October 28

Farmer John

Recently my friend, Farmer John, called me. We were talking about his farm and he explained to me that his irrigation system for his farm was recently shutdown due to a problem with the freshwater source. Farmer John explained that he would not be able to use the stream water he had been relying on due to low water volumes from the dry summer. He said he could only take some water from the stream as other wildlife like salmon depended on it to swim to their spawning grounds. Farmer John said the state is only allowing him to capture a small amount of water. He’s worried about the crops he’s planted. However, I told him why not use some of the saltwater from the ocean nearby. I said, “You could mix it with the freshwater you’re allowed to harvest and conserve your freshwater and grow your crops!” I told him we’ve been experimenting with different levels of salinity. We could study the problem and share our findings. I said, “We’ll find the range of tolerance for the crops.” He said, “That would be great!”

Well, you guys have heard the story. Now, we need to think about the experimental design. What do you think we can set-up to help Farmer John determine how salinity could affect his crops?













What we decided for our experimental design:

    •  Create 4 different saltwater solutions. Label one with 0, another 1, … 2, and 4.
    •  Set-up a tray of crops with 4 different cups. Label one with 0 another 1, … 2, and 4.
    •  In each cup place 4 corn  seeds, 4 pea seeds, 3 barley seeds and 3 radish seeds.
    •  Plant all seeds in the cups with about a cup of soil.
    • Water each cup with 50 ml from the saltwater solution that’s the same as the cup label.
    • Observe what happens.

What do you think will happen?
Farmer John Predictions
October 26

The Real Mono Lake Story

So what’s the real story about Mono Lake. Well Mono Lake is a real place in California. It has been a place of great concern to environmental scientist. However, because of their simple observations and studies of this special ecosytstem it’s a much healthier environment for organisms like brine shrimp and the California gull. These populations are not suffering anymore because of the work that’s been done by scientist like yourself. The video below will shed more light on it.

October 24

Dear Dr. Brian


Dear Dr. Brian,

We’re writing you to tell you what we have found from our brine shrimp studies. We have enjoyed working with the shrimp. We have some good and bad news for you.

We took some cups with 150 ml of water and placed different amounts of salt in them. We placed a mini scoop of brine shrimp in each cup. Then we observed to see how they would live and grow.

First, the good news is we found that brine shrimp did very well in cups with 2-4 scoops (5ml) of salt per 150ml of water. So, the range of tolerance was 2-4 scoops of salt per 150 ml of water. The optimum, or best, level was 2 scoops of salt per 150ml of water.

The bad news is the cups with 0 scoops of salt and 6 scoops had no brine shrimp eggs hatch. So this means you have a serious problem if the water level goes down and the salinity continues to go up.

One more bit of good news is that eggs that didn’t hatch in cups with 0 and 6 scoops were found to be viable if the salinity was changed. So, maybe it’s not too late to make things better at Mono Lake.


Mr. Magill and The Portable People

PS What are your thoughts about our viablility findings?

October 20

The Gift

At the beginning of the school year our class created a purpose. You can see it as a part of our header on our Home Page. The kids worked hard on it. All students took part in making it. The words and phrases in the purpose were written by students in our class. Most importantly, our classroom purpose reminds us why we come to school each day. It’s at the heart of everything we do.

Recently, I was amazed by something that started happening in class. Every morning the class, or pairs of students recite the purpose. On one particular morning I couldn’t quite project it fast enough. Saya said, “We don’t need it Mr. Magill.” All the kids turned and faced me and Alex, our classroom TA started them. They said the purpose from memory. I was shocked. Now, it’s become a ritual in the class, kids all turn and face me to say the class purpose each day. It was one of the nicest gifts a class has ever given me at this time in the school year. It made me feel good that the kids were confident in their purpose and taking real ownership of it. Great job Portable People! You did it! Keep doing it. I know you will.

Class Purpose

October 17

Letter from Dr. Salina Brian

Here’s the letter I received last year from Dr.Salina Brian that I had mentioned previous to our work with the brine shrimp. Now that we have data for her, how should we present it to her?


Dear Mr. Magill,

As I told you in our conversation on the telephone, I’ve been studying the bird populations around Mono Lake. This is a lake in Northern California. The lake has been drying up and getting smaller. As a result, Mono Lake has become a salt lake. As the level of the lake falls, the concentration of salt, or salinity has increased. This environmental change might be affecting the organisms in the area. For instance, the lake has small organisms called brine shrimp. The birds that migrate to the lake depend on them. If the lake continues to get saltier, either because the lake is drying up or fresh water flowing into the lake is being reduced, the salty aquatic environment might have an effect on the shrimp.

I would be most grateful if your class chose to help me out on a research study. I’m trying to figure out if the salinity is an environmental factor that’s affecting the hatching of Mono Lake brine shrimp eggs. If so, I’ve sent you some brine shrimp eggs from Mono Lake to use for research.

Would your class be able to help to design an experiment that would contribute to my studies?

Dr. Salina Brian

October 16

Brian’s Effort

Recently, I was given a piece of work from a student in our class. He wasn’t asked to do it. This impressed me because it’s clear evidence that he’s trying to understand what he’s learning. It’s what you can do if you’re highly motivated and trying to understand something beyond Know-How. This student is on his way towards gaining Wisdom! Remember that at this level of learning you become a teacher of what you know. You can apply it at the highest level. Good job Brian and thanks for letting me share your work.

October 16

Going Beyond the Decimal

What happens to the value of a single digit as we move to the left of a number?  Look at the number below to reflect on this thought.


Now think about a decimal number. What happens to the value for each digit in a decimal number as we move left?


Look at the stopwatch below. Watch the numbers count up.

Which digits are moving the fastest? Why?

Now, look at the video below and think about speed. The video compares the fastest runners to the slowest runners. What do you notice about the value of the time of the runners who are fastest? What do you notice about the value of the time of the runners that are slowest?

How did this post help you understand place value more?

October 12

The Center of the Place Value Universe

Place value can be tricky because of the confusing patterns that exist. Look at the number below. Now think of the place value of the different digits. What patterns do you notice?


The decimal always throws us off. Now look at the graphic below.










The graphic shows a couple of things. The ones place is a starting point for place value. The pattern for place value is reflected on both sides of the ones place. What is the pattern? This type of reflection is called symmetry. Everything revolves around the ones place.

October 5

Where did the Food Pyramid go?

A guest teacher named Mrs. MacRae taught this morning in Portable 35. She will be teaching us about good nutrition on Wednesdays twice a month. She explained to the class that we no longer use the Food Pyramid to guide us in what we eat.. The Food Pyramid was not able to clearly show the difference between healthy foods and unhealthy foods. So, the White House decided to go with another version called My Plate. The New York Times newspaper explains this in more detail in an article they created last May. The article points out that the Food Pyramid was just too confusing.

Today we talked about the parts of My Plate. Below are pictures of these guidelines for nutrition. Which do you find easier to follow? Why?

The USDA's My Plate Icon


The USDA's Food Pyramid





















Here’s a picture I took today from an activity kids did in their food teams. Kids were to place their icons on the poster where they fit best. Do you think everyone placed theirs in the correct spots? Can you think of evidence that proves someone is correct, or incorrect?

Where do the pictures relate to My Plate?













Before I end this blog entry, you should check out the My Plate video I’ve embedded to find out the basics about this new program we’ll be learning in class. Enjoy!