An opportunity to test a new curriculum….

Surely there is at least one Kansas biology teacher that would be interested in field testing a new biology curriculum.  I just received the following notification:

Dear Biology Teachers,

I am a former high school biology teacher, and now design curricula for the SEPUP (Science Education for Public Understanding Program) at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Some of you may be familiar with our Science and Sustainability curriculum, or with some of our modules (Groundwater Contamination: Trouble in Fruitvale, Living with Plastics, etc.). We are in the process of developing a high school Biology curriculum centered around sustainability issues, and are looking for teachers both to field test the course, and to validate the tests that will be used in the field test to assess each unit. I’ve included some details below about each opportunity.

I’m very excited to be developing this curriculum, because it embraces all of the aspects of science teaching that I feel are important. It is an inquiry and issue based curriculum, based on the National Science Education Standards, all taught through the lens of sustainability. The input of our field test teachers is vital to our development process, and their feedback serves as a major focus in our development prior to publishing our courses. If you think you would be interested in working with us, please look through the details below for information on how to do so. We are looking for a mix of students, from across the country, so feel free to pass this message on to your colleagues as well.

Thank You,

Maia Willcox
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Vomit Lab!!!!

Incorporate writing, inquiry, reading, and collaboration into your classroom. We perform this lab at the end of the Organic Molecule Unit. Students test simulated vomit samples (it isn’t that bad…) for the presence of a common organic compound. Students are required to complete a write-up describing each compound’s structure, how they tested for the compounds, and the most likely food culprit.

Testing for Organic Compounds Materials

Testing for Organic Compounds Demo

Vomit Lab Student Copy

Vomit Lab Peer Review and Analysis Questions


KATS Kamp is now passed and like every year for the past several the KABT folks presented a number of back to back presentations that represented a biology strand.  Saturday morning started out early with Randy Dix presenting on RNA interference-Research Tools for scientist and student.  Randy had a number of C. elegans cultures that he gave away to participants.  Next up was Pat Lamb with a presentation on having high school anatomy and physiology students teach A & P to fourth grade students.  Paula Donham followed Pat at 11:00 with a repeat of her successfull NABT presentation:  Water Drops on a Penny where she takes a very simple procedure and makes it a very rich tool to explore the properties of water and data analysis.  Originally scheduled for 11:00, then accidently cancelled, and then re-scheduled for 11:00 was the perfect just before lunch presentation from Josie Stiles and Tiffany Richard:  Vomit Lab/Mystery in the Lunchroom.  This lab is an adaptation of Judy Browns’ McMush Lab–always a student favorite that Tiffany and Josie have adapted to Olathe East.  After lunch I presented on using spreadsheets to explore the principles of population genetics and the floating disk assay for exploring factors that affect the rates of photosynthesis.  Pat Wakeman wrapped up the day with a neat demonstration of Insulin Shock using goldfish….

I’ll post information about my presentation later this week and I’m guessing the others will as well after they receive this gentle reminder.


Kansas Herpetological Society Field Trips

Neosho County or Bust (April 25-27)

Outdoor experiences have and continue to inspire and enhance our interest in the biological sciences.  Unlike many of you I grew up in Kansas City without access to a diverse fauna and flora.  I do remember playing in a neighborhood creek and collecting crinoid fossils from behind what was Milgram’s Groceries at state line and 103rd.  My most memorable natural experiences derive from our annual family canoe trips in the pristine and protected waters of southern Missouri.  I would hound my father to canoe ahead of everyone else and steer me from one bank to the other so that I would have the best chance of observing and capturing the common map turtles that are frequently found basking on logs along the shore. 

If we want to inspire and motivate our students, we need to facilitate similar experiences (even James Watson began with an interest in ornithology).   Participation in the Kansas Herpetological Societies annual spring and fall field trips can provide an avenue for providing such experiences.

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Evo-Devo and the High School Biology Teacher

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to work on the AP Biology Redesign project.  It has been a valuable experience.  Of course, with a redesign with a goal to limit the breadth of biology topics covered in order to cover essential topics more deeply one of the focus of our group was trying to determine the “essentials” of biology.  (Sound familiar, Scott?)

Now, let me be clear before someone misinterprets my remarks.  I am really excited about the developments in the field of evo-devo and I actually think that evo-devo is well on its way helping to illuminate our understanding of the history and development of living organisms–an essential topic in biology.

But, what I have not been sure of is the maturity of the field–it seems that much of the work is still on the exponential part of the curve–still being tested and evaluated before the really big synthesis statements can be made.  The questions that are being addressed by the field are some of the most fundamental in all of biology but as an outsider looking in with a limited understanding how am I to know what are promising results, actual results or simply hype?  In fact, unless you are actively researching in the field and involved in the knock-down, drag-out battles of ideas it can be a bit difficult.  At AP Redesign commission, I suggested that it might be premature for us to present evo-devo as fait d’accompli–that there is a lot of exciting but essential work to be done first.  In my mind evo-devo should be presented as an area of very active and promising field of science with an emphasis on how science works–we still don’t know how all the pieces fit together.

The average high school biology teacher is lucky if they can find the time and energy to read one or two general books about the field during the year and very few biology teachers I know have the time or inclination to try and keep up with even a smattering of research papers.  In the Evo-Devo events I am arguing that most biology teachers view of the field is a bit one-sided–there are several excellent books for the general public available–particularly those of Sean Carrol‘s.  Sean is an outstanding speaker as well and is one of the most popular speakers at NABT.  I love his work and his enthusiasm for biology teachers.  Rightfully so, my biology teacher colleagues have carried Sean’s message back to the classroom–it is exciting stuff.  But I have this feeling that even Sean would prefer that evo-devo work be presented as science in action rather than science complete…..

To that end, this long post is leading to a recommendation that biology teachers view one of PZ Meyers recent posting about an evo-devo conference he is attending.   This is science blogging at its best from the perspective of a biology teacher not intimately familiar with the field.  PZ is an evo-devo guy, but he does a great job defining the controversy and the fun associated with the struggle for idea, the rigor demanded in science, and the search for synthesis.   Biology teachers–check it out and use it as a way to introduce and explore this wonderful topic.


Public Lecture: In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Public Lecture: Vanishing Habitat, Vanishing Species: In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Scott Curtis & Eric Ward, Reference librarians Friday, April 18, 2008 3 p.m.  Linda Hall Library Auditorium

What do you get when two reference librarians travel to the Big Woods of Arkansas in search of a lost bird? Come to Linda Hall Library’s Auditorium on Friday, April 18 and find out! From January 23-27, 2008, Eric Ward and Scott Curtis traveled to one of the few remaining hardwood bottomland swamp environments in the United States in a quest to make a verifiable sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The Ivory-billed, known as the “Lord God Bird,” was the largest woodpecker in North America – however, it was presumed extinct due to its last confirmed sightings being six decades ago. Then, in 2004, the birding community was shaken by accounts of an Ivory-billed sighting in Bayou de View, Arkansas. Every year since then, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has sponsored efforts in the Big Woods to bring back conclusive evidence of the continued survival of this great bird. No undisputable evidence has surfaced….yet. Were Eric and Scott successful? How many different bird species can you see in an Arkansas swamp in January? Enjoy an afternoon of discussion on bird watching, wild habitat, and the quality of Mexican food in a small Arkansas town. 

The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, call (816) 926-8753.