Imagine for me, if you would, this scenario: you are trying to make a diagram for a lab report (or assessment or poster or whatever) but you can’t find the right figure. So you draw something that resembles what you want, or you use an image you found online that is similar to what you want, but then you spend almost as much time identifying and discussing the weaknesses of the model as you do working with the model itself.
[ESPN Documentary Narrator Voice] What if I told you there was a free way to make high-quality, detailed models with your students?
My wife’s uncle shared BioRender with me this week, and I knew I needed to share this ASAP. Watch this intro video you’ll see when you sign up for a free account, and try to act cool… I’ll wait.
DID YOU FREAK OUT A LITTLE BIT?! I did. (OK, maybe more than a little bit.) There is a lot to explore with this, but here are some highlights for me. Not only are there 1000s of icons you can add to your figure, but you can control the color scheme for many of them and add labels to make your models even more robust. It has some built-in support to pull models from the Protein Databank. When you have the EXACT protein you want to use, you can control how your protein is visualized and rotate the protein so you show the exact part of interest. After Andrew Taylor’s Fall Conference presentation on 3D-printed models, I went looking for the proteins associated with the pharmaceutical product Gleevec.
I encourage you to go check this out. Visit https://biorender.io/ and create an account. Once you start creating, share your best figures with us here or on social media. I may be speaking for myself here, but I can’t wait to start using and making these models with my students!
One of the old standby activities of biology class is collecting, labeling, and classifying insects. I remember this was one of the true highlights of my life. When I was a young child I began collecting insects. The night before our collection was due several cute giggling girls in my ninth grade class showed up at my house asking if they could have some of my collection. The next week when we had our collections graded mine stood out among other less ambitious attempts which looked more like they had been collected with a shoe than a net. It was a rare moment where my nerdy habits were celebrated.
Rightly, insect collections have fallen out of favor in modern biology education. Bug collecting and classifying is hard to justify as a 21st century skill.
Still, I think we shouldn’t forget about the value collections can have. Catching the bugs is a great way to compare and analyze biological forms.I think that there are two significant ways collections can be used in our evolution unit.
First, collections allow students to consider the obscure insight of variation in a population.
consider how Alfred Russell Wallace arrived at his insight about natural selection. David Quammen explains in his book Song of the Dodo: Biogeography in the Age of Extinction he explains,
“ Wallace had reason to notice such variation more clearly than most other naturalists. As a commercial collector, he collected redundantly- taking not just one specimeneach of this parrot ant that butterfly but sometimes a dozen or more individuals of a single species. Lovely dead creatures were his stock-in-trade, literally, and he grabbed what he could for the market. But after grabbing, he preserved, inspected, and packed his creatures with a keen eye, so he saw infraspecific variation laid out before him in a way that other field biologists ( including even the best of the wealthy ones, like Darwin) generally didn’t. it was a trail of clues that Wallace would follow to great profit.” (pg 65)
This summer, I collected 133 Green June Bugs Cotinis nitida and then put them in a collection together.
This gives students a vivid example of variation in a population. Most of the general public hasn’t seen the slight differences between individuals of the same species. Analyzing these collections can help them see the ingredient of variation that is necessary for of natural selection.
Shells can show this property as well, plus students can manipulate shells without breaking them.
Secondly, collections allow students to very vividly see homologous traits and fossil evidence.
Last year I got out several of my collections and I had students move from station to station examining evidence for evolution. At each station I had either a fossil, a collection showing homologous traits/variation, a map for biogeography, a specimen with a vestigial trait/atavism, or a diagram showing comparative DNA.
The students then had to apply what they knew about each evidence for evolution to a novel case. This proved to be a really fun experience for me because it forced me to apply what I was teaching in class to the world around me.
If that sounds like a whole lot to chew start with this; collect several pine cones from different species of firs, spruces, and pine. Challenge students with questions about why different species have similar structures.
Have your students examine these biological forms and identifying them helps you to move them from defining terms to analyzing and applying their knowledge.
A *New* Biology Adventure for Your Kansas Students: PBL – Water Quantity and Water Quality
The NSF Kansas EPSCoR project titled, Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS), a collaboration of researchers from KU, K-State, WSU, Fort Hays State, and Haskell Indian Nations University, hosted 12 Kansas biology teachers in a 2018 Summer Institute from June 4-8, 2018. Broken into three teams — Aquatics, Terrestrial, and ArcGIS, our goal was to work with researchers to investigate how the microbiomes of Kansas are critical to understanding several key issues for our state, including agricultural sustainability, water quality, greenhouse gases, plant productivity, and soil fertility. In addition to using ArcGIS to map native and restoration prairie species distribution under the direction of Drs. Helen Alexander, Peggy Schultz, and Jim Bever, we all did some aquatics field work led by the Deputy Director of the Kansas Biological Survey, Dr. Jerry deNoyelles, and Assistant Research Professor, Dr. Ted Harris, who specializes in Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). We learned how to use lake surveying equipment to test water quality parameters and sampled macroinverts in thermally-stratified Cross Reservoir. We also seined Mud Creek, where Drew Ising apparently stumbled into a parallel universe when I botched this pano:
I really like the HHMI Biointeractive activity “Battling Beetles”. I have used it, in some iteration (see below), for the last 6 years to model certain aspects of natural selection. There is an extension where you can explore genetic drift and Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium calculations, though I have never done that with my 9th graders. If you stop at that point, the lab is lacking a bit in quantitative analysis. Students calculate phenotypic frequencies, but there is so much more you can do. I used the lab to introduce the idea of a null hypothesis and standard error to my students this year, and I may never go back!
We set up our lab notebooks with a title, purpose/objective statements, and a data table. I provided students with an initial hypothesis (the null hypothesis), and ask them to generate an alternate hypothesis to mine (alternative hypothesis). I didn’t initially use the terms ‘null’ and ‘alternative’ for the hypotheses because, honestly, it wouldn’t have an impact on their success, and those are vocabulary words we can visit after demonstrating the main focus of the lesson. When you’re 14, and you’re trying to remember information from 6 other classes, even simple jargon can bog things down. I had students take a random sample of 10 “male beetles” of each shell color, we smashed them together according the HHMI procedure, and students reported the surviving frequencies to me.
Once I had the sample frequencies, I used a Google Sheet to find averages and standard error, and reported those to my students. Having earlier emphasized “good” science as falsifiable, tentative and fallible, we began to talk about “confidence” and “significance” in research. What really seemed to work was this analogy: if your parents give you a curfew of 10:30 and you get home at 10:31, were you home on time? It isn’t a perfect comparison, and it is definitely something I’ll regret when my daughter is a few years older, but that seemed to click for most students. 10:31 isn’t 10:30, but if we’re being honest with each other, there isn’t a real difference between the two. After all, most people would unconsciously round 10:31 down to 10:30 without thinking. We calculated the average frequency changed from 0.5 for blue M&M’s to 0.53, and orange conversely moved from 0.5 to 0.47. So I asked them again: Does blue have an advantage? Is our result significant?
Short story, no; we failed to reject the null hypothesis. Unless you are using a 70% confidence interval, our result is not significantly different based on 36 samples. But it was neat to see the interval shrink during the day. After each class period, we added a few more samples, and the standard error measurement moved from 0.05 to 0.03 to 0.02. It was a really powerful way to emphasize the importance of sample size in scientific endeavors.
Should the pattern (cross-cutting concept!) hold across 20 more samples, the intervals would no longer overlap, and we could start to see something interesting. So if anyone has a giant bag of M&M’s lying around and you want to contribute to our data set, copy this sheet, add your results, and share it back my way. Hope we can collaborate!
Email results, comments, questions to Drew Ising at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been thinking a lot about the message that I want to send to students about science and reflecting on my own understanding of what science is. In my short two years as a teacher a lot of kids have come into my room conditioned into memorizing words and concepts until a test. They see science classes as more challenging versions of the memorization-regurgitation cycle and often have insecurities about science. As a student it took me a really long time to realize that science isn’t about memorizing processes or vocabulary but about the feeling I get in my head when I don’t know something yet but know that there is something to be learned. It’s about the confusion that happens when you have data that doesn’t come out you expected it to and you don’t understand why, or the excitement when you can connect two ideas you didn’t realize were related to each other before. I only realized these things when I had mentors in college who asked me questions that I couldn’t answer by regurgitating vocabulary words. They taught me how to learn rather than how to be taught, and I gained so much confidence. No matter how difficult the concept, I had gained some kind of magic comfort in my abilities to work through problems and struggle through sense-making because I had sort of re-focused my education on the act of learning versus the things I learned.
But how do I get 15 year-olds who have been trained from a young age to read their books, do their vocabulary words, and memorize what the teacher tells them to change their ways and actually do this science? How do I give them the the science magic that I found during my college years? Thankfully I am not the only educator who has asked these questions and the creators of NGSS built in science and engineering practices to the standards. I’ve always planned my lessons with the science and engineering practices in mind but I’ve never really told my students what the practices are or how you exactly do those things. So this year I’ve promised myself that I’m going to be more deliberate about this. I made colorful posters with the practices on them and hung them in my room, and have told my students and their parents multiple times that I value the practices. I don’t think that these practices are THE ANSWER to helping students understand real science but I think they are a good place to build from.
I’m going to value these skills in my classroom and I added a grade book category just for them. My goal is to assess my students on one of the practices at least once a week and to be very explicit and clear with them what these skills look like.In an attempt to briefly outline mastery, proficient, and developing skills I put together a rubric that includes all 8 standards. I plan on using the rubric as a general guideline to grade various different projects or tasks, varying from exit slips or bell ringers to longer in-class activities. If I want to assess a certain practice more in-depth I will break it down into its own more detailed rubric, but for now this is what I’ve got. I’ve attached my first and second drafts of these rubrics in attempt to show how my thought process changed. I love google docs and have given all viewers of these documents the ability to add comments…please do so! I am more happy with iteration 2 but am not sure that everything is student friendly or actually what those skills look like. Big thanks to Camden Hanzlick-Burton and Michael Ralph and others on the KABT Facebook page who encouraged and pushed my thinking before I was quite ready to make a blog post.
TLDR: Science is awesome! How do I get students to stop memorizing and do science? I made some rubrics to assess science and engineering skills but think they could use some improvement: HELP!