155 – Primary Productivity and Selection Coefficient

Today in honors biology I gave kids some time to prepare their refutation essay on whether all interactions between organisms in the ecosystem must be competitive. They were issued a co-authored document template via Doctopus which allowed each kids equal editing rights. They had this delivered to their assignments folder and they have been working on it little by little each day outside of class.

I also delivered some content today for about 20 minutes on primary productivity in ecosystems. I meant to begin using a POGIL to introduce ecological pyramids but we ran out of time.


In AP biology we reviewed the Natural Selection of Rock Pocket mice but not many kids had done it. I re-assigned it for tonight. We also tackled the selection coefficient delivered via Excel spreadsheet by HHMI. It is a very cool model that allows kids to make predictions up to 1000 years. I’m not sure they were as revved as I was but I mainly wanted them to make connections between selection and fitness using the model.

Thursday will be hectic since we are doing two different labs in honors and AP. Lots going on and too little time.

Photo: Norman Kuring/NASA from A green blanket on the Arabian sea by SINDYA N. BHANOO

156 – Hardy Weinberg and Literature Reviews

Today in honors biology was part talking, part doing. I had to introduce the literature review to the freshmen. It is possibly the worst idea ever created by our system’s science administration. Shall I count the ways?

  • Fourteen year olds have never completed a research paper in science before
  • Freshmen have no access to peer reviewed journals which is what is required for the review. This forces me to become a scofflaw by asking a university student for their advanced Galileo password to access journals.
  • Freshmen have no idea how to reference sources.
  • Freshmen have no idea how to formulate a “real world” scientific question well enough to be the basis of evaluation for their paper.

Optimistically, I try to tell myself that I help them with the bullet points above.

For the other part of class they worked on a refutation assignment begun last week in day 158.

In AP biology we reviewed Hardy Weinberg EQ and applied it to our second model organism the Rock Pocket mouse. Tomorrow we will mess with the selection coefficient and delve deeper into the evolutionary forces.

157 – Quiz Day

Today I am giving a weekly quiz to both my honors and AP kids. Here is how it works:

  1. Students get quiz questions and answer sheet. Students answer questions.
  2. Students turn in answers.
  3. Students pick up rubric and self-assessment sheet and hold on to questions.
  4. Students self-assess
  5. Students turn it all in.

I use a standards based grading/learning approach in class. My quizzes are all short answer and don’t have numbers, just the objectives and questions. I give written feedback on my grading sheets. Yes, it takes a lot of time but professionally and for students there are a lot of benefits. My goal is to have them all graded by Monday.

Here are two examples. If you’d like to take a look I’ll have to approve your request.

Honors Quiz

AP Quiz * there is a typo on 1.2c question c where the light and dark should be reversed. I love when students catch things.

I have a student who needs a computer modified version of quizzes/tests and another who broke his writing hand, so I whipped up a Google form version.

Google Form Version AP 

158 – Evolutionary Forces and Symbiosis

Today in honors biology we started just reviewing symbiosis since this is a concept kids learn in 7th grade. I implored them to get a tubular bird feeder this winter and layer different sized seeds to encourage competition. They seemed really into that. But, they really were interested in the brood parasite Cuckoo Bird.

We transitioned to a refutation exercise essay project where kids would refute the idea that all interactions between organisms results in competition. The kids paired up and sending them a peer edited document via Google Drive was a snap.

In AP biology we journeyed down the path to Hardy-Weinberg EQ via a discussion of evolutionary forces. Paul Andersen’s 5 Fingers of Evolution is really cool although it does leave out Genetic Drift.

Genetic drift is the hardest concept for my kids to get each year. The idea of a random series of events changing allele frequencies over time causes some skeptical reactions. Mostly, I think this is because of the way it is presented through figures and graphs. Maybe I am confusing also.

Tomorrow both classes have quizzes so a post will be boring, but I will post the quizzes for the SBG folks who want a look.

159 – Beavers and Catch Up Lecture

Today in honors biology we discussed the keystone species. Primarily, we focused on the beaver. In Scotland, after being extinct for 400 years they decided to introduce a small population. The organization responsible published some educational materials in advance to help kids get on board. One of those activities is a nice card matching game. Cards of organisms are paired up with the written statement about how the beaver interacts with the ecosystem. I really like this activity for a number of reasons: it only lasts 10 minutes, the informational cards allow for discussion of keystone species and niche, and kids really like it. Niche is often a hard concept for kids to master. By having the informational cards, kid can develop an idea of what the biotic “role” of the organism is. It would be a nice activity for next year, having kids choose an organism and develop their own cards. 



In AP biology, I am going to catch up a bit on content with a 20/10/20 pattern of lecture, formative check, lecture. My goal this year was to lecture less, but there will be times when I have to do it for complicated topics or when I get behind. In those cases, my goal is to limit any lecture chunk to 20 minutes without some sort of active, processing break. 

The break I will use to day comes from a series of probes I developed using Far Side cartoons. I selected specific biology related Far Side cartoons (with Gary Larson’s blessing) and used them as a way to analyze specific performance indicators or learning objectives. 

This is an easy 10 minute break kids can work on after a topic has been introduced. 

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160 – Serengeti CER and the Snickers Bar of the Desert

Today in honors biology we took a simple pencil/paper activity and used it to do a Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER). The kids were using the activity as an assessment for one of their learning objectives. I had already used Doctopus to send them a template for their Google drive for the final copy. In class, they were to collaborate and work together to answer the questions about the activity which described multiple herbivores visiting the Serengeti, effectively following the rains and partitioning the niche unbeknownst to each other. During the work time, they were to complete the explanation tool for the CER. They were given the essential question “How do herbivores interact with each other on the Serengeti?” They were to create a claim to answer the question, pull out evidence form the data, tie classroom science to each piece of evidence, and write a reasoning statement that supported the claim, with the evidence and backed by science. In 15 minutes they actually did really well. The hardest part is backing the evidence up with our classroom science. Synthesis is hard for them since they are very literal beings right now. 

In AP biology we used our second model organism, the Rock Pocket Mouse, to study the effects of a selective pressure (visual predators) on the coat color phenotypes present in the population on tan desert terrain, and black lava flows. The students were given 4 pictures with two terrains (tan and black) and in each there were a number of mice. They were to sequence the pictures in a way that made evolutionary sense. They then watched one of the best 15 minute educational films made for biology, concerning the natural selection of the Rock Pocket Mouse (nicknamed the “Snickers bar of the desert”). High drama. 

The students were to think about how a random mutation (dark coloration), was a selective advantage in some environmental circumstances and a detriment in others. When it was an advantage, they had to think about how a mutation like this would spread rapidly in the population in a short period of time, while in the non-adaptive terrain it was selected against. They also had to ponder the idea of convergence on a specific phenotype since other, unrelated, Rock Pocket Mouse populations distally to these had similar mutations caused by different mutated genes. 

Tomorrow the honors kids will learn about the beaver as a keystone species through a card sorting game and the AP kids get a nice, old fashioned lecture, broken up by some short activities. 


161 – Niche and the Evolution of Paper Airplanes

Today in honors biology I taught for about 25 minutes on niche and habitat. Kids had a lot of questions. One that has come up before is the economics of being a Giant Panda in 2014. Their niche is so narrow and the kids struggle with the question of whether they would exist without human help. 

Fundamental niche and realized niche as well as niche partitioning are always tough to teach. I had them start an activity using data of 3 migratory Serengeti herbivores, as they track the rains and eat grass of varying length. They were perceptive to the idea that the animals were partitioning the niche without even being in the same place at the same time. 

In AP biology, we just ended our discussion of natural selection using Grant’s finches as our model. Today we created our own bird models using straws and paper to test the evolution of design by “mutating” various “offspring” of the parent plane. Students were to fly three offspring and the one with the best mutation would survive and be the next parent. Mutations were determined by coin flips and die rolls. It was fun and a nice break from the data crunching we have been doing. Tomorrow we will analyze the results for selection trends. 

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162- Biogeochemical Cycle Evacuation Drills

Today was my first day back from a two school day hiatus. Of course, the day had its challenges. Mainly, a evacuation drill during my AP bio class. Challenge met, but only for 20 minutes. 

Today in honors biology we discussed the major biogeochemical cycles. Mostly probing question and answer. My biggest goal was to connect the larger, global cycle to what happens inside a cell, and then bridge the two with food chains. Basically, how do the global cycles matter to living things? We did this for the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, with the focus on organic molecules and how the transfer is made via food chains. 

In AP biology, a reflection on the Grant Galapagos finch data revealed some nice talking points regarding the students’ take away of natural selection. I am using the 40 year Grant finch study to model natural selection. The data is great and I think students see clearly how natural selection can happen quickly under the right circumstances. 

Tomorrow in honors we will finally build the Winogradsky columns and in AP work on the Evolution in Action activity continuing the finch data exploration. 




165 – Domain 1 Evolution and Biotic Limiting Factors

I hate worksheet type classwork but I have some really nice data sets for ecology. Today we looked at the classic Hare/Lynx data and I had the class graph the data set and work together to answer questions about which animal exerts control over the other or, it is both? I then threw in a primary produce (clover) and asked how they would plot a third line for it. They had to consider the lag time for each species in terms of population impact from each limiting factor. 

In 7th period our web capability went down so I went to a similar data base of wolf/deer interactions, I like this data set because it shows population fluctuations for a controlled island ecosystem and takes into account predation, starvation and offspring. 

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Tomorrow is the first quiz in honors and I do quizzes this way: 

  • All questions are un-numbered but have the learning objective at the top of each section. Then there are parts to the question below the learning objective. 
  • The questions are data driven. Analysis comes from situations, graphs and tables. 
  • All questions are short answer. 
  • At the end of the quiz period, kids turn in their answer sheets and pick up a rubric and self-assessment. 
  • They then look at the rubric and score their own mastery on the self-assessment. Below each mastery scale table, they comment on “What I could do better”. This feedback is really important for their reflection and my understanding of their answer choice. 
  • They then turn it all in. 
  • I will score each quiz, offering written feedback in areas they did not master. 
  • I do this for around 100 honors kids and 23 AP kids. It is a lot of work. But, in my experience the feedback is helpful in determining where the student has to close the gap to mastery. From there, they can reassess. 

In AP biology we started our evolution domain today. It began with a brief introduction to pre-Darwinian contributions and general idea about natural selection. I then showed the HHMI short film called The Making of a Theory which is very well done. They have a fact or fiction sheet they work on before the film and then after to compare ideas. 

I will follow this up Wednesday with more intro information on natural selection and its principles. By then the students will have worked with the Grant finch data and see the short film The Beak of the Finch and we can use that to drive the discussion. 

Today I came across this and thought Google has a great perspective. I just wish I could convince colleagues and our system of the same sentiment. 

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Day 166 – Mind Blown and Amylase Salivation

This graph below was the object of honors biology wailing and gnashing of teeth last night and today. There were many concerns about not knowing how to do it. But struggle is good and not knowing is better. It does relate to their learning objectives so I did not want the graph to be the focus. The triple Y axis threw them, and many of them pointed out that the mortality should probably be on the Y. So, graphing was the first hurdle. The second hurdle was the idea of graph areas being superimposed such that each abiotic factor reduced the suitable area for the insect larvae to live in with each layer. Temperature was the least harsh factor, but layered with humidity, the suitable area dropped by 60% and then adding light as the third layer, it dropped 80%. In the end you have a small area showing the best conditions for the larvae based on all 3 factors. 

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It was really fun working through it and I can’t say all understood it perfectly, but in terms of the learning objective, they were clear. 

In AP I reviewed R and R squared in terms of correlation and regression and the kids showed a better understanding. They continued to work on the Salivary Amylase activity and I was able to walk around and help anyone who needed it. The null hypothesis is a concept that they have to work through since it seems to easy of a statement to make. testing the null with critical values is new to them. Working through the Amylase activity, my impression was that they were able to see how scientists can make claims (like # gene copies correlating with amount of amylase in saliva) and it not just be conjecture. I want them to be able to use statistics as a tool and eventually go to it without being asked. 

Tomorrow we begin our first real domain: evolution. I have never led off with it, but it is my strength so I am looking forward to good times. 

I probably won’t be able to do Days 164 and 163 due to being off for my mom’s surgery. Does sick leave count for 180 blogging?

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