Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Life from Outer Space??

I recently read an article in the newspaper entitled, "Meteorite offers clues to life's origins." The article originally appeared in the Washington Post and was very interesting. It was discussing the tendency of amino acids found in living things to configure themselves in a "left-handed" configuration rather than randomly right- and left-handed as would occur in non-living systems. Very intriguing!

What do you think about the possibility that life began somewhere else in the universe and was "seeded" here on Earth by meteorites? Read the article and see what you think. If you're interested in some extra credit, come talk to me and we'll see what we can work out.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Oh, Rats!!

My daughter Caroline has 3 pet rats. They are all females - Luca, Maia, and Shadow. We brought them to school a couple of times last year to visit, and most students enjoyed seeing them, holding them, and getting to know them. A few students did NOT enjoy the experience, but tolerated "the girls" within reason when they were there. We've enjoyed them as pets at home - they have definite personalities and are VERY smart. They've learned to respond to their names and can do a few "tricks" like stand, come when called, move to your shoulder, etc.

So many students enjoyed the rats last year that I decided to get some as classroom pets. After doing some research online, we decided to get male rats for the classroom - they're supposed to be more "laid back" than the females (ours are pretty hyper a lot of the time!). We've found that 3 is a good number to have - there's less fighting for supremacy because they're able to establish a definite "pecking order." We wanted to start with young rats in order to train them somewhat to be used to being handled and being around people before school started, so we bought them last week. Our 3 boys are Marco (the explorer), Beckett (very busy), and Sam (the shy one).

As I sit here typing this, "the boys" are eating, drinking, and playing around in the cage. They're getting more used to being together and being around us. We're hoping to litter-box train them (it worked pretty well with the girls) so they don't leave their droppings everywhere, especially when we let them out (supervised, of course). They sometimes fight, but it's usually play-fighting - they're not trying to hurt each other but are scuffling and wrestling.

I hope you enjoy getting to know "our boys" this year. At first, you'll probably think they all look alike, but it's pretty easy to tell them apart. Although it's a little hard to tell from the pictures below, they all have distinctive color patterns and distinctive personalities. Here's Marco:

This is Beckett, hiding in the playhouse:

Sam, the shy boy, is hiding under the hammock:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Technology in Biology

I used to teach IPC - integrated physics and chemistry. In IPC, students need to use a lot of math, mostly in solving physics problems like speed, acceleration, force, momentum, energy, etc. Most IPC students are taking Algebra I at the same time and a lot of them have brand new graphing calculators that they LOVE to use - mostly for playing the games they all learn how to download almost as soon as they get the calculators! There were times that I had to forbid certain students from having their graphing calculators out in class because they had a tendency to spend their class time playing games on the calculator rather than paying attention to what we were doing in class.

When I started teaching biology, I was looking forward to not having to fight that battle anymore! There were still students who wanted to play their calculator games in class, but I was glad to be able to tell my biology students that they didn't need to use their graphing calculators in biology. Alas, those days are no more! I recently spent a week at Rice University learning new ways to incorporate technology in biology. We did several labs each day using lab probeware which interfaces with computers and graphing calculators, as well as some other computer-based labs using graphic manipulation software.

We will be doing a number of labs and activities this year using graphing calculators. Some of the labs will involve using various kinds of probeware to measure pH, temperature, and pressure; others will involve various kinds of calculations, data tables, and graphs to illustrate such topics as genetics (can you believe it? Genetics on a calculator!!). It's really cool! I must admit, I'm pretty impressed with myself for finally learning how to do data tables and graphs on the calculator (back in the dark ages when I went to school, we had to do it all by hand!). We will still do plenty of graphs and data tables by hand (sorry - the calculator ones are difficult to print out!), so those skills will still be important. But I like being able to keep up with the times and learn new ways of studying and learning about biology. So go ahead and bring that calculator to class - just don't waste your time and mine playing games!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Reading About Science

I love to read - reading is my number one "hobby." In the summer and during school breaks, I usually read as many books as I have time for - last summer (2007), I read 18 books! I like to read all different kinds of books, including Harry Potter, but historical novels are my favorite. I've most recently been reading a series of novels about a "finder" or private detective in ancient Rome!

During the school year, I have less time for pleasure reading, but I still read a lot. I read the newspaper each morning, I read Newsweek each week, and other magazines such as The Science Teacher and Guideposts monthly. Most weeks, I run across an article or two in The Eagle or Newsweek that I think will apply to something we will be studying about in biology. Usually I cut them out, take them to school, and put them in a file. Most of the time, they remain in the file.

This year, I am planning to handle these science articles differently - I plan to reference them in this blog. Be prepared to occasionally read an article and answer a few questions about it, or to participate in a class discussion on a topic from the article. If possible, the article will be about a current topic of study, but remember - although I control the sequence of topics in class, I DON'T control the newspapers or magazines! But that's okay - it's perfectly fine to digress from time to time.

If possible, I'll include a link to the article so you can read it in its entirety. If not, I'll edit it down and quote the pertinent parts. I hope by doing this I can show you that biology is present all around us, all the time - not just in class at school. Biology is, after all, the study of the living world - including you, your family, your pets, your yard, etc. It's a subject we should all be interested in all the time.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Scientific Method

The scientific process most often used by scientists is called the scientific method – controlled experiments leading to conclusions based on observations. You've learned about the scientific method since you were in elementary school. Can you remember the steps? What does all scientific discovery begin with?