PBL: Water Quantity and Water Quality

A *New* Biology Adventure for Your Kansas Students: PBL – Water Quantity and Water Quality
KNE NewsThe NSF Kansas EPSCoR project titled, Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS), a collaboration of researchers from KU, K-State, WSU, Fort Hays State, and Haskell Indian Nations University, hosted 12 Kansas biology teachers in a 2018 Summer Institute from June 4-8, 2018. Broken into three teams — Aquatics, Terrestrial, and ArcGIS, our goal was to work with researchers to investigate how the microbiomes of Kansas are critical to understanding several key issues for our state, including agricultural sustainability, water quality, greenhouse gases, plant productivity, and soil fertility. In addition to using ArcGIS to map native and restoration prairie species distribution under the direction of Drs. Helen AlexanderPeggy Schultz, and Jim Bever, we all did some aquatics field work led by the Deputy Director of the Kansas Biological Survey, Dr. Jerry deNoyelles, and Assistant Research Professor, Dr. Ted Harris, who specializes in Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). We learned how to use lake surveying equipment to test water quality parameters and sampled macroinverts in thermally-stratified Cross Reservoir. We also seined Mud Creek, where Drew Ising apparently stumbled into a parallel universe when I botched this pano:

KNE News

The end result was this *NEW* PBL on Water Quantity and Quality, which I hope benefits your Biology students as much as I know it will benefit mine:

KNE News

About Me and my PBL Life
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Call For 2018 Fall Conference Presenters!!

KABT is hosting our annual Fall Professional Development Conference at the KU field station on September 22nd, 2018. The fall conference is a great opportunity to share ideas, collaborate with Kansas teachers, and nerd out about biology.

Presenting at this event is an awesome way to spread your favorite lessons, present a topic for discussion, lead a lab activity, or share about a PD opportunity you recently attended. This conference is teacher-led and offers you the chance to network and share your favorite things about teaching! You do not have to be a KABT member to present.

Presentation applications will be accepted June 22nd to July 31st. Presenters will be notified no later than August 10th if their presentation was selected.

Follow this link to complete a quick presentation form.

Please contact Sara Abeita (sarahettenbach@gmail.com) if you have any questions!

Teaching Animal Locomotion

It may be coincidence that two Blue Valley North teachers have posted here this week.  …ok it’s not. Daniel just motivates me to be a better teacher…and post more on here… and I love that.

So, on to the point of my post.  Nothing too profound or Earth changing here, just a fun and interactive way to teach your students about animal locomotion.  I had an idea last school year to find a more interactive way to teach my zoology students about how various animals moved. It came late in the year so we had already made it through most of the animal kingdom and were working on reptiles.  I have silly ideas floating around in my head to try this with other inverts as well in order to help students make comparisons between animal groups but have not done so yet.

We study four basic types of snake locomotion in my class.  Rectilinear motion, Lateral undulation, Concertina motion, and Sidewinder motion. Looking at diagrams and hearing someone lecture about it can be a bit bland, and frankly difficult for students to make connections to the purpose of the various types for the animals. To help with this I have my class become the snake.  Standing in a line, hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you the class works together as one snake. Each person (aside from the head) acts as if the muscles in the snake might in order to propel the snake forward through the environment. Then the class (snake) follows a few basic rules for that type of locomotion and attempts to work their way through an obstacle course of desks I have set up the in the classroom.

I like to add a little friendly competition in the mix just because it always seems to help motivate many of my typically unmotivated students.  …and it’s fun.  I will time each group as they move thorough the classroom and then compare their times with the other classes.  This year the winning class earned some tasty baked goods (chocolate chip scones) that I baked the night before.  I have done this in small groups (6-8 students) and with the whole class(about 15 students). there were only 15 in my classes this year because seniors were already gone at this point.  I think any more than 15 might get a little unwieldy but might be fun to try. Some students get a bit more into it and there may be chanting, singing, motivational music…I believe the rocky theme song was played by one group as they competed last year.

Finally, here is how I do it.

  1. I have student front load with the more technical information by completing a simple reading assignment and then answering some analysis questions about the types of movement.   (We use Integrated Principles of Zoology; 16th edition)                               _Type of Snake locomotion
  2. After completing the reading assignment, we discuss and then I give instructions for the activity. I will already have set up my classroom by moving desks around to create a pathway (usually a figure 8).  It is important that students are able to reach an object with their hands (desk, wall, chair) from any point in the classroom for this to work. (you can see in the videos why).
  3. I use the “student snake locomotion” document on the projector to walk them through the various types of locomotion, one at a time.  We review type one, then line up and try it out.  Once students are comfortable with the rules than we run through the timed round.  It’s important to make sure they know you are watching for rule breakers and that breaking a rule would disqualify them from the competition.                                                                                                                          student snake locomotion
  4. After each locomotion type we record the times and then introduce the next type.                                                                                                                             ** Not sure how to add the mov files as embedded images so I hope the links will suffice.**


lateral undulation



Well, that’s it.  Just a fun way to teach about animal locomotion.  I am sure there are plenty of ways to modify this for other animal types so have at it.  Also, I am sure my documents could use a little friendly editing so have at it.  Use them as you wish. Also would probably be good to add some additional reflection piece at the end (after completing the activity) to reinforce the concepts.

KABT Spring Field Trip: Smoky Valley Ranch

Join us for a western Kansas adventure on the Smoky Valley Ranch and surrounding areas June 1-3!


Activities include:

– camping under a peaceful grove of cottonwoods along the Smoky Hill River.
– viewing prairie chicken leaks.
– viewing swift fox dens.
– hiking numerous chalk bluffs.
– observing ferruginous hawk nesting sites.
– seeing the numerous ranch management techniques utilized on the Smoky Valley Ranch.
– visiting Little Jerusalem and other cool sites.
– visiting several sites of historical significance including trails, springs, and a buffalo jump site.
– spotlighting the nightlife of the western KS prairies (may include black-footed ferrets)!
– catching stuff found under rocks.
– sitting around the campfire and discussing life (biology).
– and many others!

We will plan on camping on Friday and Saturday night. Most people arrive Friday evening with enough time to set up camp and possibly eat. There are hotels available in surrounding communities if camping is not your thing (Oakley, Deighton, or Scott City). For those that are camping, we do have access to restrooms and showers! We will NOT plan on meeting at a restaurant on Friday evening, but there are a few restaurants in Oakley if you want to eat before you come out. Plan on taking care of your own meals. We may find a place to eat on Saturday evening depending on where our travels take us. Fill up with gas in Oakley! God’s Country does not include many gas stations! The Smoky Valley Ranch is about 25 miles (1 hr) SSW of Oakley.

Updates: Other than dropping a pin on the campsite, I think I mentioned about everything you need to know above. You will need to take care of meals on your own Friday evening, Saturday breakfast and lunch, and Sunday morning. The plan is to find a place to share a meal on Saturday evening.

Make sure you bring plenty of water, bug spray, and sunscreen! It looks like the weather is cooperating and we will get a break from the heat… mid 80’s on Sat. and Sun. and around 60 for sleeping at night.

Bring flashlights (spotlights) if you have them for road cruising and ferret spotting on Saturday night. We will plan on eating supper on Saturday evening and taking it easy/resting/sleeping till around midnight. The best chance of seeing a black-footed ferret is from midnight till about 4:00 am!

Here’s the pin to the campsite: https://goo.gl/maps/zHyJxifBR3t

This is primitive camping! That being said, there is access to bathrooms and showers, just not in our immediate vicinity.

It would be great to have everyone check in on Friday evening at the campsite, but if you are not camping and going straight to your hotel room Friday night, we will plan on gathering at the campsite around 7:30 am Saturday morning, so that we can be on the road by 8 am.

Please ask questions in the comments as others may have the same questions.

Looking forward to seeing everyone this weekend!

Noah Busch

The Importance Of Having Students Act On The Loss Of Biodiversity

I remember one Sunday morning growing up where my family skipped church. My dad called the kids down for some “bed-side Baptist” where he gathered us together for a time of reflection. At one point he asked us if there was anything we should pray for. I remember the look of perplexed shock in his face as I stated that we really needed to pray for the dolphins. Earlier that week I had seen a photo of a dolphin drive hunt in a photo from National Geographic. There was something overwhelming in the image of these creatures tangled in nets and thrashing in the blood of their kin. As I began to explain the situation to my family I began weeping hysterically. My father had to hold and rock me in his arms to calm me while we prayed.

In my 30th year the destruction of our planet’s biodiversity still makes me ache. The true innocent emotions of the child within me weeps and I feel overwhelmed with the hopelessness. I think many of us who read this blog have that same emotion when we encounter this topic. Typically, we wire our brains to look the other way in the face of such destruction. Today, I want to remember that depth and move forward with the agency of an adult to impact change. A child feels completely powerless to do anything about the destruction of the Earth. It is a horrible feeling. I want to encourage you to slightly tweak your instruction on biodiversity to include some pragmatic action on the student’s part. I think we can turn students from being bystanders in this great saga of our age into active citizens who engage the issues that threaten biodiversity.

Lets suppose that we have a student who writes an excellent essay on how to mitigate the loss of biodiversity. They turn in the paper and receive some sort of grade. This teaches them that this issue is real. However, I wonder if this does more harm than help. By not leading our students through a concrete example of how their actions can mitigate the loss of biodiversity I think there is a learned helplessness that we pass on. The NGSS relating to this objectives are stated: that a student will design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity. HS-LS2-7. We need to teach our students to implement a solution as well. I don’t think that the scale of the project needs to be big, but I think the emphasis on their ability to learn and act creates the type of growth we should hope for in our students.

So, how I am trying to work on this topic? I have been introducing the topic with a video that I love by some great film makers. It is called Racing Extinction.

I have students write an essay on one way that biodiversity is impacted by one of the following human-driven factors: Agricultural Methane Emissions, Air Pollution, Coral Bleaching, Deforestation, Depletion of Freshwater, Desertification, Eutrophication, Fossil Fuels & Climate Change, Habitat Fragmentation, Human Overpopulation, Invasive Species, Overgrazing, Overexploitation of Renewable Resources, Plastic Pollution, Seasonal Mismatch & Climate Change, or Water Pollution. Then they make a presentation that covers this same topic. They must have three examples of cases where the human driven factor takes place, and each example must be accompanied by a graph that the student interprets in front of the class. (I would not let them do the topic of poaching, because so many students just pick this topic since they are comfortable with it). By forcing them to pick one of these less known topics they are in a better “zone” for growth. So, they write their essays and then they do their presentations. By the way, this is really similar to what Jeremy Mohn at Blue Valley Northwest does.

Student presenting on coral bleaching.

The thing I tried this year was to see how exactly it would impact students if they did do some additional volunteer work. I incentivized this by attaching extra credit to it. Also, Chris Ollig and I needed lots of help planting prairie plants on ¾ of an acre at Blue Valley North. Here are the differences between students who did the volunteer work versus those who did not.
1 There is nothing we can do to solve the environmental issues on our planet
2 I won’t be involved in many environmental programs unless it is convenient to me
3 I may or may not be involved in solving environmental issues
4 I will likely be involved in solving some environmental issues
5 I will definitely be involved in solving some environmental issues by using my time energy and resources.

Students who did participate were 12% more likely to ‘definitely’ be involved in solving environmental issues in the future. However, they reported being more ambivalent about their future involvement in some of the programs that they were a part of. I find this confusing. Perhaps these were more realistic people?


This non-participatory category shows 64.5% of students in category 4 who promise that they “I will likely be involved in solving some environmental issues”. Yet, they weren’t able to fit it into their busy high school schedules. I find this high number of category 4 very interesting. Perhaps we tend to think of ourselves as better people than we truly are.

I am disappointed that my results aren’t clearer to interpret, but I still think that I am headed in the right direction in my approach to get students to act on what they learn. This year our students raked in seed for our prairie, organized stream clean ups, recycled, drew inspiring messages about saving the planet on our school grounds, and helped planted a native garden.

These students independently organized their own stream clean up.

Students raking away dead grass thatch and helping seed native forbs and grasses in Blue Valley North’s new prairie planting.

Students put in native plants to a garden. The ecology club stratified and germinated the seed.

If that sounds like a lot to you, there are some other ideas about ways that you could help to get your kids involved in acting on what they learn about in relation to the loss of biodiversity.

-Clarify the connection of any plantings in a wildflower garden to the increase of biodiversity.
-Count the number of monarch caterpillars in a wildflower garden over several years. Have students plant new milkweed stands.
-Ask students to measure off a 5 ft by 5 ft area of their yard or lawn and let it grow wild. Ask them to post a picture of the plot and describe some of the changes.
-Instead of having students simply turn in papers have them publish them online or mail them to appropriate persons.
-Have them write a song about protecting biodiversity/the planet.
-Have them publish a video they make about their topic.
-Create a wildlife’s most wanted wall in your school. I did this two years to bring awareness to different species that are being poached. We lined the science wing with “mugshots” of animals that were being poached to extinction.
-Force them to have a conversation with an adult they know on the topic on biodiversity they are researching or that you are researching as a class. Have them turn in a selfie. I did this with my class. Did some of them cheat?- I’m sure but many had wonderful conversations with adults. Better yet get them to contact a researcher in their field and ask for guiding advice on a research project.

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