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.


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?


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.

DSC_2272 - Version 2

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!!


Springtime Trouting

MyPictureSo there I was –  standing in the middle of a small riffle just upstream of the confluence of Big Creek and the Grand River in Eastern Lake County, Ohio.  I was in the Grand, but I could see the waters of Big Creek joining the Grand river watershed just over my right shoulder.  The water was clear enough to see the river bottom AND the Steelhead Trout that were just starting their downstream run back to Lake Erie after spending the Fall and Winter upstream.  Northern Ohio was having a very unusual  March heatwave. A week after a quick snowfall, the temperatures were pushing almost 85 degrees (F).  The last days of March in Northern Ohio are often mild (the proverbial lamb,) but mild around here in March is usually in the 60’s, not the 80’s.  El Nino weather patterns make strange shifts in lots of measurements.  Some places get extreme rain, some higher temperatures and data shows a change in the patterns of tornados and hurricanes too.  Here we were rewarded with a short lived summer.  The rivers that flow into Lake Erie alternated between too low to be fished and too high and muddy to be fished this past year.  Of course, the dedicated, dyed-in-the-wool, fishermen’s fly casters go out no matter what the river looks like.  I am as much an observer of fish as I am a catcher of fish.  I do enjoy the activity of fly fishing.  My gearCasting to a particular pool.  Avoiding this log or that shrub.  It may be as much about my fishing skills, but fish watching is pretty entertaining too.  That is what I was doing while standing in the middle of the Grand River last week—fish watching.  I was trying to catch a steelhead or two, but studying them was pretty good too.

I found a nice deep part of the river just beside the shallow riffle where I was standing.  The shale that makes up most of the river bottom in the Grand creates shelves and ledges in the river’s structure.  Some of the shelves or ledges create waterfalls, some create deep pools.  The pools provide sanctuary for the big fish as they make their way up or down stream.  Often, a large three or four-year old trout will be resting or logging in these pools.  Sometime more than one can be seen.  That is what I was watching (and casting to,) on this wonderfully warm weekday afternoon.  There were a few other fisherfolk around, but not many.  Most seemed to be fish-watching too.  steelheadTroutSteelhead trout on their spawning run (both up stream and down,) are not really interested in eating.  Eating is what they have been doing all summer in the lake.  Occasionally they will attack a floating bug or nymph (as much from habit as from hunger,)  and that is what a Steelhead trout catcher is hoping for.  The particular large fish I was watching did not seem to want to attack anything other that other trout that happened by.  I nymphed, I egged, I streamered, but mostly I watched.  But that was ok.  What a scene I was watching.  The  fish I was “playing” with was probably a 3 year old (maybe 2 years since the size of a fish under water is a bit difficult to accurately estimate due to the tendency of water to magnify,) 24 inches or so and wonderful to observe.  As smaller fish entered the pool the “resident” cleared them out.  A short rest seemed to be fine, but only a short one.  If a smaller trout stayed too long, it was scooted away.  If too many smaller fish entered the pool, even a short stay was not allowed.  I was casting to the rest stop, but mostly I was watching the residents.  Occasionally I would hear a noisy splash behind me.  Not a big splash, but kind of a  splatter.  In fact, a series of splatters.  As I turned to see the cause of the noise I saw a younger fish making its way down the riffle.  Sometimes they start down a shallow section of the river instead of staying in the deeper runs.  When this happens they need to “skitter” along the gravel and rocky riffle areas.  This creates a splashing noise and is great to watch.  Of course, if I was really just trying to get fish I could simply net the skittering fish, but I was here to watch and appreciate as much as I was to catch fish.  And appreciate I did!  I have been watching the tremendous new television series on the discovery Channel.  This series called LIFE, is wonderful.  But I was IN this “Life” episode, so I just watched.  When I view the Discovery version of “LIFE” I am amazed. The photography is remarkable even if the narrator’s explanations leave a little to be desired (in the US version, Opera Winfrey is the narrator.)  I have found a few too many explanations of wonderful design as the reason for a particular animal’s shape, color, structure or success to be comfortable.  I’m not sure how Sir David Attenborough narrates, but I’m sure the BBC version discusses the evolutionary processes a bit more accurately.  But here I stand in the middle of  a river, watching my own episode of LIFE.  That’s what this essay is all about.  We all need to watch the episodes of LIFE all around us.  Whether the tapping of a pileated woodpecker, or the hunting of a red shouldered hawk, the hunting practice of Fitzroy (my cat,) or fledging of a house wren, LIFE is all around us.  Paying attention to the world around us is actually the theme of my Australian friend’s entire blog.  It is called “Paying Ready Attention” and can be found at http://payingreadyattention.blogspot.com.  This blog is deserving of a good long look, or rather many looks since Stewart adds to this site quite frequently and every entry is worth reading.

That is what I was doing last Thursday.  I was standing in the middle of a riffle, up-stream of  the confluence of Big Creek and the Grand River “paying ready attention.”  I’ll be back.  I will search out this pool.  I may ‘tease’ the resident for a short while.  I may try a nymph, or a streamer, maybe an egg pattern.   He  (or she) many not even be there, but I will certainly be paying ready attention to the LIFE around me.


Sounds Downunder

Around the World in 80 Blogs

We know as biology teachers that the entire world is our classroom –or should be.  The Internet certainly makes that easier then it was when I started to teach.  We have been “talking” about using Internet resources to make our teaching more personal, more interactive, more current.  Here is a way to open up the other side of the world to your students–>  Read a blog that is posted by an Australian biology teacher.  My best friend is a biologist in Melbourne, Australia (or as he says–Oz.)  07 Eastern Grey KangarooOver the past few years as I started to post my observations and exploits on my own Biology Teacher Blog (http://benzbiologyblog.blogspot.com/) my friend Stewart Monckton started to put together some ideas for a blog of his own.  Well, it is live now and I find it fascinating.  I love to see the biology around my own world as I walk, drive, bike or paddle around.  Now I can “see” and “hear” and learn about the biology around the environs of Melbourne, Australia.  I find that writing a blog entry makes me see better, hear better, and learn more about my environment.  When I read Stewart’s blog I find that his entries and my responses are making me see more of the world, hear more of the world and of course, learn more about the biology in other parts of the world.  Last week he described a recent trip to an area called The Grampions west of Melbourne–or as Stewart says–> “The Grampians sit West and North of Melbourne. A four hour journey by car, longer with kids, an eternity if they are bored, restless and fractious. Luckily eternity does not beckon.”  Here is a comment that his recent entry elicited from me–>kookaburra
Benz said…

Another delightful “hike.” We often ignore sounds around us just to keep ‘peace of mind’ I suppose. Where I live I can alternately listen to a pileated woodpecker (had to mention that since you brought up your Crimson Rosella,) a noisy titmouse looking for peanuts in the mix of feeder fodder I put out, a helicopter flying overhead going from highway to hospital, and the background of long distance motor trucks on the highways obscured by the trees and forests. But my ear and mind seem to filter the wanted sounds from the unwanted ones. I can go out on my deck and listen to the rustling of leaves as the small herd of white-tail deer browse my trees and shrubs. I can concentrate on the dropping of acorns and the tapping of the hairy and downy woodpeckers–and ignore the cars and planes and school busses (this is a little easier since I retired from the classroom.) Just last Wednesday I led a night hike at a nearby Environmental Learning Center. The night was pretty overcast, therefore fairly dark. Rain was in the air, but the air was still. As we walked down the starting trail we were forced to ignore the distant highway, and were rewarded for it. A lone Great Horned Owl was making his presence known. Wait, there was an answer. Or maybe just an echo. At any rate, we ignored the highway and enjoyed the owl–our choice, our joy. RB

As you can see, he makes me think.  Stewart has asked if other biologist are interested in learning about his own environment.  I said “You bet they are!”  So here it is–


Check it out.  Learn about the environments on the other side of the world.  Oz is a fascinating place.  When you read about the wildlife, remember, they are on the “other side ” of the Wallace Line (see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_Line)

Rich Benz (and friend)

Rich Benz (and friend)


Spring Activities Are Heating Up

I've found a new home!

I've found a new home!

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