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Oregon Phenomena

In our monthly newsletter, The Oregon Science Teacher (TOST), we include a column with a monthly phenomenon. Due to teacher request, we have pulled these monthly phenomena here so that they are more searchable. If you have an idea for a phenomenon to include in our column, contact us!

Phenomena by region:

Greater Oregon
Sled Dog Races

Oregon Coast
Sea Pickle Invasion

Phenomena by topic:

May 2019: Sea Lions vs Salmon

Developed by Natalie Wolf - Elementary school teacher


Salmon are a crucial part of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers ecosystems. They are also vital to many tribal communities, including Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Grand Ronde, Nez Perce and Siletz, and important to recreational and commercial fisherman. In the last few years, sea lions have been traveling from the Pacific to feed on the migrating salmon and other fish. They are traveling long distances to the Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls to feast on the migrating salmon that are slowed by these barriers. Scientists study the rates of migration and numbers of sea lions and have been trying various methods of discouraging the sea lions from eating the salmon. Sea lions have eaten tens of thousands of fish in these areas and are eating endangered fish potentially to extinction. Recently, Oregon was granted legal permission to lethally remove sea lions in an effort to protect the fish.

This lesson starts with students being challenged to think like scientists and develop a solution to a given problem based on information. The explanation of the phenomenon comes at the end as they learn that this is a real-life scenario that is playing out in their own communities.

Discussion on this scientific phenomenon could also offer entry points into conversations around economics, government, and Oregon’s tribal communities, cultures, and history.

GRADE LEVEL: 5 (modifications could be made to adjust to a 3rd or 4th grade lesson but would require more teacher support with the text and notes and more of a focus on life cycles and ecosystem dynamics)

Time: 1 hour


1. Begin class by reading through the challenge with your students. You can show pictures of the Bonneville Dam and Willamette Falls to help them get a sense of the structure and location. Locate them on a map.

Willamette Falls

Sea lion eating salmon (photo Seattle Times)


2. Using the attached sheet, have students work in teams to read about the problem and make notes about the sea lions, salmon and scientists.  While not included in the Army Corp of Engineers’ article, encourage students to also think about how this issue impacts fishermen (recreational and commercial), as well as local tribal communities (Umatilla, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, Grand Ronde, Siletz and Yakama).

3. Support students in the reading and interpreting of the graphs.

What do you see? Help students draw connections between the increase in sea lions with the increase in salmon consumed compared to the previous 10 years.

(Graphs from Army Corps of Engineers study cited on Northwest Power and Conservation Council

4. Come back together to compare answers and discuss each of the differing perspectives.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the problem?
  • Why are the sea lions eating the salmon?
  • Why are the salmon there?
  • What is the role of the scientists?
  • How are people in the community impacted?
  • How did the human development of the Dam on the Columbia River lead to part of the problem? How is this different from the Willamette Falls? Are there other ways humans are contributing to the problem?

5. Using the attached planning page, have teams or pairs of students clearly identify the challenge and come up with 3 possible solutions. Come back together as a class and have teams briefly share out a few ideas, developing a class list of proposed ideas. Then give teams time to choose one idea and analyze potential benefits and impacts of their proposed idea.  Students should consider how their solution impacts or benefits each part of the scenario.

6. Briefly have teams present their ideas to the class.

Click here to view the rest of the phenomenon, including standards connections and student sheets! 

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April 2019: Eagle Cap Extreme Dog Sled Races

Developed by Donna Rainboth – GO STEM Program Coordinator


Image result for dog sled raceEastern Oregon consistently receives significant snowfall during the winter months. One event that takes advantage of this weather phenomena is the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race in Wallowa County. This is Oregon’s only Iditarod and Yukon Quest qualifier. Mushers come from all around the west to participate in the races. Students throughout eastern Oregon visit Joseph, Oregon during the January event to meet the dogs, converse with the mushers and observe the gear used during the race, particularly the dog sleds.

Grade Level: 3-6

NGSS Performance Expectation:

  • 3-PS2-1.Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object

  • MS-PS2-2.Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object’s motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object.

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices: Planning and Carrying Out InvestigationsDeveloping and Using Models

NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea: Forces and Interactions

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: Cause and Effect

Engineering Design

  • 3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Introducing the Anchoring Phenomenon

  1. Ask students if anyone has ever seen sled dog races. Discuss the events and what students noticed.

  2. Watch the 4 minute video provided on the Eagle Cap Extreme website

  3. Discuss the video and ask students what they noticed about the sleds in the video.

  4. Show the video again and have students take notes about the sleds.

  5. Ask students about sleds they have used and how they are alike and different from dog sleds.

  6. Create a list of students’ observations.

  7. Tell students they are going to explore force and motion and how that relates to dog sleds.

Exploring the Phenomenon

Ramps and Force Investigation

Essential Question: How does the amount of force needed to move a block of wood up a ramp change as the surface of the block changes?

Materials (for each student group)

  • Books for elevating a ramp

  • Cardboard for making a ramp

  • Blocks of wood with cup hooks inserted in one end (blocks cut from 2x4s or 4x4s work well)

  • Spring scale or Vernier force sensors

  • Aluminum foil

  • Waxed paper

  • Sandpaper


  1. Students will explore the concept of force and how to measure a force.

  2. Create ramps using cardboard approximately 1 meter long and 15 cm wide.

  3. Use 3 or 4 textbooks to elevate one end of the ramp. The height of the ramps should be the same.

  4. Explain to students that they will connect the spring scale to the block of wood and will drag it up the ramp. A partner will read the force on the spring scale as the wood block moves up the ramp.

  5. Students will start with the wood surface and will then explore differences in force when the block surface is covered with foil, sandpaper, and waxed paper.

  6. Repeat the procedure for each surface three times and average the results.

  7. Create a data table to record the amount of force needed for each of the different surfaces of the block. See the table below.

Surface of the Block

Height of Ramp

Trial 1

Trial 2

Trial 3

Force in Newtons




Waxed paper

8. Discuss the results with the students. Ask which surface required the least amount of force to move the block of wood up the ramp.
Relate the results to dog sleds and what mushers need to consider when they select their sleds.

    Engineering Design Lesson

    Problem to Address: Mushers need a sled that moves smoothly over the snow and can be pulled up an incline with the least amount of force needed. The mushers would like to see examples of different types of runners and how they affect the force needed to move a model sled.


    • Sleds must fit on the ramp

    • Sleds are required to have a minimum mass of 100 grams

    • Sleds are required to have runners

    • Sleds are required to have a method for attaching a spring scale to be pulled up the ramp


    • Sleds can be built from materials provided or other materials as approved by the teacher


    • Ramps

    • Spring scales

    • Blocks of wood

    • Cereal and cracker boxes

    • Foil

    • Waxed paper

    • Plastic wrap

    • Glue

    • Rubber bands

    • String

    • Materials for making sled runners such as rulers, coffee stir sticks, straws, dowels, pipe cleaners,

    • Scale for weighing sleds

    Procedures for Engineering Design Exploration

    1. Show students pictures of different sleds including both kids’ sleds and dog sleds.

    2. Revisit the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race video and/or the Iditarod videos.

    3. Make a list of common characteristics.

    4. In particular look at the runners on sleds and discuss the materials used.

    5. Show students the materials available for building their sleds.

    6. Provide students an engineering design template using the one below or another of your choice.

    7. Go over the problem, criteria and constraints with the students.

    8. Have students provide a drawing of their design. Once it is approved allow the students to build their prototypes.

    9. Set up the ramp so students can test their models and collect data on the amount of force needed to move their model up the ramp.

    10. Discuss the process with the students can debrief the concepts of force and motion.

    Click here to read the rest of the unit plan



    Since 2014, sightings of unusually high densities of pink, gelatinous, tube-like sea life have been reported off the Oregon coast, washing up on beaches and clogging fishing gear (Sorenson, 2017). Marine scientists are trying to understand the reasons for their sudden appearance. Could climate change be responsible?

    GRADE LEVEL: 9 - 12

    NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas: LS1.A: Structure and Function; LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems; LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience; ESS2.D: Weather and Climate; ESS3.D: Global Climate Change.

    NGSS Cross Cutting Concepts: Cause and Effect; Systems and System Models; Stability and Change; Structure and Function; Patterns.

    NGSS Science and Engineering Practices: Asking Questions and Defining Problems; Analyzing and Interpreting Data; Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions; Engaging in Argument from Evidence; Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information.

    A large catch of pyrosomes from a pelagic survey off the Oregon coast, 2017

    Pyrosomes on an Oregon beach, 2017


    1. Begin class by sharing the two photos above without photo captions. (Photo credits: Brodeur, et al., 2018.)

    2. Ask: Has anyone ever seen or heard of these? If so, encourage students to explain where and when they have observed them.

    3. Depending on answers, explain/confirm that students are looking at photos of what are called pyrosomes (Pyrosoma atlanticum) taken along the Oregon coast in 2017.

    4. Follow up this discussion by sharing the NOAA video footage of pyrosomes taken 85 miles off of Newport, Oregon to a depth of 100 meters. While watching, challenge students to record at least two observations about pyrosomes that could help them understand how they move or what they might eat and one question they now have about pyrosomes.

    5. Create a class list of observations and questions about pyrosomes.


    The appearance of such high densities of a normally tropical sea life in the much colder Pacific has created many questions for marine scientists.

    1. Share the four-minute video link below and challenge students to individually listen and record at least three questions marine scientists are now pursuing as a result of the unusual pyrosome sightings.

    2. Split students into groups of three and complete a round robin where each student shares one of the questions they listed. As a whole class, record one research question from each group. Possible examples:

    • Why are pyrosomes occurring in such high numbers on the Oregon coast?
    • Where do they normally occur?
    • Why are they occurring in such high densities?
    • Why are they occurring now?
    • What do pyrosomes eat?
    • What eats them?
    • What is the impact of so many pyrosomes on the Oregon coast?


    1. Share with students possible explanations being examined by marine scientists for the high density pyrosome sightings on the Oregon coast:

      • Pyrosomes are being delivered to coastal waters from farther offshore and southern waters because warmer ocean conditions from global climate change are creating an ideal environment for them to thrive.
      • The large El Nino event in 2016 brought high densities of pyrosomes. The pyrosomes are staying and reproducing even though conditions have returned to normal.
      • Beginning in 2014, an unusually warm and stable water mass termed the  “blob” formed in the North Pacific and lasted several years. Pyrosomes arrived as a result of this phenomena.

      2. Using the Oregon STEM partners, research articles, and resources listed below, challenge student teams to research which claim the scientific data most supports.

      Each team will share their conclusions using the Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning strategy. Teams should also prepare a rebuttal that explains why the unselected or alternative claims are not the best descriptions for the pyrosome phenomena.


      Make a Claim: A statement that identifies which anchoring phenomena explanation the team agrees is most consistent with the scientific evidence.

      Provide Evidence: Sufficient, appropriate, qualitative and/or quantitative evidence that supports their claim.

      Share Reasoning: Explain how or why the data counts as evidence to support their claim, provide a justification for why this evidence is important to their claim, and include one or more scientific principles that are important to their claim and evidence.

      Image Credit: Digital Chalkboard



      Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies
      Oregon State University
      Hatfield Marine Science Center
      2030 Marine Science Drive
      Newport, Oregon 97365

      P: 541-867-0404

      Dr. Kim Bernard, Assistant Professor

      College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

      Oregon State University

      Corvallis, Oregon

      P: 541-737-9337


      Brodeur, R., Perry, I., Boldt, J., Flostrand, L., Galbraith, King, J., M., Murphy, J., Sakuma, K., and Thompson, A. (2018). An unusual gelatinous plankton event in the NE Pacific: The great Pyrosome bloom of 2017. PICES Press, 26(1), 21-27.

      Sutherland, K. R., H. L. Sorensen, O. N. Blondheim, R. D. Brodeur, A. Galloway. In press. Range expansion of tropical pyrosomes in the northeast Pacific Ocean. Ecology. 0(0), pp. 1-3.

      Oregon Field Guide

      Northwest Fisheries Science Center

      National Geographic


      NASA Global Temperature Visualizer

      Authors: Lisa M. Blank, Tracy Crews, Nancy Steinberg, Elizabeth Daley, Kama Almasi


      by Lisa Blank, Director of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub

      Oregon science teachers are fortunate to be teaching in a state that supports a STEM Learning Ecosystem approach.

      What is a STEM Learning Ecosystem and How Do you as a Science Teacher Benefit?

      One, STEM ecosystems convene strategic partners to improve education and connect all learners to STEM experiences across multiple learning environments, from school buildings to libraries to creek beds to factory floors, igniting students’ passions, interests and aspirations. In short, STEM Learning Ecosystems are your everyday partner in supporting your work with students. 

      Two, STEM Learning Ecosystems were identified in a 2018 federal report as the top strategy for improving STEM literacy. This means Oregon is well - positioned to secure federal funding for STEM educators – this includes science teachers!

      The Oregon Department of Education supports thirteen STEM Learning Ecosystems that are most often referred to as STE(A)M Hubs. The map below can help you identify and connect with your STE(A)M hub. As well, you can find more information about your STE(A)M hub by visiting:

      One consistent message STE(A)M Hubs hear from educators is that they would like more specific teaching supports. To that end, OSTA will begin providing monthly, place-based anchoring phenomena that are unique to each hub landscape, aligned with NGSS, and includes connections to community partners for your students to further investigate the phenomena.

      The Oregon STE(A)M Hub Anchoring Phenomena column launches in March with an anchoring phenomena provided by the Oregon Coast STEM Hub. This means you can expect an anchoring phenomena that helps students better understand Oregon's marine and coastal ecosystems and the questions practicing marine scientists daily ponder.

      What Makes a Quality Anchoring Phenomenon?

      Central to the changes outlined in the NGSS is the understanding that teachers should “anchor” their instruction in observable, complex, and puzzling events that require students to use their science understandings to explain or predict phenomena.

      Known as “anchoring phenomena,” these events focus teaching and learning episodes, integrate math and science learning across several weeks of instruction, and require multiple lines of evidence and reasoning on the part of students.

      Let's use a marine science example to illustrate. Dr. Leigh Torres (Marine Mammal Institute, Hatfield Marine Science Center) and colleagues are using drone technology to develop a new whale body size metric - termed “Body Area Index” - that enables marine mammal researchers to compare whale body size within and among whale populations over time.

      This research context provides an excellent opportunity to anchor student investigations: How can Body Area Index be used to assess the health of whales? What measurements are essential for creating a Body Area Index? Why? How does the Body Area Index vary from the Body Mass Index for humans? What is the ideal Body Area Index for whales? How is the health of whales related to food availability? Do whale populations struggle with food security or obesity like human populations? How should these findings inform commercial and/or recreational fishing policies?

      These questions are too complex for students to explain after a single lesson or online search. Possible explanations are observable to students, require the integration of important math and science concepts and access to data, images, and text to engage in a range of ideas, and depend on considering important stakeholders such as recreational and commercial fisheries. As well, understanding the Body Area Index builds upon the familiar concept of Body Mass Index. These criteria are essential for developing quality anchoring phenomena (Bell, 2016).

      Curious? We hope so! See you next month when the Oregon Coast STEM Hub provides a fully developed anchoring phenomena for you to use in your science classroom. Questions? Contact Lisa M. Blank at


      This map from Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom gives a visual representation of Oregon's agricultural commodities. Teachers: order your free copy here!

      What's your local agricultural commodity(s), and why is it grown in your region? Asking these questions opens up so many more questions about soil chemistry, local climate, transportation of goods, ecosystems, engineering design, human impacts, and more. 

      Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom is a great resource to start digging deeper into agricultural commodities and beyond. You can find lesson plansinformation about school gardening, and sign up for weekly current events in agriculture

      What native plants and animals are important to people? To learn more about Native American agriculture, this blog post from Oregon Ag in the Classroom has links to many educational resources written by Native Americans. 

      Standards connections: K-ESS3-1 Earth and Human Activity2-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics3-LS4-4 Biological Evolution: Unity and DiversityHS-ESS3-1 Earth and Human Activity

      december 2018: ENGINEERING AWAY PLASTICS 

      BillerudKorsnäs designers created a cardboard replacement to the plastic casing Jetboil was using for its camping stoves.

      BillerudKorsnäs designers created a cardboard replacement to the plastic casing Jetboil was using for its camping stoves. Cassandra Profita/OPB/EarthFix

      One environmental issue that students easily connect with is plastic pollution in the oceans. For students in Oregon who live on the coast, they likely find plastic trash every time they visit the beach, but this isn't just an issue for coastal communities. New evidence is emerging about microplastics making their way through the food chain into human waste, and even into our indoor air and water supply. While all of the repercussions of microplastic waste aren't yet well understood, we do know that plastics in general are bad news for ocean life and, when used to package foods, aren't great for kids, either. Couple that with the recent refusal of Oregon's plastic recycling from China, and we have a mountain of plastic problem on our hands.

      How are engineers working to solve this problem? One Portland design lab is creating paper packaging meant to replace some of the most common plastic waste. Engineers are working towards using biodegradable and recyclable packaging materials that, rather than contribute towards climate change by using fossil fuels, could help sequester carbon through the sustainable harvest of trees.

      How can this engineering problem translate to the classroom? We've included a few resources below...

      For the earliest grades (PK-1), we'd suggest focusing on the properties of packaging materials. For example, students could drop water on materials and observe what happens, bury them in the compost for several weeks at a time, try different ways to break them down into smaller pieces (or, in the case of paper, make new paper), or design their own tests and carry them out. They could then sort materials by different criteria: whether they think it's easy to reuse or recycle, whether it can biodegrade, whether it's water resistant, etc.

      The Ship the Chip activity, designed for students aged 8-18, challenges students to create the lightest possible shipping container to mail a potato chip back to school, safe and sound. This activity could be modified with the criterion that packaging materials must be recyclable and/or compostable. Includes connections to the NGSS and CCSS.

      This NSTA blog post, "Striving for a Zero Waste School," describes several schools' journeys to reducing or eliminating waste, addressing issues ranging from school lunch packaging to disposable lab materials. We appreciated that schools addressed lunch packaging by going to their school lunch supplier, rather than appealing to individual families who may be on tight food budgets and/or live in areas where unpackaged foods are harder to come by.

      Engineering for Good is an NGSS-aligned three-week middle school unit from KQED Learning, designed to teach students about the issues of plastic waste and guide them through their own design process to solve a plastic-related problem. The unit includes videos and a notebook for students to use. This was our favorite resource that we found - on its face, it seems to be the most student-centered.

      NOAA's Marine Debris teacher guide contains ideas for lessons for students aged K-12 that range from identifying what marine debris is, to tracking the movement of trash through a watershed. These lessons are not NGSS aligned (instead, "STEM objectives" are identified), but they include a lot of very important topics and could be modified to better reflect the NGSS and be more student centered.

      November 2018: CLIMATE CHANGE 

      Oyster larvae under normal conditions (left) vs oyster larvae in acidic conditions (right), from

      We'll admit that when the IPCC Climate Report came out, stating that if society doesn't drastically curb carbon emissions in the next 12 years we will face grave consequences, it was discouraging news to say the least. We decided to use this issue of TOST to focus on what makes our work as science educators so powerful: We are afforded the opportunity to prepare students to face the challenges of the not-so-distant future. 

      How is climate change addressed from K-12 in the NGSS? Students in primary grades do not learn about climate change directly, but rather focus on human impacts on the environment, both positive and negative. This starts as early as kindergarten, when students learn about and communicate ways reduce impacts in their communities. Middle school students make sense of climate data through asking questions. In high school, students use data to make predictions about the rate of climate change as well as how it will impact their communities. They also model carbon cycling to better understand the mechanisms of climate change. 

      It's noteworthy that the IPCC climate report changed the recommended cap on warming from 2 degrees celsius to 1.5. The NGSS includes a document outlining the Nature of Science, which includes a list of scientific understandings, including Scientific Knowledge is Open to Revision in Light of New Evidence. As students think critically about what they might hear about climate change, it's important for them to understand that scientific knowledge is not static, but rather ever evolving as new evidence comes to light. 

      A topic like climate change can feel overwhelming to approach, and the fact that it's a political hot-button issue can be intimidating. The NSTA Climate Science Resources page includes NSTA's position statement on teaching climate science, as well as resources for educators, parents and community members. As with any science topic, it's helpful to look to observable phenomena in your community as a place to start. Communities across Oregon are already being affected by climate change related or exacerbated issues like tree die-offsdrought and accompanying wildfiresincreasing ocean acidification and more. 

      Are you using a local phenomenon to teach about climate change? Tell us about it.


      Fall is officially here! For many, fall means a return of the rains, school starts back up, the temperatures cool down and the days get shorter. For some of us, fall is an eagerly anticipated time of year when the forest floor transforms from dusty and brown to vibrant green, damp and covered in fungal fruiting bodies, otherwise known as mushrooms.  

      How can this local, seasonal phenomenon be a jumping off point for students? Here, we use the Crosscutting Concepts as a lens to ask different kinds of questions about the phenomenon of mushroom growth (linked articles are to provide more information to get the wheels turning...). Note: some of these questions are investigable by students, and some are still unanswered by science!

      Systems and Interactions: What role(s) do fungi play within a forest ecosystem?

      Matter and Energy: What role do fungi play in nutrient cycling in the forest?

      Structure and Function: How do mushroom structures enable their functions?

      Patterns: How can we make predictions about when and where mushrooms might grow?

      Scale, Proportion and Quantity: What can we learn about the structure of fungi at the cellular level? At the organism level?

      Stability and Change: How does a sudden event like logging affect mushroom growth for a particular species?

      Cause and Effect: What might cause mushrooms to be so prolific in some years and absent in others?

      This STEM Teaching Tool has more helpful ideas around using the Crosscutting Concepts to generate student questions.

      How have you used the Crosscutting Concepts to generate student questions? 

      september 2018: THE EERY ORANGE SUN

      Photo by Timothy Bullard/AP

      Across the state of Oregon, wildfire smoke has played a major role in our summer, whether it forced sensitive people indoors, canceled large events like the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, or adversely affected agriculture across the state. For those of us who were (and continue to be) negatively affected by smoke in the air, there hasn't been much positive to say about it, except for one thing: the light sure does look pretty. On days of heavy smoke, the sun appeared orange or red in the middle of the day. This is one of many phenomena involving light that you, or students, may have observed when there are high levels of fine particulates in the air. 

      How would students explain this phenomenon? As an educator, our first task is to think about the age level of our students, and the appropriate level of complexity with which to engage with a phenomenon. For example, first grade students might observe that the sun appears less bright on smoky days, while middle school students might create a model explaining how different frequencies of light interact with particles in the air. Below, we have included the progression of DCIs addressing light waves (click here to see full NSTA document of DCI progressions)

       PS4.B: Electromagnetic Radiation

       K-2  3-5  6-8  9-12
      Objects can be seen only when light is available to illuminate them. Some objects give off their own light. (1-PS4-2)
      Some materials allow light to pass through them, others allow only some light through and others block all the light and create a dark shadow on any surface beyond them, where the light cannot reach. Mirrors can be used to redirect a light beam. (Boundary: The idea that light travels from place to place is developed through experiences with light sources, mirrors, and shadows, but no attempt is made to discuss the speed of light.) (1- PS4-3)
      An object can be seen when light reflected from its surface enters the eyes. (4-PS4-2) When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object’s material and the frequency (color) of the light. (MS-PS4-2)
      The path that light travels can be traced as straight lines, except at surfaces between different transparent materials (e.g., air and water, air and glass) where the light path bends. (MS-PS4-2)
      A wave model of light is useful for explaining brightness, color, and the frequency-dependent bending of light at a surface between media. (MS-PS4-2)
      However, because light can travel through space, it cannot be a matter wave, like sound or water waves. (MS-PS4-2)
      Electromagnetic radiation (e.g., radio, microwaves, light) can be modeled as a wave of changing electric and magnetic fields or as particles called photons. The wave model is useful for explaining many features of electromagnetic radiation, and the particle model explains other features. (HS-PS4-3)
      When light or longer wavelength electromagnetic radiation is absorbed in matter, it is generally converted into thermal energy (heat). Shorter wavelength electromagnetic radiation (ultraviolet, X-rays, gamma rays) can ionize atoms and cause damage to living cells.(HS-PS4-4)
      Photovoltaic materials emit electrons when they absorb light of a high enough frequency. (HS-PS4-5)
      Atoms of each element emit and absorb characteristic frequencies of light. These characteristics allow identification of the presence of an element, even in microscopic quantities. (secondary to HS-ESS1-2)

      How have your students demonstrated their understanding of light waves? Tweet at us:

      August 2018: URBAN HEAT ISLANDS

      Phew! July was HOT. With the exception of the Oregon Coast, Oregonians have been on the hunt for the coolest places to spend the day. This month's phenomenon, urban heat islands, is inspired by the heat wave many of us experienced in July, and involving students in planning climate resilient communities. 

      Data shows that temperatures are increasing faster in urban areas than in surrounding rural areas, which has the potential to negatively impact human health. In fact, Portland has the fourth highest heat island effect (meaning the difference between Portland temperatures and surrounding rural areas is greater than most cities). The PDX Resiliency app takes localized climate data one step further and assesses the city of Portland by temperature, access to air conditioning, local air quality and more, highlighting who might be most vulnerable to rising temperatures and where to focus mitigation efforts. 

      Most of Oregon is not urban - are there localized heat island effects that can be detected in rural areas, too? 

      One way to help students better understand heat islands is to study microclimates on the schoolyard. Annenberg Learner's Journey North website provides lessons that are centered around planting a pollinator garden in the part of the schoolyard that is most similar to the local climate. Students map the schoolyard and take temperature data at different locations over a period of time. With the data students have taken, they can then propose design solutions to cool the schoolyard on hot days. (These activities would align well to the NGSS third grade Weather and Climate standards)

      What other Disciplinary Core Ideas would students need to know to understand the phenomenon of urban heat islands? How do heat waves impact your community? 


      This month's phenomenon is pulled from Diving Into Oregon's Kelp Forests, a 6-8th grade curriculum from the Coast Aquarium. Diving Into Oregon's Kelp Forests takes a closer look at kelp ecosystems off the coast of Oregon, including the keystone species that keep the ecosystem healthy and diverse. Interested in this topic? The Coast Aquarium is hosting a professional development day on August 3!

      From the curriculum:

      Compare these two sites. Which site has a greater abundance of species? Which site has a greater diversity of species? Which site appears to have a healthier ecosystem? Why?

      To take a "deeper dive" into the idea of keystone species and how they affect Pacific coast ecosystems, view this video (also linked in the curriculum). 

      After viewing the video, these questions might come to mind: What ecosystems are in my area? What are the keystone species there? How could students explore the effects of absent keystone species? How could students design plans to reintroduce keystone species?

      Already engaged in learning like this with your students? We'd love to hear about it. Tweet at us or email us!


      Mt. St. Helens, one of the most active volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest, with a viewer holding a photo of its pre-1980 eruption profile. Photo by Jim Richardson

      Aloha from Hawai'i! Leah, the editor of TOST, has the incredible fortune of writing this month's newsletter from the north shore of O'ahu. The eruption of Kīlauea on the island of Hawai'i has many of us thinking about the hazards of living around active volcanoes. Although Kīlauea's activity is unrelated to the volcanic activity in the Northwest (the Associated Press initially erroneously named Hawai'i as part of the Ring of Fire - see correction in the linked article. Whoops!), it is a good reminder to consider the natural hazards we live with every day

      In considering the phenomenon of living with active volcanoes, this sample NGSS unit asks the question: Why do people live and farm on volcanoes? This resource gives an overview of a possible middle school curriculum for the year, with an example of "bundling" Performance Expectations to provide a conceptual flow. This example of bundling PEs could be modified to address living with other geologic hazards, such as a flood plain. 

      Not a middle school teacher but interested in learning more about NGSS standards related to natural hazards? NSTA has a page outlining ESS3.B: Natural Hazards. Discover your grade band's disciplinary core idea(s) and how they fit into the overall progression of learning.

      The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) has a page dedicated to natural hazards in Oregon, such as earthquakes, floods, landslides and tsunamis. What natural hazards exist in your area? How does your community prepare? 


      This spring and summer, eastern Oregonians are in for a treat: Monarch butterflies make their incredible migration north after overwintering in California. Below are some ideas of how to experience this phenomenon with your students.

      • Learn more about monarch migrations in this National Geographic article.
      • In Sisters, students will be participating in their annual Western Monarch and Pollinator Spring Migration Celebration on May 5th (click here for more information). A teacher from Sisters Middle School wrote a book about the monarch butterfly migration with her students, based on a real butterfly's migration. Read more about it here.
      • Students all over Oregon can look for monarchs and participate in the Journey North citizen science project. Students can also look for patterns in previously reported data to make predictions about when monarchs might be seen in their area. 
      • Participate in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Program through the University of Minnesota. Are you in an area with regular monarch visitors? Register to have your school become a monitoring site! 
      • This article from the Statesman Journal contains information about how to increase the likelihood that you will see monarchs in your schoolyard or backyard. Can your students design a solution to the problem of declining monarch butterflies?

      April 2018: OREGON SNOWPACK

      Consider the difference between these two Snow Water Equivalent maps from January 30 and March 29 :

      Click here for an interactive comparison (credit to the Statesman Journal for the idea)

      How is your area affected? How do scientists decide what snowpack levels are "normal"? Why is it important to study snowpack, anyway? Here are some more recently published articles about this phenomenon that might spark some ideas:

      To find the SNOTEL maps used above and more interactive data about weather and climate, explore the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) website for Oregon

      The Oregon Basin Report from USDA/NRCS contains region-specific information about water conditions in Oregon. Contained in this report are streamflow forecasts, graphs comparing the current snowpack with historical snowpack, and data tables galore.


      When you drop a paperclip into a cup of water, it sinks. But wait! Is there a way to make it float on the surface of the water? Observe here:

      Try recreating this phenomenon yourself! It's surprisingly fun considering how simple it is. Engaging with the paperclip phenomenon is a perfect opportunity to practice the process of asking investigable questions. This resource, adapted from The Exploratorium in San Francisco, can guide you through the process.


      For this month's phenomenon, we're focusing on an engineering challenge: Using the photos, diagrams, and materials, try your best to construct a tipi model

      The following tipi modeling and measurement high school curriculum materials were designed by C Greene. These resources are shared with her permission. We hope they spark ideas for how to plan culturally relevant science, mathematics and engineering units. 

      Tipi PowerpointTipi Unit PlanStudent Handout

      For younger students
      Teepee, Sun and Time: This children's story, written by Henry Real Bird, explains tipi (teepee) building, including embedded mathematical and cultural knowledge. 

      JANUARY 2018: THE GEOLOGY OF THE WALLOWAS (Nez Perce name: Waĺmas)

      How could the geology unit described in the above middle school professional learning article be tailored to feature a more local Oregon phenomenon? 

      Consider the image below:

      Photo and annotations by Marli Miller

      More information about the Wallowa Mountains and Oregon's geological history:


      Gray whales can be observed migrating along the Oregon Coast every winter and spring. Educators: what questions might students ask while observing this phenomenon? How might they investigate this phenomenon through different Crosscutting Concept lenses, like Energy and Matter, Patterns, Structure and Function, or Systems and System Models? Which Science and Engineering Practices could be the most useful tools to answer questions?

      The following links contain more information about gray whale migrations:
      Annenberg Learner - includes interactive migration map, migration field notes and gray whale information
      Oregon State Parks - find out where to observe gray whales along the Oregon Coast, as well as data collected in previous years
      Whale Watching Spoken Here - sign up to volunteer for the 2017 Whale Watching Week December 27-31
      Drone footage of gray whales - start honing your whale spotting skills now!


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