In My Classroom #13 – Curators of Natural History

Welcome to the KABT blog segment, “In My Classroom”. This is a segment that will post about every two weeks from a different member. In 250 words or less, share one thing that you are currently doing in your classroom. That’s it.


The idea is that we all do cool stuff in our rooms and to some people there have been cool things so long that it feels like they are old news. However, there are new teachers that may be hearing things for the first time and veterans that benefit from reminders. So let’s share things, new and old alike. When you’re tagged you have two weeks to post the next entry. Your established staple of a lab or idea might be just what someone needs. So be brief, be timely and share it out! Here we go:


Students in my classroom recently completed a project based learning unit centered around the driving question ‘How can we, as museum exhibit designers, build a museum exhibit about a somatic cell type that will engage younger audiences?’ The question came about as a collaboration between myself, Jessica Popescu, who teaches one door down from me, and the staff at the Columbus Museum in Georgia, most specifically Rebecca Bush, the curator of history. The project consisted of students working in teams of three to four. The teams first divided themselves up into specific roles and selected a somatic cell type to research and display. The potential roles each had real-world parallels in the museum industry. Role options consisted of a marketing director, a manipulative designer, an application letter writer, and a presentation specialist. The Columbus Museum emphasized how these roles relate to their real world job responsibilities in a video displayed to the students early in the project. The video also included several example exhibits within the museum and information as to what type of items the staff looks for in a museum exhibit.


The reason we decided to have students design their exhibits around a specific cell type, as opposed to just ‘animal’ or ‘plant’ cell was to help students understand the interactions, and the importance of those interactions, between different cells in a multi-cellular organism. Students had baseline knowledge of cell organelles, the cell membrane, and cellular transport when the project began.

Exhibit 1

The project as a whole was very successful. Students created a variety of excellent products, a few of which are pictured in this post. Additionally, students took pride in displaying their exhibits to students from a variety of different classrooms. Also present for presentations and ‘museum walks’ were teachers from throughout the school and various members of the administration. The students will also receive feedback on their final products from the staff at the Columbus Museum. One of the most significant signs of success to me was the way in which students generated questions throughout their research. A moment that sticks out to me occurred as a student attempting to do the bare minimum and simply draw a picture of a red blood cell (their cell type), asked the question, ‘Why don’t red blood cells have many organelles?’ This question led him down a path of discovery that led to another question, ‘If red blood cells don’t have a nucleus, then they probably don’t have DNA which is needed to make protein, so how in the world do they have a large supply of the protein ‘hemoglobin?’ Another example of a questioning attitude is drawn from Mrs. Popescu’s classroom. A group of students researching cone cells asked another group why they decided to color their cone cell model yellow when humans only have cone cells for red, blue, and green.


In completing the project next year, I will strive to offer students more opportunities at receiving feedback before the final displays are done. Also, while the student generated questions were awesome, my goal is to structure the project so that more students begin asking these types of thought provoking questions.


Happy holidays everyone, and now I’ll throw it back over to Brittany Roper for the first post of the new year.

Review of Evolution (North Star Games, 2014)

A few weeks back, I posted an article from Nature to the KABT Facebook page reviewing three board games that attempt to model the process of evolution. Brad Williamson was kind enough to make a donation of Nature’s top pick, creatively titled “Evolution”, to me and my classroom. In return, I was asked to write my own review of the game. I’ve had the chance to play Evolution with a number of people: a few of my college biology students, some non-biologist friends, and some biology graduate students. Our gaming groups have ranged in size from just two people to four, with the game supporting up to 6. 2015-12-24 08.19.09

Overall, the goal of Evolution comes down to making the most efficient species at obtaining food. This is done through adding and removing traits that help your species either become improved foragers or carnivores. Food in the game is often limited, leading to competition between your species and those of the other players. Species in the game can have up to three different traits, leading to 12,000 different possible combinations. Each game I’ve played required different strategy due to the large number of possible outcomes.

Efficient species at obtaining food are able to reproduce and grow their population (or have traits that increase reproductive potential). Species with large populations are therefore harder to kill off, but it comes with a major drawback: you have to be able to feed them all. You can also control the body size of your species. This acts as defense against predators for herbivores or offense for carnivores.  Other traits allow your species to evolve cooperative or symbiotic relationships with other species in play, helping carnivores hunt or herbivores defend themselves from being eaten. There are also traits that provide defense, such as burrowing, defensive herding, or climbing. With only three traits for each species, you are left with a lot of decisions. Do you build a species that can withstand the attacks of carnivores? Or do you build a species that is an efficient forager? Do you make a more risky, but also aggressive, carnivore? 2015-12-13 17.57.33

During one of my plays, I made tank-like herbivores that could withstand whatever attacks the carnivores could throw at them, but they weren’t great foragers. On turns where plant food was scarce, these defensive animals were facing starvation. Another game with four people, there were a lot of herbivores in play with traits to increase their foraging ability. Once a carnivore came onto the scene, it was able to feed without much to stop it. 2015-12-24 08.53.52

The art of Evolution is beautiful and creative, mixing real animals with imaginary ones. The build-quality is very good and the pieces feel sturdy. The rules are easy to learn, but there is a lot of depth to the gameplay. My students and non-biologist friends were able to pick it up quickly and enjoyed the game.

The game does a great job of modeling the process of natural selection through demonstrating the evolutionary arms race. Species respond to their environment and adapt to changes in order to eat and reproduce. New species arise throughout the game, others go extinct. Other biological concepts are also prevalent, such as carrying capacity, limiting factors, and symbiotic behaviors. Evolution isn’t perfect, however. It is a strategic game, with players controlling how species respond to what other players are doing, and planning future moves, making natural selection feel a little too forward-thinking. If used in the classroom, this would have to be addressed. But overall, the big picture offers a surprisingly good model of evolution. I’ll be requesting a few more copies to use in my classroom, along with the expansion, Flight. If you need a belated Christmas gift for a biology-lover (or board game enthusiast) in your life, I highly recommend Evolution.


A Mentoring Program for New AP Biology Educators

From the Editor: I received this message from David Knuffke, moderator of the AP Biology teacher community, and all-around Rock Star-level educator. As someone who was new to AP Biology in the not-so-distant past, I will vouch for the benefit of such a program. I, luckily, kept my head above water long enough to produce/modify the resources I needed reach the high expectations from the College Board, my administrators, and students. However, many do not, and are miserable. We absolutely do NOT need to be losing  good teacher to stress. If you have any questions about this program, teaching AP Biology, or anything at all, please reach out to us here at Happy Holidays, and have a great Finals Week!   -Drew Ising 

Hi friends,

One of the major issues that I hear about (from new AP teachers and veterans) is that some of the structure that the CB has in place (e.g. the Teacher Community) can be a bit overwhelming.

One initiative we are interested in working towards is the establishment of a mentor network for new AP Bio teachers. Robin Groch has volunteered to serve as the point person for this project. We envision a pretty casual mentoring relationship between a new teacher and a veteran mentor. At the same time, we aren’t clear if this is something that is tenable, and won’t know for sure until we see what kind of interest there is in serving as a mentor among our veterans. In that vein, we have created a form for anyone who is interested in serving as a mentor to fill out. Once we have a handle on the number of veteran teachers who are willing to do this, we hope that we will have a great pool of people to connect to new AP Bio teachers. This is very much an interest assessment form. By filling it out, you are NOT committing to actually becoming a mentor, should the project move forward.

As far as I’m concerned, outside of a certain weekly conversation that I have, my role as a district mentor is incredibly rewarding and helpful for my own practice. I hope many of the talented AP Bio teachers on this listserv might consider signing up to serve in a mentoring capacity. I think we have a pretty great opportunity to help new AP Bio teachers get more comfortable.

Here is a link to the mentoring interest form:

David Knuffke
Deer Park, NY

2016 KABT Winter Board Meeting


What:  2016 KABT Winter Board Meeting.

When:  Saturday, Jan. 16th, 9am – 3pm

Where:  Baker Wetlands Discovery Center (1365 N. 1250 Rd., Lawrence, KS)

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

Note:  I will make another FB post closer to the meeting date for the purposes of organizing the pot-luck lunch.

Executive Council:  President – Noah Busch, President-Elect – Drew Ising, Vice President – Kelley Tuel, Secretary – Kelly Kluthe, Treasurer; – Michael Ralph, Region 1 Rep – TBA, Region 2 Rep – Craig Ackerman, Region 3 Rep – Eric Kessler, Region 4 Rep – Jesi Rhodes, At-Large Reps – Lisa Volland, Bill Welch, Chris Ollig, & Kylee Sharp, Past President – Julie Schwarting, & Historian – Stan Roth.