One Week Of Blessings Down, Thirty Five To Go

First full week of school and it was filled with challenges.  Yea, I got sucked into the whining and complaining with the other teachers.  My class roster changed so many times this week, I actually lost who was in my class and who was not.  I have under printed several times and then compensated and over printed materials.  Argh.

After school, I helped clean out the football ticket booth. It had become a dumping grounds for just about everything.  We store our tennis gear in there between practices and matches.  Football stores their tables and chairs in their for ticket nights.  Cross country stores cones to mark lanes.  I even found a few things I had no clues how to identify.

At the corner of the ticket booth is where the new freshman passed away a week before school started.  She was on the cross country team and had just finished 3 miles of practice running when her team mates found her dead.  The memorial placed by her friends, team mates and family was still there.  Over the past week, I took it upon myself to remove the dead flowers, change the water and make it look fresh.

I cleaned the inside of the booth, went outside, started cleaning the area round the booth and found a note someone had left for the memorial.  “We are going to miss you.  Love XOXO”   The note had blown through the fence and was laying against a tree covered by a bit of pine straw.   Was this from a close friend?  Team mate?  Family member? Or, just a fellow class mate?

I have thought about that note several times tonight.  “We are going to miss you.”  Six simple words, but those six simple words carried with them such power tonight.

empty chair

If I were to not come to school, would my students miss me?  Would my students really care if I were gone?  After all, it is only the first week of school.  They don’t know me.  I get a lot of kids that come by every day from previous classes and get hugs, fist bumps, high fives, and such.  But…..  what about the new kids.

I had a lot of kids absent this first week.  Did they not make it back from vacation?  Was something going on at home?  Have I missed them?  I have to say, I don’t know because I don’t know all of them yet.

This first week is gone.  There are 35 more until summer vacation.  I only have 35 more weeks to make sure these kids know they are missed.  I need to get to know what is going on, make the connection and let them know they matter.  It really doesn’t matter if they miss me or not, but they need to know they will be missed.


Why In The World Am I Doing This?

Why in the world am I doing this?

Don't Drop Out

This is starting to be another very rough year.  Over-crowed class rooms.  Not nearly enough supplies to make sure every student have what they need.  Majority of students that are making the choice they would rather disrupt than learn.  Students talking back.  Parents that tell you they can’t do anything with their kids and I need to do something.  More responsibilities, more paperwork, more documentation, with less time.  More people blaming the teachers because students are not performing.

Yea, I’m painting a very bleak, poor outlook to my career.  I am a teacher.  Worse: I am a SCIENCE TEACHER!  {The masses of parents, students and general public go into hiding at the mention of this topic}

I could make 25-100% more by going into the private sector.  My hours would be shorter.  My expenses would be covered.  I would actually get a paid vacation.  I could travel.

But…. I chose to work with kids.  I choose to find ways to open minds, excite and make kids question and wonder.  I choose challenge a group of kids to be more than their ‘hood’ had told them they could be.  I choose to help kids understand they are using science daily, and they never realize it.  I choose to inspire, cause intrigue and present mysteries.  I choose,…. this.

For my choice, state legislators cutting money for my classroom.  Retirement, raises, benefits are all in jeopardy.  Legislators changing laws to make it more difficult and expensive to take athletes to contests.  I’ve spent over $1000 out of my pocket last year for my students.

For my choices, I get…. Well…. Hard to explain.

Yesterday was the first day of the new semester.  As I returned from the copy machine, I had someone waiting at my door before school.  “Mr. Case, you remember me?  I was in your class a few years ago.  I decided to come back.  I dropped out a couple years ago.  Will you help me?”

Later that day, between classes, “Mr. Case!  I gotta show you sometin!”  They pulled out transcripts showing them in 12th grade. “I did it!  I am a senior!   You gonna help me on my senior project?  PLEEAAAAASE!!!!

Today, right after school, she came running down the hall.  “Coach Case! Coach Case!  I went to guidance and told them I wanted you and they said you didn’t have any classes I can take.  I really wanted to have you for a teacher.  Can you talk to guidance for me?”  ecological footprint poster 2

During tennis practice today, one of the parents from another sport came by the courts.  “Coach Case, may I speak with you a minute?  I heard you work wonders with kids.  Can my son come to your learning labs?  He really needs your help.”

I was getting a bit frustrated with not having the necessary skills to help the girls get better at their tennis game.  I was trying to get a bit more like a ‘coach’ and be a bit more mean.  “Coach… what are you doing?” “I’m trying to be a little meaner to get you to work harder.”  “Coach, you couldn’t be mean if you tried.”

Today, I was blessed to be named the DEN (Discovery Education Network) community member of the week.

Why do I teach?  It’s because the dropouts the come back. It’s because of the senior project advisors.  It’s because the kids that want my class, and they don’t need it.  It’s because the parents that believe I have super powers (or something).  It’s because the athletes that love me when I can’t really help their sport.  It’s because someone out there believed in me.

Why am I doing this?  I teach because you can’t put a value on the reasons I teach.

Fruitcake Is the Gift That Keeps On Giving

I met my best friend in college in August 1982.  For a Christmas joke, I gave him a fruitcake in a tin and a card.   Next Christmas, he gave me the SAME EXACT fruitcake and the SAME EXACT card, but signed it, “Marty, 1983.”  He kept it all year and gave it back!  I put it away and gave it back to him next Christmas and signed the card, “Mark, 1984”.  We kept that tradition going year after year, the SAME EXACT card and fruitcake.

Marty was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in 1999.  My family spent Y2K with him and decided to see if the 18 year old fruitcake was edible.  We opened the pack, took a very small nibble and, yup!  It was fruitcake and still edible.

Marty passed away in 2000 and we had the fruitcake cremated with his body.  If Marty had survived, we would have kept that fruitcake going today.


This past week I was blessed to attend the 2014 DENSI in Nashville TN.  The best way to summarize this week was not life changing, rather career changing.  It is very difficult to put into words the experience, because it was just that: an experience and it is impossible to explain the academic high you get by attending.  Woven into the professional learning community relationships that were built was a wealth of training.

 Here is a minute amount of what I learned this past week. (emphasis on minute!)

  • Two GREAT keynote speakers that gave personal connections.  I came to DENSI a bit under the weather emotionally.  I was wondering if what I did really made a difference.  Were the ‘pats on the back’ just that or am I really making a difference.  Both keynote speakers confirmed what I do does matter.  I really can’t sum them up, you just have to listen to them yourself.
  • Photography apps and tips.  I want students to understand the device in their hands is more than a texting tool and for playing games.  At the 2012 DENSI we were given a challenge using our phones to produce a collage spelling MONTANA with ‘letters’ we found in the natural world around us.  I transformed that challenge into a lesson.  Last week, I was able to work with other educators to refine that lesson and include photography tips for student phones.
  • Augmented reality.  I currently use QR codes in my class for a variety of lessons and assessment.  The new augmented reality apps have endless applications in presenting information, gallery walks and even preparing lab reports.  I was able to partner with two other attendees and have already crafted several applications that will be tested soon.
  • Discovery Education Techbook.  To be honest, I have not been a fan of the techbook.  It was taking too much time to find the lessons and information to apply to North Carolina essential standards.  I was able to meet and discuss techbook with a developer and a manager of the program.  In addition, I attended a session that helped me understand the layout and how to search for the lessons I needed for the classroom.
  • Board builder.  After meeting with several current users, I was able to set up a simple board and updated it several times during the DENSI.  Board builder is a good way for students to submit lab reports, homework and other formative assessement.
  • Geocaching.  I enjoy geocaching and was asked to help teach others about this hobby.  Daily I lead a walk to find a local geocache or two.  I lead an unconference session how to use the phone app, set up a course at school and share lessons I have developed.  I learned that at least three other participants have taken up the hobby on their return trips home  and plan to incorporate in their school lesson.


I would recommend the DENSI to every single educator.  First step: get involved in the DEN.  Use the products.  Attend the events.  Read the blogs.  Participate in the chats.  Discuss on the facebook page.  The DEN is more than a product we use.  It is a PLC, a network to help and perhaps the most unusual aspect: a culture of dedicated educators wanting to help everyone.


Meet Charlie. A 80+ year old desert tortoise

This is what 150 educators that care about each other look like when they get in one room

These three ladies invited me to participate in the DENmazing race. We were trying for maximum ‘funness’ but took third place in the race.


It’s Not Sneakers, It’s The Kid IN The Sneakers That Matters

I believe I have done my job.

I started the year with a quote I heard someone say.  “It’s not the sneakers, it’s the kid IN the sneakers that matters.”  I don’t remember who said it but it stuck with me.  I have tried to tailor my entire school year around that quote.  I even hung it on the front of my class, not for the kids, but for me to remember.

I have prepared my students to the best of my ability. I have given them some tough assignments. Tough tests. Tough assessments. Tough projects. While everything was tough, I have made them current and relevant to their career paths and daily living.

Sometimes it really hurts. I think I care more about their education than they do. So many of them are right on the edge of passing and failing, and they don’t care. They have failed so many subjects, that this is just another one and it really doesn’t matter. It hurts.

However, one of my REALLLLLLY tough customers (oh, students) has worked to bring his grade from a 48 average to a 71. He was so excited today when I showed him his grade. On the way out of class, he yelled, “Case, watch me knock that state test out!” That really helped. I was so discouraged today until that.

Lord, please open these kid’s eyes. Let them see success.

Oh, yea: tough kid wears hand-me-downs.

Summing Up Wasted Energy

Our class has conducted several energy awareness activities through the year.  Each month, a crew of students surveys classrooms to see if unoccupied classes are helping conserve energy by turning off devices when not in use.  We have tabulated the year long survey in the tables below.Image




Further, our students have examined vampire loads from three common devices: phone chargers, televisions and game systems.  Every student was shocked at the amount of wasted or vampire energy wasted by not unplugging devices not in use.


Where To Focus Energy Production



The Honors Earth Science class conducted two days of research and presentations about energy production. They compared the current preferred method of electricity production with six other alternative energy production methods.  After comparing the methods to produce electricity, they were given a scenario: “You have been selected to serve on President Obama’s energy committee.  After reviewing the methods to produce electricity, the President wants to focus on one  method to produce electricity for our country for the next 100 years.  He has a $1B grant to award to that industry.  Which industry would you choose and why?”

Here is what the students discovered and reported about each energy source.

Fossil Fuels: About 68% of all electricity in the US and 55% in NC is produced by using fossil fuel.  The cost per KWH averages $ 0.05.  The current plants in operation have about 30 years left on average before they need to be replaced.


  • Cheap source of electricity.
  • Infrastructure already in place.
  • Cheap, abundant fuel is found in the US.
  • Ash can be used in construction and other industry.


  • Adds lots of extra greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
  • Adds to acid precipitation.
  • We produce more waste than can be used.
  • Limited, non-renewable resource.  We are going to run out of coal and oil in less than 100 years.
  • Mining is extremely hazardous.


Nuclear:  About 20% of all electricity in the US and 35% in NC is produced by using nuclear.  The cost per KWH averages $0.04.  The current plants in operation have less than 40 years left on average before they need to be replaced.  There has not been a new nuclear power plant built in the US since 1996.  Several on the books to be built but it takes over a decade from approving the plan to producing electricity.


  • Cheap, abundant electricity from a small fuel source.
  • Does not add greenhouse gas to the atmosphere.
  • Can produce abundant electricity on short notice.
  • Fuel can be reprocessed several times and extend the longevity of the fuel.
  • VERY high paying jobs.


  • Plants are terrorist targets.
  • NIMBY!  Not in my back yard.  No one wants the power plant near their house.
  • No good long term plan to take care of radioactive waste.
  • One of the most expensive power plants to build.  Requires subsidy to construct.
  • People do not understand how nuclear plants create electricity and are afraid of them.


Wind Turbines

Less than 2% of all electricity in the US and less than 0.5% in NC is produced by wind power. The cost per KWH averages $0.05.  Each wind turbine can create enough electricity for 6 houses.  Wind turbines cost about $10,000 and can be built within a couple months.  Each turbine has a life expectancy of 30 years before they need to be replaced.


  • Free, abundant fuel.
  • Creates ‘tourist attractions’.
  • Can be placed anywhere there is constant wind.
  • No greenhouse gases released.
  • Can be built in farm land and farmers can grow crops below them.
  • Prices for technology have been falling 10% per year and have become affordable.


  • Old turbines have killed a lot of birds.  People do not know about new technology.
  • Old turbines were noisy.
  • Old turbines were ugly.
  • New turbine farms take up entire skylines.
  • Limited locations: you have to have constant wind.



About 10% of all electricity in the US and 4% in NC is produced by hydroelectric power.  The cost per KWH is about $0.07.  Hydroelectric plants take from 10 to 50 years to construct from the day they are approved.  Hydroelectric plants have a life expectancy of 70 years. 


  • Reservoirs  create recreation, water sources for cities, habitat for wildlife and help control flooding.
  • Control the amount of sediments getting into rivers.
  • No greenhouse gases put into atmosphere.
  • No waste products to dispose.
  • It is renewable.
  • Reliable.  It takes a severe drought to stop energy production.


  • Destroys native habitats.
  • Displaces families.
  • Nearly every river in the US that can be blocked is already blocked.
  • Cost to replace dams cannot be done without government subsidy.



Less than 1% of all electricity in the US and NC is produced by solar power.  The cost per KWH is about $0.10.  Solar panels can be installed anywhere you have direct sunlight from about 60 degrees latitude and south.  Life expectancy of each solar panel is about 15 years.  Recent technology breakthroughs have cut the cost of solar panels by as much as 70%.


  • No greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere once the panels are made.
  • Can be mounted on roof tops, sides of buildings, anywhere there is direct sunlight.
  • Renewable.
  • Reliable: can generate electricity even with 100% cloud cover.
  • No wastes to dispose: panels can be 100% recycled.


  • Creates a lot of heat.
  • Reflections have disrupted bird flight patterns.
  • Not very attractive.
  • Expensive source of electricity.



Less than 1% of all electricity in the US and about 2% in NC is produced by biomass burning.  The cost per KWH is about $0.08.  The fuel will never run out because any organic material can be burned as fuel.  Plants can be constructed near cities since cities create abundant waste that can be used.  Plants are expensive to build and require subsidies to get built.


  • Abundant fuel.
  • Existing coal plants can be converted to use biomass.
  • No toxic waste to dispose:  ash can be used as soil or fertilizer.
  • No new greenhouse gas is added to the atmosphere. Only what was taken out by the growing plants.


  • NIMBY!  The power plant stinks.
  • Takes food crop land out of production for energy crops.
  • Creates smoke and fog.
  • Expensive to operate.

After discussing the sources of energy,  the class decided that the US should focus on a combination of wind and solar.  These energy sources can be built quickly and in lots of places, even downtown areas.    The long term fuel source was the other deciding factor to choose these two.  Out of 28 students, 27 chose these two energy sources with very little discussion.

Global Warming vs. Climate Change

Global Warming and Greenhouse Effect

The Earth Science class is discovering and discussing global warming and climate change.  Part of the discovery today was natural and anthropogenic causes of both.  The students had to decide based upon scientific data:

1)      Is global warming happening?

2)      If it is, is global warming a natural, anthropogenic or combination of both processes?

3)      What is climate change?  Is it good or bad?

4)      Will global warming cause climate change?

5)      What are greenhouse gases and what affect do they have on climate change?

6)      What causes greenhouse gas?

Some of the posters are shown here.  As a class consensus for the questions are

1)      Global warming is happening.  In fact, the average earth surface temperature has risen 1 degree F in the past 150 years.

2)      Global warming is a natural process, but humans are causing it to happen faster that the plants and animals can adapt.  The earth has been slowly warming over the past 10,000 years since the last ice age, but the past 150 years, the rate has increased.

3)      Climate change is when the average temperature and precipitation change over a long period of time.  Climate changes all the time because the earth is constantly changing.  We can’t stop it, but we are causing it to happen quickly.  It is bad because the cold plant and animals cannot adapt that fast.  Animals like polar bears, penguins, seals and some whales won’t be able to survive.  Some coral cannot handle oceans getting warmer and will die.

4)      Global warming is only one cause of climate change, but it is the one area that humans are affecting the most.  Tectonic plates move but very slowly. They cause climate change as well but slowly.

5)      There are 4 greenhouse gases we need to worry about: water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides.  Humans can’t change the amount of water vapor, but we are putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  There has not been as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the time of the dinosaurs.   The greenhouse gases trap heat from the sun and do not let it escape back into space.  That heat builds up and causes global warming.

6)      Volcanoes, plant and animals decomposing and respiring and radioactive decay cause some greenhouse gases.  Humans burning fossil fuels are adding additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


Global Warming

IMG_9435 IMG_9436 IMG_9437 IMG_9438 IMG_9439 IMG_9440 IMG_9441 IMG_9442

Ecological Footprint

Today students took the Personal Ecological Footprint survey from the Institute for Sustainable Energy

As the students took the survey, I heard around the room, “I have 600 points here alone!” and “This can’t be right!”  They were shocked at how their daily activities have a global impact.  When they were done with the survey, we disc used how they can reduce their global impact. They were placed in groups of 3 and had to decide on three things from the survey they could do to reduce their scores.

When they were done, they combined their scores, subtracted what changes they made and reported on the impact difference.

Three simple things from each group resulted in an average of 12% point reduction!

Finally, each group had to produce posters to hang around school as conversation starters “Three Things I Can Do To Reduce My Ecological Footprint.”

Ecological Footprint ecological footprint poster 2 ecological footprint poster 3 ecological footprint poster 4 ecological footprint poster 5 ecological footprint poster 6 ecological footprint poster 7 ecological footprint poster 8 ecological footprint poster 9


Here is a summary of the posters.

Take less showers turn the heat down buy less new clothes more used clothes turn the heat down 4 degrees eat less meat use less electronics take less showers stop letting water run while brushing teeth buy less new shoes turn off the lights get rid used electronics create less garbage less waste recycle clothes lower heat repair broken objects buy more local foods eat less meat lower house temperature use less disposable items eat local grown avoid buying disposable items use low-flow showerheads turn off water while brushing my teeth use an energy-efficient refrigerator use rechargeable batteries use more CFL eat less meat every day turn off the lights and games when not in use don’t waste any food use rechargeable batteries reduce using things take shorter showers recycle batteries don’t let water run while brushing teeth buy less shoes torn off lights when not in use turn my heat down use less electronics reuse or recycle electronics reduce and reuse clothes charge batteries lower temperature in winter repair things eat locally grown food cut back on number of electronics avoid using disposable items drive less combine trips to the store buy more 2nd hand clothes carpool more turn off lights recycle instead of throwing away repair my car

It’s Not Illegal If You Don’t Get Caught? HUH?

To introduce speed, velocity and acceleration, I ask the students, “What kind of car do you want and why?”  I get a wide range of responses like “It’s hot!” and “Has the best sound system” and even “Everyone looks at it when you ride.”  I do expect some to reply “It screams,” and “Has the best pick up.”  It gives a good intro to talk about speed and acceleration.

Last fall, I asked why do you need a car that goes from 0 to 90 in 10 seconds?  Anything over 65 is illegal.  I never expected them to say, “It’s only illegal if you get caught.”  What?  Only if you get caught?  How did this philosophy get started?  How deep does this go?  What is acceptable if you don’t get caught? 

I just did not know how to address this issue.  I was just shocked.  I let it go.

I missed a chance to discuss what it means to have boundaries. I missed an opportunity for real education. 

When it happens again, I hope I am ready.