In My Classroom: Trying to make Cellular Respiration & Photosynthesis suck less.

Hey all! While having coffee with KABT President Rhodes on this lovely Presidents’ Day, she suggested I share this activity that I did with my AP Bio students recently.

If you know me at all, then you probably know I don’t particularly care for teaching photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Yes, they are important topics, but I find them to be incredibly dull. And it shows in my classroom. This year, I started my energy unit in AP Bio by saying “This will suck, and I’m sorry, but we just gotta do it”. Bad teaching, I know.

HOWEVER, there was some exciting research that came out recently from Paul South at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His team found a way to streamline photorespiration in tobacco plants, which increased plant growth by 40%. If I could get excited about this topic, then I figured my students might as well. I also saw the perfect opportunity to introduce scientific articles into my class and to let my students struggle with understanding primary literature.

I started by giving my students the article from Science (You can read it here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6422/eaat9077)

I used this guide from Rice to help my students understand the research and to break it down into manageable chunks. http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~cainproj/courses/HowToReadSciArticle.pdf

After we dissected the article, we had a Socratic Seminar in class to discuss the research. It was cool to hear my students speak about statistics, evolution, GMOs, and, yes, cellular respiration/photosynthesis in a meaningful, authentic way. Socratic Seminars are new to me and they’re a tool I’m hoping to use more often. My students seem to learn a lot from each other and are engaged in the discussion. To help facilitate the discussion, I gave my students a handful of open-ended questions to discuss, such as “Why do you think Rubisco uses O2 in place of CO2 about 20% of the time? What does this suggest about the plant’s evolutionary history”, and “Why does increasing plant biomass matter to humans?”.

Anyway, that’s it! Socratic Seminars! Yay! Reading primary literature! Yay!

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: Investigating Mosquito-Borne Diseases

Welcome to the KABT blog segment, “In My Classroom”. This is a segment that will post about every two weeks from a different member. In 250 words or less, share one thing that you are currently doing in your classroom. That’s it.

The idea is that we all do cool stuff in our rooms and to some people there have been cool things so long that it feels like they are old news. However, there are new teachers that may be hearing things for the first time and veterans that benefit from reminders. So let’s share things, new and old alike. When you’re tagged you have two weeks to post the next entry. Your established staple of a lab or idea might be just what someone needs. So be brief, be timely and share it out! Here we go:

I’ve been meaning to post about this project for a while now. This was our first major research project for my Biology 1 students this year. With Zika in the news all summer, I wanted to do a project incorporating mosquitos.

My vision for the project was to have students collect mosquito eggs, hatch them, then raise them in observation chambers subjected to different experimental variables. At the end, students would use their data to draw conclusions about mosquito behavior and life cycles. Students would collect data on the number of days until adults emerged, how temperature affected emergence rates, whether males or females emerge faster, and the percent of eggs that would make it to adulthood. Then students would use this information to develop a plan to slow the spread of mosquito-borne disease.

I stress that this was my vision because this experiment didn’t work so well in reality. My students made oviposition traps using Solo cups, following the method outlined here: http://www.citizenscience.us/imp/, which is a wonderful citizen science project (talk to Noah Busch for more information!). Some groups decided to make more complicated traps. We placed the traps around campus, testing different types of sites, but we collected very few eggs! I was surprised by this result, but I found an aquaculture company to purchase mosquito larvae (Sachs Systems Aquaculture: http://www.aquaculturestore.com/Mosquito-Larvae.html).

Spray-painting our egg traps black.
Spray-painting our egg traps black.

After this initial hiccup, we had enough larvae to carry out the experiments in the observation chambers. I followed the chamber design from HHMI (http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/classroom-activities-mosquito-life-cycle). Some groups studied the effects of various temperatures, some studied the pH of the water, some wanted to look at the effects of light, among other things. We couldn’t afford as many larvae as I wanted, but we made things work by combining classroom data for students to analyze.

Mosquito observation chamber.
Mosquito observation chamber.

Once all of the data was collected, my students made their conclusions about mosquito control methods. They presented their findings and ideas using posters. We had a poster walk, and students were encouraged to share feedback with each other.

Successful emergence of adults!
Successful emergence of adults!

In My Classroom #14 – Building a Wetland Filter Lab

Welcome to the KABT blog segment, “In My Classroom”. This is a segment that will post about every two weeks from a different member. In 250 words or less, share one thing that you are currently doing in your classroom. That’s it.

The idea is that we all do cool stuff in our rooms and to some people there have been cool things so long that it feels like they are old news. However, there are new teachers that may be hearing things for the first time and veterans that benefit from reminders. So let’s share things, new and old alike. When you’re tagged you have two weeks to post the next entry. Your established staple of a lab or idea might be just what someone needs. So be brief, be timely and share it out! Here we go:

Hello! It’s been a while since we’ve had a post like this. Thought I’d share something I’ve done recently in my class!

2016-04-18 12.13.23Right now I’m smack-dab in the middle of my biodiversity unit in my Environmental Science course. I like to save this unit for the spring so we can take advantage of the beautiful weather. We’ve been learning about methods for sampling biodiversity (quadrats), but today we focused on the question: Why should I care? I use this lab to model ecosystem services, such as water purification, to show students what conserving biodiversity can do for us. It involves using common classroom items to build a wetland filter to clean “polluted” water. If you’re not overly familiar with how wetlands function as natural filters, you can read more about it here.

The filters are just 2-liter bottles with the bottoms cut off. I use a small piece of cheesecloth to cover the top to help keep the filter components inside. I supply the students with materials that function similarly to natural wetland components – cotton batting to act as roots, a variety of gravel sizes, soil, and sand. 2016-04-18 12.13.50You could also add materials, such as clay, charcoal, or sphagnum moss. I have my students think about what each material might represent in real life and instruct them to build a filter that they think might resemble a typical wetland. The “polluted” water that the filter needs to clean is just a mixture of whatever I have laying around. Today it was soil, sand, diatomaceous earth, and canola oil. 2016-04-18 09.59.11It looked gross when all mixed together and was made of materials that don’t dissolve in water, making them relatively easy to filter out.

To save some time, we just compared the murkiness of the water after running the polluted water through their filters. You could get a little more involved and do some turbidity tests, if you really wanted.

Peggy Porter – I’m lucky enough to see the cool things you do. You should share with the group!

Review of Evolution (North Star Games, 2014)

A few weeks back, I posted an article from Nature to the KABT Facebook page reviewing three board games that attempt to model the process of evolution. Brad Williamson was kind enough to make a donation of Nature’s top pick, creatively titled “Evolution”, to me and my classroom. In return, I was asked to write my own review of the game. I’ve had the chance to play Evolution with a number of people: a few of my college biology students, some non-biologist friends, and some biology graduate students. Our gaming groups have ranged in size from just two people to four, with the game supporting up to 6. 2015-12-24 08.19.09

Overall, the goal of Evolution comes down to making the most efficient species at obtaining food. This is done through adding and removing traits that help your species either become improved foragers or carnivores. Food in the game is often limited, leading to competition between your species and those of the other players. Species in the game can have up to three different traits, leading to 12,000 different possible combinations. Each game I’ve played required different strategy due to the large number of possible outcomes.

Efficient species at obtaining food are able to reproduce and grow their population (or have traits that increase reproductive potential). Species with large populations are therefore harder to kill off, but it comes with a major drawback: you have to be able to feed them all. You can also control the body size of your species. This acts as defense against predators for herbivores or offense for carnivores.  Other traits allow your species to evolve cooperative or symbiotic relationships with other species in play, helping carnivores hunt or herbivores defend themselves from being eaten. There are also traits that provide defense, such as burrowing, defensive herding, or climbing. With only three traits for each species, you are left with a lot of decisions. Do you build a species that can withstand the attacks of carnivores? Or do you build a species that is an efficient forager? Do you make a more risky, but also aggressive, carnivore? 2015-12-13 17.57.33

During one of my plays, I made tank-like herbivores that could withstand whatever attacks the carnivores could throw at them, but they weren’t great foragers. On turns where plant food was scarce, these defensive animals were facing starvation. Another game with four people, there were a lot of herbivores in play with traits to increase their foraging ability. Once a carnivore came onto the scene, it was able to feed without much to stop it. 2015-12-24 08.53.52

The art of Evolution is beautiful and creative, mixing real animals with imaginary ones. The build-quality is very good and the pieces feel sturdy. The rules are easy to learn, but there is a lot of depth to the gameplay. My students and non-biologist friends were able to pick it up quickly and enjoyed the game.

The game does a great job of modeling the process of natural selection through demonstrating the evolutionary arms race. Species respond to their environment and adapt to changes in order to eat and reproduce. New species arise throughout the game, others go extinct. Other biological concepts are also prevalent, such as carrying capacity, limiting factors, and symbiotic behaviors. Evolution isn’t perfect, however. It is a strategic game, with players controlling how species respond to what other players are doing, and planning future moves, making natural selection feel a little too forward-thinking. If used in the classroom, this would have to be addressed. But overall, the big picture offers a surprisingly good model of evolution. I’ll be requesting a few more copies to use in my classroom, along with the expansion, Flight. If you need a belated Christmas gift for a biology-lover (or board game enthusiast) in your life, I highly recommend Evolution.