Skip To Main Content

Life Science With A. Schaff

Gulf State Park-Alabama conducted a prescribed burn at the nearby Eagle Loop Trail. As we approached, questions came rapid fire... What's that smell? What happened? Why did they burn this place? Their inquiring minds were buzzing and ready for answers. We learned that prescribed burns replicate natural wildfires in a safe way. These fires help remove invasive species that are not adapted to fire and they promote biodiversity by clearing out big shade plants so native grasses and sun dependent flowers can soak up sunshine early in the Spring. Additionally, these fires keep our community safe by reducing the fuel-load (dry pine straw and leaves) that could cause a hot and dangerous fire for our nearby homes. Students also learned about keystone species like the gopher tortoises that dig burrows and provide refuge for a variety of animals during fires.


I am so grateful for these kids and the amazing natural spaces we are allowed to use for instruction. In this unit, students are analyzing data to interpret how resource availability impacts organism populations. Today, we sat along the tree line to listen to a podcast about several science experiments that show a decline in bug populations since the 1980s. As students listened to descriptions of experiments, made inferences about the results, and reflected on the challenges of studying bugs... we also took time to pause and make observations about the nature unfolding before us. Groundsel tree seeds floating by, butterflies in search of leaves to lay their eggs, bees in search of nectar, pine tree seeds twirling down, the sun on our back, the breeze on our neck... It was magical.


Today was a BIG day with many moments to be thankful for!
We started in our houses, and House Altruismo practiced celebrating and respecting others. We also wrote thank you notes to our incredibly generous community sponsor, Leslie T Herhold LCSW LLC, Counseling Services.
When classes resumed, we got busy in the greenhouse. Thanks to Mrs. Martha Morales’s hard work in the greenhouse, we were able to plant our first crop of hydroponically grown lettuce and tomatoes. After seeding the horticubes, we walked over to the high school greenhouse to see what our middle school operation might resemble in about 8 weeks.
While we were there, FFA student President , Lauren Calvert, taught us about her Capstone project involving chickens and how their feed might affect their laying capacity.
With just a few minutes to spare, we finished most classes with a few rounds of Food Web Tag. Students act out the roles of producers, consumers and decomposers… reflecting on what happens to various populations when the ratios of organisms get out of balance.
Finally, we finished our school day with Adams’ Bowl.
Just when we were all good and tired, the After School Care kids cleaned up the field, took out the recycling, and shredded paper for the compost. Special thank you to Kohen Proctor for helping us repair a jammed paper shredder!


A new unit is underway! Students cycled through Gulf State Park to launch our unit about photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Students were looking for trees with green, yellow, and red leaves so we could discuss why leaves change colors and why they fall.

Today, we dove a little deeper into cellular respiration by watching a video and playing kahoot. The kahoot winners got to exhale into a cup of diluted bromothymol blue (BTB). The carbon dioxide in our breath turns the basic BTB water solution into a weak carbonic acid, resulting in a yellow color change.


We modeled digestion with household products. Most of us giggled and some of us got queasy... but all of us learned more about how our bodies turn food into soluble molecules that can be used by the body!


Special thank you to our GSCS board member, Mrs. Kelly Walker, for chaperoning our morning rides, and also thank you to Mrs. Roberson and Coach K. Harris for joining us during their planning periods. It was a beautiful day to bike!
Students have been studying how organelles work together to perform specific functions for the cell, cells work together to form tissues, tissues work together to form organs, and organs work as systems to perform specific functions for organisms.
We considered how humans work together in nature, and how nature gives back. While some students took the position that we help tend to nature, Milo made the argument that sometimes we are more like cancer cells in the great body of nature. Most students decided that humans can work for the benefit and the detriment of our natural world, but we are part of nature nonetheless.
We concluded our discussion by reflecting on a study about Shinrin Yoku, or Forest Bathing. Shinrin Yoku is the practice of immersing yourself in nature for the physical and mental benefits, including: decreased cortisol levels, increased endorphins, lower blood pressure, and increased parasympathetic nervous system activity.
Finally, students explored for two minutes, closed their eyes, and shared their observations about the way their bodies felt after ten seconds of still and quiet time in the forest.


During eLearning, students studied 11 organ systems. After a bit more studying today, students went outside to play Tug-of-War and write arguments about which body systems helped them win (or lose) their match!


Big shout out to Mrs. Good and the Gill family! Food lab was a success because of their helping hands and cooking tips.

Students compared and contrasted natural selection with artificial selection. They explored how farmers are growing the world’s largest pumpkins by selectively breeding them.

We cooked pumpkin pancakes and practiced some kitchen math, learned the health benefits of eating pumpkins, discussed the cultivation history of pumpkins, and read about the adaptations that help pumpkins grow and reproduce.

Additionally, students collaborated, learned how to constructively critique food, and tasted a traditional breakfast meal with a healthy twist!


You might spot Mr. John Smith substituting in the halls of GSMS or GSHS. Next time you see him, please help us extend our gratitude for his expertise! He volunteered his time and donated many young plants to help give our Fall garden a jump start. We look forward to eating the lettuces, kale, and collards we planted!

Also, special shout out to these three amigos, Alex, Luke, and Rosie–for planting through the drizzle!


Ecology bike rides are underway!

Students road their bikes to the weir between Little Lagoon and Lake Shelby. They learned a brief history of the canals that the Muscogee peoples used to transport goods through Mobile, Gulf Shores, and Pensacola to avoid the open waters of our Gulf. They also learned how Lake Shelby is home to fresh and saltwater organisms because of intermittent hurricane flooding of Lake Shelby’s typically fresh (brackish) water system as well as overflow of the low lying dam that separates the Little Lagoon saltwater estuary from Lake Shelby.

Students wrote and presented slideshow presentations about the growth and development, ecological roles, habitat, and anatomy of organisms commonly found in Lake Shelby, like largemouth bass, crappie, blue crab, and redfish.

Finally, students gathered water samples from Lake Shelby and used microscopes to identify the many microorganisms living in the lake.


Mystery solved! Students have been studying various types of cells. They compared animal cells that we swabbed from our cheeks, fungus cells from garden mushrooms, plant cells from an onion skin, and bacteria that we grew from our latest experiment.

Last week, students dropped bologna on the floor and speculated about the amount of bacteria that would grow based on the length of time the bologna slices spent on the floor. We were all surprised to see how much bacteria could grow from just 5 seconds spent on the floor. Students swabbed a "clean" slice of bologna for our control and also compared bacteria from a slice that spent 50 seconds on the floor! Long story short... the 5 second rule does not prevent you from eating bacteria.


Students designed, collaborated, and revised their plans to build a three bin compost station that is made to last. The design criteria was exceptionally challenging because they were limited to upcycled materials diverted from the landfill. We used composite boards that were salvaged from broken piers after hurricane Sally, as well as other 2x4s and 4x4s set out for roadside pick up.

After we level the ground for our three tier compost bin, we can divert even more food and paper waste from the landfill. We will also have an ongoing supply of nutrient rich soil to add to our growing pollinator beds and vegetable garden.


Have you ever wondered what a factory and a cell have in common? Today, students role-played various organelles as if they were different workers in a factory. The nucleus of a cell is like a factory’s Operations Manager. The vesicles are like a factory’s Shipping and Receiving Clerk. Ultimately, we worked together as organelles to write instructions (DNA) to make cheese crackers.
Special shout out to Emma K for illustrating our experience between performing her organelle functions!


We started day 2 of our paint and paddle adventure at the Wind and Water Learning Center as planned, but by the afternoon, those kayaking plans were quickly blown away! Thanks to Mr. Jeff’s quick thinking and collaboration with OBA’s Coastal Resource Wildlife Center, students were able to witness the return of a rehabilitated Kemp’s ridley sea turtle! Special thanks to Mrs. Reed, Mrs. Nelson, and Ms. Amy for chaperoning our adventure!


We dipped our paintbrushes in Wolf Bay and painted scenes of salt marshes and palustrine wetlands. Before paddling out, Mrs. Jackie taught us that these increasingly precious wild spaces have many functions for humans and wildlife. In addition to providing habitat for many commercially important seafood, these living shorelines protect our neighborhoods by absorbing storm surge. Alabama Department of Environmental Management has rated Wolf Bay as an outstanding body of water. It’s not only a sanctuary for incredibly diverse organisms, but it’s also safe for us to fish and play. At the end of our day, students said, “I think we should protect nature because we want our kids and grandkids to be able to enjoy these experiences, too.” We are grateful for all of the people before us who have protected these spaces for us to cherish today. Special thanks to Mr. Talantis, Mrs. Rachel, Mrs. Good, and Mrs. Sawyer–our parent volunteers–for helping make this trip possible!


We examined various cellular organisms with compound microscopes just like early cell theory scientists: Hooke, Schleiden and Schwann. Then, students took a nature walk outside to hunt for evidence of the 7 characteristics of life. In a culvert, we found tadpoles that were perfect examples of growth and development. We witnessed butterflies drinking nectar as an example of organisms using energy for life processes. And, we learned the many adaptations that pine trees have evolved to survive and thrive in relation to wildfires. Finally, students recorded flipgrid videos to justify their photo evidence and communicate their findings.