All posts by Dr. Meade

Urban Science Blogging

[important]This is a guest post from my wife, Dr. Jessica Meade. For a few years, we had a teaching blog together, but since we are going to be working in different districts this year, we decided to split the blog. Her new blog is called Peaceful Teacher. Check it out! [/important]

This year I taught AP Biology and 2 Integrated Science classes.  In our urban, underperforming school, Integrated Science is for students who are either 1) not ready for chemistry 2) haven’t passed biology but there is no room in revisited biology 3) have an intense IEP and need a third science that is not too difficult or 4) it fit in their schedule and meets a requirement for a non-honors student.  I requested this course to teach while I learned AP Biology because I had taught it before and really enjoyed it.  This year had more challenges, but I learned more about differentiation and opening student interest than ever before.

Integrated Science in our school includes four basic sciences:  chemistry, earth science, environmental science, and physics.  My joy in teaching this course is that there is a lot of freedom in content and delivery.  We don’t have enough books, so it can’t ever be a text book centered course.  I start with chemistry to give them the foundation they need to take chemistry in the future if they choose to.  Many of them do not feel confident about taking chemistry and I can quickly teach them the first several units of chemistry in four weeks.  Then we move on to Earth Science.  This year something magical happened.  I was showing them the BBC video Power of the Planet (which is fantastic by the way), and they had an animation of how Iceland was formed.  I pause movies all the time because it helps to keep kids awake.  So I paused and said, “Hey, my mom is in Iceland right now.”  This concept was completely beyond my students’ understanding of the world.  People take vacations in places like Iceland?  Why?  What is she doing there?  Are there hotels?  The questions were endless.

I have always know that my students see their world as very small.  Many have never been out of state.  Some have never been out of our city.  Some students are from other countries but left them for a better life here – they would never go back for a vacation.  I had a light bulb moment:  My students should plan a vacation to an earth science hot spot.

When I introduced it to them, they were excited.  During our brainstorming session, the students struggled to hold onto the idea that it was a trip to see something in nature.  “Can’t I see the Eifel Tower?”  “Can I go see the pyramids?  Where are the pyramids?”  I quickly realized that my students have had very little experience with geography and that that would be a hurtle to undertake.  After brainstorming, I told them we would be making blogs.  Not one student of my two classes had ever made a blog.  Most had no idea what it was.  With this lack of information came resistance.  They tried to argue with me to make posters or brochures.  I tried to reassure them that it would be cool, that they would like it.  At the very least, they would gain a powerful skill on the computer.  I saw that students were truly very interested in gaining more skills even if they really did not want to.

Our computer labs have few working computers.  Many of the computers run very slowly or have obvious viruses.  We all accept these issues but it is frustrating.  Students could work faster on their phones than waiting for google to load.  None of the labs had a projector screen but my original plan was to walk the students through the blog set-up all together.  I ended up walking them through the beginning process orally, but I had to go around to each student to help them.  Then I quickly had a few student experts who could help others.  I chose to use Blogspot because it is a format with which I am very comfortable.

In terms of setting up accounts, I anticipated that some students did not have reliable email accounts for which they knew both username and password.  Most students have little use for email.  I was prepared to help them set up new email accounts and names for their blogs.  I did not realize how much they would struggle for a username, password, and name for their blog.  In retrospect, I would have done more brainstorming about the names of blogs in our classroom and help them to understand what the name should be about.  Some of the names were about their travel blogs and some of the their names were less applicable and more about personal expression.

Surprisingly, setting up the blogs took one entire block.  It was much more difficult than I expected.  Mostly because they did not understand what we were creating despite the examples I showed them.  Some of course had their blog set up in five minutes and were ready to go.  I had a handout which I will attach that guided students along the assignment.  The faster students began researching different locations.  I provided links to several travel websites and to obvious Earth Science hot spots – Hawaii, Iceland, Grand Canyon.  The first page of the blog was to be an introduction to their trip.  Once students had a spot selected, I helped them make their first post and publish it.  When students saw their blog with a post as an actual website, it was a magical moment.  Students said things like “I just made a website?” “Other people will see this and read it.  Cool.”  “Can I make a blog now about my own stuff too?”  It was very exciting.  Students were very motivated to make their blogs look good with pictures and design.

For my class, I decided they needed to have at least 8 entries including details such as how they would travel, costs, hotels, hiking guides, or tour guides to get to remote places, equipment needs, and whatever else they could think of, with many pictures to make it interesting.  They were required to explain the Earth Science behind the place they were visiting – in other words, how was that volcano formed?, how did that canyon form? and so on.  We also learned new words such as itinerary, we grew a real understanding of geography such as the difficulty of traveling from Arizona to Alaska in one trip, and students saw the range of costs of travel.  This broad set up allowed me to tell students individually exactly what I expected from them.  My class was supposed to be co-taught, but due to budget issues, I was on my own.  After the first day, I asked some student experts to sit next to students who were struggling to give them some guidance, and I am very grateful that those students were willing to help.

After the first few days of getting things set up, locations chosen, and research in motion, things became more exciting in the classroom.  Students were calling me over constantly, not for help, but to show me beautiful pictures or amazing hotels they found.   They were showing each other the beauty of the Earth and figuring out how to explore it.  One student showed her blog to her mother and they are now planning a trip to Sedona, AZ.  The student felt very confident in helping her mother to find flights and hotels, and knew how to get there from the airport.

In total, we spent 8 full blocks in the computer lab.  They were not consecutive days due to the difficulty of scheduling lab time in a large school.  Having non-consecutive days gave us time to reflect on our projects and time for me to continue teaching the basics of plate tectonics, volcanoes, and earthquakes.  As we worked, students were able to make connections between the content and their projects, and I saw evidence of this understanding in the final projects of the blogs.  I took half a block one day and gave each student a copy of a map of the world.  I showed a simple map of countries on my projector.  We spent time finding the locations of everyone’s trip.  Students also asked me to show them Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, feeling it was a safe environment to admit that knowledge deficit.  We filled in about 30 countries, and the students were completely interested.

What started as a rough lesson plan of a project developed into a life changing educational experience for many of my students.  They were proud of having a place on the internet, they were excited about travel and all desired to go to these places some day, and they were fully invested in learning.  Many of my students have at-risk qualifiers on many levels and our classroom is disrupted by their issues almost daily.  I can’t say that this project filled our classroom with rainbows and every student completed a perfect blog.  I can say that more students than usual completed a project and that the students who did complete it or even get a good start at it, were very proud of their products.  As a final project, students had to research an endangered species and teach us about it.  They could make a powerpoint, a poster, a research paper, or a blog.  All of the students chose to make a blog, because they felt it was such an easy way to present information.

Blogging is very powerful for our students, giving them a voice, creating a place to write and care about the message, and being a part of the technological world.  I have no doubt that in future classes, if given a choice, they will use blogging for a project.  Some teachers may feel hesitant to try a project like this in a class that is large, with many issues.  I encourage those teachers to try.  Blogging is not successful in the classroom because it is a nifty new tool.  Instead it is successful because it gives the student creative ownership and an online presence in a healthy, intellectual format.


Homework Assignments

Clean, clear water should be the standard in Buzzards Bayand throughout the watershed. However the Bay – and the  rivers, streams, and wetlands that flow into it – suffer from a balance of lingering toxic and sewer pollution and the largest threat facing the Bay today, nitrogen pollution.

The science is clear: Nitrogen pollution generated by the watershed’s expanding population—primarily through inadequate wastewater disposal and fertilizers—is the greatest long term threat to the ecological health ofBuzzards Bay and its more than 30 harbors and coves.

Furthermore, the Bay faces ongoing toxic pollution threats from oil transport and industrial activities. By serving as the Northeast’s petroleum highway, more than two billion gallons of oil are shipped throughBuzzards Bay annually, risking hazardous oil spills. The Bay also suffers from incremental industrial, residential, and agricultural toxics as well as historical industrial pollution aroundNew Bedford.



1.  What are the main threats forBuzzards Bay?



2.  What kind of pollution is created by fertilizers (the chemicals we put on plants for them to grow faster)?



3.  What do you think can be done to fight this problem?








A Healthy Watershed = Clean Water. However, poorly-planned, sprawling development within the watershed is the leading cause of environmental degradation to the Bay, due mainly to the increase in nitrogen pollution. In addition, many of the watersheds natural pollution filters – forests, stream buffers, and wetlands – have been lost or damaged. These impacts to the watershed have a direct connection to the health ofBuzzards Bay.

What Is a Watershed?

If you’re on land, you’re standing in one right now.

A watershed defines an area of land that drains to a specific body of water; its perimeter is not marked by town lines, but by an area’s natural topography. It stores, transports, and filters the water that sustains life on land, as well as in our rivers, ponds, and bays.

A watershed acts like a funnel, channeling rain downhill, drop by drop, into groundwater, streams, and wetlands and eventually into the Bay (see image above). Along the way, natural processes—in the form of our forests, wetlands, and small streams—filter out as much as 90 percent of the nitrogen and other pollutants generated by human activities.

When people interfere with this flow by constructing roads or houses in sensitive areas, for example, we interrupt the natural systems for removing pollution. Paved surfaces fast-track rainwater and pollutants into our streams and ultimately intoBuzzards Bay.


WhenBuzzards Bayis compared to other East Coast estuaries, one of its most important distinguishing features is the extent of its watershed forests. It’s also one of the key secrets behind the Bay’s relative good health compared to places like the Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound andNarragansett Bay. The 2011 State ofBuzzards Bayfound that 79% of original forest coverage still exists in the Buzzards Bay Watershed.

Stream Buffers

No acreage works harder to maintain our region’s water quality and aquatic biodiversity than the forested lands alongside the more than 700 miles of streams that flow intoBuzzards Bay. The first 200 feet of natural vegetation on either side of the stream is most critical and collectively comprises a little more than 11% of the overall Buzzards Bay Watershed.

But in this 11%, a large portion of the nitrogen and other pollution can be naturally captured, absorbed and removed. An amazing natural service provided at no cost. Unfortunately, nearly 9,000 acres of those critical first 200’ along watershed streams – or 29% of all stream buffer area – have been lost to residential, commercial and agricultural development.


Between 1997 and 2009, 235.57 acres of wetlands were filled, drained or built upon in the Buzzards Bay Watershed. Approximately 85 acres of this destruction occurred since the last publication of this State of the Bay Report.

Overall, 40% ofBuzzards Bay’s original wetlands have been filled, drained or built upon. Today, the watershed’s remaining saltmarshes, wooded swamps and freshwater marshes serve as the Bay ecosystem’s filtering mechanism able to absorb as much as 90% of the nitrogen and other pollution generated by human activities.


1.  What is a watershed?


2.  How do people interfere with a watershed?


3.  What do you think will be the consequences of ruining the watershed





Name: ________________________________________________


One of the clearest indicators of serious pollution problems are the loss of some of the Bay’s most important, and sensitive, living resources. Eelgrass, bay scallops, and river herring are three species whose abundance – or absence – is dependent on the health of the Bay and Watershed.


If you want to track the spread of nitrogen pollution in your own corner of the Bay, watch the eelgrass. And in many nearshore areas ofBuzzards Baytoday, eelgrass is slowly disappearing.

Eelgrass, a rooted underwater plant that grows in meadows on the bay floor, depends on excellent water clarity and sunlight penetration. However, cloudy water, resulting from nitrogen pollution, is the major cause of eelgrass loss inBuzzards Bay. The good news is that there remains enough eelgrass seed stock in the Bay for eelgrass meadows to recover once nitrogen pollution is reduced and water clarity restored.

For this reason, the Bay Coalition focuses on the root of the problem, working to stop nitrogen pollution from all sources while also protecting and restoring the watershed’s natural filters, like forests and wetlands.

Bay Scallops

Once considered the signatureBuzzards Bayshellfish, the highly valuable bay scallop has been in severe decline for the past 30 years.

An average catch of less than 2,000 bushels per year was reported in all Bay coastal towns between 2006-2010 by local shellfish wardens and the MA Division of Marine Fisheries. This figure represents less than 3% of the catches being reported in the 1970s when consistent catch data first became available.

Strong bay scallop populations are indicative of clear waters. Bay scallops are very sensitive to environmental conditions, from water quality to water temperature. Waters polluted with nitrogen choke out eelgrass, destroying crucial habitat for scallops. As we eliminate pollution and restore eelgrass, bay scallops may begin to recover to their once abundant levels.

River Herring

River Herring inBuzzards Bayare in a state of profound collapse, with serious consequences for the Bay ecosystem. Only a fraction of the historic populations of herring still make the journey up the Bay into local streams and ponds. Other species once present in Bay rivers such as Shad, Sturgeon, and Atlantic Salmon are already locally extinct. Herring are considered a ‘foundation’ fish for theBuzzards Bayecosystem as the fate of the Bay’s sportfish and waterbirds are closely linked to them.

The cause of river herring decline continues to evade fisheries managers. We know that the damming of rivers, degradation of water quality, and alterations to pond and river flows have all reduced populations. It is now clear, however, that forces outside the watershed are also impacting herring.

The largest remaining herring populations in Buzzards Bay can be found on theMattapoisettRiverwhere  10,300 fish/yr were found, a far cry from from historic populations. In 1921, 1.85 million herring were reported in the Mattapoisett.

All is not lost, restoring the region’s rivers can put river herring on the path to recovery. On theAcushnetRiver, herring populations have increased 10 fold since the lowering of a dam at theAcushnetRiver restoration site.

1.  What living things are being destroyed which have an important role in the bay?



2.  What are the solutions being done and/or proposed to help save these living things in our bay?


Animal Final Project

Hi!  Here are some links that may help you with your research.  Also at the end is a copy of the handout about the project in case you lost it.

Endangered Species from US Fish and Wildlife – has a searchable map to find endangered species by state or country.

A Library of the World’s Animals – made for kids, easy to understand

Phoenix Zoo – has information on a lot of animals

Animal Planet’s Guide to Endangered Species

Animals Organized by Biome


Here’s the assignment questions if you lost them:

Animal Final Project


You will have 3 days in the computer lab to complete this project.

Thursday, 5/31  B and D block in D-225

Friday 6/1  B in B-265 and D in D-225

Tuesday 6/5 in B and D in D-225


PROJECT IS DUE JUNE 8 – either sent home to me in your folders or emailed to me at

Project needs to be a blog, a booklet, a powerpoint, a Microsoft word document, or handwritten.  It MUST be in your own words.  Don’t save your work to hard drives in the computer labs – they are not reliable.  Write down your research or email it to yourself if you are not blogging.

These questions are to guide your research but you can go further with things.  Hand in this paper in your folders.

Helpful links can be found at my website: – Click on Integrated Science.

1.  Pick an animal (I would prefer an endangered animal)

2.  Scientific name:

3.  Where in the world does it live?

4.  What biome does it live in?

5.  Describe the habitat (where it lives) – does it hang out in caves, in trees, under rocks, etc

6.  What things does it need to survive (other than food)?

7.  What does it eat (what is its diet)?

8.  What animals hunt it?

9.  Is it a primary, secondary, or tertiary consumer?

10.  If it is endangered, why is it endangered?

11.  Community:  Does it live with family or in a herd?  Does it travel in groups?

12.  How does it find a mate?  Do they mate for life?

13.  How do they care for their babies?  How long do the babies stay with them?

14.  If endangered, how are people trying to protect it?

Find pictures.  If you are making a blog, you know how to put pictures in.  Printers in the computer labs may not be working.  If you are making a handwritten project, you may have to draw your pictures or go to the library on the 2nd or 3rd floor to see if they have a working printer.




More travel: Biomes

We are going to continue our incredible journey around the world by exploring biomes.

What’s a biome?  How many are there?  Find that out first.  Here’s some helpful links

We are spending 3 days in the computer lab, adding to our concepts of travel.  You may continue your journey that you began for the Earth project or start in a new location.

1.  Produce a nice project in a digital (not printed) project 20 points

2.  Find out and define the biome for your location 10 points

3.  Research one plant in detail 20 points

4.  Research at least one animal in your biome 20 points

5.  Create a food web for your biome/location 20 points

6.  Find other locations with the same biome 10 points.

7.  If you want, you can add additional hotels and places to go to better experience the biome – this will count as extra credit.



Biome Project

Biomes are incredibly complex and fascinating parts of our world. In order to learn more about them, please see some of the following helpful links:

All biomes:

All biomes:

Land Biomes:

Land Biomes:


Savannah Grasslands

Temperate Grasslands

Boreal Forest (Taiga)

Tropical Rainforest

Temperate Forest









Presentation Tools

Be Creative.  Try some new tools for digital presentations.

Here is a great resource for making cool videos:

Make your own comics!  There are many sites for this – and you can add your own photos.

Create a fake facebook wall

Glogster is awesome – Online posters

Prezi for online posters that are zoomable

Screencast-o-matic (this is what we use to make our videos)

Dipity for online interactive timelines

Pinterest – an online pinboard

Storybird – build a story book online








Computer Lab 10/17

Computer Lab Assignment


1)  Type the final draft of your paper and either print it or email it to me at  Or if you have a gmail account, save it on google documents and share it with me at


2) If you never wrote the rough draft or when you are done with the final draft, move on to this assignment, called “What’s in your products?

What’s in Your Products?

Pick out a few personal care products to explore.  Use the website,

to find your products and fill out the information on your worksheet.  50 points for each product researched.  Minimum of 2 products for a grade of 100.  Do more for extra credit.

Arguing with Teenagers

This week, I spent some time engaging in arguments with teenagers.  If you have ever tried arguing with a teen, you know it is largely a futile exercise.  I’m not saying that I was in a screaming match or anything.  I am talking about watching a teen get into an out-of-control situation and trying, as the teacher, to talk them down.  I think of my calmness as a benefit in these situations but it actually tends to elevate their response, as they often find my demeanor to be a trigger for some reason.  Also, when students are about to fight, a calm person with a raised voice may be the only option.  I don’t really know.


So I am spending some time this morning checking out the newer research on the teenage brain.  Although I have the advantage of clinical work with children, and a degree in psychology with emphasis on child development, a lot has changed in the 20 years since I was educated.  The frontal lobe of the brain is not done connecting and developing until the mid-20s.  This part of the brain helps people consider consequences of actions, develop insight, and plan for the future.  In adolescence, we are in various stages of developing this part of our brains, making us naturally self-centered and somewhat impulsive.

The adolescent brain is in a stage of incredible development.  The brain is being rewired and connections are being reworked.  The frontal cortex is not functioning the way it did in early childhood or the way it will in adulthood.  Adolescents are extremely vulnerable to addiction at this time as well because substances become a part of this loop of developing consequential thinking and connectivity.  For example, an adolescent who smokes pot will have cognitive consequences that last for days, whereas the functioning of an adult smoking the same amount is affected for less time.  It is an interesting issue; the adolescent is more likely to make impulsive choices and those choices are more likely to have serious developmental consequences.

Sleepy Teens

Another weird thing about being a teen is that they need more sleep and food but tend to stay up late, to wake up late, and to eat sporadically.  This phenomenon has been documented in other adolescent mammals as well and is considered to have some evolutionary significance. I am wondering if key brain developmental activity happens later at night or if an extended sleep cycle builds connectivity.


The next big question plaguing me this week is why there is a difference between adolescent behavior in advanced (AP) classes and standard (or low level) classes.   It goes without saying in our inner-city school that high level classes have less behavior problems than others.  If all of these kids are struggling with same adolescent brain development, why is there such a difference here?  Probably, I am seeing the result of complex social-emotional factors.  In our city, poverty can be intense.  Drug issues are prevalent at school and in the city.  Gangs are a part of our everyday dynamic.  Many students have traumatic home situations.  All of these issues affect brain development.  A young brain wired for trauma and in a stage of risk-taking is a dangerous combination.

I’m not so awesome lately

In school, all of these issues translate into behavior that puzzles me on a daily basis.  My not-so-awesome words this week included:

  • “Please get down off your chair and stop challenging the class to fight you.”
  • “Class is not over for another 25 minutes.  Please take your headphones out of your ears and take a seat.”
  • “If you have a big fight with those brothers, you are going to be suspended for a long time.”
  • “Cheating on part of a quiz is still cheating.”
  • “Please don’t make gang symbols on your desk out of our clay.”
  • “No, you can’t walk out of class just because the boy who owes you money is in the hallway.”
  • “Yes, I am writing you up for saying ‘Get off my d#@%’.”
  • “Telling the class that you got high and drunk last night is not acceptable.”


One of my supervisors suggested that our students act out when facing a three-day weekend at home and that they would rather be at school.  I questioned a few students about this and they confirmed what he was suggesting.  But I wonder why the adolescent brain when confronted with facing a weekend with an unhappy home, choose actions which potentially will get them suspended and at home for longer.  I suppose I have answered my own question here earlier – that the lack of ability to understand consequences combined with a desire for risk taking leads to erratic and sometimes dangerous behavior in school.

Teachers respond to these challenges in various ways, sometimes successful and sometimes not.   I find that in year 4, I am not easily rattled by what I see, with the exception of physical conflicts.  It is tricky business deciding where conflicts are headed.  I have learned to take a strong stand and get the blowing-up student out of the room immediately, since students who are enraged cannot see logic or calmness.  Is this level of anger adaptive in their environment?  Or is it a simple matter of reproducing what has been witnessed?


I think we have a responsibility to the budding frontal cortex.  We need to model and verbally represent the logical, future-thinking brain.  It would be easier to join them in the arguing and confrontation.  And, at times, we all fall into that trap.  But we are the ones with the fully developed frontal lobe.  We are the ones who can hold the understanding of consequences and see how our own responses become a part of their future thinking.  We are delicately holding cause and effect in our hands to show them.  Because the influence we have on our students is not usually readily apparent, our job is to hope, for them.  Our hope is the most important demonstration of the adult brain we can manifest in our classrooms.  I wish for myself and for all of us in the weeks ahead, undying, demonstrative, palpable hope.


Interesting Resources:

The Teen Brain: It’s Just Not Grown Up Yet

Experiencing Teen Drama Overload? Blame Biology

The adolescent brain and age-related behavioral manifestations


Inside the Teenage Brain

Adolescent Brain Development and Drug Abuse

For Teachers, Middle School Is Test of Wills

The Teen Brain