Earthworms Across Kansas

Looking for a new outdoor ecology investigation to conduct with your students?  … something that will require them to get their hands dirty?  … and aid in their learning and appreaciation for our native fauna? 

Then look no further than the new citizens science project, Earthworms Across Kansas organized by Dr. Bruce Snyder at Kansas State University.  As stated on their website and in an introductory letter I recieved a few weeks ago…

Earthworms Across Kansas is a free program that engages middle and high school students throughout the state in answering some basic, yet unanswered questions about Kansas earthworms, such as “Which species are here?” and “What are the ranges of these species?”

The project aims to educate Kansas’ middle and high school students about earthworm biology and invasive species issues by engaging them as citizen scientists.  One-third of the approximately 170 species of earthworms known to reside in the United States have arrived here from another continent.  We expect that most every earthworm your students collect will be an exotic species.

We are currently recruiting teachers to participate (online registration form), although only until we run out of kits.  Once registered, you can prepare for your participation by viewing curricula and lesson plans associated with earthworm biology that will be posted online through May.  In July or August your kit will be mailed, and your students can complete their collecting anytime during the 2010-2011 academic year.  The data from across the state will be uploaded on their interactive google map, and thus facilitate your students answering the basic questions posed by the project.

If you’d like more information about the program before registering certainly visit their website, and if you have further questions, please email the project at

I haven’t read through the protocols for this project yet but thought you may interested in learning from the active worm collectors and the research associated with their methods.  Check out Worm Grunting, Fiddling, and Charming—Humans Unknowingly Mimic a Predator to Harvest Bait published in PLOS.  Besides the article there are a number of interesting quicktime video links demonstrating the research.

Biology Challenge

Here’s a cool but complex ecological interaction directly involving at least three species going on in my backyard. (Olathe, KS)

We’ve had a mostly cool and wet spring to date.  The plant involved is about 0.6 m tall at this point and there is a large flower bud within these leaves.  For this challenge, let’s start with the names of the species involved (at least to genus) followed by a description of the interactions involved.  Turns out there is a great site on the web that has this all documented with photos and scientific papers.  Maybe you can find that.  Part of the reason I put this challenge here is to hopefully inspire biology teachers into thinking just what they and their students might be able to investigate with just a small butterfly garden.  Another image:

btw, I’m putting this challenge up on the NABT BioBlog at the same time—I want to see who figures this out first–the KABTer’s or the NABTer’s……challenge on.

iPhone apps for the Biology Teacher

A few months ago, I spent quite a bit of time searching for science related apps that could potentially be useful for my life as a biology teacher.  I have downloaded a number and have had the opportunity to discover those that I have found most useful (or potentially useful) in that role.


The main post contains a list of 16 iPhone apps.  Each app icon is followed by a brief description and links that may be helpful for you in making a decision on acquiring the app.   For those that I have found especially useful, I discuss specific manner(s) it has been used.  Furthermore, if you don’t have an iPhone some of the producers of these apps have websites that may be useful as well.

For those unfamiliar with iPhones, these apps must be acquired through the apps store in iTunes so in many cases there are not internet links to pages with further information on these apps.  To learn more, download iTunes, and search the app names in the iTunes store, or google search and read what you can find.

Happy app hunting…

Continue reading

An experiment for the KABT BioBlog—social networking

You’ll notice that things look a bit different around here.   I’ve added a lot of new capabilities to the KABT BioBlog website while keeping all of the previous work.   Over the last few months WordPress (the software that runs our blog) has introduced some new social networking tools.  With these tools this website/blog can now become somewhat like facebook—a place for people of like mind–a community that can more effectively collaborate and share ideas.  The new tool is called Buddypress.  You can find out a little here but the best way to find out is to use it.

As it says in the title–this is an experiment.  I’ll be tweaking things like appearance and options over the next few weeks.  I may add a wiki and other options as well.  If folks find that the new capabilities get in the way then we’ll just remove them and put up the old site.  Let me know what you think.  For now, I’ll leave it up (barring major problems) until the fall KABT meeting to give folks a chance to try it out.


Ongoing Study Examines the Possible Versatility of Inquiry Education

A project that originated in Dodge City is exploring the impact a curriculum steeped in inquiry-based laboratories and activities can have on student learning and attitudes.

Animal Behavior Lab

While inquiry is a term heard often these days in science education, a move to inquiry activities as a primary mode of instruction would still be a cause for some sleepless nights to many teachers.  Shannon Ralph (a co-author within the program) is no different.  She has been teaching for 9 years in Dodge City, and would have been considered a fairly traditional teacher several years ago.  However, since then she has been converted heart and soul to an inquiry-style teacher.  She writes about her experience with the transition:

“It’s a little scary moving to a new teaching style when it is not the pedagogy I was taught.  What I have found however is that my students are more engaged, enjoy science more, AND learn the content!  It’s a win-win for us!”

Group Cooperation is Critical

The project was formally commissioned a year ago to re-develop a curriculum to be delivered to general biology students in the 10th grade.  With an honors program in place, the curriculum was designed for use by students in the lower two-thirds of the class.  In the fall of 2009, two teachers (a co-author of the program, Shannon, and a teacher unfamiliar with the project, Kevin) used the materials in two pilot classes.  The classes that would implement the curriculum were chosen at random from the catalogue.  Numerical data was gathered from Kevin and compared to other sections of general biology that he taught using traditional materials (the lessons he had used the previous year, largely unchanged).  Subjective data regarding student opinion was gathered from Shannon’s classroom in the form of written feedback and a video interview.  In addition, both teachers have provided anecdotal feedback and both classes participated in an interview with the building principle during the school year.

Can Beta Fish Learn?

The classroom methods implemented included inquiry laboratory experiences, hands-on activities, a technology rich environment, and contemporary approach to note taking.  53% of all class days include laboratory work.  When hands-on activities are added to the figure and assessments, assessment reviews, and a lab safety day are removed the “active learning day” percentage jumps to 81%.  To supplement the classroom environment, the students had daily access to netbooks (very small laptops).  They used the computers to access the class website for notes, handouts, or assignment turn-in.  They also used the Internet as a resource for projects, the classroom forum for class discussions, and to interact with computer models and simulations.  Finally, the class did not use a formal textbook.  Instead, the students are trained to take effective notes (and use them).  Lectures with note taking are limited to 20 minutes maximums, and PowerPoint slide counts to eight or less.  The slides present the important information as it should be recorded, and nothing more.  Students are allowed to listen to the lecture, because the noteworthy pieces have already been extracted for them.  Afterwards, the product they have is useful to them during labs and activities.

Teaching Beta Fish

Results from the initial semester are promising.  One section of Kevin’s class used the new materials and was compared to two of his sections using traditional materials.  The standardized test scores showed significant change.  On the district specific CRAs (criterion reference assessments), students that pass rose from an average of 41% of the class to 56%.  This is a move of two and a half standard deviations.  On the state assessments, the percentage of the class that achieves an advanced or exemplary score increased from 27% to 49%.  Both control classes had percentages of 27% and 28%.  While the sample size is unfortunately small, these results are at the very least promising.  The numbers are compared in the graph below.

Class Test Performance

The project’s prime directive was to make biology relevant to students.  The student feedback from the semester was overwhelmingly positive.  Students gushed on the written forms, and two volunteered for a video interview.  The principal commented after her interviews that most students responded multiple times during the class discussion, and all had great things to say about science.  The students also had great things to say about themselves and what they felt they could accomplish.  They felt they were working to, and meeting, “higher standards.”

Ecology Biomass Fieldwork

The early results indicate that all kinds of students can flourish in an inquiry environment.  Many students in these classes are students that a teacher may consider unable to handle an inquiry-heavy environment.  One student had already accumulated over 50 discipline referrals in his young career!  However, there were zero behavior problems in either class all semester.  The students indeed surpassed everyone’s expectations in almost every way possible.  This study is ongoing, but the early data indicates science educators may want to rethink who can or cannot benefit from an inquiry-rich environment.

Students Study Macromolecules

For a more complete description of the semester’s results, including the students’ interview and all written feedback forms, visit  Kevin is using the inquiry-based materials in all of his courses this semester, and Shannon is using them in her honors courses.  As the results from this semester become available, they will be posted to the project website as well.  Next semester, a third cooperating teacher will begin using the materials in the same building.  The project would also like to work with a beta site for replication.  If you would like more information on the program, materials, or are interested in working with the project, visit the website or email