It’s For the Birds!

I have a confession.

We were on a lovely hike (when were we NOT on a lovely hike!) in a boreal forest at the end of Tysfjorden.  A gentleman became really excited and exclaimed, “There’s a dipper in the stream!”

A hike along a stream near Tysfjorden led to this lesson.

A hike along a stream near Tysfjorden led to some amazing learning.

I laughed. The only dippers I know wear no clothes… as in skinny dippers.

He frowned. He apparently knows a lot more about dippers.

Turns out, the dipper in question is the national bird of Norway.  And the dipper was, in fact, dipping in and out of the stream up in front of me. The brownish blob you see in this picture below quickly became a source of amazement as I watched it go under water for extended periods of time searching for food. Up and down… up and down…


A dipper is seen perched on a rock in the upper right corner of this photo taken at a stream running into Tysfjorden.


No, not oops. Oh no! I was embarrassed! How did I not know what a dipper was? I had zero background knowledge about birding and it showed. But then, I started thinking about my students. This must be what they feel like when I introduce an unfamiliar topic in class. Clueless.


I could develop a lesson that would introduce them to the world of birding. Who knows, perhaps this could be a start of a life-long hobby for some!?!  At the very least, students would be learning an important concept for my life-science-based course—how are living things classified? This is a standard I address every year.

I generally start the year asking how students know if something is alive. We have a lot of discussion and research to finally land on several characteristics. Students then research their living thing (organism name drawn from a hat) and diagram how it moves, respires, reproduces, etc…


2014-15 Examples of Characteristics of Living Things.

2014-15 Examples of Characteristics of Living Things.

What students don’t know is, this school year, I’ve made sure their organisms will fit into a variety of food webs across all  biomes by the end of the year. We’ll also tag where they could be found on our World Map. Right now in the learning process, all students will know is I want student experts on all kinds of living things… since that is what we study throughout the year.

Students will therefore have some knowledge about why organisms are considered alive and a few will be “experts” on a variety of birds per class. We’ll build on this background as we classify birds as belonging to the kingdom, Animalia (Animals), Phylum Chordata (Animals with a Backbone), and the Class for birds is Aves.

But how do we decide what bird is what?

We’ll start the lesson with a bit of engagement. Here is a video my colleague, Leslie Wiles, took while we were touring Bear Island.

Know what I saw the first time?  Birds. Lots of Birds. Lots of Black and white birds!

What did you see? I will share this video a couple of times to get input about the behavior of a variety of birds.

Next, I’ll show this clip, also shot by Leslie Wiles of… you guessed it… more black and white birds!

I hope students notice this trend of black and white coloration as we will use this as a discussion point later when discussing adaptations and camouflage.

For now, I want students to understand that birds can at first appear very similar but there may be differences based on where they live and what they want to eat.

Below is a set of images that I have gathered from friends on the expedition as well as through Creative Commons Licensed images on Flickr. If anyone reading this has better or other images of Norway’s birds that they would like to share for this lesson, I would be delighted!

My plan is to actually print out sets of birds (4 x 6 Prints) and give a set of 4 birds per group. That way, I can differentiate my instruction. If I know one set of students has struggling learners, I can make sure they have a couple of easily identifiable birds. Other groups with gifted learners may have a more challenging set to identify.

I’ll first put up one picture.

Arctic Ptarmigan found at the Polar Museum in Tromsø.

Arctic Ptarmigan found at the Polar Museum in Tromsø.

As a class, we will look at specific characteristics… Its beak, its coloring, its size, to make a guess as to what bird we might be seeing.  That way, all students have experience with using the field guide and success in identifying a bird of Norway. I believe this Arctic Ptarmigan will do nicely.

Next, students will be given a set time to use the Field Guides to see if they can identify their birds. We’ll hold a class discussion and see if we can group birds that appear similar (such as the song birds vs the gulls).

Students will be given “homework” for the week to find and take photos of other living things we can find around Hobbs, New Mexico. This will springboard into extending this learning as we discuss other ways living things are classified and introduce other Field Guides and Dichotomous Keys for us to practice identifying the plants, animals, and fungi around our home.

We’ll be doing this activity in September of 2015. I would love to have other classrooms do a similar activity where we can learn with each other.  Anyone?

Let the Journey Begin!

As many of you know, I was recently aboard the National Geographic Explorer learning about Norway’s fjords and  the Arctic Svalbard. It was an amazing adventure that I just wanted to grab and hold on to forever!

Tromsø, Norway

Like, seriously… How do you take an experience like this and keep it with you? How do you connect it with your everyday life? How do you make the memories into something memorable?

You see, I was selected to go on this expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow in the hopes that I would develop activities to take back into the classroom. Initially, I updated my blog chronicling my daily activities.  However, the internet was sketchy, and I honestly wanted to spend more time being in the moment! And so, after Day 3, I stopped updating.  (Can you blame me?)


I had the best kayaking partners! Here, Gary and I were paddling around Nordfjord…which is a branch off the north side of the larger Melfjord. We discovered sea stars and sea urchins! I also climbed up the boulders earlier in the day! #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

Instead, I switched to an old school journal.  I honestly think my students will enjoy reading it and checking out my illustrations… as it is similar to the science notebooking they will be doing over the course of the next school year.










Now that I have returned from Norway, my blog will resume. Instead of  “Blog-a-Day” postings, I have developed a series of posts based on how my Arctic Adventure will be translated into a year-long study of exploring our world.

Let’s start with the physical space. I can’t make my classroom into an ice-class ship of National Geographic Explorer caliber… But I can do some amazing things, such as add a few flags!

The Polar Bear Flag flaps in the air as we cruise passed the bird cliffs of Kapp Fanshawe.

The Polar Bear Flag flaps in the air as we cruise past the bird cliffs of Kapp Fanshawe.

Polar Bear flag created by the same person as the one that adorns the ship.

Polar Bear flag created by the same person as the one that adorns the ship.









Guests aboard the ship (Diane and Dennis Roberts) made sure we would have maps and books of the locations we traveled. Thank you!!! I will also use the National Geographic Mapmaker’s Kit to add a Giant World Map to our wall. As we learn about events and living things throughout the year, we will color-code and add these details to our World Map.

Maps of Norway and Svalbard.

Maps of Norway and Svalbard.

Finally, the Naturalists. The staff were an amazing resource to all of us on board. Let the flag serve as a reminder of their knowledge base.  (And may Skype bring a few to New Mexico!)

Eric Guth, Naturalist, discussing the plant life in the fjords.

Eric Guth, Naturalist, discussing the plant life in the fjords.

Peter Wilson, Naturalist, working aboard the ship.

Peter Wilson, Naturalist, working aboard the ship.

Vinnie Butler, historian, discussing the pictographs at Leiknes.

Vinnie Butler, historian, discussing the pictographs at Leiknes.


Norway Flag including signatures of Naturalists and staff on our expedition.

Norway Flag including signatures of Naturalists and staff on our expedition.

Please check back as I share a variety of lessons developed during the expedition.

Let the journey begin!  Won’t you join me?

Day 3-Smøla

Using the Zodiac to reach Smøla.

Using the Zodiac to reach Smøla.

Today, I visited an island that is called Smøla. I believe there are several islands that make up the location with three major villages. Around 2000 people life here, although the population has been declining as their primary industry—fishing—is in decline in the area.

How did we get over there? I am so glad you asked! By Zodiac!
So, so fun getting in the inflatable boat to get to the island.

And, what did I do when I got there?

I went for a hike.

In the wind.

In the cold.

In the rain.

And I loved every minute of it!


Hiking around the island of Smøla.

This ole trail runner had a blast stomping around the area. Our hike combined the old with the new. We hiked through bogs and spruce trees, down around lakes, up a small peak, and through fields of heather. We also walked across a golf course and a around several turning wind turbines.


As we walked across the golf course on Smøla, we could see the wind turbines up ahead.

I started collecting sounds as well as photos today. I am looking forward to seeing who can guess what things are when I return.  I hope my students enjoy it as well!

We haven’t gotten to an area where there is a ton of wildlife yet.  We did see an eagle being chased by a smaller bird and a snow hare during the hike. There are lots of sea birds and I am trying to learn the names of different ones. I know I’ve seen a gannet and a colony of birds on a cliff of kittiwake. I keep my binoculars near me just in case.

For those wondering about my back, I used a trekking pole and am so thankful I did. It helped me put some weight on the pole as well as have greater stability. My sciatica is still hurting (sad face), but it is manageable. There is a doctor on board who also has asked how I am feeling.

I am looking forward to tonight’s entertainment. A local group, called “The Gubbliners” will be playing for us.  And as I was typing this, they headed through the library lost. I helped them and know the music will be extra special now.

I believe I have caught up on my sleep now.  The sounds and the gentle rocking of the boat make it so easy to just nod off!

I am looking forward to the events to come!

Day 2- Nordfjord

When I woke up this morning and went out on deck, I just giggled. The view on all sides of our ship was simply breathtaking.

The view in Olden

The view in Olden

While we were sleeping, the National Geographic Explorer docked at the village of Olden at the very end of the Nordfjord. Thank you, National Geographic Explorer.

After breakfast we boarded coaches and traveled about 16 miles to see a small arm off the main Jostedalbreen Glacier (Europe’s largest mainland glacier.)

When we got to the Park with the Glacier, I had about a 2-3 mile hike to reach the location. I walked up, up, up the winding path. Of course, I had to stop to check out waterfalls, and brooks, and rocks, and birds… I have no idea how long it actually took me to reach it.

The Briksdal Glacier

The Briksdal Glacier

Along the path were signs.  This is where the glacier was in 1920.  Here was the location in 1970, Here in 2010.  It is so disturbing to see the glacier melting at such a fast pace. I am not sure you will be able to access the glacier with the trail we used within the next twenty years.

I spend some time, wading my fingers in the water of the lake formed by the melting glacier. I hiked around some more.

And then, it was time for my return trip back down the path. This time around, I walked about 1/4 to 1/2 a mile and then got in an electric cart. It zipped me down the hill taking a different path. I felt like I was at an amusement park, just with better scenery!

We had a nice mid-morning tea at the restaurant at the base of the glacier and I got to sit and visit with some of the guests on the ship. Everyone is so interesting! For my science teacher friends, I visited with the guy who started the JASON Project. I have also met a number of teachers!  What are we doing wrong?  Ha!

I love the opportunities to shoot images. I have so many to choose from… Another of my favorites from today is of Olden Lake.


Our evening consisted of a Captain’s Welcome Cocktails and the a Welcome Dinner was served. The food here is amazing! There is open seating so every meal time, I go sit with someone new. I wish we could convince our students of the value of visiting with new people often. You can learn so much about the world just by eating a meal.

Day 1- Arriving in Bergen, Norway

Somebody pinch me!

Bergen, a place to shop.

Bergen, a place to shop.

IMG_4924 IMG_4964

Seriously.  I cannot believe I am on such an incredible adventure. Today, my plane touched down in Bergen, Norway and we were immediately greeted by Lindblad Staff picking up our luggage off the conveyor belts. I didn’t have to worry about my luggage from then on out!

A tour bus took us to a central location where we had about an hour to sight-see on our own.  Leslie and I toured the local shops, enjoying a quick moment to spend some money.  It was also interesting seeing wares that are not as common back in Hobbs, New Mexico. For example, one shop sold animal pelts and skins.  There were stacks of seal skins, arctic fox pelts, Whale skins… even polar bear pelts! I am assuming these were caught in a sustainable way, but it gave me pause.

We quickly discovered a few items about Norway:

Tourism is a huge source of income.

You can purchase a cool sweater at almost every shop.

Trolls are an important part of the history and culture.

As are polar bears and walruses!

After picking up a few souvenirs, we wandered around the fish market sampling a few items. I am pretty sure the guide later in the afternoon said this market had been established in the 1500s. Amazing.

Next, we ate an incredible buffet lunch at the Hotel and were off on a guided bus tour around town. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable. We toured a famous composer’s house. One of the roofs was covered in grass! I wonder what the significance of that is?

Finally, we made it to the dock and boarded the National Geographic Explorer. Our cabin is tiny. We are constantly having to excuse each other as we move from one side to another. However, we are rarely in our rooms to sleep.  The beds are so comfortable! Or, maybe it is the sound of the water lapping along the boat that puts me to sleep immediately. Maybe the jet lag?  For whatever reasons, the room is perfect!

Day One Equals Flying


Not gonna lie… I love to fly!

I started my journey this morning at 6:30am flying out of Hobbs, New Mexico. I arrived in Houston in time to find my next gate and stand in line… I never sat down!

From Houston, I flew to Newark, New Jersey. Currently waiting to fly to Copenhagen. Everything is grand except for the humidity…and my Fellow companion is flying out of Dulles Airport.

A better update will happen tomorrow. Right now, I need to read my Norway books. Have fun stateside!

I am a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow!

Waterproof gloves?


Waterproof pants?


Winter Parka in June?

And Check!

I can’t believe I forgot to SHOUT this from the mountaintops, but I have been selected as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow for National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions! What does this mean?  It means that out of over 2700 applicants, I was selected as one of only thirty-five teachers to experience a one-in-a-lifetime professional development opportunity.

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 9.05.40 PM

Tomorrow, yes, TOMORROW, I will be joining an expedition where we will learn more about Norway’s Fjords and the Arctic Svalbard! With around 150 guests, a myriad of staff and crew, and my compadre Leslie–a 2nd grade teacher from Kitty Hawk, we are about to embark on an epic journey. We will experience fjords, glaciers, amazing wildlife and adventures galore!

So, please keep following this blog as I will be updating it as often as possible over the next 17 days.

Bon voyage to us!

terri and leslie

If You Give a Kid A Problem, She’s Going to Want to Think

Not just any problem.

Not a right there in the textbook kind of question.

But a REAL problem…

earth hurt

One that is relevant to our  lives.

One that needs to be addressed.

One where there is no single right answer.

If you give your students authentic issues to address, then they are going to want to learn.

This is something that I know. But sometimes, in the day to day of planning lessons and grading papers…sometimes… I forget.

Thankfully, I had time to reflect during the winter break on what’s been working and what hasn’t. Below, I’ve outlined my thought processes as I took a good lesson and made it into what I hope is a really good one.

I had developed a lesson prior to break where my students were going to look at the Plastic Bag Ban that happened in Santa Fe, NM. I teach science to middle schoolers in the southeast corner of New Mexico. We were going to look at Santa Fe’s decision to remove plastic bags from grocery stores and the policy’s affect on pollution reduction.  It was a good lesson on several points. It would help the students see how to be better stewards of our environment, learn about our state of New Mexico, and would require the use of research skills. But, the lesson was also a little boring.

With a little bit of poking around on the internet, I noticed several blog posts mentioning students as activists.  Research shows middle school students are far more likely to notice and act on injustices they see in the world as compared to adults. I also recalled the egocentric nature of this age group.

My ah-ha! And that quickly, the lesson shifted. Instead of  focusing on a city few students have visited, we started at home with a set of pictures I had taken around Hobbs, NM. (Click on the link to see them all.)

Looking toward Heizer

Looking toward Heizer







Next, came a discussion about what was the big deal if plastic bags are everywhere. I tweaked this presentation to make it a bit more “middle school” appropriate.

The Plastic Bag Story from Iulian Gulea

After this, we held a discussion how communities have decided to Ban Plastic Bags–Santa Fe last year, Dallas banned bags in January, and the entire state of California will be joining the group this summer. I curated the following resources to get my students thinking about how plastic bags are causing problems for our environment and what different communities are doing about it.

The Plastic Bag Debate (Folder of Resources for my students)

Finally, the challenge. I asked students to study the material I had shared and then to develop a plan that would reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags in our community.

Some of the ideas developed by my students:

  • Ban the Bag in Hobbs or the state of New Mexico–creating presentations to share with city officials to try to ban plastic bags in our community.
  • Presentations and Posters to build awareness surrounding plastic bags.
  • Clean-Up days around the community–or advertising and participating in ones already scheduled.
  • Creating Reusable Bags out of T-Shirts and teaching others how to do it.
  • “Bring Plastic Bags” Wednesday and the top class would receive a free homework pass.
  • Creating Reusable Bags and passing them out to shoppers in the community.
  • Creating a Children’s Story with a Plastic Bag villain.

FullSizeRender-8 FullSizeRender  FullSizeRender-6

I am so pleased with the variety of ideas that the students developed! We reached the learning targets I had in mind and students had the opportunity to do something good for our planet. I had 100% completion of a project of some kind.

Here are a few of the Presentations of students that used Google Presentations. I realize that not all are perfect, but as their teacher, I am pleased with the progress we are making.

Brianna and Marianna

Justin and Brittaney

Haley and Margaret



Connecting our content to authentic learning opportunities builds excitement, a sense of community and learning for all. I’d love to hear what others teachers are doing to present real problems for our students to address. And if you have any questions for me, please ask away!

Artwork thanks: Are We Still Alive by Wasfi Akab at

Teachers Rejuvenate!

Teachers, you are worth melting for!

Teachers, you are worth melting for!






Teachers… We made it!

We made it to the Winter Holidays.

Although I’ve been in the teaching profession for more years than I care to admit, this past month, I caught myself feeling discouraged, wondering if it was all worth it.

I am one of those over-achiever teachers.  I work every weekend, meticulously planning lessons, making sure they tie into state and national standards. I work to make my lessons rigorous yet also engaging. I want what we are learning in science to be relevant to what’s going on in their lives as well as give my students a global perspective. I like to give feedback that makes sense to my students, so I take the time to write out detailed comments to students in their science notebooks.

Day after day, week after week, I work hard to be the best teacher I can be. It isn’t easy, as any teacher will tell you.  But, I want what is best for my students and so I make the time to do these things.

Then one day, as I was getting students ready to start a lab,  a kid mutter under his breath, “I hate this class…”


It was one of this moments when I thought, “This is stupid! Why am I trying so hard if they don’t even care?” It was a discouraging moment. In fact, I couldn’t even start the lab. I had the class put everything away, and they worked out of a science workbook for the day. It was silent. They were busy.  And it was so so easy  for me as a teacher to do.

The students also didn’t learn squat.

I have to be honest.. On this day, I wondered if I should even be teaching any more. If my best isn’t good enough for my kids, then why try?
First-Year Teaching


If you’ve ever seen this graphic, it represents a first year teacher’s feelings toward teaching. I believe any teacher can go through these series of events. Although I’m a veteran teacher, I certainly did this year.  One child’s comment certainly had me questioning what I essentially know good teaching is.

But, the difference between me and a brand new teacher, I KNOW one student’s comment does not mean that is what the entire class thinks. This student just might have had a bad day. He may struggle with reading and writing, and we do a ton of reading and writing in science. And, I do require my students to problem solve and think… some students would rather just sit there with their mind’s off.

So, although I was feeling disillusioned for a bit, the feeling did not last. I know by the questions and comments of my students that most appreciate what I am trying to do for them as a teacher. I know they would rather complete an investigation than answer questions in a workbook.

In fact, as I left for the winter break, one of my bilingual students left me a card, complete with the Olaf Snowman pictured at the beginning of this post. Ignore the run-on sentence, but pay attention to the content…


New teachers…

Discouraged teachers…

Brighter days are ahead.

Although during these dark hours of winter, it is easy to question the teaching profession, please know that your hard work and thoughtful planning is appreciated by a number of your students! So, take this Winter Holiday to rejuvenate for the last half of the school year. Relax, visit loved ones, and know that you are appreciated.

If you need more support, there are a number of places and people!

  • Your colleagues! My teaching friends rock!
  • New Teacher 911-If you’re into reading for advice, this is an excellent resource.
  • Me! Find me, Terri_Science, on Twitter and connect.


Psycho Psummer 20 Miler…Done!

I did it! I did it! 

photo 3-1

This post has been due for quite some time. If you know me at all, you know that I have always been happiest when trail running. Running is my passion. Running.   All.   Day.   Long.

Yet, for the past year and a half, I had not done any real running. I could use the excuse of plantar fasciitis.  I mean,  I went to physical therapy twice! Or, I could say that I moved (which I have) and there are no real trails there (which there aren’t.)  But the truth is, I was in a funk. Everything combined in such a way that I stopped running and started eating.  And, like what usually happens when that combination happens, I gained a lot of weight. And then I was embarrassed to be out running.

Thankfully, I have friends that didn’t really care what I looked like. They convinced me to run, even when I really didn’t feel like it. I agreed to run a 10K even before I could run 5 minutes at a time. And you know what? I liked it. So, I  signed up for the Run Then Wine marathon  for the end of September the very next week. I figured that having a goal when keep me motivated!

And it has! I’ve lost about 25 pounds and am continuing to run. Last Saturday, I ran the Psycho Psummer 20 Mile Race put on by Bad Ben Holmes and  the Trail Nerds.

So, here is the first of hopefully many more race reports for the year!

In a nutshell, it was a wonderful race! I didn’t fall, I stayed well-hydrated, nothing hurt, finished strong, never had any pooping issues and loved visiting with other racers and volunteers. I was happy and I can’t wait to run another trail race!

The pictures by Mile 90 Photography  are amazing! I love how the photos capture the physicality of the race… I love the intense colors and how the pics make me feel like a Bad A$$.

photo 1-1photo 2-1

My only problem is I am still super uncomfortable with my weight.

I don’t like how my belly is too big and don’t get me started on how I look from the behind…

But this race also reminded me that no one else really cared about my belly or my back. Every runner that I met and I mean EVERY runner had some positive comment. Even the super fast 50Kers made the time to tell me to keep going. Trail runners are like that.   My friends at the race never commented about how I looked. They just wanted to know how I was.

These past few months, I’ve found my passion again. I am running again… and smiling more often!

photo 1-2Thank you to my friends and family that continue to show love and support for me and my crazy obsession with running.

I still want to lose weight.

I want to get faster.  I want to be healthier. And I want to look nicer.

Running will help me get there. It’s going to take time, but it will happen.

I’m off for a run.

Care to join me?

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