Notes from NABT 2015

Writing from a hotel room in beautiful Rhode Island, I am here to bring you two things:

  1. Here is a Google Doc with collaborative notes from this year’s NABT conference. A couple notes about it:
    • While some of my notes are there, it really is due to the large collective effort of my peers in the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (next summer, please consider asking new teachers to apply who are currently in, or about to be entering, their first year of teaching) who helped create and contribute to this document. Note-taking styles may be unique but still very well done.
    • It is not exhaustive, we went to sessions that interested us most, if it’s not on there, we didn’t see it and therefore have no notes.
    • I appreciated ANY FEEDBACK about this document and process. I think it could be cool for others to consider using similar notes for NSTA, KABT, KATS, etc.
  2. For a bonus I’ve included an ID Challenge all the way from the Atlantic Ocean.



In My Classroom – #3

Thanks to a little idea from Brad I thought I would try something with my AP Biology students this week that I saw him try with his BIO 100 students at KU earlier.

We’re currently marching our way through the mind-bending terror that is protein synthesis. So we’ve gone over the whole process a bit but to make sure we were not getting lost in the details I gave them this:

Blank central dogma 1Blank central dogma 2

Two different models of the same process. Nothing earth-shatteringly innovative but how I framed it and worked with it was unique to me. I didn’t just say it was a worksheet to complete. I framed it as 2 different models of the same process. If they wanted to use the picture in their book that was ok because the diagram in their Campbell book also looked different. What I was surprised with was how much students struggle translating [pun] knowledge across models. Students struggled with labeling processes versus structures, labeling the same structure that was differently drawn in two models, and especially when one model added or removed details (like introns and exons).

The other cool part was that afterwards when students shared their answers on the board, they had lengthy discussion about what was “right”. For example, two students argued whether the 4th answer from the top was “pre-mRNA” or “mRNA” and explained why they thought that. After looking to me I shared that by their explanations both could be right. That’s what I think was cool, students argued different answers where with the proper explanations, either could be right. So because of that, I would avoid giving an “word bank”.

Also, at the very end I created a list on the board titled “limitations” and I had them share what was limiting about these diagrams. Some thoughts were “no nucleotides were shown entering RNA polymerase”, “no other cell components were shown”, “the ribosome on top only had room for one tRNA”, “no mRNA cap or tail were shown”, and many more.

I found this exercise useful because I struggle giving students modeling opportunities (especially non-physical ones) and this was a simple way for students to get practice comparing/contrasting models while also discussing the usefulness and limitations of them.

Alright, for the 4th installment I nominate el presidente himself, Noah Busch.

*My* Biology Objectives

Unless you lucked into being one of my students, you have probably never laid eyes on my course objectives. But today, I am releasing them to the public in all their glory. My reason? Because I know they can be better and they’ve been mine too long for me to see them with fresh perspective. If you can use them, great. If you can improve them, even better. If you can’t use them, perfect, please tell me that too. With that being said, first let me get some a couple things out of the way.

First, acknowledgments. The template for the layout of these objectives comes from Cindy Gay. I loved her layout and simple way of organizing concepts. She is an incredible teacher and I don’t want any credit for the organization. Secondly, I’ll credit my high school for providing some objectives and College Board for providing some of the essential knowledge and big idea concepts. They also provided good scaffolding for me in putting these together.

I’ll also provide some context. These are the learning objectives for my freshman general biology class. For what it’s worth mentioning, I’m not sure how these would look “different” for an honors class. In some way that is a loaded statement to me that involves the discussion and analysis of what it means to be a “general” or “honors” students. That may be a post for another day (feel free to start the discussion). These are handed to students on the first day of a new “Big Idea” (the breakdown of how the document is laid out is below) and they use them throughout the rest of the unit. I put them on different colored paper and it’s in landscape, both of which are to emphasize the importance of this document.

Where did I get these objectives from? I got the big ideas and essential knowledge concepts from the College Board Standards for College Success (Life Science portion). These were written by College Board in 2009 as prerequisite knowledge before heading into AP. Now, is College Board a perfect source for content standards? No. But I do like as an AP Biology teacher that I can hold students to standards that can align with AP Biology so that my students can have a good foundational understanding while also being prepared for higher level science classes. It’s also nice for me to use similar terminology with both my freshman and AP classes, such as objective, big idea, essential knowledge, etc.

So finally, before I unveil these statements I want to set up some ground rules and requests:

  • These are not meant to be consumed without purposeful thought. I adapted, revised, and chose these standards as they fit myself as a teacher and my students as learners. I would assume the same would need to be done on your part.
  • These have no inherit order. They are ordered in the general trajectory I use in my class BUT I am not tied to that order, nor have I successfully created a conceptual flow graphic (again, another topic for another day; ask me about it if you would like) for these units like I have with some of my AP Biology units. Have an idea on moving concepts around? Let me know!
  • Speaking of letting me know, I would LOVE your feedback on the objectives. You know what? I would love feedback so much I’ve created a 3 question survey that you can add your feedback to that will go straight to me. Thanks in advance!

With that all out of the way, here is how you view/digest the objectives.

Standards KEY


A side note: if you are familiar with the AP Biology Redesign then some of this terminology may be familiar to you.

  • There are 5 Big Ideas in *my* biology class: Ecology, Energy & Matter, Cells, Genetics, and Evolution. They are ordered based of their order in my year, I will say I’m not married to they way I teach it now, I’m personally partial to the order of AP Biology, which starts with Evolution. Another discussion point, I’m sure.
  • The Forever Understanding is the the major concepts that students will understand by the end of the unit. I generally have them read these before we start and then after the unit they will reread them and try to go back through their objectives sheet and find “evidence” of where they learned these concepts (sort of like a Claims-Evidence-Reasoning and Concept Map hybrid).
  • The Essential Knowledge portion is a sub-concept that stands on its own. Basically, I consider these to be the bite-size concepts that a student could learn in 1-2 days (depending of course on the lesson itself)
  • The Topic is just an organizing tool created by College Board that I liked and kept.
  • Text Ref refers to the “textbook reference”. It’s where I put the chapter or section information. On my digital version for students I’ve linked electronically to supplemental resources or to their online textbook.
  • The Learning Objective is probably the statement of most importance to the student because it is actually the way I want students to be able to apply their essential knowledge. It is supposed to be written in “student-friendly” language with highlighted performance/action verbs. These were chosen purposefully and are not throw away statements.
  • The Unpack section is where students make sense of the objective in their own words. I should emphasize it is NOT a notetaking section. It is for synthesis, not note-taking. That minor point is still an area of issue with my students.
  • The Self-Score box is where students rank their understanding from 1 (little understanding) to 4 (mastery). Generally I tell students 2 = I can get full understanding with help and 3 = full understanding. Mastery level is where students not only can explain it but they can also apply it too.

I believe that, my friends, is all I have to say. Please, I provide these here for the community’s use but if any of you do use them and you have something to add (Maybe you improve them or maybe they’re awful and you can explain why) I would love to hear it. Enjoy!




Biomolecular Modeling

With the new NGSS rollout, the science and engineering practices have become a major topic of interest and relevance. Through an application and selection process at MSOE and 3D Molecular, Inc, I was selected to be a part of a group of teachers receiving training on Drugs, Drug Targets, Neural Processing, and Drug Addiction. During the NIH-funded seminar, I learned a great deal about the power of modeling and effective methods of implementation. Whether you have the resources to purchase models or make them on your own, using models in the biology classroom is a great way to enhance your students’ education, embrace the new standards, and provide opportunities for critical thinking on hard-to-grasp concepts.


Models-Based Science Teaching by Steven W. Gilbert: 

Biomolecular Modeling, MSOE