Monday, November 24, 2008

Hippocampus- Free Online AP Biology Course

From the HippoCampus Teaching Biology blog:
November 24, is the 149th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, a book that launched a scientific revolution and forever altered our understanding of who we are. In the last century and a half, both the book and its author have become icons, household names that most people recognize but many only know in a superficial and caricatured way. Charles Darwin, morose old man with a big white beard, who took a boat ride one day and got hit in the head with a finch, thus discovering evolution. The theory of evolution, aka survival of the fittest, except it must not be true because it’s still only a theory after all this time.

HippoCampus is a project of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education whose is to provide "high-quality, multimedia content on general education subjects to high school and college students free of charge." According to their website, HippoCampus content has been developed by "some of the finest colleges and universities in the world" and contributed to the National Repository of Online Courses, which makes editorial and engineering investment in the content to prepare it for distribution by HippoCampus.

The HippoCampus Biology home page has links to the blog, other interesting-looking biology content -- and a complete, free, online AP Biology course.

Although AP (Advanced Placement) courses are a useful way to earn some college credit while still in high school, I've decided not to pursue them for my kids. In school-school they indicate that the student is willing to work harder on what is billed as a higher level course. But for us as homeschoolers, it just means more hoops to jump through and another test to teach to. I'd rather devote my energies to hands-on activities, a variety of books and resources, and focusing on a few topics of interest to me and the kids.

On the other hand, who knows what we'll want down the road.

My quick impression the AP Bio course is that it consists of a fairly pleasant young voice reading a textbook, accompanied by related graphics. Despite the idea that AP classes are supposed to be for the creme de la creme of high school students, the content and its presentation seems to be at a middle school level (at least the introduction). In other words, it sounds more like learning software you'd see in the earlier grades than a college lecture.

If you try this Hippocampus AP course (or any other) I'd be interested in hearing what you think!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The winners of the 2008 Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition are up at

The Olympus BioScapes Digital Imaging Competition recognizes outstanding images of life science specimens captured through light microscopes, using any magnification, any illumination technique and any brand of equipment.

Images are judged based on the following criteria:
  • Science - Uniqueness of the specimen or processes shown, importance of work, new information revealed, "story" told.
  • Aesthetics - Beauty or impact of the image, balance, composition.
  • Technical merit - Challenge of specimen itself - difficulty of capturing structures or data shown, photographic excellence.
Entry deadline for next year's competition is September 30, 2009, and First Prize is the winner's choice of Olympus microscope or camera equipment valued at $5,000. Nine additional winners will also receive valuable prizes from Olympus, and many more will receive recognition as honorable mentions. Winners also are displayed at museums around the country. This year's museum tour will go to:

BioScapes Museum Tour Schedules
March 1, 2008 - May 30, 2008 - DaVinci Science Center, Allentown, PA (2006 Tour)
March 17, 2008 - May 9, 2008 - University of Rochester Med Ctr, Rochester, NY (2007 Tour)
April 7, 2008 - July 1, 2008 - St.Louis Museum of Science, St.Louis, MO (2005 Tour)
May 19, 2008 - July 25, 2008 - MBL, Woods Hole, MA (2007 Tour)
June 2, 2008 - August 29, 2008 - Maryland Science Center, Baltimore, MD (2006 Tour)
July 7, 2008 - October 1, 2008 - Dallas Science Center, Dallas, TX (2005 Tour)
August 1, 2008 - October 31, 2008 - NY Hall of Science, New York, NY (2007 Tour)
November 1, 2008 - December 21, 2008 - San Diego Science Center, San Diego, CA (2007 Tour)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wayne's Word Online Textbook of Natural History

I'm currently working on a children's activity book about the desert for Nomad Press. My research is turning up a lot of great websites, among them Wayne's Word, an online Textbook of Natural History written by Wayne. P. Armstrong. The website is a supplement to Professor Armstrong's general biology and botany courses at Palomar College in California.

Armstrong is retired, but continues to teach two of his courses -- Plants and People (Botany 115) and General Biology (Biology 101)-- online, with no meetings on campus. He writes that both courses are based on the thousands of pages of lecture notes that were laboriously placed on blackboards and whiteboards for more than thirty years, along with more than 2,300 photo images and illustrations.

That's a lot of material, all available online, for free. While I've only skimmed the site and read a few articles (about desert micro-organisms), it seems to be accessible, well organized and nicely illustrated. Check it out!

Thursday, November 6, 2008


For science this month, we decided to grow some Triops longicaudatus (Sold in stores as Triops.)

Members of the order Notostraca (colloquially referred to as notostracans, called Triops, tadpole shrimp or shield shrimp) are small crustaceans in the class Branchiopoda. Triops have two internal compound eyes and one naupliar eye in-between, a flattened carapace covering its head and leg-bearing segments of the body. The order contains a single family, with only two extant genera. Their external morphology has apparently not changed since the Triassic appearance of Triops cancriformis around 220 million years ago. Triops cancriformis may therefore be the "oldest living animal species on earth." The members of the extinct order Kazacharthra are closely related, having been descended from notostracans. -Wikipedia

The tadpole shrimp (scientific name = Triops longicaudatus, which are in the order Notostraca in the class Branchiopoda) inhabits freshwater, ephemeral ponds ranging from 50ÂșN latitude in western North America through Central America and into South America. In the U.S., Triops are found in desert habitats (see Figure 1). They live in small pools that accumulate after flash floods in the summer. Since these pools are rather short-lived, the Triops consequently have short lifespans, completing their life cycles in a mere 20-40 days! -The Triops Information Page

Set Up

  1. The first thing is to get all the items you need- If you have a kit, you should only need a light (for keeping the water warm) and container. (Some big kits come with one.)
  2. For the light, we used a desk lamp with a 50 watt bulb; you should check your instructions as too how hot the water needs to be though. (Mom's note: we used a reflector bulb, which threw more light/heat on the tank and less into the room.)
  3. For the container and water, start with a small one (you'll need to switch to a bigger one when they get larger) and fill it leaving 1 inch at the top with spring water. You also want to cover some of the tank with some aluminum foil to give them some shade.
  4. Before you put the eggs in, you need to put nutrients in. Most kits come with them, but if not, you can make your own with leaves.
  5. After 24 hours, put the triops in the container.
  6. The triops will hatch 18 hours after you put them in. When they do, you shouldn't feed them for another 24 hours.
  7. On day 2, start feeding them the food pellets. (These will come in the kit.) Give them 1/2 of some crushed green and brown pellets, and continue until you think they can eat a whole pellet on their own. (Usually by day 4.)
  8. When the start eating whole pellets, switch between green and brown.
  9. By this time you should switch them to a bigger container, as they won't be able to grow in the small one. We got a container that was three times bigger than the smaller one, which has worked. (If you want them to lay eggs, put 1/2 an inch of sand at the bottom.)
  10. Just keep feeding them until they die. If they laid eggs, let the water evaporate and start over with the new batch.

When we started the triops, we also started a log of what they were doing. This is it:

Day 1:

11:00 AM: We added our Triops eggs to the water we prepared in a plastic container.
5:00 PM: We added more water to replace the water that evaporated.

Day 2:

10:30 AM: Our first Triops hatched!!
8:00 PM: we spotted another Triops swimming around (We never saw him again, and presumed that the bigger one ate him.)

Day 3 :

9:40 AM: We fed the Triops. (A quarter of one of the green and brown pellets that came with the package.)

Day 4: (We forgot to take notes on Day 4.)

Day 5:

10:20 AM: Fed her. Same as before.

Day 6:

8:50 AM: Fed her (same as Days 3 & 5) We noted that at this point, our remaining Triops was 3/4 of an inch long.
11:30 PM: We used a pipette to suck up some sludge that was growing inside her container.

Day 7:

3:00 PM: We fed her (2 crushed pellets this time)
3:40 PM: We moved her to a bigger container.
Also, on this day, she molted!

Day 8: (We forgot to write down the time)

Fed the Triops (We started feeding her twice)
We noted that her movement has slowed down a bit.
Day 9: (We didn't write down the time today either.)

We fed her a green pellet. (We're not sure what the difference between a green pellet and a brown pellet is.) (Mom's note: green is vegetable, brown is meat. Mmmm.)

We also took an awesome video of her swimming around with our new digital microscope!

That's all we've done so far, but we'll have regular updates as things progress.


ToyOps: made the kit we bought
A Triops Classroom Guide: Lots of useful info and experiments (PDF)
My Triops: Hobbyist Stuart Halliday's site from the UK
Microscope Projects with Triops: Good general microscope site!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Microphotography (and Photomicrography)

I can't believe I forgot to cross post this really cool How-To I wrote for on taking photographs with your microscope! (There's also a related GeekDad post with some helpful links.) It spawned an email argument with a reader over the proper term; here's what Wikipedia says:

A micrograph, microphotograph or photomicrograph is a photograph or similar image taken through a microscope or similar device to show a magnified image of an item.

We'll be doing a lot more of this, whatever you want to call it, in the near future. We're still trying to find out exactly what the wiggly guy up top is.