Neat, new way to preserve insects for the classroom

From Dragonflywoman's blog

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


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


Kim Foglia

Kim Foglia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

Kim Foglia

November 12, 2009

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

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

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



Participatory Media Workshop at #NABT10

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

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

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

nabt podcast

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


Four Year Section Poster Session #NABT10

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

Written by Brad Williamson in: Biology Teaching | Tags:

Greetings from Minneapolis

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

Here they are:


Playing around with the Floating Disk Assay—Light Response Curves

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

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

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

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

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

English Ivy leaf, shade adapted

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

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

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

Modified technique

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

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

Here’s the results:

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


DNA Day Student Essay Contest

From Michael Dougherty:

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

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

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

2011 Essay questions:

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

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

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

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

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


Type with me

Type With Me

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

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

Any other ideas?

Written by rheyden in: Biology Teaching |

Biology Challenge Revisited

What are those dark ones doing in there?

What are those dark ones doing in there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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:


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.


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/

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Misty Ridge Dr,Painesville,United States


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?


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?



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.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Misty Ridge Dr,Painesville,United States

Written by richardbenz in: Biology Teaching |

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:







My House Hawk


This is interesting.  We ID birds 200 feet in the air, with backlight conditions, moving in circles and we are incredibly confident in our calls.  Here is a bird, sitting in a small leafless tree in my front yard, “captured”, enlarged and cropped, and we have three or for pretty good birders not quite sure of it’s kind.  Of course John Audubon would know what it “was”.  I say was because he would have shot it, stuffed it and mounted it before he painted it and named it.  Chucky D would probably not know this bird since its range does not include any areas visited by him,  but he would be the first to bring up VARIATIONS.  I recently enjoyed reading the new Dawkins book–The Greatest Show On Earth, and he talks of rabbitness. That is, we all try to explain what the ideal rabbit looks like, but we know deep in our biological souls that there is no perfect rabbit! There is a spectrum of rabbitness. Of course we can look at a hawk and suggest that it is a Coopers Hawk or a Red Shouldered Hawk or a Sharpy, or ……..     We know there is no perfect Cooper or Sharpy that portrays all the characteristics of the Coopers Hawk species. There is Coopers Hawkness or Sharpyness that lies somewhere on a spectrum of characteristics and we deem the bird a Coopers ( or Red Shouldered, or what have you!) So how do the great birders always “get it right?”   First, they don’t always get it right, and second, they use more than just field marks and colors.  They combine marks and colors and patterns and maybe most importantly–behaviors.  That is what my picture is missing–behaviors.   The success of good bird identification is not simply knowing what a bird looks like, it is also knowing what it is doing, how it is behaving.  Maybe the pinnacle of bird spotting is on the top of Hawk Mountain in East Central Pennsylvania.  During the Fall migration hundreds of hawks of various species can be seen.  Think about Darwin’s variations with this scene–  50 or 60 Cooper’s Hawks or over 1600 Broad-winged Hawks that were spotted last September 17th.  Which one was the perfect Broadwing?   How did the spotters know all 1600 were really Broadwinged Hawks?  It is what Barbara McClintock called  ”a feeling for the organism.”  On this same day a total of  1646 hawks of various species passed by Hawk Mountain.  A total of 8 different species of raptors were recorded.  The total for the whole 2009 migration season was  15,592 birds, 21 identified species and 1 in the category “other”.  (I wonder what “other” was.  Is this the only bird they could not identify???)   As I looked over this data I thought about Dawkin’s species problem, the perfect Red Tail, or Cooper, or Bald Eagle.  I also pictured the bell-shaped curves that Darwin’s variation concept predicted.  In fact, I even pictured bell-shaped curves soaring past the North Lookout of Hawk Mountain.  Hawk Curve.001Well, not really, but now that I wrote about it I cannot get the image out of my mind!!   So there it is.  One hawk, one picture, a waterfall of thoughts.

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The young Red-Shouldered returned a few months later and brought along a partner

.  Now I watch them both as they pick off a series of moles and chipmunks that wander along the forest edge in my backyard.

What a lesson in evolution I have unleashed because a young hawk decided to take a rest at 10437 Misty Ridge Drive!!