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Pumpkin Chemistry and The Haunted Library

What do you get when you cross the following: anatomy and physiology students, chemistry students, the school library, Halloween, the science club, and the Make-A Wish Foundation?

Just complete science FUN!!

Each year at our school, our students who are enrolled in either Anatomy and Physiology or Chemistry are required to carve a pumpkin with a theme that corresponds to the class that are taking.  As you would expect, some of the students go all out and bring in some really amazing creations, while others just do the bare minimum.  But, it always turns out to be a great day, and all involved have a lot of fun.

The library transformed!
All members of the science club stay after school one day and transform the library into "The Haunted Library"!!

The librarian is a great sport to allow us to do this to her library!

After the library has been decorated, all of the participating students bring in their carved pumpkins to put on display.  Next, you turn on the creepy music and turn on the ghosts that fly across the room, and you have a haunted library!
What did they do to my skeleton?

During the day, all students in our school are given the opportunity to visit our haunted library.  Each student pays $1.00 for admission.  And since the students are allowed to leave class (with teacher permission) to visit the library, you can well imagine that every kid in school is begging their teacher to take them to the library.  All of the money we raise goes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  I am proud that this year we were able to donate over $1000 to this wonderful organization!

Here are some of the pumpkins that were created for this year's haunted library.  I saved my favorites for the very last!

I will start with the one that my own daughter created!  Have you seen the movie, "Up"?  She carved the house from the movie into the bottom pumpkin, and add three helium balloon pumpkins on top.  On the left, is the pumpkin with the info from the periodic table about helium.

This one was created by an anatomy student.  Each bone in the hand and arm was clearly and correctly labeled.  Very cute!

This student did a great job carving a brain!

It's water with a bat-smile!

With my flash....
In the dark....

A model of an atom....

Carbon Dioxide....

We had two 

A few of our special effects....

I loved this "ScArDy" Cat!
Very clever!

This student carved a pretty good heart!

And now for my very favorite!  This student did an amazing job carving a human fetus, and then placed it inside Mom's tummy!

I hope you have enjoyed this post.  It takes an incredible amount of work to pull this off, but the students loved it, and we raised so much money for a very worthy cause!  Win/win for all involved!

Happy Teaching!!

Discovery Education

I have spent the first part of this morning looking at the Discovery Education web site.  If you have never seen this site, and you teach school, you should head there right now!  It has free lessons and teaching materials for all subject areas and all grade levels.  Of course, I spent my time perusing the science section for grades 6 - 8 and 9 - 12.

Each lesson includes the following:  Objectives, Materials, Procedures, Discussion Questions, Evaluation, Extensions, Suggested Readings, Links, Vocabulary, and Standards.  Wow!!  Everything the teacher needs!

Here are some of the lessons I really liked for middle school students:

Robots:  The lesson centers around how robots will improve life for humans, especially those that have disabilities.

Transition Metals:  Students will identify and describe transition metals, discuss alloys and their benefits, and research one common alloy, its composition, properties, and uses.

Here are some of the lessons I really liked for high school students:
Underwater Forensics:  Students will discover how a team of scientists uncover the facts about a shipwreck, describe the roles of scientists and technicians on an underwater forensics team,  research a shipwreck, and demonstrate understanding of why such incidents occur.

Galileo's Dialogue:  Students will understand the following:

Galileo's conclusions about the position of Earth in the solar system raised objections from the Church.
Galileo lived at the beginning of a period in which scientific inquiry flourished.
As you can see, there are some really great activities on this site.  I hope you will find some useful lessons for your particular teaching situation.  Happy Teaching!!

Lab: Gas Exchange in Respiration

Gas Exchange in Respiration:
Qualitative Observation of Carbon Dioxide Release

It is the time of year for teaching photosynthesis and respiration to my biology students.  I think that all biology teachers will agree that these are difficult concepts to teach to our students.  Other than genetics, I think that the topics of photosynthesis and respiration may be my favorite topics to teach.  I enjoy the chemistry aspects, and I especially enjoy sitting back and marveling at how beautiful these two processes are.  I really get excited in my classroom and can often be heard saying, "Isn't it cool how this works?!"

Which do you teach first?  Personally, I like to teach respiration first.  After 28 years of teaching, I find that this approach works best for me.  I have tried it both ways, and now I always start with respiration.

It is so important to make sure that the students first have a firm grasp on the "big picture".  Emphasize the reactants and the products.  Make sure the students understand what the end result will be.  Then start adding in the details of the chemical reactions.  Once the student has a basic understanding of the relationship between these two processes, you can begin to add the details just like hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree.  As I move into the more complicated aspects of these chemical reactions, my students become more and more excited.  They quickly realize that they can really "see" the chemistry that is taking place.  

Unfortunately, I have found it very difficult to find good labs to reinforce the concepts of respiration.  I find photosynthesis labs to be more more effective.  At any rate, today I did this lab with my students:  Gas Exchange in Respiration.  The basic idea is to show students that living organisms give off carbon dioxide.  In the test tubes shown in the picture above, a small amount of phenol red has been added to each tube.  Glass beads are added to provide a barrier between the phenol red and the specimens that will be added to each tube.  As you look at the picture, the tube to the far left contains a piece of paper toweling that was dipped in a boiled yeast solution.  Tube 2 has paper toweling that was dipped into a fresh yeast solution.  Tube three contains 5-10 germinated seeds.  Tube four contains 5-10 dry seeds.  And tube 5 contains only the phenol red and no additional materials.  If the organism gives off carbon dioxide it will cause the phenol red to change from red to orange or yellow.  The tubes containing boiled yeasts and dry seeds will not show any change in the phenol red.  Fresh yeast and germinated seeds are actively respiring and will quickly cause a color change in the phenol red.

If you have great lab ideas for respiration, I would love to hear them!  Happy Teaching!

Pinterest - The Latest Craze!

Are you a Pinterest addict yet?

If you have not taken a look at this site yet, then don't delay!  Head that way right now.  Pinterest is the latest craze and people are pinning like mad.  What are they pinning?  Just everything under the sun, from recipes, to clothes, to science products (!), to favorite books and movies.  Pinterest is like a huge bulletin board.  If you have something you like, you can pin it to a board that you have created.

I hope that you will check out all of my boards.  So far, I have created 34 boards.  Most of my boards are related to teaching science and you will find some great teaching materials there.  I have also found some terrific recipes on Pinterest and have pinned them to my "recipe" board.  The chocolate souffle recipe I found is to die for!

Check out my pin boards here:  Science Stuff on Pinterest!  I would love for you to become one of my Pinterest followers.

Happy pinning!

Signs of Fall in Tennessee!

I am on Fall Break this week, so I do not have much biology teaching news to report.  Instead, I thought I would show you what Fall looks like from my point of view. 

You know it is Fall in Tennessee when:

1.  I decorate my kitchen table for the upcoming holidays.
(Only two of these pumpkins are ceramic...the rest are real!)

2.  I also put Fall decorations out on my front porch.

My daughter loves to pick out the weirdest pumpkin she can find!

Aren't these the "happiest" flowers?

3. for a little biology!
The fungi are going crazy at this time of year.  This puffball was the size of a grapefruit!

4.  The kids at my school "flamingo'd" the front lawn.  I thought this was a very cute prank!

5.  College football is off and running in the SEC!  My daughter is in the band at Mississippi State.  She is at the bottom of the first "T"!

6.  My husband is a high school band director.  We have a marching band competition nearly every week end.

7.  Now back to biology....
These are the last few ducks left on our pond.  The picture was taken at twilight with the last remaining sun reflecting off the water.

8.  Found this gorgeous beetle as I worked in my yard one day.  Its back was an amazing lime green color.

9.  And know it is Fall in Tennessee when the summer flowers are still growing like crazy on your deck!

I hope your Fall is as pleasant as mine.  Happy teaching!!

Science Skills: Let the Student Design the Experiment!

In my many years of teaching, I have discovered that my students do not truly understand how to apply the scientific method.  When they reach my high school biology class, they can recite the steps to the scientific method, but few can actually design a controlled experiment.   Most science teachers (me included!) have our students complete “cookbook” labs in which the student follows a list of steps and hopefully reaches the desired outcome or conclusion.    I am trying to move away from this approach and make my labs more inquiry driven.  This is no easy task!!  Due to overloaded classes, time constraints  and nonexistent budgets, few science teachers can take a class to the lab and turn them lose for independent lab work.

With all of that in mind, I have written this “Student Designed Experiment” that has worked very well for me.  Here are the main points:

  • In this activity, all students will be designing a lab on the same topic and using the same simple materials. This is essential when you first begin to teach your students how to design an experiment.  On the first attempt, you do NOT want your students going in a million different directions.  If all students are working on the same topic, they can help and guide one another, and it allows you, as the instructor, to better assist the struggling students.
  • In the activity that I use, students are asked to design an experiment to determine how various quantities of water will affect the germination of seeds.  It is a very simple topic.  I don't want my students getting bogged down in the subject matter.  I just want them to focus on the steps of the scientific method and how to design an experiment.
  • There are only a very few ways in how to design this experiment.   Perfect! This keeps all of the students moving in the same direction.  This makes your role as facilitator easier, especially if the class size is large.  If this is the first time your students have tried to design their own experiment, the limited possibilities in experimental design will help your students learn the process with less frustration.
  • This requires very simple materials:  Petri dishes or other similar container, radish seeds, graduated cylinder, and water.
  • In this activity, students are asked to identify the independent and the dependent variables.  They must also describe their experimental group and their control group.
  • Students must design a data table and construct a graph of the data they collect.
  • The handouts that I have developed for this activity can be used over and over.  If you have another idea for a ”student designed experiment”, you can have your students use these same handouts.
  • If time allows, you might want to have your students design a second experiment that tests a different variable, such as the effect of temperature on seed germination or the effect of pH on seed germination. 

The process of teaching the "student-designed experiment" is somewhat time consuming, but in my opinion, is well worth the time and effort. This lesson cannot be completed in one class period. I require that students first submit their experimental design to me for approval. I make suggestions, and have the students refine their experiment. Next, students are in the lab to actually carry out their experiment. Students must return to the lab at different time intervals to count their germinated seeds. Students must analyze their data, graph the results, reach a conclusion, and turn in their final packet of work. As you can see, this cannot be done in a 50-minute class period. However, when your students have completed the activity, they should have a firm and concrete grasp on the scientific method and how to design a controlled experiment.

You can find the lab handouts that I use with my students in my TpT store by clicking on the red links.  There are two sets of handouts included.  The first set is used to carry out the seed germination experiment.  The second set can be used all year long as your students continue to design and carry out experiments on topics of their choice.

 Scientific Method Lab: The Student-Designed Experiment

Enjoy!  (...and Good Luck!!)

Scientific American

I want to tell you about the Scientific American website.  I have read the magazine for years.  Sometimes I understand the articles and sometimes I don't!  :)  But I also feel like I have "improved" myself with every issue.

Recently I discovered  Now I am totally addicted to this web site and I visit it almost every day.

When you go to the site, these are so many options:

  • Take a look at "Citizen Science".  There you will find all sorts of research projects that you, as a citizen, can participate in.
  • Click on "Education" and then"Bring Science Home"  and look at all the cool science experiments you can do at home.
  • Click on "Education" and then "1000 scientists in 1000 days".  Sign up here and you can have a scientist visit your classroom, either in person or through Skype.
  • Click on "Multimedia" and then just sit back and enjoy!!
Check all of this won't be sorry!

Happy Teaching!

New FREE Item: Chart of Amino Acids and Codons

If you are a biology or life science teacher, I believe that you will be able to use this!

As you know, there are 20 amino acids that are used to build all the various proteins in living systems.  When teaching about protein synthesis, I like to have my students work out this process.  I give them the DNA sequence of a particular gene, and ask them to determine the mRNA sequence, the tRNA sequence, and the amino acid sequence of the protein.  In order to determine the amino acid sequence, the students need a chart in order to look up the mRNA codons.

I have used this chart for some time and I like it best of all the ones I have used.

Here is a link to this FREE product:  Chart of Codons and Amino Acids.  I hope that you find this "freebie" useful.

Also related:  Determining the Traits of a Mystery Organism Organism Through Protein Synthesis.

Top Teacher Resources - New Page on Facebook
I want to tell all of you guys about a new Facebook page all about teachers!  The Top Teachers from all over are posting their favorite lessons, ideas, and tricks.  You're welcome to join us and share.  Anyone can post to the page.  Every teacher of every subject and every grade will surely find teaching tips at Top Teacher Resources.  We'd love to have you!  Join us at TOP TEACHER RESOURCES

Hope to see you there!

Science Skills: Comparing and Contrasting

I am back on my "science skills" kick!!  

I spent most of my summer refining the ways that I teach the important skills in science:  critical thinking, problem solving, graphing, metric measurements, the scientific method, etc.  In this technological age, teaching science has become much less about the "facts" and much more about the "skills".  The facts are at our fingertips....we only have to push a few buttons on our computer and the facts coming flying out at us.  Don't misunderstand, though.  I still teach a fairly traditional biology class and I make sure I cover what needs to be covered.

So what has changed in my class?  I am making much more of an effort to included activities, worksheets, and labs that are not as much "content based" as they are "skills based".  The science portion of the ACT test is now called "Science Reasoning".  The AP Biology curriculum is being changed next year in favor of an inquiry approach to biology.  These changes are good.  The message to science teachers is "Teach your students how to THINK!"

Most science teachers would agree that students who have developed good "science skills" will be far more successful in a science class than those students who simply memorize a laundry list of science facts.   In my attempt to include more problem solving activities, I wrote this lesson (see link below) and just tried it out in my Biology I classes today.  It was a lesson (or a review) in "comparing and contrasting" for the science student.

I began the lesson with a short PowerPoint presentation.  I wanted my students to understand what it means to "compare and contrast".  During the Powerpoint presentation, students were asked to compare two living organisms.  The students made a list of the similarities and differences between these two organisms.  After comparing and contrasting the two organisms, I had the students determine why these similarities and differences are important to these organisms.

The PowerPoint presentation was followed up by 5 page student worksheet.  This worksheet made the students practice over and over the skills of comparing and contrasting.  The questions were thought provoking and required problem solving and critical thinking skills.

This lesson can be used at different times of the year.  Next year, I plan to use it at the beginning of the school year to get my students "thinking like a scientist".  Today, I used this Powerpoint and worksheet to introduce a unit on classification and taxonomy.  This lesson would also work extremely well when teaching a unit on Evolution.

I think this approach to teaching science will really pay off for my students as they take the ACT and AP exams.  As they were moaning and groaning over today's assignment, I reminded them, "No pain, no gain!!"

Here is a link to the product, if you are interested.

Science Skills Worksheet and PowerPoint:  Comparing and Contrasting

Using Potatoes for Osmosis and Diffusion Labs

• Easy materials list!
• Easy set up and clean up!
•Involves calculations and graphing!

Win!  Win!  Win!

I love labs that:

  • Teach or illustrate multiple concepts
  • Use simple consumable materials and readily available lab items
  • Involve weighing, measuring and calculating
  • Require the students to make a HAND-MADE graph
  • Provide a perfect visual of the concepts I teach in the classroom
  • Reinforce the use of lab equipment and proper laboratory skills
  • Require the students to use critical thinking and problem solving skills
  • Require students to closely examine the date in order to draw a conclusion

This lab meets all of the above requirements!!  The ideas that you are about to read about are not new.  And the teaching of osmosis and diffusion in a cell structure unit is timeless and absolutely necessary. There are so many lab activities to choose from for this topic, but what I describe below has proven to be the best for my students.  When the students in the lab are exclaiming "WOW!" as they view plasmolysis occurring in cells viewed with a microscope, you (the teacher) have succeeded in solidifying that concept in their brain.

The lab I use has two different activities.  Part A of this lab is qualitative.  Students will view plasmolysis in a living cell.  Students will observe cells under the microscope as plasmolysis takes place, and easily and excitedly view the collapse of the cell.   Cells from an onion or an Elodea leaf are subjected to a few drops of salt water and students can instantly view plasmolysis occurring in these cells.

Part B of this lab is quantitative.  (I am a big fan of quantitative!!)  Students will measure the amount of water lost (in grams) from potato slices.  Students will draw pictures and describe what they see in Part A.  Students will measure and graph their results in Part B.

In the first part of the lab, students place a small piece of onion skin, or a leaf from the Elodea (Anacharis) aquarium plant on a microscope slide, along with a few drops of distilled water.  Students view the cell, draw the cell, and describe the position of the cell contents.  Once the initial observation is complete, students use a small piece of paper toweling to draw off the water, replacing it with a few drops of 15% salt water solution.  The transformation is stunning.  The plant cells immediately undergo plasmolysis.  No student can fail to understand what has just happened.

While the first part of the lab requires only drawings and descriptions from the students, the second part of the lab will require weighing, measuring, calculating and graphing.

Purpose of this lab:
1. To observe the process of plasmolysis inside living cells.
2. To observe the effect of different types of solutions on living cells.
3. To quantitatively measure the rate of plasmolysis in potato slices.

MaterialsNeeded:  Microscopes, Microscope slides, Cover slips, 5% sodium chloride solution, Medicine droppers, Elodea plant, 10% sodium chloride solution, Distilled water, Potatoes, various sugar solutions, 100 mL beakers, Balances.

In this part of the lab, the student uses a cork borer to make 20 small cores of potato.

The potato cores are massed 4 at a time to determine their initial mass.

The 4 cores of potato are placed in solutions of different sucrose molarities.  The first beaker contains distilled water, the second contains a .2M sucrose solution, the third contains a .4M sucrose solution, the fourth contains a .6M sucrose solution and the last contains a .8M sucrose solution.

The potatoes are allowed to sit in their various solutions overnight.  After 24 hours they are weighed to determine their final mass.  The student will calculate a percent change in mass and place this data on a graph.  From the graph, the student will determine the solute concentration of the potato.  The student will decide if the potato was hypotonic or hypertonic to the solution in which it was placed.

As I stated at the beginning, these ideas are not new or unique, and you may already be doing these activities in your science lab.  I have tried many, many osmosis and diffusion labs, but this one has proven to be the most effective in getting the concepts across to my students.

My TpT store has a variety of free and paid resources to help you teach these concepts.  You might want to check out my FREE LAB, "The Effect of Concentration on the Rate of Diffusion" by clicking the red link.

Paid resources include the following:

Lab: Qualitative and Quantitative Plasmolysis

Cellular Transport Jeopardy Review Game

Lab: Diffusion Through a Non-Living Membrane

Cellular Transport Critical Thinking Worksheet