* Buster the triop

If you haven’t raised triops, you’re missing out. You’ve all probably heard about “sea monkeys,” which are type of brine shrimp. They’re probably the princes and princesses of instant pets. I consider triops, a similar crustacean with the appearance of a miniature horseshoe crab, a far superior instant pet. The kings and queens. And Buster was a great credit to his species.

I purchased a Discovery Prehistoric Sea Creatures Kit and was surprised that I needed so many extra items, like a lamp for heating the distilled water and a thermometer to make sure the water was 80 degrees. It was a bit of a hassle, and required some transportation, but the critters are adorable and worth the effort. Most online reviews of this kit are very negative; eggs not hatching, extra equipment, and water temperature being the primary issues.

Triops start off as tiny tadpole-like critters and then darken and grow significantly. They have three eyes and breathe through feathery gills on their legs. Like his sibs, Buster is a cannibal and will eat any smaller versions of himself. However, Buster made the ultimate sacrifice as he visited school and then passed away. Our efforts to isolate him for viewing purposes strained his little body. His larger sibs will also make the school journey and we hope to have better outcomes for them. Triops do have a short life span (3 months) but Buster only lived about a week. Sad but true.

A question to consider is how your students can handle the life and death of little critters like these. Older students may enjoy lively discussions on the ethics of raising triops. In our case, Buster has followed on the heels of tardigrades, so we are used to seeing miniature creatures disappear. Naming these guys does add an element of anthropomorphism and possible attachment. I wouldn’t grow them with younger kiddos, maybe because I am so sentimental about critters. Gosh, I even name my trees and have been told that’s not a wise thing.

* Unintended reproduction

In yesterday’s post, I referred to my science unit on plant reproduction.  In the terrific Earthbox Junior, our plants grew at a phenomenal rate.  I used nutrient-rich Happy Frog potting soil from a boutique plant store to avoid introducing any unwanted bacteria or critters into the planter.  The plants also came from that same pricy store.  So far, so good, as long as my dearest teaching widower didn’t ask how much it all cost.

Alas, I forgot to add moss, which has a nice spore method of reproduction.  At that point, I decided to try a novel approach and go frugal.  Our yard has a growing mass of moss, since the deer have eaten everything else.  I culled a nice sample and watched it die in the planter.  But to our surprise, the “dead” ornamental moss around our bonsai ficus tree sprang to life!  All was good and we kept a close watch for the spore cycle of the moss.

We examined the planter daily with a digital microscope and I nearly fell over when some giant legs and antennae shot past the screen.  I’ve seen too many alien movies.  The creature eluded us until it grew into a recognizable poisonous spider!  What are the odds that a small sample of soil from my yard would yield a brown widow spider?  The worst was yet to come.

Aphids appeared next, all over our nerve plant, so I doused them with soapy water and waited a day before examining their carcasses.  As I carried the planter to our viewing location (AKA insect morgue), a sharp-eyed kiddo spotted tiny brown dots running around the planter.  I had carried the Earthbox against my chest, so those dots also ran up and down my body.  Further exciting microscopic investigation revealed dog tick nymphs.  Hundreds of them, springing into life in my arms.   Yes, I was bitten on my head, face, and ankle.  No students were bitten, which was miraculous.


Check out TickEncounter’s resources or ask to see my videos of these critters!

* Earthbox Junior

OK, I was going to write a series on excellent Christmas gifts but hey, everyone will have a birthday this year, right?  If you are looking for a terrific science-themed gift, an Earthbox Junior is THE perfect tool for indoor/classroom gardening and plant study.  Earthbox does come in larger sizes, but the Junior fits nicely on a window ledge and for a class, offers a perfect small group container.  It is featured below at Rosa Parks Elementary school in San Francisco.


With Earthbox Junior, you can grow herbs and other plants year-round.  Watering is simple and the planter is easily lifted for more careful investigation.  Given my poor track record with plants, I’d say this is a winner!

planter 1

I used this one to experiment with plant reproduction.  In the photo above, a student is exploring moss with a digital microscope.  More on the dangers of reproduction in the next post!


*Thanks, Scholastic!

Scholastic’s ScienceWorld is a terrific, teacher-friendly resource for hands-on and digital resources.  Sure, there’s a paper magazine version with your subscription, but the online goodies make the magazine even better!  And ScienceWorld is already amazing.  The magazine covers a wide range of middle school science topics from around the world, saving teachers much-needed time for collecting lesson plans, materials, and inspiration.

Scholastic makes a strong appeal to kids who are traditionally low in STEM careers: blacks and girls.  For instance, this month’s edition for middle schoolers features D-J Comeaux and his Black Panther app called AfroBot Boyz.  The main article in the magazine focuses on a student who participated in the Hidden Genius Project in Oakland, California, which supports black high school dropouts.

I also love this magazine because it keeps on giving, especially to special needs kiddos.  The online teacher resources provide multiple cool projects and experiments, available by intelligent searches, including archived versions of the past three years of your subscription.  A subscription to ScienceWorld supports struggling students by linking some of them to their narrow range of interests, providing multiple means of access, supporting hands-on activities, and opportunities for partner or small group learning.

Here’s a photo of extracted strands of strawberry DNA from a recent experiment in ScienceWorld.  Very cool!  Couldn’t do it without you, Scholastic!

dna strawberry

* The Great War channel

the great war channel

If you are looking for a fabulous resource for World War 1, I highly recommend The Great War YouTube channel.  Written and hosted by Indy Neidell, this is a terrific week-by-week series of “the war to end all wars.”  It is well-researched, engaging, and provides abundant primary source materials such as maps, films, and photos.  Even though we know the outcome (spoiler alert!), the tension of the actual war does bleed through.  So does Indy’s heartfelt compassion for those poor soldiers.  His coverage of the Armenian genocide is incredibly moving.  Indy also captures the desperation of the millions of people who were forced to evacuate their homelands as wartime fronts shifted.

I would recommend this Great War series for middle school and up.  I do block the screen for most images of dead bodies, of which there are many.  There are a few that I allow, since dead bodies are a major “component” of the war.  The genocide photos are very difficult to view, and I have skipped a couple of other episodes which are too mature for middle school.

The Great War channel helps viewers understand the politics and propaganda, the incompetence of many military leaders, and the despair of millions.  Can you imagine heading to the eastern front, waiting for a soldier to die so you have a gun?  Or drowning in your trench on the western front?  Or a majority of your fellow soldiers freezing to death before you even fight?

Finally, The Great War channel has numerous special episodes featuring important aspects of that era, such as technology, famous persons, wartime animals, tanks, and more.  They also provide regular summaries.

What’s the advantage for special needs students?  The videos are quality made, can be stopped at key points, and viewed as often as needed.  Each is about 9 minutes long, which is a reasonable length of time for the middle and high school brain.  I set the speed of of the video to 75% to allow for a slower pace of listening (but they could be sped up slightly for those kiddos who have a long period of adaptation to audio materials).  I also provide a preview of each video to allow brains to file new information more efficiently.  Indy does a superb job of reviewing the previous week and then summarizing the current film.  You would need to watch a couple per school day to complete the series in a school year.  Homeschoolers might have an advantage with a more flexible schedule.

You can support The Great War channel through Patreon- and that’s a great idea, too!

* Lions and tigers and WATER BEARS, oh my!

Yes, water bears, or tardigrades, are THE most adorable microorganisms I’ve seen.  And your students can see them as well, with a relatively inexpensive digital microscope, a steady hand, and a jar of these babies from Carolina Biological Supply.  (You can find them outside, most likely on moss, but ordering them was more of a certainty.)

The tardigrade journey for me started with Live Science‘s review of kid microscopes.  These scopes can provide some cool images of tardigrades, but what if your students have visual or physical disabilities that prevent them from leaning over a microscope to peer through the lens?

PantherMedia 1677125

a professional image from Storyblocks

I purchased the Teslong USB microscope from Amazon, which magnifies the little critters up to 200x.  Not as clear as the professional image above, but how much fun it is to slowly drag the waterproof scope through algae and find these little critters swimming and eating and pooping!  A great plus is the use of a camera app that allows your kiddos to see them full screen.  You should try this miniature safari through a watery forest with your kiddos!

Here is a 9 second portion of a video I took with a student.  We were totally enthralled.  And the science fun continues.  Tardigrades are extremely hardy and can survive in a vacuum and even boiling water.  Our little jar is now filled with water bear poop (they remind me of guinea pigs), but we still hunt them down for photos and videos.  Enjoy!

* Ranger Rick grows online!

Wow!  Ranger Rick has hit the web big time!  I reviewed this kids’ National Wildlife Federation magazine a couple of years ago and can now share its online splash with my readers.  Ranger Rick’s online presence adds a lot to what educators and their students can do with the magazine.  Each month’s publication of Ranger Rick (ages 7-12), Ranger Rick Junior (4-7), and Ranger Rick Cub (0-4) is available online.  Although I’m subscribed to Ranger Rick, I can also view the current issue of Junior and a sample of Cub.  All three magazines are top quality, encouraging engagement with science concepts, divergent thinking, exposure and practice with science vocabulary, and fun activities.

Ranger Rick online

For only $5 a year, you can access your Ranger Rick magazine subscription, play online games, engage in craft and suggested outdoor activities, enjoy almost 1500 jokes and riddles, watch videos, and enter the monthly photo contest.  The volume (90+) and quality of animal videos is striking, as are the 300+ animal pages.  The online games range from completing photo puzzles or trying to survive as a fish in the ocean, to getting a squirrel to the bird feeder and solving word searches.  The shop is full of gift ideas, teaching materials, apparel, and apps.  More on those later!

With that single membership, teachers can review detailed lesson guides for each issue, along with downloadable worksheets.  Previous issues are archived for easy access.  The worksheets I saw involved higher level thinking skills and continued use of science vocabulary, which is key to fluent reading in subject areas.

What is helpful to special needs students?  A lot! 

  • The online access will be appealing to kiddos who love their tech gizmos.  The games do not all have timed features and range widely in difficulty.
  • The clear photos and videos will allow students to focus easily on the topic at hand.  Like the paper version, online Ranger Rick minimizes visual clutter.
  • A major advantage of the online version is the typed version of each article (in addition to snapshots of the pages).  Students with reading challenges will appreciate this plain, well-spaced type on a white background.  Some devices most likely read the type out loud, too.
  • A simple click on the page snapshots opens to a fullscreen image of that page, which allows for clearer photos of the featured animals, along with the original text.  This could be used to scaffold from plain type to the more colorful pages of the magazine.
  • Links to interesting, related videos are also clear.

Online Ranger Rick gives you a lot of bang for your five bucks.  Check it out!

* Science Wiz: Inventions

Looking for the perfect gift for kiddos who enjoy science and gadgets that spin and whir?  Want to jumpstart your young inventor?  Penny Norman’s Science Wiz kit, Inventions, is sure to please.  This kit is a highly acclaimed book-manual-kit for kids 8 and up, although young hands will need a bit of support from adults.

What makes this kit so special?  It has fabulous illustrations to support the creation of devices from simple to complex, helps kids understand why and how these inventions work, and is loaded with everything you need to complete the projects (except for one D battery).

I used this kit with a budding, special needs inventor and we completed all the inventions, including a working radio.  OK, the radio only picked up static, but that was pretty impressive for a paper towel tube and a myriad of wires.


As I’ve mentioned before, providing opportunities to excel in science can add social credit to kids who are on the fringes of a classroom.  Taking a radio like this to school would likely be fascinating to peers (and teachers!).


* Impact Jack

This post is for Cee’s Black and White photography challenge and for my evaluation of a science kit for kids.  Impact Jack is a SmartLab Toys “Crash Test Lab,” featuring a virtually indestructible Jack.

Impact Jack 2

The premise and design of the kit is well done.  Kids aged 8+ can (fairly) easily assemble the crash test vehicle and then experiment with the effect of a seat belt, roll bars, bumpers, etc.  The kit comes with a colorful fold-out of directions, experiments related to Newton’s Laws of Motion, and other suggestions for Jack as a crash test dummy.  It’s a bit hard to see in the photo above, but Jack has a glowing “I’m alive!” button on his chest which will turn red if he doesn’t survive the impact.

My primary concern is that Jack is virtually immortal.  A student and I rammed the car numerous times with a force that should have had led to hospitalization, if not a coffin.  I took Impact Jack back to the toy store where the sales clerk dropped/slammed him on the counter and Jack glowed red.  I was offered a refund since I had trouble replicating that force, but decided to give it another try in his vehicle.  Jack ALWAYS survived his car crashes but finally passed away when I body-slammed him into a wall.

I would purchase this kit again but not for use with students who startle easily at the loud sounds which accompany the only way to make a true impact on Jack.  Impact Jack is a terrific toy for kids who are extremely rough with their playthings.

* Virtual field trips this Thanksgiving!

Virtual field trips are an excellent online resource for visiting sites that would otherwise be out of reach.  To celebrate Thanksgiving with your students or kiddos at home, take advantage of Scholastic’s terrific resources for Thanksgiving.  Here’s a snip of their virtual field trips, enhanced with reenactments.  I appreciate the relatively uncluttered look and ease of access.

Virtual field trip

And that’s not all!  To promote a better understanding of the lives of the native peoples and colonists, use Scholastic’s comparison pages.  Students can listen independently and research housing, clothes, chores, school. and games in order to compare and contrast theses two lifestyles.  For students with reading disabilities or those who learn best by seeing what they hear, these resources-and more- are an excellent tool for exploring our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday.

Virtual field trip 2

Check out Scholastic for more super resources!