Ecology and Systems Biology: Summary Table

In anticipation of the career fair tomorrow, students spent the first half of class comparing the US economy to what they have learned about ecosystems.  After five minutes of private think/write time, students worked in row groups (with the students seated in their row) to share their ideas and then represent them on their row’s white board.  Students were pressed to consider how education fits within the larger economic system.  We discussed the idea that education can be compared with the sun, as it adds energy (ideas and qualified workers) into the system.  For the second half of class, students worked with their row groups to fill out a summary table for the current unit.  Each row worked on one of four sections of the summary table, after which students compared their work the completed answer key.  The summary table will be a useful study tool for the unit exam scheduled for next Wednesday.

Ecology and Systems Biology: Structured Talk

Last Thursday, my 4th period students participated in Studio Day.  The lesson involved using structured talk to discuss student predictions around population modeling of organisms in the Great Salt Lake.  Today, I taught the first day of that lesson to my 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th period students.  My 4th period students continued the lesson from last Thursday, using mathematical modeling and knowledge of biomass and energy transfer to determine the number of organisms in each trophic level present in an area of the Great Salt Lake.

Updated: On Tuesday, my 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th period students continued the lesson be started yesterday.  We returned to the halobacteria growth curves and calculated the amount of biomass available to the primary consumers (the brine shrimp).  Students learned that there were only enough halobacteria to support 2 brine shrimp, which is not enough energy to support an Avocet (secondary consumer) or a Northern Harrier (tertiary consumer).  Students completed the modeling activity and explained their population curves using the science concepts we have learned this unit, focusing on biomass, limiting factors, and carrying capacity.  My 4th period students read about the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park following the reintroduction of wolves back in 1995.

Ecology and Systems Biology: Matter

After reviewing student work, one area that we clearly needed to spend some time revisiting was the concept of matter.  In a system, the amount of matter does not change.  Atoms are the fundamental unit of matter.  When collections of atoms bond together they create molecules.  The key point is that the number of atoms in a system will stay constant, while the bonds between those atoms (the molecules) can change.  Stated another way, the amount of matter stays constant but changes form.  This conservation of matter concept was introduced to students in 9th grade Integrated Science, and it is important that students understand the concept as they continue in their study of biology.  To help visualize the conservation of matter principle, on Friday we watched a segment of the NOVA special “Hunting the Elements” beginning at 47:47 and continuing through the end of class.  The explosions during the first segment of the video were accompanied by explanations of the rearrangement of atoms and release of energy, and students took notes to ensure understanding of the conservation of matter.  Next, students learned about CHNOPS, the 6 main elements found within the human body (Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, and Sulfur).  Students recorded the percentage of each element and learned to calculate the percentage of elements reported an pounds.  Depending on time, some classes were able to watch the next segment on trace elements, while others finished with the segment on bacteria living in Yellowstone National Park.  The complete video can we seen below or on Netflix.

Ecology and Systems Biology: Studio Day

Students in periods 1, 2, 3, and 5 all received a reading packet with questions about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.  The reading and questions are due tomorrow.

Students in 4th period participated in Studio Day.  Our school has partnered with education researchers from the University of Washington as part of our continuing effort to constantly improve the quality of teaching and content provided to our students.  I was asked to host the Studio Day today, and I could not have been more proud of my students!  For our entry task, which served as the base of our lesson, we applied our understanding of the various factors contributing to the Great Salt Lake ecosystem by projecting ahead 10 years and considering how a decrease in water level might impact the populations of organisms present in the Lake.  We practiced the skill of A/B partner talk and the students used sentence stems to guide them through the process of clearly articulating their thoughts and describing what they were hearing their partner say.  Students shared their ideas, with the opportunity to considered whether the newly shared information altered their thinking.  We will continue to build on this skill as the year goes on.  I look forward to teaching this lesson to my other class periods in the near future.

Ecology and Systems Biology: Carrying Capacity

In honor of DiscoverU week, I spent the first 15 minutes of class today sharing my own path from high school through, college and career as a biotech scientist, all the way to my new career as a high school science teacher.  On Wednesday, all of my students will be taking the PSAT, the SAT practice exam.  For the remainder of the class, students were introduced to the concept of carrying capacity through a Power Point slide deck (slides 1-7) and a reading passage.  Students then had class time to complete a worksheet providing them with practice using the SQ3R reading strategy combined with Cornell Notes.  Students who did not complete the reading and worksheet in class should finish both tonight as homework.

Updated: October 14, 2014 – Day 2 of Carrying Capacity Lesson

We began the day watching a video titled Monitoring the Brine Shrimp Population.  In their lab notebooks, students made a list of the various instruments they saw the scientists using, and we compiled a class list after the video.  Students learned how the different instruments are used to monitor various aspects of the Great Salt Lake.  Next, we completed the carrying capacity slide deck from yesterday.  We brainstormed factors that limit family size, and applied our thinking to the question of whether or not the Earth had reached maximum carrying capacity for humans.  Infectious disease, specifically the Ebola Virus, came up as a factor that limits the human population, so we held a discussion about what is currently known about the Ebola outbreak and how scientists are working to develop therapies.  Students were also reminded to get plenty of rest and to eat breakfast tomorrow in order to be at their best for the PSAT.

Ecology and Systems Biology: Concept Mapping

As we head into the long weekend, students had the opportunity to work with their extreme environment groups and once again practice the skill of partner paraphrasing.  This time, student groups read student-selected paragraphs from books about life on Earth (including the oceans and Antarctica), as well as books with information about the Moon and the planets in our solar system.  The books were rotated around the room every 10 minutes, providing students the opportunity to read all about the biotic and abiotic factors present on and off of Earth.  After one student read a paragraph, the other group members paraphrased the reading, distilling the paragraph down to a key point that became the node on a concept map.  Groups were challenged to create at least 10 nodes (for full credit) and then to connect related nodes with edges (similar to a network).  At the end of class, students then wrote test questions based on information contained in their group’s concept map.

Ecology and Systems Biology: Trophic Pyramid

We continued our study of ecology by discussing the concept of trophic pyramid.  Trophic pyramids are used to describe the amount of biomass in a given trophic level, with producers (organisms that produce energy through photosynthesis) being a source of food for primary consumers (organisms that eat producers).  Similarly, secondary consumers eat primary consumers, and tertiary consumers eat secondary consumers.  Decomposers are organisms that recycle waste products back into the ecosystem.  Students applied their learning about trophic levels to the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, guided by a worksheet they completed working in small groups.