Looking for Research Collaboration with High School Biology Classrooms

My name is Joanna Cielocha. I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kansas in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. My research focuses on parasites, particularly tapeworms of sharks and rays. I am interested in questions relating to diversity and interrelationships of these parasites.

I am in the process of writing a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to the National Science Foundation. The deadline for this application is November 12, 2010. Part of this grant application includes a “Broader Impacts” component for which I would like to collaborate with high school science teachers in Kansas. Ideally, this would involve teachers in a rural or “under-served” area (i.e., within a district where few students have pursued biology degrees in college or where these sorts of opportunities are not common). More importantly, I would like to work with high school science teachers that are interested and enthusiastic about broadening science education in Kansas high schools. I envision participation to include 2-3 guest visits to a classroom. These visits would include lectures and discussions with the class on topics that relate to current course material but may not receive detailed attention in the regular science curriculum: parasitology, biodiversity, and marine biology. A brief section introducing students to the topic of undergraduate research opportunities and research-track careers in science after college will also be incorporated.

The selected topics are derived from my current research experiences and interests. They would flow nicely in a course on the diversity of animals, but could be incorporated into other courses such as AP Biology, thus being most suitable for high school juniors and seniors. The parasitology portion would ideally focus on the diversity of the parasitic platyhelminths (tapeworms, flukes, and monogenes) found in Kansas, and also expanded to include those parasites found in and on sharks and rays. This topic would dovetail nicely into the topics of biodiversity and marine biology. Whereas marine parasites are highly enigmatic, with their diversity largely unknown and their life cycles involving a variety of other marine organisms. The final topic, research opportunities and careers, could also apply to a broader audience of students, if other science teachers in your school are interested.

This collaboration would take place during the 2011-2012 school year (Fall and/or Spring) given the course schedule, with the possibility of extending it into a second school year. I would be happy to speak with interested teachers to address questions and/or ideas regarding the development and feasibility of this collaboration.


Joanna Cielocha

Joanna J. Cielocha
University of Kansas
Ph.D. Candidate
Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
1200 Sunnyside Ave.
5024 Haworth Hall
Lawrence, KS 66045

email: jjcielocha@hotmail.com
phone: 785-864-5826

Photosynthesis Response Curve with Floating Disk Assay

Over the years I’ve made the claim that the floating leaf disk assay is quite possibly the best way for students to explore how the process of photosynthesis. The method is inexpensive, accurate, reliably replicable and most importantly accessible for all levels of students from 5th grade to university. However, I’ve got to say that even I was surprised at some data I collected, yesterday. Recently, while working on new AP Biology Labs, I revisited the original (and still the best) paper that first discussed this technique. (or at least the earliest I can find.)

Wickliff, J. L., and R. M. Chasson. 1964. Measurement of photosynthesis in plant tissues using bicarbonate solutions. BioScience 14, no. 3: 32–33.

In this article I saw this graph of a photosynthesis light response curve that got me to thinking:

Last year, the UKanTeach program where I teach acquired a couple of PAR (photosynthetically active radiation) meters to measure photon flux. PAR meters are typically on the expensive side but this model from Apogee runs about $300. I hadn’t taken time to try them out and decided that now was the time.

Yesterday, I went out the north side of Haworth Hall and picked an ivy (Hedera helix) leaf that was growing in deep shade under a shrub.

English Ivy leaf, shade adapted

I picked a shade adapted leaf figuring that a leaf adapted to shade would likely reach photosaturation earlier than a sun adapted leaf. I wasn’t sure whether or not my light source was bright enough to induce photosaturation.

My light source is a clamp shop light with an 8 inch reflector and an 100 watt equivalent compact fluorescent bulb. Actually, I found that if I put my meter within a couple of inches of the bulb I can get a flux reading equivalent to a summer’s day. I was sure it was bright enough for the shade adapted leaf I had picked.

I modified the technique that I presented here by placing the infiltrated disks in shallow petri dishes instead of plastic cups. I also modified the data collection procedure. Instead of counting disks floating at the end of each minute, I actually attempted to time each disk–a bit of a challenge that I wasn’t quite up to the first time. I should have used a video camera or at least used a computer timer program capable of timing 10 or more “laps” or intervals.

Modified technique

It is real easy to record the first movements of the disks with this technique.

In low light conditions, I started by carefully cutting about 80 disks from one leaf. I then infiltrated ten disks at a time with a dilute bicarbonate solution with a vacuum created with a 10 ml syringe. I placed the 10 sunken disks in separate petri dishes with a total of 30 mls of bicarbonate solution. The dishes with the disks were then placed under a box lid to exclude any light. I then tested 6 of the sets of 10 disks under different light intensities. The data from the highest light intensity are not included because I neglected to use a water heat sink filter to keep the infiltration solution temperature constant. The higher temperatures affected the results. It was only when the light was very close to the petri dish that this was a problem but I need to account for this next time.

Here’s the results:

Note that I’ve plotted plus or minus two estimated Standard Errors for each mean. I was impressed. This is a classic response curve and the parameters of this curve are consistent with data reported in the literature for shade grown English Ivy. I’m more convinced than ever that the floating leaf disk assay is a very valuable tool for a biology teaching laboratory. With this technique students can start their exploration of photosynthesis but the same technique is powerful enough to explore more sophisticated concepts.

The BEN portal of the National Science Digital Library


The BEN portal of the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) Pathway supports biological sciences education. The BEN Portal provides access to education resources from BEN Collaborators and is managed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Over 15,099 reviewed resources covering 77 biological sciences topics are available. BEN resources can help you engage student interest, shorten lesson preparation time, provide concept updates, and develop curricula that are in line with national standards for content, use of animals and humans, and student safety.


Browse these and other resources in the BEN Portal.

Teach.Genetics : Teach.Genetics, a companion to the popular Learn.Genetics website from the University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center, offers tools and resources to help educators bring genetics, bioscience, and health alive in the classroom.

Mitochondrial DNA Clarifies Human Evolution : This article and associated material/lesson plan can be used to identify the structure and function of mitochondria and to understand mitochondria’s role in evolution.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Study of Plant Structure : A variation of this resource can provide guidelines for conducting a laboratory exercise in botany and plant structure. Students will become familiar with the standard techniques of light microscopy, including staining, sectioning, and drawing.

Resources for AP Biology Teachers:
Renewable Energy Curriculum Units : The Modeling Photosynthesis Unit provides detailed information on structure, function and application of photosynthesis, as well as a multi-day lesson plan on photosynthesis modeling.

Building The Tree of Life : This brief article provides excellent background and history on the concepts of genetic mapping and the creation and evolution of phylogenetic trees .

The State of Ecosystems : Use this article and its accompanying material to explain ecosystems and human impact! It is available in English and Spanish.