Red Hills Reflection: Summer 2013 Field Trip

Sighting Summary

Mammals:  Cave Myotis, Prairie Dogs, White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer (as we left), horses next to our campsite (the kids enjoyed petting) and cattle.  Lots of cattle.  Herps:  Common Kingsnake, Coachwhip, Prairie Rattler, Bullsnake (thanks for scouting it, Bailey!), Baby Snapping Turtle, Ornate Box Turtle, Horned Lizard, 5-Lined Race Runner.  Birds:  Mississippi Kites, Nighthawks, Chuck Will’s Widow, Cowbird egg in a Phoebe nest, flock of Cave Swallows under a bridge, Burrowing Owl, Great Horned Owl.  Invertebrates:  Crayfish, “Thing Nightmares are Made of Centipede” (I made that name up, but look at a picture of that thing!).


Friday Evening Highlights

  • Harry and Charlotte McDonald identified the sweet sounds of the Chuck Will’s Widow (bird).  Click here to listen:
  • A young couple from the Merrill Ranch came down to start a campfire and bring us s’mores.  What hospitality!
  • We welcomed some new members to the KABT trip:  Marylee Ramsay from Goddard and Kelly Kluthe from Wyandotte (who did I forget?).
  • Kelly Kluthe followed Brad Williamson’s advice on where to put her tent.  Following Brad’s advice would prove to be a grave mistake.
  • Wow, that was one tenacious bird – the Chuck Will’s Widow kept up his call until the wee hours of the night.  Seriously, wasn’t he tired, too?  You’d better listen again to get the full effect:


  • Stan Roth kept us on schedule with a historical overview of the area with insight from Ken Brunson and Dee & Phyllis Scherich.
  • First stop:  Big Gyp Cave where we scaled poison ivy to get to a breath-taking site.  This is where we found the baby common snapping turtle, Phoebe nest containing a Cowbird egg and our first indication of bats in the area: the bat mummy (modest exaggeration).  Stan showed us the primitive cave drawings which were the first (only?) cave drawings made with pigment found in Kansas.
  • Phyllis helped us identify wildflowers over a picnic lunch while Alexis Powell proved to have more determination than a coachwhip while posing it for a photo.
  • Second stop:   This cave held a gargantuan mountain of petrified bat guano (not an exaggeration).  We had to crawl over it to get into the depths of the cave.  I wasn’t sure if the “dirt” on my hands was soil or guano and just tried not to pick the fuzz off my teeth from forgetting to brush that morning.  Drew Ising ran a babysitting service for a while my cave-ophobic (speluncaphobic) daughter went darting out of the cave (thanks, Drew!).
  • Next cave:  It was decidedly the “Secret Garden of Poison Ivy” cave that was the most memorable for most of us on this trip.  The majority of the children on the trip crawled within the bowels of the cave (along with a few daring adults) while several of us sat just within the narrow mouth of the cave (less than 4 foot ceiling).  We felt a brush of air, then another and thought “no, that couldn’t have been a bat…?”  Then a few more wafts of wind and trained our flashlights to the cavity where we last saw our children.  Lasting several minutes, a few dozen bats flew past us to the outside, while others flew back in.  We heard exuberance from the depths of the cave and suddenly we were inundated with hundreds of bats flying past to either get in or out.  This lasted another 10-15 minutes.  As the kids finally began exiting the cave, they said it was the most amazing thing they had ever experienced.  I agree (although feeling a little guilty about the disruption our environmentally friendly group caused the bats).  Someone identified these as Cave Myotis.  Kylee Sharp got a great shot of a bat mid-flight among the trees.  Check out the KABT FB page for a link to Flickr…
  • Riding on that high, we explored the area to find a picturesque meandering stream at the foot of a Red Hill cliff.  We harassed the most chilling centipede that looked like it came from a horror movie. Scott Sharp found a timid Prairie Rattlesnake.
  • Heading to the next site, we spotted Cave Swallows and stopped on a bridge to watch them.  Bailey Busch showed she has eyes of an eagle when she spotted a bullsnake in a grassy area under the bridge.
  • At this stage in the trip, it is important to note that some members of our party must have some sort of sixth sense (great cell coverage) about weather because they were mysteriously absent from the trip from hence forward under the premise of previous engagements (Brad Williamson, Randy Dix, Noah Busch, Drew Isling and Harry & Charlotte McDonald) while the rest of us enjoyed the view of a distance thunderstorm across the hills (foreshadowing??).
  • Our last stop of the day was at a prairie dog town where we saw prairie dog frivolity.  The kids enjoyed a scavenger hunt of bones.  It would only be science parents to identify the bones and let the kids keep them instead of saying “gross, put that down before you get worms!”
  • With that beautiful distant thunderstorm getting closer (and Julie Schwarting’s mammoth tent not staked down), we decided to go back to camp.  Yep, it was raining pretty good by the time we got back.  Kelly Kluthe’s tent proved to be in the lowest spot of the entire camp area, maybe in the entire ranch.  It looked like it sat in the middle of a pond just a little bigger than the tent – moat if you will.  I wonder if Kelly will ever listen to Brad’s advice again?
  • We waited out the waves of rain in our vehicles…three rounds of rain.  And then it stopped.  The Chuck Will’s Widow sang with joy (again: while we figured out how to cook our “campfire” meals with wet wood.  Yeah for camp stoves and potluck dinners!  The children of the group played in the “chocolate milk lake” while the adults cooked.  Scott made a clothesline for the Schwartings sleeping bags.
  • After everyone squeegeed and ate, we enjoyed a campfire (found some dry wood!) with more s’mores, some campfire pies, steaming soggy socks on the edge of the fire, a tent chess tournament and the musical styling’s of Paul Schwarting and Scott Sharp on the guitars (with harmony from the coyotes in the distance).  …and the danged Chuck Will’s Widow.  As folks turned in for the night, I heard someone wish upon a star…for a BB gun to shoot that blasted bird.  Amen, sista.  Click the link to the sound again, but push play over and over if you think we were too harsh:


  • Feeling pretty pooped (and still pruney), most of the group packed up camp while the kids held a Regatta of boats made from bark, twigs and leaves.  The race was down the crick (creek for you big city folks) with a photo finish.  Perfect end to the fun weekend while the damned bird sang his good-byes.

Seeking 1-yr Long-Term Substitute Teacher

I am posting this on behalf of our newest KABT member and my new friend, Christopher Bryan.
Lawrence folks and those that work with student teachers, maybe you especially have some leads?

Bishop Seabury Academy, a 2A Independent School In Lawrence, KS is currently seeking a qualified teacher to serve as a long-term substitute in the sciences for the 2013-2014 school year.

The position would entail:
-2 sections of 7th grade earth science
-2 sections of 9th grade biology
-a fall elective: 12th grade field ecology
-a spring elective: 12th grade A&P

This would be an excellent opportunity for a recent graduate to gain experience, or a seasoned veteran to return to the classroom for one year. Our school emphasizes academic rigor and character development for students, and empowers teachers with great professional freedom – without the restrictions that accompany state testing and NCLB.

If you have any leads or suggestions of who I might contact with regard to teacher candidates, please contact:, or call the school directly: 785-832-1717.

Grading Not for Compliance, but for Competency

Lawrence’s Free State Brewery was abuzz yesterday evening, but everyone still managed to talk some shop at our first Study Hall.  We had contributions from a wide variety of backgrounds, with teachers from the KC area and Lawrence schools, a virtual school, and even a pre-service teacher.  We found that while everyone’s grading scheme will be unique, there are also some practices that we would like to promote.

The initial talk revealed that even among our group some of us use weighted grades while some use point totals, we grade different amounts and kinds of homework, and we use all manner of assessments (oral, written, practical, and performance assessments to name a few).  However there was a common sentiment that single line items should not sink student grades.  A zero for one homework assignment or one low test score does not indicate a failure by that student for the entire quarter and our weighting system should take that into consideration.
The majority of our discussion then turned to the question of what a grade in a science class should reflect.  With the Next Generation Science Standards being accepted, we have a much clearer idea of what a successful mark in biology should equate to in student ability.  At the end of the day the student’s grade should reflect their ability to demonstrate their understanding of those core curriculum concepts.  The question then turns to how can we, as teachers, make the student’s grade reflect their competency?

We believe that there are two key components to achieving that goal.  The first is eliminating the garbage in our grading systems.  Points for compliance must be eliminated.  It is a major paradigm shift to remove the all mighty “point” as the motivator, but making students jump through hoops to obtain points serves only to directly undermine the meaning of their grade.  Assignments should be done because they have learning value, and should only be graded if they directly reflect competency.  That isn’t to say that exploration assignments and practice don’t have a role to play in a science classroom.  Rather they should be done for THOSE REASONS, and not just to obtain the requisite points.  Some in the group have already tried removing all grading weight from those tasks with significant success, and we are all interested in exploring this further.

The second requirement in making a grade meaningful is to have a highly coherent feedback system in place.  Students need frequent formative feedback.  Students need frequent formative feedback.  It is worth saying twice because too many students (and adults for that matter) lack sufficient practice both in evaluating their own understanding and taking steps to improve that understanding when found to be insufficient.  Further, if students pass or fail based only on understanding they will need many opportunities to monitor their own progress to ensure they have the chance to succeed.

Formative feedback can take many forms.  Recall practice tests, working memory journals, exit cards, and peer review are all methods of providing that feedback.  None of this feedback needs to be graded either, but it must be deliberate and intentional.  Much of this process can also be automated using a class website service such as Moodle or Blackboard or a classroom management system such as CPS clickers.

Finally the summative assessments must be highly consistent with the exposure the students have received throughout the unit.  The students must have clear learning objectives that are communicated and accurate.  If you ask a student simply if they “understand”, you will likely just get a noncommittal answer.  However, if they are told they need to know how chromosomes separate during meiosis they can ask themselves if they can explain that process.  Concise learning objectives allow the students to monitor for themselves whether or not they have the understanding necessary at that point in the class.

Our discussion identified a few areas we would like to elaborate upon in future meetings.  We believe that it would be useful to design an example unit with a learning trajectory similar to what we discussed on the 13th.  Using that example we could identify a process for producing meaningful grades based on competency rather than compliance.  We also believe that these performance based assessments will facilitate more inquiry and freedom in the classroom.  Stay tuned, because this could be the start of something cool…

Johnson County Science Cafe

Johnson County Science Cafe’

Open Forum: Let’s Talk Science

Speakers: All of us

Date: June 18, 2013

Time: 6:30 pm

Location: Coaches Bar and Grill, 9089 W. 135th Street, one block west of 135th and Antioch, south side of 135th St.

Nothing specific scheduled. Let’s gather as usual and just discuss anything of interest to anyone. As we have done before, Harry will come armed with things he finds interesting including a few new videos. He promises not to dominate the discussion when others want to share/question. We always say the science cafe is meant to be a discussion. This format will allow it to be just that. So wether you have ideas to share, questions to ask, or you just want to listen, see you Tuesday.

For more information: