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 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!

Staying Positive in Uncertain Times

Aside

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.

via GIPHY

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!

via GIPHY

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

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!