Friday, October 31, 2008

Open Courseware Resources

Just got a tip about this post collecting 100+ Incredible Open Courseware Resources for Science Geeks. The courses are college level, of course, but often they include links, lesson plans or experiments that are useful for teaching younger kids at home. Among the biology topics are genetic modification and natural selection.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Human Anatomy Books Old and New

My review of David Macaulay's new book The Way We Work is up at GeekDad. Although ostensibly for younger kids, at 363 pages it's definitely suitable for middle and high school students. Macaulay spent 6 years laboring on this book, four of them just learning anatomy through means that included attending operations and dissecting corpses. You can find out more about Macaulay's techniques at his website.

For lower grades I heartily recommend the book mentioned a few posts back, The Human Body Book and See-Through Model by Luann Colombo. While the "visible man" was rather chintzy, it was helpful to put the organs together while learning about the related system ... plus it wasn't too gross looking sitting out on a shelf.

Another book we liked a lot when they were little was
From Head to Toe: The Amazing Human Body and How It Works by Barbara Seuling. The illustrations by Edward Miller are much more stylized than anatomically correct (so to speak), but probably just enough for really young kids. The book includes several projects, including the robot hand (example here) I later borrowed for a Home Education Magazine column. If you go to Miller's website and click on "Activities for Kids" you'll find an additional project that lets you print out and paste the organs on a drawing of the human body. My boys enjoyed doing that one as well when they were small.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Life Science Illustrators

You may have noticed the lovely illustration of Bryozoa a few posts back. Today on GeekDad Daniel Donahoo posts about the artist, Ernst Haeckel. As Daniel points out, you can find a whole gallery of Haeckel's work on Wikipedia. Donahoo prints them out in color as posters for his kids' rooms. Of course there are many other wonderful life science illustrators to check out as well. Here are a few:

Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus, is often called the Father of Taxonomy. According to the University of California Museum of Paleontology:

His system for naming, ranking, and classifying organisms is still in wide use today (with many changes). His ideas on classification have influenced generations of biologists during and after his own lifetime, even those opposed to the philosophical and theological roots of his work.

John James Audubon is famous for his bird portraits, of course. Says Wikipedia:
Audubon's influence on ornithology and natural history was enormous. Nearly all later ornithological works were inspired by his artistry and his high standards. Charles Darwin quotes Audubon three times in The Origin of Species and also in later works. Despite some errors in his field observations (e.g., he thought an immature bald eagle to be a separate species), his notes were a significant contribution to the understanding of bird anatomy and behavior. Birds of America is still considered one of the greatest examples of book art.
Although not primarily known as a naturalist, Albrecht Durer's watercolor of a hare is one of my favorite nature illustrations, and he has many more. Dürer believed that "…art must be based upon science—in particular, upon mathematics, as the most exact, logical, and graphically constructive of the sciences." In his Treatise on Proportion, he commented, "Life in nature makes us recognize the truth of these things, so look at it diligently, follow it, and do not turn away from nature to your own thoughts…. For, verily, art is embedded in nature; whoever can draw her out, has her."

Beatrix Potter -- author of Peter Rabbit and many other children's books -- was not only a writer and an artist; she was an accomplished, if not acknowledged, scientist. As Wikipedia relates:

An uncle attempted to introduce her as a student at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, but she was rejected because she was female. Potter was later one of the first to suggest that lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae. As, at the time, the only way to record microscopic images was by painting them, Potter made numerous drawings of lichens and fungi. As the result of her observations, she was widely respected throughout England as an expert mycologist. She also studied spore germination and life cycles of fungi. Potter's set of detailed watercolours of fungi, numbering some 270 completed by 1901, is in the Armitt Library, Ambleside.

In 1897, her paper on the germination of spores was presented to the Linnean Society by her uncle Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe, as women were barred from attending meetings. (In 1997, the Society issued a posthumous official apology to Potter for the way she had been treated.) The Royal Society also refused to publish at least one of her technical papers. She also lectured at the London School of Economics several times.
There's more about Beatrix Potter, scientist, at The Scientist.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Free Science Texts from Amsco Publications

Go to the AMSCO School Publications website and you'll see a link for free textbooks available for a short time as downloadable PDF files. The current offering is marine biology, but for some reason the PDFs weren't viewable. However I not only found links that do work, I found other PDF files as well. They may not be available for long, so grab them if you want them. Here they are:

Marine Science: Marine Biology and Oceanography

Marine Science: Marine Biology and Oceanography/Teacher’s Manual with Answers

The Living Environment: Biology/Teacher's Manual

EARTH SCIENCE: The Physical Setting

Contemporary Chemistry THE PHYSICAL SETTING

Contemporary Chemistry THE PHYSICAL SETTING/Teachers Manual

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lesson Planning

Although I haven't really done any "planning" or "teaching" up to this point it is encouraging to see that we've already begun several of the activities I was hoping to get into as we study biology this year:


Activity (Purpose)



Further Activities


Pet care

Aug 08

Released into wild

Hermit Crab

Pet care

Aug 08


Aquarium maintenance

Spring 08

Backyard Field Survey

Enter and analyze data

Sept. 08

Learn Excel to record data

Studying Bryozoa

Using the microscope

Sept. 08

Discovered exotic life form


Pond Water

Using the microscope


I made up this chart so that I can post it downstairs by our homeschool work area. The idea is that the kids can see what upcoming projects we can do and take charge of doing them. The chart continues with:

Growing Triops
Brewing Root Beer with Yeast
Making Yogurt (live bacteria)
Cheese making?
Separating out DNA
Testing Antibiotics
Luminescent Bacteria Lab

I got most of these experments from The Science of Life: Projects and Principles for Beginning Biologists by Frank G. Bottone, Jr. The last time we covered biology, in 2003, I was shocked to discover that the Plant/Animal classification system I had been taught (and which was also used as an organizing principle in the homeschooling guide The Well-Trained Mind – with the addition, as I recall, of humans as a separate category for those uncomfortable with the idea that humans are animals) was completely outdated. Instead, there were (depending on who you read) at least five “kingdoms:” Monera, Protista, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. The Science of Life had all kinds of interesting and do-able projects for each classification. We did a few, including watching mold grow (systematically, not on the stuff in the back of the refrigerator) and growing carnivorous plants. When I pulled the book out again this summer, though, I found Post-its on many pages for projects we never got to. Happily, the book is written at a high enough level that it still looks like a good guide for high school.

Oh, about the kingdoms above: apparently scientists don’t use that way of classifying living things anymore, either. According to Wikipedia, modern taxonomy systems generally begin with a three-domain system of Archaea (originally Archaebacteria), Bacteria (originally Eubacteria), and Eukarya, depending on whether the cells have nuclei or not and categories of cell exteriors.

Anyway, on our first go-round we covered taxonomy, biomes (for which we put together different terrariums and aquariums), and the human body. There are a lot of websites about biomes; I’ll post the ones I’ve found as time allows. The human body resource we used was a book and see-through model combo from Andrews McMeel. (Out of print but available used.) While the model was on the flimsy side, the book was short but well-written (elementary to middle school level), nicely illustrated and had do-able activities for each body system (for instance, testing muscles or optical illusions).

I seem to have gotten off the topic of what books I am in the process of using now to develop this year’s teaching plan, so look for more soon.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Books and Movies for Biology Students

Just a reminder that over in the sidebar I've been adding books and movies that I am recommending or hope to get to look at this year. The kids and I just watched The Andromeda Strain, a sci-fi classic by Michael Crichton (a medical doctor and author of Jurassic Park) about an alien organism. Although it's 30 years old, one reviewer says the techniques used by the scientists in the film are the same ones used today.

If you have a decent library system, like ours, you may be able to find most of the books and movies I'll be listing. But if you do order something from an Amazon link on my blog, I get a little kickback. Feel free to browse the "store," either way.

And add your suggestions here, too!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Map(s)

As the weather grows colder and we wrap up the observation portion of our 100-Species Challenge, we now need to start organizing the information we have gathered. A week or two ago the kids created a fantastic map of the backyard on which to mark the species as we found them. This morning they updated it with numbers corresponding to our list. The list isn't ready yet, but I just have to show you the map(s).

To the left is a map of the Old Champlain Canal Towpath, where we found a lot of great stuff, including our alien pods. To the right is our yard, marked off in sections to indicate lawn, unmowed "meadow," vegetable garden, fish pond, etc. The boys created the image in Corel Draw. I think it came out great!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bryozoa (not aliens)

If you walked down our local canal, you would see strange growths on some of the sticks underwater. Before you hit the panic button, you may want to know out that these are non-alien animals called Bryozoa.

Bryozoa are small coral-like animals that build the strange pods in order to filter out the food they need in the water. The majority of bryozoans are marine, consisting of several thousand species. But one class, the Phylactolaemata, is found exclusively in fresh water. (These are the strange pods that you would see in your streams.) Bryozoa have also been seen in fossils dating back to 354 million years ago.

Recently we got one from our local canal to study, though we had some trouble getting it out. We had to find one that was small enough to fit in our jar, and close enough to shore to reach. (We didn't know how deep the canal was!) The colony we picked was one of two attached to a loose branch that we were able to pull on shore. Then we had to break it off to fit it in the jar. (Mom forgot her Swiss Army knife.) We made sure to fill up the jar with the water it came out of -- plus an extra container -- and carried it home carefully.

Up close, we could see that the pod was made up of clear jelly-like substance with spots all over the surface. The next day we took samples from our jar and looked at them under the microscope. First we looked at some jelly that was stuck to the stick, where the larger colony broke off. It was yellow and cloudy, but we couldn't see anything moving or otherwise interesting.

Then we used a pipette to suck up one of the small, dark green dots around the edge of the jar. (See slide on left.) Under the microscope we could see a dark center, a lighter ring, and little hooked feet sticking out all around. (Closeup on right.) This is a statoblast, which is used by the Bryozoa for reproduction. The statoblast can survive the winter and grow a new colony in the spring. According to this site, the jelly and everyone attached dissolves in cold water.

We also took scrapings from the pod itself. We saw all kinds of things moving around. Here are some of them:

We're wondering if the yellow things in the middle are the actual polyps. Here is a website with great microscopic photos and videos of Pectinatella magnifica. What do you think?