Constitution Day, September 17

September 9, 2007

Get ready.

Constitution Day is September 17, 2007. It’s the anniversary of the day in 1787 when 39 men signed their names to the proposed Constitution of the United States of America, to send it off to the Continental Congress, who was asked to send it to specially convened meetings of citizens of the 13 states for ratification. When and if nine of the former colonies ratified it, it would become the document that created a federal government for those nine and any of the other four who joined.

Banner from Constitution Day website

For Texas, the requirement to commemorate the Constitution was changed to “Celebrate Freedom Week” effective 2003. This week is expected to coincide with the week that includes national Veterans Day, November 11. School trustees may change to a different week. (See § 74.33 of the Texas Education Code) Texas does require students to recite a section from the Declaration of Indpendence. (Recitation is highlighted below the fold.)

Knowledge of the Constitution is abysmal, according to most surveys. Students are eager to learn the material, I find, especially when it comes presented in interesting ways, in context of cases that interest the students. The trick is to find those things that make the Constitution interesting, and develop the lesson plans. Some classes will be entertained by Schoolhouse Rock segments; some classes will dive into Supreme Court cases or other serious issues, say the legality of torture of “enemy combatants” or warrantless domestic surveillance. Some classes will like both approaches, on the same day.

Texas teachers have two months to get ready for Celebrate Freedom Week. Constitution Day is just a week away for anyone who wants to do something on September 17.

Sources you should check out:

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Evolution avoidance syndrome

September 9, 2007

Scott Lanyon is director of the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis. He writes regularly in the museum’s newsletter, Imprint. His latest column addresses the reluctance of scientists and teachers to use the word “evolution” even when their topic hits directly on it.

Evolution Avoidance Syndrome
By Scott Lanyon
Summer 2007

We have yet another invasive species in the Upper Midwest to worry about these days with the discovery of viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSv) in inland waters of Wisconsin. VHSv follows in the proud tradition of the zebra mussel, sea lamprey, a variety of carp species, Eurasian watermilfoil, purple loosestrife, curl-leaf pondweed, buckthorn, amur maple, a variety of thistle species, earthworms, gypsy moths, West Nile virus, soybean rust, and other pests that have been introduced to our region and that are causing great harm to our natural areas and our economy.

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Build-a-Prairie: Online game for geography, history, biology

September 9, 2007

Build-a-prairie logo from University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota distance learning site has a game students can play to create the ecosystems for a successful prairie.

The prairie is one of North America’s great ecosystems and a vital habitat for many plants and animals. Over 98% of the prairie has been lost in the past 150 years—but some people are trying to bring it back, hectare by hectare. Restoring a prairie is a great challenge, requiring knowledge of biology, ecology, climatology, and even economics.

Are you up for the challenge? If you choose the right plants and animals, you can watch the prairie come to life before your eyes! Let’s begin!

North America’s prairie is divided into the tallgrass ecosystem and shortgrass ecosystem (plus an area in between—the “mixed grass” prairie). Which one do you want to restore?

This game fits neatly into geography curricula for a number of states, and also covers parts of the 7th grade social studies standards for Texas — if your state is covered by the tallgrass or shortgrass prairies as shown on the accompanying map, it’s likely your state standards include students’ learning about prairie ecosystems.

North American tallgrass and shortgrass prairies, U of Minnesota The game is fail-safe; it does not allow incorrect selections. It’s not a sim, really, but a basic introduction to what makes a successful prairie. Students should be able to master the game in 15 minutes.

Though developed way up north in Minnesota, the game and species are close to Texas prairies, too. The emphasis on soil points to some of the key errors made by farmers (encouraged by developers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture) which led to the Dust Bowl; this is a good enrichment exercise for Dust Bowl lesson plans.  These games cover many of the requirements for Boy Scout merit badges, too:  Environmental Science, Wildlife Management, and Soil and Water Conservation, and others.

This game comes out of the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota; be sure to check out the Watershed game, too.

Watershed Game logo, Bell Museum, University of Minnesota

Update, October 2011:  No, I can’t find the game now, either.  It appears the Bell Museum took the site down, and trusting (and hoping) they wouldn’t do that, I didn’t pirate any of the images, nor especially the game.

Here’s hoping someone will put the thing back on line, somewhere.  If you find it, will you let me know?  I’d like to renew the links.  Several school systems went through this site to get to the game for classroom activities.  It was a good thing.

Update October 30, 2011:  Try the game here.

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