Johnson County Science Cafe

Patient Protection Affordable Care Act: The interaction of politics and healthcare delivery in the U.S (Obamacare).

Speakers: Delores Furtado, PhD., Professor Emerita, Department of Microbiology, University of Kansas School of Medicine
Date: December 4, 2012

Time: 6:30 pm

Location: Coaches Bar and Grill, 9089 W. 135th Street, one block west of 135th and Antioch, south side of 135th St.

A brief look at what drove President Obama to create this legislation, what in the Act has already been implemented, the beneficiaries of implementation and changes yet to be realized.  The big contest will be between state governments and the federal government.  Some requirements will be regarded as an erosion of power of individuals and of groups.  The arguments may distract us but we must keep the goal in mind, that is, to control the annual increases in the cost of health care be it increases in the cost of insurance premiums and in the cost of provider services.  Will we, as a society, tolerate political gridlock OR will we,  as a society, put the needs of the people including our own personal benefits ahead of politics?   Understanding the opportunities the ACA brings will help each of us take an informed position with regard to health care reform.

Dr. Furtado was a Faculty member in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine for over 30 years.  She is currently Professor Emerita.  Subsequent to retirement she was elected Johnson County Commissioner and then to the Kansas House of Representatives to represent District 19 (within Overland Park).  She continues to serve on a number of Boards that have a health policy or a tie to providing health services to the most vulnerable.
Her undergraduate education (BS) from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and then at the University of Michigan for her MS and Ph.D. degrees in Microbiology.

For more information:

Laboratory/Field Notebooks in Biology Classrooms

I’ve been talking to different folks about lab notebooks so they are on my mind.  I looked up this thread on the AP Biology Community website and I am hoping to revive the discussion since I think lab notebooks are one of the essential tools needed to fully implement inquiry in the classroom.  The AP Community is an incredible group of folks that like to collaborate on trying to work out effective instructional strategies.  But what form should these notebooks take?  How do I grade them?  What are my goals and how do I get my students to buy in to the same goals?  How do I use the notebooks and how do the students benefit?  Is this assignment for the students or is it for me?

During the discussions about notebooks, I generally point out to other teachers, that I try to make the notebook something the students choose to do or, even, to begin enjoy doing.  My general strategy has been to make assignments that rely on the completeness and accuracy of a good laboratory notebook to complete.  In other words, I make sure to give the students high value assignments that almost required they return to their well-drafted, notebooks to be successful.  The notebooks are introduced with explicit instructions and general guidelines but it very important for students to take ownership and pride in their notebooks.  For that to happen it is my contention that the students need to have some responsibility for developing their own style and approach to a notebook.   To that end, when I make the notebook assignment, I try to create the need and rationale while at the same time show the students numerous examples of past student notebooks and actual examples from research scientists.  I encourage/require drawings, art, and reflection.  I want the notebooks to become something the student values and is proud of.  I want it to become a tool of reflection.  I do not overemphasize the formal laboratory notebook–the legal document though I do try and point out how important it is to record your thoughts as a record establishing your intellectual property.  Since, my classroom was typically a mix of field work and lab work, I also sought to have my students develop a hybrid notebook—both a field and lab notebook.  We also explored the idea of using the notebook as a parking place for working out ideas and thoughts for biology related topics.

The bugaboo with notebooks has always been grading.  How do you grade so many different notebooks fairly, consistently and with any regularity?  My short answer is that you don’t.  Mostly, my students receive what woud best be termed completion credit if I see enough evidence that they are making a good faith effort.  I also offer feedback to help them improve their notebook but the other assignments where a good notebook paid dividends is usually all the motivation my students need.  (BTW, one of those assignments when I was teaching high school biology was a lab final for two separate 9 weeks periods where every student carried out an original research question over some lab topic we had covered earlier.)  The other thing that we use to help students improve their notebooks is peer review.  There are always outstanding examples of notebooks early on and I make a big deal about these for all to see (with permission from the student).  Seeing other exceptional student work can really help move the bar for others–as long as they don’t feel like they have to meet or exceed these standards.

When I first started using notebooks in the classroom there were really very few resources to help guide the effort.  That really is not the case today.  Here are some to get you started:

Check out this powerpoint presentation from Richard Cellarius for inspiration and rationale for why you might want to make notebooks a point of emphasis in your lab program.  I am particularly enamored with the thought of a “gamesworth of reasoning”

Googling “laboratory notebook guidelines” or “keeping a field journal” will get you all sorts of resources like this guide from Rice University or this great resource from Colin Purrington.  Consider adding “ppt” or “pdf” to your google search to expand your search.

A classic book to help guide the development of Laboratory notebooks is:  Writing the Laboratory Notebook by Howard M. Kanare and from the American Chemical Society


One of my mentors was Dr. Henry Fitch.  Dr. Fitch introduced me to the Grinnell method for keeping field notes.  Dr. Fitch had studied under Grinnel and like so many others kept meticulous field notes.  You can get a feel for how to keep notes using this method from this archived Miscellaneous Publication No. 30  of the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History:  “Collecting and Preparing Study Specimens of Vertebrates” by E. Raymond Hall

One of the best ways to learn to journal or to keep a notebook is to look at others for examples.

To that end no resource is better than Field Notes on Science and Nature edited by Michael R. Canfield.

This book is just that, a repository of samples from field journals.  It is a beautiful and inspiring book.  Be sure to check it out.

 Cornell Sapsucker Woods naturally has some guidance as well.

Field notebooks from some of the ornithologists who have worked at the Cornell Laboratory for Ornithology.


The Field Book Project at the Smithsonian has a number of great examples as well.  With a number of images here.

The Naturalist’s Field Journal, A Manual of Instruction Based on a System Established by Joseph Grinnell by Steven G. Herman brom Buteo Books is also an excellent resource but it is out of print and unfortunately when copies are available they are very expensive.  Still you may get lucky.

I have found that How to Keep a Naturalist’s Notebook by Susan Leigh Tomlinson and Illustrating Nature, Right-brain Art in a Left-brain World by Irene Brady to both be excellent books to inspire students on layout, art and approach.


Two book recommendations for Naturalists, Biologists, and Teachers

Years ago when I first entered graduate school, I went to see E. Raymond Hall about the possibility of a job.  Dr. Hall was a legend and someone I really wanted to work with, if possible.  At the time, despite his lifelong passion with mammals he was trying to help conserve the tall-grass prairie ecosystem.  Hall had a little bit of money to pay for a grad student to travel down to Chase county and collect data about the prairie.  I was intrigued but the funds would not even cover my mileage for the required multiple trips to the field site and as a fine representative of the poor graduate student class, I had no reserve funds so I turned down the position.  During the interview, though, we had a long talk about his career, what drove him, and he was very willing to offer advice to me as I set out on my career.  Several times Dr. Hall reiterated, that success in academia in today’s world required specialization.  He said that I should pick a topic of study that few found interesting and become the expert.   This was in the 1970’s just as the molecular wars were heating up and jobs in the natural history area were trending downward.  Of course, my ability to focus on one subject was really not in the cards.  My interests in natural history seemed to have no bounds and has always shifted here and there.  Still I always remembered his advice and have always had a special place for the under appreciated flora and fauna.

Growing up in central Kansas, with no rock outcrops nearby and two miles from the nearest permanent flowing water, I developed a deep appreciation for springs discharging from rock outcrops festooned with carpets of mosses and liverworts.  This appreciation has led to a lifelong interest in mosses and liverworts but only to the point of trying to identify a few while trying to figure out how mosses and liverworts might work in the classroom to illustrate biological principles–something beyond their life cycle.

Robin Kimmerer’s book “Gathering Moss, A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses” reveals what I’ve been missing by not taking Dr. Hall’s advice so long ago.  This book is a revelation that despite their small stature, mosses and moss communities have a lot to teach us.  Questions drive science and, as an ecologist, Kimmerer takes us along as she investigates moss community ecology.  Most of her prose is dedicated to the questions and the journey to discovery, with the discoveries and answers being almost an afterthought.  I was amazed at the broader, more general ecological principles that she investigates through moss study.  This book will not only engage you with mosses but it will help you develop a beginning understanding of some of the pressing ecological principles that drive the work of community ecologists today.  One measure by which I judge a book like this is not on how many new facts and answers I learn but rather how many new insights and new questions do I now have.  I find my self going back and re-reading her essays looking for inspiration and questions.By that measure this book is a winner.     Check out this book, you won’t be disappointed.  Here’s a nice review.

And speaking of ecologically themed questions and insights another book you’ll want to check out is David Haskell’s The Forest Unseen.

Haskell is an ecologist at the University of the South which is located in southern Appalachia.  Like John K. Terres, in “From Laurel Hill to Siler’s Bog” or Aldo Leopold’s “Sand County Almanac“, Haskell seeks deep understanding and insight by focusing on just one, small subset of the natural world throughout an entire year.  For Haskell, it is a small area in an old-growth southern Appalachian forest he refers to as his mandala.  Such intense focus and attention by definition makes such a place special.  There is much to be learned by finding such a spot, spending time just sitting, observing, and reflecting throughout the seasons.  In fact, if you choose to follow his example and return to your own mandala you’ll likely feel privileged as you develop a deeper awareness of the natural comings and goings in whatever natural community you are studying.  Haskell’s art is taking something so deeply personal and sharing it in a way that each of us share in the new insights.  Personally, I came away with many new questions and thoughts and I am not alone. The New York Times had a great review that prompted my exploration into Haskell’s work.  Check out his blog to get a feel for his writing and thoughts.  You’ll find much there that will interest you as well.

Assessment with Google Forms

Recently while at the NABT conference in Dallas I used a Google Form embedded in a webpage to assess students on a PhET simulation they used while I was gone. The webpage can be found here.

What’s nice about Google Forms is that I can create a variety of questions to assess what they learned from the assessment. I can insert multiple choice, multiple response, short answer, paragraph response, scales (for surveys), and grids. All have their own use and and can be made required fields so that students have to answer them before submission.

I start each form with a “Name” short answer field and a “Hour/Period” multiple choice question which makes it easy to sort for grading if I want. It’s great for easy data mining and for formative assessment because once a student submits a form it is sent to a master spreadsheet that I have access to. Then I can create a formula that “grades” columns (or you can insert color rules) and searches for correct answers so i can easily see where misconceptions lie. Here is an snapshot of the spreadsheet I used:

Another way I’ve used it is by embedding a video (either one I made or one off of youtube/teachertube/teded) and then had a form below it that students filled out so I know they watched them. It also can be used as a formative tool as well. Here’s an example of that. (No judging, I literally created this one in 5 minutes to illustrate how it could be used)

There you go, a very practical way to use Google Forms to assess students when working with computers. How does everyone else use Google Forms?