Equinox Myths

The reason for the seasons

Do you teach seasons? It’s not normally part of my curriculum, but I always spend a day un-teaching equinox myths. There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there. Here are the things my students claim are true, until I straighten them out.

Equinox Myths:

  • You can balance an egg on the equinox.Well, technically, yes, you can. But not because of any weird gravity thing or whatever is going around these days. You can balance an egg every day. Don’t believe me? Try it today, and then try it again in a few weeks. Let me know what you learn.
  • You can balance a broom on the equinox. Again, yes you can. And, again, you can do this every day if you’re patient enough to try.
  • There is no shadow at noon on the equinox. I don’t know where this one came from, and it is so demonstrably false (unless you happen to be exactly on the equator at the exact moment that the sun is directly overhead) that it surprises me when it comes up every year.
  • The equinox is the whole day. It’s actually just a split second – the exact moment when the Sun passes over the equator.
  • The equinox is the day when the amount of dark equals the amount of light. This one is possibly true, depending on how you define “dark” and “light” relative to sunrise and sunset. It’s also dependent on your distance from the equator.


What equinox myths do you have to un-teach?

Amazing Animal of the Week – Gila Monsters

This week’s amazing animal of the week is the Gila Monster. Gila Monsters are black and orange lizards which grow up to almost 2 feet in length and are one of the heaviest reptiles found in the Grand Canyon, weighing in at over 5 pounds. Their skin is covered in round, bead like scales and they can live for up to 30 years.

File:AZ Gila Monster 02.jpg

There are over 5000 lizards in the world with up to 100 species producing venom including the monitor lizards, Mexican Bearded Lizards, iguanas, and Gila Monsters.

Unlike snakes, Gila Monsters do not inject their venom into their prey but rather the venom just flows into the bite. Humans are rarely bitten because Gila Monsters tend to be quite shy, but, if bitten, venom can cause paralysis, difficulty breathing and sometimes convulsions. No known human deaths have occurred because of a Gila Monster bite but their bites can be painful. Watch this video for more info on Gila Monster bites.

Gila Monsters are carnivores and hunt for rodents, other lizards, bird eggs, and invertebrates. They are slow and stealthy when they hunt. Their venom is mostly used for defense rather than hunting. They detect smells with a forked tongue.

Gila Monsters only live in the desert. They burrow during the hot part of the day. In the winter, they live in the burrows of desert tortoises and live off the fat they have stored in their tails.

Gila Monsters are endangered in the United States and Mexico. It is illegal to harass them, trap or capture them, hunt, shoot, wound, or kill them, or collect them.

Previous Amazing Animals of the Week:

Image: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

How to Grade Papers Faster

If you knew how to grade papers faster, you’d be able to leave school on a Friday afternoon with an empty bag!

I’m dreaming, right? Can anyone actually do that?

I can. I haven’t graded one assignment outside of school hours in 5 years. Never. Not one.

Look, during school hours, I work hard. But after school, no, sir. That is my time.

Here’s how I get everything done during the school day:

Design your assignments to be easy to grade.

how to grade papers faster

  • Use multiple choice questions. The standardized tests in science are mostly multiple choice questions but they’re not rote memorization questions. Design your multiple choice questions so that they test application skills. For example,  “Your rover on Mars encountered an area with a lot of seismic activity but no volcanic activity. What kind of boundary is it?”
  • Include rubrics in your assignments so you don’t need the extra step of attaching it to the document.
  • Limit the length of the assignments. “Write 70-100 words to answer this question…”
  • Remember your job is to grade, not to edit. In science, I grade students on the quality of their answers, not on their writing ability. I may circle misspelled words or grammar, but I don’t belabor it.
  • Use self-grading assessments. Google Forms is amazing. Here’s a free assessment on Google Forms you can try out.

Let technology work for you.

  • Use Doctopus to score Google docs.
  • Use Google Forms for multiple choice assignments. Set them up to calculate the grade for you. When everyone is done with the assignment, open the spreadsheet and copy the grades into your grade book. Done.
  • Keep a file of commonly used comments. For all written assignments or lab reports, I compose a doc for myself that contains the comments I anticipate using. “Use your data to support your conclusion,” is one I use a lot! Today, I used “Tension at a normal fault causes the hanging wall to move downward compared to the foot wall” about 30 times. Then, when a student makes an error, you don’t have to type your comment all over again – just copy and paste.

Maximize your time in school.

  • Check your email before school, at lunch, and before you log off for the day. Leaving it open all day is an invitation to be disturbed.
  • Work in your classroom during your prep if you can. Better yet, close the door. I love my coworkers and I love hanging out with them. But get your work done.
  • Go to the copy room/mail room/main office or where ever you need to go once a day. I make a trip around the school at lunch – drop off forms, pick up mail, make my copies, whatever I need to do. If I didn’t get it done today, I’ll do it tomorrow.
  • Decide how long you will grade for before you take a break. I’m usually in the 20-30 minute range, then I take a 5 minute break and then go back at it until the end of the period.



Image credits:

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

Women in Science – Rosalind Franklin

Since March is Women in History month, let’s celebrate some women in science. Rosalind Franklin was an English chemist who worked with x-ray crystallography to lay the foundation of Watson and Crick’s knowledge of the structure of DNA.

In the early 1950s, Franklin worked with Maurice Wilkins on x-ray crystallography at King’s College. X-ray crystallography is a method used by chemists to determine the three-dimensional structure of a crystallized molecule. The crystallized molecule is placed in an x-ray tube and is struck with x-rays. X-rays can pass through crystals and interact with the electrons of the atoms in the crystal which causes the x-rays to diffract or scatter. The pattern of scattered x-rays is recorded as dark marks on film and gives clues about the structure of the molecule.

In 1944, Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty isolated DNA and discovered that it contained genes that passed on genetic information, but the structure of DNA and how it worked was difficult to determine. Scientists did know that DNA was composed of nucleotides of deoxyribose, phosphates, and bases of adenine, guanine, thymine or cytosine, but how those nucleotides were arranged was still unknown. Many research scientists around the world were attempting to determine the structure of DNA but none had any success.

Franklin’s most famous photograph was taken using x-ray diffraction of DNA and is known as Photo 51.  Franklin was not the first person to use x-ray diffraction on a pure fiber of DNA, but she conducted her experiments differently than previous scientists. Franklin pumped hydrogen gas through a salt solution to keep the DNA fibers surrounded by water which reveals more of the structure of the DNA. Her image was also taken after 62 hours of exposing the DNA to x-rays and revealed far more details than previously achievable.

Franklin’s Photo 51 was able to show that DNA was made of a double helix in which one twist consisted of 10 nucleotides. She also was able to show that the bases AGCT were on the inside of the helix and the phosphate groups were on the outside.

Some controversy ensued as a result of the image. Maurice Wilkins showed Franklin’s DNA image to researchers James Watson and Francis Crick without Franklin’s knowledge (see source 1). Watson and Crick went on to use the information contained in the image to develop their own model of DNA which is now the structure that we understand. Watson and Crick were also able to predict semiconservative replication, later proven by Meselson and Stahl.

Watson, Crick and Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for their discoveries of the structure of DNA. Franklin died in 1958 of ovarian cancer at age 37 and the Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously.




Image credits: Image of Rosalind Franklin is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.



  1. https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/photograph-51-rosalind-franklin-1952

Amazing Animal of the Week – Lava Lizards!

This week’s Amazing Animal of the Week are the lava lizards of the Galapagos.

File:Galápagos Lava Lizard 02 (cropped).jpg

Lava lizards range in size from 2-4 inches plus tail. Males are more colorful and have a crest of spined scales running down the length of the body. Females have a cheek patch of salmon to red when they reach reproductive maturity.

Super abundant on the Galapagos, lava lizards are very territorial. They are this week’s amazing animal of the week because of a fantastic display that male lava lizards put on to ward off other males. When a male lava lizard is afraid that another male will encroach on his territory, he does a strange dance that resembles pushups. This dance makes the male appear larger and stronger and appears to be an attempt to dissuade other males from starting a fight. Intruding males might participate in a push up contest.

What do you think? Pretty amazing, right?

Lava lizards are preyed upon by hawks, snakes, and might even be cannibalized by other lava lizards.

Previous Amazing Animals of the Week:

Image of lava lizard  is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Space Rocks – A mini-unit about meteorites

Meteorites and impacts are fascinating. My students love them. Here are some lesson plans I use to engage my students in learning.

Impact Lesson Plans

Instead of calling this unit my “Geoscience” unit, I call it my Meteorite unit. Kids are instantly more engaged and curious. Here are some pieces I like to include:

  1. Engaging with phenomena – Show students various rocks but include one or two meteorites in the collection without telling students what they are. Let them explore the rocks with a magnet (meteorites are magnetic and very few Earth rocks are). Have them r calculate the density of each rock (meteorites are more dense than Earth rocks). You can purchase some small and inexpensive pieces through your regular lab supply company or through ebay.impact lab
  2. Impact lab. Use controlled experiments to try to create impact craters that resemble simple or complex craters on the Moon.
  3. Meteorite information presented as either a slideshow, a picture walk or informational text. Students should be able to describe the development of impact theory as a cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs and identify several important meteorite impact sites on Earth.
  4. is it a meteorite Lab – Is it a meteorite or a meteorwrong? What are the differences between earth rocks and space rocks?
  5. meteor crater virtual tourEnrichment for advanced students – Use meteorite samples to conduct chemical tests to identify which kind of meteorites they are. Take a virtual tour of Meteor Crater.  Use Google Earth to measure the sizes of other craters on Earth.

When do you teach impacts?

The science of asteroids, meteoroids and comets can be learned in nearly any earth science unit. When you’re teaching the rock cycle, include the differences between earth rocks and space rocks. When you’re teaching geologic time, include impact driven mass extinctions. When you teach relative and absolute dating, include overlapping craters on the Moon. Asteroids, meteoroids and comets fit naturally into your solar system and astronomy unit – How are they formed? How are they observed? How are their orbits calculated? They are also good for addressing controls and variables if you do a scientific method unit – Have students conduct controlled experiments to try to create impact craters that resemble simple or complex craters on the Moon



Not only are students fascinated by meteorites and impacts, learning about them can hit several of the middle school and high school NGSS:

    • MS-ESS2-2 – Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.
    • HS-ESS1-6 – Apply scientific reasoning and evidence from ancient Earth materials, meteorites, and other planetary surfaces to construct an account of Earth’s formation and early history.
    • Science and Engineering Practices – Constructing Explanations and Designing solutions
    • Science and Engineering Practices – Science models, laws, mechanisms, and theories explain natural phenomena
    • Crosscutting concepts – Stability and Change

Tech Tuesday – Use Doctopus to Save Time!

Have you heard of Doctopus? It’s a great Google extension that can save you a ton of time grading papers. Here’s how to  use Doctopus to save you grading time!

  1. Create an assignment in Google Classroom.use doctopus and goobric to save time grading
  2. Create a rubric in Google Sheets. The rubric can be as elaborate as you want but three rules must apply: 1. Cell A1 must be empty. 2. The scoring points must be in row 1. 3. The criteria must be in column A. use doctopus and goobric to save time grading
  3. Create another Google Sheet.  I name them with the class period and the name of the assignment so that I can find it later. Click “Add on” and then search for add ons. When you find Doctopus, install it.
  4. In your Google Sheet, click “Add ons” and then select Doctopus. You’ll first need to set up Doctopus for this assignment.use doctopus and goobric to save time grading
  5. In the Doctopus menu, choose “Select Mode.” Choose “Ingest a Google Classroom Assignment” then select your class.Then choose the assignment from the drop down menu.use doctopus and goobric to save time grading
  6. Select the assignment you want to grade then click “Ingest Assignment.” Doctopus will bring all of the submissions from your Google Classroom into your new grading super-station.
  7. There are a few things you can do now, and they are all visible in the new grading panel that appears on the right side of your screen. You can search Google Classroom to see if any students submitted their work since you last ingested the assignment. You can add a coteacher who will have access to the submissions and will be able to do some of the grading for you. But the coolest thing you can do is add a Goobric. A Goobric is what Doctupus calls your rubric. If you created it in step 2, it’s ready to be imported. Click “Add a Goobric.” You’ll be taken to your Google Drive and then you can select the rubric that you just created.use doctopus and goobric to save time grading
  8. Click “Attach” to connect the rubric to your students’ work. use doctopus and goobric to save time grading
  9. Now you’re ready to grade. To grade the first student’s paper, click the link in that student’s row that says “Assess Document.”
  10. When you open a student’s document, the rubric is on the same screen for you. Just click the box to assign the student a grade and it will be recorded on the spreadsheet. Hitting “Submit” sends the document with the rubric printed on it to the student’s email and enters the grade into your spreadsheet. It also moves you to the next student so you don’t need to keep opening and closing documents. use doctopus and goobric to save time grading
  11. Adding the formula =SUM(N2:Q2) into cell L2 allows the points for each criteria in your rubric to be added together. Of course, if your rubric has more than 4 criteria, you will need to change Q2 to which ever box the last criteria’s score is in.use doctopus and goobric to save time grading

Doctopus takes a few minutes to set up and I can see why that might be a turn off. But it saves so much time because it adds the rubric to the assignment and sends it to the student while also keeping a record of grades for you.

Do you use Doctopus to save time grading? What’s your best grading secret?

Free Atomic Structure Interactive Notes

I’m offering my atomic structure interactive notes for free! It’s a 14 slide Google Slide resource with drag and drop features to help my students learn about atomic structure. The slide show includes:

  • atomic structure
  • protons, neutrons, electrons
  • atomic number, atomic mass, mass number
  • isotopes
  • drawing an atom

Why am I offering this for free?

I’ve been frustrated whenever I’ve tried to have students copy notes, especially while working virtually and hybrid. Students need to pay attention to what I’m saying, but they’re so busy trying to be sure to copy the exact wording of the definition I’ve written that they can’t pay attention. Hey, the last 52 weeks has been hard enough. Let’s not make it any harder than it has to be. Click here to get your Free Atomic Structure Interactive Notes!

How do you create Interactive Google Slides?

I have several interactive Google Slide sets in my TpT store because I use them all the time. If you want to create your own, first create a background for a slide that includes questions y want students to be able to answer or guided notes. Then, on the side of the slide, add text boxes that students can drag and drop onto the correct place in the slide. The beauty of this is that students can pay attention without stressing over what they have to write. Then, when they go home to study, they have everything they need right in front of them.

Here’s a video if you’re not convinced:

If you have any units that you think an interactive notebook would work for, I’d love to hear about it!



Why are glaciers blue?

Glaciers store almost 70% of the fresh water in the world and cover 10% of land area on Earth. If all of earth’s glaciers melted, the ocean level would increase 230 feet worldwide. 97% of the glaciers in the United States are in Alaska. Glaciers are beautiful, fragile environments, but do you know why glaciers are blue?

Glacial ice is formed from compacted snow when the amount of melt in an area is less than the amount of snowfall. Compaction over time reduces the space between molecules of water and the ice crystals reform larger and larger as air bubbles are squeezed out. Glacial ice crystals can be as large as baseballs.

The color of a glacier depends on how it interacts with light. Glacial ice with a lot of air bubbles appears white. When all or nearly all of the air bubbles are squeezed out of glacial ice, the ice absorbs a small amount of red light which makes it appear blue. why are glaciers blue?

Icebergs, which are pieces of glaciers that have broken off and are floating in the ocean, can sometimes be green. The green color is caused by the presence of iron oxide or rust in the iceberg. Iron is found in Antarctica’s rock dust, so green icebergs carry dust from Antarctica.

Smoke from the Australian brushfires in 2020 turned some of New Zealand’s glaciers brown and yellow. Scientists fear this will cause melting to accelerate.


Featured image Photo by Vince Gx on Unsplash

Glacial ice Photo by Simon Berger from Pexels

Amazing Animal of the Week – Death Valley Pupfish

The Death Valley pupfish is a small species of fish found only in Death Valley.  What makes the Death Valley pupfish this week’s amazing animal of the week is that they live in water that is 4 times more salty than even the ocean and can live in water that ranges in temperature from 32-116 degrees Fahrenheit.

Death Valley is one of the driest (less than 2 inches of rain per year) and hottest locations on Earth (record setting 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913), making is a less than obvious location to find fish. They live in Devils Hole, an oasis in Death Valley with average water temperature of 92 degrees. Devils Hole is more than 500 feet deep, but the pupfish only live in a shallow area on the edge.

They are small, about 1.5 inches long, and silver colored with bands on their sides. Males turn bright blue during mating season which is late spring through early autumn. Pupfish are called pupfish because they frolic like puppies in the shallow water of Devils Hole which rises and falls up to 6 feet with seismic activity as far away as Japan.

Some scientists think these pupfish are the remainders of a fish species that live in Lake Manly which dried up 11000 years ago. Other scientists believe that the pupfish were brought to Devils Hole accidentally by humans or birds as recently as 1000 years ago.



Previous Amazing Animals of the Week: The Banana Slug and the California Condor.


Image of pupfish is the work of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.