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Photosynthesis GIFs and interactives

Animals don’t make their own food – they have to find food and eat it. Plants, however, are totally different. They actually make their own food!

Organisms that make their own food are called autotrophs or producers. (they mean the same thing.)

Of course, they do need some things to build this food from. They need carbon dioxide gas (CO2)  water (H2O), a few trace minerals, and energy.

Let’s follow the diagram: What is going in to this leaf? What is coming out of it?

Photosynthesis GIF A

And what exactly is a carbohydrate? Just a bunch of sugar molecules connected together into a bigger structure. Let’s see how this works.

This is a sugar molecule. C6H12O6. That means there are 6 Carbon atoms, 12 Hydrogen atoms, and 6 oxygen atoms.

Screen Shot 2020-04-30 at 12.40.57 PM

Plant cells stitch many of these sugars together into bigger structures. They can be called polysaccharides or carbohydrates.

polysaccharides carbohydrate GIF sugars

What are they used for? The plants use them as building blocks. You can see “hemicellulose,” basically a carb, being linked together with other interesting looks carbs.  They keep linking until they build the structure of a leaf, a stem, or as you can see here, a branch.

Lignin–carbohydrate complex (LCC) in wood cell wall Cellulose Tree

From Direct evidence for α ether linkage between lignin and carbohydrates in wood cell walls, Hiroshi Nishimura et al, Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 6538 (2018)

Let’s follow the next diagram: Energy enters from sunlight.

We see an organelle with little green stacks absorbing the sunlight. That’s the chloroplast. What comes out of it?

Chemistry Photosynthesis

We see organic molecules – sugars! – come out of the chloroplast. Also O2 (oxygen gas) comes out of it.

Where do they go? They enter another organelle, the mitochondria – the powerhouse of the cell!

This produces ATP, a chemical that stores energy. Everything else in the cell that uses energy? That would use these ATP molecules.


Correct balanced equation of photosynthesis

Here’s an animation of how this works, as a formula:

photosynthesis vs cellular respiration

from the Amoeba sisters

Here you can use an interactive app to control photosynthesis!

   Photosynthesis app (from Molecular Expressions)


And just because you know that you wanted to see this, here you actually see chloroplasts in plant cells!

Chloroplasts in plant cell 6 smaller


Hands-on manipulatives/lab

In this kinesthetic model, students will learn that plants need carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight to carry out photosynthesis.

Using ping pong balls and egg cartons, they will simulate the production of sugar molecules to store energy (photosynthesis), and then break apart these molecules to acquire energy (cellular respiration).

This active simulation makes it easier to remember both processes!

Modelling Photosynthesis with egg cartons

Modeling Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration

Modelling Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration PDF handout

Reading on related topic, giant sequoia tree, PDF packet

Should schools have Blizzard Bags during snow days?

The idea behind “blizzard bags” and similar programs is to provide an alternative to making up school days missed due to weather disruptions or other unplanned school closures. The MTA Board has some serious concerns about blizzard bags.

school bus snow closings

Image from wwjnewsradio.radio.com

Share your thoughts on ‘blizzard bags’, MTA

In February, we asked MTA members for their thoughts on what the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education refers to as “alternative structured learning day programs” — otherwise known as “blizzard bags.” Your input will help guide our activism on this matter.

We asked, you answered: Your ‘blizzard bag’ responses. MTA

The “Blizzard Bags” program that allowed Massachusetts students to do class work at home during a winter storm and not have to make up the day in the summer comes to an end with this academic year.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced in June that it was discontinuing the Alternative Structured Learning Day Program, commonly known as “Blizzard Bags,” in fall 2020. It based its decision on a review of the “development and implementation of these programs.”

Some parents argued that “Blizzard Bags” could not take the place of a full day of school with face-to-face instruction or adequately address the needs of students on Individualized Education Programs.

Also, the Massachusetts Teachers Association voiced “serious concerns” about “Blizzard Bags” as a means of making up for a lost day of classroom instruction.

In the fall of 2018, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education established a working group to review the policy. Representatives from the Massachusetts Teachers Association participated, along with representatives of administrators from 10 Massachusetts school districts.

“The decision to discontinue the use of Alternative Structured Learning Day Programs is based upon a variety of factors, including concerns about equitable access for all students,” Jeffrey C. Riley, commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, stated on the state DESE website on June 27. “In addition to making every attempt to reschedule school days lost due to inclement weather, leaders should consider holding the first day of school prior to Labor Day. Other possibilities include scheduling a one-week vacation in March instead of week-long vacations in February and April.”

‘Blizzard Bags’ to be dropped by Massachusetts schools after this winter. MassLive.com

But here’s a question that almost no one seemed to even ask: Do snow days actually affect a student’s learning? This study claims that they don’t:

“Snow days don’t subtract from learning”

School administrators may want to be even more aggressive in calling for weather-related closures. A new study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Joshua Goodman finds that snow days do not impact student learning. In fact, he finds, keeping schools open during a storm is more detrimental to learning than a closure.

The findings are “consistent with a model in which the central challenge of teaching is coordination of students,” Goodman writes. “With slack time in the schedule, the time lost to closure can be regained. Student absences, however, force teachers to expend time getting students on the same page as their classmates.”

Goodman, a former school teacher, began his study at the behest of the Massachusetts Department of Education, which wanted to know more about the impact of snow days on student achievement. He examined reams of data in grades three through 10 from 2003 to 2010. One conclusion — that snow days are less detrimental to student performance than other absences — can be explained by the fact that school districts typically plan for weather-related disruptions and tack on extra days in the schedule to compensate. They do not, however, typically schedule make-up days for other student absences.

The lesson for administrators might be considered somewhat counterintuitive. “They need to consider the downside when deciding not to declare a snow day during a storm — the fact that many kids will miss school regardless, either because of transportation issues or parental discretion. And because those absences typically aren’t made up in the school calendar, those kids can fall behind.”

Goodman, an assistant professor of public policy, teaches empirical methods and the economics of education. His research interests include labor and public economics, with a particular focus on education policy.

Snow days don’t subtract from learning. The Harvard Gazette

Flaking Out: Snowfall, Disruptions of Instructional Time, and Student Achievement, by Joshua Goodman, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, April 30, 2012

Flaking Out: Snowfall, Disruptions of Instructional Time, and Student Achievement

Teaching science with augmented reality

Using virtual reality in the classroom

We learn through lectures and reading. We especially learn through illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and animations. But a limitation is that so many of these images are flat, two-dimensional.  Not surprisingly, many folks have trouble visualizing what a system is really like, if they only have two dimensional pictures.

An obvious practical solution is to make a lesson hands-on: Students can take a field trip to see gears and machines in a power plant; see ancient ruins on site; travel to a valley and fly over a vast ecosystem to see different parts of the environment.  But there’s only so much that a school can do in practice: we can’t purchase every manipulative and lab, or travel to see every place that we talk about.

Yet with today’s technology we can actually model machines, cells, valleys and volcanoes, ecosystems, distance cities, and archaeological sites, in three dimensions – and then bring all of this into the classroom. We bring these models in to a virtual space that students can explore.

And that’s what we are already doing in our classrooms! First, let’s learn a few terms: XR, AR, and VR.

XR- Extended Reality

the emerging umbrella term for all immersive computer virtual experience technologies. These technologies AR, VR, and MR.

Augmented Reality (AR)

When virtual information and objects are overlaid on the real world. This experience enhances the real world with digital details such as images, text, and animation. This means users are not isolated from the real world and can still interact and see what’s going on in front of them.

CRISPR enzyme floating in three dimensions.

Crispr AR Augmented Reality enzyme protein

Photo by RK (c) 2019

Virtual Reality (VR)

Users are fully immersed in a simulated digital environment. Individuals must put on a VR headset or head-mounted display to get a 360 -degree view of an artificial world. This fools their brain into believing they are walking on the moon, swimming under the ocean or stepped into whatever new world the VR developers created.

Virtual Reality

A team of researchers at ESA’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, are investigating new concepts for controlling rovers on a planet and satellites in orbit. Image from the ESA, esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2017/07/Reality_check

Mixed reality (MR), aka Hybrid Reality

Digital and real-world objects co-exist and can interact with one another in real-time. This experience requires an MR headset… Microsoft’s HoloLens is a great example that, e.g., allows you to place digital objects into the room you are standing in and give you the ability to spin it around or interact with the digital object in any way possible.

Microsoft Hololens XR MR AR

Image from Microsoft

Excerpts of these definitions from Bernard Marr, What Is Extended Reality Technology? A Simple Explanation For Anyone, Forbes, 8/12/2019

Augmented reality in Ecology & Environmental Science

When students actively participate in augmented reality learning, the class is effectively a lab, as opposed to being a lecture.  Here we are studying ecosystems with an app from the World Wildlife Foundation, WWF Rivers.

WWF Rivers AR Augmented Reality app Kaiser Ecology

Photo by RK (c) 2019

This student has their head in the clouds 😉

Kaiser AR Augmented Realitt Ecology WWF Rivers

Photo by RK (c) 2019

Here we are using the Google Expeditions app, on a Pixel 3A smartphone. The plug-in is “Earth Geology” by Vida systems. For more details see Google Expeditions – Education in VR.

AR in Earth Science

As we walk around the room, we see the Earth and all of it’s layers in a realistic 3D view. Here we stood above the arctic circle, and took screenshots as we moved down latitude, until we were above the antarctic.

Augmented Reality AR Earth Science Inner Core Mantle

Photo by RK (c) 2019

Augmented Reality AR Earth Science Inner Core Mantle 2

Photo by RK (c) 2019


AR in Physics & Engineering

A simple machine is a mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force. They are the simplest mechanisms that use mechanical advantage to multiply force.

Here we are examining gears, including bicycle gears.

Bicycle Gears AR Augmented Reality

Photo by RDK (c) 2019

Related Special Education topics

If you can’t visually imagine things, how can you learn?

If someone can’t visually imagine things, how can you learn? We know some people can’t conjure up mental images. But we’re only beginning to understand the impact this “aphantasia” might have on their education.

A discussion of an inability to form mental images , congenital aphantasia. This is believed to affect 2% of the population.

by Mo Costandi,  Jun 2016, The Guardian, UK

Learning Standards

What kind of learning standards will students address when using augmented reality science lessons?

NGSS Cross-Cutting Concepts

6. Structure and Function – The way an object is shaped or structured determines many of its properties and functions: Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the shapes, composition, and relationships among its parts; therefore, complex natural and designed structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function

Massachusetts Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) Curriculum Framework

Modeling and Simulation [6-8.CT.e] – 3. Select and use computer simulations, individually and collaboratively, to gather, view, analyze, and report results for content-related problems (e.g., migration, trade, cellular function).

Digital Tools [9-12.DTC.a] – 2. Select digital tools or resources based on their efficiency and effectiveness to use for a project or assignment and justify the selection.

American Association of School Librarians: Standards Framework for Learners

1. Inquire: Build new knowledge by inquiring, thinking critically, identifying problems, and developing strategies for solving problems

Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles

AP-CSP Curriculum Guides
LO 3.1.3 Explain the insight and knowledge gained from digitally processed data by using appropriate visualizations, notations, and precise language.
EK 3.1.3A Visualization tools and software can communicate information about data.
EK 3.1.3E Interactivity with data is an aspect of communicating.

Special Education MCAS accommodations

For teachers in Massachusetts: Special Education MCAS accommodations



Graphic Organizers, Checklists

And Supplemental Reference Sheets, for use by students with disabilities.

The approved graphic organizers, checklists, and supplemental reference sheets listed in the table below are for use by students with disabilities who have this MCAS accommodation (A9 from the Accessibility and Accommodations Manual for the 2018–2019 MCAS Tests/Retests) listed in their IEPs or 504 plans.

The Department encourages schools to familiarize students with these tools, since students should be comfortable using their graphic organizer or reference sheet during MCAS testing.

Only the approved organizers and supplemental reference sheets listed below may be used for next-generation ELA and Mathematics MCAS testing and text or graphics may not be added. It is permissible to remove selected text or graphics.

The sample Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) reference sheets listed below may be used as is, or may be used with selected text and graphics removed; however, additional Department approval is required if any text or graphics are added, or if a different reference sheet is created.

Approved ELA
Graphic Organizers
Approved Supplemental Mathematics
Reference Sheets
Sample STE
Reference Sheets
Download Word Document  MCAS Grades 3 and 4: Short Response Questions Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 3 Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 5
Download Word Document  MCAS Grades 3-4: Essay Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 4 Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 8
Download Word Document  MCAS Grades 3-4: Story Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 5 Download Word Document  MCAS High School Biology
Download Word Document  MCAS Grades 5: Essay Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 4 Download Word Document  MCAS High School Physics
Download Word Document  MCAS Grades 5: Narrative Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 5
Download Word Document  MCAS Grades 6-8: Essay Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 6
Download Word Document  MCAS Grades 6-8: Narrative Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 7
Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 10: Essay Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 8
Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 10: Narrative Download Word Document  MCAS Grade 10

Note: If you have a problem printing a graphic organizer please call Student Assessment at 781-338-3625.

MCAS Test accommodations

Here are both the standard and non-standard MCAS test accommodations. The IEP team should work with the parent to set up accommodations that best fits the student’s needs.

MCAS test accommodations for students with disabilities


MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt)

MCAS is designed to measure a student’s knowledge of key concepts and skills outlined in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.

A small number of students with the most significant disabilities who are unable to take the standard MCAS tests even with accommodations participate in the MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt).

MCAS-Alt consists of a portfolio of specific materials collected annually by the teacher and student.


Here are some samples of alternate assessments, and how teachers would grade them:

Examples of MCAS Alternate Assessment

Evidence for the portfolio may include work samples, instructional data, videotapes, and other supporting information.

Last Updated: March 22, 2017



Organic molecule models

At Seaport Academy, science education isn’t about drills and worksheets. We motivate students with hands-on activities, interactive apps, three dimensional animations, connections to the world around then, and labs.

Here we’re learning about organic molecules by building three dimensional models, and using magnetic board manipulatives.

Building molecules kit

Our smartboard is also a magnetic workspace.

Building organic molecules on board

Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

HS-LS1-6. Construct an explanation based on evidence that organic molecules are primarily composed of six elements, where carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms may combine with nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus to form monomers that can further combine to form large carbon-based macromolecules.
• Monomers include amino acids, mono- and disaccharides, nucleotides, and fatty acids.
• Organic macromolecules include proteins, carbohydrates (polysaccharides), nucleic acids, and lipids.