Staying Positive in Uncertain Times

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. This is not one of those posts. Not really, at least. 

If you aren’t following the news and/or don’t live in Kansas, you might not know we’re having a bit of a budget issue which has impacted our schools and might result in teachers not getting paid for the work they’ve already done. My aim here is not to be political, but if you would like to discuss that side of things, please let me know. Needless to say, there is blame to pass around, and while it may not be evenly spread among our three branches of government, it probably doesn’t all go to the same person/place.  At this point, the problem is there, and we can only work to solve it; pointing fingers and assigning blame will NOT serve in the best interest in our students, and will NOT get schools open in the fall. So I will not (for now) fall into this partisan trap, and I will trust in the process.

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I often tell my students “all you can do is all that you can do”. None of what I am doing is work specifically in the contract I signed at the beginning of the school year, and I won’t be paid for any of it. And none of what I am doing is particularly unique. In every district in this state there are many like me, and I am sure several working harder than even I can imagine. In this strange time, it is important for us to stick together, and for us to continue to shout out our friends and colleagues for the amazing work they’re doing. Be a beacon of hope to your students, colleagues, and communities, so they know there is someone who cares about their kids as much as they do, and who is working for them no matter the odds.

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The members of the KABT are amazing teachers who inspire me every day to get better at my craft, and to learn more content. They are explorers and innovators. There are people giving up their ENTIRE summer break to participate in RETs (go Jesi!). There are people offering summer classes and science camps (proud of you, OBTA Kluthe). There are many people working on Master’s degrees in education and biology.  And there are people who, despite no indication that anyone in power cares if we are working August or not, are tweaking, perfecting, adding, revamping, or collaborating to make the best possible learning experience for their students. Why? Because they are professionals who are going to do the job they were and are contracted to do, they’re going to be ready when the fall semester starts, and they refuse to compromise on the quality of their work because they know doing so may do irreparable harm to an entire generation of students.

What am I doing in my classroom? I am learning and trying to make myself a better teacher so that I can be considered worthy of the company I keep. I am creating connections with researchers to get my students equipment and experiences to enrich their classroom lessons. I’m writing grants so that my school’s already tight budget has a little less stress on it. I am starting a transition away from traditional grading schemes and moving towards standards-based grades with students being accountable for their curriculum and the evidence demonstrating they know the content (based off of the work of Camden Burton and Kelly Kluthe). I’m working on learning a new LMS (Canvas) so I can be as close to an expert as I can be when our first day of inservice rolls around in August when I know others will have questions. I am presenting to several teacher groups on topics I’m passionate about. I’ve rearranged my classroom and lab environments to make them more open to learning and sharing. (Not to mention my “little side project” as daddy-daycare provider to a two year-old girl.)

Keep up your amazing work, everybody. Share what you’re up to this summer (in or out of the classroom) on our Facebook page. I can’t thank you enough for what you do!

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Drew Ising
Biology Teacher, Baldwin City, KS
President-Elect, KABT

In My Classroom #13 – Curators of Natural History

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:

 

Students in my classroom recently completed a project based learning unit centered around the driving question ‘How can we, as museum exhibit designers, build a museum exhibit about a somatic cell type that will engage younger audiences?’ The question came about as a collaboration between myself, Jessica Popescu, who teaches one door down from me, and the staff at the Columbus Museum in Georgia, most specifically Rebecca Bush, the curator of history. The project consisted of students working in teams of three to four. The teams first divided themselves up into specific roles and selected a somatic cell type to research and display. The potential roles each had real-world parallels in the museum industry. Role options consisted of a marketing director, a manipulative designer, an application letter writer, and a presentation specialist. The Columbus Museum emphasized how these roles relate to their real world job responsibilities in a video displayed to the students early in the project. The video also included several example exhibits within the museum and information as to what type of items the staff looks for in a museum exhibit.

 

The reason we decided to have students design their exhibits around a specific cell type, as opposed to just ‘animal’ or ‘plant’ cell was to help students understand the interactions, and the importance of those interactions, between different cells in a multi-cellular organism. Students had baseline knowledge of cell organelles, the cell membrane, and cellular transport when the project began.

Exhibit 1

The project as a whole was very successful. Students created a variety of excellent products, a few of which are pictured in this post. Additionally, students took pride in displaying their exhibits to students from a variety of different classrooms. Also present for presentations and ‘museum walks’ were teachers from throughout the school and various members of the administration. The students will also receive feedback on their final products from the staff at the Columbus Museum. One of the most significant signs of success to me was the way in which students generated questions throughout their research. A moment that sticks out to me occurred as a student attempting to do the bare minimum and simply draw a picture of a red blood cell (their cell type), asked the question, ‘Why don’t red blood cells have many organelles?’ This question led him down a path of discovery that led to another question, ‘If red blood cells don’t have a nucleus, then they probably don’t have DNA which is needed to make protein, so how in the world do they have a large supply of the protein ‘hemoglobin?’ Another example of a questioning attitude is drawn from Mrs. Popescu’s classroom. A group of students researching cone cells asked another group why they decided to color their cone cell model yellow when humans only have cone cells for red, blue, and green.

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In completing the project next year, I will strive to offer students more opportunities at receiving feedback before the final displays are done. Also, while the student generated questions were awesome, my goal is to structure the project so that more students begin asking these types of thought provoking questions.

 

Happy holidays everyone, and now I’ll throw it back over to Brittany Roper for the first post of the new year.

In My Classroom #11: Cell Signaling

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.  Here we go:

[Use the links… they’re helpful]

Cell Signaling.

How does something so awesomely complex get such an innocuous name? The science behind how our cells communicate within and between their cell membranes was something that either I had never been taught (or blocked from my memory… sorry Mr. Kessler), but when I first started teaching College and AP Biology, I had to quickly get myself up to speed on. The underlying principle (like is true with any complex biochemical reaction series it seems) is actually fairly simple.

A signal is received. The message is passed from one messenger to the next. Eventually the message is received and a response occurs.

We can read about, model, diagram, memorize, write about, ponder upon, and generally learn about cell signaling in a number of “traditional” ways. But how do you experiment with it? And how can it be open (or even guided) inquiry?

Here’s what we try: Tastebud Transduction Lab

We start by reading and annotating an article, “Matters of Taste” from The Scientist on how our tastebuds are able to differentiate between all the different flavors we take in on a daily basis. I really like the detail they go into without losing their audience. [I have an edited version for 9th graders if you’re interested].

After a discussion in class, and a “Guided Reading” to reinforce the information from class, we begin our test by generating a list of things we think correlate to taste bud density, but that might not be directly related. For example, are “supertasters” pickier eaters? Students then design and conduct an experiment that looks for relationships between taste bud density and their chosen dependent variable.

Since it is so difficult to actual observe and manipulate these taste signaling pathways, I like to use this lab as a lesson in statistics, correlations, and significance. Students use a graphing program (plot.ly— it is AWESOME) to make a plot, then we get to talk about what R² really means, how correlation doesn’t imply causation, standard curves and outliers, and generally why stats are useful tools in research but can mislead even very intelligent, careful scientists.

Male vs. Female Taste Bud Density
Male vs. Female Taste Bud Density

I’m out of words (actually way over), but if you want to know more, email me (andrewising@gmail.com), comment here, or tweet me (@Mr_Ising or @ksbioteachers). One day Michael Ralph and I will get around to creating a bunch of “stats for science class” resources, but if there is interest here, it might give us a little more motivation to start earlier. Good luck, Jessica Otradovec Popescu, because you’re on the clock!

In My Classroom #10: Protein Folding

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:

 

Last week I used a very simple, very low-tech but highly effective way to teach protein folding.  After teaching my students how to read the genetic code, I gave them a strand of DNA for which they would transcribe and translate to find the amino acid sequence.  Students then used those little marshmallows and strung them on a strand of thread, much the way many of us strung popcorn garland for the holidays.

 

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They wrote on each marshmallow (with sharpies) the name of the amino acid.  I provided each student a chart which gave them a basic chemical description of each amino acid (polar, non-polar, etc..)  We then walked through how the primary structure of their protein would fold.  With each fold they would use toothpicks to hold their marshmallows in place – representing whichever type of bond formed.  When we were done – volla!  A 3D protein!  (My students have not had chemistry yet, so we needed to cover basic chemical bonding….but they generally got the idea.)

 

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I just finished grading their assessments late last week, and the majority of students have a decent understanding of tertiary structure of proteins.  I like taking an abstract concept and turning it into something concrete!  Now….its Drew Ising’s turn……..tag!

In My Classroom # 9: I’ve Come to Have An Argument

Welcome to the KABT new 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. In this segment, if you are tagged all you need to do is share something you’ve done in your classroom in the last two weeks. It must be recent, but that’s it. If you are tagged, you’ve got two weeks to post your entry. Who knows… your supposedly mundane idea, lesson, or lab might be exactly what someone else really needs. Keep it brief, keep it honest about the time window, and share it out! Here we go:

 

This year, I am working on what kind of labs my students are conducting, and building my students skills in inquiry.  We have spent the first weeks focused on questioning and the inquiry process.  My students have already conducted a guided inquiry on Drosophila behavior in choice chambers where they came up with their own testable and measurable conditions, and followed through the scientific method. It was a great learning experience for all of us, but I want to find ways to make these labs a richer experience for the students.

Students are investigating Drosophila behavior in their choice chambers.
Students are investigating Drosophila behavior in their choice chambers.

In a process to embed the Scientific Practices and Cross-Cutting Concepts into my labs, I am starting to follow the model for Argument Driven Inquiry in my classes.  I have so far been very pleased in how my students have engaged in the experiences, and it’s exciting to see my students have a chance to engage in planning investigations and leading their own learning.  They also get a chance to share their ideas and understanding with the class when they defend their claims in an argument session.

My students are currently working on their second argument.  In our first argument, students worked on making and defending a claim to answer the question “Should Viruses be considered a living or non-living thing?” We talked briefly about the problem, and the data they had access too, but I did not explicitly teach them much of the characteristics of life before jumping in.  I simply helped model the process and what are final product could look like.  I was blown away by the results.

One group of students begins defending their claim to whether viruses are living or non-living. Their evidence and justification were a key part of their boards that they were assessed for.
One group of students begins defending their claim to whether viruses are living or non-living. Their evidence and justification were a key part of their boards that they were assessed for.

Most of my students were digging much deeper into the content then I had ever planned on assessing them for.  I had many groups looking into how viruses replicate and asking questions about why some viruses had DNA and others RNA. Students were going as far to research and describe plasmid structure, and how that may affect their claim. I did not ask for a specific amount of evidence, but only that it be sufficient to defend their answers to the guiding question.

Argument Boards

Once the evidence and justification was gathered, we all had a round-robin where we went around and critiqued other groups arguments and evidence.  Many of my students sided with the camp that viruses are non-living, but I had a couple groups that defended their status as living things.  This made are initial argumentation session somewhat one-sided, but the conversations we had were excellent.  After students recieved critiques, they went back and reformed their arguments if needed, and turned in final written arguments as groups.

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A student in my class defends his group’s divided claim on virus’ living status. Some groups found evidence to support both sides, and were a little divided on whether viruses fit the model for life.

Having this experience made teaching the characteristics of life much easier. I am now having my students forming arguments on “Why do Great White Sharks travel such long distances” as a way to study animal behavior and ecology. We are using real shark tracking data from a group called OCEARCH , and going deeper into the process by having students formulate their own methodology for collecting data.  My advanced bio classes will also be doing a peer-review of final argument papers to help improve their content writing. So far, my students seem to really enjoy the process of argumentation and I hope to post more on this topic in the future.

For now, I am passing the torch on to our Kansas Teacher of the Year, Shannon Ralph, to see what’s going on in her classroom.