Michael Gatton: Grade 8: 2001/2002

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As a science facilitator in District Six in Manhattan, I plan to teach one class at IS 143 during the 2001/2002 school year. My vision is to have a classroom where I can model instructional strategies for new teachers or any teachers who are unfamiliar with inquiry or constructivist approaches to teaching science. It is also crucial for me as a staff developer to have in-depth knowledge of the new curricular materials that we are implementing, which is only possible if I have a chance to work with the materials in an authentic classroom setting.

As much as possible, I will post my strategies for teaching from the first day of school (and how I got prepared over the summer for the first day) to the last day of school.

As much as possible I will post unit plans and lesson plans before implementing them, and then post reports on how the lessons/units are going along the way -- revisions, stumbling blocks, successes and disasters. My overall goals are outlined in the Middle School Science Curriculum Framework, which will be revised this summer.

You are welcome to participate in this process by asking questions or, if you are using any of my ideas or lessons, by sharing your experiences with us. Just click on "Contribute an answer" below and submit your questions or contributions.

-- Michael Gatton (mwgatton@aol.com), May 05, 2001


Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

September 2, 2001

I have begun to map out my strategy for the first unit in grade 8, heredity. I created a simple model of dominant/recessive inheritance a few years ago called "Alien Genetics." I have refined and added to the activity that you can download here. It's a pretty big file, about 15 pages long. You will also find my rough draft Unit Plan and some introductory, first days of school activities, which I will write about later.

There is a good deal of material that I need to teach before starting that activity, so I needed to find activities to review cell structure and function and to teach reproduction. I found this idea for a project in which students create a Cell Analogies Collage. You can find other ideas by searching the database of Activities-to-Go at the Access Excellence website. As for reproduction, I have thus far only found this activity, again from Access Excellence, on Vegetative Propagation.

I can't stress enough the importance of mapping out a long term plan. It makes it easier to ask for and find help on the specifics. Instead of wondering how I am going to cover the all the objectives in the Heredity unit, I can focus on finding individual activities to cover mini-topics. Also remember, that students need to have all those big ideas broken down into small lessons. It is of course important to always put the pieces into context and help student to put it all together to make the big picture in their minds (or with their minds, I should probably say!).

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 02, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

Day 1 Strategy: Behavior

By the time students are in grade 8, they know how they are supposed to behave in a class. Your job is to remind them that they know the rules and then to let them know that you will enforce them if they CHOOSE to break them. Knowledge and implementation are, of course, two different things, but that's beyond the scope of this little post.

I have a Code of Conduct that you can download and change to suit your needs. It outlines about 4 basic rules (Stay in your seat..., raise your hand..., keep hands etc. to yourself..., use magic words...) as well as academic rules (hand in work on time...,minimum requirements...,make up work will be more difficult than regular work...) and a list of possible consequences for breaking the rules. Those rules will vary depending on your personality and your schools policies, but it is important to know ahead of time what they will be.

The discussion about rules should be done matter-of-factly -- I expect students to behave, and overtalking the rules can give the impression that you do not have much faith that they will behave. More important than discussing the rules is demonstrating that you will enforce them. Have no illusions: Your students will test you from the moment you walk into the classroom on day one until the day they leave on June 26..

Test: Sometime during the first or second day, someone will very quietly and "innocently" get out of a seat to throw away paper without your permission. What do you do? That's a test. If you fail this one, expect more and more students less and less quietly and innocently, to get out of their seats in the days and weeks to come. Remind the student of the rule, ask student to throw paper away when departing the class. End of it. No discussion, no rhetorical questions, no anger.

Other tests: Calling out an answer or comment, slouching in chair, wearing inappropriate clothing (know your school's dress code), chewing gum or other foodstuff, arguing with another student, not getting to work in a timely fashion, "forgetting homework," turning in half-done or sloppy work. If any of these activities recurs, or if one student seems to be trying a number of tricks, it's time to think about other consequences besides reminding about the rules.

There are of course other routines that you will need to go over as the need arises, such as entering class and dismissal, and getting into and out of groups, etc. Enforce routines as you do the more general rules.

That's about all I can say on the subject in this forum. There are a number of books out there that offer practical advice on maintaining discipline or sanity in the classroom and I can make a recommendation if you need help and contact me.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 02, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

Day 1 Agenda

This is what I expect to accomplish on Day One with students. This assumes that students will be arriving to my classroom (as opposed to already being there, see below). Students names will be on placecards at the desks where I want them to sit.

I will greet students at the door and ask them to line up outside the door along the wall, two lines. Boys against the wall. As I said above, students know how they are supposed to act, remind them to remain silent, deal with anyone who chooses not to follow the rule as above. I tell them my name and that this is a science classroom. Please walk silently inside and find the desk with your name on it. Look at the chalkboard for today's assignment (I actually will use Avery static cling dry erase film, 27X32 inches, Office Max, printed ahead of time with the days assignment). Monitor behavior.

Assignment 1: What is a scientist? Please use a pencil.
Instructions are on the paper, simple to follow. Give students about 5 minutes to complete including time to get in seats and get out pencils. Discuss. Point out that anyone who does what scientists do is a scientist. Follow-up with deputizing oath if you want. Take up papers -- pass across rows rather than back to front. This should all put you about 15 minutes into the period.

Assignment 2: Code of Conduct. Read & Discuss. Students signature. (Should take all of 5 minutes)

Assignment 3: Getting to Know Me. Model the activity by sharing something about yourself. Spend about 10 minutes on this activity. You might ask for a list of volunteers (about 5-7) before beginning the assignment and stick to the list.

Assignment 4: Grade 8 Science. What students should expect this year in science. This activity should finish out the period. Leave time for students to pack up, go over routines for leaving the room -- slide chair from under table, do not push table away from chair. Stand, return chair under table. Walk quietly from the room to next class -- which you might want to know. DO NOT LET STUDENTS RESPOND TO BELL. You dismiss a class, not the bell.

Homework: Parent's signature on Code of Conduct and Grade 8 Science. I have make-up Quizzes if homework isn't turned in on time. They still have to turn in the signed paper plus quizzes. Don't tell them. They know the rule.

I will not spend time collecting student information like phone numbers and the like. They already gave this info to the official teacher. Why ask students to do the kind of needlessly redundant paperwork that WE are always complaining about? Ask the official teacher for the information.

A note about seating -- if students use the room more than once, try to work with other teachers on the seating arrangement to minimize student movement and confusion.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 03, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

Day 1 Instruction: Science Never Sucks

I now have my schedule and have revised my unit calendar accordingly. I also learned this week that my class did not have a regular science teacher last year due to difficulty in filling a vacancy. I am therefore reconsidering my opening day and will include a demonstration just to get their attention and make it more interesting – I want them to look forward to science class and expect to work at the same time. The instructional strategy that I will use is called P.E.O.E. – Predict-Explain-Observe-Explain. The activity is called Science Never Sucks. Here's a summary.

You will need to look around your science department for a test tube with a lip. The opening should be large enough to allow a penny to rest nicely within the lip of the test tube. Using a little soapy water to provide a nice seal around the lip/penny, you will warm the test tube by gripping it in the palm of your hand (wrap your fingers around it) with the penny on top, then cool the test tube by holding it by the lip between thumb and index finger, creating a difference in the pressure between outside and inside the test tube, which will allow you to turn the test tube upside down and the penny will remain in place.

What are the students doing while this is taking place? Well, I do this activity in three steps:

Step 1. No soapy water. Place penny on top,hold in hand so that the test tube warms up (important later), ask students to predict what will happen when the test tube is turned upside down and explain their prediction (see worksheet). Most predict penny will fall. Explanation—gravity. Demonstrate. Discuss.

Step 2. Dip top of test tube in soapy water, replace penny. Same question – What will happen if you turn the test tube upside down? Some will predict the penny will fall, some may guess that the soapy water will act like a glue and keep the penny up. Demonstrate. (Penny falls). Discuss.

Step 3. Soapy water and magic words (Abracadabra or whatever). This time I again use soapy water, but explain to students that I will say a magic word over the test tube. What they won’t notice is that this time I will hold the test tube by the lip so that it can cool off inside while they are writing. Utter the magic words, turn test tube upside down, Voila! It stays on the test tube. Discuss. (Explanation is included with activity).

You definitely want to perfect technique before doing this one.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 06, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

Day 1 Review

1st day went pretty smoothly, with only a couple of minor snags. I did not have time to do "8th Grade Science," a 5 minute activity. I will start tomorrow with that. I also had problems with the test tube activity, "Science Never Sucks," because the classroom was so hot that I couldn't seem to build up enough temperature difference to make it work (even though I had tested the activity on Friday afternoon and everything worked as planned). It actually stayed up for about a second, then fell down. I discussed the activity with the students and what was supposed to happen and informed them that we would return to the activity during our weather unit when we discuss the concept of air pressure. You could also do this activity in the context of properties of matter and the concept of expansion and contraction. Of course the drama was lost and I probably should have realized the room was too hot, but I was anxious to do the activity. Not a total loss: They still got to predict and explain, which they did nicely.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 10, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

Day 2

We will pick up the Grade 8 Science that I didn't get to today. We will also do the introductory "Getting to Know You" (see link above) and the Family Tree, (part of "Heredity Unit") The Family tree activity is designed to get students thinking about their own family and some traits that show variation within their family. I have listed some traits: Hair line (widow's peak), hitchhiker's thumb, tongue curler, etc, which they can investigate within their family and record on the Family Tree. After we have studied dominant/recessive traits and genotypes/phenotypes, they will return to the family tree and work out the possibilites a couple of generations back.

Having said all that, the activity will take only a couple of minutes of class time, as most of the work will be done at home.

The family tree becomes the motivation for learning about cells, reproduction, and heredity. The only way to understand how traits are passed down within families is by understanding these concepts. So the next step will be to review cells, which means microscope skills. I will finish today's class with a simple microscope introduction. In this activity, we review the parts of a microscope, and look at a couple of prepared slides of a) aluminum foil, b) small words. Students will note that light does not pass through metal, even though the foil is very thin, and is therefore not a good subject for this kind of microscope. They will also note that the microscope inverts the image and reverses right & left.

Day 3 is a double-period lab and we will be doing more extensive activities involving wet-mounting onion cells and staining. We will end the week by using grids on slides to estimate the size of a cell.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 10, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

A word about Planning...

I tend to be over-optimistic about the pacing of a lesson. I think it is preferable to being pessimistic. This means, however, that what you see on my planning calendar is not necessarily what actually happens. In planning it is necessary to allow for deviations from the plan. An activity that I think will take 5 minutes may easily double to 10 minutes.

The unit calendar is not a pacing calendar -- it is a general guide. It must be revised practically each day, which is why you need to have your own calendar that you are following and revising as needed according to your own pace and style.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 11, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002


I wrote that last entry before the full consequences of 9/11 were evident, before I had seen the filmed footage of the destruction, and before any announcement that schools would be closed the following day. As a result of school being closed and then delayed on Thursday, I missed 3 periods with my class, which means I am obviously behind schedule with my unit calendar -- just to underscore the idea that a calendar needs to be revised constantly as we go along.

I am also now in the predicament of needing to start one activity before the other is finished. This is because I teach Thurdsdays in a room that is not set up as a science room and the logistics of moving microscopes and electrical cords from one room to another are just too great. So I will start the review of cell structure and function ("Cells Analogy Collage") tomorrow even though I haven't finished the microscope introduction, which I will return to next week. I will probably assign work on the collage as homework, and return to finish the task on Wednesday of next week, after completing the two microscope activities.

A reminder that all the activities I am referring to are listed on my Instructional Planning page.

To summarize, I hope next week to be finished with microscope activities and cell review, and will post suggestions for starting reproduction the following week. Literally a week behind schedule 2 weeks into the school year! I have revised my calendar to reflect what I've actually done so far and how I plan to procede. I have a field trip planned, but I do not know yet if I will get permission under the current circumstances, so that too may need to be revised.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 19, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

September 20, 2001

At the last minute I thought of a way to get attention in beginning my review of cells. At the risk of being morbid, I asked students to imagine all their cells suddenly disappeared (temporarily). What would be left, what would someone see. Explain. I let them have 5 minutes to think about and write a journal entry. We discussed. Some reasoned that nothing would be left, since we are made of cells (they DO remember something from 6th grade! -- one student even rattled off several organelles and their functions but didn't really answer the question). Someone said blood, someone said water. I told the students that I had indeed made someone's cells disappear before class started, and I had what was left of him right here in this bucket. Anyone want to see it? I poured 3 gallons of water from the bucket into another bucket. Water! (with some other dissolved materials like proteins and minerals and all that). Yup, 14 liters of extracellular fluid. That's all that's left if you take away our cells. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but in searching through my physiology textbook I can't find anything else.

I have also put together a study guide for students with what I think are the key ideas in the cell review -- cell theory and structure and function in cells. They will get the study guide after we have done a review, and they may use it to help create their cell analogy collages.

Up until the cell activity described above (when they suddenly became quite attentive), my class was a little chatty today. We were located in a different room where they felt at home but I didn't. I may well need to create a new seating chart for that room, where we only meet on Thursdays, and/or plan more quiet activities for this day.

I'm tempted to say that the journal writing itself (quiet activity) was the turning point, but in fact I started the class with a quiet writing activity that wasn't as quiet as I wanted it to be. So clearly a writing activity in and of itself is not a sufficient condition for achieving quiet in the classroom. It probably has more to do with presenting them with an engaging, thought-provoking question -- my opening activity was a return to a previous assignment ("getting to know me," leading into to the term "traits" and the family tree activity), which they perceived to be repetitious and not so valuable.


So much for last-minute ideas! I was a bit wrong about the cells-R-us demo above. Turns out upon further research that almost all the mass of our bones is NOT from cells but from a collagen (protein) matrix upon which mineral (calcium) deposits and crystalizes. Bone cells are embedded within this matrix and secrete the collagen part of the matrix, but they make up an extremely small percentage of the mass of a bone.

There are other examples of non-cellular protein sheets within the body, such as the "basement membrane," a protein layer upon which many epithelial cells rest. My demo would have to include the skeleton and something representing sheets of proteins to be accurate!

So, this brings up a more general issue that all of us face from time to time, namely how to correct misinformation that we have inadvertently passed on to the students? At the appropriate time I will correct my mistake, during a review, for example.

(This error message is repeated below.)

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 20, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

September 25, 2001

This is pretty much a catch-up week for me, so no new activities are scheduled. I will be trying to finish the cell review and microscope activities. In the next few log entries, I would like to make a few points about the delivery of instruction, some things that I have questions about, and some self-criticism (constructive, that is).

Today I finished a lesson and thought some prepared microscope slides seemed to be missing, and was stumbling around looking for them as the next teacher and his students were coming in for their class, and the official teacher was at the desk getting some of her stuff. A semi-chaotic between-periods time and not a good time to have misplaced something. I didn't find the slides. Later today I received an e-mail from the official teacher, some students had left their slides on the microscope stage instead of handing them in to me as instructed. Lesson learned? Leave more time at the end of a period to make sure all materials are accounted for. I have this tendency to teach up until the very last minute of a period and think that I can get all my materials together in 30 seconds. I have to remind myself to allow more time for materials gathering, summary, and final questions or observations. I also need to DO what I would have TOLD anyone else to do in terms of materials management, which is to assign a materials manager to each group.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 25, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

September 26, 2001

It still amazes me how difficult it is for students to master a skill that I consider to be as easy as breathing. The skill in question is focusing a microscope.

I should point out that there is in my classroom (from a Toshiba grant a few years ago) a video camera that attaches to a microscope so that I can demonstrate to the class what something should look like when in focus. In spite of this invaluable tool I spent most of my double period today inspecting what students were looking at under their microscopes, and 75 percent of them were out of focus to some degree.

I bring this up not to complain but as a reminder that even seemingly simple skills take time to learn. I am now recommending more practice using a microscope with common, familiar objects, before moving on to wet-mounting and staining and a little more direct instruction on focusing techniques. Too much of my attention today was on focusing and not on the other skills or the content of their observations. Some students knew their specimen was out of focus, but couldn't figure out how to fix the problem. I'm not sure what to do with those who don't realize they are out of focus. In all seriousness, they may need their eyes checked!

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), September 26, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

October 5, 2001

We are still finishing up some activities that were discussed above. As usual, everything takes longer than expected, and Monday is another holiday, but I expect to give a cell quiz on Thursday on basic structures and functions. I'm planng a performance assessment on microscope skills, but that will be part of a unit test around the end of October. It will likely be modeled after the ILSE Performance Exam Sampler, and involve wet-mounting, staining, and estimating the size of an onion skin cell.

I'm reasonably pleased with progress on the cell analogies. Here's another case of practicing what you preach. In theory I understand the need to check for prior knowledge, but in reality I'm often too anxious to jump into a lesson and skip that little "nicety." Had I checked with students first, however, I would have learned that their wonderful 6th grade teachers did cell analogies (minus the collage) with them already. I still would have done the collage activity, but I would have focused more on refining their understanding of analogies. As it is, I misjudged their comprehension and set my expectations too low, thinking that this would be the first time many of them had even heard of "analogies" (no offense to their CA teachers!). There will of course be other opportunities to use analogies this year.

I now realize the big microscope activity was simply too much at one time, and needs to be broken down into smaller chunks. It is also too much in the "cookbook" tradition (follow the instructions, observe what you've already been told you will observe) so I will look for some ways to make it more engaging and thought provoking for next year.

Lastly, all field trips have been cancelled at my school for the forseeable future, so I have to find another method of teaching reproductive strategies unless I can find a way around the ban. I will post my Field Trip Activity Sheet anyway for you to use if your school allows. Of course, you will want to go to the American Museum of Natural History yourself first to familiarize yourself with where the exhibits are and the info found in them. Feel free to contact me if you have questions. Thanks to Justine Papierski for helping put the field trip activity together.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), October 05, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

October 6, 2001: Unit calendar

I have now revised and updated my unit calendar. I should easily finish the heredity unit before the Thanksgiving Break and will begin a new unit on Ecology following the break. My calendar will undergo more revisions, as I add in some activities to get students started on the project requirements and possibly add some review sessions on Human Body Systems to help prepare them for the state test. As it stands, my calendar is filled through November 8 with the completion of the genetics unit, so I have room to add things and still finish before Thanksgiving.

I will most likely be asking students to produce a secondary reasearch project, although I'm considering combining that with another project type of the student's choosing -- either a controlled experiment or fieldwork project. I'll discuss how that might work in another post later on. All projects will be based on the theme of ecology, as I would like them to be finished with their rough drafts by end of February, before we even begin our final unit on weather.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), October 06, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002


(This error message is repeated above in the context of the activity.)

So much for last-minute ideas! I was a bit wrong about the cells-R- us demo above. Turns out upon further research that almost all the mass of our bones is NOT from cells but from a collagen (protein) matrix upon which mineral (calcium) deposits and crystalizes. Bone cells are embedded within this matrix and secrete the collagen part of the matrix, but they make up an extremely small percentage of the mass of a bone, and if your cells suddenly disappeared, the solidified bone, minus the cells, would still be there.

There are other examples of non-cellular protein sheets within the body, such as the "basement membrane," a protein layer upon which many epithelial cells rest. My demo would have to include the skeleton and something representing sheets of proteins to be accurate!

So, this brings up a more general issue that all of us face from time to time, namely how to correct misinformation that we have inadvertently passed on to the students? At the appropriate time I will correct my mistake, during a review, for example.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), October 08, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

October 11, 2001

Results from my Cell Analogy Quiz were less than stellar. High score was an 89, and about half failed to reach a passing score of 65. Several failing scores were in the low 60s, and almost all of the rest were in the 50s. I hope, however, that the quiz itself was a learning experience, and the unit test will turn out better.

I began my my Reproduction Unit on Thursday after the quiz. Students were asked to respond to a quote I dug up a few years ago:

A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg.

I like to do this kind of exercise just to get the gears turning and this quote merely turns on its head the way we normally think about chickens and eggs. I have to admit that only a handful of students seemed it get it, but the idea wasn't to get a right answer, rather to think about and respond to the statement and lead to a discussion. If you look in any book of quotes or aphorisms, I'm sure you can find a statement to your liking that would be appropriate for this kind of exercise. It needs to be related to the topic you are introducing and interesting, amusing, or "silly" -- the word most students used to describe the quote above.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), October 16, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

October 15, 2001

I used a shortened period to give a couple of notes (OK four to be exact, two at a time) about reproduction. The class was a series short bursts of writing and discussing. It began with a journal entry designed to tap into prior knowledge in which I asked students to answer the question: What is reproduction and why is it necessary? Their writings generated a lot of questions that will be addressed during this unit, for example, someone stated that "men don't reproduce," the obvious logic being that the female carries the baby and so on. We will definitely have to address that issue.

Here are the fundamental ideas I presented and discussed:

1. Reproduction is the process by which offspring are produced from one or more parents.
2. Reproduction requires that genetic information pass from parent to offspring.

We discussed the meanings of the main terms (italics).

3. Asexual reproduction requires only one parent and results in offspring that are genetically identical to the parent.
4. Sexual reproduction generally requires 2 parents and results in offspring that are genetically different from both parents.


I realize that these statements are in some ways only partially correct, but they are generally true and to start talking about all the exceptions to the rules and trying to make a statement that is precisely true would lead to a lot of confusion. So I fall back on another favorite quote, "All of our understanding is but an approximation of reality." I think the statements above are close enough to reality for this grade level at this time. Education is really a process of constant revision of understanding.

Next: Sexual Reproduction Simulation Activity

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), October 16, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

October 16, 2001

Piggy-backing on the discussion yesterday, we reviewed the idea of sexual reproduction and the concept of genetic information. We talked about where this genetic information is located and so on. We did an activity that simulates different strategies for transferring/mixing genetic information during Sexual Reproduction.

I worked with pairs of students. Each pair gets 2 zip lock bags, one with 4 pieces of green pasta, the other with 4 pieces of red pasta.

The bag represents an organism, the pasta represents genetic information within the organism. Remind students that in order for sexual reproduction to occur, somehow the genetic material from the 2 organisms must mix. Find 4 ways to mix the genetic information in these two bags. You may remove the pasta to do the actual mixing.

The possible combinations (click on the activity hyperlink to see a graphic representation of the possibilities) represent internal fertilization, external fertilization, and hermaphrodism (which is actually a subcategory of internal fertilization) and conjugation. I'm not sure where self-fertilization (extremely rare in animals, more common in plants) fits in, but I don't plan to address that issue at this time. This is where the necessary imprecision of definitions presents a problem. Sexual reproduction requires the fusion of two different gametes (sex cells) not necessarily two different parents. This is an refinement that students will have to make later to their understanding.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), October 16, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

A word about the order of presentation...

It might seem a little backward to talk about sexual reproduction before talking about mitosis and meiosis. I think it works because the discussion of sexual reproduction is actually a motivation to learn more about the mechanisms of reproduction at the cellular level.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), October 16, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

October 17, 2001

Cell Division Simulation

Today we used the pasta and zip lock bags again (click on hyperlink above to see details), this time to demonstrate that cells need to grow and make copies of their genetic material before splitting. I think the activity worked quite well and letting students discover the necessity of those two things is more effective that just telling them that that's what cells do. I tried in the second half to let students observe mitosis in prepared slides, but that kinda bombed. I don't think I planned that part of the lesson particularly well and I still need to work some more on microscope skills. They are still having difficulty finding what we want to look at and then focusing on it.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), October 17, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

October 29, 2001

It's been a while since my last entry. After the activities on cell division and sexual reproduction strategies, I basically ran out of ideas on how to teach reproduction and fell back on the lecture/discussion/textbook routine. I used the context of reproduction to teach the human reproductive systems, and that took a lot longer than I expected. I used the Human Biology & Health textbook (Prentice Hall) to look at the structures/functions, and processes inolved in human reproduction. I did assign a report on the reproductive strategies of an animal of the students' choosing, but I was absent on Thursday and didn't get to refine the assignment for the students to work on over the weekend. (I don't teach on Fridays, so if I miss a Thursday it really messes things up). I will post more about the assignment later this week. I am asking students to find specific information, which I hope will make it harder to simply copy from a book. I had hoped to use the assignment for the first marking period, but it looks like now it will spill over into the second marking period if I want it done well.

I created another study guide for my next quiz on reproduction. I want to refine it a little before posting. It follows the way that I taught reproduction, (which might seem a little quirky) and leaves out a lot of things that I will return to in the context of ecology (plant reproduction, eg). And of course the heredity unit will refine some of the basic ideas presented.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), October 29, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

November 6, 2001 I have posted my Reproduction Study Guide and Reproduction Quiz on the website.

A number of events over the last 2 weeks threw a monkey wrench into my instruction, including some testing that knocked out one of my classes, and Halloween, which knocked out a double lab period. These events occured on consecutive days at a critical point in the instructional sequence. I think I'll save for another forum the whole calendar issue in NYC, but it's been really hard this year to get any kind of momentum or continuity going.

On Monday we began talking again about traits and genes. Wednesday is double lab period, and we will construct our "alien" models from the Alien Genetics activity. From there we work on Punnett squares and a probability activity, then return to the "Family Tree" that we used to kick off the heredity unit back in September. The Family tree can easily be turned into a more formal pedigree chart, to be described later. All of these activities are included in the Alien Genetics unit.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), November 06, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

November 6, 2001

I'm moving this message for aesthetic reasons. I posted it originally back in June, and I wanted all the dates for this log to be for the 2001/2002 school year.

Here's an idea for student presentations that I took from some workshop I attended. I will call it a "Property Cube," for lack of a better term. When I teach a chemistry unit next year, I'm considering having students create a 3D periodic table using these cubes. One face of the cube will have the symbol, another face would have basic properties of the element, another face the history/discoverer, another face facts about its abundance and distribution on earth/in the universe, another face would discuss its importance and uses. Is that six? Oh well, the last face would have a picture or something.

Keep in mind that I'm only interested in the more or less observable properties of the elements and NOT the electron configuration or atomic weights or isotopes and all those chemical properties that are better left to high school. The Mineral Information Institute (the propaganda arm of the mining industry!) actually puts out a nice periodic table along these lines that teachers can get for free. Send me an e-mail and I'll send you the order form. It's very large and colorful.

Note that this method of presentation could be used for any number of other report topics, and I plan to use this idea in the ecology unit for a report on an endangered species. I will post more when we actually get to it next month some time.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), November 06, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

November 8, 2001

Ever the over-optimist...

We did not finish the construction of the Alien Models as planned this week. Students had more difficulty that I anticipated with the symbols and the concept of dominant and recessive genes. Today I back-tracked and did some more explanation and practice with the concepts. We made a table and went over some traits from the Family Tree. We talked about genotypes and phenotypes and the symbols used in gentics, reiterating that for every trait (in our simplified model) there is one gene from mom and one from dad (genotype), and dominant/recessive rules determine which will be expressed (the phenotype). On Monday we will return to our Aliens and it should be a lot simpler for them now to determine the traits for the parent and offspring.

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), November 08, 2001.

Response to Michael Gatton 2001/2002

November 11, 2001
Autobiography of an Alien

I posted a message on the Middle School Science Bulletin Board about the importance of networking and sharing ideas, of having someone help out with the thinking process that goes into planning a lesson. I personally am not so brilliant that I can just invent good quality lessons on my own without some help. Obviously help can come from a variety of sources. Most of us use the textbook, a kit perhaps, activities we did in a college science course adapted for middle school use, something we saw on Bill Nye, something we got off the internet, or learned in a workshop. All these are good and legitimate sources, but I keep coming back to the idea that the missing ingredient in all of this is sharing and getting feedback from colleagues. It's like the brainstorming process: Ideas may be generated in a group discussion that none of the participants would have thought of individually.

OK, off the soapbox. My homework assignment for the Alien Genetics activity will require students to write an autobiography of their alien persona. They will need to invent a name, a setting (describe the planet and something about their personal lives on the planet, and why do they have those funny looking antennae?), a pictorial family tree, a description of the reproductive process and how they got their individual traits (I will give them a list of questions that need to be used in their writing), and a chart that shows their genotypes and phenotypes. All this will require some group effort, since they activity itself already has some of the information they need, and a family history will be shared by all four group members. The larger task is broken into smaller sub-units (5) to be assembled in class one day as a booklet to go along with their alien models.

(This is the kind of activity that calls for a rubric a la Kay Burke. I will post more as we get into this activity next week.)

-- Michael Gatton (mg143@aol.com), November 11, 2001.

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