Feb
23
2011

Neat, new way to preserve insects for the classroom

From Dragonflywoman's blog

Click on this image or this link to Dragonflywoman’s blog to learn how to preserve insects in hand sanitizer….what a cool way to prepare insect specimens for the classroom.

http://dragonflywoman.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/hand-sanitizer-preservation/

BTW,  you’ll find a lot of great insect resources on her web site.  I think you’ll be impressed.

Jan
09
2011

Kim Foglia

Kim Foglia

We lost a great biology educator, Kim Foglia on Jan. 4th, 2011 after a long, dignified and courageous battle with pancreatic cancer.  Back in 2009 a number of AP Biology teachers got together and worked hard to establish an award from NABT, sponsored by Pearson, Benjamin Cummings, recognizing Kim’s unprecedented contributions to the AP Biology teaching community.  She was not able to attend the ceremony at the national meeting but she sent a letter that Patti Nolan Bertino read in her stead.  At the time I thought the letter was particularly reflective of the Kim I knew.  She was appreciative and honored but she immediately put it a challenge back on all of us.  Patti, recently shared the original letter with me and I reproduce it here to honor Kim and to pass her challenge onto the NABT and AP Biology communities:

I want to thank the National Association of Biology Teachers for honoring me with the AP Biology Service award.  I am truly overwhelmed by the attention, but the recognition is much appreciated.  I was so sad that I couldn’t attend this meeting in person, so I want to thank Patti for acting as my stand in.  I also want to thank all the teachers that have been sending me prayers and well-wishes this year.  You have no idea how much you have bolstered my spirit and strength.  I am pleased to say that I am winning my personal war on cancer and look forward to attending next year’s meeting.

This award is for service to the AP Biology teaching community.  In that vein, I want to issue a challenge to the teachers in this room.  You would not believe how many teachers write to me each year pleading for help, telling me they are taking over the AP Biology program at their school and the retiring or departing teacher has left them with nothing.  Rather than this proprietary stance, we need to see ourselves as art of a community–a cooperative communty.

We lose nothing by sharing.  In fact, we all gain.  I know I have gained as much from other teachers as I have given out through my Web Site.  So here’s my teacher challenge:  Look at your classroom and pick out your best practices and offer to freeely share them with teachers beyond your district.  You’ll be amazed at how much more you will get back.

And to NABT, I issue this challenge.  Become the active catalyst to creating this collaborative community.  Acknowledging individual efforts through this award is the first step.  It is a wonderful idea.

However, may I suggest, you can go further.  We need an online community through which we can archive and share quality resources developed by teachers.  There are some very successful models for this that we can learn from.  And it could become the premier venue for best practices in biology teacher.  I look forward to working with you to bring such a project to a successful launch.

We have nothing to lose and so much more to gain.

Thank you.

Kim Foglia

November 12, 2009

We’ve got our work cut out for us.  There is a new AP Biology curriculum coming down the line.  Kim was helping us write some of the new labs for this revision.  The new approach is going to require more than ever that we, as a community, get together, like Kim has challenged and build our own set of resources that reflect the kind of excellent teaching and mentorship that was the hallmark of Kim Foglia.

She was very talented, with a deep knowledge and passion for biology but even more than that she had spunk.  I admired her talent and spunk greatly.

We need more teachers like Kim–it’s time to answer her challenge.

BW

Nov
17
2010

World’s Biggest Demo

Cook Off!

All right, I confess.  I love cooking shows.  I can’t resist them.  As I enjoy cooking myself, I find it inspiring to watch well trained and creative food gurus work their magic.  How exactly do they hold the knife?  In their estimation, how much is a “handful”?  What pots, pans, and kitchen gadgets do they use?  When the directions say, “simmer until reduced”, what does it look like exactly?

When I was at the gym yesterday, I saw that Rachael Ray (the host of a regularly scheduled television cooking show, for those of you who don’t know) was featuring the World’s Biggest Cooking Demo on her show, I couldn’t help but get sucked in.  Sure it was a corny tactic, but I have to say, it was pretty darned clever.  The producer’s plan was for Rachael to prepare a chicken dish outdoors, live, in front of her entire New York City studio audience, with each audience member positioned at a mobile cooking station, following along with her. Hundreds of little cooking stations were set up, equipped with a hotplate, pans, implements, and all the ingredients required for the dish.  It was quite the scene – all of those audience-member-chefs, lined up, following along with Rachael.

But that’s not all – hundreds more cooks kept up with the proceedings in live Los Angeles studio audience and even more followed along with the demo in their homes, watching it on television, and Skyping in their questions.  Occasionally, Rachael would take a break from the demo (while the sauce was simmering) to take a Skype call from a viewer in Cleveland or Tampa.  The caller was projected on the big screen, beamed in from his or her kitchen, working away at the same recipe, asking for a clarification or offering a suggestion.

I thought the whole thing was brilliant.  Who doesn’t like to feel a part of something larger than themselves?  So, why not leverage that and turn it into an event?  While watching the proceedings, another thing came clear to me –  there was infinite variation and adaptation at work.  As the camera scanned the 100′s of cooks putting the chicken dish together, you could see the color and consistency variation in the sauce; some toasted their corn muffins, some didn’t; and the Skype callers had all sorts of ideas for varying the recipe, improvising on the procedure, and making it their own.  Subliminally, we all got the message that there was no one right way to do – the recipe was a guideline and experimentation off the basic plan was endless.

By now I’ll bet you can tell where I’m going with this….how about a National Lab-Off?  Imagine thousands of high school students all over the U.S. doing a photosynthesis lab together on one promoted day of the academic year.  One master teacher leading the event, providing a game plan from which everyone could improvise, experiment, and collaborate.  Live video feed piped into classrooms all over the country. A producer to manage the video feeds and Skype calls with questions.  A post-event blogging session to pool data, interpret results, and discuss conclusions?  What a way to generate enthusiasm for investigation while at the same time encouraging the use of participatory media tools!  Man, if Rachael Ray can do it with honey mustard chicken, surely it could be done with a biology lab?

Written by rheyden in: Labs | Tags: ,
Nov
08
2010

Participatory Media Workshop at #NABT10

On Friday, at the National Assocation of Biology Teachers meeting in Minneapolis, I gave a workshop on Participatory Media. The session was designed to introduce teachers to participatory media tools through the concept of student projects.  That is, what are students in biology courses across the country, doing with these new web 2.0 tools?  In my travels, I have the good fortune to meet some amazing teachers and see the work of some equally amazing students – I wanted to showcase them.  And, in the process, hoped that NABT participants might be inspired to give a few of them a try with their own students.

Together we walked through 10 different projects that 9th/10th grade or AP biology students had created using web tools like VoiceThread, Animoto, ToonDoo, Bookemon, Facebook, Google Earth, and creating podcasts. Then, because the group was small (but mighty!), we decided to try our hand at creating a podcast together. We broke into three small groups – one wrote the script, one picked some photos from a collection I’d put together on a jump drive, and one brainstormed ideas on how such a podcast might be best used.

Here’s the online slideshare from the session but maybe the best way to give you a feel for it is to share with you the podcast that the group created. In the space of about 10 minutes, here’s what a creative group of biology teachers and one PowerMac did together.  Fabulous.

nabt podcast

This is the audio version, the enhanced version (with photos) can be downloaded onto an ipod or droid.

Nov
07
2010

A Social Media Experiment at #NABT 2010

For those of you attending the NABT conference in Minneapolis this year, you might have noticed this card (above) in your bag of goodies from the registration booth.  The card urged anyone posting content related to the conference to add the identifying “hashtag #NABT10 to their postings. A hastag is a short character string, preceded by the # sign, that serves as a marker.  A tag. An indentifier, so that others can find your stuff in the fast sea of information known as the world wide web.

For those of you who were not able to attend the conference, this hashtag makes it easier for you to tap into the stream of content coming from the conference – photos, blog posts, tweets (from Twitter), Powerpoint slide decks – any of those items posted online that include the hashtag “#NABT10″ can be easily found.

Screenshot of Tweetchat, displaying the stream of tweets with the tag "NABT10"

Here’s an example.  If you go the web site Tweetchat (a Twitter application that makes it easy to search Twitter with a particular hashtag), you can pull up all of the Tweets posted with that hashtag.  Here’s a glimpse of those (the real list is much longer and must be scrolled through:

In there, you’ll find tweets that I posted during Sue Black and Nancy Monson’s excellent “Biology Best Bets” talk – their fourteenth such talk at NABT. Sue and Nancy give their audience the benefit of their combined 40+ years of teaching experience and share the most incredibly creative ideas for demonstrations, labs and activities.  So, even if you weren’t with us in the room, you could get a “feel” for their talk from my tweets.  Not only that, I shared the link to their handout (the url of which they gave us during the session).  It’s the next best thing to being there.

Here’s another example.  On Saturday morning, Richard Dawkins gave a featured speaker address – a Q/A session, attended by every biology teacher there.  The room was packed.  Scrolling through the list of tweets, you can see that both Stacy Baker and I were “live tweeting” the session, passing along quotes and summaries from the points that Dawkins was making.

And another.  Brad Williamson took photos of all of the 4-year divisions poster session posters on Friday evening and posted them in a Flickr slideshow.  Since he added the conference hashtag, that slide show is a breeze to find.

A little hashtag like this….just seven characters long….might sound like a small thing, but it’s a big step forward for the NABT organization.  A sign of good things to come as our community steps into the future in order to begin to realize the benefits that social media and online communities can offer to the NABT membership.

What’s next?  Livestreaming NABT talks over the internet?  Communities of new and experienced teachers, tapping into each other’s strengths in online work groups?  The AP Biology community contributing and conversing on this NABT Bio Blog? Professional development webinars?

Written by rheyden in: Conference Info | Tags: ,
Nov
06
2010

Richard Dawkins @ #NABT10

Richard Dawkins at the NABT

Richard Dawkins was the dinner speaker at this year’s National Association of Biology Teachers Conference. I didn’t attend the dinner (it was $85 – gulp) but I did attend his follow-up Q/A session the next day.

He started his talk with a few of vignette movies from his website, www.richarddawkins.net. These are short (2-3 minute) videos of Dawkins speaking – some of them are from his infamous Christmas Lectures and some are more travelogue vignettes (shot in the Galapagos, for instance). The video vignette on Boobies and Gannets was one of my favorites – describing the “two egg” insurance policy of these birds. Another was a video of a younger Dawkins doing a demonstration with a cannonball pendulum that he holds right up to his face – and then lets go, allowing it to swing in it arc, right back to him, stopping just short of smashing him in the face. A beautiful, living illustration of his faith in science. “Yes you can have faith”, Dawkins says, “but have faith with reason.”

He went on to entertain questions from the audience. Most of the questions were about teaching evolution. Here are a few of them…

Q: What do you say to a student who says of evolution, “I just don’t believe it”?
A: Well, I think you need to explore why they don’t believe it. If their answer is something along the lines of “organisms are just too complex to come from random chance”, then you know that they just have the wrong end of the stick and help them with their misconception. But if the reason is a religious one (as in “my parents or my rabbi tells me it’s wrong”) then you could point out that it’s just random chance that they were born to this family, and have these particular religious beliefs. Another idea that Dawkins said came from last night’s dinner companions is to teach the concepts of evolution without calling it evolution and just “smuggle it in”.

Q: I teach in an inner city LA high school that is 95% Latino Catholic. When I teach evolution, I advise them to keep their faith outside of the classroom. Why do so few people in the United States refuse to accept the principles of evolution, as compared to other countries on the globe. “I see this as an attack on science.”
A: Is it possibly not only an attack on science but an attack on intellectualism itself? There seems to be a political movement in this country that resents intellectual ideas and anyone that might be more intellectual than you? (at which point the entire room broke out in laughter).

Q: How do we address the problem that there is really only one race?
A: Good question. We are a very genetically uniform species. The variation among humans is very, very low. The other misconception here is the Victorian idea of an evolutionary ladder – progression – from ancestral apes to chimpanzees, to black people, to white people. When, really, all humans are exactly equally related to chimpanzees and all mammals are equally related to frogs. The categorization that we all have to deal with on many government forms is total nonsense. “Hispanic?! What does that mean? I encourage everyone to refuse to fill out that portion of the form.”

Q: Sometimes I get students who accept microevolution, but have problems with macroevolution. What do you suggest to combat that?
A: Yes, that’s something that they’ve been taught to say. And, of course, what you say is that macroevolution is what you get when you add up lots of instances of microevolution together. The misconception here is that they think it’s happens over night and have no concept of the vast amounts of time involved. There are various metaphors that you can use to address this – his favorite is to stretch out your arm to the side and, moving from you neck to the tip of your fingers, explain that…. The origin of life is at your neck. The dinosaurs are in the palm of your hand. The first mammal is at your fingernail. The whole of recorded human history falls in the dust of a single stroke of a nail file.

Written by rheyden in: Conference Info,NABT News | Tags:
Nov
06
2010

Four Year Section Poster Session #NABT10

Here’s a quick slide show of the Four Year Section Chair Poster session—always a fun event interacting with students and neat ideas.

Written by Brad Williamson in: Biology Teaching | Tags:
Nov
04
2010

Greetings from Minneapolis

It’s Thurs. morning. As I went down to register, I stopped by the OCIE (Outreach Coordinators and Informal Educator Section) poster session: “…highlighting a variet of programs and services beyond the traditional classroom…”

Here they are:

Oct
23
2010

Playing around with the Floating Disk Assay—Light Response Curves

Over the years I’ve made the claim that the floating leaf disk assay is quite possibly the best way for students to explore how the process of photosynthesis. The method is inexpensive, accurate, reliably replicable and most importantly accessible for all levels of students from 5th grade to university. However, I’ve got to say that even I was surprised at some data I collected, yesterday. Recently, while working on new AP Biology Labs, I revisited the original (and still the best) paper that first discussed this technique. (or at least the earliest I can find.)

Wickliff, J. L., and R. M. Chasson. 1964. Measurement of photosynthesis in plant tissues using bicarbonate solutions. BioScience 14, no. 3: 32–33.

In this article I saw this graph of a photosynthesis light response curve that got me to thinking:

Last year, the UKanTeach program where I teach acquired a couple of PAR (photosynthetically active radiation) meters to measure photon flux. PAR meters are typically on the expensive side but this model from Apogee runs about $300. I hadn’t taken time to try them out and decided that now was the time.

Yesterday, I went out the north side of Haworth Hall and picked an ivy (Hedera helix) leaf that was growing in deep shade under a shrub.

English Ivy leaf, shade adapted

I picked a shade adapted leaf figuring that a leaf adapted to shade would likely reach photosaturation earlier than a sun adapted leaf. I wasn’t sure whether or not my light source was bright enough to induce photosaturation.

My light source is a clamp shop light with an 8 inch reflector and an 100 watt equivalent compact fluorescent bulb. Actually I found that if I put my meter within a couple of inches of the bulb I can get a flux reading equivalent to a summer’s day. I was sure my light was bright enough for the leaf I had picked.

I modified the technique that I presented here by placing the infiltrated disks in shallow petri dishes instead of plastic cups. I also modified the data collection procedure. Instead of counting disks floating at the end of each minute, I actually attempted to time each disk–a bit of a challenge that I wasn’t quite up to the first time. I should have used a video camera or at least used a computer timer program capable of timing 10 or more “laps” or intervals.

Modified technique

It is real easy to record the first movements of the disks with this technique.

In low light conditions, I started by carefully cutting about 80 disks from one leaf. I then infiltrated ten disks at a time with a dilute bicarbonate solution with a vacuum created with a 10 ml syringe. I placed the 10 sunken disks in separate petri dishes with a total of 30 mls of bicarbonate solution. The dishes with the disks were then placed under a box lid to exclude any light. I then tested 6 of the sets of 10 disks under different light intensities. The data from the highest light intensity are not included because I neglected to use a water heat sink filter to keep the infiltration solution temperature constant. The higher temperatures on this replication affected the outcome. It was only when the light was very close to the petri dish that this was a problem but I need to account for this next time.

Here’s the results:

Note that I’ve plotted plus or minus two estimated Standard Errors for each mean. I was impressed. This is a classic response curve and the parameters of this curve are consistent with data reported in the literature for shade grown English Ivy. I’m more convinced than ever that the floating leaf disk assay is a very valuable tool for a biology teaching laboratory. With this technique students can start their exploration of photosynthesis but the same technique is powerful enough to explore more sophisticated concepts.

Sep
16
2010

DNA Day Student Essay Contest

From Michael Dougherty:

The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) invites you to participate in the 6th Annual DNA Day Essay Contest! It is open to students in grades 9-12.

DEADLINE: MARCH 7, 2011 at 5:00 PM EST

Please visit http://www.ashg.org/education/dnaday.shtml for the rules, rubric, and more information.

2011 Essay questions:

Option1: In 2010, a major discovery in genetics research found that the DNA of some modern humans contains small amounts of Neanderthal DNA. Briefly explain this finding and discuss its relevance to human ancestry and evolution.

Option 2: A number of companies offer genetic testing directly to consumers, bypassing the involvement of physicians and genetic counselors. Discuss whether you think this is a good idea or not. You might focus on medical, ethical, legal, or social dimensions of this issue.

A 1st, 2nd, 3rd place will be chosen for each question. Winning students will receive:

1st Place Winners: $400.00 + Teacher receives a $2,000 grant for laboratory genetics equipment
2nd Place Winners: $250.00
3rd Place Winners: $150.00

Please expect another email in January 2011 when the submission site is live. Questions? Please email Angie Wong (awong@ashg.org).

Sep
15
2010

A Few Helpful Photo Tools

With digital cameras so reasonably priced and a digital camera in nearly every cell phone, it’s becoming more reasonable to include student-generated images into your teaching/learning plans.  Capturing, editing, producing, and mashing up images can be a great way to engage students – and, depending on the way you set it up, an intriguing performance of understanding.

With that in mind, here are a few free, online photo tools that you could add into the mix:

Flickr:  Of course.  The mother of online photo sharing sites.  But what you might not know is that Flickr as a pretty amaizng tools collection – make sets, groups, put photos on a map.  Also, there’s a cheerful number of third-party flickr tools to investigate that extend Flickr’s usefulness.

SlideFlickr: Create and embed slideshows of Flickr images.

Five-Card Flickr: Nice creativity tool – create a story out of five flickr images that you pick.

Cooliris:  A very slick photo storage, browsing, and sharing application.  Displays as a 3D wall in your browser. It’s free, but does require a download.

fotoflexer:  Browser-based image editor, with 2GB storage.

PhotoFunia:  Online photo editing tool allows you to upload an image and apply effects.

Bubblesnaps or Photo Balloon Engine:  Add speech bubbles to photographs.

Cloudcanvas:  With paint, brushes, textures, primitive shapes, layers, filters, and page layout options, anyone can create online digital paintings.

Blabberize:  Add lips and a moving mouth to any photo, record some speech, and your photos can talk.

Create a Magazine Cover:  With this tool, you can custom-create a magazine cover, using your own, uploaded image.

Fliptrack:  Create online slide shows and invite people to view, add to it, edit photos or effects  -while the original stays in tact.  Nice opportunity for online collaboration using images.

GICKR:  Create an animated GIF from an uploaded photo.

Animoto:  One of my all-time favs.  Upload your photos, pick a song from their library (or upload your own), press a button and you have an special effects “short” made of your images.

Skitch:  Make and modify screen shots.  Very handy for creating student instructions for getting into an online tutorial or web site.

Spell with Flickr:  you can write text in letters based off Flickr images with this.

Picsearch:  Powerful photo search engine that allows you to specify interesting particulars.

Histografica:  Find historical pictures of places around the world.

Geotag Your Photos:  Here’s an article explaining how to geotag your images with Google Maps.

PicResize:  Crop and resize any uploaded image.

Have fun – and share what you figured out!

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools | Tags: ,
Aug
12
2010

#Edchat

If you’re an educator, looking for a reason to get up to speed on Twitter, take a look at Edchat.  This is a live event that happens each Tuesday at  two times – 12pm EST/ 5pm GMT and 7pm EST/ 12pm GM - on Twitter.  Educators from all over the world chime in with their answers to a question, proposed by the organizers,  Stephen AndersonTom Whitby, andShelly Terrell.

Here is Shelly’s blog post, describing Edchat. Each week, the Edchat topic is voted on by the group.  You can send suggestions to Shelly, Tom or Stephen and then, on Monday of each week, they post five possible topics.  The topic with the most votes becomes the Edchat topic for that Tuesday.  Any Tweet that bears the hashtag - #edchat - will appear in the stream.  You can either search on the hashtag to pick up the stream, run it through an RSS feed, or if you’re using Tweetdeck(a sort of dashboard for Twitter), you can set up a column just for that steam.  Here’s a video tutorial on how to use Tweetdeck to monitor the stream.

If you have questions about how it works, you can get in touch with the moderators. For the 12pm EST #Edchat the moderators are @ShellTerrell and @Rliberni. For the 7pm EST Edchat the moderators are @MBTeach, @KylePace, and @TomWhitby.

People pose questions and answer them. They contribute suggestions, links, anecdotes, and arguments.  It’s a very lively bunch. In addition to the quality of the Tweets (mostly quite high), what struck me most was the power of the medium.  Here I was, in my own home, listening to 1000′s of smart, savvy educators – from all over the world – chime in on a conversation about a topic that interested me.  It’s the kind of experience you live for when you attend a national conference – that chance meet up in hallway or over a beer, where a group of interesting professionals gather for a few moments and exchange really helpful ideas about something important.  But this “meet up” was scheduled and it included 1000′s – and I didn’t have to get on a plane to listen in. A global brainstorming session, with (according to “what the trend“) 3500 contributions.

I was also struck by the courtesy of the group.  People responded to each other, supported concerns, and thanked each other for suggestions. No flamers here – what a welcome change.

Of course, it’s not perfect.  During the hour that I sat, scanning my Tweetdeck stream, I found myself getting irritated over the number of retweets (people forwarding on a Tweet they liked), resulting in bombardment with the same Tweet over and over again.  As you’d expect, there are a few spammers or advertisers that get in there (not too bad).  There are a few ridiculous comments that don’t bear mentioning.  But, on the whole, there’s some extremely good stuff.  I would say that, over the course of the hour, I learned a large handful of things I’d never heard before, laughed over a few very poignant stories, linked out to at least 50 different web sites (most of which were extremely useful), and choose 4 or 5 new people to follow in my regular Twitter stream.  There were teachers taking polls (trying to get a feel for opinions or patterns), teachers trolling for ideas (first day suggestions, how to use classroom blogs,

Fortunately, the organizers have developed a wiki site to accompany their Twitter live event.  There, you’ll not only find a directory of all the active Edchat participants (including their email addresses and interests) but a complete transcript of each Edchat session, listed by date. Here’s the transcript from this week’s Edchat session, ”Should teachers have students write blogs, develop class web sites/wikis, create student PLNs?”

To help with the retweeting problem, I turned to Paper.Li, which is a nifty online tool that turns a particular Twitter stream into an online newspaper, complete with categories and highlights.  You can read more about Paper.Li in this blogpost of mine, from a few weeks ago.  This was a great way to read the #Edchat stream because it eliminates the redundancies, promoting most mentioned items to headline status.  Great way to see all the videos together as well.  Here’s what this week’s Edchat looks like in Paper.Li:

The organizers have also started a Personal Learning Network (PLN), using Ning, for those educators who want to continue the conversation.  On the Ning site, I see that some educators have formed subgroups to start projects at their own schools or carry on a conversation about a related topic.  Nice. And here’s where I get to repeat a frequent (not-original) conclusion of mine – these participatory media tools are so much more powerful when they are used in combination with each other.  In this case…. Twitter, a Ning site, and a wiki.  Magic.

Jul
31
2010

Type with me

Type With Me

I just found a really sweet web 2.0 application that could be useful in the classroom.  It’s called Type With Me and it’s basically a real time, live text collaboration tool.  Very simple and easy to use – no sign-up required and it’s free.  You just go to the Type with Me web site, start a new document, and start typing.  You invite others to join you (via email) and whatever they type will show up on the document (in real time) in another color.  You can import a document into Type With Me, and edit it there in the space, live. Once you’ve been at it for awhile, you can save your document, export it, and even play it back (as if it were a movie) using a feature on the site called “timeline”.  There is also a chat area, so that you can have sidebar conversations with the people sharing your workspace that you might not want to appear in the document.

Up to 15 people can join you in your collaborative space – almost a full class.  So, I could imagine groups of students using this to collaborate, real time, on a document.  Or teachers using it in class (projected) to collaborate with someone else, at a distance.  Or teachers collaborating with students at home on a report or a homework assignment.

Any other ideas?

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching |
Jul
13
2010

Thinking – at Wash U with the Life Sciences for a Global Community Teachers

“The Thinker” on the Washington University Campus

In the middle of one of the Washington University quads is this wonderfully whimsical re-imagining of August Rodin’sThe Thinker – a lanky looking rabbit, assuming the well-known, contemplative pose.  I just returned from a quick trip to St. Louis and, while there, the sculpture caught my fancy.  A nice flash of quirkiness on an otherwise, very traditional looking brick campus.

I traveled down there to join my friend and colleague, Liz Dorland, for a participatory media workshop for the Life Science for a Global Community (LSGC).  This is an amazing NSF-funded program, run out of Washington University byPhyllisBalcerzak, for high school life science teachers.  Teachers accepted into the program come to Wash U for a three-week, residential summer program for two summers running. Then, during the academic year, they take online courses and put what they learned in the summer into action in their own classrooms. During the 3-week summer program, they get top-notch mini courses from some of the best Wash U faculty on topics like neurobiology, photosynthesis, and genetics.  The teachers work together, as a cohort, to do experiments, go on field trips, start their own research projects and take what they learned back to their home campuses.  At the end of the two-year program, they’ve earned an MA in biology from Wash U, along with a community of like-minded colleagues that will last into the future of their teaching career.  They also stand a little taller – as a result of their expanded science knowledge, research expertise, and professional development.

Phyllis invited Liz and I to come work with the teachers on their use of new social media and web 2.0 tools – for the LSGC projects, for their students back at home, and with each other.  We had two sessions with them – Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.  On Friday afternoon we gave them an introduction to blogging (with WordPress), wikis (usingWikispaces), and podcasts (using cell phones, Flip video cameras, Garageband, and Audacity).  The workshops went well and the teachers caught on very quickly.  They came up with some pretty creative suggestions for using these tools with their students:

A multi-author blog to document a field trip

A science “newsreel” created by students – shown weekly to the school

Collaborate with students from another school – pool data

A wiki site for each course they teach, with a page for each student to hand in lab reports where the teacher could discuss the lab report on the discussion page and keep a record of the year

Students use video to record short tutorials on how to use various lab instruments (post them on a wiki site)

Student blogs used to reflect on their labs (or just reflect in general)

Create a podcast to narrate a field trip to a zoo or museum – turn it into a scavenger hunt

Students video interviews with experts (parents, other teachers, professors at local universities)

Use short podcasts as vehicles for reflection (as in, “before you leave the lab/test, just record a few minutes of your impressions/take-home lessons/what was the main point”)

Podcasts as assessments

Student-created podcast libraries of tough topics (use for future classes)

Wonderful stuff.  And, as always, when I meet with teachers, I was inspired by their persistence, endless creativity, and their overwhelming enthusiasm for their students.  Of course there were low moments too.  Like when I listened to them talk about their frustrations – school districts that blocked all the web sites they’d love to use with their students, administrators who seemed bent on foiling their every new plan, lack of resources, over-crowded classrooms (40 students in an AP course?!)…Sigh.  And one bleak moment when a teacher asked me, “but if we use all of these web sites, podcasts, and blogs, it just seems that the students will no longer need teachers and we’ll be putting ourselves out of a job.”  Oh, no.  Guess I didn’t do as good a job as I hoped I had at the beginning when I talked with them about all of these skills their students were going to need (that they don’t have now)….Like how to read in linked environments, how to validate information they find online, understanding the notion of a “digital footprint”, knowing how to work privacy settings on social networking sites, how to produce a safe and effective video, how to look for their teachers, how to behave in an online community, how to leverage a network effect.  Who is going to teach them all of those mission-critical skills if not their teachers?  That is our job – and we should be taking it very seriously.

On Saturday, we put together an (optional) Second Life workshop for them.  After a hard week of all-day sessions, we wereglad to welcome 10 of the 30 teachers who came to the session. They arrived, registered, got their avatar, and went in world for the first time.  In three hours, they went from never having been in a virtual world to flying, teleporting, managing their inventory, chatting, joining groups, and making friends.  It was wonderful to see.  Here are a few shots of our cadre of newbies exploring a really interactive museum on the American Chemical Society’s island (check out the simulation of nylon formation) and running through the foreston Tempura Island.  I suspect they were frustrated to learn that they couldn’t bring their (under 18 years old) high school students into this virtual world but the way that Liz approached this was to suggest SL as a professional development tool for them.  A place to experiment, to meet other like-minded teachers from all over the world, and – possibly – a place for them to meet and collaborate with each other, once they are no longer together on the Wash U campus.  We wound up our short SL romp with a fireworks display – everyone lighting sparklers on a platform, 300 feet up in the air over Jokaydia, with the sun dimmed for maximum effect.  It was quite a morning.

New LSGC avatars setting off fireworks in Second Life
Jun
02
2010

Biology Challenge Revisited

What are those dark ones doing in there?

What are those dark ones doing in there?

In last week’s  “Biology Challenge”, I challenged biology teachers to contribute identifications and descriptions of the relationships illustrated in a photo of aphids, ants and milkweeds.  Sure enough, within an hour the milkweed was successfully identified as Asclepias syrica and the aphids as Aphis nerii.  A number of various Formica species were sent in as tentative identification for the ants in the image.   Though, I would not begin to suggest I know much about ants I am pretty sure you’ll find that these ants belong to the genus Crematogaster–the acrobat ants.   Mark DuBois produced a Checklist of Kansas Ants in the Kansas School Naturalist that includes possible candidates.  There are any number of resources on the web that might lead us to an identification if I collected some of the ants.

But what I really want to get to is the nature of the interactions taking place on the tip of the milkweed leaf.  Several people noted that the ants were tending the aphids in a classic ant/aphid mutualistic relationship.  There’s several items that complicate this however and I think this image can serve as an open door to an incredible landscape of accessible student study.  For starters, while ants do tend aphids on milkweed–the aphids tend to be Aphis asclepias and not A. nerii–that’s what caught my eye.  Hmmmm…A. nerii presumably sports the bright yellows and oranges as warning coloration.  If ants don’t typically tend A. nerii then perhaps the aphid’s  “honeydew” is somehow not as toxic as normal in this instance.   Milkweed plants vary in their toxicity–perhaps parts of the individual milkweed vary in toxicity as well.

Check out Herbivory.com, Anurag Agrawal’s web site for a truly in depth interaction to the milkweed ecological community.  In particular check out his powerpoints and videos under the Multimedia tab.  These will introduce you to the incredible complexity of community level interactions that he and his colleagues are uncovering.  Specifically link to his Publications tab–there, you’ll find a very rich resource of pdf’s that will help you to see the milkweed communities in a different light and help you to guide your students inquiry.   I have spent hours reading these papers.  I think you’ll find that many of them are very accessible.  Here’s a Discover blog post that introduces one of the studies:  Mooney, K. A. and A. A. Agrawal. Plant genotype shapes ant-aphid interactions: implications for community structure and indirect plant defense. American Naturalist 171: E195–E205. Here’s another relevant paper and a link to it:    Smith, R.A., K.A. Mooney and A. A. Agrawal. Coexistence of three specialist aphids on the common milkweed Asclepias syriaca. Ecology 89: 2187–2196.

Once a person starts to focus observations on a relationship like that illustrated in the photo from my original post, then all sorts of questions come to mind.  I propose that this is one of our jobs as biology teachers–put students into a situation/an environment that promotes original and accessible student questions.  Help them to focus their observations and reconcile them with what they know and don’t know.  Questions will follow.   What does this take in the classroom?  Not much really,  start a butterfly garden,  participate in the Monarch Watch’s Waystation Program.  Participate in Monarch Larval Monitoring project.  Here’s a resource on aphid from the MLMP:  Monitoring Aphids.  Participate in the earthworm project that Eric shared.  Participation in projects like these almost invariably leads to students asking all kinds of questions.  At first they are very general and non-focused but with only a little help with some guiding questions from their instructor the students natural curiosity can be turned to powerful questions for study.

Years ago, in the process of helping to establish the Monarch Watch with Chip Taylor, I would promote Monarchs in the classroom by reminding folks of Karl Von Frisch’s description of his honeybees:

“The bee’s life is like a magic well: the more you draw from it, the more it fills with water”.

Really, any natural system is like that once you start to pay attention to detail. Natural systems exude wonder and complexity that begs study. Exploit this with your students—introduce them to doing science by “drawing from the well”….