Spinach Chloroplasts

I was pondering how to get a good look at plant cells with low cost, and I thought about Brad’s work with onion root tips in visualizing mitotic cells. Check out his original post here. The thought occurred to me that the fixative should dissolve inter-cellular connections in leaf tissue the same as root tissue, so I gave a section of grocery store spinach tissue the same 6 minute warm fixative bath. The tissue flattened nicely (more or less), but I couldn’t see much in the way of cell definition. Sticking with the theme, I grabbed the aceto-orcein stain because it was already handy. Here’s what I saw:

Spinach Cells - Aceto-orcein stain

Spinach Cells – Aceto-orcein stain

The remarkable definition in the organelle structure was surprising. Aceto-orcein binds DNA, so what would produce such well-defined structures that contain DNA. How about chloroplasts?

Plagiomnium ellipticum cells with visible chloroplasts.

Plagiomnium ellipticum cells with visible chloroplasts.

Let me know in the comments section:  chloroplasts or not? Alternative explanations?

Collaboratory Assessment

Watch this session below or at the new KABTv page.

If you weren’t able to attend the 2014 KABT Fall Conference, I presented a session on how to provide students with group assessments which still hold each student accountable for their own individual learning. My experience using collaboration on assessments began after I read an article from Popular Science about a professor, Peter Nonacs, from UCLA who was trying to provide his students with a lesson in Game Theory. I have never been the most vocal advocate for tests in general, and final exams specifically, but even I was uncomfortable with the idea of every student taking the same test, and only answering one question. However, after some reflection, I began to realize that, had I properly done my job, my students shouldn’t need 50 or 100 multiple-choice questions to prove they had mastered the content. In my elective classes especially, my own personal goals were not to create student-experts in Microbiology, Environmental Science, or Prairie Ecology; what I wanted was to have students that could solve problems, think critically, evaluate complex issues, conduct investigations, and communicate science effectively. None of these goals necessitates the creation and existence of a multiple-choice test. So I decided to give it a try.

To sum up the experience: I loved it. My students, in 90 minutes, showed me everything I could have wished for and exceeded my own inflated expectations of their ability. In the same vein as the author of the article I had read, I wrote the most difficult questions I could. I gave my students advanced warning regarding the format of the exam. I encouraged my students to prove to me that, given a challenge unlike any they had faced before, they would rise to the occasion and perform creatively and with maturity beyond their years. I even gave them the email addresses and phone numbers of several experts I knew in our area, people that knew more about the subject than my students could possibly learn in their semester-long elective course. And they did everything I could have asked for. They wrote up a plan and agreed to stick to it. They all took a job and completed their individual tasks. They peer-edited, shared sources, and encouraged each other. They took their draft to other teachers in the building (Luckily the AP Government and Economics teachers were on their plan periods), and asked them to contribute a quote for their final paper and asked for feedback. And they completed the assignment on time, with smiles on their faces. This may come as a surprise, but a smile is not the normal response I receive at the end of an exam.

But the best part? My “best” student and my “worst” both told me the same thing after class. They said that it was the hardest, best test they had ever taken, and they thought that it would prepare them to be successful after high school. And that’s the point, isn’t it? Our students are like our own children, and we want them to have the best possible chance to be successful once they leave our classrooms.  The current assessment model is unrealistic. After students complete a traditional 4-year college education, very few people have to pass a multiple choice exam in their jobs on a regular basis. Perhaps for licensing purposes, but not for any other reason that I have ever experienced. If they want to advance, they need to be able to work in groups, finish their assigned tasks, solve problems, present their information, and complete difficult jobs that have no known solutions. And if they’ve never practiced that before they encounter that situation, how likely are they to succeed?

At the end of this post, I have attached the original questions which I used in my Environmental Science course that first year. I encourage you to read the original Popular Science article, then use my questions, adapt them, or ignore them and make your own even-better questions for your students. Even if they fail, the teachable moment will be a powerful one, and it can be a lesson that sticks with them for years to come. And besides, Dr. Nonacs isn’t kidding: their faces are priceless when you first describe the test to them.

If you take the leap, let me know how it goes; I can’t wait to hear about it!

Drew Ising can be reached at aisingon@olatheschools.org (email), @Mr_Ising (Twitter) or at 920-Ising-Ed (SMS).

EnvEco_FinalQuestions_KABT (PDF)

EnvEco_FinalQuestions_KABT (DOCX)

KABT_CollaboratoryExams (Conference Presentation, PDF)

AvidaEd additional resources

I attached a few documents that should be helpful in understanding my presentation about using AvidaEd in conjunction with phylogenetics programs.

Helpful formatting notes for using AvidaEd and phylogenetics  –> this file details each step of isolating Avida individuals, translating their genomes, and inputting them into the phylogeny site.

Also, the free download of AvidaEd is available here: http://avida-ed.msu.edu/

I used this link for to convert the genomes from excel into a FASTA format: http://genome.nci.nih.gov/tools/reformat.html

And finally, here is the link to the phylogentics site I used: http://www.phylogeny.fr/version2_cgi/index.cgi

final generation gene sequences FASTA –> Here are some genomes already converted into the FASTA format in case you wanted to play around using the phylogeny site!  I would encourage playing around with the different settings on this site; some methods may produce more accurate phylogenies!

I hope that my presentation was helpful and encourages new uses of AvidaEd technology in the classroom.  While there are some minor formatting and computing skills necessary for using these programs, I think that it is a really awesome application and example of Evolution and Phylogentics.  Please feel free to contact me at sarahettenbach@gmail.com if you have any questions about my project or how to use these programs!

KABT Leadership

Election results are in…

President:  Noah Busch

President-Elect:  Drew Ising

Vice President:  Kelley Tuel

Secretary:  Kelly Kluthe

Treasurer:  Michael Ralph

Region 1 Rep:  Jenna Shepherd

Region 2 Rep:  Pat Lamb

Region 3 Rep:  Eric Kessler

Region 4 Rep:  Jesi Rhodes

At-Large Reps:  Lisa Volland, Craig Ackerman, Chris Ollig, & Camden Burton

A special thank you to Michael Ralph, Camden Burton, and all presenters for an amazing conference!  Great job to all!  I can’t wait to get back to my own classroom and put into practice these things that the amazing biology teachers of Kansas are sharing with students in their classrooms!

Biomolecular Modeling

With the new NGSS rollout, the science and engineering practices have become a major topic of interest and relevance. Through an application and selection process at MSOE and 3D Molecular, Inc, I was selected to be a part of a group of teachers receiving training on Drugs, Drug Targets, Neural Processing, and Drug Addiction. During the NIH-funded seminar, I learned a great deal about the power of modeling and effective methods of implementation. Whether you have the resources to purchase models or make them on your own, using models in the biology classroom is a great way to enhance your students’ education, embrace the new standards, and provide opportunities for critical thinking on hard-to-grasp concepts.


Models-Based Science Teaching by Steven W. Gilbert: 

Biomolecular Modeling, MSOE

Free State Prairie Project

KU professor Dr. Helen Alexander and I presented an introduction to the Free State High School Prairie Project in Lawrence.  In the fall of 2013 we were awarded grant money to establish a prairie restoration research area on an abandoned football field on the Free State High School campus.  We designed an experiment with 6 replications of three treatments:  native grasses, native grasses and forbs, native grasses and 2x forbs.  This site provides the opportunity for several KU researchers to study changes in plant communities, soil structure, and soil microbe composition over time.  Free State students, KU researchers, and KU students are developing collaborative experiments that ideally will be shared with middle and elementary schools and the Lawrence community.

Free State Prairie Project – Sept 2014 FreeStatePrairie_standards

Inquiring with Plants – Keynote Presentation

Marshall Sundberg presented about inquiring with plants and shared several of the investigations he engages his college biology students in at Emporia State University. He gave us the task of making the most “bendy” celery using tap water and salt. All of these investigations are focused around the task of engaging students in science practices, which are becoming increasingly common subjects in science education reform, seen in NGSS (8 science and engineering practices) as well as the new AP Biology curriculum (7 science practices).

Some of the investigations discussed covered making observations, inferences, and asking questions (looking at static images and looking at tree bark), designing experiments and collecting data (“What are the most popular cars in Lawrence?” and “What are the most common street trees in Lawrence?”), analyzing data (statistical analysis if previous investigations as well as Colorado River water allocation commission), working with data and representations (energy use in self-sustaining fish bowl and stomata density), and much more.

Please comment by adding “take-aways”, questions or wonderings, ideas for how to utilize science practices in other parts of our curriculum, or anything else!

CDC Science Ambassador Opportunity

Group Picture_CDC SignThis summer I had the opportunity to participate in the 2014 CDC Ambassador Training.  Twenty teachers from across the US spent a week in Atlanta, GA attending seminars held by CDC scientists.  Each day we would tour something – the Spencer Museum, research laboratories, the CDC Library, the CDC campus, etc.  This was an amazing chance to see how the CDC works and obtain real-life examples of epidemiology and public health careers to bring back to the classroom.

While there, participants are placed on teams with CDC specialists.  You work together to create lesson plans which will (after the clearance process) will appear on the CDC website.

The application process was surprisingly easy (applications are not available yet, but plan on applying around Spring Break):

  • letter of rec from your administrator/department chair
  • personal statement (less than 2 pages)
  • resume

Resources which may interest you are: