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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!