Tag Archives: science education

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.


Science education’s great loss

6 Jan

Recently the science education world, and more specifically the world of biology teachers, lost a great colleague, Kim Foglia.  Ms. Foglia was an extremely generous and well-known AP Biology teacher who shared everything online (ExploreBiology) with other science teachers, many of whom she probably never even met.  Many biology teachers around the world were, and are, incredibly grateful for the help and support she provided other teachers by sharing her ideas and lessons.  Many of us are probably better teachers in many ways because of her.  She will be missed.

The Top 100 Tools for Learning

21 Dec

The Top 100 Tools for Learning list for 2011 is now being compiled!  Good stuff.

Science of Everyday Life

26 Nov

All teachers have heard students ask, “Why do we have to learn this?”  or “How are we ever going to use this?” or “What does this have to do with anything?”

3M (known for Post-Its) and Discovery Education have partnered to create the website Science of Everyday Life.  On this website, one will find resources for students and teachers in regards to…well, science in everyday life (good name for the site, then, huh?).  The following quote sums it up:

Aligned to national standards, these exciting inquiry-based lessons address key areas of life science, physical science, earth science, and technology/innovation using common materials you can find in your classroom. Help students make real world connections to science and ignite the spark that may eventually lead students to a scientific career!

Here is an example of a lesson from the site–

“Cushion It”: Collisions are a part of everyday life. Some are wanted (baseball and bat), some are unwanted (car crash), while others are unavoidable (stubbing one’s toe). There is a great deal of basic science involved with collisions and in this lesson.

Cool stuff for making science relevant.  Go check it out.

This chlorophyll might give you a thrill

25 Sep

Heads up, biology teachers.  A new chlorophyll has been discovered.  Here is some great new stuff to mention when you get to your photosynthesis unit.  This newly discovered chlorophyll has been dubbed “chlorophyll f” and apparently can harness light from beyond the red end of the spectrum.  Aside from simply being a cool new discovery, it also gives you the opportunity to talk about stromatolites, and who doesn’t enjoy that?  🙂

Read more here: New Chlorophyll Discovered

Sewer Lice!

31 Aug
I have known of Flinn’s “Sewer Lice” activity for several years, but I have never tried it.  I thought it would be a cute demonstration to use on the day I discuss characteristics of living organisms.

If you’ve never seen the write-up before, it basically involves putting some sort of carbonated beverage in a beaker and then adding a handful of raisins to it.  The raisins are supposed to move around in the liquid as a result of the the CO2 bubbles.

Golden Raisins

Golden Raisins

I recalled reading online once upon a time that someone suggested using golden raisins, as they are typically less recognizable to students than the usual dark variety.  So I bought some Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and golden raisins at Walmart to test this out.

To my disappointment, the raisins fizzed A LOT when I dumped them in the 600 mL beakers (I had one beaker full of Sprite, one with Dr. Pepper, and the other with a 50/50 mix of the two), but they didn’t move much.  Needless to say, I didn’t bother showing the students or use them as discussion (though I guess it could’ve been a good discussion of how sometimes we don’t get the results we expect, yada yada). 

Has anyone else attempted this activity?  How did it work for you, and what did you use?  Thanks!

Use of the Microscope

26 Aug

Well, it turns out that very smart students who are motivated to learn aren’t a whole lot better at using the compound microscope than the unmotivated, inner city public school students I am used to teaching.



Today we began our microscope lab in which the students must create wet mounts for a protist (I gave them a choice of live Volvox, Blephorisma, and Diatoms), an animal (Daphnia), a plant (Elodea), bacteria (from yogurt), and then a prepared slide of a fungus.  I scheduled the lab to last for two days (classes are about 50 minutes long), but I’m concerned that this will still not be enough time.

The day before the lab began we took our safety quiz and then discussed how to use the microscope.  We took quick notes on how to handle it (the typical “one hand on the arm, one under the base”, don’t use the coarse adjustment knob when you’re using a high power objective, etc.).  We talked about magnification, resolution, and field of view.  We labeled a picture of the microscope and talked about each part.

Even so, I had to spend quite a bit of time today discussing how to make a wet mount (even though it was in their pre-lab reading that they were to do for homework the night before), how to move the slide around stage to get it centered, and so on.  Often times, the students were simply helpless and seemed to need (or maybe just want) a lot of “hand-holding”.  

Here is a conversation I had with one student:

“Mrs. Teacher, I can’t see anything.”

“Are you on low power still?”


“So you haven’t seen anything on any power yet?”


“Did you move the coarse adjustment knob?”


“Try that first.  No…while looking in the microscope.”

Doing that with about 15 students each class period one-on-one is a little frustrating, but I think I managed to smile through it all.  And it’s always nice to hear, “Oh cool!  I see it.  It’s moving!  Mrs. Teacher, come look!”

Does anyone have any ideas, suggestions, or tips on how to make learning the microscope easier/less time consuming/etc.?

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