Video Tools

picture-1Video is a powerful medium.  No doubt about it.  Not only does it have an emotional quality to it (that amplifies its impact) but it packs information efficiently.  The only catch is that when we show a video to students, we like to sort of narrate it, explain it, or at least provide context.  We like to point out important things, ask questions, or make sure that the students get all the connections. Those requirements usually mean that valuable in-class time is required to show video.

There are a couple of new online tools that could help with this dilemma. The first one I found is called Veotag.  With this application you can make a table of contents to go with a video (with chapter or topic headings).  The video plays side by side with your constructed table of contents. Students can jump to the various parts of the video by clicking on your pre-created links.  You can also add notes, tags, and comments to further explain or amplify what’s going on in the video. Your notes and the table of contents display next to the viewing window.  As an additional benefit, if you are working with one of your own videos or a student-created video, these veotags are apparently automatically picked up by search engines so you’ll get more search engine traffic to your site by posting veotagged videos.

The other one you might want to try is Bubbleply.  With this tool you can add a data layer to run on top of any existing, online video. You can put text comments, images, or links in that data layer.  When you’re done, Bubbleply generates a new link. You then send your students to that new link and they’ll see your annotated version of the video. So, with this tool, they will see the video and your comments simultaneously in the same window.

At first I was thinking that these tools could be used to create teacher-annotated content videos so that students could watch them outside of class, even when you’re not there to narrate them. But it occurs to me that they could also be used by students to create their own narrated videos.

Any other ideas?



This year I have the privilege of serving as chairperson of the NABT Awards Committee. I’ve served on the committee off and on of several years, and that usually means spending time in late Spring organizing a review committee to look over application packets that have been submitted by nominees for one of the various awards offered by NABT.  I don’t mind telling you that I always learn a lot from this process. Quite frankly, the applications (and the applicants) for these awards are remarkable and I always learn a great deal about what is some of the best teaching practice going on the country.

This year I am facilitating of the selection of the Biology Educator Leadership Scholarship (BELS).  This program brings together financial contributions from NABT members and generous support from PASCO to offer a scholarship to a deserving young biology teacher in pursuit of a graduate degree (in this case “young” is defined as someone who has less than 5 years experience as a classroom teacher without regard to their actual age). To say there is a need for this program is an understatement.  There are a lot of great new teachers out there trying to make a place for themselves and their families while working to bring high quality science to their students.  Most of you reading this can probably tell stories of the sacrifices you went through early in your career and can therefore sympathize with their plight.  Some of those choices may have included delaying or not pursuing further education.  And that would be a shame for these folks, especially when you look at the quality they are bringing to the profession so early in their careers.  

I am inspired by their stories and excited about the possibilities they offer for the future.  On the whole, they are talented, resourceful, dynamic and energetic.  They are the people who will finally put to rest the old disparagement of “…those that can’t, teach”. These people can, and do, and will for many years to come.  They are another sign of the times, where a single word, HOPE, played a large part in summing up a winning Presidential campaign and prompted a shift in the mood of this country. Although times are difficult for so many, our BELS applicants included, there is hope for the future and for this profession and organization. The BELS award is NABT’s investment in this hope and through our contributions to the scholarship and PASCO’s sponsorship, it will pay dividends to students and teachers for years to come.


Written by bobmelton in: Biology Teaching | Tags:

A wee-bit of Math Geekery–Modeling Populations with Spreadsheets

I started teaching in the late 70′s but even then I was looking for math applications in Biology.  The BSCS Green version textbook had (and still has, I imagine) a very rudimentary exercise that introduced students to exponential models of population growth–we called it the sparrow lab.


Sparrow from Andreas Solberg's Flickr Photostream

The exercise introduces some of the main points of developing a model—deciding on your assumptions/simplifications, approximating but simplifying real world conditions and introducing the limitations of models, while introducing the power of models.  Secondarily, this lab provided for most students their first introduction to semi-log plots.  If you are not familiar with this exercise it doesn’t take long to explain or to model using a spreadsheet.


  • An island with unlimited resources and no limiting factors
  • Introduce 10 sparrows to the island:  1/2 male and 1/2 female
  • Each year, each pair of sparrow produce 10 offspring
  • All offspring survive to reproduce the next year
  • However, the parents all die before the next year (every sparrow reproduces and then dies)
  • No new sparrows immigrate to or emmigrate away from the island

It does not take long tease out these assumptions from a discussion with students and to write these on your board.  Note that the assumptions about births tend to balance out the survival assumption.  The students are then instructed to calculate how many birds will be alive on the island at the end of each year–for the next ten years.   Back before computers or calculators this calculation along with the graphing took the rest of the hour.  Scaling the graphs was particularly difficult.  When confronted with their inaccurate scales some of my students used to respond by taping 6 or 7 sheets of graph paper together.  Describing how to set up and plot on semi-log paper was another difficult challenge.  Today, with spreadsheets, this exercise seems almost trivial but it is not at all.  The exercise introduces a way of thinking about biological problems mathematically and helps to build a more intuitive sense of exponential processes that are fundamental to biology specifically and life skills in general.  Likewise, as trivial as this exercise may seem you’ll be amazed at the range of approaches that your students will take as they tackle this challenge.  Once you try this, I think you’ll agree it is time well spent.

After the discussions of our assumptions, as a class we sketch out how we might create a spreadsheet that would model the hypothetical sparrow population.  Generally, up on the board I sketch out a spreadsheet (don’t demonstrate this on an actual spreadsheet, just yet.)

We usually start something like this:

First we decide our labels:

year sparrows pairs offspring

(I usually prompt them for the “pairs” label–left over from the days when we did this by hand.  While it is not necessary to calculate “pairs” it slightly simplifies the offspring calculation.)

Next we simply calculate the first two rows in our collective heads and fill the rows in during a class discussion.

year sparrows pairs offspring
0 10 5 50
1 50 25 250

The conversation usually goes something like this:

  • “So, in year zero, how many birds do we put on the island?”
    • “10″ (I write down the 10 on the board.)
  • “How many pairs is that”"
    • “5″ (I fill in the 5.)
  • “How many offspring are produced?”
    • “50″  (You’d be surprised how often the student stumble here for a minute, remember it is all in their head at this point.)
  • “How many birds start in year 1?” (Again, the students sometimes stumble here but they get it pretty quickly.)
    • “50″ (I start and finish out the second row.)

At this point then I simply suggest that they create a spreadsheet that calculates and correctly graphs the hypothetical sparrow population on the island for 10 years.  In recent years, all of my students have had some sort of spreadsheet introduction but they’ve seldom had to create their own from scratch.  I provide very little guidance at this point.  It is important that each student has a chance to make missteps while constructing this spreadsheet–recognizing and correcting these errors are when valuable learning takes place.  Most often the first student constructed sheets have some fundamental error.  I use probing questions to help the students recognize these errors but generally let the students propose their own solutions.  What I’m trying to achieve is a mindset in the students whereby they propose possible solutions, enter them in the spreadsheet and then use the results from the spreadsheet calculations to evaluate their original proposed solution–sounds a bit like the essence of scientific thinking, eh?  As simple as this particular exercise is there are still a number of students in my classes that struggle a bit with this.  In fact, I’ve had teachers in workshops struggle a bit at this point as well.  It’s for this reason that it is important to not provide to much direct instruction in this exercise–it is accessible enough that the students can struggle a bit but still succeed.  This success is key to building the tenacity needed to solve problems and the  skill sets needed later in this modeling exercise.

Here’s some of the common problems.  Remember to use questions to the students to help them see these problems:

  1. Students generally just fill in the numbers from the board and fail to create formulas in the cells.
  2. Students copy cells incorrectly.
  3. Later, students fail to recognize fixed references vs. relative cell references.
  4. They have a difficult time evaluating their graph.

At this point you should create your own spreadsheet model.  In my experience, I’ve found that I can better teach the modeling process if I create the sheets from scratch myself.  Like doing any lab procedure you need that experience to teach it.  Once you’ve created your own, you can compare your spreadsheet to the following spreadsheet.  Since it is a collaborative spreadsheet you can check out the formulas in the different cells if you’d like.

You can find it here, if the actual spreadsheet isn’t showing up:

I ask the students to graph the model using a scatter plot and graph the model with the “y” axis logged.




So, what are questions that you’d want ask your students as they built this model? What are questions you might ask about the two types of graphs?  Please feel free to contribute some suggestions or questions in the comments. This is just the first installment of an multi-day lesson on population modeling and where it can take you.  I’ll cover more in a later post.





animotoHere’s a web 2.0 tool that could bring some fun into your classroom.  Animoto is an online music-video creation application.  Go to their site, sign up (it’s free), and you can create a short (30 second) music video, using your own digital photos and a song from the animoto library, that can be emailed, downloaded, linked to, or embedded in a web site.

Right now they have a mother’s day special going on.  The animoto creation you make is sent inside a lovely flash-based mother’s day graphic (hard to explain, but it’s pretty). I just put an animoto together for my mom (who, at 70 years old, has completely immersed herself in email and the web – go MOM!) and it was a lot of fun.  Once I found the digital photos I wanted, it only took me about 15 minutes to put it together.  It’s a way to send something nice to your Mom while brushing up on your web 2.0 skills.

Animoto would be a useful tool to consider for student projects (maybe a fun end-of-the-year sort of thing?).  It’s good for setting a mood and giving a content “impression”.  Not so good for presenting a complex topic or a linear progression.  Here are a few biology animotos that might be fun to create… a series of biodiversity animotos?  Or an animoto for each biome?  Animotos of a local nature area?  Student pets?  Gardens?  Your classroom?  Would love to hear your ideas and see what you create.

Here’s a link to one that I put together on Charles Darwin.

Written by rheyden in: Teaching Tools,Videos | Tags:


vloggerYou may have already started a blog but here’s another idea to consider – a vlog.  As you can guess from the squished-together way these new technology terms are formed, a “vlog” is a “video blog”.  That is, a form of blogging in which the medium is video.

As a teacher, you might set up a blog site in which your students could post videos on a daily or weekly basis.  Video is a very rich, creative media for students and the possibilities (formats, special effects, lighting techniques, subject matter, stop-action) are endless.

One of the best ways to get ideas for your vlog is to visit other, successful vlogs and see what they are doing.  To that end here are a few of my favorites:

Alive in Baghdad
Excellent vlog with Iraqi journalists posting weekly videos (every Monday), detailing life in Baghdad.  Illustrates the conflict through the voice of Iraqi citizens.

Crooks and Liars
Good political satire.  Pretty well done.

I know, I know…but I think these guys are way ahead of the technology curve with live feeds, editorial coverage, featured guests, and regularly scheduled programming.  An impressive vlog site.

MN Stories
I like this one.  It’s a community vlog featuring all kinds of quirky and interesting human interest stories all about people living in Minnesota.  Note that this site has channels so that you can sort through the vlog by area of interest to you (food, music, art, etc).  For a classroom vlog, you could do the same – that is, set up channels for different content areas or elements of the course.

Sustainable Route
Two young women set out on a 13,000 mile road trip to find sustainable solutions to our environmental problems.  Sort of a Thelma and Louise go green.

So, those are my favorites – what are yours?  Oh, and here is a pretty good tutorial that covers the basics of shooting your video, compression, uploading, posting, and RSS feeds.  Whoosh.


Webinar Coming

This Friday, May 8, the members of Darwin Facebook Group and Reading Odyssey are hosting a free online lecture on the flu virus.

The speakers are:
·         Professor Derek Smith, Professor of Infections Disease, Cambridge University, advisor to the World Health Organization, and a leading specialist on the flu virus. More information on Professor Smith can be found at: and

·         Jonathan Yewdell, MD, PhD, Laboratory Head, Laboratory of Viral Disease, National Institutes of Health, and an international expert on the flu virus and a well respected leader in science education.

·         Dr. Tallman, Cleveland Clinic. Featured in the media this week, Dr. Tallman will be able to answer questions from attendees about the medical and clinical aspects of this swine flu outbreak.


This webinar is made possible by the following sponsors: Citrix Online, The Cleveland Clinic, Constant Contact, Life Technologies, Scientific American.

For more information and registration of this free webinar, please visit: .

Written by John Moore in: Biology Teaching |

Spring Activities Are Heating Up

I've found a new home!

I've found a new home!

All of a sudden we are starting to pay attention to living things in the world around us instead of the just the weather extremes.  So much happens in the world of biology this time of year it is really difficult to pay attention to everything at once.  In the classroom however, the feeling seems to be that the year is winding down.  The “State Tests” are either over or almost over (this is the main indicator of the end of the year for some curriculum directors, some administrators and even some teachers unfortunately,) AP tests are imminent,  and lots of students have decided that the school year really ended after the Winter holidays.  It always felt like the end (of the school year,) was just around the corner and the excitement of learning about the living world was quickly fading away.  STOP!  CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE!!  Either stay excited about the emerging life around you or get excited.  We have been telling our students all about how wonderful the biological world really is—-well, here it comes!  (At least in the northern part of the country.)  This is the pay-off for establishing all that understanding of how the natural world operates.  For discussing all the cycles and interactions and systems.  Get your students’ heads wrapped around the intricacies of life by watching it hatch, emerge, blossom, grow, sing, court, build, expand and multiply.  Plant some seeds, set up some nest boxes, record some songs (bird, frog, insect……,) photograph (buds, birds, bugs,  and babies,) count (eggs, salamanders, butterflies,  and fish,) and observe.  This is the time of the year when biology is exploding.  Open your windows if you can.  Take your classes into the biological world that is showing all those concepts you explained, all those systems you outlined, all those processes you explored.  The exponential acceleration of the biochemistry of the cell is happening in the house wren’s nesting, and singing and mating and hatching and feeding and rearing and teaching and fledging.  The year isn’t winding down, it is being reborn.  This is the payoff time for all your hard work explaining how biology works. Stop for a second, take a deep breath.  Reap the rewards of being the teacher that opened the living world to yet another group of youngsters.  Biology is the study of life, so go ahead and study it!picture-001_2_24