Titanoboa: Giant Snake From Earth’s Past

With all the hype right now with Megalodon Sharks (Meg), Prehistoric Dinosaurs (Jurassic Park), even the Predator films are dealing with evolution and (future) fossils. My kids this month took a step back as well. We took a step back in time, nearly 65 million years back!

This past summer I was lucky enough to receive a travel grant to attend a conference at the University of Florida Natural History Museum’s @iDigFossils Teacher Program. There we learned about incorporating fossils with our current 3D printers into the subject matter across all educational domains. We learned how to blend NGSS into CCSS, and include engineering, art, reading, and even PE into lessons about Earth from millions of years ago. We went panning for shark teeth, digging for miniature horse bones, and even got to touch the well-documented find-of-a-lifetime, Titanoboa vertebrae.

Image of 3D printed fossils

These students are working with the 3D fossils they printed.

Now, my 10-year-olds were more interested in what did it eat (full crocodiles), how did it catch its prey (asphyxiation), and how big was it really? To help answer that last question, we created our own PBL units that were published by the department. My class used the vertebrae template, the scanned image(s) of the fossilized bone found by UofF professors in Columbia, and worked in groups to design ‘the most efficient way to print them on our printers.’ Students worked in groups using computer assisted drafting (CAD) software, TinkerCad, to complete their tasks. They used math measurements to try and minimize supports (these are tree-like structures a 3D printer uses on overhangs, to keep the shape of the object you are printing). The problem with supports is that is wastes your printer filament (the plastic it prints with). So the kids finally managed to design a print that contained two bones on one printing plate, with minimized supports, and settings that allowed us to print twice a day, on each printer.

an image of students doing a compare and contrast activity with their printed fossils.

Students do a compare and contrast activity with their printed fossils.

The kids had fun working together towards a common goal. After about a week we had 45 vertebrae finally printed. We took some white yarn and our fossils and went out to the playground. I wanted the kids to really understand how long this snake was. We measured out 45 feet of yarn, and at about every 12 inches, a student tied their individual fossil onto the main string. It was quite the site to seek the shock, and terror, in some of their faces when they realized the size of this monster. We did a wiggle activity and the kids followed me around on the blacktop as we slithered back and forth as a snake playing follow the leader. Back in the classroom, we worked with units of distance and converted everything from millimeters, centimeters, inches, feet, and yards. We hit standards on standards and we weren’t trying too hard.

We finished up our Titanoboa Week with a ‘chat with a scientist’ interview with the awesome Ms. Jeanette Pirlo, representing Florida Museum Of Natural History, Vertebrate Paleontology Department! She gave kids a great glimpse into the fields of science and paleontology. We learned some new facts about Titanoboa, and she helped motivate some of my little girls to think about maybe one day going into a field of science and STEM. They are SO very excited to each be taking home their very own full sized Titanoboa 3D printed fossil!

a picture of students showing off their 3D printed fossils!

Students show off their 3D printed fossils!

Titanoboa might have been from Earth’s past, but with today’s technology, it is fueling the curiosity of kids from today. Check out the @FossilProject for plenty of 3D Printed fossils, lesson plans, and tips and tricks alike.


ExoLab and Our Study of Microgravity

Imagine my surprise when I was able to squeeze my way into the final spot available for this year’s pilot program of the ExoLab! The ExoLab system is a self-sustained experimental platform. From their website, the “ExoLab is a plant biology investigation with Arabidopsis thaliana, a model plant organism used in many scientific investigations. The International Space Station (ISS) is home to advanced microgravity research for academia and industry. Working with school districts across the United States along with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Magnitude.io seeks to provide an extraordinary exobiology experience mapped to accepted local science standards while dramatically reducing the cost to access experiments in space.”

Image of a student with the ExoLabThis partnership with Magnitude.io brought my classroom two exciting experiments this school year. On Saturday, November 11th, 2017 (Veterans Day) an Antares rocket blasted off from Wallops in Virginia launching a Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS. There aboard with other experiments and supplies, was our ExoLab experiment. The third experiment launched on Wednesday, April 4th, the SpaceX-14 resupply mission from Cape Canaveral was on its way to the ISS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AgT1L1QkGQ

In the classroom, my students were conducting our own Earthly experiments, in our ExoLab container. We learned about the lightwaves of different colors and those wave effects on growing organisms. We measured plant growth, CO2 levels, temperature, and other environmental factors that might differentiate our experiment here at Hoover, from the identical one being performed above in orbit on the ISS. The International Space Station is traveling at an average speed of 17,150mph (or about 5 miles per second!). We studied light intensity and direction, which helped to explain several NextGen Standards about space and light to my 5th-grade students.

Picture of student looking at ExoLab

A future astronaut in Mr. McCarty’s class studies the growth of plants in the ExoLab.

One of the most exciting parts of the experiment(s) was watching the students get excited to see the (live) video on board the ISS itself. They always had questions and ideas and stories about what they might get to witness. This experiment allowed my students in the city of Stockton to participate in something that was…something global. Something that no one they knew had ever done before. This was huge. With technology advancing more and more each day, there are always going to be more and more discoveries. But for a 10-year-old? For a 10-year-old to experiment with plant life, and watch the successes and failures that go into the scientific method, it was quite an experience as an educator.

We were sad to find out that there was a mechanical failure a few weeks into Experiment #2, that increased the temperature too much and our samples died while onboard the ISS. We discussed this for many weeks trying to investigate and explore some of the possible reasons for this to have happened. Listening to their ideas, evidence, and reasonings involved with the ExoLab was definitely a highlight of the 2017-18 school year.

I feel the students appreciated the magnitude of knowing that they were doing the same science as an astronaut right above them. That they were asking the same questions, and trying to solve the same problems. We learned about gravity, and how it can change the life and growth of plants during future space missions (it does). One girl confessed, “This is like, totally dope Mr. M., like we are doing real science, like for reals.” The English teacher in me cringed upon hearing this and wanted to cry, but the science teacher in me was thrilled to get them excited. I wanted to let them explore topics, professions, and subject matter that might not even exist. They were hooked. They know, the future is here. Now.

I encourage any teachers, administrators, and parents to look into the ExoLab system by www.Magnitude.io for your school and district(s). What a prime example of Next Generation Science and what that might actually look like in the classrooms of the future. Yes please, sign us up. Why not?!

When Did P.E. Become Fun Again?

Picture of students in Go Noodle

Mr. McCarty’s students participate with Go Noodle.

How do you use GoNoodle in your classroom?! For those who have not heard about this awesome program, you have now. GoNoodle and GoNoodle Plus activities are designed for interactive physical and participatory learning. Kids will follow fun and often catchy rhymes, dances, shakes, and repeat-after-mes.  

Once again, how do you use GoNoodle in your classroom?

Teachers are not just using GoNoodle for its fun indoor P.E. activities and lessons. Classrooms across the country are starting to turn their classrooms into CHAMPS. Registration is free, quick, and easy from the GoNoodle website, www.gonoodle.com. Once a teacher account has been created, teachers can project activities and lessons from their classroom projectors. Classrooms will be prompted to select a character for use. It takes about 40 activity videos for your character to ‘evolve in the GoNoodle Transmogrifier’. This will max out your character, allow you to print a completion certificate, and then select another character from the list of possible choices.

With the support of local sponsors, GoNoodle Plus has allowed for more videos to be created, partnerships with individual schools and classrooms, as well as give teachers access to printable lessons and worksheets that link to topics and standards that a video attempts to teach about.

How cool is that?!

Free graphic organizers, writing prompts, and lesson plans that teach physical fitness, strength training, nutrition, and goal setting skills that all students should know.

GoNoodle videos are shown every hour on the hour in Room 12. I have several alarms on my phone and the kids love hearing “Who Let The Dogs Out” (Woof..woof woof, woof woof)! Next, the students know that they have earned the right to quickly move around the room where they have room to participate. Like many of my own students, I do not like sitting down for too long, and these mini activities get the students up and out of their chair, socially participating, listening, moving and engaging with their classmates. Finally, it’s back to work! This Brain Break has allowed my 10-year-olds to get out their frustrations, be silly, have fun, burn calories, and get back to work with minimal effort.

Other opportunities to use GoNoodle in your classroom might include:

Whether you are an expert GoNoodler using CHAMPS every which way you can imagine, or a new teacher looking for classroom management strategies for your very first classroom, (or anywhere in between) GoNoodle is for you!

Feel free to watch the video linked here. My classroom was selected as GoNoodle’s Classroom of the Month in December of 2017.