Pathfinder School Science

Look what is happening in science!

December 13, 2016
by Shane Boland Harrison

November/December News

On November 11, 2016 my daughter Caitlin (Pathfinder alum) was married in Ireland! I was fortunate enough to attend not only the wedding but to explore her new homeland for two weeks.

Happy Newlyweds!

Happy Newlyweds!


A wedding rainbow

A wedding rainbow



While gone I had two amazing subs, Gwen Davis and Shannon Mahoney, who helped ensure my students stayed on task with the projects I assigned.

In 6th grade we were studying biomes. Each student was assigned a particular biome and followed directions on a website I created. You can view the assignment here. Biome Assignment

When I returned the students presented the websites they created as travel journals to the class along with the dioramas they made. If you would like to see the results, check out the 6th grader’s biome websites on their blogs that are attached to our classroom blog. Here are some of their dioramas.

The 6th graders are now studying the ecosystem of our Great Lakes. They had some questions about how climate change is affecting the Great Lakes along with invasive species, pollution, water withdrawal and over fishing. We decided to call the Inland Seas and talk to a scientist. We wrote down our questions then Skyped with Jeanie Williams, lead scientist and education coordinator. She was awesome and we learned a lot!


In 7th grade the students took on the persona of a bacteria or virus. They were to brag or whine about their job of infecting humans. It is kind of a twisted assignment but the students really get into it! You can view their presentations on their blogs. This is the website that the students used as a rubric.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

An example of student work by Ellie Herman –  The Life of Diphtheria

In addition to making yogurt the students learned about the evils of hand sanitizer and how the overuse of it and antibiotics are creating “super bugs” which are bacteria that are resistant to more common antibiotics. Using marshmallows and M&M’s the students imagined how all of the bacteria “candy” would be washed away using normal soap and a lengthy wash time. Toothpicks were then handed out to simulate hand sanitizer. The students could easily pick up the marshmallows but left the M&M’s behind. These M&M’s represented resistant bacteria left behind to reproduce. They also learned that hand sanitizers do not kill viruses so washing your hands thoroughly protects you more from the flu than hand sanitizers.


In 8th grade the students took a vacation traveling down a digestive track. They wrote a postcard describing what was happening at each organ stop along the way. They began their travels in a  protein capsule and were surrounded with Thanksgiving dinner items. You can read the assignment here

My Digestive Journey

Mollie Baker chose to travel through Gwen’s Digestive Tract – check it out! Gwen’s Digestive System

Sonny Haworth chose to travel through Duncan’s Digestive Tract – check it out! Duncan’s Digestive Tract

The 8th graders also did a calorimeter experiment where they burned different food items to determine the amount of potential energy stored. The students were surprised to see how hot walnuts burned raising the temperature of water to boiling.

It has been a wonderful year and I feel so blessed to work in such a place with such amazing students and friends. I wish everyone a very joyous Holiday break and look forward to 2017!


October 10, 2016
by Shane Boland Harrison

Big Week in and out of the Classroom!

So much happens every week both inside and outside our classroom. This last week began with the passing of my beloved dog and Pathfinder mascot – Roz. For years Roz accompanied me to school once or twice a week. She was a dog that read emotions and always seemed to seek out the student that needed a dog head in their lap. It was a hard goodbye for me but the love and hugs I receive continue to help me through the empty grief I feel with her loss. Thank you to all for your support – we truly are a family at Pathfinder.

The sixth graders finished up the dissection of their owl pellets and thought hard about the complexity of food chains and how they connect in the ecology of Pathfinder. Each student created a Google slide presentation about an owl the resides in North America. Symbiotic relationships among species that  include – mutualism (where both species benefit), commensalism (where one species benefits and the other isn’t harmed), and parasitism (where one species benefits and the other is harmed), were discussed. In a thoughtful discussion the students wondered if the relationships could change over time. This idea of relationships evolving, from the students blew me away, and lo and behold relationships have been known to change! The next few weeks will find us looking for more connections on campus as we embrace the fall weather.

The seventh grade continued to explore our dependance on plants and how they enable us to harness or eat (as one student put it) sunshine. Students have been getting up close and personal with mosses, ferns and seeds by using dissecting microscopes to explore and then draw the adaptations these plants have acquired to evolve and survive. To engage students I asked them to imagine being an organism stuck in cement, unable to move. What would they need to do to ensure their survival and the ability to reproduce and survive?

In keeping with our plant unit we also harvested the basil from the school garden and made pesto. Pickles and applesauce were also canned with the 5th graders help.

The eighth graders finished up their insect project and I feel they have a new respect for these animals that truly rule the world! This is huge project that demands students manage their time wisely. Most students seem to think 3 weeks is a long time to finish all the projects assigned, but I often find students panicking trying to find an insect in a dusty corner in order to finish their collection!

Outside of class Pathfinder  held a huge cross country race inviting teams from all over the Grand Traverse Region. To say it rained would be an understatement but smiles prevailed and everyone had a great time. The 8th grade class traveled to Pigeon River State Forest to hear Elk bugle on Thursday. This is an annual overnight trip with lots of laughter and deep conversations!!!

This next week will find us enjoying the beautiful fall colors and weather outside as much as possible! Please be sure to check out the student blogs connected to this blog. Also, enjoy the pictures, but know they barely capture the excitement that goes along with learning.



September 18, 2016
by Shane Boland Harrison

2016 Here we Come!

2016 has Begun! on PhotoPeach

As usual we started the year with a BANG! I put together the video using PhotoPeach unfortunately it doesn’t always work on phones and tablets – Sorry.

In 6th grade we worked with the 4th graders and thought about questions and how a scientist approaches a problem. We explored variables and what they meant while blowing up Alka-seltzer rockets. Students chose to vary the amount of water used, the temperature of the water or the amount of Alka- seltzer. Trials were repeated, averaged and recorded in data tables created by the students. This was a student driven project meaning there was no “lab recipe” to follow. The students were challenged to  think hard about what they were asking, make predictions and then conclude if they were right by analyzing data – all while having fun!

The 7th grade worked with the 5th graders to build a rocket launch pad and a love potion rocket to shower an imperialist ruler who was threatening to take over the school and ban recess, summer vacation and enforce the wearing of pink tutus as a uniform :). Measuring, sawing, drilling, calculating angles were all a part of this activity. Many life skills were embraced along with lot of laughter!

The 8th grade has begun a unit on insects. They will maintain a social insect “Facebook” board posting their daily activities while being an insect. They are collecting 25 insects, learning the order to which they belong, their habitat and place in the food chain. They are also responsible for 3 detailed drawings and a project about an insect and an environmental issue it may be facing. Interest in the Zika virus and the mosquito, also known as the worlds most deadly animal, is high!

The middle school will be at Leelanau Outdoor Center this Wednesday through Friday. When we return the 7th grade will start a unit on plants, the 6th grade will start exploring the ecology of our Pathfinder campus and the 8th graders will continue working on their insect unit. The Earth connection MIAD will be making cheese, planting the pollinator garden, canning pickles and making pesto! We are busy living, loving and learning! 

September 1, 2016
by Shane Boland Harrison

Welcome Back – First Day Plan

Welcome back fellow scientists! I am really looking forward to an exciting year of asking questions, exploring new ideas and experiencing hands-on science. I thought I would let you know what we will be doing on Wednesday your first day back! We will begin at 8:15. All 5th – 8th graders should report to the North Portable (Duncan and Shannon’s classroom) at 8:15. We will have a chance to meet and greet each other, hear from Coach Belanger about sports, and Ms. Tobin about the music program. The Bell Ringing ceremony will begin at 9:00am. After this you will return to the portable to get your locker assignments, schedules, and do some team building activities. At 11:15 we will go to the Memorial Garden to help set up for the picnic. School is OVER at 11:30. You are then the responsibility of your parents. Remember no one is allowed at the Beach without adult supervision.

I am super pumped about this year and can’t wait to see all of your wonderful faces!!! Please contact me or text / call 231-883-8426 with any questions.



May 25, 2016
by Shane Boland Harrison
1 Comment

Inland Seas Schoolship

Today the 5th and 6th grade scientists enjoyed a morning on the Inland Seas Schoolship in Suttons Bay. The question asked before they set sail was “Is our great lake Michigan a healthy lake?”  After testing for water quality, types of plankton, benthic macro-invertebrates, micro-plastics and fish, the answer they deduced was “it’s a more complicated answer than just yes or no”. They observed that while invasive species have decreased the biodiversity of the lake the water quality of the lake is healthy. They also learned how to raise the sails and sing some great shanties. A special thanks to our chaperones Pathfinder Alums Caitlin and Seamus Harrison:).


IMG_7722 (1)IMG_7739IMG_7761IMG_7774

March 26, 2016
by Shane Boland Harrison

Gutter Derby Success

Gutter Derby SUCCESS!

Despite many, many breakdowns of the 3D printer, our students were able pull it together and participate fully in the Gutter Derby Race, hosted by the TBAISD. We had 8 teams, made up of 5th through 7th graders. Because of the breakdown of the printer we had to outsource many of our designs to other working printers in the community. Some of our students didn’t get their car back to assemble and test until the day of the event! My students were very grateful for everyone’s help!

Learning to problem solve, collaborate and accept that this is the best you can do for this moment, are strong life skills. I am so very proud of these amazing students – there are no words!




February 12, 2016
by Shane Boland Harrison

February Science

8th Grade gets a Valentine’s Gift!

Today we were fortunate to have Dr. Mike Howe arrive, by chance, in our classroom. He was touring the school as a perspective parent looking at Pathfinder for his son. The best part was he just happened to be a cardiologist and we just happened to be dissecting a pig’s heart and lungs! Dr. Howe gleefully jumped right in and explained the workings of the heart to the 8th grade. He discussed and dissected the valves, explored the 4 chambers and talked about heart disease and it’s causes. He asked great, challenging questions of the students and they asked many of their own. It was truly awesome and such a great gift to have a passionate professional stop by at the perfect time!

Dr. Mike Howe explaining the anatomy of the heart.

Dr. Mike Howe explaining the anatomy of the heart.

His favorite valve is the aortic valve :)

His favorite valve is the aortic valve 🙂

6th grade Explores Changes of State

The 6th graders are studying matter and how adding (endothermic) energy or taking away (exothermic) energy changes the state of matter. In the name of science we had to make No Bake cookies and a smoke bomb. By visualizing how the molecules move, the concepts of solid to liquid, boiling, melting, condensing, and sublimation were all better understood by these delicious and fun activities.

No Bakes!

No Bakes!

Smoke bomb cooking

Smoke bomb cooking



7th Grade Probiotic Science

The 7th grade made yogurt while studying bacteria. They invited their 5th grade buddies to help. Each group came up with a way to prove the bacteria in the yogurt uses the lactose in milk to form lactic acid and thus yogurt. With the milk yogurt as the control the different groups tried soymilk, almond milk, and heavy cream. Another group chose to add lemon juice because they felt it would stop the bacteria from reproducing. All creations were tried and some considered downright gross! Be sure to read about this experiment more on the individual 7th grade blogs.

Checking the temperature.

rChecking the temperature.

3D Printer First Project

Mr. Matt is planning on taking the 3rd and 4th graders ice fishing with poles they are making. He needed a reel and was going to try to put together something with ball jar lids and thread bobbins. Instead we had the 6th graders come up with a design on TinkerCad a 3D soft ware program. It worked! Check out the pictures.


IMG_6156 (1)


Now all they need is for the weather to warm up from 10 degrees F!

Please be sure to check out the student blogs for their thoughts and musings about SCIENCE!




January 15, 2016
by Shane Boland Harrison
1 Comment

January News

8th Grade

The 8th graders are continuing to study the human body. Right before holiday break they were challenged to create a rap describing a piece of food as it travels through the digestive system. While they are sometimes hard to understand in the following videos, they truly had a deep understanding of the digestive system by the time they finished. During their exam I could hear them referring back to the rap as they illustrated and then wrote about the journey of a piece of food.

We have now moved on to the Nervous and Endocrine systems. Check out the 8th grade blogs to learn about why we stuck pins in each other and fought with a door jam! Additionally, each student has chosen a street drug to research and will be reporting their findings to the class. As these students move on to high school this information will be more relevant and important to know.

7th Grade

The 7th graders are studying bacteria and viruses. The first activity I did was to have a Virus Party. Before class, I put plain water in 10 test tubes and a dilute base solution in one. Each student chose a test tube not knowing which was the “vector”. With a pipette and test tube in hand the students mingled at the “party” while I played music. When I turned off the music they exchanged the fluid in the test tube with one other person. I repeated this four times and they exchanged with three other people . I then went around and added phenolphthalein, an indicator solution used  to detect a base.

Virus Party!

Virus Party!


What followed was a  honest discussion about how easily infectious diseases  are spread including sexually transmitted diseases. Please read the 7th grader’s blogs to see what they learned from this activity.


6th Grade

The 6th graders are studying matter. We started with the concepts of mass, volume and density. This last week they performed a truly gross, yet fun experiment. The students were placed in groups of two and one volunteered to be the “chewer”. The question posed was “Will the mass of bubblegum increase or decrease over time while being chewed?” Most students predicted that it would increase. What do you think? Read the 6th graders blog’s to find the answer!

Volume displacement of chewed gum.

Volume displacement of chewed gum.


Our 3D printer has arrived and is all set up. Time to put our thinking caps on and design some cool stuff! Special thanks to RJG, Inc. a local  manufacturing company along with the TBAISD career tech center and Drea Weiner for all of their support!

Check out the great things happening in the Grand Traverse area with 3 D printers in the classroom. 3D Printing PLC News

If you haven’t set up your student’s Tinkercad account please do so!

October 26, 2015
by Shane Boland Harrison

It May be Gross but they are Learning!

In the last few years I have acquired or found dead animals. There have been two pig’s heads, a big salmon, a headless rabbit and this year a chicken. We hang these bodies in a tree down near the beach. Some students are disturbed by this but most are fascinated. Last year, students found a headless rabbit and we learned that some owls decapitate their prey and feast only on the brain! The bodies then go through the process of decomposition. Flies land and lay eggs that hatch into maggots, which feed on the body. Insects can be seen crawling all over and the smell of bacteria off gassing is evident. This is the natural nutrient cycle. It is difficult for students to understand how all of the elements found in them have been here since the beginning of time and are merely recycled. When we went to hang the chicken I had one student ask “What happened to the rabbit?” Such a great question to start a great conversation!

The chicken pictured here was donated by Mr. Matt who is growing meat chickens and had one die. This is a good science experiment from which many students will learn a lot about decomposition and the nature of nutrient recycling. And besides it is Halloween!

Chicken decomposition!

Chicken decomposition!

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