Apr
30
2009

Why has this flu outbreak been such a concern?

It has been an unusual time this week in school. The normal activities by the students and the end of the semester processes have been overshadowed by the news of the influenza H1H1 outbreak in Mexico and the subsequent spread around the world. In one week we have gone from a World Health Organization level 3 to a Level 6 warning. Our small university has put in place the plans it has for a pandemic outbreak even though our state has had only one confirmed outbreak of the flu. Why is this flu raising such a fuss? As of today there have been 109 known outbreaks of the flu with one confirmed death.
If we look at Pandemics from the past things were quite different. In 1918 there were 1,000,000 US deaths and over 40 million worldwide. In 1957 over 70,000 US deaths were recorded and over 1 million worldwide. The last known pandemic occurred in 1968 pandemic with over 40,000 US deaths. Why are we concerned about this flu? Wasn’t the H5N1 Bird flu of 2005 much more deadly? Well the discussion, proposal and possible answer to these questions may be a good way for us to really teach biology and its impact on society.
Yes we know that we have unprecedented global travel and our population crowding is unprecedented in mankind’s history. We have exponential growth in swine and fowl populations in SE Asia creating such a factory for new and rapidly mutating viruses. Public health issues are such a way to tie all of biology together and the current outbreak may be one of the best teaching moments we have.
Examine the three sites below and write on how we can use this to teach biology!

http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/Flu/

http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/Flu/Research/basic/AntigenicShiftIllustration.htm

http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/

Written by John Moore in: Biology Teaching |
Apr
30
2009

awardsHere’s a useful and free tool web site that seems right for this winding-down part of the academic year.  Award Maker.  On the site you can design and print out handsome-looking award certificates for your students.  Check it out.

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools | Tags:
Apr
28
2009

Visual Story Telling

picture-1Here’s an interesting idea. Gardner Campbell (Baylor University) asked his new media studies students to tell a story in five frames (uploaded to a group on Flickr).  The resulting student projects are really quite clever and intriguing.

What biology story could your students tell in five frames?  Or ten?  What could we learn about what they know (and how they feel about what they know) from their visual stories – and also from the storyboards they create to plan those stories?  Might be a fun project to try?

robin

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools | Tags:
Apr
23
2009

As the Worm Turns….

from-charlie

I miss Charlie Drewes, invertebrate biologist from ISU.  I miss his humor and his dedication to helping biology teachers become better biologists.  Charlie left us too soon but much of this work is still available on his web site.  Check it out.  There is a huge resource of ideas for the classroom on this site.  The worm image introducing this post is from that web site.   Charlie hosted summer workshops and made numerous presentations at NABT popularizing the use of invertebrates in biology.   Lumbriculus variegatus was most often the focus of his presentations.  Charlie would have gotten a big kick out of this recent news.

One of the first times I saw Charlie’s work was at the Phoenix NABT convention where Charlie was presenting the lumbriculus (blackworms) as an alternative organism to planaria  for investigating regeneration—I don’t think this is the kind of worm splitting we were talking about that day. ;-)

Photo:  Brad Williamson, aka--ksbioteacherBrad Williamson
Apr
22
2009

Math and High School Biology….

Way back in the mid-80′s I attended a summer NSF institute that was structured to include math, physics, chemistry and biology teachers.  Each day we’d concentrate on our separate disciplines but occasionally we’d have evening programs that brought us all together.  One of those evening programs included a panel discussion that explored math/science curricular integration.  Of course the folks that organized the panel discussion were looking for primarily math applications in physics and chemistry thinking there really was not that much “math” in biology.  That night I was asked at the last minute to sub in for the biologist representative on the panel.    As the biology teacher’s representative, I decided to represent what I thought math in biology education should be–not what it was.  It was my first public foray into trying to increase math applications in biology.  I don’t know why it is but there are times when controversy just seems to seek me out.

I dutifully waited my turn to pounce speak as the physics rep discussed the need for at least Algebra II skills and the chemistry teacher calling for at least Algebra I skills as prerequisites for their course–lamenting that even with these standard requirements, the students seem to have much difficulty “keeping track of units”, with proportional thinking, and with novel problem solving.  Generally, the argument presented was that physics and chemistry were math intensive–much like one long story problem.  I’ve taught all three courses and I didn’t really have any argument with most of their claims but it stuck in my craw as repeatedly the math, physics, and chem panel members kept referring to biology as the science that could be taught without a math emphasis—it still sticks in my craw. (I know, I know…a biologist shouldn’t really be implying that he has a crop–it’s just one of those homey, Kansas euphemisms.)

I went on to propose ideas for math applications across the broad scope of biology topics–Exponential functions/ equations, modeling, algebra in Hardy-Weinberg work, Fibonacci numbers, geometry, statistics and probability.  Not really demonstrating good political skills I went on in an accusatory fashion—”Why is it that the first exposure my students have to statistics and probability happens in my biology class?”  (Remember this was the 80′s.)  Obviously, the idea of math informing beginning biology instruction did not begin with me but you would have thought the audience had been suckered punched.  They were nodding their heads in agreement and about to start a constructive dialog when one of the old guard recovered quickly enough to dismiss my claims as being too unrealistic–I was jousting at windmills.  (This was also before Physics First or biotech investigations.)  Momentum lost for that round I learned my lesson and have been more politic in my approach.  To that end the landscape has changed a great deal, today.   However, despite supportive National Math Standards, Physics First curriucla, more AP courses taught, and numerous university or secondary level NSF projects funded to integrate more math in biology, it still seems that most biology teachers avoid math at all costs.  What’s my evidence?–no real hard data, just anecdotal experiences while trying to promote math and computer applications in the biology community.  Teachers are not, necessarily to blame.  I wish I could show you the looks on my student’s faces when they find out I expect some math application in biology.

My plan is to present a few posts that explore very basic math applications in biology–perhaps it will start a converstation….

In the meantime, here’s a warm-up from NABT member and former editor for the American Biology Teacher, John Junck:

10 Equations That Changed Biology (And That Should Change Biology Education)
Remember, there are only 10 kinds of people in the world—those that understand binary numbers and those that don’t.
BW

Photo:  Brad Williamson, aka--ksbioteacher

Apr
22
2009

Twittering Away

notebooktwitterI think I’m finally beginning to understand Twitter.  It’s taken me over a year….I admit, I’m a slow learner.  But, confound it, when I first started using it, I just didn’t get why this application would be necessary.  Why would I want to hear that “Kadee” is “finally going to bed at midnight.”  or that “Lawer” is “having lunch – ham on rye”?   The last thing I need is more useless information and another feed to follow.  Besides which, couldn’t this effect be obtained using email?

Since many of the thought leaders I respect seemed entranced by it, I persevered.  It was really only after I had honed the list of people I was following that the value of Twitter started to sink in.  You see, with Twitter, you choose people to “follow”.  Every time someone you’re following posts an update to Twitter (referred to as a “tweet”), you receive it in your Twitter stream.  If you’re following 15 people, you receive “tweets” from them in a stream, as they post them (reverse-chronologically, with the most recent at the top).  Similarly, other people (or maybe some of the same people) follow you.  As often as you like, you can post short, text-only messages (140 characters or less is the rule) and the people who are following you receive them.  It’s as simple as that.

What I’m beginning to understand about Twitter is something that Gardner Campbell refers to as the network effect. That is, as I fine-tune the network of people I’m following, the information coming into me is increasingly worthwhile and exponentially useful.

Example #1.   I was looking for a good article on people’s attitudes toward their avatars in virtual worlds.  I Googled the phrases “avatar personalization” and “avatar embodiment” and got back about 500,000 hits.  Oy.  Then I put the question out to my Twitter network and got back three, extremely useful and targeted replies within 15 minutes.  Because the people I follow on Twitter are very carefully selected (thought leaders in the field of applying new media technology to education), they are extremely useful to me.  Because I nurture and feed my twitter stream, some of them are now following me.  When I put out a request like that, they know exactly what I’m looking for and we can speak a kind of “short hand” with each other.  None of the responses I received were off the mark (say about gaming and avatars); they were all right on the money and just what I needed.  So, would I rather sift through 500k Google hits to find an article or look at the three, highly qualified suggestions I received from my Twitter network?  It’s like a fine-meshed sieve.

Example #2.  I follow Will Richardson on Twitter.  Will is a prolific author and blogger on the topic of new media and education.  Last week he tweeted about a blog entry he’d just written on transparency and leadership.  He included the link to his blog in the tweet because he wanted to alert his followers to an interesting conversation forming around the blog post.  I followed the link and read through the 30-some odd comments – it was a very interesting conversation.  The comments led me to two other thoughtful bloggers I’d never heard of before (and am now following) and sparked a phone call with another friend of mind who has been grappling with the same issues.  Because I indicated that I wanted to receive updates on that conversation, I continued to follow it all week (it’s now up to 71 coments).  As result of what I read there, I’ve revised a professional development talk I’m scheduled to give next month and I purchased a copy of Howard Gardner’s, Five Minds for the Future (which was quoted in the blog post).  That’s a lot of cream from one, short tweet.

twecipesExample #3.  To venture from the topic of my own professional development, here’s a more whimsical, food-related Twitter example.  Maureen Evans has honed the fine art of communicating recipes via Twitter (twecipes?).  Lovely, precise, miniature instructions for creating delicious dishes.  Here’s a NYTimes article about her, along with some of her tweeted recipes.  Wonderful!

So – all of this to say, I think this application is worth your time.  My specific examples might not be relevant to your world but insert your own specifics there and imagine the resulting network effect.  What might your students twitter about in biology?  But forward the challenge, perhaps, of summarizing a key concept in 140 characters or less for the class?  (as usual, with this tools, I recommend using it yourself first, before you bring it into the classroom).

Here are a few tips to get you started.  Sign up at Twitter (signing up and building your profile will take about five minutes).  I suggest choosing a Twitter ID that is pretty similar to your own name.  I made the mistake of picking something silly the first time (amoj) and regret it as people don’t have a clue who I am.  Once you’re up and running, you might want to consider a few of specialty extension sites for augmenting your twitter experience. The first tool you’ll need is a url-shortening site.  If you’re going to share a web link in a tweet, you’ll use up most of your allotted 140 characters if you don’t shorten those big, hanging urls.  I use tinyurl but there are others.  TweetDeck is a sort of browser for Twitter – you can post from there, manage who you are following, arrange groupings of people, and access tinyurl right from there.  TwitterKarma allows you to see, on one handy page, who you are following and who is following you.  Twittervision is a real-time display of tweets around the world, as they are happening.  Addictive.  Many Eyes has a fabulous visualization of tweets that begin with the phrase “I need to…” intriguing way to take the pulse of the twittering world.  Quitter is a tool that allows you to see who has dropped you (stopped following you) – ouch. Tweetscan is an efficient way to search the twitter universe for subjects of interest to you.  Since the twitter search engine doesn’t work very reliably you can use Search.Twitter to find people or topics. Twitterbuzz lists, in descending order, the sites that people link to most often in Twitter – a sort of index to what’s hot in the twitterverse. Twitpic allows you to share photos on Twitter. And here’s a very handy link to a printable sheet of twitter commands that will make your tweeting life easier.

Whew.  So there you have it in a nutshell.  A rather big nutshell. Certainly longer than a 140-character nutshell, but then, as Mark Twain would have said, I would have needed more time to write you a shorter blog post.

I would love to hear what you think of Twitter – does it work for you?  What are your examples? How are you using it?

robin

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools | Tags:
Apr
16
2009

Reframing Biology

biologyIt’s a perennial discussion… in what order do you teach the biology units.

Like many of you, when I started teaching AP Biology years ago I organized it by domains of scale:

  • The Domain of BioMolecules
  • The Domain of Cells
  • The Domain of Organisms
  • The Domain of Populations
  • The Domain of Communities & Ecosystems

I did it that way because I was taught that way and the textbooks were organized that way. But I became disenchanted with it because I felt like I was merely marching through the material instead of making connections between domains. So I started mixing it up — teaching principles and then teaching a unit that highlights a body’s application of that principle (form and function) — like teaching osmosis and then teaching kidney function as an example of osmosis.

But over the last couple of years, I have been brewing on a re-framing of the course that takes this idea further. I have started to view the material as being divided up between (1) large-scale interactions and (2) cellular processes.

Under LARGE-SCALE interactions I place evolution and ecology, because these are built on long term processes or interactions between organisms or groups of organisms. And I start my course with these because (1) evolution is my guiding principle for the rest of the year and (2) interactions between organisms and populations are easier for students to grasp this early in the year of their intellectual development.

SideNote: Many people have asked me how I teach evolution before teaching genetics. That always makes me laugh because if you think about it, Darwin developed the principles of evolution by natural selection without having been taught genetics himself!

I teach evolution before genetics, because you don’t have to know the nitty gritty of genetics to understand evolution. You only have to know that inheritance happens — and every high school kid knows that s/he looks like one or other of their parents.

Specifically for population genetics, you get to introduce/review some concepts and vocab early on in the course this way too, like you can introduce them to allele, heterozygote, homozygote… but each can be explained in one sentence and I consider that an advantage instead of a disadvantage.
I leave evolution by segueing from speciation into phylogenetics/taxonomy (who has evolved on this earth) and then into ecology (how they all interact).

Then I introduce CELLULAR PROCESSES by discussing that organisms are coordinated masses of cells that must perform a set of shared tasks. And I now organize this unit within the framework that cells have 3 main jobs: (1) to make energy, (2) to make more cells, (3) to make proteins. And for me everything else in the course falls under those functions.

First you have to discuss cell structure to lay the foundation — that includes biomolecules & their behavior, cell organelles, cell membrane, and movement across the membrane. Then we discuss making energy and all the animal & plant systems that have evolved to support that in one way or another:

  • MAKING ENERGY
    • Respiration
      • Digestion — taking in fuel
      • Gas exchange — taking in O2 & releasing CO2
      • Circulation — moving raw materials to & wastes from cells
      • Excretion — removing intracellular waste
      • Immune System — protecting an interconnected mass of cells & tissues
      • Motor System — using the energy produced in respiration
      • Nervous & Endocrine Systems — coordinating an interconnected mass of cells & tissues to make it an organism
    • Photosynthesis
      • Gas exchange — taking in CO2 & releasing O2
      • Plant Structure & Growth — highlighting the differences & similarities between plants & animals but how each structure supports making energy or using products

Then we discuss making new cells both for asexual reproduction and for the special case of sexual reproduction & all that extends from those topics:

  • MAKING CELLS
    • Mitosis
      • DNA replication
    • Meiosis
      • Genetics

Then we discuss making proteins & that opens the topics that have come from the new DNA-centric world that we live in:

  • MAKING PROTEINS
    • Protein Synthesis — transcription & translation
      • Gene Regulation
      • Biotechnology

And that’s where I end the course.

I hope this offers you another perspective than the one dictated by your textbook. I strongly believe that students get a more integrated view of the biological world this way. I feel like it tells a story that both holds their attention and makes sense, rather than marching through a mass of vocabulary as if we are teaching a foreign language.

Maybe someday there will be a textbook that breaks the mold of domains of scale.

Kim Foglia

Kim Foglia

Apr
15
2009

Community Involvement

kbrown2In an era when science changes on a daily basis, it is so important to have opportunities for the involement of the community in the explorations made by our students.  When so much focus has been placed upon the mastery of content standards, sometimes educators tend to swing right along with the pendulum.  There are many ways in which we can involve our local community.  In doing so, we engage them in the on-going learning that we all do as passionate teachers.  One way that we can engage them is to ask for their help in mentoring our students as they conduct original research projects.  These forays into true inquiry by our students are truly engaging for the teacher, student, and community mentor.  Sometimes we assume that mentors need to be university professors, or scientific idustrial partners, but local business can also be utilized in any part of the country.  Where I live, I have utilized local dairy farmers, partnering students as they explored protein content in milk from cows at various stages of lactation, or as they explored the evolution of bacteria in the guts of such bovines.  Even the local Bee Keepers can be a great resource.

bee

These partnerships are not onlybeneficial for the individuals involved, but are wonderful opportunities for much needed public relations opportunties.  Eventhough I got a couple of bee stings out of the outing, the student’s comments after seeing drones, queen cells, and larvae make it all worth while.  I just took this picture yesterday.  Exploring the production of Defensin by Bees is a great partnership between these two people.  The bee keeper is very interesting in organic farming practice, and the student is looking at the bee’s natural responses to infection.  A match made in heaven.

Apr
09
2009

Louise Mead – Intro

I’m a little late in getting my introduction up, and I’ll confess to being new to blogging, but am very excited to participate in the NABT BioBlog.  I am the Education Project Director at the National Center for Science Education.  While NCSE is known for having to deal with the evolution/creationism controversy, I am more involved with promoting strong evolution education and doing outreach to teachers!  Such a position works well for me because after getting a Ph.D. in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, I am passionate about evolution and consider it to offer one of the most powerful, and awe-inspiring, scientific explanations of all time!

I remember learning about Charles Darwin and evolution in 9th grade biology, and thinking that it made the entire world make sense.  A visit to the Galapagos Islands when I was teaching high school in the 1990′s also fueled my passion for evolution.  These two experiences were certainly instrumental in my decision to leave teaching and pursue an advanced degree in evolutionary biology.  [The other was a course with Lynn Margulis, but I'll save that for another post].  I am particularly interested in understanding the evolutionary processes that create and maintain biological diversity, and even more specifically, how genetic drift and sexual selection shape patterns of evolutionary change and influence the evolution of sexual isolation and speciation.  I’ve had the opportunity to reserach the courtship behavior and pheromone communication in plethodontid salamanders, use quantitative genetic models to simulate speciation, and describe a new species of salamander from northern California.

What I love about my current position is getting to work with teachers, whose enthusiasm for biology is contagious!  It is my hope that I can help identify common misconceptions about the nature of science and evolution,  which will ultimately clarify why evolution really is THE organizing principle of biology.

Finally, all the above work is really eclipsed by watching my 3 year old daughter begin to show the same passion for the natural world that I have, a passion that was certainly inspired in me by my mother!

feb-2008

Written by louisemead in: Introductions |
Apr
06
2009

Random Thoughts On A Drive To School

Well, here we go again!

… WINTER STORM WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM THIS EVENING THROUGH LATE TUESDAY NIGHT…

A WINTER STORM WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM THIS EVENING THROUGH LATE TUESDAY NIGHT.

STEADY LIGHT SNOW WILL DEVELOP THROUGH MID AFTERNOON WITH HEAVIER ACCUMULATING SNOWS POSSIBLE AFTER DARK. THE MODERATE TO LOCALLY HEAVY LAKE EFFECT SNOWS ARE EXPECTED TO DEVELOP OVERNIGHT AND CONTINUE INTO TUESDAY NIGHT. ACCUMULATIONS FROM LATE AFTERNOON THROUGH MIDNIGHT MAY BE 3 TO LOCALLY 5 INCHES. IF THE PERSISTENT LAKE EFFECT SNOW BANDS MATERIALIZE FOR TUESDAY AND TUESDAY NIGHT THERE WILL BE ADDITIONAL ACCUMULATIONS THAT WILL PUSH AMOUNTS OVER 6 INCHES. A FEW LOCATIONS IN THE HIGHER TERRAIN OF NORTHEAST OHIO INTO NORTHWESTERN PENNSYLVANIA COULD SEE SNOW AMOUNTS AROUND A FOOT.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

A WINTER STORM WATCH MEANS THAT HEAVY SNOW IS POSSIBLE. IF YOU ARE WITHIN THE WATCH AREA… STAY TUNED TO THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OR THE LOCAL NEWS MEDIA FOR THE LATEST UPDATES AND POSSIBLE WARNINGS.

It is APRIL 6TH!!  Half of the schools in our area are on SPRING break!!  I just finished putting up a new Bluebird Trail at the Environmental Learning Center (more on that later.) dsc02740_3We rushed so that they would be up in time for the birds to find their new digs and establish new nesting sites. I just returned from a lunch with a friend where we were discussing and planning an August trip to Belize with a number of other biology teachers.  I’m listening to the FIRST Major League Baseball game as I write this and then I check to see what the weather is supposed to be.  WHAT?!?  A WINTER STORM WATCH?!?   Well, I do live in Northern Ohio, near a large body of unfrozen water (Lake Erie.)  I should expect it.  But late winter or early spring snow storms are always a big surprise and a big disappointment. I thought for awhile and decided I needed to post this blog entry.  It is a recycled entry from one of my own blogs about winter weather and how it can impact the environment and how it can be used to teach about evolution, Darwin and natural selection.  I was going to hold onto it until next January or February when we had a good snowpack in my back yard.  With the above Winter Weather Advisory I decided now would be just as good a time as any.  Please note as you read it, the dates show some of the important biology education events of 2005 when it was first conceived and written.  So here it is—-

bluebird-snow
Sometimes I wish I lived a bit closer to school. As it is, I have a 25 minute drive to school and a 30 minute drive home. Why the difference? Well, going to school I take a pretty direct route via Interstate and main roads (except the day it was really snowing hard and I didn’t make one of the turns because it was difficult to see the road and realized I was lost about ten minutes into the trip. This is a very strange feeling and might be the subject of a later wandering blog.) On my way home I take the back roads. You might think I would be in a hurry to get home, but actually this is a nice time of the day. I drive on a variety of backcountry roads that remind me of my travels through the countryside of rural Vermont. (Those of you that live in rural Vermont might not think that this is so special, but believe me, it is.) The extra 5 minute drive is a small price to pay for a daily Vermont vacation. I also get to “hunt” for biology as I make my way through the country. It is not unusual to see small groupings of whitetail deer, along with any number of soaring and perched red-tail hawks. I also have to watch out for the occasional wild turkey or two. One day two years ago I turned a corner near the Holden Arboretum (one of the largest arboretums in the world,) and saw a field filled with over 50 wild turkeys. Certainly worth 5 minutes out of my day!!

Actually, I think the 25 minute drive is a good thing. On the way to school, it provides me with the time to switch gears, to remember what happened the day before, and to create. We are teachers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but sometimes our thoughts are focused on other things. The drive to school allows me to refocus. Most importantly, it is the time I use to create new stories. I am sure that the reason I have been able to stay in this profession for 32 years is that it has provided me the opportunity to be creative.

On Friday (1/28/05) it was -3 degrees F. on the outside thermometer when I got up and got ready for work. I looked out into my woods and wondered about the wildlife. How did the birds do? How about the rabbits and deer? Just a passing thought. I went out to get my paper and felt the cold. Now I really wondered how the animals were fairing. But the hour was getting late and I needed to get on the road.

The creative part of my drive was about to begin. How could I use the cold temperature in my classes? I have been thinking a lot about evolution over the past few weeks. It HAS been in the news quite a bit (the Dover, PA. schools decided that the students in their biology classes needed to have the district administrators read a short non-science statement regarding evolution at the start of their unit on evolution and natural selection.) But also, I have been putting together some thoughts about how I teach about evolution since Darwin Day is coming and I am speaking at our local natural history museum’s Darwin Day celebration. So naturally, I thought about the effects of our current weather on the survival of the wildlife. Well, what I really thought about on my cold drive in was Darwin’s thoughts after a similar icy blast in Downe. It is told that Darwin saw dozens of dead birds on his own property at Down House (note the town is Downe and the house is Down.) In Chapter Three of The Origin Of Species, Darwin writes that nearly 4/5′s of the birds on his property failed to survive the winter of 1854-1855. Now how can I slip that bit into the students’ inevitable complaints about having school when the temperature was so low????? Simple, I start my class talking about how I decided if it were two degrees colder I was rolling over and pulling up the blanket. (This way I can say it was actually a bit too warm for me this morning.) So that’s what I did, I taught a little about natural selection to a group of sleepy, crabby, cold 9th graders. I got in a little history of science and even a bit of how birds actually do stay warm on such cold nights. As part of the story  I threw in the expression that it was a “three dog night.” Of course I thought they would instantly recognize the expression because of the music group by the same name. You guessed it–I’m showing my age. No one knew either the expression or the band !!! I had to add to the story a bit, but I threw in some biology about body temperature and animal size. I even ventured into thermoregulation and body covering. I finally got around to a dog’s body temperature and the insulating qualities of fur verses feathers verses skin. I could have gone on and on, but the point was made. Animals have evolved strategies to survive the extremes in their environments. Also, if it is -5 degrees I’m rolling over and pulling up the blanket.

See what can come from a 25-minute drive to work!!

So there it is, we are storytellers.  In fact when people ask me what I do for a living I always tell them that I am a storyteller.  I usually tell stories about biology (not always,) but telling stories is what I do.  My job is to get my audience to listen, to enjoy, and to learn from the stories I tell.  Think about your stories.  Where do you get the info for you own stories?  What adventures can you weave into your teaching?  We take classes to get more stories.  We travel to collect topics. We join organizations like NABT to swap stories and acquire new tales of biology.  What stories do you use in your teaching?  Now we have the BioBlog as a forum for swapping and collecting stories from all over the Biology Education World.  After you read this little tale formulated from the latest NE Ohio weather report, think about sharing one of your own bio-stories and add it by posting a Comment below. picture-001_2_24
Apr
03
2009

Blogs? …Wikis? …Social Networking?

One of the most challenging things to grok in this wacky, new, web 2.0 world is when to use what tool for which thing.  When is a blog the right tool for you to use with your students?  Or is that something you should just do yourself?  What about wikis – when do I use them?  And what’s the right time or place to use social networking tools like Facebook?  Here’s my stab at a few distinctions:

Blogs: A blog typically has an author.  It is usually one person, posting their opinions on a semi-regular basis (like this one!). Others chime in (in the form of comments) and the blogger comments back.   The result is a thoughtful and considered conversation, but the blogger is the boss.  She determines the topic to be discussed, steers the commentators, and guides the conversation. Now having said that, you could start a class blog where the person blogging each day (or each week) rotates from one student to the next.

Wikis: While a blog is about the conversation, a wiki is more about the product.  A wiki is a good tool to use when you want to get a bunch of people, who aren’t very used to technology, to collaborate together on a project .  You can think of a wiki as a sand box of sorts – a place for the group to contribute collectively to an emerging product.  The basic wiki application (which can be accessed for free at wikifarms like wetpaint or pbwiki) allows you to quickly (the word “wiki” is the Hawaiin word for “quick”) put up a wiki site, build pages, make links, trick it out with photos, add documents, and invite people to participate.  You can make your wiki site public or private (by invitation only). Here’s a short (4 minute) common craft video that explains how a wiki works.

Social Networking Tools: So where do social networking tools like FacebookNingTwitter, or Linked-In fit in? Social networking tools are good for helping people in dispirate locations keep up with each other. You can think of them as web-based tools that help to connect people with shared activities or interests. Each person on a social network has a profile (with a photo and some basic information about them) and the network facilitates quick, short and steady communication.

Email: Well why not just use email to collaborate on a project or to stay in touch with friends?  Well, you could. Everyone could email in their contributions or their opinions to a collaboration but the result would look something like this (comparing creating with a wiki vs. email):

emailvswikicollaboration

And while emailing certainly works for keeping friends in touch with each other, these social networking services provide so many more tools (the ability to post photos, add music, send “gifts”, map your network, and connect to others with like interests).

But the best way to get a “feel” for the differences among these tools is to try them yourselves.  There just is no substitute for experience.  Once you’ve mucked around with them a bit, you’ll have a much better understanding of how you can best make use of them.

How else would you characterize the differences?

robin

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools |
Apr
01
2009

A New Meeting Place for Biology Teachers

Welcome to the newly launched NABT BioBlog–a meeting place in for biology teachers,  a place to share ideas, methods, experiences, and hopes about teaching biology.  This blog is a multiple author blog modeled after the successful KABT BioBlog of the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers.  I’ve asked/recruited a number of distinguished biology teachers to be a part of the beginning of this NABT blog.   These teachers/biologists/authors share a passion for biology and students.  Each will introduce themselves as they make a first post to the blog.  Blogs work when posting is frequent and relevant.  To that end our authors have committed to contributing on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  That commitment along with the diverisity of authors should assure a quality, go-to resource for the biology teaching community.  We are starting with a small group of authors and will bring a few more on but if you or someone you know wants to have a presence here, shoot me an email and we’ll see what can be worked out.  Feel free to comment–that is the other thing that helps a blog develop into a community.

As you can see this community is already up and posting and commenting—please feel free to come on board.

As far as rules on this blog….

I didn’t like explicit “rules” in my classroom so we will try that here as well.  NABT is a professional society and as such we expect professional posting and comments here on this blog–just common sense.  Since one of the primary goals for this site is to serve as a resource for biology teachers we certainly do not want anything on the blog that would not allow a biology teacher to access this blog from school.  So keep that in mind–your posts and comments should pass school filters.  We don’t want this blog blocked by school IT departments like some group blogs are.  Partly for that reason I’m requiring that commenters register as subscribers to the site before they can comment.

Again–welcome to the journey.

Brad Williamson

Photo:  Brad Williamson, aka--ksbioteacher