems Final. Since it is given at the end of the year, it consists of multiple choice only to assure that grades can be submitted in a timely fashion.