Thesis Defense as a Model for Project Assessment

My grand experiment continues. I am attempting to isolate and identify methanotrophic microbes that I believe to be present in Olathe municipal water sources, with a focus on Indian Creek which runs near our high school. That’s not my grand experiment (it’s actually a pretty mundane and simple experiment, despite what my time investment tells you). The meta-experiment is my attempt to tackle this research question by establishing a lab group that operates like a university research lab but uses secondary students as the experimental contributors. The first participants were all AP Biology graduates, but the program is now comprised of students of all grade levels and science tracks.

AP biology-concurrent student preparing for staining procedures.

AP biology-concurrent student preparing for staining procedures.

Students pictured:  AP bio grads, underclassmen on honors track, and upperclassman on vo-tech track. Lots of backgrounds.

Students pictured: AP bio grads, underclassmen on honors track, and upperclassman on vo-tech track. Lots of backgrounds.

My social science experiment has made exciting progress this year because we now have a dedicated class period for all of them to enroll and work together. Before this year all participating students had to work as independent study students flung across all of my other class periods. My attention was always divided and communication between students was very difficult. I’ve been forced to make some decisions about how to grade this class while not destroying the free-form and independent nature of the program that has led to its success so far. I decided to draw from our model again; graduate students defend their work before a panel of their superiors, so we will attempt to do the same.

The full defense format overview document is attached at the end of this post, but the upshot is students were given six minutes to present their work for the semester. Their presentations were followed by 9 minutes of Q&A from a 6 person panel:

  • The program principal investigator – me
  • A practicing scientist – this semester this chair was filled by a GK-12 fellow familiar with our program
  • A building administrator – all available assistant principals and the principal sat for 1 or 2 sessions each
  • USD233 science coordinator – the district K-12 science coordinator
  • Project alum – a graduate of the program returned to sit the panels. He currently is attending Baker University
  • Student’s seat – Each student was asked to fill the final seat with any adult. Most chose a parent, but not all.
Sadly I was too busy through most of the session to remember to take pictures...

Sadly I was too busy through most of the sessions to remember to take pictures…

The sessions were amazing. The students got really serious about the presentations, and the presence of administration convinced them that their time and effort in the program mattered. They created the presentations and performed internal peer review of the sessions. We then reserved the conference room a week early and did a dress rehearsal, in which they were brutal to each other (in a good way). They did additional revisions, and then they organized a students-only additional dress rehearsal again the following week. Every student gave a strong presentation, including students that struggle with one-on-one communication let alone public speaking.

An underclassmen presenting his cell morphology analysis.

A general-track underclassman presenting his cell morphology analysis.

This was a great experience for all the students, and for many of them it was the first presentation they’d ever given about which they really cared. The focus on Q&A caused them to focus on understanding their own work, rather than making a dense PowerPoint as a crutch. I’m hopeful that it will provide some of my students for whom communication is a challenge the experience and skills needed to be able to effectively prepare for job interviews and presentations they’ll have later in life. What I can definitely tell you now is everyone involved had an incredibly positive experience. It’s quite a feeling to drop off thank you notes to administrators and get to stand and listen to them bubble about trying to ask a meaningful question in these complex but engaging presentations.

If you’d like to learn more about my research group, check out our public page here. It will be updated with this year’s independent projects in January.

Biotechnology Defense Panel Overview

CDC Science Ambassador Training – now accepting applications

2015 Come to Teacher Training at CDC!At the Fall KABT Conference, I spoke about my AMAZING experience at the CDC last July.

The application process has been opened up for the 2015 Science Ambassadors.  I encourage you to apply!  Please see the information below and/or distribute the atGroup Picture_CDC Signtached pdf among your collegues:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) invites middle- and high-school teachers to attend the 2015 CDC Science Ambassador Workshop. The free* 5-day professional development workshop focuses on training teachers to use examples from public health to illustrate basic math and science principals and concepts in the classroom. The Workskhop will be held from July 20-24 at CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

Throughout the week, CDC scientists present information on current public health topics and collaborate with participants to develop challenging and innovative public health-based lesson plans that align with Next Generation Science Standards. As part of the 2015 Science Ambassador Workshop, participants will have the opportunity to:

  • Attend seminars on current public health topics presented by CDC scientists
  • Collaborate with CDC scientists to develop lessons plans based on public health science topics that will be published on CDC’s website
  • Tour CDC’s state-of-the-art headquarters, including the Emergency Operations Center and the David J. Sencer CDC Museum
  • Earn 4.0 Continuing Education Units (CEUs)
  • Expand professional networks

To be considered for participation, please e-mail the following materials to by April 15, 2015:

  • Curriculum vitae or résumé
  • Recommendation letter from your school’s principal, department chair, or a colleague.
  • Personal statement (500 words or less) explaining your interest in the workshop, your expectations of the workshop, and how the workshop aligns with your teaching goals

*There is no charge for this workshop but participants are responsible for their own transportation, lodging and meals.

If you have any questions about this workshop or any of our other materials or activities, please visit the website at: and/or to contact us by e-mail at Come to Teacher Training at CDC!

2015 KABT Winter Board Meeting


What: 2015 KABT Winter Board Meeting.

When: Saturday, January 17th, 2015 from 9am-3pm.

Where: Noah Busch’s house (4513 Nature Ave. Manhattan, KS 66502).

Who: This is a meeting of the KABT executive council (see below), but any/all KABT members are welcome.

Note: Traditionally, attendees bring a food item to be included in a pot-luck lunch. There is a similar post on the KABT FB page.  Commenting on the FB post with your food item will also count as a RSVP! I look forward to seeing everyone in January!

Executive Council: 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, Past-President: Julie Schwarting, Web-Master: Brad Williamson, & Historian: Stan Roth.