Monday, October 28, 2013

Owl Pellets Take Over- PART ONE!

Look below to see more about what the students found in their pellets!

When I originally wrote the Donor's Choose project for a unit using Owl Pellets for a few of the grade levels, little did I know the fervor with which students would take to this project. Word traveled fast amongst the elementary ranks about the "dissection" that would be taking place in Think Tank. It soon became very clear that the Maury Community needed a new school-wide unit, especially given the sad state of our Maury Monarch Madness this year. ( Poor survival rate reasons still are unknown...)

These are some of our finds! Stay tuned to this blog as students reconstruct their prey!

Before I share too many other pictures, many of you reading this may wonder, "WHAT IS AN OWL PELLET? WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?"  Click on those questions and you can complete a virtual dissection. If you are so inspired, please feel free to join us sometime in the next two weeks as we complete our study! Bottom line... owls swollow their prey whole. See? (PS: The following photographs were taken by my dad!)

Prey caught!

Prey partially in mouth

Almost all the way down!

Last but not least, the tail.


 Their digestive tracks cannot process fur, feathers or bones so as part of their process, they cast, or "throw-up" those items in a pellet form 6-10 hours after eating. The process is also thought to clean their system!

4th graders working together to tackle their pellets with bone charts at hand.
The more I thought about it, the more sense it made to use these pellets in all grades, just with varying amounts of in-depth study and use of scientific questioning. ( At least we don't need to keep these guys alive!)

PreSchool Students jumped right in for a look at the "Hands-On Science" Center during choice time.
As it turns out little fingers are excellent replacements for little tweezers! While many PS-K students have used the tweezers, others have pushed them aside to get the small bones with their own hands.  (Don't worry! All pellets are sterilized!)
Turns out little hands are perfect for little bones!


Older students were just as engaged, many choosing to come and dissect more pellets even during recess!

 In addition to the dissection itself, we had Ornithologist Dan Rauch from DC Department of Environment visit our 3rd grades with REAL specimens from the National Zoo! Through his presentation and exploration of the Bald Eagle and Coopers Hawk, students became even more excited about what their owl pellets could tell us about the owls that cast them.
Student does a GREAT Coopers Hawk imitation!
Example of one of SIXTY-SEVEN questions 3rd graders had after Dan Rauch's presentation. I think we may have MANY budding Ornithologists.

This is just the beginning! Stay tuned to the blog for how our Owl Pellet study unfolds. In the coming two weeks students will reconstruct the prey in each of their pellets to learn more about the owl that created it! This is just the beginning!

Until next time,
Picture courtesy of my dad!

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Thursday, October 17, 2013


For 5 weeks our awesome 4th graders have used Lego products to explore the properties of levers, specifically the relationships between fulcrum, load and effort.

Then, this week came the big testing day. We had to determine which catapult would send "Lego Mrs. Ford" the farthest. We discussed and created a fair test for these and set it up. Which do you think would throw me the farthest??


          (PS: Look closely at the placement of the FULCRUM in relation to the LOAD!)

Testing was particularly fun and we were lucky to have an awesome parent volunteer, Jessica Robin, who happens to be a National Science Foundation scientist!  How perfect for our first "fair test" of the year!

Our visiting scientist, Jessica Robin.

Visiting scientist Jessica Robin noted the importance of having multiple people take measurements.

Setting up the launch pad.

Take a look at a few of our trials. We will be analyzing these as a class next week to see if we can find ways that we could have made our methods better, and possibly get more consistent results. But mainly, it's always fun as a teacher to see kids so engaged in fun learning:).
                                                                       (Duckett's Class)

                          (George's Class--- and I need to learn to whisper while holding a phone!)

So.... Let's just say we will be taking some time to look at this data next week. Some data-loves may cringe when looking at the numbers below. However, I see this as the PERFECT opportunity to truly evaluate our design and see what could have caused us to have such varying results. I videoed each trial so we will watch our videos for clues. (I have a few ideas but it will be fun to watch our budding scientists figure it out!) Stay tuned for their thoughts!

Ms. Duckett's class data shows something in our methods caused these results. It will give us more to talk about!  

Until next time!
Mrs. Ford

Sunday, October 6, 2013


If I could jump post back-surgery.... I would be!!!!
I always update on what is happening IN the classroom. However, I wanted to take a moment to share a few exciting opportunities I'm part of, and add a little context to a few of the days I may be out of the classroom in the coming months. ( Don't worry, it's only one or two days... but the chances are priceless!)

I'm now a Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS) Curator for the NSTA!
Two years ago, I worked with the American Federation of Teachers to help review the Next Generation Science Standards-- standards that I believe will change the face of science education nationwide. In addition to working with OSSE on potential plans for implementation of these, I found out Friday that I was chosen as one of 50 educators nationwide to serve as a Curator for the NGSS for the National Science Teacher Association! There were over 650 applicants too! In November I'm being flown to North Carolina to attend the NSTA National Conference and work with my cohort. My role will be compiling resources for educators across the country. Specifically, I've been chosen for the K-2nd grade cohort and will be working on the "Waves: Light and Sound" units. Because I get to take part in all of this, I will truly be able to bring the very best back to Maury and to DCPS. I am BEYOND honored and thrilled.

I'm chairing a Teacher Advisory Group for the National Center on Teacher Quality!
Last month,  I was selected to Chair  10-educator panel of teachers for the National Center on Teacher Quality (! From their website: Teacher Advisors contribute crucial perspectives to the work that NCTQ does, helping to bridge the gap between policy and practice.  I recently had a conference call with these educators and was blown away by the breadth of experience they each have. I cannot wait to learn from and work with this group. Again, I hope to bring as much learning as I can back to Maury students and DCPS as a whole. Can you find me on the page?? :)

Engineering is Elementary is HERE!
I've attended ( and will attend two more) Boston Museum of Science "Engineering is Elementary" trainings!  This year's 4th graders will be completing an INCREDIBLE unit where they will truly become Green Engineers, creating solar ovens that can cook S'Mores AND have low environmental impact. 3rd Graders will become Environmental Engineers learning about what it takes to clean up an oil spill. ( Yup, that's right. THIRD GRADERS! ) Later in the year, 1st graders will become Civil Engineers, building strong, stable bridges. These engineering units, in addition to our already wonderful Society for Automobile Engineering "A World in Motion Units" are truly putting Maury at the cutting edge of engineering education in elementary schools. GO US!


I bet some of you are thinking, "How can she plan and teach our kids effectively if she is involved in all of these extracurricular things?". My answer is not to worry:). I promise that not only will you see the same, energetic Mrs. Ford you always do, but I'll be gaining more content knowledge, have even bigger networks of resources for your children, and will be freshly inspired to bring the best there is to the students in DC.


PS: Are YOU inspired now? Do you have time during the day? Come on in and volunteer! Just email me at

Until next time!
-Mrs. Ford

Maury Monarch Madness Updates!

                                     The 4th grade caught Ms. Sweeney's "Hermoine" pupating!
From larva to chrysalis!

Hello all Maury Monarch lovers! Now in our 3rd year, Maury Monarch Madness has taken over our wonderful school. So far, Ms. Vick and Ms. Duckett's classes have "caught" their larvae pupating, forming amazingly beautiful chrysalides!  ( No, I didn't know the plural of chrysalis either but check this out on Merriam-Webster!)

We have even sent of our first Monarch, "Tango" from Mrs. Mitchell's class!
                                                          HAVE A SAFE TRIP, TANGO!

Would you believe that by instinct, "Tango" will fly thousands of miles to join MILLIONS of others to winter in Mexico?
Tango, an millions of others will make this trip in ONE generation!

This year, however, we have had a few complications. For reasons we have yet to determine, many of our small friends never made it through all stages of metamorphosis. Many stopped growing prior to pupating. We have started to buddy up classes so that all students, regardless of the outcome of their classroom "pets", get to experience the Monarch walking on their hand, determine if it is a male or female ( by markings on the inside of it's wings) and test for a specific parasite that can infect adults before sending off.

In the meantime, if you want to be awed, here are two WONDERFUL videos. One is the entire life cycle of the Monarch from egg to adult that is truly inspiring. The others are clips from the mountains in Mexico where the Monarchs winter. It is truly amazing what these little creatures can do. When occurring in nature ( not reared in labs), the adult Monarch can migrate from Canada to Mexico in ONE generation! Once spring arrives, it takes multiple generations for them to return to Canada, instinct guiding them.  AMAZING! ( Have I said AMAZING??)


Let's hope the rest of our little friends continue growing and changing!

PS: Vanessa is my first name and it means butterfly!