Imagine for me, if you would, this scenario: you are trying to make a diagram for a lab report (or assessment or poster or whatever) but you can’t find the right figure. So you draw something that resembles what you want, or you use an image you found online that is similar to what you want, but then you spend almost as much time identifying and discussing the weaknesses of the model as you do working with the model itself.

Diffusion Diagram

[ESPN Documentary Narrator Voice] What if I told you there was a free way to make high-quality, detailed models with your students?

My wife’s uncle shared BioRender with me this week, and I knew I needed to share this ASAP.  Watch this intro video you’ll see when you sign up for a free account, and try to act cool… I’ll wait.

DID YOU FREAK OUT A LITTLE BIT?! I did. (OK, maybe more than a little bit.) There is a lot to explore with this, but here are some highlights for me. Not only are there 1000s of icons you can add to your figure, but you can control the color scheme for many of them and add labels to make your models even more robust.
It has some built-in support to pull models from the Protein Databank. When you have the EXACT protein you want to use, you can control how your protein is visualized and rotate the protein so you show the exact part of interest. After Andrew Taylor’s Fall Conference presentation on 3D-printed models, I went looking for the proteins associated with the pharmaceutical product Gleevec.  

I encourage you to go check this out. Visit and create an account. Once you start creating, share your best figures with us here or on social media. I may be speaking for myself here, but I can’t wait to start using and making these models with my students!

KABT: Facebook Group  or   Twitter
BioRender: Twitter

edited to fix a capitalization mistake 8/13

In Praise of Collecting

One of the old standby activities of biology class is collecting, labeling, and classifying insects. I remember this was one of the true highlights of my life. When I was a young child I began collecting insects. The night before our collection was due several cute giggling girls in my ninth grade class showed up at my house asking if they could have some of my collection. The next week when we had our collections graded mine stood out among other less ambitious attempts which looked more like they had been collected with a shoe than a net. It was a rare moment where my nerdy habits were celebrated.

Rightly, insect collections have fallen out of favor in modern biology education. Bug collecting and classifying is hard to justify as a 21st century skill. 

Still, I think we shouldn’t forget about the value collections can have. Catching the bugs is a great way to compare and analyze biological forms.I think that there are two significant ways collections can be used in our evolution unit. 

First, collections allow students to consider the obscure insight of variation in a population.

consider how Alfred Russell Wallace arrived at his insight about natural selection. David Quammen explains in his book Song of the Dodo: Biogeography in the Age of Extinction  he explains,

“ Wallace had reason to notice such variation more clearly than most other naturalists. As a commercial collector, he collected redundantly- taking not just one specimen  each of this parrot ant that butterfly but sometimes a dozen or more individuals of a single species. Lovely dead creatures were his stock-in-trade, literally, and he grabbed what he could for the market. But after grabbing, he preserved, inspected, and packed his creatures with a keen eye, so he saw infraspecific variation laid out before him in a way that other field biologists ( including even the best of the wealthy ones, like Darwin) generally didn’t. it was a trail of clues that Wallace would follow to great profit.” (pg 65) 

This summer, I collected 133 Green June Bugs Cotinis nitida and then put them in a collection together.

Here you see the variation in Cotinis nitida as they go from bronze (left) to vivid green (right)

This gives students a vivid example of variation in a population. Most of the general public hasn’t seen the slight differences between individuals of the same species. Analyzing these collections can help them see the ingredient of variation that is necessary for of natural selection.

Shells can show this property as well, plus students can manipulate shells without breaking them. 

Shells can also help students to interact with the concept of biological variation. Students can manipulate them on their tables and sort them according to the variation that they see. (plus they’re fun to collect)

Secondly, collections allow students to very vividly see homologous traits and fossil evidence.

Last year I got out several of my collections and I had students move from station to station examining evidence for evolution. At each station I had either a fossil, a collection showing homologous traits/variation, a map for biogeography, a specimen with a vestigial trait/atavism, or a diagram showing comparative DNA.

Here students examine cowrie shells and find their “tooth like” structure. my goal is that they recognize that these similar species have a common structure due to a common ancestor. Looks like they’re having fun!

The students then had to apply what they knew about each evidence for evolution to a novel case. This proved to be a really fun experience for me because it forced me to apply what I was teaching in class to the world around me.

If that sounds like a whole lot to chew start with this; collect several pine cones from different species of firs, spruces, and pine. Challenge students with questions about why different species have similar structures.

At this station students were asked to consider why pine cones are so similar even though they are from different trees. In the physical examination of these structures homologous traits go from being an abstract idea to a physical reality.

Have your students examine these biological forms and identifying them helps you to move them from defining terms to analyzing and applying their knowledge.

Students comparing fossil ammonites to an extant Nautilus. I like that the evidence is in their hands not on a piece of paper. This allows them a more real chance to engage with the concept of evolution.

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
Continue reading “PBL: Water Quantity and Water Quality”

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 ( 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.