In My Classroom – #5 (Public Interactions/Real World Experiences for Students)

Welcome to the KABT new blog segment, “In My Classroom”. This is a segment that will post about every two weeks from a different member. In 250 words or less, share one thing that you are currently doing in your classroom. That’s it.

The idea is that we all do cool stuff in our rooms, and to some people there have been cool things so long that it feels like they are old news. In this segment, if you are tagged all you need to do is share something you’ve done in your classroom in the last two weeks. It must be recent, but that’s it. If you are tagged, you’ve got two weeks to post your entry. Who knows… your supposedly mundane idea, lesson, or lab might be exactly what someone else really needs. Keep it brief, keep it honest about the time window, and share it out! Here we go:

20150326_090006This year, I have completely changed how I teach.  An absolute turn-around.

The course that I teach is Veterinary Medicine.  It is taken by high  school juniors and seniors.  Many of my students know they want to pursue a veterinary or vet tech path.  Other students are taking my course to see what is out there; they love animals but are not sure how to weave that love into a future career.   The challenge going into the school year was how to provide meaningful experiences for the students which are rich in content and exploration (I am not a veterinarian).

My approach follows the model which my school uses – community interactions.  Depending on the course you teach, you may not be able to incorporate this model to the full extent, but I believe each classroom could implement a little community interaction for a win-win.  With all of our community interactions, I tweet pictures and quips about our experiences.  This gets the word out about our business partners AND gives us community exposure!

  1. Guest speakers20141203_144128(0)This is the easiest to implement since it does not require buses, permission slips and budget. I used to be afraid? embarrassed? to call someone up to ask them to come speak to my class, feeling like it would be an imposition.  Not anymore!  I have 20140919_140703found folks are very supportive of education; professionals love sharing their passion with students!  I have had veterinarians, vet techs, ranchers, former students who are pre-vet, and even a speaker representing the beef industry.
  2. No farther than your own backyard – Of course your school grounds could be a utopia for teaching, but have you looked at the people there? The nurses in my building have been invaluable a teaching my students skills (intramuscular injections, venipuncture, catheterization).  Have you have talked to your School Resource Officer about speaking to your class?  He/she could lend a wonderful application of biotechnology via crime scene evidence during your unit on DNA.
  3. Not-for-profits as a resource20150114_090433Charitable organizations love to get their message out! Many of them have educational programs already in place. For your class, consider a local food bank during a unit on nutrition or digestion.  What about a visit from a cancer philanthropy during your cell unit or a conservation group during your environmental unit?  The possibilities are endless!  This quarter, my students spend Thursdays at a local horse rescue (  Students are getting HANDS-ON experience working with horses, lending a hand to the owner. We learned shelter medicine AT the animal shelter ( and continue to go their regularly.
  4. Businesses (small, big and everything in between!)20140829_143731 Look into businesses that sell services or products which have an application to your class. For example, I have had a dog trainer come to my class.  We had “BYOD day (bring your own dog)” and had a training session on school grounds.  Another example?  I have built relationships with two large veterinary pharmaceutical companies in my area.  One offers us guest speakers.  The students love asking questions about how they got where they are.  The other company designed a project for my students to work on.  Real world experiences!!
  5. Site visits20150311_090321Transportation (and thus budget) is an issue to taking the students on site visits. All of my students & parents have signed a blanket field trip form allowing them to drive themselves, carpool, or take school transportation.  This has greatly simplified the possibility of seeing what professionals do where they do it!  We have gone to private farms, a dairy, various sizes of cattle ranches, the Zoo and a slaughter/processing facility (wow – we saw the lymph nodes which are an important part of the meat inspection process!).  Where could you go to punctuate what you are learning in the classroom?
  6. Professional societies20140927_112429Something that you teach will a professional society associated with it.  Contact them.  See if there are speakers, conferences or field trips your students could attend.  You are spreading the word about what they do to a potential market (your students).  For example, for years my colleague Eric Kessler has been taking students on the Kansas Herpetological Society field trips (  Students walk fields WITH herpetologists, learning from them as they go!

I feel that we have the ultimate flipped classroom using this model!  We are out of the classroom 3-4 days a week.  We SEE/DO the concepts in real-world settings, the return to the classroom to apply and process what we have learned.  As we have these experiences, student vocabulary and knowledge increases at a rate faster than if we would have presented the material in the classroom.

Students keep a lab notebook where they document and diagram what they learn.  I have skills practicals where they are warranted.  Students practice writing gracious and meaningful thank you notes following our interactions.

I challenge you to add just ONE community interaction this semester!

Now a question for you:  how else would you hold students accountable for their learning?  Do you have other ideas for me from “in YOUR classroom” regarding accountablity in this setting?

Recollections from the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge Field Trip

As one of the trip coordinators for this year’s field trip, I must say that even though I was a bit stressed when our journey began and not everyone decided to take advantage of the free van transportation, it didn’t take long for me to relax as I watched the participants striking up conversations with each other in the field.

Our first stop was at the Headquarters of the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge where we met with Kim Martin, Federal Law Officer at the refuge.  She showed us a 12 minutes video introducing us to the history and growth of the national wildlife refuge system.  She then talked and answered questions about the Marais des Cygnes refuge and her duties in federal law enforcement.

After our introduction, we check 15 small mammal traps that had been baited and set the afternoon before.  The traps were set in a recently burned restoration area, a non-burned restoration area, and a non-burned area that within a remnant tallgrass prairie.  We had no success in either of the restorations but captured a single hispid cotton rat and lone deer mouse in the prairie remnant.  While traversing the prairies the young naturalist in our party enjoyed netting the numerous great spangled fritillary butterflies we observed pollinating a stand of dogbane.

From there we travel to another prairie restoration along Yardley Road to search for Mead’s Milkweed.  This federally endangered plant is known to exist naturally at three locations on the NWR property.  The plants we saw were individuals that had been planted into one of their restorations.  Participants were able to find a couple of plants that were in full bloom.

From there we returned to Linn County Park for lunch and a short siesta.  When finished, we returned the NWR and headed to Stick Pond adjacent to the photoblind to check 4 turtle traps that had been baited and set the evening prior.  Three of the traps were hoop traps and one was a cage trap.  Each were baited with creamed corn and mackerel.  Interestingly enough, three of the traps had not a single turtle while one of the hoop traps contained 13 turtles of three species – 1 large snapping turtles, 1 painted turtle, and 12 large sliders (2 males and 10 females based on fore fingernail length).  It took us awhile to safely position the snapping turtle for removal from the trap and get a few pictures.  You’ll have to check out the KABT Facebook site for images of the turtles.  I had my hands full and didn’t want to get my camera wet.


After our interactions with the chelonians, we traveled a wooded area surrounding an abandoned coal mining operation.  We were in search of the only stand of swamp white oak in the entire state of Kansas.  We read the informative email from MdCNWR Biologist, Tim Menard, which contained the following information –  “As you walk west from the state line parking lot, the swamp white will begin to appear before you get to the old service road, and definitely before you get to the flowing creek.  many of these trees are forked at the base.  Then you can see many more as you walk to the northwest.  The leaves look like chinkapin (which are just on the other side of the hill).  However, look for last year’s acorn caps with the long stem attached.”  We successfully found the trees.  At this stop we also witnessed a ringneck snake and the caterpillar of the pipe-vine swallowtail butterfly.  Chris Ollig from Blue Valley North High School introduced the group to dendrochronology and the appropriate use of the increment borer.




Next, we traveled to Turkey Foot Pond, a man-made pond resulting from previous coal mining activities.  There we checked four additional turtle traps as well as surveyed for freshwater mussels known to occur at the site.  As the name implies, Turkey Foot Pond has three fingers.  On our descent to the western most finger, we encountered a lush stand of equisetum.  Two young snakes were observed – a plain-bellied water snake and a northern water snake – and a horsehair worm was discovered swimming in the pond along the shore.  We found a number of mussels the most abundant of which was the three ridge mussel.  The identities of the other mussels encountered awaits verification by mussel experts.  In the second finger we searched, we captured two sliders in one of four traps deployed.  Check out the aged slider that doesn’t look like a slider anymore in the images below.


IMG_2457  IMG_2480

Finally, we travelled to the Marais des Cygnes River itself to search for the mussels beds that eluded Kelley Tuel and I on our previous trip to the refuge.  The group rallied their remaining reserves of energy to make the 1/2 mile walk into the site.  Along the way a number of gravid ribbon snakes were found hanging out in a warm ephemeral watered ditch.  Most of the kids and only two adults made there way into the river.  Not thinking, I swam downstream looking for mussels and found a few weathered shells and a young slider basking on a log.  Otherwise, the kids enjoyed this final swim one of the parents of the big muddy.

IMG_2504 IMG_2509 IMG_2528 IMG_2536

On Sunday, those that were left travelled to the Smith Ranch newt pond.  We encountered a large plain-bellied water snake (check out the story on the KS Herpetology Facebook), a worm snake, and a ground skink.  None of us braved the muddy pond to seine for newts.

IMG_2545 IMG_2574


IMG_2586 IMG_2595

I will be adding some links in the future, and subsequently will be creating individual posts for some of the information that we planned on sharing but didn’t seem the time to.




KABT Field Trip Information and Draft Schedule

Bottomland Hardwood 950 x 348

Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge, May 30 – June 1

The link below contains the draft document for the KABT Field Trip this weekend including background, directions, maps, and a schedule of events for Friday-Sunday.  Please read it.  I will have final copies along with some instructional activities as handouts on the field trip.  The map to the KABT Campsite is accurate, and we will likely have some directional signs up in Linn County Park to help you along.  We still haven’t figured out a good restaurant to eat lunch at (there might not be one) so be prepared by bringing food for Saturday’s lunch for sure.  I am imagine we can find a place to eat dinner in La Cygnes, Pleasanton, or Louisburg.

KABT SPRING FIELD TRIP 2014_Draft_to_Share

I still have some editing of the background to do based on suggestions from the staff at the Marais des Cygnes NWR, and there may be some changes to the schedule. If you are coming down on Friday and want to help set traps, etc… please text me your name so that I can keep you informed if anything changes.  I’m at 816-804-7106.

I may upload a list of possible things to bring later but do be warned that you should be prepared for having your legs covered while walking around in the prairies and forests during the beginning of the day, etc… and then getting into the Marais des Cygnes River later. I will be carrying a backpack and wearing my swim trunks under my jeans.

It goes without saying that we will likely encounter some poison ivy and ticks during our journey.

If you have any questions about the field trip feel free to post a comment here, on the KABT Facebook, of feel free to email me.  Hope to see you all at the end of the week!

KABT Summer Field Trip 2014

Save the date!Mussel survey

nwrs_blueThe Summer KABT Field Trip will be held in Linn county, Kansas from May 30 – June 1.

We have lots of potential activities in the works, a few include:
* camping Fri & Sat nights

* spending time at the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge. They are the only place in KS where Swamp White Oak are known to occur. It has some state protected amphibians and reptiles including the central newt, broad-headed skink, and smooth earth snake. They are also restoring shrub land for migratory song birds like bell’s vireo and the yellow-breasted chat.Bottomland Hardwood

* could learn about the Refuge’s bottom land reforestation efforts with the “Go Zero” carbon sequestration program, management of forest resources and endemic and protected flora and fauna, their diverse mussel beds (31 different species!), upland glade habitats and pollinators, a heron rookery, etc…

* potentially seining for Notophthalamus viridescens newts, setting turtle traps, learning tips about taking students out herping

We hope to see you there!

Your hosts,  Eric Kessler, Chris Ollig and Kelley Tuel

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.