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Excellent Resources for Teaching the Protists

Excellent Short Videos of Protists

Just as my school was getting out for the Christmas break, I was finishing up a unit on the Protists with my biology classes.  I am very fortunate to have the use of an extremely well equipped high school lab, but before I took my students to the lab to complete my protist lab, I wanted some short video clips to use in the classroom during my lecture.  Most sites that host video are blocked at my school, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find several sites that I could access and use in my classroom.

Here are a few of the sites that I found.  What I liked the best was the short length of each clip.  With each of these sites, I could show 20-30 seconds of one organism and then move on to another organism.

Each of the sites listed below are free and the quality of the video is excellent.

Nikon Microscopy:  This was my favorite site.  Not only did it have the clips of the protists I was looking for, but it also has video clips of annelids, cnidarians, crustaceans, etc.  I'll be going back and using this site again and again.

Fun Science Gallery:  This site has 38 movies of bacteria, protists and freshwater multicellular organisms.  This site gives a few short sentences on particular structures to watch for as the video plays.

Natural History Museum Microbiology Video Collection:  All I can say about this site is just "Wow!!"  If you can't find what you are looking for here, it probably doesn't exist!

After teaching the about the protists in my classroom, I took my students to the lab for my 3-day lab on the protists.  Having used the short video clips in the classroom made my lab run smooth and easy.  I have already written a blog post about this lab.
You can access it and read about it here:   The Living Protists Lab

Happy Holidays and Happy Teaching!

Scientific American "Citizen Science" - A Fantastic Resource

Turn your students into scientists!

Your students can actually help collect data for actual scientific research projects!

Hardly a day goes by that I don't check the Scientific American web site.  Not only does it have great news stories for me to share in my classroom, but it has a section called "Citizen Science" that is just a fantastic way for us science teachers to involve our students in actual, ongoing scientific research projects.  This explanation comes directly from the Citizen Science section of the web site:

Currently, there are two projects available that particularly interest me.  Both of these can be done with students at school, or can be done by children with their parents at home during the holidays.

This project is called "Christmas Bird Count".  "The National Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count(CBC) is an early-winter bird census, where thousands of citizen scientists across the US, Canada and many countries in the Western Hemisphere, go out over a 24 hour period to count birds.
Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 24-kilometer diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. All CBC’s are conducted in the period from December 14 to January 5 each season, and each count is conducted in one calendar day.
The data collected by observers over the past century allow researchers, conservation biologists and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent's bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years."

You have to sign up for this project through the link above to find out if this is being done in your area.  You will be assigned a specific route to follow.  

This project is called "The Whale Song Project - Whale FM".  

I particularly like this project because it can be done in the classroom or at home on your computer.

"Through the Whale Song Project, citizen scientists are presented with a whale call and shown where it was recorded on a map of the world’s oceans and seas. After listening to the whale call citizen scientists are asked to listen to a number of potential matching calls from the project’s database. If a match is found, the citizen scientist clicks on that sound’s spectrogram and the results are stored.
The dataset generated by this project should help scientists to answer a number of questions regarding whale communication."

There are new projects being added to Citizen Science all the time.  This is a fantastic opportunity for the students in our science classrooms to participate in current scientific research projects.

Happy Teaching!!

P.S.  I am adding this little tidbit of information.  After my blog post was published, I was made aware of this site:  SciStarter.  It has a wealth of information on projects that you can join.

Celebration and Freebies!

Over 500 Facebook Followers!
Over 500 Twitter Followers!

It's Time for a celebration and some giveaways!!

Thank you so so so much to all of my followers.  What a great year I have had!  I am excited that for some time now I have had over 500 twitter followers, and just yesterday I soared past 500 facebook followers.  (If you are not yet a follower and would like to be, click the links in the right side bar.)

In appreciation I would like to offer a couple of freebies to you.  The two items listed below are normally for sale in my TpT store, but for the next 48 hours I will have them listed as free.

The two products are called:  "Let's Build a Cladogram!"  and "Measurement Madness!"  Here are the links to the two products:

Click picture to download product.

Click this picture to download product.

At the end of 48 hours, these two products will return to being "for sale" products, so grab them while you can!  Clicking on the links above will take you to my store.  There the products can be downloaded for free.  While you are there, go ahead and download all of the 14 products I have listed that are always for free.  A list of these products can be found in the left hand sidebar of my blog.  If you feel compelled to become a follower of my TpT store, I would appreciate that also!  Science Stuff Store on TpT

You will need to sign up for an account on TpT to complete the downloads, but there is certainly no obligation to buy anything.  In fact, TpT has over 16,000 FREE items.  You can literally find tons and tons of materials for any subject and any grade level for FREE on TpT.

Many, many thanks for your support during this year.  I hope you and your families have a wonderful holiday season!

The Living Protists Lab

Click here to view product.

The microscopic world is fascinating to students. Students of all ages love to look at living organisms under the microscope. 

I just spent the last three days in the lab with my biology students observing a variety of living protists.  I use this lab for both my standard Biology I students as well as my AP Biology students.  No matter what the age or the ability level, kids love this lab!  

This lab provides an extensive look at many different species of living algae and protozoa. 

To complete this lab as written, you will need to order the following protist cultures from a biological supply company. 
1) Spirogyra
2) Algae Survey Mixture (Contains 6 representative algae)
3) Diatom Mixture
4) Protozoa Survey Set (Contains 6 representatives: Ameba, Euglena, Paramecium, Spirostomum, Stentor, and Volvox)
5) Marine Dinoflagellates
6) Preying Protozoa Set

This lab was written with a high school biology class in mind, but it is so easily adaptable to younger ages.  This is one of those labs that just gets kids excited about science.  I have not had a student yet who did not enjoy watching these amazing organisms under a microscope.  Even students who have shown no previous interest in your class will perk up during this lab.  

Happy Teaching!

Teach Classification and Make It Fun!!

What is this organism?  

What characteristics does it have?  To what other organisms is it similar?  Is it a vertebrate or an invertebrate?  What does it eat?  What role does it play in an ecosystem?

All biology teachers have particular topics that they really don't like to teach, and topics that we LOVE LOVE to teach.  Teaching classification is a topic that I LOVE!

Classification involves problem solving and critical thinking.  Basically a taxonomist is a "living organism detective".

I have two really fun activities that my students always enjoy.  The first is called "Let's Learn to Use and Build a Dichotomous Key".    This product teaches students all about dichotomous classification keys.  Students will learn why classification is necessary, the definition of a dichotomous key, and how to use a dichotomous key.  Students will analyze the included pictures of 7 different cone-bearing plants, using the included dichotomous key to classify them.   

Finally students will learn to construct a classification key of their own.  Students are given pictures of 12 different primates and asked to make their own classification key.  There are also 10 follow up questions for students to answer.

The second activity that I love to do with my students is called "Let's Build A Cladogram".  Cladistics is one of the newest trends in the modern classification of organisms.  It shows the relationship between different organisms based on the presence or absence of characteristics called derived characters.  In this activity, students will look at pictures  of 7 different animals to determine if they possess certain derived characters.  This data will then be used to build a cladogram.

There are just so many fun things to do when teaching classification.  I always have to make myself wrap up the unit and move on to a new topic!

How Do You Get Students to Read the Textbook!!

Does anyone have science students who will freely read their textbook?

In my many years of teaching school, one of the things I have struggled with the most is how to get my students to read their textbook.  Most are content to "get by" with the notes they take in class.  When test day arrives, the student is hoping to score big just because they listened in class, or took a few notes each day.  Many are disappointed in their test grade, and will quickly tell you, "I studied for this test!!"  (We really have to teach them what "studying" means!)  

I feel that my job as a teacher is two-fold:  
1.   Teach a great, fun, and interesting Biology class.
2.   Teach my students how to be great students.

So when the student wants to know what it takes to get an "A" in my class, I tell them this:
1.  Listen in class attentively each day.
2.  Ask good questions.
3.  Take notes during class.
4.  Do your homework every night.
5.  Study for a short amount of time each night, rather than cramming the night before the test.

And the one that is the topic of this blog article.....
6.  Read your textbook!!

This year I have been determined to get my students to read the chapters of their textbook.  I have put together "Chapter Reading Guides" for each chapter of the text.

These "Chapter Reading Guides" are given out on the first day of a new chapter.  The handouts consist of pictures that need to be labeled, questions to answer, graphs to interpret, etc.  As the student reads the chapter, he/she will fill in this reading guide.  Reading guides are due on test day, and a "nicely completed" reading guide earns the student extra credit points on my test.   If a student does not complete it, they will lose points on my test.

I have refined the system over the last few months.  
1.  The reading guide needs to look fun and attractive.  You don't want for it to become a task that the student dreads.
2.  Include a variety of question types.  Some questions can be "Define this term", but other questions need to be "What do you think....."
3.  Do not make the reading guide a substitute for taking good notes in class.  If a student does not take good notes in my class, the reading guide will not provide enough information for them to score well on my test.

The lessons I have learned from this?
1.   It takes a LONG time to make these out for each chapter.  But once they are done, you can use them year after year.
2.   My test grades have definitely improved.  It is a win-win situation for the students.  Completing the chapter reading guide earns them extra credit points, and in the process they are studying, thinking and analyzing.  Even if no extra credit point were awarded, test grades would be higher because they spent the time reading their textbook.

This is just one system that has worked for me.  If you have ideas or tips for getting your students to read the text, I would love to learn from you.  Leave a comment with your tip!

Happy Teaching!!

Here's a new FREEBIE for you!!

Click image for free download.

FREE Graphing and Data Analysis Worksheet 

By the time I teach the fungi to my biology classes, several months have passed since the beginning of the school year. At the start of each school year, I spend quite a bit of time teaching graphing and data analysis skills. I use this simple and FREE activity to kill two birds with one stone. This activity allows me the opportunity to review the basic science skills of graphing and data analysis while at the same time reinforcing concepts on the fungi.

Mycorrhizae are fungal hyphae that live in mutualistic relationships with the roots of plants. Mycorrhizae are essential in the role of increasing absorptive surface area of plant roots. Mycorrhizae enable plant roots to absorb water as well as phosphorus and other essential mineral ions.

In this activity, students are given information about plants that are grown with and without the assistance of mycorrhizae. Quantitative data is given. Students graph the data and answer 8 data analysis questions.

This is perfect for a short homework assignment or classwork. This can also be left in your sub folder to be used in your absence.

And best of is absolutely FREE!!

Mycorrhizae: Graphing and Data Analysis Worksheet

Happy Teaching!!

(Coming soon... "The Fungi:  A Complete Unit Plan of 10 Products")

Easy Way to Measure the Rate of Respiration

What is the rate of respiration in these germinating seeds?

Many biology teachers tell me that they dread teaching photosynthesis and respiration to their students.  Since I love teaching these concepts, I always ask why they feel this way.  Responses include:  "My students think it is boring.  It is too abstract for the students to understand.  There is too much chemistry involved.  There aren't any good labs to do."

I would have to disagree with all of these statements.  Photosynthesis and respiration may be the two topics I love teaching the most!  What is more fundamental to the study of biology than photosynthesis and respiration?  I have several labs (that I love!) that I do with my students while teaching about respiration.  I have already written articles on two of these labs:  Gas Exchange in Respiration, and Energy in Foods.

This blog post is about a simple and effective method of measuring the rate of respiration in a living organism.  As you can see in the photo above, I used Sugar Snap Peas as my choice for a respiring organism.  The objective?  To determine how much oxygen is consumed during respiration by these peas over a given amount of time.

The experiment includes 2 experimental set-ups and 1 control set up.  The rate of respiration will be measured in germinating peas and in dry peas that are dormant.  The peas will be placed inside a device known as a respirometer.  To insure equal volume in each set-up, the volume of germinating peas is first determined by water displacement.  An equal number of dry peas will be used and the volume will be made equal by the addition of small glass beads.  The third respirometer will contain an equal volume of glass beads only.

The respirometers are assembled as seen in the photo to the left.  The essential components of the experiment include:
1.   Respirometers are assembled and placed in a large pan of water.
2.   As oxygen is consumed by the seeds, the water will be drawn into the pipets.  This can be measured with the calibrate pipet that has been inserted into the rubber stopper.
3.  Since carbon dioxide is also released during respiration, there will be no movement of water into the pipet unless this is removed as a factor affecting the experiment.  A small amount of absorbent cotton is placed in the bottom of the vial.  This cotton is saturated with KOH.  As carbon dioxide is released by the respiring peas, it reacts with KOH to form solid potassium carbonate.  This removes the carbon dioxide and allows only the oxygen to be measured.
4.   Measurements will be taken every 5 minutes for some length of time. Since we have a long lab period, we were able to set up the experiment and then allow it to run for 30 minutes.

This lab has all the best components of a lab:  

  • Easy set-up!
  • Easy clean-up!
  • No fancy equipment required!
  • Works every time!
  • Kids love it!
Happy Teaching!!

Let's Make a Mold Terrarium!

This was a new activity for me, and I have to say, my students really enjoyed it!  I wanted to do something different this year as I neared the point in my course where I teach the fungi.  So I decided to have my students build a mold terrarium.  I wasn't exactly sure how the idea would go over with my students, but I decided to give it a go anyway.  MY STUDENTS LOVED IT!  

No fancy materials are required.  You only need a glass jar, some water, and some left over foods.  In order to get some good pictures for this blog post, I used a large plastic tray that had a clear lid on it.  And I used quite a few foods as a test to see which would be good suggestions to the students for which foods they should choose for their terrarium.  

From start to finish, I would allow at least 12 days.  Nothing much happens at first, but when the molds start to grow....  WOWEE!...they really take off.

Enjoy these pictures!!

Day 1:  Set Up Day!  These are still good enough to eat!

Day 3:  The cucumber was the first to go!
Day 4:  The cheese is getting a bit "iffy".

Day 11:  Very nice, huh??
Day 11:  Wow!  What a hairy monster!  
And there are several different kinds of mold visible.
Believe it or not, the smell was not too bad.  The only time I really noticed the smell was when I removed the lid to take these cool pictures.  TIP:  Do not use any foods that have eggs, meat or fish!  YUK!

I also prepared (IMHO) a pretty good set of handouts to go along with this activity.  One of my students commented, "Why can't we ever do anything just for fun?"  The handouts included a procedure page, a pre-lab sheet where I asked the kids to make predictions about which food would mold first, etc, a data table for recording daily observations, and 2 pages of final observation and analysis questions.

I created two different versions of the activity, one for high school students and one for upper elementary/middle school students.
Click picture to see the high school version
in my store on

Happy Teaching!

How Much Energy Do Different Foods Contain?

How much energy do these foods contain?

This lab is always a favorite of my students!

I have just finished teaching cellular respiration to my students.  As teachers, we spend so much time talking and teaching about the path of glucose through the reactions of respiration, that I worry that students will come away from a biology class thinking that only glucose can serve as a fuel for respiration.  It is important to help them realize that any organic compound (with modifications) can serve as a fuel for respiration.

This lab is just a basic calorimetry lab.  Students are given three different foods (peanuts, fritos, and marshmallows) and asked to determine the energy content in each.  Students will use this equation to do their calculations:

Energy gained by water = (mass of water) X (Δt of water) X (4.18 J/g°C)

This lab can easily be completed by students who have not yet completed a course in chemistry.

After finding the mass of a food sample, and the initial temperature of water in a calorimeter (coke can), the food is ignited and allowed to completely burn.  The heat lost by the burning food is gained by the water in the can.

Students can determine from their data the amount of energy in each food.  The energy is first calculated in kJ/mol and then converted to cal/mol.

I am fortunate to have the Vernier Probe System at my school.  This makes data collection easy and accurate.  You can still do this lab using a traditional thermometer instead of the probe system.

I am sure that the percent error in this lab is quite high.  However, students get a good idea about the energy content of foods.  Most students predict prior to the lab that the marshmallow will have the most energy.   They mistakingly believe that the higher the sugar content, the higher the energy content of the food.  In this lab, peanuts come through with flying colors with an energy content much, much higher than the other foods.

If interested, here is the lab that I do with my students:  Measuring the Energy in Foods

Help! Biology Vocab is Killing Me!

The most common complaint I receive from my students is, "There are too many words, too many definitions, the words are too hard to spell........"

Sound familiar?  I read once that a first year biology class has more new vocabulary words than the first year of taking a foreign language.  I believe that this must be true.  When I talk to a struggling biology student, they will usually tell me that they understand the concepts and they understand the "how and why" things work as they do, but they just hate to memorize the vocabulary words.  

I try very hard to make my class a "concept" class.  I want my students to have a global understanding of how all the parts of biology fit together.  I want them to have the big picture and to be able to relate one process to another.  I want them to be problem solvers and critical thinkers.  But I am a bit old school!!  I still think the students need to have a mastery of the vocabulary that accompanies the concepts.  I think kids need to be able to spell the important and key terms.  (Don't even get me started on is becoming  a lost art!!  And why do kids think that it is okay to misspell words??  ARG!)

I thought I would make a list of the strategies and methods I use to help students memorize vocabulary words.  I hope it will give you some ideas that you can use with your students.  And then I would like to hear from you!  I need some new ideas, too!  If you have a strategy that works, please let me hear from you.

Things I do to teach biology vocabulary:
  1. My favorite is the old stand-by....the crossword puzzle.  I make a crossword puzzle for every chapter I teach.  Believe it or not, my students actually like these.  Sometimes I assign them for homework, but more often I use them to award some extra credit points on my unit tests.  I give the puzzle out a few days before the test.  If it is completed by test day....accurately....then I give some extra points on the test.  I think this is great reinforcement of associating the term with the correct definition, AND it is also good spelling practice.
  2. Teach the biological prefixes and suffixes!  I spend a good bit of time of the beginning of the school year on this.  If the student knows a basic set of prefixes and suffixes, it will help them all year long.  Examples include:  hetero, home, endo, exo, meso, trans, cyto, lysis, etc.
  3. Vocabulary Word Scrambles:  I write fill in the blank type questions.  The correct answer is given with the question, but the answer is scrambled.  The student has to unscramble the word to determine the answer.
  4. Flash cards:  An oldie but goodie!  I sometimes give extra credit if the student makes a set of flash cards to go with a particular chapter.
  5. Powerpoint Jeopardy Review Games:  This is a favorite of my students.  These are a bit time consuming to make, though.  My students really enjoy the game format.  I also post these on my school web site so that the students can access them from home.
I would love to hear your ideas.  Have you got a neat trick that would help the rest of us out?  If so, be sure to leave a comment.  I can always use a new idea!

Don't Forget the Fungi!

My favorite biology joke:  What did the pepperoni say to the mushroom on the pizza?

Answer:  You're a Fun-Guy!  

My unit on the fungi is one of my favorite units to teach.  Most of the students in my biology class have never had any instruction about the Kingdom Fungi before they reach my class.  They are amazed to learn that outside of the animal kingdom, the fungi are our closest relatives!  The fungi have some amazing characteristics!  We depend on them as decomposers.  Life might cease to exist on Earth if it were not for the fungi breaking down and decomposing dead organisms and returning the chemical elements they possess to the ecosystem to be used in new organisms.

Click picture.

Simply put, there is more to the fungi than just that green mold that invades our pantries and refrigerators!  I have just posted my new "Fungi PowerPoint with Notes for Teacher and Student" to my TpT store.  This product is a 56 slide PowerPoint on the Fungi.  It is accompanied by a set of notes for the teacher, and a notes outline for the student.  Students will fill in their outline as the lesson is being presented.

Topics covered are:

1.   What are the fungi?
2.   Characteristics of fungi.
3.   Fungi are heterotrophs.
4.   Methods of food getting in the fungi.
5.   What environment do they prefer?
6.   The structure of fungi:  hyphae, mycelium, fruiting bodies, spores, rhizoids, stolons.
7.   Label the structures of a typical bread mold.
8.   Reproduction in fungi:  fragmentation, budding, spores production, asexual, and sexual reproduction.
9.   Kinds of fungi:  The four phyla are named and examples given for each phylum.
10.  Life cycle of the common bread mold.
11.  Phylum Zygomycota
12.  Phylum Ascomycota
13.  Phylum Basidiomycota
14.  Phylum Deuteromycota
15.  The Ecology of the Fungi: saprophytes, parasites, decomposition.
16.  Symbiotic relationships of fungi:  mutualism, commensalism, parasitism.
17.  Lichens and Mycorrhizae

I am also just about finished with a new FREE product on this topic, so stayed tuned for that.  I will add it to the list of freebies at the top left of my blog as soon as possible.

Happy Teaching!

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!!