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Archive for the 'Biology' Category

The Circulatory System: From Harvey to the Artificial Heart.

Posted by Mr. Oettinger on 19th September 2010

The Circulatory System: From Harvey to the Artificial Heart
by Tom McGowen

The Circulatory System: From Harvey to the Artificial Heart.I discovered this book in grad school while working on a report about the history of the development of scientific knowledge of the circulatory system.

This book delivers the most complete treatment on that subject of any single publication.  Its looks can be deceiving: it’s about the size and length of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, but the typeface is smaller and more dense, so it’s worthy of a more mature reader.

This book takes you on a tour of human conceptions and scientific breakthroughs regarding the circulatory system around the world from Hippocrates.about 3600 years ago until the late 1980’s when the book was published.

If you don’t know the story, then it’s a fascinating read–and not just in a nerdy sense.  Also, as a science teacher, one should be aware of some major players in the development of scientific knowledge like Hippocrates, Galen, Andreas Vesalius, William Harvey, and many others.

Andreas Vesalius.This book covers more than just the people and their discoveries, it also lays out the prevailing cultural attitudes and scientific methodologies that helped, and hindered, scientific progress.

Ever since I found this book, I have been hoping for a way to infuse it into my biology curriculum.  It would be a perfect book for a science summer reading list, but since the book is long out-of-print, it’s not likely to be available in such large quantities.

Andreas Vesalius.I have thought of taking chapters, or shorter segments thereof, and having a short “story time” with my classes.  Unfortunately, I am not currently involved with a student body worthy of such a luxury.

Perhaps some day the right idea will come along, but until then, this book has enriched my understanding of one aspect of the nature of science, and it serves as a source of anecdotes to enrich my lessons about the human circulatory system.

Posted in Biology, Biology lesson ideas, Nature of Science (NOS), Science Pedagogy | No Comments »

100+ Reproducible Activities: Biology

Posted by Mr. Oettinger on 19th September 2010

100+ Reproducible Activities: Biology
by Joan DiStasio

100+ Reproducible Activities: Biology.Yet another fantastic publication from the 100+ Series of books.

This book is a set of 102 different blackline masters on just about every topic in an introductory middle/high school biology course.

Just photocopy and you’re ready to roll with a simple do-now, a short quiz, a homework assignment, or a lesson supplement.  It’s just that easy.

Many different skills are represented by these activities: diagram interpretation, vocabulary, table creation, critical thinking, standardized test practice.  These aren’t just for busy work!!!

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there’s an answer key for every worksheet.

If you’re a biology teacher, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book, it won’t cost much (about $10), and you won’t be sorry.

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The Power of Analogy: Teaching Biology with Relevant Classroom-Tested Activities

Posted by Mr. Oettinger on 5th October 2008

The Power of Analogy: Teaching Biology with Relevant Classroom-Tested Activities
Marcella W. Hackney and James H. Wandersee (2002)

Teaching Biology with Relevant Classroom-Tested Activities.I stumbled upon this book and it has been quite fortuitous that I obtained a copy of this publication — it is fantastic.

The book begins with a discussion of the basics of analogy, simile, and metaphor to help the teacher understand how bridging figurative language and meaning can have a valuable place in constructivist education.  The rest of the book presents chapters of sample activities using analogy, simile, and metaphor to teach typical biology concepts.

Each chapter has a detailed description of the activity, implementation guidelines, notes, specific example lesson blackline masters which have everything clearly listed (purpose, materials, guide to action), and generic activity blackline masters so you have an outline to follow for creation of your own lesson based on the example activity type.  Also provided are sample responses to the example blackline masters.

This book is as complete as it gets in terms of conveying a unique pedagogical technique, and provides enough scaffolding to aid the teacher in implementation of sample and generic lesson activities.  You’ll be up-and-running with a new activity for your classroom in no time.

Published by the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), you can’t go wrong with this quality book.

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Posted in Biology, Biology lesson ideas, Constructivism, Ecology lesson ideas, Inquiry, Life Science, Science Pedagogy | No Comments »

Cell Division as a Model for Exponential Growth.

Posted by Mr. Oettinger on 13th September 2008

Looking for an interesting way to introduce exponential growth early in your ecology unit?  Here’s a technology-based lesson in which your students can use computers, the internet, and spreadsheet/graphing software to construct this knowledge for themselves.

What you’ll need:

  • computer access (suggested one computer for each pair of students).
  • internet access to www.cellsalive.com.
  • about 45 minutes of class time (one period).
  • graph paper; OR optional spreadsheet software for graphing.

What to do:

Go to the CELLS alive! bacteria cell cam page.  First instruct students how to use the cell cam, and make sure you already have practiced it yourself.  Below the three cell cam frames are buttons you can use to step forward in time by 1, 5, or 20 minute intervals.  This will change the center intermediate frame only.  Or, you can enter a frame number below the frame and click out of the text box to see the frame change.

Start at frame number 1 on the intermediate frame and step forward in time by one or five minute intervals.  You will see the bacteria cells divide.  It is not important to be precise about the exact minute/frame that the cells divide.  As the number of cells increases, it can be difficult to identify the exact frame in which division took place.  Look for an obvious cleavage furrow.  Students will realize after the first couple of cell divisions that the number of cells doubles with each division, eliminating the need to actually count all of the cells formed.  It is okay to estimate which frame the cell division happens.

Have students keep track of time at which each division is observed/estimated and the number of cells at each division.  After stepping through about four hours of cell divisions (takes only a couple of minutes), there will be enough data to graph.

A sample graph of the data will look like this:

Clearly we have exponential growth here.

Note that if if using spreadsheet/graphing software in this lesson, you can first teach your students how to make a simple spreadsheet, format cells for data, and use the chart wizard to graph the data.  A fantastic technology lesson to support your life science topic!

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Posted in Biology, Biology lesson ideas, Ecology lesson ideas, Inquiry, Life Science, Technology | No Comments »

Biology Inquiries

Posted by Mr. Oettinger on 6th September 2008

Biology Inquiries: Standards-Based Labs, Assessments, and Discussion Lessons
by Martin Shields (2006)

Biology Inquiries.The title says it all–this book is the real deal, and is a must-have for any life sciences teacher.  Written by Marty Shields, a master teacher who I have had the pleasure of working with as my cooperating teacher during student teaching. 

From the back cover of the book:

Biology Inquiries contains lessons that:

  • Begin with mysteries, questions, and challenges
  • Emphasize evidence, explanations, and justifications
  • Focus on common biology misconceptions
  • Foster questioning, exploration, scientific skepticism, and reflection
  • Guide students to construct understanding for themselves
  • Bridge research-based theory with classroom realities

Do yourself a favor and buy this book today, then start working these ideas into your lesson plans ASAP!!!

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Posted in Biology, Biology lesson ideas, Constructivism, Ecology lesson ideas, Inquiry, Life Science | No Comments »

Website Review: www.CellsAlive.com

Posted by Mr. Oettinger on 28th February 2006

Updated 9/13/08.

CELLS Alive!

The URL is: http://www.cellsalive.com.

This site is authored by a gentleman by the name of James A. Sullivan.  His resume and web site represent “over 25 years of experience capturing film and computer-enhanced images of living cells and organisms for education and medical research.”

The site claims to have been published in 1994.  A quick WHOIS search of the domain name purchase reveals a date of 9/28/96.  I am more inclined to believe the 1996 date because I remember there wasn’t much happening on the internet until 1995 at the earliest.  I could be wrong.

The site claims to be updated annually.  It is not clear when the annual update takes place.  I cannot tell when the site was last visited, except that I have been visiting it quite often over the past few weeks.

Are the content/concepts correct?
When you visit any of the interactive content pages, you find an icon to the upper right corner of the page boasting recognition by Scientific American (SCIAM) in its Science & Technology Web Awards 2005.  One would expect that an endorsement from such a respectable publication is indicative of an accurate presentation of scientific information.  This site has also been recognized for excellence by Popular Science Magazine, and has received a host of respectable kudos throughout the years.

Furthermore, site author James Sullivan’s credentials suggest that this guy knows his stuff.  He has plenty of experience in the area of cellular observation and research as evidenced by his resume.  The material presented on this web site is of a fairly basic nature and most of the information can be easily verified by opening up any standard biology text book.  There is a links section which provides active links for verification of information and for further study.

The intended audience is anybody interested in learning about or teaching the basics of cell biology, microbiology, immunology and microscopy.  First year biology students in high school would find this site helpful.  The material is not overly technical, and it does a good job of covering the essential basics of the topics.  Therefore, this web site appeals to a wide audience both in age and in interest.

There are absolutely no commercial advertisements anywhere on this web site.  Permission is given for teachers and students to use images from this site for educational purposes, as long as the site is referenced.

This site advertises its multimedia content via download or on CD-ROM at a significant cost.  This content consists of many flash animations and video clips that are already available for free on the site.  The author of the site apparently provides the content on CD-ROM for those without internet access, which is a nice feature.  The download and CD-ROM content is also a way for users to make a donation to the site so that it remains a free site for those with internet access.

It is interesting to note that it is not necessary to purchase the CD-ROM in order to obtain many of the multimedia files.  The author of the site makes no attempt to prevent downloads of any video clips, images or flash animation.  I was able to easily view the source code for individual web pages and get the information I needed to download embedded objects such as Flash animations.  Any computer-savvy individual could obtain whatever free content he wanted from the CELLS Alive! web site for use in projects or presentations.  However, there is a host of premium content, in the form of video clips, which is not free on the web site.  You must pay for a download or purchase the CD-ROM to obtain the premium content.

Content Description:
This site offers films, computer enhanced images and animations of various cells and organisms.  The main categories covered by this site are cell biology, microbiology, immunology and microscopy.  Most of the interactive features are under the heading of cell biology, so I will focus my analysis on that category.

The cell models of plant, animal and bacterial cells are large, colorful and easy to understand.  Each model image has links to pages with detailed descriptions of the organelles, including additional images.  All you have to do is put your mouse over an organelle, and the name will be displayed in a text box.

There is a fantastic Flash animation of Animal Cell Mitosis that includes actual photos of a cell in each stage superimposed over a corner of the animation.  You have the option to watch the animation play, or to take each stage step-by-step.  Animal cell meiosis is also explored through the use of Flash animation.  The presentation is well done and includes a magnification option to view the process close-up with the steps delineated in more detail.

The Cell Cycle animation is simple, but insightful in its depiction of the cycle as a circular illustration.

There are two “Cell Cams” in which a user could watch bacterial growth or cell division in a population of cultured cancer cells.  Each cam shows the beginning frame, an intermediate frame that can be advanced to the present or rewound to the beginning in a few incremental steps, and a final frame that is the most current picture.  One awkward thing about the cell cams is that the function of the “jump forward” and “jump back” buttons isn’t clear.  Once I figured out that the buttons only apply to the intermediate frame in the middle, I could actually enjoy the presentation.  The presentation gives the appearance of happening in real-time, and automatically updates the final frame in regular increments throughout the day.

This site offers a ten-question quiz on each of the three main topics of cell biology, microbes and the immune system.  The quiz is administered in a popup window and graded in real time as you submit each answer.  One problem with the popup window is that it is not large enough to accommodate all possible answer choices, so if you don’t scroll down, you will potentially miss a viable answer choice.  This needs some improvement.

There is a links section that offers 45 links in 14 content areas for further study or research.  This section does not include any dead links.  This page was updated on 10/28/05.

As mentioned earlier, free and premium site content is available for purchase via download or CD-ROM.  A single-user copy of the CD-ROM costs $80 and is shipped free to worldwide addresses.  This site accepts PayPal, which is a hugely popular third-party online payment service that is free and easy for purchasers to use.

Use of this technology in the classroom has many benefits:
One big advantage to using this technology is that it saves time.  Concepts like mitosis and meiosis are always covered in a general biology class.  I once observed a teacher who spent a significant amount of class time drawing the steps of meiosis on the chalkboard with a variety of colored chalk.  This was in a school where all students were issued a laptop computer and had access to wireless internet.  With a paucity of board space, the teacher had to erase each step after it had been explained to make room for the next step.  This meant there was no going back to a previous step.  The students had many questions, and it was obvious that this teacher’s method was highly inefficient considering the obvious access to technology.

On another occasion, I watched a different teacher use the CELLS Alive! Web site to teach mitosis.  She reviewed each step through the computer projected on a screen and had instant illustrations to discuss each step.  This teacher even jumped to another web site with similar content, just to get a different perspective on the topic.  This lesson moved more smoothly and questions were handled with ease as the teacher navigated through different phases using this technology.  Another example of time savings in seen in the cell cams.  Students can view several hours of cell growth/division in the course of a single period.  This can enhance a lab experience by shortening the amount of time needed for data collection.

A second advantage to using this technology is that it offers a visual perspective and ease of access to rather abstract concepts like mitosis, meiosis, or the structure of plant and animal cells.  The animations are especially useful in helping students connect stages of a cycle in mitosis, or gives students immediate access to information related to the structure and function of different cell organelles.  There is no need to flip through pages of a handout or a textbook.  In the case of cell organelles, a student can click on any organelle and immediately access information about its name, structure and function.  In a textbook, one might find an illustration on one page, followed by several pages of descriptions of each structure.  Web technology condenses this information into an efficient package.

A third advantage to using this technology is that it offers virtual access to technologies that would otherwise be unavailable to students/teachers.  The cell cams are a prime example.  Microscopes, cell cultures, and a host of prep materials might be cost-prohibitive for an underfunded science program.  CELLS Alive! offers virtual access to the materials needed to run a lab on cell division.  Even if a school doesn’t offer the web access needed for all students to use this web site, the site is still a useful resource for a teacher to download the information needed to make this virtual lab idea happen.

An obvious limitation to the use of this technology is access.  To use this material in a classroom, one would need internet access, or at the very least, one would need the ability to demonstrate site content to a class.  It is possible to download this site content at another location (from home) and incorporate the content into a PowerPoint presentation or computer demonstration.  However, if a person weren’t savvy enough to figure out how to download some of the animations or videos, then one would have to buy a copy of the site on CD-ROM, which is a significant cost.

Another limitation is content.  The content is limited to specific content areas as previously mentioned.  Thus, this site serves a purpose as an excellent resource, but cannot be relied upon for a comprehensive set of data for extended unit-based instruction.  You can’t always get what you want, and most people should realize that a variety of sources is ideal for any presentation.

One last critique is that it is a bit annoying that the cell cycle animation begins playing as soon as you load the Cell Cycle page.  It’s generally considered poor “netiquette” to have multimedia with sound play automatically on the loading of a web page.

This web site makes use of technology that is beyond my own (fairly adept) capabilities, and this site implements its educational and informational mission quite well, which makes it hard for me to make any significant recommendations for improving this technology.  As mentioned previously, I think that the quiz windows need improvement because the window is too small to accommodate all answer choices.  This is a minor point, because I wouldn’t expect any teacher worthy of the title to rely on such a simple ten-question quiz for any real assessment.  However, I would like to see more extensive quizzes, because it is a neat feature and this site does a good job of it for the most part.  It would be nice if the cell cycle animation mentioned above did not automatically start playing when you load the page.

In general, the information on this web site is easy to find, the site is easy to navigate, there are no broken or dead links, there is a plethora of accurate information, and there is an excellent use of technology.  This site is fantastic and renown as evidenced by the many awards and recognitions it has received throughout its extended presence on the internet.
Suggested Educational Uses
Simulation/Illustration of Mitosis/Meiosis:
A Biology teacher inevitably has to explore cell division.  CELLS Alive! is an excellent resource of accurate and easy-to-use animations.  I am especially impressed with the mitosis animation that shows real images alongside the flash animation of the mitotic cell division.  One can clearly see the chromosomes lined up along the center of the cell during metaphase, or that daughter chromosomes have clearly moved to opposite sides of the dividing cell during telophase!  The inclusion of the real image nicely complements the Flash animation.  I would use this animation as a way to illustrate the process of cell division during an initial lecture on the topic.  If students were to use this site to learn about meiosis, I would expect them to answer these questions:

  • How many cells are the products of meiosis?
  • Are those cells diploid or haploid?
  • At what stage does “crossing over” of genes occur?
  • What are some main differences between mitosis and meiosis?

Exploration of cell structure and function:
The cell organelles section is interactive in that when you put the mouse over an organelle, the name of the structure is revealed.  I suggest one use of this as an in-class or at-home interactive exploration as a precursor to a lecture on cell structure and function.  The assignment could include making a drawing by hand with clear identification and labeling of cell structures.  The student would have to be sure to explore all parts of the cell with the mouse to make sure that everything is included in the diagram.  There is a finite amount of information available, which lends itself to an assessment rubric for the assignment.  Some questions I would expect students to be able to answer by using the information on this site:

  • What is the function of mitochondrion?
  • What is the function of endoplasmic reticulum?
  • What structures are unique to plant cells?
  • What is the largest structure in a plant cell?

Virtual lab on cell division:
The cell cams lend themselves to a virtual lab on cell division.  Since students can have access to each intermediate frame of the bacteria cam, for instance, a teacher could devise a lab assignment involving quantification of cell division during a given time period.  This lab could be performed without need for expensive and sensitive lab equipment, and could be performed without the time constraints needed to obtain viable data.  The number of cells, colony surface area, time and length of each division can be easily estimated or quantified.  To incorporate additional technology use in this assignment, a teacher could ask students to present data in the form of a graph, possible by using a spreadsheet program to collect data and greate a graphical output.

Open Ended Inquiry Assignment:
Students could use this web site as a starting point for a research project.  There is an interesting archive of pictures, links, information and data related to a host of topics that can serve as the basis for an inquiry project by students.  The assignment could include finding a topic of interest in Biology, and researching it using the information and links on CELLS Alive! as a starting point.  Some questions that can be researched using information on this site are:

  • What is the mechanism of HIV infection?
  • How are antibodies produced?
  • Describe the life cycle of a living cell in detail?

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Posted in Biology, Biology lesson ideas, biology website review, Life Science | No Comments »