Seeds are very remarkable. Laying dormant inside the seed is an embryo plant. Packed with the embryo is enough stored chemical energy to power the young seedling until it can capture its own energy from the sun by the process of photosynthesis. The timing of germination or the breaking of the dormancy is important to the success of the young seedling. For instance, milkweed seeds that are produced in late summer and fall are carried on the wind, away from the parent plant. They fall to earth in all sorts of environments. If the seed goes ahead and germinates immediately, the young milkweed plant will not be able to produce flowers and seeds before the onset of frosts and winter (at least in the northern U.S.) Milkweed seeds actually don’t germinate until they have experienced long periods of low temperatures. In the spring when the soil is moist and the soil temperature is warm enough a new generation of milkweed to begin. The seed has to somehow respond to signals in its environment in order to germinate at appropriate times.
Many environmental factors can affect seed germination. Light intensity, day length, night length, light color, water, water quality, gravity, crowding, temperature, nearby plants (by chemical agents), genetics, oxygen availability, seed condition, seed age, seed coat condition, seed size and other environmental conditions can have measurable effects on seed germination. Gardeners, worldwide, have a number of ideas of other environmental factors that may influence germination such as the phases of the moon, tidal effects, and planting with companion seeds. Seed germination is a good topic for scientific exploration since it is easy to observe and there are so many obvious and not so obvious environmental factors that can affect the germination.
In order to germinate and break dormancy a seed has to absorb quite a bit of water. In nature seeds absorb this water from the soil. Planting seeds in pots of soil is certainly one way to study their germination and a lot can be learned with controlled experiments. However, observation of soil germinated seeds is not easy-one can only observe the top half of the newly emerged plant. The newly developing roots are equally important when studying seed germination. The method described here involves germinating seeds on a moist filter paper that has a constant source of water. By germinating seeds on a moist paper the root growth can be observed and measured more easily. Also, large numbers of seeds can be tested in a small amount of space in a short period of time.
Enzymes are essential in nearly all life processes. By catalyzing (speeding up a chemical reaction) various chemical reactions in the cell enzymes make energy and nutrients available to living systems. Each enzyme only catalyzes one kind of chemical reaction so there is a lot of enzymes in a typical cell. As the human genome project uncovers the genes in the human population it is important to realize that many of the genes code for enzymes. A basic understanding of enzyme properties then is an essential, first step, to understanding living systems.
Enzyme studies are easily studied by students. For this investigation we will work with an enzyme that begins the breakdown of starch into sugar. It’s called amylase (enzyme) since it breaks down starch (the substrate) which is known as amylose. Scientists use the term substrate to describe the chemical that an enzyme catalyzes. Starch is an energy-storing compound present in many plant foods such as potatoes, corn and bread. Amylase is a component of saliva where it starts the digestion of starch as you chew your food. It’s also a valuable commercial enzyme. The starch in grains such as sorghum are digested with amylase in large reaction vessels to break the starch down to sugar which is then used to produce a number of products. Quite a bit of research that is done by various agricultural product companies attempts to find more efficient forms of enzymes such as amylase. Any organism that might consume starch (including plants) probably relies on some form of this enzyme. And each organism might have just a slightly different form of the enzyme that might be more efficient than others. You might find such an organism and find a valuable enzyme product.
Most of the time biochemists (scientists that study enzymes) work with enzymes in a liquid environment. Such techniques require careful control of a number of variables. A simpler method to study enzymes involves a gel-like substance known as agar. The substrate (starch in this case) is dissolved in this gel and various suspected enzyme-containing substances are added to small holes (wells) in the gel. The suspected enzyme diffuses out through the gel. If it can actively digest starch it will create a starchless area around the well. Iodine stain can be used to cause starch to turn a dark purple. Clear zones that are not purple are areas that the enzyme has digested the starch to sugar. This technique makes it simple to test many samples for activity or to determine the amount of activity a specific enzyme might have. In addition, it is easily modified to test various variables that might affect enzyme activity.
Science is driven by questions. For students to really experience the process of science they should work on answering questions that arise from their own natural curiosity. Ant lions (Neuroptera) and their intriguing behaviors naturally generate student questions. Since most students are not familiar with “doodle bugs”, ant lions make an effective way to open the school year. If a few students have prior experience with ant lions this only adds to the effectiveness of the activity.
A great way to end a semester of studying the different kingdoms is to have a scavenger hunt! This hands-on lab practical exam will allow students to take their knowledge of the various types of plants, fungi, and animals into the field. In my regular and honors biology, mostly made up of freshmen and sophomores, we study the diversity of organisms by doing lab or field observations of living specimens during the last part of the second semester. If it is sometimes difficult to get outside in the spring because of location, transportation, weather, or otherwise–bring the outdoors inside with samples of wildflowers, mosses, leaves, earthworms and other small invertebrates and vertebrates. Practice conservation by collecting only what you intend to use. Return living specimens to their habitat whenever possible.
Below is a modified scavenger hunt appropriate for eastern Kansas. This originated with John Wachholz, Salina Central, and Ernie Brown, WaKeeney, fellow KABT members. Some of the following items we have looked at in class, others not, but they must decide on where to go look for the specimen and how to collect it. I have added to this list and taken other items away as some choices are either too easy or too difficult to collect.
I have my students take this list two weeks before the end of school. They may begin checking in the next morning or after school. I stop answering questions about the project after I make sure that all the directions are understood. As the students check in their items, I initial the circle, then throw away the item, or if it is an animal, the student has to decide where to put it in my room and how to keep it alive. We feed the live insects and fruit to the classroom animals
We have a seminar period built into our block schedule twice a week, so I allow those that missed checking in that morning to check in during this period. Most students are able to finish this lab practical on time, and with excellent scores. The total points assigned to this final is 15% of the semester grade points.
Do you hate to think about doing classroom dissections in biology because the students tend to get unruly? Does your room resemble a zoo more than a place where learning is taking place? Do you feel that your students really appreciate the inherent value of the life of the animal that they’re dissecting. Do they appreciate the fact that the animal they are dissecting died so that they might learn more about how it lived? Respect for life and learning more about how the organisms lived are important objectives for any dissection. Too often specimens are viewed simply as “pieces of meat” to glibly chop up and discard at the end of the class period. I have enjoyed great success with a “Quiz Card” approach to dissections for the last several years. I feel that the students learn the material better and appreciate the total functioning organism more completely when they have finished their dissection. The technique can be used with any textbook or lab handout that supplements your dissection activity.
While the students are reading the procedure for the dissection, make a list of all of the organs they are expected to locate and learn about on the chalkboard. Then, write the name of each organ on a separate 3 X 5 card and show the class your “deck of cards”. Have the students work in pairs, either determined by the teacher or by the students themselves. After the students have completed the dissection and are confident they know the location and functions of each of the listed organs on their own specimen, they sign up on the chalkboard indicating they are ready for their quiz over the material.
Beginning with the first pair of names on the list, take your 3 X 5 cards to their desk and “make a deal” with them for their quiz. I usually make the quiz worth 20 points total and have each student of the pair pull two cards (face down) from the deck. Each 5 point card identifies the organ that student must locate and discuss without help from his teammate. After the first student has completed his 10 point portion of the quiz, the second student then locates and discusses the two organs on the cards he has selected. Each member of the team receives the composite score from their individual quizzes.
You can vary this activity easily by making the quiz worth more or less than 20 points. You can let each pair of students make their own “deal” by picking any combination of cards/points that meet the total points for the quiz. Sometimes the students like to “go for broke” and pick one card for 10 points or pick five cards for two points each. When students realize that they are going to be required to locate and discuss specific organs in their specimen, they are much more diligent during the dissection. Procedures are read thoroughly and cuts are made carefully leaving organs in place as much as possible rather than being removed and piled on the dissecting tray.
It is the responsibility of each team to conduct the dissection and learn the organs by working together. Even if one member of the team doesn’t want to touch the specimen, he is still accountable for using a dissecting needle to point to the organs on his 3 X 5 cards. They can still be involved in the dissection by reading the procedure to the person actually conducting the dissection. By combining the individual quiz scores for a total team score, the students work together to teach each other much better since they each have an investment in the final quiz score.
Ernie Brown – Trego Community High School,Wakeeny, KS 67672