In My Classroom: NESC Videos are helpful

I have a student-teacher this semester, and he asked to teach our evolution unit as his “portfolio” unit. He is, at this point, mostly being left on his own to plan, assess, and manage the classroom. Our students were all on board for the Geologic Time Scale and natural selection (and it’s accompanying demonstrations and labs).

However, as we started talking phylogenies and focusing on ancestry, a handful of students started asking why people thought we evolved from monkeys, and why monkeys weren’t evolving into humans. I knew as a more experienced teacher (who had made many mistakes already while teaching students), that this kind of questioning is preventable with some different organization of your unit. But I was interested in how he would confront this in his classroom because it would tell me a lot about his progress and readiness to handle his own classes. As a cooperating instructor, I was interested in how he would respond to this. As a fellow biology teacher, I could sympathize with how he was probably feeling; even if you do everything perfectly, address every misconception, incorporate the nature of science into every lesson, this type of question is always going to get asked by somebody. So what did he do? He impressed me.

I have used “tree-thinking” quizzes and other resources available from Understanding Evolution but have never used any of their video clips. My student teacher had some productive discussions about making conclusions from evidence, why scientific explanations have to be falsifiable, and what it means to have a “common ancestor”. He followed all of that up with this video:

I had never seen this before, but our students really responded well to it. It is definitely something that I will be using in the future!

More Understanding Evolution and National Evolutionary Synthesis Center videos can be found here.

And perhaps it is time to remove my padawan’s braid.

Get Out and Get Data…

In September of last year, the University of Kansas Biological Field Station graciously opened its facilities to the environmental science students of Basehor-Linwood High School. Scott Campbell, associate director of outreach and public services for Kansas Biological Survey, received the 20 students at the Armitage Center. Scott, a true educator, engaged the students in a discussion about the broad mission of the field station. Students curiously asked many questions about the current research that was being conducted.

Students received some general guidelines about how to treat the animals ethically. Soon students began a fierce competition to catch the most frogs. In the classroom a discussion about population surveys would have been met with little excitement. At the side of the pond, with frogs leaping through the cool September grass, there was not a student in twenty who thought this was a meaningless exercise. The excitement was palpable.

Once the frogs were collected , students retired to the Armitage Center for sack lunches. The frogs were cooled in a large refrigerator to make them easier to work with. Students had practiced weighing and measuring frogs in the classroom. Now these skills were put to work- there were 134 frogs to weigh, measure, and score for color patterns.

This scene was punctuated by moments of chaos when a frog or two would make a dive to get out of the grips of the high school students. After all the data was collected students returned to the pond to release the frogs. On the way, Mr. Daniel Smalley, their teacher, caught a small black snake.

 

The snake made its way to Mr. Stan Roth who is an adjunct research assistant and educator for the Kansas Biological Survey. Stan identified the species and engaged the students in a conversation about the natural history of the snake. Many students touched a snake for the first time.

Finally, students were able to seine in the pond. They had a good harvest of small fish and invertebrates.

Before the students returned to class they visited the Rockefeller Prairie and walked the trails. Students collected 10 flowering heads of goldenrod. The flowering heads were quickly covered in gallon ziplock bags and sealed shut. Inside all the insect species that were foraging or hunting on the flower heads were sealed too.

Back at school the students compiled the data into a Google spreadsheet. This data was then analyzed and graphed by hand. Thus, students had the chance to analyze data about a population that they had collected. Mr. Smalley then entered the information into Plotly an online graphing platform. The computer allowed the students to more easily analyze the distribution variables like snout to vent length and weight.

The final graph that students examined compared the length of frogs to their weight. Mr. Smalley explained that we should expect to see a strong connection between these two variables. Further, he explained, that this was an example of a mathematical model that could be used to predict and explain the population. Who knew there could be so much math in environmental science?

After the frog data was analyzed students took out ten bags of Goldenrod. The bags had been frozen. Students separated out the insects from the Goldenrod. They had to identify the insect species. Thankfully, Mr. Smalley has had a lifelong obsession with collecting bugs so with his help and a few field guides students quickly were able to determine the species they were looking at. Mr. Smalley then helped the students put together a food web based on these species. The bugs could then be categorized by their tropic level . Students collected the bugs of similar trophic levels together. This included 14 jumping spiders that served as top predators! Each level was weighed together. The students turned this into a large bulletin board that was displayed in the hallway. Mr. Smalley explained that this too was a model that showed where the biomass (a proxy for energy) was located in this micro community. Students really took to the project and decided that It would be good to include the actual organisms. Thus, all 14 spiders, herbivorous insects, and Goldenrod flower heads found their way on the bulletin board.

Experiences like this empower our youth to see themselves as shareholders of knowledge rather than passive vessels who blithely learn facts about things like ecosystems only to recite them back on tests.

In My Classroom: Reading Peer-Reviewed Papers

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:

This year I am teaching a class that is new to me called “Honors Biology 2”. This course is split into Genetics the first semester and Microbiology the second semester. I was given a rough curriculum for the course and was encouraged to make it my own. Having only taught Freshman Biology last year (which was my first year teaching) I was a little nervous about how to challenge these students.

On the second day of school I asked my students to write down everything they could tell me about DNA. I not only got full molecular structures with phosphodiester bonds labeled, but some students drew full replication forks with all enzymes labeled. My next days’ lesson for reviewing DNA structure and replication was scrapped and I came to class the next day with 70 copies of Meselson and Stahl’s original publication.

My smarty-pants students said “they proved DNA replicates semi-conservatively”, to which I said “how did they prove that?”. Shocker, but they didn’t have a response.

The look I got when I asked students to explain “how”
via giphy

So we started into it. I gave my students a CER form and asked them to explain the evidence provided in the paper for how DNA replicates. They ended up needing 3 full class periods to get through the paper and really understand it, and they complained all three of those days. After students understood something they would say “why didn’t they just say that in the paper” or “why did that have to be so difficult” which lead us into good conversations about the content as well as science in general.

Despite my students’ grumbles we have read 4 scientific, peer-reviewed papers this year. For our most recent one, titled “A microbial symbiosis factor prevents intestinal inflammatory disease” I had students create a mini-poster that describes the experiment. I’ve also had students summarize each paragraph of these papers into one sentence, re-do a diagram in the paper, use the thing explainer method to explain the paper, or draw a graphic novel explanation of the paper. We have gotten to the point where students don’t actively hate these papers and have started to see them as a cool way to gain new information.

An example of a mini-poster that explains the research. Note the diagrams taken from the paper and the dead mouse.

I’ve used these papers to introduce new ideas or elaborate concepts with recent research. The thing I’ve found most rewarding as a teacher is how confident my students feel once they are able to explain these difficult readings. They face a challenge, overcome it, and then feel really great about it. It has also forced them to “think like a scientist” if I ask them things like “why did they do it that way”. Several parents have said things like “I couldn’t even understand the title of that” or “my student came home and explained this to me”. I haven’t had my Freshman biology students read a full paper (yet), but have had them read abstracts or analyze some cool diagrams.

That’s all for me. Sorry for going way over my 250 word limit. Kelly Kluthe is next at her own request!

P.S. thanks to Eric Kessler’s how-to for helping me stop making excuses for posting!

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: Investigating Energy Flow with ZOMBIES!

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:

Investigating Energy Flow with ZOMBIES!

studentwork

The Set-Up

It’s the zombie apocalypse! You have a safe fenced-in area that is impenetrable to the zombies.  But, you also cannot leave the fenced in area. If you had time to prepare this land, what would you plant? What livestock would you have? (Note: Students have the option of doing a Mars Biodome if they do not want to do the zombie apocalypse.)

Student groups are all given the same 11 x 17 inch grid paper. Each square equals 100 square feet. Each student needs a housing structure(s) that equal 20×25 squares.

grid

The Goal

Sustain as many humans as possible using the land space given. The group who can sustain the highest number of people wins. The criteria for sustainability is 2,000 calories per day, per adult (730,000 calories per year). (Note: No stockpiling allowed).

The Work

Students need to find the total number of producer calories from all their crops. (Find the calories / square foot for each food, and then multiple by the number of total square feet.)

corn

Then, students need to calculate how many of those producer calories are actually available for human consumption. To do so, students must figuring out how many of those producer calories their livestock will consume per year.

plant-cal-conversion
The only livestock here was goats, if you have different species of livestock you’ll want to add those together to do this calculation.

Next, students need to find the total number of anaimal calories produced. They calculate how many calories of meat (or eggs/dairy) each animal produces. (To simplify, one could assume the entire weight of the animal is meat.) Students do this for each type of livestock and add it together to find the total number of livestock calories produced. (If you have any secondary consumers, they will take a whole other set of calculations!)

Next, students find out how many calories their land produced for human consumption. They take the number of plant calories available for humans and add it to the total number of animal calories produced. Then, they divide that by 730,000 (the total number of calories needed per human per year) to see how many humans they can support.

1865

Getting the Numbers

To make it easier, you could provide a list of several crop and livestock options with their calorie information. But, for me, one of the best parts of this project was having it open ended for the students. I have my students find the information on their own, but they have to back it up with a credible source. This gets pretty competitive, so the students really hold each other accountable.

Discussions

Here are some important questions that we discussed after completing this project:

Goat image from Microsoft clip art
Goat image from Microsoft clip art
  1. Why do we lose calories when we feed them to livestock?
  2. What is the “best” crop? (calories vs. nutrients)
  3. Should we be putting plant calories into livestock?
  4. What are the pros and cons of having livestock?
  5. What would be the “best” livestock? (For example, for many reasons crickets are much more energy efficient than cows.)
  6. What does this make believe scenario have to do with the real world?

Tips and Suggestions

I suggest you have a running list of “rules” that you as a group decide upon throughout the project. For instance, someone will probably ask if it’s okay to do a rooftop garden. Whatever you decide, you should keep documentation of the “rules” your class makes. The students get pretty competitive and this is helpful.

To simplify our model, we assumed a lot. 1) People only need calories to survive, not certain nutrients. 2) We have sufficient water, fertilizer, and everything else needed to grow the crops. 3) We can store crops up to one year, and there is no limit to the type of crops that can be planted due to climate, etc. 4) Animals can only eat the part of the plant that humans eat. 5) All animals reproduce each year. 6) We eat the entire weight of the animal in meat. And more. But, these assumptions lead to fantastic discussions! I have students write about them for part of the end paper. They are also great opportunities for extensions.

Even with all of the assumptions and simplifications, the students were really able to “get it” in terms of energy transfer and the 10% rule.

If you’d like a more detailed description or have any questions, please e-mail me. jesirhodes@gmail.com

I know KELLY KLUTHE has some cool stuff to share! Tag, you’re it!