Mar
02
2010

Wisdom from the Niles High School District

Photo credit:  Tom Denham

Photo credit: Tom Denham

I just returned from moderating a teacher workshop at the Niles District’s (just out side of Chicago, Illinois) Institute Day.  Ruth Gleicher and Anne Roloff invited me to spend three hours with a group of 10 high school teachers from the two high schools in the Niles District.  The workshop was called, “Participatory Media, Learning, and Literacy” and it sprung from a session I offered at the 2009 NABT conference.  Ruth Gleicher, who is a biology teacher at Niles West HS, attended that NABT session and thought that it might be a good fit for her colleagues.  Together, she and I designed an experience with a little presentation and a lot of hands-on and discussion.

The session went well, I think.  I sure enjoyed it!  I was so impressed with this group of teachers.  They were biology, chemistry, earth science, english, and special ed teachers.  And they were all – to a person – hard working, creative, and very committed teachers.  We started off the session, going around and introducing ourselves.  I asked them to share with the others how they’re currently making use of new media tools with their students and to describe one new thing they wanted to try.  So we spent the first hour or so in a candid exchange of ideas, things that worked and didn’t, questions they had, and plans for the future.

I love these conversations. And I suspect that you do too – here are a few of the gems that the Niles teachers shared with each other….

Students aren’t as proficient as we think they are with online tools….they don’t know how to download a photo, they’ve never edited a wiki, they don’t understand intellectual property.

Amen to that.  And I would add that many of them don’t know how to set the privacy controls on Facebook, they don’t know how to create and post a video in a safe and responsible way, they are unaware of their digital footprint and how it might work to their benefit, and they forget about replicability, forwarding and the persistence of content.  Our students need help with all of these things.  They must become more aware of the power of online information and they must be more exacting judges of the credibility of what they find there.  They need teachers to help them understand, respect, sort and discern.

As teachers, we need help sorting out what’s the right tool for the job and which – if any -  of the options is worth our time.

Another good point!  There are so many intriguing online options these days – fun tools to try, capabilities to explore, and a huge range of ways to express ourselves, demonstrate our understanding, and deepen our experience.  But how to evaluate them?  How to decide if the time it will take to learn how to use them well (and then show others how to do the same) will be worth it?  With this conundrum, my advice is  – try it yourself first.  Get inside whatever the new thing is with your own projects or interests (a hobby?  a small thing – just enough to learn, or maybe on something you need to do anyway).  Make failure cheap.  Discover the affordances of the tool for yourself and then you’ll be in a good position to judge whether or not it’s worth using it in your classroom.

What I don’t evaluate or grade, my students won’t do.

Yeah, I hear that a lot.  The point these teachers were making was, if we don’t give credit for blogging, contributing to the class wiki, or creating an animoto, our students won’t do it.  I feel their pain.  I can’t help but think that much of this behavior stems from conditioning.  We’ve trained our students (in our assessment-crazed, high-stakes testing world) to think in these terms.  Intrinsic motivation seems to have left the building. But I don’t think that’s due to any character flaw in our students – I think that “we” have set it up this way (I was talking to a friend yesterday, who relayed the story that her kindergartner came home with homework on which “points” would be given by the teacher).  But even if we agree on that, what’s to be done about it?  By the time teenagers get to high school (or college) they are steeped in that tradition.  What’s an individual teacher to do, in order to break the cycle?   I would love to hear your thoughts on that – comments?  ideas?

Feb
18
2010

Digging Up Our Family Tree

I am the instructor for an online course for teachers titled “Teaching Evolution”. When I surveyed these teachers this past fall about some of the most common misconceptions their students have with respect to evolution, they all chimed in – “humans come from monkeys”.

This should probably not be too surprising, given that (1) children are taught to confuse monkeys and chimps from an early age – Curious George is not a monkey, he has no tail and is therefore an ape – and yet, repeated throughout the stories is the phrase “Curious George was a monkey”, (2) human evolution does not appear in state standards in many states (see Mead and Mates. 2009. Why science standards are important to a strong science curriculum and how states measure up.  Evo Edu Outreach 2:359-371) and is therefore often not taught; (3) even good educational programs like NOVA can, unfortunately, perpetuate part of the misconception. Don’t get me wrong, I love NOVA. Their Judgment Day documentary about the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial is great. I just watched What Darwin Didn’t Know and I love how they explained the importance of similarities in embryos as evidence for evolution, among other excellent points made in the film. And overall, I liked the Becoming Human series. However, it has drawn some criticisms worth revisiting as we look back on 2009, a year when the description of the fossil hominin Ardipithecus ramidus was hailed as the most important science discovery of the year. An accurate understanding of human evolution does matter.

Unfortunately, the NOVA Becoming Human program, in attempting to explain the evolutionary transition between our hominin ancestor and present day humans, constantly draws a comparison between modern day chimpanzees and Homo sapiens, which is really an incorrect comparison to make, and fuels the misconception that humans evolved from “monkeys”.  For example, numerous times statements like “[m]illions of years ago, we were apes, living ape lives in Africa” are paired with video segments of modern day chimpanzees and gorillas, which unfortunately promotes the misconception that we evolved from modern day chimpanzees, or even monkeys, since I’m guessing many people do not readily distinguish between chimps and monkeys.

[A quick digression: Why use of hominin instead of hominid? Hominini is a tribe of Homininae that comprises humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, their ancestors, and the extinct lineages of their common ancestor. Members of the tribe are called hominins. Hominids, taxonomically Hominidae, form a family that includes humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans and the extinct lineages of their common ancestor. Hence when speaking of our ancestor with chimps, given the current taxonomy, we should use hominin.]

The assumption behind the human-chimp comparison is, of course, that our hominin ancestor would have looked much like modern chimps, and herein lies the problem. Chimps have their own evolutionary history. Yes, they are our closest living relatives, but looking to chimps for information about our hominin ancestor is about as informative as looking to my third cousin for information about my great-great grandmother. I can certainly hypothesize that traits found in both my third cousin and myself were present in our common ancestor, my great-great grandmother, but each of us also have our own evolutionary history and I certainly wouldn’t assume that my great great-grandmother looked exactly like my third cousin. We only have to look to Darwin for clarification of this point “[i]n the first place it should always be borne in mind what sort of intermediate forms must, on my theory, have formerly existed. I have found it difficult, when looking at any two species, to avoid picturing to myself, forms directly intermediate between them. But this is a wholly false view; we should always look for forms intermediate between each species and a common but unknown progenitor; and the progenitor will generally have differed in some respects from all its modified descendants.” (Darwin 1859 Chapt. 9)

The Becoming Human series should have made explicit why they were making such a comparison, since the search for shared derived characters or synapomorphies is actually the foundation of cladistics and much of modern evolutionary biology. There are a number of shared derived characters which indicate our shared ancestry with chimps, and which separate apes from other primates. These traits include: relatively large brain, absence of tail, more erect posture, greater flexibility of hips and ankles, increased flexibility of wrist and thumbs, and changes in structures of the arms and shoulder. However, each lineage (one leading to chimps and another to modern day humans) also accumulated different traits, and the shared derived traits along the direct lineage to humans, the lineage that begins since we shared a common ancestor with chimps, informs our understanding of where, when, and how we became modern humans.

The most appropriate comparisons are with our actual ancestors, for which we now have many examples.   Here is another issue with the NOVA program: it did not include the most recent discovery of Ardipithecus ramidus. We can excuse this omission on grounds that Science had yet to publish the most current findings; however, Ardipithecus ramidus had been known of for 15 years. Could the Becoming Human series have waited a few more months? Without discussion of Ardipithecus ramidus, the best depiction of the earliest fossils of the tribe Hominina comes from Sahelanthropus tchadensis. However, only a skull, five pieces of jaw and some teeth comprise what we know about this species. It is not clear whether Sahelanthropus tchadensis walked upright. Evidence from Ardipithecus ramidus, however, suggests that by 4 million years ago, our  ancestors did walk upright, and that our upright posture evolved long before our brain capacity increased.

By the end of the three part program, however, I was less stressed over the perpetuation of the chimp to human comparison, and more excited by some of the newer findings presented in the series – for example, that extreme fluctuations in climate were probably associated with the array of evolutionary changes taking place, and that we can tell we inherited the FoxP2 gene from our common ancestor with Homo neanderthalensis -work by Svante Paabo indicates the gene is the same in both groups. The picture of a group of individuals, described as Homo heidelbergensis, migrating north into Europe, giving rise to Homo neanderthalensis and a separate group being pushed to the edges of Africa, giving rise to Homo sapiens, was also enlightening. Here again, however, what helped visualize human evolution was the inclusion of trees – phylogenetic hypotheses explaining our current understanding of the evolutionary relationships among various extinct and extant species. Again, these are hypotheses, which will undoubtedly be altered as new fossils are discovered, and new technological advances allow us to gain more insight into our genetic connection to chimpanzees and perhaps even our hominin ancestors. In light of the tentative and useful nature of trees, I’ve included one here, showing some of the more significant synapomorphies for various clades of primates, along with the current names for these groups.

Family-tree-cladogram

I also found the additional resources provided for teachers at the NOVA Becoming Human website to be very useful.

Resources on NOVA site

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/beta/evolution/our-family-tree.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/beta/evolution/compare-skeletons.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/beta/evolution/zoo-you.html

Written by louisemead in: Biology Teaching |
Jan
29
2010

A Different Kind of Educator’s Workshop

Spiral Theas and Chimera Cosmos

Spiral Theas and Chimera Cosmos

A friend and colleague of mine, Liz Dorland and I decided to organize a Second Life Eduator’s group.  We kept meeting these fabulous teachers who wanted to learn  more about the application of the virtual world to education and so, we thought, what the heck – let’s set up a workshop series for these teachers. We’ll meet for just an hour – two times per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) for four weeks, as an experiment.  We can show them beginning navigational stuff, introduce them to basic building skills, and take them to other educational builds, favorites of ours, for inspiration.

For those of you unfamiliar with Second Life – it is an online virtual world that consists of a flat-earth simulation of roughly 1.8 billion square meters (if it were a physical place, it would be about the size of Houston, Texas). First launched in 2003, SL is an example of an immersive, three-dimensional (3D) environment that supports a high level of social networking and interaction with information.  Visitors can access the virtual world through a free, client program called the Second Life viewer. You enter the SL virtual world, which residents refer to as “the grid”, as an avatar (Second Life “users” are referred to as “residents”). Once there, you can explore environments, meet and socialize with other residents (using voice and text chat), participate in group and individual activities, and learn from designed experiences. Built into the software is a three-dimensional modeling tool, based around simple geometric shapes, that allows anyone to build virtual objects. These objects can be used, in combination with a scripting language, to add functionality.

While virtual worlds with their 3D landscapes and customizable avatars, seem similar to popular massively multiplayer online games, they do not adhere to the traditional definition of a game.  Virtual worlds, like SL, are more focused on socializing, exploring, and building.  As a result, there is an active educational community in SL. Over 300 colleges and universities have “builds” in SL where they teach courses and conduct research. A number of organizations (NASA, NOAA, NIH, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, National Public Radio), along with a host of government agencies, museums, and educational groups stage regular events, seminars and workshops in world.

Since I started exploring around in Second Life last year, it’s seemed to me to be a great way to involve students in science.  But before we can think about the applications with students, I knew we needed to get teachers in there.  So, Liz and I thought we’d start with these simple workshops.

Comicbook-Style Handouts, designed by Liz Dorland

Comicbook-Style Handouts, designed by Liz Dorland

What sounded like a relatively simple (and fun idea!) has turned out to be quite a bit of work – but it’s also even more fun that I would have imagined. First of all, it gives Liz and I an iron-clad excuse to investigate lots of interesting places and activities we’ve been wanting to learn about any way.  It’s also forced us to be more systematic about understanding the basics of getting around in Second Life (as always, you learn the most when you are going to teach). We’ve created handouts and step-by-step instructions for the participants. Then, of course, we needed an online place to store and display all of those, as well as a place to keep the schedule – so we built a wiki site for the group.  And then we wanted to document the sessions – so we started a Koin-Up group where everyone in the class can post photos.  Now, I’m experimenting with recording options so that we can archive the sessions.

This week, we had our first session.  13 teachers showed up (there will be 17 when everyone attends) and they’re from all over – Great Britain, Colorado, Missouri, Indiana, and Boston.  Some teach college students, some are curriculum developers, some teach primary years, and some secondary grades.  Men and women – older and younger – some experienced in SL and some brand spankin’ new.  I love the diversity.

Teachers in our Second Life "Skybox' Classroom

Teachers in our Second Life "Skybox' Classroom

We started with some basic navigational stuff (creating landmarks, map reading, inventory) and then we teleported up to our skybox classroom.  Everyone learned how to “buy” a chair, find it in their inventory, and then rez it on their spot on the classroom floor.  Then we had a little lesson in camera controls, learning how to zoom in/out and focus.

Chichenitza – view from the top (taken by Kirsten Loza)

After that. we teleported down to the ground and then bounced over to Chichenitza for a bit of fun.  Everyone picked up the free Mayan costume and then climbed the magnificent stairs to take in the view from the top.

I was very impressed with how well everyone did.  They seemed to follow along beautifully and were patient with the various technical hassles one inevitably has with a platform like this.  For Liz and me, it was great fun and a welcome challenge (that’s us, up there in the photo at the top of the post – I’m the one with the  yellow hardhat).  We work well together – trading off the various responsibilities, and supporting each other (I would never do this by myself!).  When one is leading the class, the other is adding helpful explanations to the backchat, taking snapshots, and giving extra support to those who need it.

Next week we’ll be visiting Yifeng Hu’s Department of Communications Studies virtual location.  Yifeng Hu is an instructor at The College of New Jersey (in Ewing, NJ) where she teaches a course called ‘New Media and Health Communications’.  As part of her course, Professor Hu take students into Second Life for activities, lectures, and touring. We’re going to visit her virtual campus and hear how she uses the virtual world with her students.  They’ve used their time in Second Life to, among other things, examine whether the communications theories they learn about in class are applicable in the virtual world. Here is an article about Professor Hu’s work.  We also hope to visit Michael Demers virtual classroom.  Dr. Demers teaches geology at New Mexico State University and has done some really interesting things (including how to use GIS equipment) with his students in the virtual world. Here’s an article about his experiences.

All in all, this is turning out to be a worthwhile experiment.  I’m learning so much from our “students” and seeing my way toward a path to make this work for students.  If anyone is interested in joining us, in world, drop me a line!

Jan
25
2010

Involve your Students in a Citizen Science Project

A post just came through the KS-Bird list about an interesting Cornell Citizen science program–especially for those in the East and SE:

The Rusty Blackbird Blitz

Rusty Blackbirds are in decline and Kansas is part of their winter range. This “blitz”/survey is set up for the first two weeks of Feb. Check out the link for protocols. If you decide to get out and count blackbirds don’t just report to eBird; share your experience here on the KABT BioBlog.

An excerpt from the Cornell eBird website:

January 11, 2010
Participate in the Second Annual Rusty Blackbird Blitz! Singing male Rusty Blackbird, Alaska. Photo by David Shaw (www.wildimagephoto.com).

Populations of Rusty Blackbirds are crashing! Their numbers have plummeted by as much as 88-98% over the last few decades, according to data gathered between 1966 and 2006 for the North American Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count. A species that was once considered to be abundant is rapidly disappearing before our eyes. Your observations can help save this species by arming scientists with critical information about its ecology. The Rusty Blackbird Working Group has developed the Rusty Blackbird Blitz, a winter survey whose goal is to count Rusty Blackbirds range-wide just prior to spring migration. From 30 January – 15 February, search for Rusty Blackbirds in your area and report your observations to eBird.

Dec
04
2009

Birdfeeders and Evolution of Birds

blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla

blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla

NPR’s Science Friday had a great interview with evolutionary biologist, Martin Schaefer (Associate Professor, University of Freiburg, Germany) about his current research in bird evolution. The radio segment was pitched perfectly for AP Biology — a re-cap of Darwin’s finches, genetic variation in the population, natural selection, geographic and reproductive isolation, and more.

Here’s the summary from the Science Friday Web site:

“What does it take to change a species? New research details how people putting out birdfeeders may have influenced the evolution of a species of songbirds. Writing in the journal Current Biology, researchers describe how one species of European songbird, the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), has been split into two reproductively isolated groups in fewer than 30 generations. One group migrates to the southwest, the other to the northwest, overwintering in either Spain or the United Kingdom. The researchers found that the northwestern-migrating birds, which take advantage of birdfeeders in the UK, had developed rounder wings and longer, narrower bills than the southwestern birds.”

Listen here to find out more.

Kim Foglia

Kim Foglia

Written by kfoglia in: Biology Teaching |
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

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: