KABT Winter Board Meeting 2/17

Members, Friends, Stakeholders-

Our annual board meeting is set to take place this Saturday, February 17th. Due to a forensics tournament, it has been moved to Baldwin Elementary School-Primary Center’s community room. The address is 500 Lawrence St., Baldwin City, KS 66006. The door to the Community Room is on the southern side of the building (furthest away from US-56 HWY) next to the gym entrances. 


Who: All KABT Board Members, current KABT members, and invited stake holders and guests.

What: Board Meeting

When: 10AM-3PM Saturday 2/17

Where: Baldwin Elementary School- Primary Center. 500 Lawrence St. Baldwin City, KS 66006

Why: To discuss old business, upcoming professional development, Spring Field trips, possible by-law changes (to be voted on later), other new business from KABT members.

I will post minutes from the previous meeting here along with the agenda for this meeting when it is available.

Please direct any questions to andrewising(at)gmail(dot)com or 913-795-1247.

Hope to see you all soon!

Drew Ising, KABT President

2018 Kansas Outstanding Biology Teacher Award Nominations Now Open!

Nominations for the 2018 Kansas Outstanding Biology Teacher Award are now open! Self-nominate or nominate a deserving colleague. The recipient of the award will receive:

– A complimentary year of NABT membership
– Registration to the 2018 NABT conference in San Diego, including the Honors Luncheon
– Giftcards and resources from Carolina Biological Supply Company and other sponsors

To qualify for the award, you must have at least 3 years of teaching experience, with a majority of that time dedicated to teaching biology. For instructions on how to apply, see the application requirements. Kansas has many deserving teachers. I look forward to reviewing your applications.

Thank you!

Kelly Kluthe
Kansas OBTA Director

In My Classroom: Going Bananas for Phenomenon Based Teaching

I originally drafted this “In my classroom” as a way to talk about this cool lab that I used to begin talking about the role of biological molecules in living things.  I originally intended to end this with talk of how it was a great lab experience for my students and made for a good model to explain how living things utilize biological molecules.  This was all before the recent NABT conference when I learned about the work being done by teachers in Illinois to create phenomenon based storylines as a way to teach concepts and practices from the NGSS.  I still intend to say all of those things, but the ending has really just sparked a thousand new fires in my head.  Brad’s use of the lighting of the beacons from The Return of the King is in full effect, and I am seemingly humming the score as I type away.

A few years ago, an inquiry idea got posted in the October 2015 ABT about utilizing bananas as a model for learning about biochemistry.  This year, I decided to utilize the model in my classroom as a way to introduce biological molecules and begin talking about cells and cellular processes.  I started with the bananas in class, giving groups of my students (both AP and General) very ripe, somewhat ripe, and unripe bananas.  I asked them to use their chalk markers and record as many observations as they could, comparing and contrasting the bananas.  I got some predictable responses like their coloration was different, but most made great observations about the texture, mass, and taste of the bananas.  My favorite interaction was when one adventurous student informed the class of the taste and consistency of all the banana peels, pointing out that the unripe banana appeared to have a higher water content in the peel compared to the riper specimens.

So after all these observations and in class discussion, I directed students to use the two chemicals I had provided them (iodine and Benedict’s solution) and create an assay to observe how they affected the various bananas.  We made some observations, and recorded our qualitative data from what we saw.  This lead to me revealing that Iodine serves as an indicator for starches and Benedict’s for sugars.  At this point we talked about carbohydrates and their overall structure, pointing out that polysaccharides like starches are formed from sugar monomers like glucose.  We could see clearly that one banana was strongly positive for the presence of starches while the other was more strongly positive for sugars.  This lead to me posing a question.  How did all those starches seemingly disappear, and the sugars replace them?  

My students sat on this for a second.  I had to prove that I had not injected them with sugar.  Students teetered around an answer, but I eventually had a student in each class suggest that the starches are being digested.  I had one student go so far as to name drop amylase.  This lead to us talking about chemical reaction that are occurring to break these polymers up into simpler pieces.  We modeled what they looked like and investigated the role and structure of proteins, particularly amylase.  With the last few minutes of class, we broke out the microscopes and identified cells that had been stained with iodine to indicate the location of starches in the cells.  My students were super engaged with the whole process.  We had a small writeup to summarize and model the processes we had observed.  But that was kind of the end. We still talked about these things in class, but I left a pretty cool phenomenon just hanging there.

A student slide of unripe banana stained with iodine to highlight the presence of starch (in this case amylose).

As previously stated, I got to see some awesome phenomenon based teaching from my experiences at NABT, and am looking at next steps with my students.  Jason Crean from the Illinois Association of Biology Teachers has formulated these NGSS storylines in his class following specific organisms and phenomena.  His phenomena are very heavily focused on real data from collaborations with zoologists and some of his work can be found at http://www.xy-zoo.com/.   His focus is on how all of the content standards in the NGSS connect to each other in an engaging and coherent storyline, all sparked by an investigation into a particular phenomenon.  

While thinking about writing this post, it occurred to me that the banana lab seems like a great piece in the puzzle to start my own conceptual storyline unit on how “We are what we eat.” In my head, this will be something that delves into why some people have trouble processing certain foods and how malnutrition affects us.  I have shared a little bit about this idea already on a Facebook post, and am now looking into a collaboration to produce some conceptual storylines that follow phenomenon, not just the order the standards are packaged and delivered to us.  I realize there is safety there, but safety has never been fun.

Data Analysis in a Natural Selection Simulation

+/-1 SEM bars added

I really like the HHMI Biointeractive activity “Battling Beetles”. I have used it, in some iteration (see below), for the last 6 years to model certain aspects of natural selection. There is an extension where you can explore genetic drift and Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium calculations, though I have never done that with my 9th graders. If you stop at that point, the lab is lacking a bit in quantitative analysis. Students calculate phenotypic frequencies, but there is so much more you can do.  I used the lab to introduce the idea of a null hypothesis and standard error to my students this year, and I may never go back!


We set up our lab notebooks with a title, purpose/objective statements, and a data table. I provided students with an initial hypothesis (the null hypothesis), and ask them to generate an alternate hypothesis to mine (alternative hypothesis). I didn’t initially use the terms ‘null’ and ‘alternative’ for the hypotheses because, honestly, it wouldn’t have an impact on their success, and those are vocabulary words we can visit after demonstrating the main focus of the lesson. When you’re 14, and you’re trying to remember information from 6 other classes, even simple jargon can bog things down.  I had students take a random sample of 10 “male beetles” of each shell color, we smashed them together according the HHMI procedure, and students reported the surviving frequencies to me.

Once I had the sample frequencies, I used a Google Sheet to find averages and standard error, and reported those to my students. Having earlier emphasized “good” science as falsifiable, tentative and fallible, we began to talk about “confidence” and “significance” in research. What really seemed to work was this analogy: if your parents give you a curfew of 10:30 and you get home at 10:31, were you home on time? It isn’t a perfect comparison, and it is definitely something I’ll regret when my daughter is a few years older, but that seemed to click for most students. 10:31 isn’t 10:30, but if we’re being honest with each other, there isn’t a real difference between the two. After all, most people would unconsciously round 10:31 down to 10:30 without thinking. We calculated the average frequency changed from 0.5 for blue M&M’s to 0.53, and orange conversely moved from 0.5 to 0.47. So I asked them again: Does blue have an advantage? Is our result significant?

Error bars represent 95% C.I. (+/- 0.044) for our data.

Short story, no; we failed to reject the null hypothesis. Unless you are using a 70% confidence interval, our result is not significantly different based on 36 samples. But it was neat to see the interval shrink during the day. After each class period, we added a few more samples, and the standard error measurement moved from 0.05 to 0.03 to 0.02. It was a really powerful way to emphasize the importance of sample size in scientific endeavors. 

Should the pattern (cross-cutting concept!) hold across 20 more samples, the intervals would no longer overlap, and we could start to see something interesting. So if anyone has a giant bag of M&M’s lying around and you want to contribute to our data set, copy this sheet, add your results, and share it back my way. Hope we can collaborate!

Email results, comments, questions to Drew Ising at aising@usd348.com or drewising@gmail.com

–Versions of Battling Beetles Lab I’ve Tried–

HHMI Original

My “Student Worksheet” Edit

Lab Instructions Google Doc

Lab Notebook Intro. from 2017-18

Lab Notebook Data from 2017-18

Was in my Classroom: A Biotechnology Program

I got some really great news recently: some of my biotech students from last year are insisting that the program live beyond my tenure. The students who persist are not your typical advanced science participants (both were new last year and had zero science training beyond their graduation-required science courses). They found a sense of purpose and belonging and I’m really moved that they are exercising their agency. The program is more than the principle investigator.

My Report: By Michael Ralph

They have a new sponsor and the question has turned again to, “What the heck is the Biotech program at Olathe East?” This is an open letter to the new sponsor, and I share it here so my debrief can be of value to anyone else considering something weird. Here we go.


What Would Professionals Do?

Keystone Habit #1: BE a Research Lab

We did everything like a grant-funded university research lab. Every question was, “How do professionals do it? We will do it like that.” There was no pre-planned curriculum. There were no tests. There were no points. One thing matters: the question. Can we get methanotrophs out of there? The joke gets made frequently that, “[some biology topic] could be a whole course right there!” Ha ha, but it won’t be… Well, this was that course. From day one, I assigned new students to help me address my question. Train on taking water samples, learn to cell stain, build me a sensor… we’ve got stuff to do. When they needed chemistry to mix the Nitrate Mineral Medium 2014 (NMM14), we’d stop and learn it. When pressure gradients were needed to understand a sampling design, we’d learn that too. Professionals have meetings, so we had them. Professionals present at conferences, so we did that. Professionals do outreach, so it’s on the calendar. WWPD, all day every day.

When students started to become more comfortable in the space, they invariably start having ideas and asking questions. We’d follow the postdoc model and let them split their time. My veterans of several years would have the freedom and authority to oversee an entire research team. Students specialized and began to follow their own interests, while still having responsibilities to the original investigation.

Take home recommendation: craft your own driving question. It’s got to be really good. Then focus on nothing else.


Only one thing I can’t use… a credit card.


Keystone Habit #2: We’re Cheap

Necessity is the driver of innovation. We performed robust biogeochemical analysis with scraps and pennies. Only 1 of our 5 years did we have any dedicated budget (it was in the middle and it went away again). Scrap lumber from theater, scrap electrical from district contractors, spare keyboards from IT, waste planters from horticulture… being efficient scrappers was so ingrained in everyone’s attitude that when we did the final tear down I had to throw many of the items away myself because students could not be convinced anything was trash.

Big flashy equipment is a crutch when students don’t yet understand the fundamental concepts they’re investigating. When you really commit to finding a way, it’s amazing what you can make work. 3D print parts rather than buy them. Leftover dry ice in shipping materials. Creating long-term storage cultures in the freezer rather than reordering. Mixing your own bacterial media instead of pre-made. It makes the program cost-effective and the students see more of what goes into the project. They understand the bacterial medium because they had to make it. Sterilization makes sense because it was a total pain to sterilize that equipment.

Take home recommendation: fancy equipment and protocols are not the point. They take great pictures, but they aren’t science. This stuff is hard and making any arbitrary technique the course focus will obscure what it actually means to learn in a biological research space.


Anyone can help those who can already help themselves.

Keystone Habit #3: We’re Inclusive

A good driving question is both accessible and complex. That means nobody who hasn’t intentionally trained in that area will have strong background knowledge on how to investigate it. The end result is who cares what level of math they’re in?!? AP Biology students know as much about methanotrophy as freshman (in every practical sense). We have a serious exclusion problem in high school science; don’t be a part of that problem. Any student… ANY STUDENT… who is interested and willing to join should be welcomed. I have a litany of “not science students” in my alumni base who made powerful contributions to our project. I had freshman leading research teams, remedial students self-identifying as mycologists, and more.

There are plenty of biotech programs out there, collegiate and high school. They are picturesque spaces with students in lab coats wearing goggles staring intently at test tubes. They burn through budgets and look great on resumes. The problem with these programs is the course has become about the techniques. Put your hands on an electrophoresis chamber. Check. Touch a thermocycler. Check. These are Petri dishes. Moving on. Biotechnology in the industry sense is a highly derivative field that requires expertise in more than a half dozen disciplines. Our high school students are not that. Indeed, the few who can be have boatloads of options for how to pursue enrichment. The world doesn’t really need an expensive, esoteric course to serve the 1 or 2 students a year ready for that kind of work.

Take home recommendation: Get Them All Involved. I’m not saying tolerate distraction, destruction or ineffective behaviors. What I am saying is it’s easy to quibble with the all the other programs about that top 3% of students who will spin gold in any classroom. Instead, find all the other students who just want to do something meaningful… and give them some sweet science to explore.


There’s so much more I think and want to say, but ultimately this post is prompted by students. Let the program be theirs. For that matter let it be yours too. Don’t investigate methanotrophs, find your own thing. Let the students help you decide what that might be. Talk with others in the field when you need help. The putting greens are pleasant, but well-traveled. Get out in the weeds a bit.


And post about it. A very proud former investigator will be following your progress.

Plotting Error Bars in Google Sheets?…..on a scatter plot????

Robbyn Tuinstra, tri-athlete and AP Bio teacher extraordinaire recently had a question about putting error bars on scatter plot data in Google Sheets.  Several of us weighed in—a couple of us suggested it wasn’t possible, a couple of others pointed to a video where custom error bars were placed on a bar graph.  I mentioned that I had tried before to do this but gave up since I use other tools like Excel, Plotly and various stat programs.  Still this issue festered for a while and I finally had to try and attack it again.  I was partially successful.   I’ll describe what I have discovered but this also provides an opportunity to revisit suggested quantitative goals that the community might want to work towards.

First the type of experiment/data appropriate to this question.  Last year I produced a series of posts that featured a lengthy coverage of the types of data analysis and model application one might want to consider when doing a very simple lab–the yeast catalase floating disk lab.  You can find these posts on the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers Bioblog:  http://www.kabt.org/2017/02/06/summary-post-for-teaching-quantitative-skills/

I didn’t use google sheets in these posts but I will here.  Here is a data table of results that has already been transposed from disk rise time to rate of disk rise in floats per second.

This data table is typical of how we might record this types of data.  In the original postings I talked about how to plot this data and to do a curve fit.  Here’s one way to plot this data (in excel) using approx. 95% error bars (2 x SEM).

I think this is the type of data and plot that Robbyn was talking about.   The model for enzyme kinetics is known as the Michaelis-Menten equation and it can be used to fit the data.  I’m not sure we want to get into that in the AP Bio classroom but perhaps we do.  Nevertheless, I think we definitely should consider having students at least generate the graph.  The error bars are nice but I think when it comes to developing student argumentation from evidence that simply plotting all the data points along with the means is sufficient.  A plot that looks like this in Excel:

How do we do this in Google Sheets?

One of the first things to do to make this easier to plot is to change the data table into something like this:

Note that there is a column for the data points and a separate column for the means. This allows us to plot two dependent variable series on the graph.  We’ll use this strategy later.  Note that I have also added a 2 % substrate concentration and a 0% substrate concentration but I have left the rise time blank for these.  These x variables extend the range of of the x axis when we plot. 

Select these columns, choose Insert Graph and change to a scatter plot you end up with a plot that looks like this:

Here I’ve changed the size and color of the individual data points.

I won’t go into modifying your lablels, axis titles and titles.

Personally, I think this is more than adequate evidence to make the argument about the shape of this curve but I imagine in my classes we’d go for a non-linear curve fit (to help them justify the upper end math classes they are taking)

But perhaps, like Robbyn you want to include error bars instead of the data points for each substrate concentration.  This really doesn’t seem to be possible with simple menu options in Google Sheets.  (obviously, if you want to get into programming, it would be possible).  I did however find this work around.

First let’s change the data table again. Lets add a new column that has a calculated 2 x standard error of the means.  And another new column that includes values for [mean + (2 x SEM)] and [mean – (2 x SEM).]  Now the table looks like this:

Highlight the entire table, insert a chart BUT here is the thing.  If you highlight the data and let Google sheets determine the graph type it will pick Line Graph.  Let it this time.  That is key to what we need to draw the error bars.  You get something like this:

We have too many variables plotted.  We don’t need the individual data points now so we’ll get rid of those.  We will also turn off the plotting of the SEM (but not the plus or minus SEM).  Finally, select, use column A for labels (assuming you’ve put your substrate concentrations in column A.

Once that is done, we should be down to something that looks like this.  One variable plotted is the means and along with a line that connect plus 2 x SEM to minus 2 x SEM….

There you have it—a work around that works because by default Google sheets treats the blank cells in the plus or minus columns as null data–not zeros.  


You can turn off that feature and the graph will look like this:

Obviously not what we want.  

Assessing the Science and Engineering Practices

I have been thinking a lot about the message that I want to send to students about science and reflecting on my own understanding of what science is. In my short two years as a teacher a lot of kids have come into my room conditioned into memorizing words and concepts until a test. They see science classes as more challenging versions of the memorization-regurgitation cycle and often have insecurities about science. As a student it took me a really long time to realize that science isn’t about memorizing processes or vocabulary but about the feeling I get in my head when I don’t know something yet but know that there is something to be learned. It’s about the confusion that happens when you have data that doesn’t come out you expected it to and you don’t understand why, or the excitement when you can connect two ideas you didn’t realize were related to each other before. I only realized these things when  I had mentors in college who asked me questions that I couldn’t answer by regurgitating vocabulary words. They taught me how to learn rather than how to be taught, and I gained so much confidence. No matter how difficult the concept, I had gained some kind of magic comfort in my abilities to work through problems and struggle through sense-making because I had sort of re-focused my education on the act of learning versus the things I learned.

But how do I get 15 year-olds who have been trained from a young age to read their books, do their vocabulary words, and memorize what the teacher tells them to change their ways and actually do this science? How do I give them the the science magic that I found during my college years? Thankfully I am not the only educator who has asked these questions and the creators of NGSS built in science and engineering practices to the standards. I’ve always planned my lessons with the science and engineering practices in mind but I’ve never really told my students what the practices are or how you exactly do those things. So this year I’ve promised myself that I’m going to be more deliberate about this. I made colorful posters with the practices on them and hung them in my room, and have told my students and their parents multiple times that I value the practices. I don’t think that these practices are THE ANSWER to helping students understand real science but I think they are a good place to build from. 

I’m going to value these skills in my classroom and I added a grade book category just for them. My goal is to assess my students on one of the practices at least once a week and to be very explicit and clear with them what these skills look like.In an attempt to briefly outline mastery, proficient, and developing skills I put together a rubric that includes all 8 standards. I plan on using the rubric as a general guideline to grade various different projects or tasks, varying from exit slips or bell ringers to longer in-class activities. If I want to assess a certain practice more in-depth I will break it down into its own more detailed rubric, but for now this is what I’ve got. I’ve attached my first and second drafts of these rubrics in attempt to show how my thought process changed. I love google docs and have given all viewers of these documents the ability to add comments…please do so! I am more happy with iteration 2 but am not sure that everything is student friendly or actually what those skills look like. Big thanks to Camden Hanzlick-Burton and Michael Ralph and others on the KABT Facebook page who encouraged and pushed my thinking before I was quite ready to make a blog post.

TLDR: Science is awesome! How do I get students to stop memorizing and do science? I made some rubrics to assess science and engineering skills but think they could use some improvement: HELP!



Adult Luna Moth Sighting

We have a Luna Moth laying eggs on one of our plants. These organisms are not “rare” in the conventional sense, but they are only adults for 7 days, and in this region, the adults are only active for 1 week in February, then another generation is active for one week in May, and the last generation of the year is active in August, so it is rare to capture an adult in this stage.

Adult Luna Moth

They are nocturnal, so during the day, if you find them, they simply latch, stock still, to the underside of leaves. We were able to pull the leaf upside down and get this incredible shot. It is right in our front yard, and so very beautiful.
They emerge from their cocoons without mouths. They mate, lay eggs, then starve, limiting their lives to one week as adults.
I suspect it will wake up at night and find another place to rest in the morning. I’m really happy my wife is diligent about her plant watering, otherwise we would have missed this.