Model Building and Building on Models

I make my students build and use models on a daily basis in my classrooms. I think that I have a better than average grasp on the Next Generation Science Standards, their practice and three-dimensional lesson planning. But I have apparently never thought to throw a bunch of vocabulary words at my students and give them the time to really struggle to connect them into a cohesive model with their groups.  And at the end of a session on Cognitive Models, presented by AP/IB Biology teachers Lee Ferguson and Ryan Reardon, that is exactly what we did.


To start, the instructions were sparse: Create connections and uncover relationships between pancreatic β-cells and photosynthesis. My group was made up of six other AP Biology teachers from 4 states, none of us with any idea where to start. There was some discussion about the significance of the color of each card, which it ends up wasn’t important… there just wasn’t time to sort them before the session.  We eventually found the word “Metabolism”, which we all agreed was the one thing that all the cards shared. From there, we tried to make shorter stacks of cards that were related. For example, “Hyperglycemia”, “Blood sugar rises”, and “insulin”.

Once we had all the cards grouped, we tried to place them into a pseudo-concept map. In our classrooms, I would have probably done this on a big whiteboard so we could draw arrows and write connecting terms, but my group guess that the Sheridan didn’t want us writing on their table cloths. 🙂  As we went, we had to stop and rearrange our map several times and each time we edited the map, members of the group were justifying why some cards had to stay or move.  It was a really great conversation and I learned some things about feedback loops that I don’t think I had ever known.

At the end of the process, we were encouraged to go look at what the other tables had put together and reflect on our map. To my surprise, none of the other groups had anything resembling our model. Talking to some of the other groups, I don’t think that anyone had a model that I think failed to achieve the original objective. It was really a powerful reminder that students, no matter the amount of information they may possess, each approach a problem from a unique viewpoint. And when you have people put together information, even people that all know “the right answer”, there are many ways to arrive at that conclusion.

Needless to say, next week when we start preparing for our next test in my 9th grade Biology class, my students are getting a stack of 3×5 cards tossed on to their tables. I can’t wait to hear their conversations and see what they create!

This post is part of a series of posts from KABT members reflecting on some of the most important things they’ll bring back into their classrooms from the NABT 2016 Professional Development Conference.

Nominate an outstanding biology teacher for the KS OBTA!


Know someone that deserves recognition for all the amazing things they do to help Kansas students better learn and understand biology? Nominate them to be the Kansas winner of the National Association of Biology Teachers “Outstanding Biology Teacher Award”. Beside the recognition as being one of the best examples of what a Biology teacher is and should be, there are a number of other perks associated with the award, including an NABT membership and gear from science education supply companies. More information on the 2017 Kansas OBTA can be here: 2017 OBTA criteria.

A Mentoring Program for New AP Biology Educators

From the Editor: I received this message from David Knuffke, moderator of the AP Biology teacher community, and all-around Rock Star-level educator. As someone who was new to AP Biology in the not-so-distant past, I will vouch for the benefit of such a program. I, luckily, kept my head above water long enough to produce/modify the resources I needed reach the high expectations from the College Board, my administrators, and students. However, many do not, and are miserable. We absolutely do NOT need to be losing  good teacher to stress. If you have any questions about this program, teaching AP Biology, or anything at all, please reach out to us here at Happy Holidays, and have a great Finals Week!   -Drew Ising 

Hi friends,

One of the major issues that I hear about (from new AP teachers and veterans) is that some of the structure that the CB has in place (e.g. the Teacher Community) can be a bit overwhelming.

One initiative we are interested in working towards is the establishment of a mentor network for new AP Bio teachers. Robin Groch has volunteered to serve as the point person for this project. We envision a pretty casual mentoring relationship between a new teacher and a veteran mentor. At the same time, we aren’t clear if this is something that is tenable, and won’t know for sure until we see what kind of interest there is in serving as a mentor among our veterans. In that vein, we have created a form for anyone who is interested in serving as a mentor to fill out. Once we have a handle on the number of veteran teachers who are willing to do this, we hope that we will have a great pool of people to connect to new AP Bio teachers. This is very much an interest assessment form. By filling it out, you are NOT committing to actually becoming a mentor, should the project move forward.

As far as I’m concerned, outside of a certain weekly conversation that I have, my role as a district mentor is incredibly rewarding and helpful for my own practice. I hope many of the talented AP Bio teachers on this listserv might consider signing up to serve in a mentoring capacity. I think we have a pretty great opportunity to help new AP Bio teachers get more comfortable.

Here is a link to the mentoring interest form:

David Knuffke
Deer Park, NY

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.



Now Accepting Applications: 2015 Outstanding Biology Teacher of Kansas

Every ye2014 OBTA trophy 2ar, the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award (OBTA) program attempts to recognize an outstanding biology educator (grades 7-12 only) in each of the 50 states; Washington, DC; Canada; Puerto Rico; and overseas territories.

Candidates for this award do not have to be NABT members, but they must have at least three years of public, private, or parochial school teaching experience. A major portion of the nominee’s career must have been devoted to the teaching of biology/life science, and candidates are judged on their teaching ability and experience, cooperativeness in the school and community, inventiveness, initiative, and student-teacher relationships.

OBTA recipients are special guests of Carolina Biology Supply Company at the Honors Luncheon held at the NABT Professional Development Conference, receive gift certificates from Carolina Biological Supply Company, resources from other sponsors, and award certificates and complimentary one-year membership f2014 OBTA trophyrom NABT.

Our Kansas state chapter of NABT, supports this award each year. A committee of biology/life science teachers from across the state determine the 2015 OBTA.

You may self-nominate by completing the requirements found here:  OBTA requirements_2015
Nominate a colleague by forwarding him/her the attached information OR email the OBTA director, Kelley Tuel (, with his/her contact information. The director will send your nominee the application requirements.

Apply or Nominate for 2014 Kansas Outstanding Biology Teacher Award!

I am excited to announce that it’s that time again…

The new criteria for the 2014 Kansas Outstanding Biology Teacher Award is available!! If you would like to apply, please start working on the application (attached below). There is no need to let me know ahead of time that you are applying since we have always allowed self nominations.

If you would like to nominate someone else for this award, feel free to send me their name and I will contact them with the information.

Being either self-nominated or peer-nominated is not weighted differently in the committee evaluation process. All applications and letters of recommendation are due by FRIDAY, APRIL 25.  Click here for the application information: OBTA requirements_2014

Here’s a ditty from NABT about this fantastic award:
Every year, the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award (OBTA) program attempts to recognize an outstanding biology educator (grades 7-12 only) in each of the 50 states; Washington, DC; Canada; Puerto Rico; and overseas territories. Candidates for this award do not have to be NABT members, but they must have at least three years of public, private, or parochial school teaching experience. A major portion of the nominee’s career must have been devoted to the teaching of biology/life science, and candidates are judged on their teaching ability and experience, cooperativeness in the school and community, inventiveness, initiative, and student-teacher relationships. OBTA recipients are special guests at the Honors Luncheon held at the NABT Professional Development Conference, receive microscopes from Leica Microsystems, gift certificates from Carolina Biological Supply Company, and award certificates and complimentary one-year membership from NABT.

Please let me know if you have any questions!
Kelley Tuel

Travel Award to attend NABT in Atlanta

Travel Award to attend NABT (National Association of Biology Teachers) Conference – Atlanta, GA (Nov. 20th – 23rd)

Motivated, energetic, enthusiastic science instructors at the high school and community college levels are invited to apply for travel awards to attend the 2013 Professional Development Conference of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), to be held in Atlanta, GA from November 20th through 23rd.

The awards are sponsored by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) and the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, which will cover all expenses (transportation, lodging, food and meeting registration).

The goal of this program is to identify talented, enthusiastic instructors who are excited about evolution, provide them with the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and pedagogical skills at the NABT conference, and then have them share this with their students (through classroom activities) and colleagues (through professional development activities).

Applicants should be high school or community college instructors with a passion for learning about and teaching evolution.  They should have a proven track record of successfully covering evolution-related topics in their courses in innovative ways.  In addition, they should be able to demonstrate a long-standing commitment to instructor professional development – both their own, and that of their colleagues.

If you’re interested in becoming a NESCent/BEACON Evolution Scholar and helping to bring cutting edge evolutionary science to your institution, please visit

If you have questions, please contact Dr. Jory Weintraub at


A professional opportunity from NABT


The information and instructions are on the NABT website at

Biology Educator Leadership Scholarship (BELS)

The Biology Educator Leadership Scholarship (BELS) program was established to encourage and support teachers who want to further their education in the life sciences or life science education. The award recipient is required to be a practicing educator who is also enrolled (or anticipates enrolling) in a graduate program at Masters or Doctoral level.

KABT Fall Meeting: Web 2.0 at the University of Kansas

BLOGS, WIKI’s, and Facebook–oh my…

Plan on attending KABT’s fall meeting scheduled for Sept. 13th at KU. We’ll meet on the first floor of the school of education’s JRP building just west of the football stadium at 8:30 a.m. for preregistration. We are charging a modest $10 registration fee. There is no registration form but leave me a comment to this post if you think you are coming so we can get an idea of the numbers. KU’s school of education tech department has graciously made their computer labs available for this meeting. Most of the meeting will feature hands-on computer explorations of WEB 2.0 applications and their impact on biology education. The day is scheduled in 45 minute blocks. Two blocks have concurrent sessions.

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Special Places

Sacred places, special places, magical spots…as humans we have a tendency to identify specific or particular natural locations or sites with some sort of significance that sets these places apart from others.  I have a feeling that this is an essential human feature; part of our never ceasing endeavor to recognize patterns in the natural world.  Often these places touch or tweak something emotional, deep inside.  We feel a greater sense of connectedness and awareness when we are in these special places.  If Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis has merit then I suspect that we are simply recognizing specific areas with a high degree of biological importance to us humans–but I also think that personal memory and experience also contribute to create places that are so very special.  When you have memories, experiences and biological importance then I think you have something really special…..

As a kid growing up in central Kansas, one of my special places was a wash out downstream from a concrete bridge that held water only after a significant rain.   We called this pool the Tadpole Pond and I can guess that you have a good idea why.  After every spring and summer rain when there was water in the pool, several of us in the neighborhood would round up our seines, jars, nets, and coolers in preparation of the big event–catching tadpoles by the hundreds along with the occasional crawdad, treasured green sunfish, black bullhead or snake.  For me and my friends the Tadpole pond was our African Water Hole–we learned a lot of biology in the mud and muddy water.  Who would have thought that a concrete bridge could create such a special place.

I have a new but similar special place where I keep track of the Kansas Aquatic environment and it too seems at first to be an unlikely spot:


This is a low-water bridge for the lake outlet as it crosses one of the main trails in Johnson County’s Kill Creek Park.  Remarkably, unimpressive as a natural area isn’t it?  I started building my own personal memories here about 6 years ago when I would coax my son into playing hooky from his PhD studies and convince him to bring his new daughter, Emma out for nature hikes with Grandpa.  One mid-May day at this particular site, Scott heard an unusual call that he thought was a warbler of some type.  While Emma and I played  on the concrete bridge Scott tracked down the calling warbler which he knew all along was a Black-throated Blue–he just didn’t want to make a bad call.  For me this has always been the BTB crossing….

This spring I stopped by this crossing on three separate days about 2 weeks apart.  On a whim in April I stopped after a significant rain–not planning on stopping at the crossing but when I got there I realized that I had picked a good day.  As I sat down next to the outlet tubes I observed in the thin water good numbers of darters and minnows making their way upstream to spawn–just like the more famous salmon.  The orange-throated darters would congregate just below the concrete apron and heave themselves in a mad dash in the fast current.  Because the concrete was so level I was able to get good views of darters, creek chubs and stone rollers as they made there way upstream.

This may be a pimephlales minnow followed by a male orangethroated darter.


Male orange throated darter Etheostoma spectabile

Male OT darter


two females

I had a great time for the next couple of hours taking pictures and observing this early spring migration.

Later, in May I went back, the water was down and very clear.  I could see several green sunfish displaying to each other  in the pool, a black bullhead and a number of minnows.  Not thinking I’d see much else I was about to leave when I suddenly became aware (notice I didn’t say I observed them) of several Northern Water Snakes.  Once I was aware, I was astounded at the number of smallish water snakes that kept swimming upstream to this pool.  I never saw more than 6 at any one time but over the hour I was there, I estimate that I saw and average of a new snake every 1.5 to 2 minutes.  Most swam up the stream, to the pool and then tried to swim the concrete culvert–unsuccessfully.

water snake

This one decided not to swim…

water snake on a rock

I have no idea what the snakes were up to but it was another great day.  Actually, I do have an unproven hypothesis–I think the smaller snakes move upstream on these intermittent streams to access the new food resources that will be available  in the developing habitat and to exploit the pools as they dry up.

I returned two weeks later after another rain.  This time the water was cloudy and again I thought I really wouldn’t see anything but I was wrong.  While trying to get a picture of a young 5-lined skink on the same rock as the snake in the picture above, I happened to look down in the boiling muddy water in a small eddy just as a large common snapper (ever hear of a small one? 😉 lifted its head out of the water with an open gape just inches from my elbow–again I was too slow with the camera.   Each time I’ve visited the BTB crossing this spring, I’ve had an eventful day and like the darters I plan to return next spring for more of the show.