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HELP! The science vocabulary is killing me!!

Anyone who has ever taught or taken a science class knows exactly what is meant by the title of this article!

Students of all ages, enrolled in all sorts of different science classes, are faced with this age old problem.  I think there must be a conspiracy going on.  I think there is a little room somewhere, where the great scientific minds come together and challenge each other to come up with the wildest and most difficult words possible.  I actually had a student say this in class once!  As if learning the scientific concepts wasn't already hard enough, let's throw out anthocyanin, bioluminescence and cephalization!

Sometimes I feel like I am beating my students over the head with vocabulary words!  I teach my class in a very conceptual way.  I want them to UNDERSTAND concepts such as protein synthesis, photosynthesis and cellular respiration.  The understanding of the process is more important than being able to spout off a bunch of fancy words.  However, in order to explain and understand the concept, the student must be versed in basic vocabulary that can be used to explain the idea.

I start off each and every new school year with an activity called "What's in a Name?"  This activity contains 50 prefixes and and 30 suffixes that are commonly used in the vocabulary words of a life science or biology class.  I have the students practice making words with the prefixes and suffixes and I also give them a list of words that they have to decipher.

Take, for example, the words I listed above:

  • Anthocyanin:  "Anthos" means flower and "cyan" means blue.  These are blue, purple and red pigments found in flowers.
  • Bioluminescence:  "Bio" means life and "lumin" refers to light.  This is the production of light by living organisms in certain chemical reactions.
  • Cephalization:  "Cephal" refers to the head.  This is the formation of the brain in the anterior part of the body...the head.
By providing your students with a basic set of prefixes and suffixes, and requiring that they learn these at the beginning of the year, you have given your students a tool that can be used all year long.  I require that my students memorize my list, and we quickly have a test on the terms on the list.  The students will moan and groan, but they will already know many, if not most, of the terms on the list:  micro, macro, bio, photo, cyan, poly, di, mono, etc.

After doing this exercise with my students, I see the reward of it all year long.  It is such a great feeling, when later in the year, I see a student breaking a word down into individual parts and realizing that they can give a basic definition to a word they have never seen before!

Have fun teaching!

Here's the link to: Biology Prefixes and Suffixes: Master the Science Vocabulary

Science Skills: Teach Them Early and Teach Them Hard!

Nail down these skills early in the school year!

At the beginning of each new school year, it is essential that a science teacher instruct his/her students in the basic science skills.  No matter what your curriculum calls for, your students will best be served by a review and reinforcement in these basic areas.  This includes laboratory safety,  instruction in how the lab equipment operates, making proper scientific measurements, how to apply the scientific method, the importance of graphing and data analysis, and a review of basic math skills such as scientific notation.  I have already posted about several of these. Today, I want to emphasize the proper use of lab equipment and how to make scientific measurements.

During a lab, a variety of tools may be used to allow the student to use an inquiry process to gather information, both qualitatively and quantitatively.  If the student is to reach the desire conclusion, it is imperative that they be previously instructed on the proper use of the equipment they will be using. Scientists use a variety of tools to explore the world around them, and these tools are important to the advancement of science.  The tools may be simple or very complex.  One of the first labs I complete with my students is called:  Use of Lab Equipment and Data Analysis.  (You can download this one for free!)  It provides instruction on the basic pieces of lab equipment such as the meter stick, Celsius thermometer, graduated cylinder, and the quadruple-beam balance.  Obviously, these pieces of equipment are used for measurements in length, volume, and mass, and they will be used by the students all year long.  As I plan for the first few days of school, I always question whether or not I should spend the time on this lab.  I feel that students should reach my class with these skills already in place.  However, I realize year after year, that all students do not reach me with the same skill sets.  For some students this will simply be a review and reinforcement, but other students will come to me with no knowledge of these skills at all.

When teaching the proper use of lab equipment, you must also give adequate instruction in how to make precise and accurate scientific measurements. I find that many students will need a short re-fresher on the metric system.  As for accuracy and precision in making measurements, it is the nature of the teenagers I teach to rush, rush, rush to get through with the experiments, giving little thought to whether or not their data seems reasonable or logical.  If and when time allows, I often require my students to run multiple trials during an experiment to verify their results.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of a school setting, students have learned that science occurs in a 45 minute period of time, and that the first set of data is perfect and acceptable. We, as teachers, do what we can do with the schedule forced upon us by our schools, but you must try to give opportunities that require students to repeat and verify lab data.

Here are some of the materials that I have developed to help with the instruction and reinforcement of these science skills:

Scientific Method PowerPoint with Notes for Teacher and Student -- also a freebie!

Science Skills Mega Bundle containing 54 science skill products for your classroom.

Happy Teaching!!

The Carnivorous Pitcher Plants

On the last day of my trip to the north woods along Lake Huron, I discovered these pitcher plants in a bog.
This plant is about the size of a large pizza pan.
Perhaps these are not as spookily exciting as a Venus Fly Trap, but they are still a very interesting carnivorous plant.  Here is a run down of the facts you might find interesting:

  • As carnivorous plants, there is a prey-trapping mechanism.  The mechanism found in these pitcher plants is a deep cavity filled with liquid.  The "well" is actually a modified leaf.
  • Flying or crawling insects are attracted to the deep wells by either anthocyanin pigments (not really seen in my photo above) or by the bribe of sweet nectar.

  • The insect crawls into the "pitcher" but cannot easily escape.  The walls of the pitcher may be slippery or grooved in a way that prevents the insect from escaping.
  • The insect drowns in the fluid contained in the pitcher.  The body of the insect is gradually dissolved either by bacterial action or by digestive enzymes that are produced by the plant itself.

  • The body of the insect is reduced to a soup of amino acids, peptides, phosphates, ammonia and urea.  This is how the plant obtains its mineral nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • My students often mistakenly think that the carnivorous plants "eat the insects" as a source of food.  These are true plants and are photosynthetic.  These plants make their own food in the form of sugars using the energy from the sun, just as all photosynthetic plants do.  However, these plants live in locations where the soil is poor in minerals.  Since these plants cannot obtain minerals from the soil, the insect is the source of mineral nutrients that are required by the plant.
The photographs you see above are pictures of the plants I found.  To give you an idea of the variety that exists in these plants, here are a couple of photos of pitcher plants of different species.  These are public domain photos, and were not taken by me.

I thought it would be great fun to try to grow pitcher plants and keep them in my classroom at school.  This is the very sort of thing that my biology students love!  Here is a great article on how to grow the pitcher plants if you are interested.

Finally, I absolutely love the BBC series by David Attenborough called "The Private Life of Plants".  Here is a short, 4-minute video segment from that series about the pitcher plants.  My students love this video!

Have fun teaching!

Spiders Everywhere!

We are still vacationing in the northern peninsula of Michigan along the shores of Lake Huron.  This morning I awoke to a very heavy dew and heavy fog.  As a result, the spider webs along the shoreline and in the woods were covered with dew.   It was an absolutely amazing site to behold....

The scariest part of this???  
I walk through this area every day.  When there is no dew, these webs are completely invisible!

Random Photos from the North Woods

Today's post is just a collection of photos that I have taken in the last few days.  We are vacationing in a log cabin on Lake Huron in the upper peninsula of Michigan......

Happy 4th of July!!

Ferns in the North Woods

As you know from earlier posts, I am spending this week in the north woods with my family.  While walking through the woods yesterday, we came upon this amazing patch of ferns.

Unlike the mosses of my earlier post, the ferns belong to the group of plants known as tracheophytes.  Tracheophytes consists of seed plants and seedless plants.  The ferns belong to the latter group, the seedless plants. 

Ferns are better adapted to life on land than the mosses.  The ferns are vascular plants, containing xylem and phloem.  They also have true roots, stems and leaves like the true land plants.  However, there is one characteristic of ferns that prevents them from being completely adapted to a terrestrial way of life.  Ferns have motile gametes.  The presence of the swimming sperm means that the ferns can reproduce only in the presence of water.

Bullfrogs Anyone?

Last night we took a walk during the long twilight that occurs here.  It doesn’t get completely dark until around 10:30 pm.  During our nighttime walk we always head toward a spot that we call “the cove”.  We arrived at the cove just in time for the bullfrogs!  It was still light enough to see them, but getting dark enough for them to start becoming very active.  

They have great camouflage!  Can you spot the frog in the picture to the right?

The chorus of frog songs almost becomes deafening.  And although the frogs all look very similar , it is easy to tell that there are several different species present by the different sounds they produce.

Our log cabin has no internet access, no telephones, no cable TV.  (I am currently in a tiny little library about 20 miles from the cabin.) I always worry that to a 16 year old daughter, the lack of Facebook will be too much to bear.  I should know her well enough by now to know that my fears are unwarranted.

She love nature almost as much as I do.  Watching her trying to catch bullfrogs in the cove…….Priceless!!!

Mosses, Mosses, Mosses!

Mosses are everywhere!  But there are no liverworts!

For the next 10 days, this is where I will be spending my time.  I am with my husband and 2 daughters at our log cabin in the upper peninsula of Michigan on the shores of Lake Huron.

I had intended on this blog post being about mosses and liverworts.  Back home in the deep south, it can be so hot and dry that the liverworts are very hard to find there.  I always look for them when I am up north.  We had a good rain, which really makes these plants grow like crazy.  Mosses were in abundance, but I could not find the liverworts this year.  I looked in all the places that I had found them before, but it seems they are hiding from me this year.

As I strolled through the woods today, I noticed that the mosses were just beautiful.

Mosses are nonvascular plants called Bryophytes, sometimes referred to as the “in-between” plants.  When I am teaching my students about Bryophytes, I refer to them as the “amphibians of the plant kingdom”.  This really helps my students remember the key points about the Bryophytes.

Like the amphibians, the Bryophytes live on land, but are not well adapted to life on land. 

First of all, they do not have any vascular tissue.  Vascular tissue (xylem and phloem) is the conducting tissue within a plant.  Xylem consists of long tubes that carry water from the roots to the top of the plant.  The phloem consists of long tubes that distribute glucose and other organic compounds from the leaves throughout the plant.  The mosses are nonvascular, meaning that they do not have xylem or phloem.

Another characteristic that makes the mosses poorly adapted for life on land is the presence of motile gametes …… a swimming sperm!  When it rains, the mosses will rush to produce reproductive structures because the only way for sperm to reach the egg is by swimming in rainwater.

The true land plants are tracheophytes.  They are well suited to life on land because they are vascular plants.  They have xylem and phloem to transport food and water long distances.  Tracheophytes do not depend on water for reproduction.  These plants evolved a much more efficient sperm delivery system.   Pollen! 

Tomorrow I am going on a hunt for pitcher plants.  There is a bog near our cabin where the pitcher plants have thrived in years past.  It is extremely dry from lack of rain, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that the pitcher plants have survived.  Stay tuned …….