A Forensic Fairytale- Day 1- Crime Scene


She really just wanted to share the little cottage in the forest with her special little guy, her woodland creatures, and live happily ever after there… NOT at the castle with a stuffy, vain Prince! It was after one heart-wrenching visit back to the forest that Snow White hatched a plan…. “If all the other dwarfs are gone, my sweetheart and I can live out our dreams!”  So, she set out to make that happen. She looked up the old witch with the apple orchard. She made all the arrangements. She had everything in order to hatch this horrendous deed. However, there was one thing she didn’t couldn’t have ever predicted……..

One by one, the dwarfs are missing…. What is going on?

The last last month of school is hard… really hard… and when you have Juniors and SENIORS in Forensics, it’s 863,950,999 times as hard! Seniors have already graduated (in their minds lol) and Juniors have Senior-itis.  I feel like I really earn my paycheck this last month of school.  This year, I am determined to provide experiences that make my students really not want miss my class during this time when they are tempted to mentally “check out”.

So, this year, I wanted to do some sort of crime scene outside that might take several class meetings.  I remembered my bargain Halloween skeletons I bought right after Halloween for just a little over $4 at Target.



Great buy, but I have had trouble figuring out how to use the half-sized skeletons.  (And if you have suggestions for me, I’d love to hear them!  They are pretty close anatomically and they’re jointed). 7518848048_img_1687

Since I had 6 of them, I decided to do some sort of mystery involving the fairytale Snow White and use the little skeletons for her “sidekicks”.  We recently finished our study of Forensic Anthropology so I wanted to do something where they had to reassemble them correctly, as well as examine them as Medical Examiners.  I had 2 guys from another class disassemble them (they were screwed together). Then, I decided it might be interesting to have my students sift through and process evidence in the excavation of a shallow grave.


I created “Missing Persons” flyers from a template I found online.  You can access it here and it downloads in Word format.  I tried to think of silly clues for my “characters” that would allow me to leave with my little skeletons so students could figure out whose grave they were excavating and which character was missing from the scene. The pictures below are my “graves” before I covered them back up with mulch.


I used things like colors of clothing they were wearing in whatever picture I used for them.  I bought cheap t-shirts at a discount store and used a box cutter to rip them up as if they had been in the grave for a period of time.  img_8831I also used accessories as clues and included things like “wears glasses” on the Missing Persons poster.  It’s easy to find things like reading glasses, sunglasses, etc at the local Dollar Tree.  (I think I got almost everything we used for this activity for maybe $25 at Dollar Tree).  I also tucked little “clues” away in their hats, just to help those who were handling their evidence carefully.  Hopefully, on Crime Lab day, they will open their hat and see this label——————>

Below is a sample of one of my Missing Persons posters.  I made one for each dwarf as well as one for Snow White and the Prince (because maybe they were the killers, who knows? 🙂 )

dwarf mp snip

That’s where this Forensic Fairytale started…

You have seen the Missing Persons flyers all over town.  It seems that every year, there is another one posted. You have always wondered what was happening to the famous little men that live near our area.  You’ve heard the stories about the secret diamond mine where they work. Your parents told you all about the girl named Snow White that ate the poisoned apple and slept until Prince Charming came to wake her with a kiss. You’ve even seen the wicked witch… once.. when you and your friends were exploring the forest after you were forbidden to play there when you were young. Now, bones have begun turning up near the edge of the forest. The bones are really small, even though they look like human bones and not those from animals.  Could there be a connection between the missing dwarfs and these bones? Did something terrible happen in their happy little world? You and your team must investigate the area to determine the source. Then, you must piece together this tale of mystery and deceit. Who do the bones belong to? What happened?

Day 1- The Crime Scene

  1. Getting Ready! – My students thought they were having an Anthropology exam 🙂 In fact, I watched them quiz each other over lunch lol.  When we returned to the room, my School Resource Officer came in and said, “Hey I know you’ve been studying bones so can you help me with this? A dog brought it home to a resident after being in the woods and I need to find out out about it. What can you tell me?img_8910 Will you help me find the source?” My students immediately jumped on the opportunity and knew we were doing something much more fun than a test 🙂
  2. Supplies I used-  For digging in the dirt for evidence, I used children’s sand buckets and trowels. Once again, everything came from Dollar Tree 🙂 Helpful hint= Either number (or color code) E.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g! Makes check in and clean up a breeze!img_8855
  3. Student Supplies/ Information-  I always try to have everything organized for my students before we do a big crime scene (buckets, clipboards, etc).  It helps all of us!  For this scene, I loaded their buckets with digging implements, as well as brown paper lunch bags for evidence collection, and a small clear condiment container for their soil sample.  I also put all of their forms, logs, etc onto clipboards so they would have something to write on outside (plus, they tell me they love it because it feels so “official” 🙂 ) Another helpful tip= Invest in some clipboards! They are inexpensive and my students are able to work anyplace we happen to be for a crime scene.  They even grab them for lab days.  Definitely worth the small investment! A second helpful tip= Amazon has really inexpensive tape measures in fun colors.  I just got a pack of 10 for maybe $8.  They are plastic coated so they won’t tear and are 60″ long.  I like them so much better than metal tape measures which were constantly messing up.  I have a long 50m tape that we share for large areas, but the little tapes are perfect for most things we do.  Click here for the Amazon link to the tapes I bought. (Side note: They smell a little weird at first, but it fades after they “air out” a little.) img_8860
  4. Forms I used- I love forms for Forensics.  I think it just adds to the authenticity of the course when students are expected to complete official documents in conjunction with whatever they are doing, just like they will in the “real world”. It’s also helpful in grading too!  I don’t have to search for information and hope they have everything completed because everything that is expected is all in one place.  It also helps keep my EL and IEP students organized because sometimes organization is their obstacle. For this crime scene, I typed up forms for:
    1. Student job assignments- In my experience, everybody has to have a job expectation/responsibility or only one student ends up doing the work. I student jobs snipalways try to think of authentic Forensic jobs that would actually be involved in the task that my students are asked to do.  For this one, we had evidence techs, forensic sketch artists, etc.
    2. Photography log- I know this isn’t used as often now in the digital age as it was photography log snipin the age of film cameras, but I think it helps keep my students organized and reminds them to photograph everything before evidence is disturbed or collected.  They do also photograph because they will need the pictures for their presentation at the end.
    3. Crime Scene Sketch-  I always make a form with graph paper embedded into it for the sketch, but you could just use a simple piece of graph paper for this part.
    4. Evidence log & form- Since I had them collect and package evidence from this scene, I had a separate Evidence Log as well as a half-page Evidence Form they had to attach to each bag.  evidence log snipThe bottom of the Evidence Form also has an area for Chain of Custody so we can practice that on Day 2 when we go to the Crime Lab for evidence processing. Helpful hint= Since I have 2 sections of Forensics and our school is on alternating block schedule (we meet every other day, blue day and white day), I had my students identify everything by a Case ID. For this case, their Case ID was the day they met (BL for blue, WH for white) and the grave site they excavated (there were 6).  This makes evidence organization so much easier for Crime Lab day! img_8877 
    5. Crime Scene management-  Give students plenty of room and plenty of time!  I learned this lesson early on in teaching Forensics.  What I think should take 45 minutes really takes 90 minutes in “teenager time”  🙂 For this project, we will do Crime Scene Processing on 1 day, Crime Lab on another day, and dedicated group work for presentations/ infographic creation on a third day. Students are not always efficient, they don’t always approach things logically.  (Big shocker, yeah?) This crime scene was at the edge of the woods along a trail.  7518848048_img_1685 Graves were dug probably 20ft apart, but I could stand at one end of the trail and see students at the other end.  Our School Resource Officer has a golf cart (complete with lights and siren yay!) so he often helps me or lets me borrow it for our outside scenes.  For that, I am truly grateful because I walked 6 miles yesterday on Crime Scene day according to my Apple watch!

Overall, Day 1 of this Forensic Fairytale was awesome.  My students have really surprised me over this past year with the development of so many skills.  I have pushed them hard, but time after time, they have risen to the challenge.  Hopefully, this hard work will continue with Crime Lab on Day 2. Stay tuned……

Please follow me on TpT https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Drm  I will be posting all the materials of this PBL in my TeachersPayTeachers store!


Posted in Forensics, Project Based Learning PBL, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Quick Skeletal Remains Lab Set-Up for Forensic Anthropology


Need a Quick Way to Cover a LOT of Concepts in Forensics Without Setting Up a Whole Crime Scene? Try Stations!

This week, my class is entering the end of their study of Forensic Anthropology unit and I really wanted to provide them with a practical hands-on opportunity to practice what they’ve been learning.  It always seems that my students do well with diagrams of the skeleton, but when it comes to identifying things on a 3D model…. They panic 🙂 This year, I wanted to provide them practice with real bones and skeletons before we tackle it in a crime scene situation.  Since there seems to be so many topics to over in Forensic Anthropology, I decided to try using stations for this lab practical.

Here’s the way I set up my lab:


Fun teacher tip–> Any time you can make things look more “real” for them in Forensics, DO IT!  My students love that part of this class.  They always get right into “character” and put themselves into the shoes of a Criminalist.  I think it really helps them develop those critical thinking skills!  Also, I couldn’t find the rest of my white sheets to cover my tables in the “morgue”. I’m going to need to visit the thrift store and get some more.  I love to have 1 for each table. 🙂

Lab Station #1- Whole REAL Skeletons!

I put the whole real skeletons at the front of the lab


AND at the rear of the lab


I have 30 students in my Forensics classes so this helped the “flow” of traffic.  I didn’t require them to begin at Station #1.  I let them start wherever they wanted as long as the covered all the stations as well as the 2 Bonus Challenge stations.

At this station, I used a combination of questions from a Forensics lab manual.  The questions basically asked the students to:

  • Identify ALL of the bones in their skeleton (We actually just had a quiz on the major bones.  I don’t require them to learn all of the small bones in the skull, hands, or feet.)
  • Use a protractor to measure the angle of the pubic arch. Decide if they think the skeleton is male or female and provide evidence for their decision.
  • Measure the height of the whole skeleton.
  • Measure the humerus and use the appropriate formula to determine height.  Compare this to the height of the skeleton they just measured. Was it close?  Provide explanation if it wasn’t.
  • Measure the femur and use the appropriate formula to determine height.  Compare this to the height of the skeleton they just measured. Was it close?  Provide explanation if it wasn’t.
  • If the skull is present (only 1 of mine has the skull), determine the ethnic group of the skeleton. (I gave my students sketch notes I drew to use for reference)img_8799
  • Looking at the teeth and sutures of the skull (if present), determine the approximate age of the skeleton.  Provide evidence for your decision.
  • At the end, they had to write a summary statement of their whole skeleton. (Ex. “We believe that our skeleton was a Caucasian male,  between 5’8″ and 5’10” tall between the ages of 30 and 35 years old. “)

Lab Station #2- Determination of Sex (Pelvis)


At this station, students had to determine which pelvis belonged to a male or a female (these were plastic because we only had 1 real pelvis).  They had my sketch notes for reference as well as a little reference book that came with a Carolina kit called “Who Owns These Bones?” although any reference materials could be used.

Lab Stations #3 & #4- Determination of Height (Femur and Humerus)


Lab Station #3 was at one end of the lab table and Lab Station #4 was at the other end because I only have 1 osteometric board (which I put in the middle).  img_8797I used real bones for this station.  I found that having 2 humerus bones at 1 end and 2 femur bones at the other end helped the flow of traffic in the lab.  They shared the osteometric board for measuring. I also had reference material at each station so that they could plug their measurements into the appropriate formula to determine height.  The determination of sex with these bones was more challenging because they had to try and figure out if the bones would be “more likely” to be a man or woman since we couldn’t know for sure.  They had quite a few disagreements about this part LOL! It was helpful to have 2 humerus bones and 2 femur bones (mine were identical because they came from an old skeleton) so they had 1 set to measure their classmates’ arms and legs when deciding if it might fit a man or woman. (Side note: The Principal now thinks we are slightly crazy because he came into our lab to see what we were doing and the students immediately started “measuring” the bones against his arm and leg. I’m not sure he knew what to think lol)

Lab Station #5- Determination of Sex AND Determination of Race (Skulls)


Station #5 had 2 parts.  One lab table had plastic skulls to determine if they were male or female (and I put a fetal skull on there too so they could examine it).

The other lab table had 2 real skulls and 1 “bone clone” skull of an Asian female


I’m actually not sure how long we have had the 2 skulls with the tops cut off.  They are slightly creepy, I’ll be the first to admit 🙂

Bonus #1- Can You Solve This Case?


I used the scenario from Carolina’s kit “Who Owns These Bones?” but you could use anything.  I recently ordered this kit and it came with a male’s skull along with a humerus and fibula from a male between 5’9 and 5’11” tall.  I also added a real pelvis from a male.

Bonus #2- How Fast Can You Assemble a Disarticulated Skeleton?


This station was so fun!  Students had to time themselves re-assembling a disarticulated skeleton (it’s in the box) and record their time on their lab sheet.  So much competition amongst the students! It was great!

Overall, I think stations worked really well for this unit.  My students will be ready for a test next week, however, I’ve decided that on test day, we are going to have a crime scene outside instead.  The school resource officer and I are planning to disassemble and bury my half-size skeletons I purchased at Target after Halloween for $4. Then, just before I give their “test” out, he’s going to come into my room holding a bone that a “dog brought in” and tell my kids he needs their help locating the source (which will be in the woods at the corner of our band practice field).  I can’t wait!  Shhhhhh! Don’t tell them 🙂

To purchase the sketch notes I used in this lab please visit my TpT Store   https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Drm


Posted in Forensics, Sketch Notes, Strategies, T.I.P Theory Into Practice, Teaching | 1 Comment

The Abandoned Manor- What Really Happened to the Family Who Lived Here?A Forensic Activity for Questioned Documents/Handwriting

Scenario: You and your team have been called to investigate what happened to the family who lived in this abandoned house.  After walking around, you can tell that it looks as if they left unexpectedly, leaving behind their possessions as if they were planning to return at any moment… Except, you know they won’t, as everything is perpetually frozen in a state of decay. You happen to find a box of old checks in the top of one of the closets.  You and your team take this box with you as you make your way to the car.  It is your mission to piece together the life of this family and possible determine what occurred that made them leave and never return.

Student directions for the activity:  You have received 4 copied pages of checks from the box in the closet of the home.

  • Cut them out and arrange them in chronological order from oldest to newest.
  • When they are in chronological order by date, number them in the top right hand corner of each check (No.______)
  • Fill out the chart with the information from each check (Date, who it was to, etc.) Make sure you write down your inference of what they were buying with the check!
  • Pay special attention to the handwriting and the signatures!  We are beginning our study of questioned documents/ handwriting so this could be very important in piecing together what happened to this family.
  • Once you have finished recording the information from each check, you may choose to communicate your team’s findings of what happened to this family in one of two ways…
    • 1.  Formulate the story of this family by creating a tweet for each one of the checks you examined.
    • 2.  Write a narrative telling the story of this family.  Make sure to explain each check and what it means in their story.
  • We will share our findings whole group next week.


Teacher Resources:

  • Click HERE to download a copy of my scenario in pdf format
  • Link to a pdf of the checks I used for this activity:   http://www.corbettharrison.com/documents/OrdealbyCheque.pdf
  • I had the video playing while my students were doing the activity.  Here’s how to loop a Youtube video:
    • Go to https://youtubeloop.net/
    • Copy & Paste (or type in) the Youtube address for the Red Dress Manor video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1CIpHoi2y8
    • Click the “Go Loop!” button
    • Video will play and re-play over and over without you having to reset it 🙂
    • **** An additional way to loop a Youtube video is to right click the little “gear” symbol a the bottom of the screen and choose “Loop” from there (if this function is not disabled by your school) ****
  • I also purchased an adorable activity from TpT that included the ready-made blank “tweets” sheets.
Posted in Forensics, Teaching | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Write a Project-Based Learning (PBL) Case for Your Class the EASY WAY!

Related image

Writing and/or incorporating a project-based learning case is a scary experience for most teachers.  We have all read the research on the benefits of having students participate in a large real-world project. We know these projects deepen student learning and help students process information on such a deeper level because they are forced to actually apply what they are studying. We also know that students participating in PBLs receive an authentic, real-world experience in their study of a particular subject.  It all sounds fantastic but….. and that’s a big BUT…. I still can’t help but ask myself, “How could I possibly pull off some massive project when some days I have trouble even getting my students to focus for 15 minutes?” PBLs really shift the classroom dynamic from teacher-led activities to a true co-partnership between the students and the teacher.  For all my progressive beliefs, I’m really still old-school at heart and I just didn’t know if I was ready to totally let go. 🙂

I admit it, I’ve looked for a ready-made PBL for high school Biology just so I could try it in my classroom. Unfortunately, they really don’t exist out there (or I couldn’t find anything I could use).  So, what’s my next step? I was forced to write my own…. Easier said than done right?

I can’t be the only person in this situation so I thought this might be a good topic to share here.  I have been thinking about using a PBL for several years but this year, my goal was to create a project-based case to use with my Biology classes.  The unit I chose was Genetics (one of my absolute favorite things to teach).  I ran across the case of a family in Kentucky who occasionally had relatives who had blue skin.  (Yes, really!) I knew this would be the perfect hook for my PBL.


These are the steps I followed in writing my PBL on the Blue People of Kentucky:

1.   Pick an interesting topic

I chose the Fugate family from Kentucky that sometimes inherited the trait of having blue skin.  I actually saw an interview about this family several years ago and was totally intrigued by their story.  There are many interesting topics out there to serve as the basis for your PBL.  If it’s interesting to you… it’s probably really interesting to your students.  It’s not the topic that makes your PBL work, it’s the story you weave through the topic to immerse your kids in the whole experience of learning about it.  You have to be a story-teller and really woo your kids into the whole idea of the study.

2.  Content- The IMPORTANT part

  • Think of a scenario that students can become immersed in– They need to feel like they are actually working towards a solution.  The PBL I wrote on the “Blue People of Kentucky” had my students working in groups of 4 as a Medical Team to investigate a newborn baby named Ella who was brought into their medical clinic because her skin was blue.  Give EVERY kid a job in the group that has a job title and responsibilities to go with it.  Otherwise, you might find you have some students doing the lion’s share of the work. (Learned this the hard way several years ago!).  I gave each group a file folder and they kept all of their work in Ella’s “Medical File”.  Left side had their grade sheet and list of job titles and who was responsible; Right side had all of their work stapled at the top like a real medical file.
  • Choose activities and tasks students can do as part of their “case” that is something they might do as “real life”.  Creating a real world connection is vital!!
    • For example, in my “Blue People” PBL, I had them research 4 different causes/reasons someone’s skin could turn blue- 2 that were environmental, 2 that were congenital.  Four causes, four students in the group.. Everyone had a responsibility.  The worksheet form I created for this part was simple and just consisted of boxes for each reason/cause.  Students researched and passed the sheet around, each completing his/her box.  Every member was responsible for a specific cause/reason so when they had to debate Ella’s “diagnosis”, every student had a voice and was an “expert”. This was such an important part because some kids don’t feel “smart”, especially in a group situation. Arming them so they can have an “educated” opinion to debate with was so empowering!  I saw so many of my students really come out of their shell and exhibit unprecedented confidence!img_8479

3.  Make sure to have an overall driving question

My students’ question was “Why does our newborn patient Ella have blue skin?”  It was their mission to determine if it was heredity or acquired by some means.  This helped focus them and give them a purpose for the work they were doing.

4.  Provide some opportunities for inquiry and incorporate some student-driven elements 

The first task in my PBL was for the Medical Teams to generate some ideas about what could be causing their patient’s blue skin.  Then, they had to propose some options that they would like to explore next.  This provided an opportunity for students to determine how they would like to proceed next in their inquiry.

img_8480 After I read their “next steps”, then I could provide them with “Lab Results” based on some of the things that they wanted to know about Ella and her parents.  img_8481

5.  Give students a choice and offer different ways to demonstrate student learning

For my PBL, the “Medical Teams” had to present their diagnosis for Ella at a “Medical Meeting” of other teams.  I asked them to present their findings in a CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) format using Google Slides.  They were only allowed to have 5 slides- Title, Claim, Evidence, Reasoning, and Summary.  Each person had to do 1 slide, except the person who had “Claim” also had to do the Title slide.  In addition to the slide, each member of the team also had to create an infographic of the whole case and embed a link to their infographic into their slide. (On a side note:  I had students who tried to find actual pictures of Ella so they could put them in their slide or infographic. Many couldn’t believe it when I told them the family was real but I made our patient Ella up for our project! LOL)

Baby Ellas case

We used https://www.easel.ly/ It was quick and easy! To read more about using easel.ly in your classroom, please visit my blog post HERE for step by step instructions.

6.  Classroom management is important!

Create a system that makes it easy for students to know what they should be doing.  I had my students create a “Medical File” for Ella.  They stapled a grade sheet/jobs list on the left side and paperwork from their tasks on the right side.  For classroom procedures, I created a chart that showed the members of every group.  I always had the group chart, as well as what they should do first when they come in,  projected on my board so will not be any confusion what we are working on for that day.  I also always walk around the whole block so I would take up their folders to make sure no one forgot to leave them in my room.  It also gave me an additional formative assessment opportunity as I talked with each group individually when I picked up their folders.

7.  Teacher planning is important (No surprise here right? 🙂 )

I cannot tell you how I struggled with this part!! In writing a PBL, it is so important that you concentrate on the “BIG” picture… and keep asking yourself, “What are the most important things I want them to learn when this project is over?” Establish some objectives (or choose some of your course standards) and think about what a student who masters them should be able to do or know.  Keep your focus on the finish 🙂

8.  One last thing…. How are project-based learning cases different from projects? 

I struggled with this as I was writing my PBL.  I didn’t want them to “produce” something (like a poster, model, etc) at the end.  I wanted them to “experience” something— to try and dig around for an answer to a puzzle, to have to use scientific skills and methods and put it all together to answer a question.  I wanted them to struggle to understand how something happened and ask questions in their search for clarity. img_8477

To me, their frustration  with their team members who argued for a different diagnosis and, at times, with themselves because they just couldn’t figure something out, was proof that they were assimilating information in a meaningful way.img_8478

Do I plan to write another PBL for my class? Definitely YES! I hope to add one unit per semester each year.  It was not only a valuable experience for my students, it was a tremendous learning opportunity for me as well.

Want to read more about PBL?

Review of Research on Project-Based Learning (pdf file)   https://documents.sd61.bc.ca/ANED/educationalResources/StudentSuccess/A_Review_of_Research_on_Project_Based_Learning.pdf

Project-Based Learning Explained (has embedded video)   http://www.bie.org/object/video/project_based_learning_explained

Edutopia “What the heck is project-based learning?”


ASCD “7 Essentials for Project-Based Learning”


Cult of Pedagogy- “Project-Based Learning”


National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (Buffalo Case Studies)– Interesting case studies (great site for topic idea inspiration!- The cases can be viewed without a subscription but site requires a $25 subscription fee if you want access to teacher’s notes and answer keys.  The paid subscription is WELL WORTH IT! )


I have posted a small part of this PBL dealing with pedigrees and the “Blue People of Kentucky” in my TpT store at https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Pedigree-PBL-The-Blue-People-of-KY-Incl-Sketch-NotesTeachers-GuidePPT-Quiz-3678687

This pedigree resource includes:
• Pedigree PBL PowerPoint (in pdf format & in non-editable ppt file)– to introduce the case, as well as provide the pedigree key
• Patient Family History and Genealogy Report– provides family tree for your patient as well as analysis questions for their pedigree
• Ella’s pedigree— answer key for your patient’s pedigree
• Pedigree People (in pdf format)– both male and female; small size and large size
• Sketch Notes for Pedigrees
• One page student notes– explaining the basics of pedigrees & patterns of inheritance
• Pedigree Quiz with Teacher’s Key– 10 questions, 2 pedigrees to analyze
• Pedigree Practice Worksheet– 1 page; includes Teacher’s Key
• BONUS—Inheritance Quiz that includes Pedigrees- 20 questions; includes Teacher’s Key

Don’t forget to follow me on TpT  –> https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Drm

Posted in biology, Instructional Coaching, Project Based Learning PBL, Strategies, T.I.P Theory Into Practice, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Infographics Easy With Easel.ly!

Ever wondered if it is difficult to make an infographic? Well….. it isn’t!

My students made the infographics above as part of their CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) presentation during our Blue People of KY PBL for genetics.  I added this component as they were finishing their Google slides. Within 15 minutes, they had made an account and basically figured out how to use a pre-made template as well as edit, add pictures and text to a blank template.

What are the steps?

  1. Visit the website at www.easel.ly  .
  2. Create a free account using the red “Sign up with GOOGLE” button (Our students are only allowed to access our Chromebooks via their school Google account so this was easy.  They didn’t even have to choose or enter a password!)
  3. Once they are signed in, the main page will appear where they will have the option of choosing from many awesome templates or choosing a blank template.

The graphic below was created using a pre-made template.  The student edited the text by double clicking on the text box to highlight it and entering their text.

Baby Ellas case

This graphic was created using a blank template.  The student added his own background picture, text box, and graphics.

papa smurg

4.  Some helpful editing tips (from my students):

  • To change the text in a pre-made template or in the blank template- Double click the text to highlight the text box.  When it is highlighted, you can type in it.
  • To add photos- Choose the big Media button from the bar at the top.  You can either use “Stock Photos” and search for an image or use “Upload File” and choose an image you have download from the web and saved on your computer.
  • To change the background- Click the “Background” button at the top.  A row of background images will appear under the button.  You can either double click image to apply it to your infographic or click and drag the image into your infographic.  It will change automatically.
  • To add text- Click the “Text” button at the top.  A row of text styles (bulleted list, title, etc) will appear under the button.  Click and drag your choice into your infographic.  Double click and you can type in your text.
  • To change font, size, or color of text- Double click the text you want to change.  When the area is highlighted, an editing row will appear so you can select a different font or change the size or color.
Posted in Instructional Coaching, T.I.P Theory Into Practice, Teaching | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Tardigrades… Water Bears… Moss Piglets.. What?


So What Exactly IS a Tardigrade?

A Tardigrade (also known as “water bears” or “moss piglets”) is a microscopic organism that can survive extreme heat, cold, pressure, no water, no air, and any other insane circumstance you can throw at it.  They are short and plump. They can live in volcanoes and even endure outer space.  There have even been recorded instances of Tardigrades being found in moss kept in a museum for 100 years.  When scientists added water to it…. Tardigrades appeared!  They are the most indestructible organism on Planet Earth.

Click here to access “First Animal to Survive in Space” an 8 min video about Tardigrades


So where do we find them?

If you have moss or lichen growing around your school grounds, you (and your students) will probably find some!  All you have to do is:

  • Grab some moss or lichen
  • Soak it in distilled water or rain water for 3-24 hours
  • Squeeze the water into a dish or container
  • Use a pipette to transfer some of this water onto a microscope slide
  • Place under the microscope and go on a “water bear” hunt 🙂

Students love it!  

clip tardigrades

I drew Sketch Notes to accompany this lab for one of my teacher friends.  You can find them (and 1 pg Student Notes for Tardigrades) in my TpT store at this link: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Tardigrades-aka-Water-Bears-Sketch-Notes-WTeachers-Guide-Student-Notes-3688006

Here are some links to current articles on the newest Tardigrade species found in a parking lot in Japan just this week:

National Geographic Article:


Science Alert Article:


USA Today Article:


Newsweek Article:


Scientific American Article:



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The Blue People of Kentucky~ Such an Awesome Project-Based Learning Project!

TheBluePeople-1024x747Ok, I admit it….. I have always wanted to try a Project-Based Learning Project (PBL) but I have been a little intimidated by it.  I teach high school general Biology students, not honors, so how can I differentiate a huge project so that EVERY one of my kids benefits from it? Good question…..

So what did I do? I decided to write my own PBL… Crazy right?

First, I knew I had to find some sort of odd genetic disorder that my students would enjoy researching.  Then, I needed to give them a “real-world” scenario in which to operate.  My choice?  The Fugate clan, a group of people who lived isolated in the Appalachian Mountains (Kentucky) who were unique because some of their family members have blue skin!!

My students operated in groups of four as a “Medical Team” (physician, medical transcriptionist, geneticist, and statistician).  They investigated the family in order to gain information which would help them with the diagnosis of their patient, a newborn named Ella.  Within the scope of our project, they researched possible causes for blue skin (both acquired and congenital).

We did Punnett squares to determine possible offspring and used Sketch Notes for our lecture a couple of days.



They also reconstructed Ella’s family tree. img_8401

Then, they constructed a pedigree from this information and assigned genotypes to each individual. An awesome resource for making pedigrees online is https://pedigree.progenygenetics.com/  No more trying to get those circles and squares juuuuuuuust right! This site allows you to save your pedigree as a picture. Easy peasy!


At the end, they shared their diagnosis with a presentation at a local “medical meeting” in CER format (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning).

I have to say, it took me f.o.r.e.v.e.r…. to write the whole PBL (an entire weekend to be exact) but I will definitely be doing this for other topics in my Biology class!  My students loved it!  I think they told everyone in the entire school about the people with blue skin 🙂 I had them keep a group folder (“Ella’s Medical File”) so grading was fairly easy.

I am putting a small-scale PBL for Pedigrees using the Blue People of Kentucky up on my TPT.  I’m also working on putting up the large PBL for the entire genetics unit.  Stay tuned!

You can find my small-scale PBL for Pedigrees using the Blue People of Kentucky here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Pedigree-PBL-The-Blue-People-of-KY-Incl-Sketch-NotesTeachers-GuidePPT-Quiz-3678687  It includes all you need to explore the Fugate clan and their unusual disorder.  A non-editable PowerPoint file is included to help you not only introduce the case with lots of visuals, but also show Ella’s pedigree and explain the diagnosis of her disorder.

Don’t forget to visit my TPT store: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Drm

NEW! Make sure to visit my website at www.biologysketchnotes.com

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