Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Animas River Spill: How Scientists Assess Risks

HP_6_testingwaterTwo weeks ago contractors working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidentally breached a containment wall at Colorado’s Gold King mine, spilling three million gallons of toxic waste that turned the Animas River mustard-yellow. People who live near the river in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation are still asking questions. Are heavy metals buried at the bottom of the river? Will they kill insects, fish, and birds? Is it safe to swim or drink the water?

Unit 6 of The Habitable Planet, “Risk, Exposure and Health,” explains how scientists assess risks to human health when people are exposed to harmful substances. Many of these risks happen at low levels every day: we inhale air pollutants, or consume traces of pesticides on our food. Other exposures, like the Animas River spill, happen suddenly and then dwindle away, but may leave residues behind.

Risk assessment is a multi-step process that asks a series of questions:

  • Is there a hazard – i.e., have people been exposed to something that we know is harmful?
  • How much of the harmful substance(s) is needed to cause harm?
  • What actual exposure has happened? How much of the harmful substance(s) have people come in contact with? By what pathway (for example, drinking water, inhalation or skin contact), and for how long?
  • Based on what we know about the substance(s) and the exposure that has occurred, or is likely to occur, what harmful results do we expect?

EPA is collecting water samples from the Animas River and from shallow drinking water wells near the river to test for unsafe levels of 24 types of heavy metals which are common contaminants in drainage from old mines. Some heavy metals are serious health threats: lead causes neurological damage, cadmium can harm kidneys, and arsenic exposure can increase the risk of several types of cancer.

As the plume of mine waste flows south into Lake Powell in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico have lifted restrictions on using river water, although they have warned residents not to drink untreated water. It may take years to measure long-term impacts on soils, insects, fish, wildlife, and human health. Scientists are just starting to report and assemble findings about how the BP spill in 2010 may have affected ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, and many questions still surround that much larger research effort.

What would your students want to know if a toxic spill happened in their neighborhoods? (Has anything like the Animas spill happened in your area?) Who would they trust to measure the impacts? What kinds of tests would make them feel safe? There’s no single right answer to questions like this, but events like the Animas spill can launch thoughtful debates about risk and exposure in everyday life.

Preparing Students to Read

Written by WGBH Education for Annenberg Learner, Part 3 of 3 (Go to Part 1 and Part 2)

LIT 7

Check out the new Reading & Writing in the Disciplines professional development course.

Accessing Prior Knowledge

When students read, their prior knowledge greatly impacts how they comprehend a text and learn new information from it. This prior knowledge includes both school-based and personal experiences, including previous instruction, academic and out-of-school texts, personal experiences, videos and movies, and discussions with teachers and peers. It is critical that readers are able to connect this prior knowledge to new learning for the most effective understanding of text ideas.

But prior knowledge isn’t just what students know about the topic itself; it’s also what they know about how to read a particular type of text, such as understanding the text structure, text features, language structures, and strategies for learning new information.

For example, students may come to a history unit about abolition knowing something about the slave trade, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass. But they may also have an understanding of how to identify organizational text structures often found in history texts (e.g., cause and effect, problem/solution), how to use different text features that support informational text (e.g., headings, captions, timelines), and/or how to analyze, synthesize, and corroborate ideas by comparing and contrasting sources on the same topic.

Given that students will have a range of prior knowledge as they begin a particular reading, teachers need to assess the text (what prior knowledge is necessary for effective comprehension of new content) and the students (what they already know). Based on this assessment, teachers decide what content knowledge students need to develop, how to access it using a variety of resources, and how to help students connect what they know to new learning. It’s important to note that even when students possess prior knowledge, they often need reminders to activate and connect it to specific reading situations.

Setting a Purpose for Reading

Many students, especially struggling readers, have difficulty determining important information during and after reading, particularly as the disciplinary texts become more complex. Having a specific purpose for reading will support students’ comprehension of important text ideas, focus their attention on the text and accompanying text features, and provide motivation for learning new content. However, too often, students are given a generic purpose, such as reading a chapter to answer concluding questions. In this case, the purpose is simply to complete a task after reading.

In contrast, a specific purpose should address the text content—important information, key concepts, and author’s purpose or point of view. For example, in science, students may read to compare and contrast features of sustainable and non-sustainable energy. In math, they may read real world earthquake measurement data and use that information to create and interpret a graph.

In the earlier grades, teachers usually set a purpose for students before they read. However, the goal of this important component of reading is for students to learn how to set their own purpose as independent readers. As students become more proficient readers in each discipline, teachers may continue to model setting a purpose while still encouraging students to determine their own purpose, build upon their knowledge, and think more critically about text ideas. Setting a purpose often occurs before reading; however, as students read, they may revise their purposes and set new goals for learning. For example, a student may set an initial reading purpose of identifying the causes of the Civil War. During reading, the student may refine this purpose to focus on specific causes related to different geographical regions of the United States. In science, students may set a purpose for reading an article on climate change to understand the factors related to this issue. As they read, they may revise this purpose to discover specific human behavior that affects climate change. Again, this sophistication develops as a student gains an expanding view of the topic.

Using Prior Knowledge to Set a Purpose

Not surprisingly, students’ ability to set their own purpose for reading is closely tied to their prior knowledge. In other words, students must have a general understanding related to the topic in order to set a purpose for reading about it. A familiar strategy for connecting prior knowledge with purposes for reading is the KWL (Know-Want to Know-Learn) strategy (Ogle, D., 1986). With this practice, students determine what they already know about a topic, what information they want to know related to the topic, and finally, what they learned after reading and discussion. This process promotes connecting prior knowledge to new information, which leads to effective learning. Charting these understandings helps students to engage in the process of reading to learn. Also, teachers must have a clear understanding of what needs to be learned about a topic, because in many instances students have difficulty identifying what they want to learn due to limited understanding of the topic. These student and teacher understandings before reading influence the teaching that will occur.

Ogle, D. (1986). K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text. The Reading Teacher, 39 (6), 564-570.

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading and Writing in the Disciplines. – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8d8bf65a26#sthash.6JEXI13f.dpuf

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” and part 2: “Literacy in the 21st Century.”

Literacy in the 21st Century

Written by WGBH Education for Annenberg Learner, Part 2 of 3 (Go to Part 1 and Part 3)

LIT 16“Literacy is no longer a static construct from the standpoint of its defining technology for the past 500 years; it has now come to mean a rapid and continuous process of change in the ways in which we read, write, view, listen, compose, and communicate information.” (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2014. Handbook of research on new literacies.)

Traditional views of literacy learning and development are changing to reflect a more global view of understanding and communicating in today’s increasingly complex world. It will come as no surprise that students spend a lot of time using technology outside of school. But what teachers are beginning to think more about is how this explosion of technology impacts the ways students read, write, think, and communicate about their world. Whether engaged in social media, texting, making videos, sharing images, reading e-books, or navigating the Internet, students are using a variety of literacy practices and tools. Combining these practices with other outside-of-school activities in which literacy plays a part—such as independent reading, writing, performance, and even sport—it becomes evident that many students engage in substantial literacy-based activities beyond their schoolwork. There is a high degree of motivation when students select their literacy practices and venues. Given this, it is important for teachers to understand the out-of-school literacy practices students bring to school and to relate them to school-based learning. This connection will expand and enhance their use of multiple literacies.

“Students engage in literacy practices and learning outside of school, learning they consider powerful and important. Typical approaches to secondary school content learning often overlook the learning and literacy practices that youth engage in apart from their school-based, content learning (Moje, 2008).”

Given the knowledge and expertise students have in using technology outside of school, digital literacy can play a significant role in school as a way to maximize productive learning. This requires instruction in new literacies, including how to determine where to find relevant information, analyze and evaluate websites, summarize and synthesize important information, incorporate videos, music, and other media of students’ choice into performance assessments, and produce projects that illustrate understanding. For example, when students are taught to evaluate the authenticity and reliability of websites, they are using the social studies strategies of sourcing and contextualization. When students create or locate images, or incorporate music into a project, they are making connections and demonstrating their interpretation and synthesis of key ideas. When done effectively, technology can provide a critical connection between home and school literacy and change the often-held view by students that reading and writing are things you only “do” in school.

For examples of how to blend these practices, check out the following:

Lapp, Fisher, Frey and Gonzalez (2014). Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(3) November 2014 doi: 10.1002/jaal.353 © 2014 International Reading Association (pp. 182–188).

Lapp, Thayre, Wolsey, Fisher, 2014. June 2014 doi:10.1598/e-ssentials.8056 © 2014 International Reading Association.

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” and part 3: “Preparing Students to Read

How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy? – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8d8bf65a26#sthash.6JEXI13f.dpuf
How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy? – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8d8bf65a26#sthash.6JEXI13f.dpuf

Caught Reading: The Soul of an Octopus

Jenny Get Caught photoThree years ago on a family car trip I started reading a magazine article about octopuses out loud to my husband and daughters, who then were 14 and 10 years old. It held everyone’s attention for more than 20 miles. In the article Sy Montgomery, an award-winning science and nature writer, described meeting a sweet-tempered octopus named Athena at the New England Aquarium and learning about how amazingly intelligent these creatures are. My girls shrieked with laughter as Montgomery described octopuses escaping from laboratory tanks and evading college students who tried to catch them.

Now Montgomery has expanded her encounter with octopuses into a book that’s packed with amazing facts about these alien but engaging creatures. Did you know that octopuses can taste with their skin? That they’re deft and curious enough to take apart a Mr. Potato Head toy for fun? That they’re extremely social with people, and will hold onto a trusted person’s hands and arms for hours? Or that these shape-shifters can squeeze through tiny holes and transform their bodies, changing their skin’s color, pattern, and texture in less than a second?

The Soul of an Octopus is also full of behind-the-scenes stories about the New England Aquarium, where Montgomery spent many hours getting to know cephalopods (the class of marine mollusks that includes octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish). She recounts how keepers tackle challenges like luring reclusive electric eels out from hiding so visitors can see them, and describes the many practical roles that slime plays in the ocean. Her writing is deceptively clear and simple. Here’s how she explains that octopuses clearly have “theory of mind” – the ability to perceive what another creature is thinking:

“An octopus must convince many species of predators and prey that it is really something else. Look! I’m a blob of ink. No, I’m a coral. No, I’m a rock! The octopus must assess whether the other animal believes its ruse or not, and if not, try something different.”

May 2015 is Get Caught Reading Month. If you want to engage middle or high school science students, pick this book up, crack it open to any chapter, and start reading aloud.

How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?

Written by WGBH Education for Annenberg Learner, Part 1 of 3 (Go to Part 2 and Part 3)

LIT 15

Reading & Writing in the Disciplines

When students enter middle and high school, their teachers expect them to have mastered the basic skills and strategies necessary for reading and comprehending texts across disciplines and genres. Is this always the reality? Do the skills and strategies they’ve developed serve them equally well when they read a scientific journal article, mathematical proof, historical primary source document, Shakespearean sonnet, and technical paper?

The answer is, no. While basic strategies such as making connections, asking questions, inferring, summarizing, and monitoring understanding are important when reading across subjects, they are not sufficient unless they can be adapted to each discipline. Even if students have mastered these basic skills, they may still struggle to understand, analyze, interpret, and evaluate important ideas in discipline-specific texts because they do not have the topical language and specialized reading practices that are used by scientists, mathematicians, historians, literary analysts, and technical specialists. To understand how each discipline produces and communicates key ideas, students need to know what is specifically involved when reading across these disciplines. So how exactly is this discipline literacy different from content-area literacy?

Content-area Literacy

Content-area literacy strategies are traditionally defined as the basic set of strategies students use when reading and responding to texts, with little differentiation being made across the content-area subjects. For example, students may learn techniques for determining important information, making inferences, asking questions, and summarizing. They would then apply these strategies when reading science, history, and math.

Discipline Literacy

Discipline literacy skills support students in moving beyond the general reading strategies as they develop specialized practices for making sense of discipline-based texts through reading, writing, and oral language. These practices include understanding how information is presented in each discipline: organization of important information; specialized vocabulary and syntactic nuances; use of text features; and interpretation and evaluation of evidence. The focus is on teaching students different ways of thinking as they encounter texts by developing reader identities within each discipline—to become expert readers and communicators in a discipline by reading, writing, and talking like a historian, a scientist, a mathematician, etc.

Essentially, “[t]he difference is that content literacy emphasizes techniques that a novice might use to make sense of a discipline text (such as how to study a history book for an examination) while discipline literacy emphasizes the unique tools that the experts in a discipline use to engage in the work of that discipline” (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2012, p. 8).

What Does This Mean for Instruction?

It has been an unspoken expectation that elementary teachers would help students have content-area literacy skills in place by middle school. In contrast, the expectation around discipline literacy is that it’s the job of discipline teachers to build these skills. But in reality, these are not isolated tasks.

The Common Core State Standards have placed an emphasis on the need for ELA and discipline teachers to share the responsibility for teaching and assessing mastery of the ELA Standards. While this call for shared responsibility is certainly a change from what has occurred in schools for decades, it’s important because it has now been documented that discipline experts approach the reading of texts differently (Shanahan and Shanahan, 2008).

This does not mean that discipline teachers must also add “reading teacher” to the many hats they already wear. Rather, it means that they should model and share their own strategies for how to approach a text, how to determine and synthesize key ideas, how to critically evaluate the content, and how to engineer new possibilities. After all, who else is better able to support the reading of texts within a discipline than a discipline expert who knows the language and understands how students acquire text-based information?

They are, after all, the experts.

Shanahan, T., & Shanahan, C. (2008). Teaching disciplinary literacy to adolescents: Rethinking content-area literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 40–59.

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading & Writing in the Disciplines.

Read part 2 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “Literacy in the 21st Century” and part 3: “Preparing Students to Read

Are you ready to incorporate discipline literacy strategies into your curriculum? Learn how with Reading and Writing in the Disciplines. – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/how-does-discipline-literacy-differ-from-content-area-literacy/?preview=true&preview_id=3168&preview_nonce=8bf5a75fad#sthash.YEQZS0jD.dpuf
Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/literacy-in-the-21st-century/#sthash.aM3Bw6Qw.dpuf
Read part 1 of this blog series on discipline literacy: “How Does Discipline Literacy Differ from Content-area Literacy?” – See more at: http://learnerlog.org/socialstudies/literacy-in-the-21st-century/#sthash.aM3Bw6Qw.dpuf

Project Based Learning Activity: Environmental Studies

Habitable Planet_water_screenThis post is written by Bill Fischelis, Director of Curriculum and Learning at NU Vision School

This past fall and winter the students at NU Vision School in Boston used The Habitable Planet series from Annenberg Learner as one of the major resources for their environmental science class project, explained in this post.

NU Vision School is a partnership between Northeastern University and the Boston Ballet for students of the Boston Ballet’s pre-professional program. Not only do we help the students balance their rigorous dance schedules with a strong academic program, but we challenge the students to think about their learning in new ways. Our curriculum is project based and driven by the interests of the students.

As part of the environmental science class, students chose a country that interested them and then developed a meaningful project around their exploration. Five of the students decided to make a website as a way to demonstrate their learning and share their knowledge. Below are the links to the five websites.

As part of their research, all the students began by learning basic geography and population factors about their country; these are included in the websites. They also picked one to three environmental factors that were of interest and of particular concern in their chosen country. These factors and how they are impacting society, the natural environment, personal well-being, and the economy are then explained.

We adapted a rubric from the BUCK Institute to inform and assess this project.

These websites are not meant to be finished products. With feedback and additional knowledge the students will continue to edit and add to them. They will appreciate all thoughts you have.

Please share feedback either about the students’ sites (make sure to reference a specific site by country) or the project itself in the comments section of this blog post.

Student Websites:

Aleena (9th grade) – Nicaragua

Allison (9th grade) – Pakistan

Noa (9th grade) – France

Skye  (9th grade) – USA

Tessa (10th grade) – Russia

More Than Just Numbers: Math Awareness Month

AAO_3_Lightning4Have you ever listened to weather forecasts and wondered whether there’s any difference between partly cloudy and mostly cloudy, or a chance of rain versus a slight chance of rain? In fact, all of those terms have precise meanings based on probabilities. If the sky is partly cloudy, about three to four eighths of it will be covered by clouds, and a slight chance of rain means the odds are about 20 percent that at least 0.01 inches of rain will fall somewhere in the forecast area.

Weather forecasts illustrate the central role that math plays in many aspects of everyday life. They are based on sophisticated computer models that analyze data from weather balloons, radar, and satellites. Modern weather forecasting saves lives and money by warning us in advance of major storms.

Mathematics organizations have designated April as Mathematics Awareness Month. This year’s theme, “Math Drives Careers,” focuses on the many fields where math plays an important role, from energy production to medicine to business. Many of these jobs don’t have “mathematician” in the title, but draw heavily on math and statistical skills.

Consider some of the ways in which math shapes your day beyond providing a weather forecast. Transit companies use algorithms to map the most efficient routes and schedules for the buses we ride to work and school. Utilities use math to forecast how much power they will need to keep our air conditioners running on hot days. Grocery stores use formulas to track how well goods are selling and decide when to mark down prices. And statisticians quantify how well our favorite sports teams are doing.

Spotlight math from many angles with the following resources:

Use Learning Math: Measurement to discuss the importance of measurements with elementary and middle school students. How do we rely on accurate measurements of weight, volume, and distance in our daily lives?

Against All Odds: Inside Statistics shows high school students how concepts like probability and inference can be used to understand topics such as weather, the spread of disease, and impacts of pollution in the environment.

For advanced students, Mathematics Illuminated explains uses for more complex concepts, such as infinity, game theory, and networks.

Many science courses on Learner.org also cover topics that are based on math. For example, unit 6 of Chemistry: Challenges and Solutions, “Quantifying Chemical Reactions,” explains why summarizing chemical reactions accurately and understanding the ratios in which elements combine are critical to producing chemicals efficiently and avoiding waste.

Unit 6 of The Habitable Planet, “Risk, Exposure and Health,” discusses how scientists quantify risks from exposure to different kinds of hazards in the environment and identify causal relationships between exposure and health impacts.

What are the odds that you can show your students how math shapes their lives?

Eadweard Muybridge: Photography and Film Pioneer

English expatriate Eadweard Muybridge (April 9, 1830-May 8, 1904) is one of the most influential people in the history of American film. He was a pioneer in film and artistic photography, as well as in scientific and industrial photography. His exciting work has connections to art, social studies, science, and mathematics topics.

PUPMath_Kid looking at Muybridge work

A student looks at Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic study of animal motion. From Private Universe Project in Mathematics.

Art: Muybridge took daring steps, cutting down trees and venturing into dangerous places, to get landscape photographs that would distinguish him from his contemporaries. See the story of his shot, Falls of the Yosemite, taken in 1872 while on a six-month trip West in Art Through Time, program 10, “The Natural World.”

Social Studies: Find a slideshow of 17 of Eadweard Muybridge’s images of Guatemala in Teaching Geography, workshop 2, “Latin America.” Below each slide is information about the content of each photo and questions to compare the past with the present.

Science and film: Muybridge developed photography techniques that captured human and animal movements in new ways. Read about these techniques in American Passages, unit 8, “Regional Realism.”  Muybridge also invented the zoopraxiscope (image #8245 in the archives), a device that projected a moving image from still sequences.

Math: In the video for workshop 6, “Possibilities of Real Life Problems,” of Private Universe Project in Mathematics, ninth graders are asked to solve how fast a cat, captured in a series of photos by Eadweard Muybridge more than 100 years ago, was moving in frames 10 and 20.

Selfie: Bringing Personal Meaning to Photos

EssentialLens_MakedaBestWhen students see a photograph in a classroom, a textbook, or a school project, they often treat it just like a poem or short story: they try to clearly state what the photo “means.” They believe that a photo has a unique, incontestable meaning that is clear to the perceptive viewer. A photographer wouldn’t take a photo without having a message in mind, the reasoning goes, so that message must be clear in the photo s/he took, and if I can’t find it, there’s something wrong with me.

It’s hard to convince students that this is not true (for photos or for poems and short stories, but we’ll stick with photos here). Photos cross a line between art and reportage. They can have a clear message when they are reportage. When they are art, they are open to almost endless personal interpretation. When they are a mix of both, photos can challenge the most perceptive viewer. The student looking at the photo is not just a data analysis machine taking in information and processing it. The power of photos is in their immediacy: they are shots of real people in real situations that the viewer takes in through the lens of her or his own life experience. In short, the viewer makes the meaning. As historian of photography Makeda Best puts it, instead of stopping at asking ourselves and our students what we see in a photo, we have to “look more closely and ask questions of why we see what we see.” This is a big shift. It gives the student authority over the photo instead of the other way around.

To teach students to use their own experiences to analyze a photo, practice on the photo mentioned below using the Focus In activity from Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum. (Watch Makeda Best demonstrate the Focus In activity in the “A Closer Look” video.):

Start with Dorothea Lange’s masterpiece “Migrant Mother,” taken in 1936. Students may have seen it before. It is one of the most famous photos in the world. Too often, students move past their initial emotional reaction to this photo to try to discern its objective meaning. Following the steps in the Focus In Method for Analyzing Photographs, try to get your students back inside their own heads and hearts and experiences as they analyze “Migrant Mother.” Click on the link for a detailed description of each Focus In step. This step-by-step process can take the burden of finding meaning off students by encouraging them to make meaning.

Focus In Steps

Step 1: Observe

Step 2: Build on Your Observations

Step 3: Make Inferences

Step 4: Formulate Further Questions

Note: Here is a link to information about the photograph “Migrant Mother.”

 

How are you using photographs in your classes? Share in the comment section below.

The Science of Light: Light and Life

ScienceinFocus_energyUNESCO’s International Year of Light offers many hooks for physical science lessons about the nature and behavior of light. (See part 1, “Waves, Particles, and More: The Science of Light.”) Another way to bring light into science classrooms is to examine the many ways in which light affects the growth and behavior of living organisms.

Start with photosynthesis, the process through which plants harness light energy from the sun and turn it into chemical energy. Life Science, session 7, “Photosynthesis,” explains this process in simple terms. Science in Focus: Energy, workshop 5, “Energy in Food,” shows how photosynthesis forms the base for food chains and provides the energy that we need to survive. To extend this idea further, see the overview of energy transfer in ecosystems in The Habitable Planet, unit 4, “Ecosystems.” This unit can set up a discussion about eating at different trophic levels and the energy impacts of various human diets.

Light also drives human and animal behavior in fundamental ways. Journey North’s mini-unit, “Reasons for Seasons,” includes five activities in which students in grades 4-8 can explore how the amount and intensity of daylight create what we know as distinct seasons. Next, see Journey North’s discussion of “Sunlight and the Seasons” for examples of the link between seasonal light levels and the behavior of living creatures. Daylight hours are increasing now in the Northern hemisphere. What kind of seasonal events are occurring in response? How do they vary from lower to higher latitudes?

Some parts of Earth are always dark – for example, areas of the oceans more than 200 meters deep (for details, see The Habitable Planet, unit 3, “Oceans”), and the insides of caves. But many life forms exist in dark zones. How do they adapt? What are their food sources? The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s “Ocean Portal” offers some examples of deep ocean life forms, and a photo gallery of bioluminescent marine organisms that produce light through chemical reactions in their body tissues. High school students in chemistry or ecology can tackle “Hot Food,” a lesson from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about chemosynthesis – the process that deep-water coral communities use to obtain energy from light hydrocarbons in nearby sediments.

Finally, students may notice their own moods changing as daylight hours increase this spring. Our bodies move according to circadian rhythms that are regulated by the presence or absence of light. The Brain: Teaching Modules, unit 13, “Sleep and Circadian Rhythms,” looks at our natural rhythms and the stages of sleep. And when the sun becomes brighter and more direct in spring, we seek the outdoors. Some experts believe this behavior may have a biological function (perhaps restoring depleted levels of vitamin D), while others are skeptical. What can be said, though, is that these approaches to teaching the science of light will illuminate classrooms.