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Save the endangered tree octopus!

6 Feb
Tree Octopus

Tree Octopus

It’s a well-known fact that new animals are added to the endangered species list on a regular basis, and sadly, we can’t save them all.  Species are going extinct at an alarming rate.

Today I present to you one of the latest that is sure to be on the endangered list soon: the Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis).  This awesome creature resides in temperate rainforests and lives a double life; they’re amphibious mollusks!  They are extremely intelligent with amazing eyesight.  They use their tentacles to climb trees in a form of locomotion called “tentaculation”.  Sadly, their breeding numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate due to “decimation of habitat by logging and suburban encroachment; building of roads that cut off access to the water which it needs for spawning; predation by foreign species such as house cats; and booming populations of its natural predators, including the bald eagle and sasquatch”.  (Info from the Official Save the Pacific Northwest Octopus site)

Hopefully, most people can spot the humorous and ridiculous points in the above story.  But can our students? 

The current student population consists of mostly tech savvy kiddos, usually much more so than we are ourselves.  They’ve grown up with computers, the internet, DVD players, Playstations, cell phones, mp3 players, etc.  They know the basics of using search engines to quickly find information.  Surely this is a huge advancement and advantage compared to the way we had to research our projects and research papers “back in the day”.  Yet teachers know that students will often go for what’s easiest (or, what gets homework and projects done the fastest) without bothering to stop and think if what they have found is valid or reliable. 

Researchers at the University of Connecticut conducted a study involving the aforementioned tree octopus.  The goal?  To test students’ ability to evaluate information they find online.  The results?  Sobering.  “The students not only believed all of the fabricated information, but also insisted on the existence of the octopus, even when researchers explained all the information had been made up.” (From dailymail article)

If students are going to continue to use search engines and the internet in general, teachers must incorporate ways to show them how to do so properly.  We need to teach them how to validate the content they find online.  Much of what has been taught in the past on reading critically is, of course, still applicable. 

  • What is the nature of the information being presented?  Is it original data, summaries of original data, anecdotal, etc?
  • Is the information current?
  • Are sources clearly documented?
  • What are the credentials of the original information and the sources listed?
  • Is the information verified by others in the field?
  • What is the purpose of publishing the information?  Is it geared to simply inform, sell a product, entertain, etc?

There are several good articles (on the internet! ha) about validating information and reading critically.  Here are a few, in no particular order:

Assessing and Validating Information Found on the Internet

Critical Reading Tips from Indiana University

E-how article on validating internet info

Evaluating Internet Information from Johns Hopkins

Fellow teachers, I urge you to broach this topic when an assignment comes up in which you know students will be using the internet for research. 

P.S.  Also, if we all teach critical reading and validation, then Wikipedia can be used.  It is not the devil.  🙂

Interesting Ways to Use…

3 Feb

Found a nice collection of “Interesting ways to use _____” for education.  Links include interesting ways to use Google docs, Prezi, Wallwisher, Nintendo Wii, blog posts, and lots more.  Check it out.

France frets over transgenic bacteria labs for teens

31 Jan

pGLO labThere’s a debate brewing in France over letting teens perform transgenic labs in the classroom.  This has become a common lab in introductory biology courses in college and in many high schools across the United States as well.  Scientific supply companies like Biorad sell kits for this type of lab that let you add a plasmid with genes for green fluorescent proteins (as well as a gene for antibiotic resistance to ampicillin) to Escherichia coli bacteria. 

When I saw the news article, my eyes nearly bugged out of my head, and I started laughing.  My freshmen (14-15 year olds) are performing this lab this week!  The debate in France centers around whether 15 and 16 year olds should be allowed to do this.

Certainly I can understand the concern about antibiotic resistant organisms escaping into the environment.  The reality is, though, that biotechnology is very interesting to the students, and it gives them a way to associate the abstract knowledge of DNA with something more tangible and practical.  What’s the big deal about learning the human genome if you don’t understand what we can then do with that knowledge?

P.S. If you do the pGLO lab or something similar with your students, show them why GFPs are cool by introducing them to some of their uses at the GFP site.

Virtual Dinosaur Dig

24 Jan

The Smithsonian has a cool virtual dinosaur dig where students learn how fossils are uncovered, transported, and then assembled.  Neat stuff!

Awesome idea alert

23 Jan

jenga Jenga.  Who doesn’t love it?

 So why not turn Jenga into a game to review with your students?

 The author at “I Want to Teach Forever” gives you the details.  Pure awesomeness.

I feel so hopeless right now.

22 Jan

This school year hasn’t gone as planned.

Don’t get me wrong.  It hasn’t gone badly.  My classes are good and well-behaved (for the most part), and the students seem to respond well to my style.  Yet I haven’t been able to try any of the new things I envisioned for the year.

Part of the problem is that I’m at a new school.  In some ways, I feel like a brand-new teacher again.  The norms and values of the school as a whole are very different from my previous workplace.  At my old workplace, there were a lot of passionate teachers.  There were also, unfortunately, a lot of people who shouldn’t even be in the teaching profession.  At my current job, the faculty seems good overall, but they don’t necessarily seem passionate.  There are some people that I think may not even like kids. 



They aren’t bad teachers, though, necessarily.  Yet it’s still a very different dynamic than what I am accustomed to.  At my previous workplace, differentiated instruction was really pushed (some might say “crammed down our throats”).  New ideas were always being presented and tested out.  I have lectured more at this new job than I’ve ever lectured before.  I mentioned to my fellow subject matter teacher the other day that I thought we should have the kids do more projects.  They appeared aghast at the idea. 

I keep telling myself, “Maybe next year”.  But what about this year?  It hasn’t been bad, but I don’t know that I’ve grown much either.  I’ve wanted to set up a Moodle all year and have gotten absolutely nowhere.  The teachers here don’t seem very interested in trying new things, so I haven’t been able to get much tech support, either.

I’m frustrated.  I’m lonely.  I know no one likes a new person who comes in and starts changing things dramatically, and I understand and respect that.  But when does that end?

Teaching science as religion

22 Jan

How do you teach science?

Most science teachers ideally incorporate projects, research, and inquiry into the curriculum.  Honestly, to what extent do we do that?  We spend a lot of time also teaching the history of science and performing traditional “cookie-cutter” labs.  We tell our students what the currently accepted theories are and then we test them over it, expecting them to have all of the “facts” memorized.  And, if you’re in the public school system, you hardly have time for inquiry and what-not since you are essentially forced to teach to a standardized test.

So (brace yourself), how is this fundamentally any different than teaching religion?

In many circles those two words, science and religion, don’t get along so well (which in my opinion is silly, as the two are not mutually exclusive, but that’s a topic for another time).  The last thing many science teachers want to hear is that they are, in fact, teaching religion. 

If we don’t make the students actually PERFORM science though, how is it truly different?  Telling the kiddos that Mendel mated pea plants and found a 9:3:3:1 ratio when he crossed parent plants that were heterozygous for two traits…teaching that the world came into existence as a result of the big bang…teaching that there is a teeny tiny organelle called a mitochondrion in your cells that basically helps you produce energy…these are all explanations that can be memorized.  Very little of it is usually taught in such a way that the students come to this idea on their own. 

And, taking this idea one step further, if this is how we teach science, is it any wonder that some students choose NOT to accept the currently accepted theories of evolution and the big bang?  We often present it as memorizable facts–just like their parents and pastors do for creationism.

Bottom line: we need more project based learning, research, and inquiry in science classes.  Make the students think, make them hypothesize, make them research, make them collaborate.  Make them DO science.

Romney on Merit Pay

17 Jan

I am shocked to hear AP teachers specifically mentioned in merit pay.

Teachers–are you part of the Reform Symposium?

8 Jan

Today, January 8, is the Reform Symposium (#rscon11 on Twitter).  Basically the Reform Symposium is free professional development conferences/presentations/webinars on engaging children in the classroom. 

The schedule of events can be found here:

Join us now!

Why do you teach?

7 Jan

Why do you teach?

Is your goal to make sure each of your students learns the geographic impact on the rise and fall of major empires throughout world history?  Must all of your students understand the value of finding the limit of a function?  Do your students need to be able to explain how the architecture of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells suggests a common origin?

These are all worthy goals, to be sure.  As educators, we are passionate about our subject areas.  Naturally, we would love for our students to love them as well.  Not many things could make me more proud than for a student of mine to go on to do great things in biology. 

Realistically, I know that most of my students will never have a career even remotely related to biology.  Do our goals as teacher’s need to include covering the subject matter?  Of course!  That is what teaching, fundamentally, is.  Yet I fear that many teachers get bogged down at this level of education and never consider what other things they can be accomplishing at the same time.

Perhaps Chris at Practical Theory illustrates this sentiment best–

For four years, kids share their lives with us. We see them grow up through some of the craziest times of their lives, and if we are lucky, we get to have some small impact on them. Within the context of f(x) = x -3 and Newton’s Laws and Their Eyes Were Watching God, we learn about each other, and we touch each other’s lives, and then they move on, and we have a new group of kids who we have to care for with the same energy and passion and dedication as we cared for the kids who just left. It is a bit twisted, really, but it’s kind of amazing too.

Amazing barely begins to describe it!  I think some teachers are scared of this aspect of the job, and thus it limits their teaching to strictly focusing on the academics.  Maybe they think it’s inappropriate to have fun with kids, to get to know them, to spend time with them as people.  Maybe they are uncomfortable trying.  Maybe they are worried that they are incompetent in this area, and thus they simply don’t try.  Yet, kids often don’t care what you know until they know you care

Teaching isn’t just about academics.  Maybe it should be, and maybe it shouldn’t.  I suppose that’s a whole ‘nother debate.  What I do know is that I choose to look at it differently.  Not only am I fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share my love of biology with teenagers, but I’m blessed to get to be a part of their lives.  And also blessed that they get to be a part of mine.

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