Aquaponics PBL

My students built their own aquaponics systems this spring.

First, I introduced a driving question to drive the project with a video. Next, the students broke into groups and explored three different types of aquapoincs units nutrient film, deep water culture, and media bed units. Then they shared what they had learned about these units in a jigsaw. After everyone had looked at the different types of units I asked each student which type they were most interested in making. They then were able to look at designs and make drawings of their own unit. Their homework was to bring this design to the next class. To begin the designs are unpolished

It is so amazing to be an educator and help facilitate this into a working system that a student can be proud to show off.

That night I made student groups based on the type of unit they were interested in making. I also chose groups so that I could pair kids with others who they could get along with. It is important and challenging to get student group dynamics right. Personally, I feel that an educator doesn’t need to follow some formula for this they should intuit based on their knowledge of students. The next day students got into the group I assigned to them and shared the diagram they had made. Students then used technology to make a single design as a group.

The work of revising models is something that this project has so much potential in developing.

I critiqued each groups design then sent them to the greenhouse to collect their supplies. Each group was given a 10 gallon aquarium, clay pellets, a $10 aquarium pump, air supply, and a chemical test kit. Other materials/tools that are necessary are a drill, string, silicon caulk, PVC, guttering, compound miner saws, plastic containers, and tubing. Supplying electricity is a serious safety concern. It is very helpful to be friends with the shop teacher.

Students quickly run into the realization that their model is very hard to achieve. Some models are even impossible. The first time I ran this activity I had students revise their models many times but this consumed lots of available work time. Now, I let them simply change their units with no revision to the model. These sorts of revisions can actually be really frustrating for students. Once they see water pumping and have some vision that the system will work the groups get collective energy to get work completed. Now I just have a quick discussion about how well the models work and why they’re useful. I originally had this idea of students revising their models several times, but I feel I had to let that go in order to have time for actually building the real units.

Students setting up a system this group had a very clever design that maximized growing space by using vertical space, but at night they would lose all their water so they had to make several revisions to their original plan.

Projects like this take days to work through. In order to grade students I actually have them grade themselves using a simple yet effective self assessment tool.

Each student has a column and must describe how they helped contribute to their group. If one student does more work than other students in the group it is possible that that student receives their points. If the student group does suggest that one student did not carry their load I am the judge of this decision. I base the decision on evidence of work done and conferences with student groups. If a student is gone for the day I ask them to come in during study hall and contribute the same amount that their partners did on the project. The tool is very powerful because it forces students to negotiate fair and appropriate workloads for one another. This is a huge part of what I am facilitating throughout the project. The first several days I will stop the groups every 15 minutes and ask them to write down what each group member did. Once they get the hang of it they write down tasks they have performed on their own. It may sound very simplistic but I have found it very helpful and with 120 students working this system I only had 5 times this year where I held group conferences. This proactive approach is much better for me than dealing with emails about how one student did “all the work in the group” then retroactively trying to negotiate things. I strongly suggest this as a method for helping to manage student groups on projects.

 

Students who successfully navigate workloads enter into the rest of life with great work skills.

The students do eventually get to the point where their system filters water through. It is amazing to see a system that really works. I have had several students decide that they want to go into designing aquaponics systems for a career. It is so cool to see how much pride they have in their systems.

Proud students show off a system that produced many tomatoes. The next step will be helping our culinary classes by growing veggie plants.

This is MY aquaponics build. Lots of these systems can be scaled up if your are crazy enough to do it.

Jeff & Pam Meyer, the owners of CalAnn farms a working hydroponics farm in Basehor generously showed us their facility. By tying in this real-world experience it helped direct students further up the road. It also gave us new ideas about ways to run more productive systems in our school.

Students see that their work is not just to get a grade but rather means to a career.

Jeff Meyer from CalAnn Farms explaining the process of sprouting thousands of basil seed.

Why not have some fun?  🙂

2017 Spring Field Trip- Clinton Lake

 


We hope you will join us June 16-18th as the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers will be hosting members and nonmembers for our annual spring field trip. This year, we will be exploring Clinton Reservoir State Park, the Baker Wetlands, and the Kansas River. Camping will take place Friday and Saturday evening at Clinton Lake (Elm Group campsite is reserved, Bloomington East Camping Grounds).  There are some roads closed on the way out to the camping grounds. The easiest access will be to come from the north off of K-10. Detailed directions are posted in the Facebook Group.

Last-minute changes to the agenda will almost certainly occur. Please check our Facebook Group for updates. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us via email (askkabt@gmail.com or kyleesharp@gmail.com), social media (Facebook or Twitter), or in the comments below.

SCHEDULE:
Friday-
17:00-19:30 Set up camp, eat dinner, socialize
20:00-TBD Insect Biodiversity Survey with area entomologists

Saturday-
09:00-12:00 Explore the Baker Wetlands– Bird Watching, Wetland macroinvertebrates (1365 N 1250 Rd, Lawrence, KS 66046)
PICNIC LUNCH at Baker Wetlands Discovery Center
13:00-16:00 Guided Hikes of the KUFS Trails, Fitch Biology Trail, Roth Trailhead (Meet at Roth Trailhead
17:00 Dinner in Lawrence (TBD)
19:00-dark “Road Cruising” for herps and other neat wildlife, canoeing in the reservoir

Sunday
Break camp in the AM.
TBA-12:00 Bird watching and bioblitz

TRAVEL:
Clinton State Park is accessible from US-56 or K-10 highways, and Clinton Parkway. K-10 is conveniently connected to I-70, US-59, and I-435/I-35.
Clinton Reservoir State Park: 798 N 1415 Rd, Lawrence, KS 66049

AP Biology – Layered, Mastery Assessments

Eleven months ago I wrote a letter to my AP Biology students about stumbling in my efforts to include more learners in my AP Biology program. I was deeply conflicted in deciding how to proceed from our scores; student morale was as good as it had ever been and enrollment was up but their scores were the lowest of my career.

 

This was my last year teaching AP Biology and the changes in my methods continued. Enrollment this year tripled last year’s and early numbers showed them on the rise again next year (had I remained to teach again). Since my commitment to inclusiveness over scores two and a half years ago, I have lost ZERO students to the scythe of early year panic drops. I had groups of students approaching me, a remarkable number of which were future enrollees whom I had yet to even teach, looking for lab placements and enrichment experiences to get more involved in science. Students believed they could biology. I am happy to say I built the environment I sought for my AP program.

 

Scores are not out yet, but I did another overhaul of my assessment system which I think is worth sharing. When I was brute-forcing my student success I used textbook question banks and regular weekend quizzes to ensure my handful of students did A LOT of testing and their AP scores were very strong. I transitioned last year to only assess by asking students to write what they know and we focused their analysis on what they could add over multiple attempts. Every student knew something about photosynthesis and every student could know something more than what they did each time. Nobody felt useless or stumped, because even if they knew they “weren’t there yet” they could work from what they did know and focus on filling their gaps and fixing their misconceptions.

 

The shortcoming in this system was the lack of an anchor for the students in evaluating what they know against what the College Board asks them to know. My students were surprised in May because I had told them they had mastered a topic, but my judgement was imperfect and being able to talk about what they know is meaningfully different from solving problems set within a schema… or more often at an intersection between multiple large networks of ideas. I must give my students practice working from what they know while they experience problem solving in ways I had failed to maintain during my transition last year.

Students will feel great about not knowing that much about HW…

So this year I changed my assessment perspective. I still need to hook students on our culture of knowing things, and you must know things to solve problems. For those reasons my first semester changed very little. I made a re-commitment to inquiry and lab experience, but my knowledge assessment suite was only sharpened and refined.

 

Second semester, however, we were ready to be dangerous. We knew about the world of molecular biology, so from day one we worked to address problems. In January I said, “Muscular dystrophy… what’s the deal with that?” We actually had about half an hour of productive discussion regarding what we did know (I got yet another reminder that students are not blank slates!), but then I handed them our first formal assessment. It had a full page of background information pulled from expert sources and a deceptively simple prompt. They said we don’t know this…

Hint: You’ll need more than one page to fully answer this prompt.

Great! What do you need to know to be able to solve this problem? We made a list. Our work was filling the gaps they needed to address the problem. Once the list was all crossed off, we attempted the problem. After several attempts, they were ready for more. “AIDS resistance… how’s that possible?” Away we went again.

CCR5-Delta32: Enzymes and shapes… It’s always enzymes and shapes, bros.

The top level of work changed each time they attempted the assessment, but usually only in small ways that ensured they focused on the ideas rather than the test itself. Every student could still know something, but now there was a much more concrete framework for their trajectory of development. It was challenging to writing milestone assessments that appropriately built student understanding in ways that actually conferred success on the summative assessments… but I think I hit the mark more often than not. In January students needed 3+ attempts per assessment to finally bank all levels, but by April I did have students banking things first try.

Understanding this was only part of the first level… sweet baby James we loved cell signaling this year.

Logistically, I provided students with the concepts level and the background reading at the start. The synthesis was brand new each of the first several attempts, but as a class they found it more comfortable to only attempt concepts the first time around so they could have more time to write and revise without the time crunch of getting both things done while both phases were unfamiliar. If students banked all levels of the knowledge assessments/driving problems, they were automatically awarded credit for all formative milestones (but not visa versa). This took a lot of pressure off students who wanted to focus on growth during the unit to be ready to crush at the end, and eliminated the redundancy of going back to do in part something they’d already demonstrated they could do in full. I was surprised to see an even divide of the class, some preferred to bank every chapter first and some wanted to just work the big problems.

An early biochem milestone assessment.

A milestone assessment from sometime in March.

I don’t think these assessments are perfect, and I’m posting them warts and all. What matters is that old concepts continue to be explicitly assessed in later topics (see biochem stuff in like… every single assessment). Here they are. Many need copy editing and revision from how they were delivered this year because they were new. Take, modify, use and share in good health.

 

Students need opportunities to show what they know. Deficit grading will disenfranchise too many students, especially in AP classes. To remain successful we have to find ways to provide layered assessments that are accessible to students at many points on the learning trajectory while still building toward the robust understanding expected by AP exams. Philosophically, I am really liking the path I’ve been on. Perhaps some of you will walk this same direction and push even further down the road.

 

I’ll update this post in July when the scores are released.

A Review of DNA Day 2017

DNA day, the third Friday of April, has been established to recognize and celebrate the advancements in the understanding of this amazing biological molecule.  This is the second year KU has celebrated by organizing an outreach program where industry and academic scientists are sent to high school classrooms to present various topics.

Feeling adventurous, I decided to try something new this year and signed up my freshman general biology class and my four senior molecular biology classes to accept these speakers. During the process, I was prompted to choose what modules would be presented. The menu included Model Organisms, Pharmacogenomics (Personalized Medicine), Genomic Inheritance, Immunology, and Phylogeography.

 

I selected the basic genomic inheritance module for my general biology students, and the pharmacogenomics module for my molecular biology students. Our expectations are shaped by our experiences, so I assumed I would get one presenter repeating the presentations over two block days of classes. Instead, each molecular biology class was assigned a different volunteer. One of the volunteers covered both a molecular biology class and my general bio class.

 

The genomic inheritance module presented to my freshmen was a lecture over the central dogma of biology, a dash of cloning, and a saliva DNA extraction. In the pharmacogenomics module, PTC tasting strips and the varying responses of a classroom population to those strips were used to model the consequences of varying receptor morphology, and explain why any specific drug may have wide variance in its effectivity and side effects in the general population.

 

So. Was it worth it?

In a nutshell, yes.

 

The students enjoyed the contextualization of the biology we have been studying. They benefit from seeing that someone with a Ph.D. in biology, biochemistry, or chemistry is a regular person, not unlike them. The diversity of science as a global discipline was strongly illustrated, as the distributions of origins and ethnicities of the volunteers were large. Student schema development of these biological concepts was enriched by approaching the topics from different directions.

 

Though all the Pharmacogenomics presentations were given from the same PowerPoint slide show, each presenter had a unique research history. This informed the presentations, as each gave different anecdotes and supporting details.  I took notes, and now have a much wider array of anecdotes at my disposal.

 

I recommend participating in KU’s DNA Day outreach program, but with caution.

First, I do not recommend the general Genomic Inheritance module. This module was a general summary of the central dogma, but nothing in this module is something that we don’t already address in our classrooms as part of the NGSS. The 5-step cookbook DNA extraction (spit, soap, salt, ethanol, stir) showed them the stringy white boogers that are chromosomes, all without leaving their seats. My freshmen biology students have not taken chemistry, and I have not devoted my biology class to laying the groundwork necessary to understand the extraction process. Students must accept that the floating gunk is DNA because we tell them it is.  I do not recommend this module, and I will not be doing it again next year.

 

Second, executing science investigations and teaching are two different skills. A person can devote themselves to developing multiple skills, but do not expect to receive a presenter who is a high school teacher. To make these visits successful, you must be active. These doctors of philosophy of science are calibrated to addressing graduate students. They move at the speed of a 17th grade classroom. You will need to interrupt, as you would a video, and ask your students to summarize, or identify the relationships between concepts, or seek clarification. Though all my students came away with new connections between concepts, the presentation alone would not have done it.

 

Too long, didn’t read?

KU’s DNA Day is great. You should do it (learn more here), but avoid the genomic inheritance module. It is nothing you haven’t already done, and you don’t need a Ph.D. to read the steps of a cookbook extraction to your students. You’ll also need to be active to support your students during any of the presentations.

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.

The Implications of Mindset Research on Science Classrooms

A recent article in Buzzfeed News shared an overview of some of the concerns surrounding growth mindset research and pedagogies focused on leveraging that research. The membership of KABT has considered the article and its critiques and has created the following response.

 

The Implications of Mindset Research for Science Classrooms

Mindset research, which focuses on the differences between growth and fixed mindset, has been popularized by Carol Dweck and her associates (Yeager, 2012) (Dweck, 2008) (Dweck C. S., 2012). While there is a growing market for classroom materials, publications and workshops related to promoting growth mindsets in students, there is a growing discussion regarding the inadequacies of the research base for mindset methodologies.

 

The initial work by Dr. Dweck has been criticized for some of its experimental design and statistical practice. Those mistakes have been accepted by Dr. Dweck and corrections and revisions have been acknowledged. The accumulating list of errors has led to concerns regarding the validity of the results. Statistical practice in social science is an area in need of considerable improvement and a demand for best practice from the consumers of the research, the practitioners, is a way to incentivize this improvement. Teachers should not shrug off statistical malpractice as only a footnote.

 

Strong statistical analysis improves the confidence of readers in the reproducibility (or lack thereof) of the work. In this instance the missing statistical confidence pairs with a lack of reproduction to this point. Reproducing education research requires tremendous skill in both pedagogy and experimental design. There are concerns that the small number of attempts at reproduction do not faithfully recreate the appropriate conditions for eliciting the effect. There are other questions about the value of the growth mindset effect if it is so small and fragile that reproduction by researchers is exceedingly difficult.

 

At its heart growth mindsets tap into a long-held belief that hard work is valuable. Many teachers find the idea of a student having agency over their own achievement to be desirable. Growth mindset is not the solution to classroom culture. Students need more than just hard work. Tremendous energy can be spent smashing into a door until you are through it, or you can simply turn the handle and open it. When mindsets augment a productive culture and a coherent curriculum they can be powerful.

 

When poorly-supported methodologies are used and the teaching practice is weak, a growth mindset is of little value. As the market saturates with products claiming to be based on mindset research, we must identify which are doomed to failure from unthoughtful application. Many flying machines failed due to ignorance of flight mechanics, but flight was always possible. Similarly, when a speaker with a shallow understanding of the literature fails to demonstrate value in a product we should remember that a failed application is not the same as a faulty concept.

 

Inquiry in the science classroom is well-supported by research as best practice. Interconnected understanding, developed through retrieval practice and responsive feedback, is superior to linear content delivery by a lecturing expert to passive audience members. Shaping that feedback through a growth mindset lens appears to have a positive impact despite the fact that reproduction of the research is proving difficult. Indeed, our job as educators is to do something that is hard! We must synthesize the research regarding mindset with best practices in assessment, classroom management, curricular design, differentiation, inquiry instruction, choice theory and many other overlapping domains to produce the strongest experience possible in unique students who change every semester. This is our job and they call us educators.

 

We must be faithful to the body of research. We can simultaneously incorporate aspects of the growth mindset research into our classroom and remain skeptical of the work. If future studies reveal flaws and allow us to develop a better description of how student perceptions shape learning, we should follow that work also. We also need to share our perspective from the field to shape investigations to be more useful and applicable. Perhaps more dynamic classroom methodologies will yield stronger signals in new mindset research. Perhaps responsive differentiation will allow us to visualize specific demographics who stand to benefit the most from a growth mindset. Perhaps training in retrieval practice as studying will increase the propensity of students to adopt and develop a growth mindset through greater yields from investment.

 

Ultimately we must close the gap between practitioner and researcher in education. Medical doctors consider experimental treatments and provide feedback on their results on a regular basis. Attorneys publish briefs and review frequently to respond to an ever-changing body of legislation. We, too, must become more than consumers of research. Teachers must communicate with researchers because our classroom experience can make experimental design better. We can demand stronger statistical practice, more meaningful treatment conditions and more targeted assessment tools. The improved research will return as more actionable results which we can use to improve our technique again.

 

We must allow our classroom practice to respond to the current literature while acknowledging and addressing its flaws. It is highly unlikely that a growth mindset is the educational silver bullet. It is also unlikely to be entirely smoke and mirrors. Instead we are trying to understand a remarkably complex system so that we can help it mature as effectively as possible. As far as promoting a growth mindset can further that goal, we should use it. When the body of research indicates there is a better approach, teachers should change methods. We should not switch a moment later than when the research publishes, but not a moment before either.

References

  1. Dweck, C. (2008). Mindsets and math/science achievement.
  2. Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets and human nature: Promoting change in the Middle East, the schoolyard, the racial divide, and willpower. American Psychologist, 67(8), 614.
  3. Yeager, D. S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. . Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302-314.

 

Sternberg Museum Summer Science Camps

Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum is providing another year of high-quality field experiences for students. They are offering courses for elementary, middle, and high school students, and even have international trips available.

The full catalog is available here. If you need more information, or are interested in one of the available scholarships, contact education director David Levering using the information below.

Greetings from the Sternberg Museum of Natural History! We are excited to offer our 2017 Summer Science Camps and Programs designed to immerse students in the wonders of Earth and life science!
The Sternberg Museum education and science staff presents experience-driven lessons and activities that get students directly involved in the process of science. We emphasize building knowledge, skills and the mental tools to deal with information and questions in a scientific manner.
Outdoor exploration is at the heart of our science camps and programs. Getting students outside interacting with nature, each other and instructors helps to anchor our lessons with powerful firsthand experiences. We look forward to sharing the wonder of science and exploration with you this summer!
Sincerely,
David Levering
Education Director
DALevering@FHSU.edu
785-639-5249

A 3D Gene Expression Lesson on Epigenetics

Disclaimer: As far as standards go, I really like the Next Generation Science Standards. Particularly important to me is the emphasis it places on learning not just the content (disciplinary core ideas), but how scientists work/think (science practices) and connections between ideas (cross-cutting concepts). Over the last 3-4 years, I have been giving my favorite activities and labs an NGSS facelift to modify them to better fit this framework. I am going to share with you a lesson that I feel address all 3 dimensions of the NGSS.

 

Is your lesson “3D”? Use the NGSS Lesson Screener tool to find out.  LINK

Many students really enjoy their genetics units, but one of the more difficult things to understand is gene expression. Several years ago, I would have presented my students with the “central dogma”, given some notes over transcription and translation, then worked through a few scaffolds to get them to understand how amino acid chains are produced. After reading Survival of the Sickest in 2008, I started to mention that epigenetics was a thing, though I didn’t have my students investigate it with any depth.

With the introduction of the Next Generation Science Standards, an emphasis has been placed on understanding the implications of the processes in the classic dogma without getting overly concerned about what specific enzymes might be doing at a given time. This has freed up more time to explore the regulation of gene expression, including epigenetics. There are a number of amazing resources out there (like this… and this… and this…), but here is how I cover gene regulation with my 9th grade biology students:

This format is something I have adapted (with few changes) from an NGSS training put on by Matt Krehbiel and Stephen Moulding, which I attended thanks to KSDE. I like this because it is flexible, provides students with the entire trajectory of the lesson from the beginning, and can double as a lesson plan. Can you guess the reasoning behind the color-coded words? That, too, is explicit, though it is in most cases more for my own benefit. RED words are commands for the students. It tells them how they should address the problem and how I will assess their work. The GREEN words relate to cross-cutting concepts (in this case, systems/system models and patterns), while the BLUE(ish) words are science practices.

Depending on how much time you have available, this could take 2 to 4 50-minute class periods (or 1-2 block periods if you’re lucky enough to roll with that schedule).  I like to use more time for this because I have designed discussion and collaboration into the process, but the “Gather Information” and (obviously) “Individual Performance” sections could be done by students on their own and wouldn’t require a classroom. Devoting a little extra class time will also allow for you to conduct ad hoc informal formative assessments (read over a kid’s shoulder and ask them questions) as you move around your room.

Part 1: Gathering Information

Have you listened to the RadioLab episode, “Inheritance”? If not, you should do that. I find that RL is a good way to indoctrinate your students into the world of science podcasts. And this episode is one of my favorites. 

I really like reading with my students, asking them questions that get them thinking deeper as they go, so I usually devote an entire class period to reading an article on epigenetics. I break my class into three groups with each group reading a different article, and students will (for the most part) self-select based on the length or difficulty of the reading.  I use readings pulled from Discover Magazine, Nature Education, Nat Geo’s Phenomena blogs. Students sit around large tables and talk and write and sketch as they read. There is structure and agency, direction and freedom, and I love those days. But if you’re in a hurry (in my opinion, one of the worst reasons to do something), I guess you could assign the reading as homework.

via GIPHY

Part 2: Thinking Deeper

To really understand something, you need to really dig into it. This section is meant to be collaborative. If I have some really outstanding students grouped together, I will encourage them to divide the work in this section between them, then teach their group members in a scaffold.  I wouldn’t normally do this with an extension/research-based activity because I want to make sure each student has a chance to interact with each aspect of the activity. If I can’t trust all the group members to produce the same quality of work, I won’t recommend the divide-and-conquer approach.

When dealing with my AP/College Biology students, I would word a question like #5 differently. With the general biology kids, I recognize most of them will not end up in a biology-centric career. They will, however, be citizens of the world, and voters. So I try to incorporate questions where they reflect on their emotional response to the content. I know it is popular to think of scientists as unfeeling, opinion-less automatons, but that is disingenuous. I live with a scientist, trust me. I use experiences like this to really emphasize the importance of evidence-based, empirical thinking and using data to drive decision-making.

Part 3: Individual Performance

How do you know if your students “get it”?  A lot of the time, when using a science notebook or interactive journal, it might be several days before you go back and read everything your students wrote (and maybe, sometimes, you still don’t read everything). What I like to do is tell students they will have 15 minutes to produce the best possible answer after I give them 5 minutes to discuss with their classmates how they will address the last couple of items for this assignment. Once the writing starts, I am walking the room, reading over shoulders, and looking for patterns. Are there any things that I think they should have gotten, but most people are missing? Are we particularly strong in certain areas? Are students adding models to their answers in support? This lets me know if I need to reteach something or if we can move on.

I also look for answers that are good, but might be missing one bit of information to take it over-the-top. It is a good rule of thumb to think that, if one student is making a mistake, there are other students making the same error. I will then (not so) randomly ask students to read exactly what they have written down. By using an answer that is mostly correct, it takes some of the stigma away from making a mistake. We can then have a discussion with the class to see if we can identify where the answer can be changed or added to, and praise the parts of the answer that were done well. Students with sub-par responses are encouraged to add to their answers, and we learn more together.

Conclusion 

If you are still with me, what do you think? What does this activity do well? Where can I get better? What are my students missing? If you would like to modify/use this activity, you can find a GoogleSlides version here. Send me an email (andrewising[at]gmail) or tweet (@ItsIsing) and let me know how it went!

Summary Post for Teaching Quantitative Skills

Part 1: Teaching Quantitative Skills using the Floating Disk Catalase Lab: Intro
Part 2- Teaching Quantitative Skills in a Lab Context: Getting Started in the Classroom
Part 3- Establishing an Experimental Procedure to Guide the Home Investigation
Part 4- Teaching Quantitative Skills: Data Analysis
Part 5- Curve Fitting AKA Model Fitting–the End Goal
Part 6- The Final Installment: Extending and Evaluating Quantitative Skills.
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These are links to the posts on Teaching Quantitative Skills with the Floating Disk Enzyme Lab

  1. http://www.kabt.org/2016/11/29/teaching-quantitative-skills-using-the-floating-disk-catalase-lab-intro/
  2. http://www.kabt.org/2016/12/01/teaching-quantitative-skills-in-a-lab-context-getting-started-in-the-classroom/
  3. http://www.kabt.org/2016/12/04/establishing-an-experimental-procedure-to-guide-the-home-investigation/
  4. http://www.kabt.org/2016/12/09/data-analysis/
  5. http://www.kabt.org/2016/12/18/curve-fitting-aka-model-fitting-the-end-goal/
  6. http://www.kabt.org/2017/01/06/the-final-installment-extending-and-evaluating-quantitative-skills/

In DNA, C pairs with G and X pairs with Y?

Big news! I recently read an article in the Washington Post that wasn’t about our current political leadership, and I highly recommend it to all Biology teachers. An international team of researchers has published their findings in a paper titled, “A semisynthetic organism engineered for the stable expansion of the genetic alphabet” in journal PNAS. (If you like to also read the primary literature on these newspaper and magazine science stories, it is unfortunately behind a paywall.)

via NIH Flickr Acct.

I am no Eric Kessler, resident KABT expert on synthetic biology (synbio), but I was amazed by what I read. It is incredibly fascinating to consider the scientific breakthroughs that have been made during my teaching career, not to mention my lifetime. I was lucky enough to have Mr. Kessler as my AP Biology teacher when I was a high school student, and we barely touched on the topic of biotechnology in the halcyon days of the early 2000’s. Even in my undergraduate education, little time was spent on biotechnology and genetics labs. Fast forward about a decade and scientists are able to build synthetic nucleotides that can be copied into E. coli and conserved for more than 60 generations. This leads me to an obvious question: what will be possible when my current crop of freshpersons are leaving college?

Environmental biochemists have long hinted about the possibility of a microorganism capable of safely remediating oil spills and other industrial accidents. Could this lead to what amounts to biomachines capable of conducting targeted medical therapies in a patient? I have a sister with cystic fibrosis, and would like to imagine a time when an SSO (semisynthetic organism) is capable of producing functional copies of CFTR1, effectively curing her of the disease that once promised to take her life.

What was your reaction? What application would you like to see for this technology?

LINKS
Washington Post: “Biologists breed life form with lab-made DNA. Don’t call it ‘Jurassic Park’,” by Ben Guarino
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America: “A semisynthetic organism engineered for the stable expansion of the genetic alphabet,” by Y. Zhang and B. Lamb, et al.