Nov
18
2009

Stem Cell Panel with Mark Noble

Mark Noble (Univesrity of Rochester, Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Institute) was the first speaker in a panel that followed the keynote (Dr. Capecchi).  Dr. Nobel talked about what is it about stem cells and sem cell research that we should include in our biology teaching.  He suggests that it is critical that we teach the difference between evidence-based thinking and belief-based thinking.  The difference between science and not-science.

He sees the biology of stem cells as the greatest opportunity for teaching about evolution.He referred to a very disconcerting Scientific American map, rating the evolution treatment in state public school science standards.

Tissue specific stem cells give rise to the cells of a single tissue by first generating restricted progenitor cells that only can generate some of the cell types in any given tissue.  Important to remember that its the progenitor cells that are the real work horses of developmental biology – and this, says Dr. Noble, is a medical revolution. He pointed out some interesting medical applications you don’t hear much about.  For instance, a succesful tracheal replacement with stem cells, grown on trachael-shaped biomaterials, and a similar procedure for bladder reconstruction.

Another teaching opporutnity – stem cells and cancer.  Dr. Nobel reminds us that cancer uses the same tricks as developmental biology.  Every therapy we have is targetted at removing the tumor – but if you leave the cancer stem cells, the tumor grows back.  Now our treatments are focused on killing the cancer stem cells.

Another teaching opportunity with stem cells – toxicology.  The World Health Organization estimates that 30 -40% of the burden of disesae is due to environmental factors.  Dr. Nobel explains that there are 80-150k registered chemcials relesased into the environment for which we have no information (an assumption of safety).  We have 100′s of these chemiscals in our bodies.  But stem cell science helps us to  figure out what these chemicals do.  For instance lead inhibits frature repiar by inhiting mesenchymal stem cell fucntion.  Other toxicants alter development of the nervous system or are risk factors for disbetes or alzheimer’s.

Dr. Nobel suggests that questions about the beginnings of “human-ness” are at the heart of the controversy over stem cell research. There are differeing scientific perspectives on the beginnings of human-ness – conception, 40-days post conception, 120-days post conception.  Do iPS and reprogramming technologies offer us a way to side-step these controversies? Ethics exist along a temporal continuim. For instance, what should happen to blastocysts, frozen in IVF clinics, that are currently targeted for destruction?

Dr. Nobel also suggests including the exmination of false claims in our biology teaching. For instance, “Adult-derived cells have successfully treated more than 70 diseases.”   But if you spend time with the list of diseases, most of them are bone marrow trasnplants.  So that is a false claim and its interesting to investigate the claim with students to watch them get at exactly why that claim is wrong.

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching | Tags:
Nov
18
2009

Tropical Rainforests

Bruce Calhoun, Save the Rainforest

Bruce Calhoun, Save the Rainforest

Bruce Calhoun (President of Save the Rainforest, Inc, Las Cruces, New Mexico) gave a terrific talk on Saturday morning – Tropical Forest and the New Climate Change Agreement.  He showed some fabulous photographs of rainforest jaguars, cougars, pigmy opossums, bats, katydids, bromeliads, passion flowers, orchids, frogs,

You can watch online videos of Bruce, giving his rainforest talk to students.

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching | Tags:
Nov
18
2009

Stem Cell Education Summit

Mario Cappechi's Stem Cell Keynote Address

Mario Capecchi's Stem Cell Keynote Address

It’s Saturday morning in Denver – and its cold.  We went from 70 degree temperatures to 30 degrees in one day and there’s a light dusting of snow.

This morning started early with the Stem Cell Education Summit.  The keynote speaker, Mario Capecchi, is the molecular geneticist best known for his work with knock out mice, for which he was the co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize. The title of the talk was “Stem Cell Therapy:  Hype or Reality?”  He started his talk with the answer to that titular question  - ‘There’s alot of hype, a little reality, and a tremendous amount of potential.”

Diseases that may be treatable by stem cell therapies:  Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, insulin dependent diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and heart disease. Dr. Cappechi pointed out that it’s not all future – that stem cell therapies that have been used for a long time with bone marrow transplants for leukemia patients.

He then went on to explain stem cells to the audience – they are unspecialized cell types in the human body that are capable of becoming a specialized cell type.  Stem cells are capable of self renewal and differentiation.  There are two major classes of stem cells – embyonic (extremely rapid growth and very versatile, pluripotent) and adult (slower growing, restricted and require a niche)

Embryonic mouse cells can be harvested, reintroduced, and functon to create mouse tissue.  We’re not there yet with humans and that’s why these stem cell therapies are still outside of our reach.

Then there’s the idea of reprogramming somatic cells to function as a different type of cell.  There are two techniques for this – the first is nuclear transfer (remove the current nucleus and put in a different one). That technique is very inefficient (low success rates) and the resulting organism is fragile.  The second is the Yamanaka method (inducing a forced exprssion of certain genes in a fibroblast) to create induced pluriplotent stem cells.

Dr Capecchi then turned his attention to stem cell work in the small intestine. The intestinal epithelium is the most rapidly self-renewing tissue (turns over every 5 days) in adult mammals. The stem cells of the small intestine are made in the crypt (at the base of the villus).  Interestingly, the small intestine almost never gets cancer, while the colon (which doesn’t regnerate like this) is a common cancer site. The gut has many different types of absorbing cells, as you move along the length of the intestine. So, it turns out there are a number of different stem cell populations in the small intestine – multiple populations making one tissue type – an added complexity that is critical to understand. Though this system had been studied for year, they didn’t have a marker.  A marker is really important for geneicsts because that’s their way in.

When asked how close are we to the clinic with this research, Dr. Capecchi said that  ”the safe answer is 20 years” and then went on to reiterate how complex this research is. He explainted that we’re going to hear a lot of claims in the coming years and, unfortunately, most of those successes won’t be real.  Even worse, it will be difficult to know whether or not the claims are valid .  He reminds us that there are cancer patients who get better, even wtihout therapy, so, in some cases, you won’t know whether the improvement with cancer patients is due to the stem cell therapy or some other factor. But he concluded by saying that there is tremendous potential here – that stem cell research will provide cellular solutions for cellular problems.

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching | Tags:
Nov
16
2009

Thanks to Lisa Walker

DSCN1772With all of our posts about the wonderful sessions at the Denver  NABT, we also want to acknowledge the amazing work of Lisa Walker – NABT’s Convention Director.  Lisa brings it all together – planning, logistics, exhibitors, program, registration – she does it all.  Thanks, Lisa!  It was a terrific conference.

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching |
Nov
15
2009

NABT Town Hall

One of the unique features of NABT is the ability of members to have a face-to-face meeting with the Board of Directors and “talk back” as it were.  I’ve attended several of these meetings and quite frankly, some have been rather contentious.  This year, however, was not one of “those” meetings. John Moore, this year’s President made a presentation bringing folks up to date about the state of the organization and generally explained the situations and decisions made this past year. Needless to say, 2009 has been a monumental year for NABT.  The economy has hit all non-profits hard and NABT is no different.  But when given lemons, you best make lemonade and the year has been full of tough decisions and hard work to re-structure for the future.  One bit of especially good news: we planned the conference based on a projected attendance of 850 and as of Saturday morning had over 1100 registered attendees.  Special kudos to the Colorado Biology Teachers Association for their volunteer efforts.  Some 70 CBTA members worked registration and handled AV needs for the conferenceIMG_5016

But the dialog is not one-way at the Town Hall.  Members can ask any question, challenge any decision, and offer suggestions as they see fit.  This year offered some good suggestions about potential future convention sites, member recruitment, NABT merchandise sales, and the annual banquet, which were dutifully recorded by yours truly to be posted to the Board of Directors and added to the ongoing discussion.

The Town Hall ended with Past President Todd Carter presenting outgoing President John Moore with a plaque to commemorate his year of service to NABT.

Written by bobmelton in: Conference Info,NABT News | Tags:
Nov
15
2009

Using a Digital Camera in the Classroom

DSCN1774

Digital Camera Use Workshop

I stopped in time to catch the tail-end of a workshop on using digital cameras in teaching, given by Brian Gross, Mike Kittel, and Brian Heeney.  They had some great ideas for using digital cameras in the classroom.

One of my favorites was a new piece of hardward I’d never heard of called the Eye-Fi. This is a wireless device that allows you to automatically and wirelessly download photos from your camera to your computer.  No more cables, no more fussing around.  Instant access to the photos on your camera. There’s a range of options – they recommnded the Eye-Fi Pro (which is $140) which functions without a router (the others, that are less expensive must traffic through a router). With this technology, you can use the pictures you take in class and instantly have them up there on the screen – “Look at Suzy’s concept map!”  or “Everyone look up here to see what group 3 figured out.”

As for digital camera recomendations – Brian says it’s hard to go wrong these days. You can get a perfectly good camera for $99.  If your camera is capable of taking photos at 8 or 10 megapixel resolution, they recommend reducing the resolution to 3-4 mega pixels as that is perfectly sufficient for most classroom or web use and the photos download much faster. If you are buying a bunch of cameras for student use, they do recommend getting cameras that take double A batteries, so that it’s easy to replace them (without having to recharge).

Tiger Direct is a web site they recommend for good deals on electronic equipment.  They also provided the link to a wiki site they built full of teaching resources.

The question was asked, how about having the students use the cameras in their cell phones if you can’t afford to buy classroom sets of digital cameras? One of the speakers said, yes, if you have excellent classroom management and set up the expectations in advance.  The other said that he doesn’t open the door to that.

Some of their ideas for using the camera:

- pictures of procedures in a lab

- pictures of students on the first day of class

- take pictures of students goofing off or sleeping, encourages more compliant behavior (thye cautioned that you do need waivers, avoid putting student photos online, and tellt he students that if they don’t want pictures taken of them, to just request it)

- pictures of models that the students assemble

- students taking pictures of their lab results

Good stuff.

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching | Tags:
Nov
14
2009

The Strength of a Teaching Community

Our little NABT community

Our little NABT community

Through the AP Listserv, a group of five of us decided to join forces at the NABT this year, in order to cover more sessions.  We met on Wednesday evening and mapped out a plan to allow us to cover  many more sessions than any of us could have done alone.  Joe Walsh (from Farmington, CT) was our ring leader – he suggested the idea in the first place in a listserv post and gathered us all together that first evening.  In addition to Joe, our group included Dana DeFarcy (from Casa Robles HS in Orangevale, Califronia), Gian Toyas (from St. John’s HS in Puerto Rico), Alton Lee (from Mission Hill HS in San Francisco, California), and me (Robin Heyden – Boston, MA). After the first day, Ilona Miko (from Scitable in Cambridge, MA) joined us because she could see that we were having so much fun.

After we fanned out to cover our appointed sessions, we gathered together again each evening, in the bar. Our pattern was to give a 5-minute recap of each session we attended, sharing handouts and urls that we’d collected.

This turned out to be a terrific way to cover a lot of ground at a busy conference but what was interesting to me was that it was so much more.  Over the course of our sessions, we got to know each other, and ended up trading more information than what was covered in the sessions – teaching ideas, our opinions on the sessions and speakers, insight into what made a session effective.  We introduced each other to other teachers, who wandered by and were curious about our working sessions. And since three of our members were NABT-first timers, I suspect that this little enclave helped them to feel more connected to the conference. We have plans to keep in touch via email, after the meeting, and continue to share resources and information.

What a great example of the power of a teaching community. Seems to me that this could be an idea to suggest more broadly at the next NABT.  Small teaching communities, working together to cover and interpret the conference in a more meaningful way.  What do you think?

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching | Tags:
Nov
13
2009

Lessons Learned from Marine Mammals

Today was a pretty full agenda but I did get an opportunity to meet a young man who is living his dream as muscle physiologist studying marine mammals.  I got to introduce Dr. Shane Kanatous, an Assistant Professor in the biology Department at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. As a youngster, Dr. Kanatous was influenced by Jacques Cousteau and his long running series that ran as National Geographic Specials on PBS.  He was determined to become a oceanographer/ marine biologist and has studied across the country to achieve that dream.kanatous

His primary research animal is the Weddell Seal, a 400-600 Kg. penniped found in Antarctica.  They have the remarkable ability to make deep, long dives in the search for food.  Such dives last over 20 minutes to depths of as much a 2,000 ft.  They can do so because of their unique distribution of mitochondria in their muscle tissue as well as their unique capillary distribution and use of myoglobin.  Shane had us imagine ourselves driving to Wal-Mart, hyperventilating 5-6 times as  we walked to the door, then exhaling all the air from our lungs and closing our eyes as we entered the store and pass the greeter on our way to pick up and purchase our groceries, not opening our eyes or breathing until we exit the store.  Weddell Seals do that  process 60-80 times a day as they dive in search of codfish and squid at depths that collapse their lungs.

You can follow Dr. Kanatous and his research through his Polar Science 2009 project.  His presentation today was made possible by the American Physiological Society

Written by bobmelton in: Biology Teaching | Tags: ,
Nov
12
2009

Help Your Students Succeed in AP Biology

Fred and Theresa Holtzclaw

Fred and Theresa Holtzclaw

Fred and Theresa Holtzclaw (Webb School, Tennessee) gave a wonderful 75-minute “hints and strategies” session for AP Biology teachers this morning. These two have such a rich and deep history with the AP course.  Fred is in his 40th year teaching, Theresa in her 20th. They’ve both been exam readers, exam item developers, and workshop facilitators.  Theresa wrote the AP Lab book as well as the Lab Bench activities on the old Biology Place and, together, they have co-authored both the AP Test Prep book and Reading Guides to accompany Campbell/Reece (published by Pearson).  As Fred says, one or the other of them has graded just about every questions that’s been on the AP exam over the last 20 years.

They gave the assembled group lots of good ideas to help students improve their organization, write better essays (start simple, build up their skills, work in pairs, grade each other’s essays with the help of a rubric), get more from the required labs, and improve the overall presence and culture of the course within the high school.

They gave each participant a sample of one of their Reading Guides.  These are worksheets that accompany the 8th edition of Campbell/Reece – matching it chapter for chapter.  The worksheets walk students through a given chapter and guide them along the way toward the mission-critical information.  They also gave each participant a free copy of their AP Test Prep book which includes very helpful “You Must Know” sections.  Theresa explained that, by combining those powerful “You Must Knows” with the Reading Guides, her students have been doing much better and she’s seeing an uptick in their in-class exam scores.

There was a healthy discussion in the room about the rubrics for the AP Exam free response questions.  One participant mentioned that he was overwhelmed by how much detail is found in the rubric and thought that his students could never master (nor should they be expected to) that amount of detail.  Fred, Theresa and other experienced AP Readers in the room assured everyone that the rubrics are a reflection of all of the information any one student might include in their answer (they want to be sure to offer points for any relevant information).  So you shouldn’t feel that, in order to get a “10″ on an essay question, your students have to include all the information that’s in the rubric. Theresa encouraged everyone there to consider becoming an Exam Reader.  Not only will you meet lots of interesting people, but the experience will deepen your understanding of how the exams are graded and, as a result, you will be more helpful to your students.

Fred and Theresa described the way they work with students on essay writing.  They start with simple, scaffolded essay writing exercises where they challenge the students to write a short paragraph on a particular topics using these terms.  Over the course of the year, they work their way up to more challenging writing exercises and they give the students (or groups of students) grading rubrics so that they can grade their own or each others’ work.

Fred introduced some clever ideas for enhancing the “culture” of the class.  He schedules “in school field trips” where they devote the entire day in their classroom to conduct labs that take a long time (like PCR and the other biotechnology labs).  The kids and their parents bring in food and they make a sort of party out of it, running labs all day and completely immersing themselves in the endeavor.  They also schedule Saturday hikes with the kids and often have movie nights, where the kids come with bean bags and popcorn to watch a movie like “Race for the Double Helix” together as a group.

I videotaped the session and will try to post it later, so that you all can see. It was a wonderful session.

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching |
Nov
12
2009

Cellular Respiration Lab

Brad Williamson and his microrespirometers

Brad Williamson and his microrespirometers

Our fearless AP Bio Listserv moderator and the organizer of this NABT Bio Blog, Brad Williamson, gave an interesting workshop this afternoon.  He showed us how to build microrespirometers for a cellular respiration lab out of 1-ml syringes, plastic capillary tubes, germinated seeds (he used cabbage seeds), 15% KOH solution, and some homemade manometer fluid (soapy water with red food coloring).  All 30 teachers in the room got them working perfectly!  Here’s a link to a more fulsome description of the lab on his Exploring Life author web site.  Nice job, Brad :-)

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching | Tags:
Nov
12
2009

AP Biology Teachers’ Open Forum

Still blogging from the 2009 NABT….I just attended an Open Forum run by the Development Committee for Advanced Placement Biology  – Franklin Bell (Mercersburg Academy) and Domenic Castignetti (Loyola University), along with Eileen Gregory (Rollins College), the current Chair of the Committee.

Franklin and Domenic gave us some helpful background on how the AP exam items are developed (lots of discussion and collaboration, the entire committee must come to agreement on each one) and they reviewed the 2009 exam results (there were 159,000 students who took the AP Bio exam in 2009). The results are all up on AP Central, but they spent some time going over the four free-response questions from the exam.

2009 AP Biology Exam Results Breakdown

Question 1: Experimental design (fish tank), mean = 5.49
Question 2: ATP, mean = 2.92
Question 3: Phylogeny, mean = 5.33
Question 4: Structural and Physiological adaptations, mean = 3.29

There was some discussion about the lower than expected mean on the ATP questions. Some of the teachers in the room suspected that it was due to the fact that this is a topic covered early in the year. That brought out a discussion about the importance of review and teachers offered some of their creative ideas for reviewing. One of my favorites was you have the students close their eyes, open their textbook at randomly and point to something. Write down that word or phrase. Then close the book and do it again. Then they have to come up with a connection between the two things they pointed to.

Some other good suggestions that came out of the forum….assign a unit over the summer and students write journal entries about it or email in summaries to the instructor. One teacher assigns a summer reading book (maybe Sean Carroll’s Into the Jungle or Neil Shubin’s, Your Inner Fish ) and give them a list of questions to answer, via email, over the course of the summer.

Another nice spring suggestion was to assign each student a tree or bush bud, somewhere on the school grounds, to monitor over a couple of weeks.  They make daily observations, take measurements, even document with digital photos.

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching | Tags:
Nov
12
2009

Teaching and Learning with eBooks

This is my first blog post from the 2009 NABT – part of our live blogging experiment.  As I’m typing this, I’m sitting in the Denver Sheraton lobby (taking advantage of their free wireless) and my head is full of plans for the day.  Too many good sessions and not enough time!!  I will try to keep you posted on the sessions as the day goes by (so forgive my typos!) and will add appropriate links and photos later.

My first session of the day was with Jean DeSaix (UNC Chapel Hill) who conducted a workshop on using ebooks in college teaching. She gave us the low down on a study they’ve conducted at Chapel Hill. It started when the state of N. Carolina threatened their university with decreased funding if they did not lower textbook costs for students.  In response, their campus Center for Faculty Excellence began a study of e-book use in fall 2008.  Twelve instructors across the campus (in seven disciplines) agreed to participate.  At the beginning of the semester, they gave the participating students a survey and then administered a survey at the end of the semester. Additionaly 10 students who used ebooks participated in a focus group.  The average ebook adoption rate by the students across nine of the pilot courses was less than 1%,while in just three of the courses, the adoption rate was 12%.  This higher participation rate was due to the teacher in those courses, making it clear (or not) that the ebook was available and encouraging them to try it.

Students report that the cost of textbooks is really important to them and it was clear, through this experiment, that the ebook did in fact lower the cost to the student.

The ebook that Jean used in her biology course (Campbell/Reece 8e) included all the text and images from the print book along with hyperlinks to other online content, highlighting function, search function, and note-taking features.

One participant asked about the access to the ebook – how long is it avaiable for students.  Jean explained that access is limited – it varies with the publisher – but, in her case, it was 180 days. She went on to say that most students weren’t worried by that because, when they buy their print books, they tend to not keep them anyway.

So, what were the results? Student reactions were mixed – some loved it, some clearly preferred the print book.  Did the ebooks help the students?  Jean didn’t have any information on the performance of the students with or without ebooks.

One member of the workshop described her experience using a completely free textbook (by Michael Faraday) this year.  She described it as an “imperfect experience” – errors, links that didn’t work, difficulty referring to content by page number but, for her, it was worth saving the students $150.  She did mention that she missed having all the support ancillaries and the adjunct instructors really missed those materials.

What Jean really liked about using ebooks was the ability for students to retreive information quickly in class.  She invites students to bring their laptops to class and they freely use the ebook during class time. She thinks that it was easier for them to use all parts of a “heavy” book which seems to reduce student anxiety. Jean made extensive use of the instructor note/annotation feature in her ebook so she was able to add  her annotations, notes, and suggestions to the material and her students could see them.  As Jean described it,  with this abilitly, I can lead them, sentence by sentence, through the book.  For instance, I can tell them –  ’this is a great summary figure – pay close attention to it and use it!’”

So, what were the problems?  Jean says the main problem was diffuse support.  If a student has a trouble accessing the ebook, it’s tough to know if the issue is their computer, the internet connection or a problem with the publisher’s delivery of the ebook.  The bookstore culture has been an issue too – they’re not wild about the ebooks and didn’t always let the students know when they were available.

In the follow-up focus group, the student reactions were mixed.   Some students just loved it but some talked about the fact that they were too distracted when they used the ebook (wandering off to check Facebook or email).  For the most part the students hadn’t used electronic textbooks before.  Many of her students described themselves as “hybrids” – they like doing a bit of both.

As for future advice, if you plan on trying ebooks, Jean suggests  that you help students map learning preferences to appropriate media (if they work better with print, buy a print book) and be sure to notify students at the start of the course about their textbook options.  Jean feels that it is definitely worthwhile to explore this  technology – it might well lead to a paperless classroom.

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching |
Nov
12
2009

NABT Poster session–Thursday morning

Here’s a slide show of most of the posters that were presented during this morning’s

NABT Outreach Coordinator & Informal Educator Section Poster Session. I apologize for the picture quality but if you wish to see the poster closer—simply click on the slide show and it will take you to the images.

Nov
09
2009

Presentations at NABT that specifically address AP Biology

Thursday’s Presentations with AP Bio in the Title or in the description:

Are We Ready For E-Textbooks
Jean DeSaix
Governor’s Square 16 Thursday 10 – 10:30

How To Enhance Student Learning
in AP and College Biology Courses
Without Impacting Your Workload
Tower Court B • Capacity: 50 Demonstration • General Biology • HS 4C
Eileen Gregory
Thursday 10- 10:30

Help Your Students Succeed in AP Biology
Governor’s Square 14 • Capacity: 120
Exhibitor Demonstration • General Biology
• GA Fred & Theresa Holtzclaw
10:45 – 12:00

AP Biology Content Update: What’s
New in Biology?
Plaza Court 4 • Capacity: 75
Paper • General Biology • HS
Thursday 10:45 – 12:00

Teaching AP Biology with Toys Plaza Court 1 Capacity: 75
Hands-On Workshop Instr.Strategies &
Technologies HS 2C
1:00 – 2:15

AP Biology Teachers’ Open Forum
Plaza Court 4 • Capacity: 75
Paper • General Biology • HS
1:00 – 2:15

Enhance Your AP Biology Presentations Using Teacher-
Generated and Free Resources from
the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Spruce • Capacity: 90
Symposium • General Biology • HS GA
1:00 – 2:15

Bio-Rad. Forensic DNA Fingerprinting
Director’s Row E • Capacity: 60
Exhibitor Demonstration • Genetics • HS

The Future of Advanced Placement The Future of APBiology
Plaza Court 4 • Capacity: 75
Paper • Teacher Prep/Professional
Development • HS 4C
An overview of the content and scientific
practices which define the new AP
Biology course, and the new instructional
materials which support it.
— Sharon Radford, Paideia School,
Atlanta, GA; Spencer Benson,
University
2:30 – 3:45

Friday:

Biology/AP Biology with Vernier
Governor’s Square 12 • Capacity: 100
Exhibitor Demonstration • General Biology • HS 4C
8:00 – 9:15

Bio-Rad: Light Up Your Classroom with Nobel Prize Winning Science
Director’s Row E • Capacity: 60
Exhibitor Demonstration • Biotechnology • HS 4C
1:30 – 2:45

What Biological Concepts Must Be Covered in an Introductory Course for
Biology Majors?
Plaza Court 4 • Capacity: 75
Paper • General Biology • 2C 4C
Hear the results of a national survey to
determine topics that must be covered
in introductory biology for majors and
which topics may be deleted.
— Eileen Gregory, Rollins College,
Winter Park, FL; Jane Ellis,
Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC;
Amanda Orenstein, Centenary
College, Hackettstown, NJ
1:30 – 2:45

OBTA Sharathon
Plaza Ballrrom E
2:00 – 3:00

Saturday:

Stem Cell Summit
8:00 – 4:30

There’s Not Enough Time!
Colorado • Capacity: 32
Paper • Instr.Strategies & Technologies •
HS 2C
10:00 – 11:15

Investigating Mitochondrial Genetics:
A Novel Approach to AP Biology Lab 6
Governor’s Square 11 • Capacity: 100
Hands-On Workshop • Genetics • HS 4C
10:00 -11:15

Nov
01
2009

Using QR Codes in the Classroom

QRtattoo
QR code billboard in Japan

QR code billboard in Japan

Raise your hand if you know what that funny looking black and white tatoo is.  That is a QR code. What, you may well ask, are QR codes?  QR = Quick Response.  A bit of an unknown here in the U.S., but they are all over Japan (and have been for years) and are starting to make headway in Europe.

Think of them as fancy, 2D bar codes.  First introduced in 1994, these are matrix codes that, when scanned, redirect you to whatever digital information has been encoded there (urls, whatever).  They are a very efficient and reliable way to provide a url in non-networked situation – e.g on paper, on a billboard, on a painted surface – anywhere.  A QR code can hold a lot of information  - up  to 4,000 characters.  Even a simple jpeg can be scanned into a QR code, faxed, and then read at the other end.

But how are these QR codes read?  With any one of a number of free QR code readers – free apps that can be downloaded to a cell phone.  In fact, most new cell phones come already pre-loaded with QR code readers.  Once you have the reader, you just aim the phone’s camera at the QR code, the camera registers the data, and redirects you to whatever information was programmed into the code.  If it was a url, your phone will kick start the browser and take you to the desired web site. Bee Tag is the reader that I use, and i-nigma is a very popular one. Here’s a very simple, short video, showing you how it’s done.

And how do you generate these QR codes?  With any one of a number of free QR code generation sites.  Like Kaywa orQRStuff.   You just enter the url (or other data) you want to encode and the site spawns a printable QR code for you. Voila!

A QR code embedded with my contact information.

A QR code embedded with my contact information.

Here’s what QR codes look like.  This one, by the way, is embedded with all of my contact information, the url for this blog, my skype and twitter IDs.  I use it on my business card.

QRcocde.usages
Clever uses of QR codes (Creative Commons)

So, how might they be used in teaching?  At the simplest level, you could include them in a printed worksheet (for homework or on an exam).  Another idea would be to use small QR code labels in a lab – print them on ready-to-peel labels or tape them onto basic lab equipment (microscopes, glassware, sensors, binoculars, cabinets or drawers). The codes would would lead students to teaching videos or amplified safety information. QR codes printed on labels could be applied to bones or preserved specimens to lead students to further information or investigation.  Perhaps you could assign students the project of creating these QR codes for your lab supplies and equipment? Another possibility might be to use QR codes in an assessment – they go to the pre-determined site, watch a video or an animation, then answer questions about it. Use them for orienteering in an outdoor education course or on a field trip.  The QR codes could connect to maps or destinations on Google Earth. Have students create their own QR codes that they submit as an assignment. Maybe a “get-to-know-the-lab” scavenger hunt at the beginning of the year? Maybe have them printed on t-shirts as end of the year prizes?  Put them on business cards, luggage tags or make temporary tatoos out of them!  Just for fun, check out this video of a summer project, sponsored by a Japanese company to make a dramatically scaled QR code, out of sand.

What ideas do you have for using QR codes?