Project Earth – Making the World a Smaller Place

Project Earth is a global networking website for K–12 educators and the public designed to connect people around the world to help solve environmental problems. Its mission is to generate ongoing conversation and collaboration across national boundaries that collectively lead to positive environmental change. Registration is required and member teachers/schools/classrooms are able to showcase their innovative environmental projects, connect and interact with ecologically-minded people around the world (from Minnesota, to Los Lagos, Chile, to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia!).  Teachers and students also have the opportunity to participate in environmental contests and earn recognition for efforts.

Last year, Project Earth’s World Environment Day Contest drew winners involved with environmentally conscious projects such as studying how plastic bags affect our environment, and growing food for a school kitchen and composting the waste. Submissions to the 2011 contest are due May 15th. A great project idea for your classroom!

A few  other resources to tap into on this topic include the MSP2 resource guides on Technology and the Environment, Populations and Ecosystems, and Oceans, Climates and Weather.

Shark Science

As fearsome as they look, sharks are key to the health of the world’s oceans. The more we know about them, the more we can appreciate them. Here are five fishy facts brought to you by our friends at SMILE*:

1. Scientists can determine the age of a shark by counting the rings that form on its vertebra, much as you count the rings on a tree to tell its age. Sharks typically live from 20 to 30 years. In contrast, the North Pacific Giant Octopus lives only 3 to 5 years.

2. Shark skeletons are made of cartilage, not bone, so the hard teeth are the only part that readily becomes a fossil.

3. Sharks can smell one drop of blood in a million drops of water. Here’s a hands-on shark science activity that teaches about their remarkable sense of smell.

4. Fewer that 100 people in the world are bitten by sharks each year. Of these, about five die. Last year, 4 people died of shark attacks worldwide. In contrast, about 70 people are killed each year by lightning.

5. We kill up to 100 million sharks every year; at least several thousand of those are finned–their fins removed with a hot blade, and the sharks dumped back into the sea, where they bleed to death. Shark fins sell for about $300/pound and are used for shark fin soup.

Here are some shark resources from the MSP2 Collection of Resources:

Long Live the Sharks and Rays
During this video-enhanced lesson, students will watch video segments from the NATURE film “The Secret World of Sharks and Rays” and learn about adaptations that have helped sharks and rays survive. Students will explore similarities and differences between sharks, rays and other fish. Students will work in small groups to research a specific type of shark or ray and share their findings with the class. Students will discover that different types of sharks and rays have different temperaments and diets and that some of the largest sharks and rays are the most gentle.

Shark Attack
In this lesson students will learn about a complex and often-misunderstood animal, the white shark. Students will think critically about a set of shark facts and predict whether the statements are true or false, describe a year in the life of a white shark living in the Red Triangle, and create a public service announcement promoting either the protection of humans from sharks or the protection of sharks from humans.

Shark Attack! The Hunt
This interactive feature from the NOVA Shark Attack! Web site details the six senses sharks use to find and capture their prey.

*SMILE is collecting the best educational materials on the web and creating learning activities, tools, and services – all designed especially for those who teach school-aged kids in non-classroom settings.

Spiders Have Been Around For A Long Time

I get the Wired Science RSS feed everyday and was incredibly grossed out and amazed by a posting on a 165-million year old spider fossil that had been found in China. The fossils were found at a site called Daohugou in Northern China that is filled with fossilized salamanders, small primitive mammals, insects and water crustaceans. During the Jurassic era, the fossil bed was part of a lake in a volcanic region. The images included in the post and the ones found in the related stories will really capture your student’s interest!

Giant Spider Species Discovered in Middle Eastern Sand Dunes
1 Million Spiders Make Golden Silk for Rare Cloth
The Spider Awards:’s Arachnid Hall of Fame
Even-More-Gigantic Giant Orb Spider Discovered

Birds of a Feather: Citizen-Science and Data Analysis

Do you need an innovative way to engage students in data collection and analysis? Or maybe you’d like to teach life science concepts in a more authentic context. Whether you are a science teacher, a math teacher, or both, you may want to consider a citizen-science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Focusing on bird observation, the projects provide important information about species distribution and behavior to ornithologists. However, much of the data is also accessible online – providing opportunities for students to analyze and conduct inquiry-based projects.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors many different citizen-science projects. We’ve highlighted four that might be most appropriate for middle school participation. You can learn more about all the projects at the CLO web site.

Participants record information about bird observations. The database is used by scientists, conservationists, and birdwatchers who want to know more about the distributions and movement patterns of birds across the continent.

Celebrate UrbanBirds
Participants learn about 16 species of urban birds, select a birdwatching area, and observe for 10 minutes, recording which species they see. Scientists use the data to study bird populations, behavior, and their interaction with the urban habitat. Celebrate Urban Birds also includes ideas and resources for urban greening activities.

Project PigeonWatch
Participants observe pigeons and record data about flock numbers, color, and mating behavior. The data is used by scientists to better understand why pigeons continue to exist in so many colors and which colors are preferred for mates. This project does not currently have online data entry available. Printable data forms can be completed and returned to the Lab.

Project NestWatch
Participants monitor nests and breeding habits of any bird species.

A series of BirdSleuth curriculum modules are available for purchase and can help teachers integrate the projects into their classrooms. However, these modules are not necessary for participation in any of the citizen-science projects.

Science and mathematics are seamlessly integrated in these projects. Participating in bird observation allows middle school students to learn these concepts in an authentic setting:

Life Science

·         Diversity and Adaptations of organisms
·         Populations and Ecosystems
·         Bird behavior


·         Data collection
·         Data analysis – graphing, statistics (range, mean, median, mode)

The citizen-science projects from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can target the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education Standards. Bird observations may also lead to student-directed inquiry, which align with the Science as Inquiry Content Standard. Students also work on the NCTM Data Analysis and Probability Standard as well as the NCTM Connections Standard as they apply mathematics outside of a school context.

Best of all, these projects can be completed anytime, anywhere. Get your students outdoors and observing birds today!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at Post updated 11/28/2011.

Animals at the Poles

Many students come to school with a fascination for the polar regions. One reason for this might be related to their associating the North Pole with Santa Claus. Another might be the images they have encountered in the media, especially in movies such as March of the Penguins and 8 Below. Thus, student interest may already be there, and capitalizing on it to enhance understanding of any of the content domains of the National Science Education Standards is an easy transition.

Students often have misconceptions regarding which polar animals live where, and they sometimes perceive the poles as lifeless, desolate places. The following resources will help you turn your students on to the amazing biology and ecology of the polar regions.

Life in the Cold and Dark: Penguin Adaptation
This lesson contains two activities, The Blubber Glove and Create a New “Antarctic Adaptable.”

Blue Planet: Frozen Seas
This activity has students research a poster presentation regarding either an Arctic or Antarctic organism. The lesson includes whole-class discussion as well as individual student research. Web sites are provided for student research.

Build an Arctic Tern
Though intended for upper elementary, this activity can be adapted to the middle school level. It is a modeling activity; however, the emphasis is not on re-creating a lifelike image, but on conveying the various adaptations. Take an inquiry approach by making assessment of the student-built models focus on how students represented the various tern adaptations. They could be required to have a written report or an oral presentation that explains how and why their choices of materials are good representations of the tern’s adaptations.

Polar-palooza: Background Soundscapes
Toward the bottom of the page, click on the link of your choice: Adelie Penguins, Calving Glacier Ice, Elephant Seals, Emperor Penguins, Weddell Seals.

Polar Bears International
Here you will find intriguing interviews with researchers regarding the life and times of polar bears. Consider previewing an interview and developing a couple of questions for your students, which you can present as a hook before playing the interview segment. Alternatively, students could be assigned to listen to a given interview and report what they learned, what was most surprising, and what they want to know more about and why.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School Portal science publications. Email us at