May
23
2010

Biology Challenge

IMG_2417Here’s a cool but complex ecological interaction directly involving at least three species going on in my backyard. (Olathe, KS)

We’ve had a mostly cool and wet spring to date.  The plant involved is about 0.6 m tall at this point and there is a large flower bud within these leaves.  For this challenge, let’s start with the names of the species involved (at least to genus) followed by a description of the interactions involved.  Turns out there is a great site on the web that has this all documented with photos and scientific papers.  Maybe you can find that.  Part of the reason I put this challenge here is to hopefully inspire biology teachers into thinking just what they and their students might be able to investigate with just a small butterfly garden.  Another image:

IMG_2413

btw, I’m putting this challenge up on the KABT BioBlog at the same time—I want to see who figures this out first–the KABTer’s or the NABTer’s……challenge on.

May
15
2010

New Worlds, New Wonders

photoLast week I introduced a group of young people to a new world of wonder. It has been a short time since I noticed doing that, but in reality I have enjoyed a lifetime of “new world” introductions. You see, I spent the majority of my life (so far,) as a biology teacher. Though I retired from the high school classroom 4 years ago, I still teach. Sometimes I teach groups of students that visit the Lake Metroparks Environmental Learning Center (that is in Lake County in northern Ohio.) Sometimes I teach my granddaughter Maddie, and sometimes I simply teach people that happen to be standing next to me. But this week I was reminded of how exciting it can be to learn too. I work with a group of third through fifth grade honors or gifted students from a local school district. I guess they are “gifted” because they have been tested and identified as “cognitively gifted,” but I think they are gifted because they show up every Tuesday afternoon, after a full day of school, with notebook in one hand, snack in one hand, camera in one hand, and usually some other artifact in one hand. They accomplish this because they are third through fifth graders, they have an almost unmeasureable amount of energy, they are gifted, AND they are curious!! This week I gave them access to the microscope. This week I gave them access to new worlds. Their energy, and their curiosity did not disappoint. I decided to start their adventure with some microscope basics. I wanted them to appreciate how special this exploration tool is. I wanted their journey to be less frustrating and more successful. I wanted them to be able to see and to measure with the microscope. They were ready, willing and very able to explore new worlds. The world I introduced them to was an import from my small, backyard pond. As I left for the Environmental Learning Center I stopped and collected a bagful of pond water and a few handfuls of hair-like filamentous algae. The major genera in my pond is *Cladophora. (Sometimes called “pond scum,” but I prefer Cladophora.) My favorite thing to see in pond samples is, in fact the alga types. I love the green color and the ability to see into the cellular landscape. I love seeing the intercellular spaces and the dots of color in the chloroplasts. I love trying to “notice” the nucleus in the cell. I say “notice” because that is what you do when you start a journey into the microscopic world. Often the new adventurer will fail to notice what is clearly there. “Can I get a new sample?” “There isn’t anything in mine!”. I go over to take a look at this “empty” field of view. “Wow!” I scream. “Look at this!”. I tend to “notice” more stuff. Of course I see the algae. I describe the cellular boundaries, the cell walls, the membrane, the chloroplasts, the nucleus (if lucky and the lighting just right.) Then I look beyond the strands of algae and “notice” the hundreds or thousands of euglena scooting around the filaments. They are small. We have the 10X objective employed, but visible if only you are willing to “notice.” occasionally a much bigger paramecium swims by. I go crazy! By this time the young explorer wants her microscope back. They want to “notice” what’s on the slide too. New worlds, new wonders! Then we load up the slide with some daphnia. Daphnia is what these scientists want. They are big enough to be easily observed.

They are complex enough to look like real pond monsters. Daphnia are small microscopic crustaceans. They have a heart, gills, a digestive system, an eye spot AND they are “see-through.”. Perfect for a young scientist to get excited by this new world. They can see something happening. Thirty-four years teaching biology, four years of undergrad biology classes, two classes of biology in high school, and I still get goofy when I see a captured daphnia on it’s side, heart pumping, gills waving, food moving through the intestines, living its little life on the microscope slide for all to see.

No wonder the mini-explorers get so excited! As a special treat , we gave each of the little scientists their very own “daphnia-in-a-tube” to wear on a string around their neck and to take home. Their own new world, their own new wonder!

*Recently a discovery of a new use for this pesky pond clogger has been made. This web site discusses a possible use of the cellulose abundance of Cladophora. They may be harvested for use in new, efficient , paper batteries. They can come to my pond and harvest all they want. Check out this site. http://ceramics.org/ceramictechtoday/materials-innovations/green-algae-harnessed-to-make-paper-based-batteries/

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Location:Misty Ridge Dr,Painesville,United States

May
09
2010

The Biggest Playground On Earth

Lately I have been playing around with people that think kids should go outside and play!! Well, actually I have been listening to speakers that have been promoting this idea, and meeting with lots of folks that agree with this. A week or so ago, April 13th to be exact, I attended a lecture sponsored by The Holden Arboretum (see– http://www.holdenarb.org/natureplaymatters.asp,) “Nature Play Matters.” the speaker–Dr. Elizabeth Goodenough, Harvard University, was “speaking to the choir” as it were. From what I could see the audience was comprised of outdoor educators, outdoor education activity coordinators, outdoor program organization representatives and just plain outdoor types. (I didn’t actually look, but I bet most of the footwear consisted of some form of hiking boot! But I digress!) But the message about natural play was important for all to hear none-the-less. It is not a new idea, In fact there has been legislation in Washington since early in 2009.

According to Open Congress, the bill is sponsored by Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD). Officially called H.R.2054 – No Child Left Inside Act of 2009,

This bill seeks to enhance the environmental literacy of American students, from kindergarten to 12th grade, to foster understanding, analysis, and solutions to the major environmental challenges facing the student’s state and the Nation as a whole. Appropriations would be provided to train teachers for such instruction, provide innovative technology, and to develop studies assessing the worth of these programs in elementary and secondary school curriculums.

This legislation, known as “No Child Left Inside Act of 2009,” is currently in committee. Basically it amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This movement is a response to the popular book “Last Child In the Woods,” by Richard Louv, and has a companion movement throughout the country in the Children and Nature Network and in Ohio in the statewide movement “Leave No Child Inside” collaborative. http://lnciohio.blogspot.com/2010/04/children-and-nature-awareness-month.html

This brings me to the meeting I attended yesterday–The Northeast Region of the statewide Leave No Child Inside. The organizing meeting was attended by representatives of most of the noted Northeast Ohio Outdoor organizations–Of course, Lake Metroparks and The Holden Arboretum, but also included were professors from Hiram College, and Mount Union University (new name as of August.) Also, the YMCA Outdoor education facility was represented as were the Stark County Metro parks, and a few others. Imagine that, all these folks and all this energy to get us to take our kids outside! Is this all necessary?



YOU BET IT IS!

Our kids are turning into an “inside species.” They even sit inside and watch programs about the outside. The programs aren’t bad. In fact I love them. But now that we are all amazed by the “Life” that is a part of our world, lets get out and enjoy it. Get out to the Parks. Get out to the backyards. Go for a walk. Watch a pond. Plant a tree. Observe a bug. (Remember

watching a group of ants marching on the sidewalk? Well, they still march!) Feed a bird. In fact, just go outside and play. We have the biggest playground in the world just waiting for you and your kids. What do you think?




May
09
2010

WIND IN THE WILLOWS

Wind in the Willows and Oaks and Maples and all around me. This is what has been getting my attention as of late. The recent winds that rolled through Northern Ohio brought a great deal of stress and some unexpected costs to lots of folks this past weekend. What good can come from such a natural phenomena as a 50 mph wind gust? Well, not a lot of good, but lots of natural impacts. That’s what I was thinking about as the big Oaks and Maples and other giants were being whipped first one way and then another Friday night and all day Saturday.


My first thought in a wind storm is “will one of the tall trees be visiting my family room before the weather front passes?”. But then as I watch the trees bending back and forth, I am amazed at their strength. I know the basic biology of trees, the structure of wood, the chemistry of cellulose, but still, it is truly amazing to watch how strong these tall trees really are. As the leaves come sailing down I enjoy thinking about the ones that stay attached. The preening of the dead branches in my back woods during a wind storm will help clear out the upper reaches of the trees helping to prevent these branches from becoming “deadfalls” when I go exploring in better, calmer weather this summer.

Now that the canopy of leaves is a bit less dense more sun seems to leak through the trees. Does the extra light that streams down to the floor of my forest promote more wildflower growth? Or allow some of the treelets (or should that be treeettes?) to take hold more successfully? It is hard to say. But these are the things I think about during and after a wind storm. (Except a few years ago when a black locust fell across my deck and into the side of my house. Then I was thinking of insurance and repairs and contractors and bills. But let’s get back to biology.)

As we drove past a large grassy field I saw one of my favorite natural pictures. Sheets of wind were causing the field to flow. Waves of amber grass would work as a description. The field of weeds was being turned into a pasture of soft, tumbling waves of grass. The rhythms of nature were all around me. It is often difficult to see waves. But not in a wind storm. I guess I am discussing the physics of wind and grass, not the biology, but science is science. One great big way of thinking. We are the ones that separate it into biology and earth science, and chemistry, and physics. But that is another discussion for another time.


I’m going out to pick up some of those branches that escaped the confines of my woods and settled onto the small patch of mowed grass I call my back lawn. I’ll probably watch the plethora of birds that successfully “battened down the hatches” during the storm and are now attacking my feeders. I wonder how they maintained their stations in the 50 mph gusts. Were some relocated? Will I see some unusual visitors that rode the arms of the storm from up north? I guess I’ll have to go outside and watch some science to find out.

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Location:Misty Ridge Dr,Painesville,United States

Written by richardbenz in: Biology Teaching |
May
09
2010

40 Years and Counting


So here it is, Earth Day 2010. 40 years and counting. A lifetime for many and yet it seems like a blink of an eye. Forty years ago, Kent State University (12 days before it became “famous” worldwide,) a freshman bio major and ready to let my voice be heard. The first Earth Day was a big event on campus, at least in the biology building, Cunningham Hall. Senator Gaylord Nelson had proclaimed the first Earth Day and we were ready. Ready to march, ready to learn, ready to teach and ready to change this ailing planet. That really was a lifetime ago. Well, a career’s lifetime ago. Thirty-four years in the biology classroom. Thirty-four years with approximately 100 students a year (some years less, some more.) 3400 youngsters that learned about their world, our world, THE WORLD. 3400 young folks learning about where in the world they are and how they need to understand it and take care of it. Some years we all forgot about the health of our planet. Some years it was fashionable to care. So how are we doing now? Well, the planet is still ailing. We can make a list of the wounds, but suffice it to say that an extended
stay in the critical care ward is called for. But at least it is again fashionable to care about the health of the planet. The “Green” word is good right now. Actually it is profitable for businesses to be “Green.” Maybe that is the direction we needed to go. Not “It isn’t easy being green!” as my friend Kermit always said. Now we can say “It is easier being Green than it was before” and that is a good thing.

Today I worked with a group of excited students from Perry Middle School. We were learning about how to use a compass, and how to navigate through the wilderness using a hand-held GPS. The take-home lesson was supposed to be about how scientists use GPS technology to help their research. But since it WAS Earth Day, I was happy that we were able to help them understand just where in the world they were. If we all just knew where we stood in the world, the health of the planet just might start to improve. Certainly before the next 40 years go by and these students reflect on their experiences at the 40th Earth Day celebration. Let’s hope. Well, let’s do more than just hope, let’s act.

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May
04
2010

Mini-posters–>authentic peer review in the classroom

Miniposter--Jai Hoyer

Miniposter--Jai Hoyer

Background and Rationale:

Almost 20 years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to my first Bioquest Workshop at Beloit College. Maura Flannery covered the Bioquest experience in several her columns in the American Biology Teacher. These workshops challenge and inspire you as you work with a number of like-minded biology educators working on the edge of new developments. What really caught me off guard was the intensity of the learning experience. Before the end of the first full day, each working group had to produce a scientific poster presentation. This was my first, personal experience with building a poster so I’m glad that I don’t really have a record of it. I talked to John Jungck about the poster requirements—he told me that the students in his labs prepare a poster for each laboratory–rather than a lab-write up and they have to defend/present them in poster sessions. I immediately saw that a poster would help me evaluate my student’s lab experience while provide a bit of authenticity to my students doing science. That fall I had my students do a poster session that was displayed in the science hall. It was a big success with one exception. For my high school class, the experience was a bit too intense and too time consuming. It turned out that we could only work in one big poster session that year. One of the little bits of clarity of thought that comes from teaching for decades instead of years is the realization that students need to practice, practice, practice—doing anything just once is not enough. I thought about abandoning the poster session since it was too time consuming. However, I witness great learning by all levels of students with this tool. I didn’t want to abandon it. With this thought rolling around in my mind, I was primed as I visited one of my wife, Carol’s, teacher workshops. She’s a science teacher, too. In this workshop she was presenting an idea to help elementary teachers develop science fair project—a mini-science fair poster. This idea involved the used of a trifolded piece of 11″ x 17″ paper. The teachers were inputting their “required” science fair heading with post-it notes. Revision was a breeze. The teachers learned the importance of brevity with completion. They added graphs and images by gluing their graph to a small post-it. It was all so tidy, so elegant, so inviting, I probably stared a little long, struck dumb by the simplicity of the mini-poster. Once I came to my senses I realized that the mini-poster was my answer–a way to incorporate authentic peer review, formative assessment in my science classes. My high school classes could be like John’s college classes.

Making Mini-posters:

Jai putting her mini-poster together

Putting the miniposter together

Over the years, mini-posters have evolved into the following. We take two colored (for aesthetics file folders, trim off the tabs and glue them so that one panel from each overlap—leaving a trifold, mini-poster framework. Each student gets one of these. For these posters we go ahead and permanently glue on headings that include prompts to remind the students what should be included in each section. Later, they can design their own posters from scratch. The image at the top of the page and the ones following will give you an idea. By using post-it notes the posters can easily be revised and we also reuse the poster template several times over the year. Don’t feel that you have to follow this design–feel free to innovate.

Implementing Mini-posters:

Defending the miniposter

Defending the miniposter

For the first mini-poster experience, I give my students as much as a class period to work up a poster after completing an original research investigation. (We do quite a few of these early in the school year with others periodically throughout the rest of the year). Sometimes poster work is by groups and sometimes by individuals. Once the posters are ready, the class has a mini-poster session. The class is divided up in half or in groups. Half the class (or a fraction) then stays with their posters to defend and explain them while the other half play the part of the critical audience. To guide the critic, I provide each “evaluator” with a one page rubric and require them to score the poster after a short presentation. I restrict the “presentation” to about 5 minutes and make sure that there is an audience for every poster. We then rotate around the room through a couple of rounds before switching places. The poster presenters become the critical audience and the evaluators become presenters. We then repeat the process. By the end of the hour every poster has been peer-reviewed and scored with a rubric–formative assessment at its best. The atmosphere is really jumping with the students generally enjoying presenting their original work to their peers. The feedback is impressive. At this point I step in and point out that I will be evaluating their posters for a grade (summative assessment) but they have until tomorrow (or next week) to revise their posters based on peer review—oh, and I’ll use the same rubric. The process works very well for me and my students and my guess is that it will for yours as well. You’ll naturally have to tweak it a bit—please do. If you find mini-posters work for you, come back here and leave a comment.

The images are from our UKanTeach Research Methods course first assignment—a weekend research investigation.  Thanks to the Research Methods course for the images.

Here’s a file that illustrates what a miniposter might look like constructed in MS Word.

Links to websites for advice on making scientific posters:

http://www.swarthmore.edu/NatSci/cpurrin1/posteradvice.htm

http://www.ncsu.edu/project/posters/NewSite/index.html

http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/posterpres.html

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~schne006/tutorials/poster_design/

http://www.the-aps.org/careers/careers1/GradProf/gposter.htm