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Tired of Clogged Lab Sinks?

This did the trick for me!

Trying to keep the sinks at laboratory stations clean and unclogged is a never ending nightmare.  My students hear me say "Please throw your solid waste in the garbage and not in the sink" on every single lab day.  For the most part, my students are conscientious and do a great job in cleaning their work area at the end of the lab.  But there are always those who get in a hurry or get distracted and dump items in the sinks that belong in the trash.  Microscope cover slips are the worst!  Students rinse their slide, but forget about the cover slip.  Invariably, a collection of cover slips covers the drain, preventing water from draining.

The solution to this age old problem is simple and relatively inexpensive. This (seen in the picture above) is a roll of rubberized sink liner that I found at a store that sells restaurant supplies.  A friend told me about it.

I simply cut strips of this material to fit each and every sink in my lab.  Water can still pass down the drain, but all solid materials are "caught" by the sink liner.  At the end of the day, I lift the liner and shake the debris into the garbage can.  It works like a charm.

I just wish I had thought of this many years ago!!

Teaching About 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.

Happy Holidays and Happy Teaching!

Our VERY Successful Science and Math Competition

Since the beginning of this school year, I have had the pleasure and the privilege of working with an amazing group of students at my school.  For the fourth straight year, our school has competed in the "Battle of the Brains" competition.  This is no ordinary science fair!  This is a science and math competition between our high school and our big-time rival high school just a few miles away.  Although the rivalry is intense, the students who participate come away with an amazing experience!

The competition is held at the first of December, but we begin work at the first of the school year.  Participation is completely voluntary.  Our students are not required to enter, nor do they receive any grades in a class for their participation.  We are allowed to take 15 group projects and 15 individual projects to the competition.  A group may have up to 4 people and, of course, the individual projects are completed by a single participant.  We allowed anyone and everyone to participate.  At the first of the school year, we had more participants than would be allowed in the competition in December.  We allowed everyone to begin the process of developing a project, with the understanding that we had more participants than we could take to the competition.  The students were aware that some would not be allowed to compete.  We set a deadline of October 1, where the students had to submit a written proposal of their project, and a deadline of November 1, where the student had to show evidence of a project "in the works."  We knew that a few would drop out along the way, and by the time the November deadline arrived, we were at the exact number of students that we could take to the competition.  I was SOOO thankful that we did not have to turn any students away!!

The most amazing thing to me is that these kids did this of their own free will.  It was not required for a class, and they had to do all of the work at home in their spare time.  We met as a group about twice a month at school to touch base with the students.  We would answer questions and offer guidance, but other than that, everything was completed by the students in their own time.

As a teacher, I am so extremely proud of these students and of the work they completed.  Way to go, guys!!!!!  You made me proud and you made the school proud.  You should be VERY proud of yourselves.  I know that you will accomplish great things in your lives!!

Projects could be on any topic, but the students were encouraged to develop a project that could be of benefit to the community.  I am proud to announce that we won the first and second place in the individual projects, and we won second and third place in the group projects.  Winning 4 of the 6 places, our students were shining like the stars they are!

Here are some photos of the amazing projects completed by our students:

Winning second place in the group competition:
Methanogenesis: Creating Methane Gas from Bacteria.

Winning third place in the group competition:
Driving Down Air Resistance

Winning first place in the individual competition:
Green Roof Technology

Winning second place in the individual competition:
Carbon Nanotubes

These projects may not have placed in the competition, but all of these were winners in my book!

And here is our group of fine and amazing students!!

Measuring the Rate of Cellular 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!!

Winter and Holiday Teaching Tips and Freebies Galore!

Here it is!  
The 2012 Holiday Tips and Freebies book for teachers!

Teachers, have we got a gift for you!  Each year sellers from get together to make a book of freebies and teaching tips. This year, 180 teacher/authors have graciously participated to bring you this amazing gift. Each page of the book has been written by a different teacher.  Included on each page is a holiday teaching tip or suggestion as well as links to one or more FREE teaching materials.

This year there are 4 separate books divided into different grades levels: Pre-K/K,  Grades 1/2, Grades 3/6, and Grades 7/12.  Teachers of all subject areas and all grade levels will surely find a smorgasbord of materials that can be used during the busy holiday season.

Here are the links to each grade level book.  Click on the pictures to download.

Grades 7 - 12:

Here is my page from the high school book:

Grades 3 - 6

Grades 1 - 2

PreK - K

From all of the sellers at TpT:

Have a very Happy Holidays and 
joyous New Year!