December 11, 2011

December 11, 2011

December 11, 2011

One more week left until winter break.  The weather sure is starting to make it feel like the holidays are almost upon us!

Events of the Past Week

Monday - We took an enzyme quiz on Monday.  It was a 20 question, multiple choice quiz that the students completed in about 25 minutes.  When everyone was done, I introduced the students to the structure of the leaf, the structure of a chloroplast, pigments, and the colors of the visible light spectrum.  This was all to prepare for our two labs on Tuesday.

Tuesday - We began class by setting up our labs.  At each lab table, two students set up a chromatography lab to separate the pigments in a spinach leaf.  This showed the students the presence of pigments other than the green ones that are obviously present.  While the chromatography lab was being set up, one student was finding the cross-section of a leaf on a prepared slide under the microscope, and the other student at the lab table was looking for stomata (openings) and guard cells (that control the size of the openings) on the underside of a Tradescantia leaf under the microscope.  Everyone at the lab table then observed the objects under both microscopes, and drew and labeled what they saw.  Homework was to complete the analysis questions in the chromatography lab.

Wednesday - The students took lecture notes on the light reactions of photosynthesis.  This took most of the class period.  Homework was to complete the analysis questions at the end of the lab we did on Tuesday where we were looking at leaf structures under the microscope.

Thursday - The students finished taking lecture notes on the light reactions and then took lecture notes on the Calvin Cycle (the second stage of photosynthesis, named for the man who determined the steps of the cycle, Dr. Melvin Calvin).  Homework was to study for a quiz on photosynthesis.

Friday - The photosynthesis quiz was scheduled for Friday; however, I received several panicked e-mails on Thursday night from students saying they did not feel prepared for the quiz.  I felt this was reasonable because they really had not had much time to process the information from the previous two days of class.  We instead did a review packet, went over it, and asked questions about photosynthesis.  The quiz was pushed back to Monday.

Upcoming Events

Monday - We will spend the first 20 minutes of class taking our photosynthesis quiz.  The students will then be given about 10 minutes to review their results from the enzyme quiz of the previous week.  After everyone has looked at their enzyme quiz, we will move on and begin our cellular respiration lecture.  This will take us to the end of the period.

Tuesday - I will finish lecturing on cellular respiration on Tuesday.  When we are done, the students will be given a study guide to go along with their textbook on the topic of cellular respiration.  It should be completed for homework.

Wednesday - We will review enzymes, photosynthesis, and cellular respiration by creating graphic organizers to help keep all of the information from the bioenergetics unit straight.  Homework will be to study for our test on bioenergetics (enzymes, photosynthesis, and cellular respiration).

Thursday - Students will take their test on enzymes, photosynthesis, and cellular respiration.  This should take most of the class period for some students.

Friday - We will review our results from our test, and then do some fun winter break/holiday activities.

Graba Geek of the Week

This week's Geek of the Week award goes to Jimmy Mullen, who has turned in consistently outstanding work all year long.  He clearly puts in a lot of time on his work, and his efforts have been rewarded on tests and quizzes throughout the year.  Good job, Jimmy!

Have a great winter break, everyone!  Don't forget, anyone who wants to can enter a great science competition.  Check out for details.  There are monetary awards and a trip to Disney available to talented students!  The next newsletter will be after winter break.

December 4, 2011

December 4, 2011

December 4, 2011

Welcome to December!  Just 2 more weeks until winter vacation is upon us.  I'm sure the kids are looking forward to that!  We have a tough 2 weeks before break, however, so please work to keep them focused until they are on vacation.

Events of the Past Week

Monday - We began the week by looking at our results from our quiz on mitosis the previous week.  The students were given the opportunity to ask me any questions that they might have had on anything they missed.

Once we were done reviewing our quiz results, we began a cooperative group project learning about enzymes.  The students were allowed to pick their groups of 3.  Since each of my 4 classes has 27 students in it, the numbers worked out very well!  Each person in the group had some assigned information to research regarding enzymes.  The students were asked to try to complete their portion of the project for homework.

Tuesday - The students completed any parts of their assigned portion of the project that they had been unable to complete for homework, and then began to share their information with each other.  They were instructed that sharing needed to be more than, "Here's my paper, copy it."  The groups did a good job of not only sharing what they wrote, but explaining what was meant by what they had written.  In addition, there were many good questions for me from the groups when there was something they did not understand in their packet.

Wednesday - The groups spent about 25 minutes completing the sharing of information in their groups.  Afterwards, they had the remainder of the class to ask me any questions they had about enzymes.  For homework, there was a passage taken from an ACT exam about energy-releasing (exergonic) and energy-storing (endergonic) reactions.  In addition, the students were given the lab handout for our experiment on Thursday and Friday.  They were asked to read through it and answer the 8 prelab questions found at the beginning of the handout.

Thursday - We began our experiment.  3 lab pairs worked together on the experiment.  One of the pairs of students researched whether or not an enzyme found in fresh pineapple juice, called bromelain, was also found in other fruit juices.  One pair researched the effects of temperature on the functioning of the same enzyme.  The final pair researched the effect of changing pH on bromelain.  Homework was to create a data table that could be filled in during class the next day when we would observe our results from the experiment.

Friday - We observed the results of our experiment.  Rather than telling you in this newsletter, I'd like you to ask your children to explain what happened in their experiment.  They should be able to tell you about the results from all 3 experiments.  After recording the results in a data table, each lab pair had to create a flow chart to explain the procedure that they followed during their experiment.  Finally, each large group of 3 lab pairs worked together to answer the 5 postlab questions at the end of the experiment.  Homework for the weekend was to study for a quiz on enzymes on Monday.

Upcoming Events

Monday - We will be taking our quiz to begin class.  I don't anticipate this taking more than 20 minutes.  Once the quiz is completed, we will begin to learn about the process of photosynthesis.  My plan is to review the visible light spectrum, introduce the concept of excited electrons, and the role of pigments in plants by the end of the period.  Homework will be to complete an assignment about ATP - the molecule living things use as the source of energy to drive all of their metabolic processes.

Tuesday - We will be doing two labs at once on Tuesday.  Students will first set up a chromatography lab, where they will be separating the pigments found in a spinach leaf.  Once this lab is set up it takes about 20-25 minutes to complete.  Watching chromatography solvent inch up a strip of paper is about as exciting as it sounds, so while we are waiting for that to finish, the students will be looking at leaf cross-sections under the microscope, as well as looking at the underside of living leaves to look for stomata (openings where gases enter and exit the leaf).  Homework will be to finish the questions that go along with both of the labs.

Wednesday - On Wednesday, I will be lecturing to the students about the light reactions and the Calvin Cycle (the two phases of photosynthesis).  Homework will be to do a reading on the history of the discovery of the events in the process of photosynthesis and answer some questions about the reading. 

Thursday - We will review the process of photosynthesis on Thursday using graphic organizers to help organize all of the information from Wednesdays lecture.  Homework will be to study for a quiz on Friday.

Friday - The students will be taking a quiz on photosynthesis.  When the quiz is completed, we will begin to learn about the process of cellular respiration.  There will be a reading guide that goes with the textbook that the students will be working on, so they will need their books on Friday.  Homework will be to complete the reading guide.

Graba Geek of the Week

This week's geek of the week goes to Lauren Hoffman.  Lauren has done a great job this year, and especially this last week as we learned about enzymes (a topic that is brand new to most students), of asking good, specific questions when she is not completely understanding something.  All of the questions she has been asking have been paying off as her scores on the last few quizzes and tests have been excellent.  Way to go, Lauren!  Keep up the good work!

November 27, 2011

November 27, 2011

November 27, 2011

This school year is flying past right now!  We just reached the midterm of second quarter and December is almost upon us.  You can look for the midterm reports in your mailboxes sometime at the end of this week or beginning of next, depending on the mail.

Events of the Past Week

Monday - The students ran a lab experiment called "The Limits of Cell Size," where they learned that the larger the surface area to volume ratio of a cell is, the quicker it is able to get nutrients in and waste out.  Cells have a larger surface area to volume ratio the smaller they are, which is why they need to divide after growing for a little while.  They also turned in their "Mitosis" lab and "Time for Mitosis" lab.  Homework was to complete the questions in the "Limits of Cell Size" lab.

Tuesday - The students first took a lab quiz over the cell size lab.  It was a 10 question quiz that we give to all of our freshman, no matter what level of biology they are in, because this is a lab we do at all levels of biology.  Most students did well on the short quiz.  The students then got back their two labs that they handed in the previous day, as well as the questions to the mitosis reading assignment from the previous week.

After all of the papers were passed back and everyone was done with the quiz, we reviewed for our quiz the next day by doing a pattern puzzle.  The students were given pictures of all of the stages of the cell cycle, as well as many statements about the events of the cell cycle to cut out and place in the proper order.  This took them a little while to complete, and they had to show me their completed work when they were done.  If they had made any mistakes, I pulled out the parts that were wrong and they had to go back and fix them to show me again until they had everything right.  Homework was to study for the quiz.

Wednesday - The students took their quiz over the cell cycle, which did include the five microscopes with one question at each microscope about cells in the various stages of the cell cycle.  This took the students most of the class period, so we did not do the cell energy assignment I had planned.  This is because I did not want them to have any homework over the Thanksgiving break, which I feel should be spent with family. 



Upcoming Events

Monday - After first going over the cell cycle quiz together, we will begin our next unit on cell energy.  This is one of the toughest units of the year because there will be a lot of new information which the students have not seen much of before, and some of the concepts are very high level.  The unit will begin on Monday with an introduction to enzymes, the molecules which speed up all of the chemical reactions in our bodies.  The students will be working in groups of 3 on a cooperative group project.  Each student will complete one part of a 3 part assignment on enzymes, and then be responsible for teaching the other members in his or her group the information in their part. 

Tuesday - Late Start Day - We will continue with the cooperative group project.  Students will complete the research on their part of the project, and then begin teaching each other.  Because of the shortened day, this will probably carry over into Wednesday.

Wednesday - Students will complete teaching their part of the project, and then have the opportunity to ask any questions that they might have about enzymes.  For homework, they will be looking at the lab that we will be running on Thursday and Friday with enzymes.

Thursday - This will be Day 1 of our enzyme lab.  Students will be working with an enzyme found in fresh pineapples called bromelain, which digests collagen.  Because of bromelain's function, gelatin, which is made of collagen, will not set up in the presence of fresh pineapple juice.  Students will be investigating which fruit juices contain bromelain, the effects of temperature on enzymes, and the effects of pH on enzymes during the course of this laboratory experiment.  If the enzyme bromelain is present and functioning, then the gelatin mixture they are working with will not solidify overnight in a refrigerator.  If the bromelain is not present or not functional, then the gelatin solution they will be working with will solidify overnight. 

One two member lab team will investigate whether or not bromelain is present in many different fruit juices, one two member team will investigate the effects of temperature on bromelain, and one two member team will investigate the effects of pH on bromelain.  Homework for each lab team will be to design a data table in which to record their results, and to begin writing up the procedure for their experiment.  The procedures will be written in the form of a flow chart.

Friday - Each two member team will observe their gelatin solutions to see whether or not they have solidified.  After recording their results, the teams will share their results with the other two member teams in their group.  They will then produce a procedure in flow chart form for each two member team, and answer 5 post-lab questions together as a big group.  Homework will be to study for a quiz on enzymes on Monday.

Graba Geek of the Week

This week's Geek of the Week award goes to Katie Schuelke, who worked very hard during the course of this unit and earned herself a perfect score on the lab quiz we took on Tuesday, and also earned a perfect score on the regular quiz on Wednesday.  That's the way to take yourself into Thanksgiving break!

November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011

As many of us are getting ready to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, make sure to pause and take time to be thankful for the family and friends we have in our lives. 

Events of the Past Week

Monday - NO SCHOOL - Teacher Institute Day

Tuesday - Periods were shortened to 37 minutes due to our late start meetings in the morning.  During our late start time we were examining our grading practices and philosophies, which made for interesting discussions and reflections. 

In class, I lectured to the students about the concept of chromosomes, chromatids, and chromatin, as well as the first stages of the cell cycle.

Wednesday - I was out of school on Wednesday, so the students did a reading on the cell cycle from a booklet put out by the National Institutes of Health.  There were questions associated with it, which they completed in class.  Homework was a coloring worksheet on the cell cycle.  I find that colored diagrams make are a much better study aid than black and white diagrams because all of the parts stand out a little bit better.

Thursday - The students finished taking lecture notes on the cell cycle.  When we were done with our discussion, the students then began a lab looking for cells in the various stages of the cell cycle under the microscope.  We were looking at prepared slides of the tip of an onion root to find cells in various stages of their life cycle.  Each lab team had to show me each stage as they found them so I knew that they had correctly identified all of the different stages of the cell cycle. 

Friday - We finished identifying cells under the microscope, and then moved on to a lab where students were determining how long cells spend in each stage of the cell cycle.  The big ideas the students should learn from this lab are:  cancer cells go through their life cycle much quicker than normal cells, interphase is the longest stage of the cell cycle, and prophase is the longest stage of mitosis.  Homework was to complete the questions in the two labs that we completed on Thursday and Friday.

Upcoming Events

Monday - Due to my absence on Wednesday of last week, we did not run the lab that we were going to do to learn about the importance of the surface area to volume ratio of a cell.  That lab will instead be run Monday.  Homework will be to complete the lab question for homework.

Tuesday - We will be spending some time reviewing the stages of the cell cycle on Tuesday, and I will be sharing with the students how cancer has impacted my life.  I will invite anyone who would like to share to also do so after I have shared my story.

Wednesday - The students will take their quiz on the cell cycle that will consist of 20 multiple choice questions and five microscopes set up around the room.  They will get 1 minute at each microscope to look at and identify cells in the different stages of the cell cycle.  There is a pointer in the microscope that I will have pointing directly at one specific cell for them to identify.  On the microscope portion of the quiz, they may also be asked questions such as, "Name two events that take place during this stage of the cell cycle."

After the quiz, the students will be given a packet where they will investigate a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) that provides our cells with the energy they need to work.

Thursday - NO SCHOOL - EAT LOTS!


Interesting Tidbits

For those of you looking for opportunities for your children to get involved in science outside of the classroom, I found this opportunity:  It is called the Dupont Challenge.  The idea is that students pick a topic in science that interests them, and write about it in an essay of no more than 1,000 words.  The winners of the competition can earn:
  • $5,000 U.S. Savings Bond

  • Expenses-paid trip to Kennedy Space Center and Walt Disney World® Resort with a parent

  • Subscription to Britannica Pathways: Science for entire school

  • 26-volume Compton's by Britannica Encyclopedia

  • Full set of Britannica Mobile Apps

  • Britannica Ultimate Reference DVD

  • Graba Geek of the Week

    This week's geek of the week award goes to Max Jahns in my 5th period class.  During our lecture last week Max was really engaged and asked some excellent questions.  It's a lot of fun to teach students who have good questions and are thinking critically about the information they are presented.  That's one reason I enjoy teaching the accelerated students so much!  Have a great week and a Happy Thanksgiving!

    November 13, 2011

    November 13, 2011

    November 13, 2011

    We are reaching that time of year where it seems like there are as many days off of school as there are days in school!  Students have Monday off as we will be meeting with other science teachers from all of the schools in District 211, and then on Tuesday we will be meeting as biology teachers on our late start day to analyze data from our cell test that all accelerated biology teachers gave last week.

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - We took the 10 question quiz on cell transport as planned.  Afterwards, students worked on the analysis questions to their egg lab, and then began work on a review packet on cells.  They also handed in the "Osmosis in a Plant Cell" lab from the previous Friday.  Homework was to complete the review sheet.

    Tuesday - I handed back the "Osmosis in a Plant Cell" lab to the students, as well as their egg lab analysis questions.  We took the time to discuss the results of those labs.  Then, the students got back their 10 question quizzes from the day before and were given time to ask me about them.  The next item on the agenda for the day was to go through the review packet and see if there were any questions on that.  After going through the review packet, we finally had time for our review activity with butcher paper on each lab table that has been described in previous posts.  Homework was to study for the test on Wednesday.

    Wednesday - Students took their test on cells on Wednesday.  There were 55 questions on the test, the 48 common assessment questions that all accelerated biology teachers gave, and then seven questions that related directly to the labs we did in class.  The other accelerated biology teachers also ended up giving those questions to their students after looking at what I had put together, so we all gave the same 55 question test.  We plan to take a look at the results from that test together on Tuesday.  There was no homework Wednesday night.

    Thursday - Students got a chance to see how they did on the test.  The majority of students received A's or B's on the test.  The toughest portion of the test was definitely the portion on cell transport (diffusion, osmosis, active transport, etc.).  When we were done with this, the students began a reading on cancer that I located on the American Cancer Society website.  The students' homework is to finish the reading and take notes on it.  Only a class set of the reading was run off, so I linked the handout to my website ( on the accelerated biology "Worksheets and Presentations" page with a reminder of how far in the handout they have to read.  The idea behind having the students do this reading was to give them a reason to care about our next topic, cell division.  When cell division spirals out of control, cancer is the result.  Since it is estimated that one out of every two males and one out of every three females will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life, it is important to me that the students be educated about it.


    Upcoming Events


    Tuesday - LATE START DAY.  We will have shortened periods on Tuesday, so we will take a little bit of time to discuss the reading from the weekend (we will spend a little bit more time discussing cancer later in the unit), and I will lecture on the stages of the cell cycle, which includes the stages of mitosis. 

    Wednesday - The students will be doing a reading on the cell cycle and answering questions about it in class.  There will also be a coloring handout on the stages of the cell cycle for the students to complete.  Anything that is not finished in class will be homework.

    Thursday - We will do a lab where the students try to grasp the concept of surface area to volume ratio.  A cell needs a lot more surface area (cell membrane) than volume (cytoplasm and its contents) in order for nutrients to enter the cell quickly enough and waste to get out quickly enough for the cell to survive.  The lab will use cubes of agar of various sizes with sodium hydroxide and an acid/base indicator called bromothymol blue, which is blue in the presence of a base and yellow in the presence of an acid, inside of them.  The cubes will be placed into hydrochloric acid, and the amount of time it takes for the cubes to turn from blue to completely yellow will be recorded.  The students will see that the greater the surface area to volume ratio is, the faster the acid diffuses throughout the whole cube.  Homework will be to finish the lab questions.

    Friday - Class will start with a quick lab quiz to see what students learned from our agar cube lab.  We will look at slides of onion root tips, where cells are actively dividing as the root grows, to find cells in the various stages (interphase, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase) of the cell cycle.  Homework will be to finish the questions in the lab.

    Graba Geek of the Week

    This week's Geek of the Week award goes to Christopher Umeki.  Chris earned a perfect score on his test on cells, getting all 55 questions correct!  Way to go!  In addition, when a student asked when we'd learned that the smooth endoplasmic reticulum was responsible for detoxifying poisons (which was a question on the test), he was able to pull out his presentation and show the student the part of his presentation where he addressed that.  It always helps to be prepared! 

    Have a great week, everyone!

    November 6, 2011

    November 6th, 2011

    November 6th, 2011

    We have a short week this week, and the students have a 4 day weekend followed by a late start on Tuesday.  Everyone should be well-rested by next week!

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - To begin class, we took the mass of our eggs and measured the volume of liquid in our cups after the weekend.  They were then placed in distilled water and left to sit overnight. 

    We then went over our quiz from Friday.  After that was done, we began a lab looking at plant and animal cells.  We accomplished the task of looking at cheek cells during this class period.  The students should have been able to identify the cell membrane, cytoplasm, and nucleus in the cheek cell. 

    Tuesday - The class periods were all shortened this day due to it being a late start.  The students were able to look at onion cells stained with iodine during the class period, and should have identified the cell wall, cytoplasm, nucleus, and nucleolus.  This was done after taking the mass of our eggs, measuring the volume of liquid left in our cups, and placing the eggs in 75 mL of corn syrup.

    Wednesday - This was the 50th day of school, so no homework was allowed to be assigned, and no tests could be given on Thursday. We began class by taking the mass of our eggs, measuring the volume of liquid in our cups, and throwing everything away.  Since the lab questions could not be assigned to be due on Thursday, I let the students know that they would be due on Friday.

    After we were done cleaning up our lab, I began to lecture about the structure of the cell membrane, as well as the concepts of diffusion, osmosis, facilitated diffusion, hypertonic, isotonic, and hypotonic solutions.  In the past, the concepts of hypertonic, hypotonic, and isotonic have been confusing for my students (as well as for the students of other teachers).  If you can encourage your children to study those terms it will help them on their upcoming quiz and test.

    Thursday - I finished lecturing about the way materials move into and out of cells by introducing the concept of active transport.  When the students were done taking notes, we moved on to a worksheet that helped to review the concepts from the lecture.  Students were to finish that worksheet for homework, in addition to completing the egg lab questions.

    Friday - Due to the shortened periods and amount of time needed in each class period to complete our egg lab, the quiz that was originally scheduled for today was pushed back until Monday.  Instead, we did two labs investigating osmosis and diffusion.  The first lab experiment involved putting a solution of egg white (protein), glucose (monosaccharide), and starch (polysaccharide), into a semipermeable bag, and then putting the bag in a beaker of distilled water.  The purpose of this lab was to investigate what effect the size of a molecule has on its movement through a membrane.  Through testing the solution in the beaker for the presence of monosaccharides, proteins, and polysaccharides, the students learned that small particles like monosaccharides can pass through a membrane, while larger particles, like proteins and polysaccharides, are too big to fit through a membrane.

    While the students were letting their bags sit in the beaker of distilled water, they looked at two wet mounts I had set up at microscopes at my desk.  The students did not set up the slides themselves because 13 of the 15 microscopes in the classroom were in use for a lab practical that was set up for my seniors.  The freshmen observed purple onion cells that were soaked in deionized water on one slide, and purple onion cells that were soaked in salt water on the other slide.  Ask them to show you their drawings and explain what happened on each slide.  They should be able to use terms like:  plasmolysis, hyptonic, and hypertonic in describing what they observed.  For homework, the students were to complete the questions associated with the purple onion lab.  They will be given time on Monday to work on the questions associated with the semipermeable bag lab. 

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - Class will begin with a short, 10 question quiz on the topics that were covered in lecture and lab during the previous week.  Afterwards, students will be given time to work on finishing the questions from the semipermeable bag lab.  Finally, when they complete those questions, they will be given a review packet on the topic of cells.  Homework will be to finish the review packet.

    Tuesday - We will begin by going over the questions in the review packet together.  Then the students will do the review activity with the butcher paper on each lab table that I described in the previous post.  Homework will be to study for a test on Wednesday.

    Wednesday - The students will take a test of approximately 60 questions on cells.  The other accelerated biology teachers and I have a set of 48 questions that we will all be giving so that we can compare data on how our students are doing on several different topics within our unit.  Hopefully, this will lead to discussions of what each of us is doing that helps our students learn the material in this unit to find what approaches work best for students.  The other 10-12 questions will be specific to material done in our class.

    Thursday - We will take a good amount of class time on Thursday to review the results of our cell test.  Students will analyze which topics they did well on, and which they could have performed better on, and do test corrections on those questions that they missed.  Finally, students will be given a brief reading assignment for homework over the weekend.


    Graba Geek of the Week

    My geek of the week actually goes back to our organelle presentations.  Alexandra Baumgart's presentation was one of the best presentations I have seen a freshman give in 14 years of teaching.  She took the risk of singing her part of the presentation solo in front of her peers.  This was very brave.  Alexandra did an outstanding job of singing her part, the information was factually accurate, and everyone was paying attention to her.  Great job, Alexandra!  I would not have been brave enough to do something like that when I was in high school!

    October 30, 2011

    October 30, 2011

    October 30, 2011

    Happy Halloween, everyone!  We had a really busy week in class this week.  The campaign projects turned out great!  There are some really creative students in my classes this year!

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - Monday was our first day of presentations.  The first 10-15 minutes of class were spent passing out flyers and campaign extras to try and earn people's votes!  Then we began presentations on each organelle.  We made it through about six presentations in each class.  Obviously, I underestimated how long the presentations would take, so plans had to be adjusted for the rest of the week.  Most of the presentations were very strong both factually and creatively.  The groups did an outstanding job learning the functions of their individual organelles.

    Tuesday - Tuesday the last 7-8 groups gave their presentations.  This took the full class period in most classes.  For those that it didn't take all period, the students were able to move around the room and look at everyone's campaign flyers and smear campaigns.  There were some excellent smears against organelles such as the nucleus (i.e. "Do you really want a control freak telling you what to do?" and "Just another in a long line of dictators").

    Wednesday - On Wednesday I was at the administrative building working with a group of Fremd teachers looking at ACT data and enrollment in accelerated and AP class data.  As a result, the students were given a lot of review material to work through.  There was a matching review sheet, a crossword puzzle, a short answer and multiple choice review sheet, cell diagrams to label, and Venn diagrams to complete comparing plant and animal cells as well as prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.  My student intern in fifth hour ran a flyswatter review game.  If you have a child in my 5th hour class, you can ask them to explain how the review worked.  Most of the kids really liked it!

    Thursday - We began class by voting on the most important organelle in the cell.  There was a poll on my website for each class to use to vote.  The students were allowed two votes.  One was a vote for their own organelle, and the other was a vote for somebody else's organelle.  The winners were:

    1st Hour - The Ribosome - Matt Cheng and Nathan Cornwell
    2nd Hour - The Vacuole - Gina Pfister and Reilly Siepka
    3rd Hour - The Mitochondria - Will Lefevre and John Thiel
    5th Hour - The Lysosome - Elizabeth Chick and Dan Pinderski

    Particularly impressive from that list of winners were the vacuole and the lysosome.  The vacuole simply stores water and nutrients, so to convince people to vote for them, Gina and Reilly did an outstanding job on their project.  Also, the lysosome was smeared by almost every group because it destroys worn out organelles.  It can also rupture and destroy the entire cell.  This, of course, made it an easy target, but Elizabeth and Dan did a great job of convincing people to vote for them. 

    After voting was completed, we took time to look at each review activity the students had completed the day before, and I answered any questions that they had about the review activities or organelles in general.

    Friday - This was quiz day.  I was anxious to see how the students would do after the project.  Since this was the first time doing the project, I wasn't sure whether or not it was going to be an effective way for them to learn the material until there was actually some proof.  I had the sense that they had learned the organelle functions well, and they seemed to enjoy the project, but the proof would be in the pudding.  The class averages on the quiz were:

    1st Hour - 23.4 out of 25
    2nd Hour - 22.8 out of 25
    3rd Hour - 23.1 out of 25
    5th Hour - 23 out of 25

    The quiz itself was 50 multiple choice and matching questions about the cell organelles, plant and animal cells, and prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.  Each question was worth half of a point.  The results show that most students only missed around four questions out of fifty, which I consider to be outstanding.  As a result, this is a project that will probably be continued in the future.

    After everyone was finished with the quiz, we began one of several lab experiments we will be doing to investigate how materials move into and out of cells.  The lab we began will be completed over several days.  Day one involved measuring 150 mL of vinegar, taking the mass of an egg, placing the egg in a plastic cup, and pouring the vinegar over the egg.  The eggs will sit in the plastic cup over the weekend, and we will come back to look at them on Monday.  Does anyone know what will happen to the egg while it sits in the vinegar? 

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - We will take our eggs out of their cups and take their mass.  We will also measure the amount of vinegar remaining in the cup, then rinse the cups, put the eggs back into the cups, and add 150 mL of deionized water to them.  When this is completed (it should take about 10-15 minutes), we will begin our next activity.

    One activity we did not get to before the quiz that I would still like to have the students do is look at plant and animal cells underneath the microscope.  They will look at cheek cells, onion skin cells, and elodea (a green aquatic plant sold as Anachris in pet stores).  They should be able to observe plasma membranes, nuclei, nucleoli, cell walls, chloroplasts, and central vacuoles in this lab.  This will be what we do after the egg lab at the beginning of class.

    Tuesday - We will again begin class by taking the mass of our eggs and measuring the amount of deionized water left in the cups.  Then we will put the eggs back in the cups and add 150 mL of corn syrup to the cups.

    After setting this portion of the lab up, we will first finish looking at the onion and elodea.  Then I will begin lecturing to the students about the structure of the plasma membrane, diffusion, osmosis, and facilitated diffusion.  If there is time, I will do a demonstration with ammonium hydroxide, water, and phenolphthalein (an indicator that turns pink in the presence of a base). 

    Wednesday - The final day of our egg lab will involve carefully drying the outside of the egg, taking its mass, and measuring the amount of corn syrup in the plastic cup.  Students will complete the questions in the lab for homework.

    Once this is complete, I will finish lecturing on passive transport and active transport. 
    Then the students will be looking at red onion cells under the microscope, first in deionized water, then with salt water added to them.  The idea will be to look to see what happens to the central vacuole when the salt water is added.  Students should notice it shrinks as the cell loses water.

    Thursday - We will be doing a lab activity with a selectively permeable plastic bag that allows some materials to pass through it but not others.  Small particles can pass through microscopic pores in the bag, while larger particles cannot.  The students will be putting a solution of egg white, starch, and glucose into the bags.  The bags will then be put in a beaker containing deionized water and let sit for about 15-20 minutes. 
    After 15-20 minutes of the bags sitting in the water, the students will test the contents of the solution in the beaker to see which nutrients were able to pass out of the bag, and which were not.  They will run a benedict's test, a biuret test, and an iodine test on the contents of the beaker.  It is always interesting to see who retains the information learned about these indicator tests during our biochemistry unit.  Students should note that the glucose was able to pass out of the bag (because it is small enough), while the protein and starch were not able to pass out of the bag (because they are too big).  They should also see that iodine enters the bag and causes the solution in the bag to turn purple as it reacts with the starch still in the bag.

    Students will complete the questions in the lab experiments with the selectively permeable bags and the red onions.  They will also observe two sets of vegetables that will have been soaked overnight.  One will have been soaking in salt water, and the other in deionized water.  The salt water vegetables should be very flimsy, while the deionized water vegetables will be extremely crisp.  Your children should be able to explain why that is the case when they come home from school.  I will then lecture on the topic of active transport.  When that is completed, the students will be given a review packet on the topics of passive and active transport.

    Friday - Students will be given a short, 10 question quiz on the topics of the structure of the cell membrane, passive transport, and active transport.  After completing this activity, we will review everything we learned during our cell unit. 

    There will be long pieces of butcher paper on each lab table.  Each piece of paper will have a different heading on it.  The headings will be Cell Theory, Prokarytic Cells, Eukaryotic Cells, Plant Cells, Animal Cells, Passive Transport, and Active Transport.  At each station will be colored pencils, and the students will be given 1 minute at each lab station to write down anything that they can think of about the topic on the paper.  They will then move from table to table doing the same thing on each piece of paper.  As they move, they can correct any mistakes they think they notice and add new material that they think is missing.  Finally, students will be given 1-2 minutes at each station to go back around and look at each sheet again and see what was added after they left the station.  We will then talk about what they observed and I will answer any questions that they have.  Right now, the test on this unit is planned for Monday, November 7th.

    Graba Geek of the Week

    The Geek of the Week goes to the students whom I thought had the most creative and factually accurate smear campaigns.  Ryan Moran and Matt Nicholson did an outstanding job with their smears, and for that, they have earned the Graba Geek of the Week.  Congratulations, guys, and congratulations to all of my students who did an outstanding job with their projects.  I was really impressed with the work that was done by these kids.  The t-shirts, stickers, buttons, posters, websites, facebook pages, twitter accounts, food, and many other things that were created were really well done!

    October 23, 2011

    October 23, 2011

    October 23, 2011

    Happy Mole Day!  The mole is an important number to chemists, and it is equal to 6.02 x 10^23; hence, October 23 is Mole Day.

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - Monday was a day to finish measuring objects under the microscope.  I added to objects for the students to measure in order to give them more practice.  Afterwards, we spent a great deal of time reviewing for the test we took on Tuesday and Wednesday.  This included reviewing the many things we had learned about the microscope. 

    Tuesday - We only had 37 minute periods on Tuesday, so I split up the test over two days to make sure that everyone had enough time to take both parts (the written and the multiple choice) of the test.  We took the written portion on Tuesday because the class periods were longer on Tuesday than they were on Wednesday.  Most students finished early.  When everyone was done, the students were given the remaining time to work on their cell organelle campaigns.

    Wednesday - Due to College Night we had only 28 minutes in each class period.  Most students completed the multiple choice part of the test early.  Students were given a reading on the cell theory, with 6 questions to answer at the end of it. Many completed the assignment in class, but a few had to finish for homework.

    Thursday - The students began Thursday by taking notes on the similarities and differences between plant and animal cells, as well as prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.  Feel free to use their notes to quiz them on the similarities and differences between the different types of cells!  That took about 15 minutes, and once I was done lecturing to them they had the rest of the time to work on their campaigns.

    Friday - We began class by looking at the results of the test the students took on Tuesday and Wednesday on graphing, the metric system, scientific notation, and the microscope.  I answered any questions the students had about anything they got wrong, and then the students had time to work on their campaigns.  A lot of campaigning began on on Friday, as stickers and business cards were handed out, and posters were hung all over the room!  It is quite a colorful place right now!

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - Monday is the big day for students to present their campaigns to the class!  Each time will have 3 minutes to try to convince the class to vote for their organelle as the most important organelle.  I've seen some really clever slogans, posters, and smear campaigns.  I can't wait to see what they are able to come up with for their presentations!  The students posters will be hung in the hallway outside of the classroom after school.

    Tuesday - If we have to finish any presentations, we will do that first on Tuesday.  Then, we will be looking at various plant and animal cells under the microscope.  We will look at a water plant called Elodea, the skin of a yellow onion, and cheek cells which the students will obtain from the inside of their own mouths.  Don't worry, nobody will be hurt in this endeavour!

    Wednesday - We will finish our plant and animal cell labs if need be.  Then, we will review for our quiz on cell organelles, prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, plant and animal cells, and the cell theory, which will be on Friday.

    Thursday - Class will begin with voting for the most important organelle in the class.  I wanted to give the students time to check out people's campaign materials, whether it be a brochure, flyer, sticker, webpage, facebook page, twitter account, video, or anything else that was produced.  There will be a little extra credit for the organelle that wins the election, but I don't want to make the vote worth actual points toward the final grade.  The reason is that sometimes these can become popularity contests, and I don't want a student's grade to be impacted if they are not the most popular person in class.

    When the voting is completed there will be a review sheet for the students to complete in order to help prepare for the Friday quiz.

    Friday - This is the final day of first quarter!  It's hard to believe how quickly the school year is going.  There will be a 50 question, 25 point matching and multiple choice test on everything from our cell unit so far.  This will probably not take the full period.  Once everyone is done with the quiz we will probably be taking a look at our first quarter grades.

    Graba Geek of the Week

    We have co-geeks of the week this week, as one lab team from my first period and one from my second period class went above and beyond with their campaign project.  Michael Pautler and Katie Zara came in before school on Friday with their completed poster and multiple copies of their flyers to post on the board to surprise people when they came into class.  The posters were very clever, colorful, and definitely got a reaction from the class.  Here is one of them:

    In my second period class, Evan Wieczorek and Aditya Deshpande were bringing in campaign materials as early as Thursday to hand out to the class.  They had made up stickers and very colorful flyers for the lysosome.  Many people were wearing their campaign stickers and their flyers were all over the classroom.  The work done by these two groups so far has been impressive, as has the work I have seen from many other groups.  I'm very excited to see what comes to class tomorrow!


    October 16, 2011

    October 16, 2011

    October 16, 2011

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday -  COLUMBUS DAY!

    Tuesday - We learned how to properly use the microscope through a peer teaching lab.  Included in the lab was the proper way to calculate total magnification, the parts of the microscope, how to focus on an object, how to prepare a wet mount, and how to put the microscope away.

    Wednesday - Due to testing, this day was shortend significantly.  We began to look at objects under the microscope, including Drosophila melanogaster, Paramecium, human blood, frog blood, and blood with sickle-cell anemia.

    Thursday - We finished looking for objects under the microscope.  The students found Euglena as well as potato cells underneath the microscope.

    Friday - We looked at money underneath the microscope.  The students found it very interesting to find many different details on the five dollar bill that they had not noticed before.  We also began measuring objects underneath the microscope in this lab.

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - We will finish measuring objects under the microscope, and then review for our test on graphing, metrics, scientific notation, and the microscope.  This will include looking at the review sheet students were given on Friday.

    Tuesday - Students will take the short answer portion of our test.  This day is shortened due to a late start. 

    Wednesday - We will take the multiple choice portion of the test.  This day is also shortened due to college night.

    Thursday - Students will be given a day to work on their cell organelle campaign project.  They should bring anything they need to work on this day.  Homework will be to complete an assignment comparing and contrasting the difference between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.

    Friday - We will be looking at the difference between plant and animal cells under the microscope. 

    Graba Geek of the Week

    This week's geek of the week is Nathan Cornwell.  Nathan earned a perfect score on our biochemistry test, and also brought in a microchip to look at under the stereoscope.  It was very interesting to see the details of his chip underneath the microscope.  Congratulations, Nathan!

    October 9, 2011

    October 9, 2011

    October 9, 2011

    Happy Columbus Day, everyone!  Enjoy the beautiful Indian Summer we're having right now, because it sounds like Chicago is supposed to have a rough winter.

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday -  We started the week by learning how to use Microsoft Excel to create graphs.  This was new for several students, as was e-mailing the partially completed assignment to themselves.  Most students have a pretty good graphing foundation, so it was good to be able to teach them how to use technology to create those same graphs for them.  We also learned how to use the slope of a line in a graph to make predictions and draw conclusions about the data that has been gathered.  It was fun to see the light bulb go off in students' brains as they finally saw a point to all the slope calculating they have been doing in their math classes!

    Tuesday - The graphs the students created were collected on Tuesday.  One issue we had was that several students came up to me at the beginning of class to tell me they couldn't use Excel at home, or their printer wasn't working, or that they had other problems with the technology at home.  I understand that those problems do happen, but I need to be made aware of the problem before class starts, either via e-mail (if the computer is working but Excel is not), or by stopping in to the science office before school starts.  Otherwise, I do not know that a student isn't just trying to cover up the fact that they simply did not do their homework.  I let the students know this, as well.

    After collecting the graphs, the students were introduced to metric prefixes they will use in class or that they will see in their lives outside of class.  The students are expected to know:  tera, giga, mega, kilo, hecto, deka, deci, centi, milli, micro, and nano.  After a brief review of the metric system, we began a lab where the students measured the length, volume, and mass of various objects using the metric system.  They then converted their measurements to other units in the metric system and answered a few questions about the metric system when they finished.  Most students did not finish all of their measurements in class due to shortened class periods because it was a late start day.

    Wednesday - On Wednesday, students worked on two different metric conversion worksheets.  After completing each worksheet, they checked their answers to the sheets with answer keys that were provided for them.

    Thursday - On Thursday, we completed the metric system lab.  Afterwards, the students were given an activity that reviewed using scientific notation with them.  They were asked to convert standard notation to scientific notation, and scientific notation to standard notation.  They were also asked to multiply and divide in scientific notation, convert from one metric unit to another in scientific notation, and then given some problems that had them apply what they learned about multiplying and dividing in scientific notation.  Homework was to complete any problems in the activity that they did not finish in class.

    Friday - Class began by checking the homework from the previous night, and then I answered any questions the students had about the homework.  There were not too many questions that had to be answered.

    After checking our homework, everyone got to work on an online activity that had the students learning about the history of the microscope.  There is a link to the document on my website,, which the students can access if they forgot their worksheet at school.  The worksheet is located under the Accelerated Biology --> Worksheets and Presentations link on the website.

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - Monday will begin with the students being given a cooperative group project.  Each student at the lab table will be responsible for teaching the other people at the table about one important technique for the proper use of a microscope.  One person will be responsible for teaching how to calculate total magnification and the parts of the microscope.  One person will be responsible for teaching how to find objects under the microscope.  A third person will teach the other members of the group how to create a wet mount properly.  The final person will be responsible for teaching how to properly clean the lenses on the microscope and how to properly put the microscope away.  Each individual will be given instructions for how to do the things they are responsible for teaching, as well as a little bit of time to practice before they teach.

    Tuesday - We will finish teaching each other about the proper use of the microscope.  Afterwards, we will look at various prepared slides and wet mounts under the microscope for a little bit of practice using the microscope.

    Wednesday - This is a late start day due to testing.  On this shortened day, we will be finishing looking at the materials we began looking at on Tuesday.  Afterwards, I have a new lab to try where we will be looking at money under the microscope.  It will hopefully really catch the interest of the students in class!

    Thursday - We will finish looking at money under the microscope, then begin learning how to measure the size of objects under the microscope with our fourth and final introduction to the microscope lab. 

    Friday - We will finish measuring with the microscope, and then the students will be given a review sheet on graphing, the metric system, scientific notation, and the microscope.  The answer key to the review sheet is posted on my website.  This way, after they complete the review sheet, the students can check their work over the weekend.  The test on this unit will be on Monday.

    October 2, 2011

    October 2, 2011

    October 2, 2011

    It's hard to believe October is already here!  I hope all of the kids had a safe and fun Homecoming weekend.

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - We reviewed for our test on biochemistry on Wednesday.  First, the students were given an opportunity to ask questions regarding the lab experiment we did on Thursday and Friday of the previous week.  Then they completed a graphic organizer that helped them go through their notes and put think about all of the information they had learned about carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids.  Finally, they were given a graphic organizer for each different type of biomolecule (carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids) that we learned about.  Homework was to complete those graphic organizers.  This again was a way to get them thinking about the information they had in their notes on that information.

    Tuesday - I handed back to the students their labs that they had turned in on Monday, and we discussed some of the topics that were commonly misunderstood.  Students were then given the opportunity to ask questions if they had them about the lab.

    After going over the lab, we played a review game with remote control clickers.  There were several multiple choice questions that were timed and similar in difficulty level to the questions that would be on the test.

    I made the students aware that all of the topics from our quiz, as well as the topics of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids would be covered on the exam in 60 multiple choice questions.

    Wednesday - Students took the biochemistry test.  There was no homework, as I felt that they had worked extremely hard over the past few days to prepare for their test.

    Thursday - On Thursday, I was home with a sick kid, so the students watched a movie in class called "Deep Forest: Monsters of the Jungle".  This showed how science is working even now to make new discoveries in a way that really catches the kids' interest!

    Friday - We began class by finishing the movie.  I don't always do that, but with this video, it was definitely worth the extra 7 minutes of class time to finish.  When the movie was over, we reviewed the results from the exam.  I was very impressed by how well most students did on the test!

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - Monday we are going to review some of the rules of graphing, and learn how to use Excel to create graphs.  There will be 4 graphs that need to be completed, along with questions to answer using the completed graphs.  Any graphs that are not finished will have to be finished for homework.

    Tuesday - We are going to be doing a lab on the metric system after I collect and review the graphing homework.  I will do a very quick review of the units of the metric system and how to convert from one unit to another before we get started on the lab.

    Wednesday - Wednesday will be spent practicing metric conversions and possibly beginning a review of scientific notation.

    Thursday - On Thursday, I will review quickly with the students how to write numbers in scientific notation, and we will practice converting numbers into scientific notation.

    Friday - We will begin reviewing how to use the microscope with a peer teaching lab.  The students will be in groups of 4, and each student will have a different job related to the proper use and care of the microscope that they will practice, and then be responsible for teaching to their classmate.

    Graba Geek of the Week

    This week's geek of the week is Soumyaa Mazumder.  Soumyaa earned a perfect score on the biochemistry test this week.  That means she got 60 questions correct on the topics of chemistry and biochemistry, which is really impressive!  In addition, Soumyaa was informed this last week that she was accepted into the medical internship program through Northwest Memorial Hospital.  Way to go, Soumyaa!

    September 25, 2011

    September 25, 2011

    September 25, 2011

    It's Bears-Packers weekend - GO BEARS!  This past week I did two new lab activities with the students.  As a result, some of the plans for the week had to be readjusted as I didn't know exactly how much time each activity would take.  Hopefully the students benefited from the new material this year more than the material in the past. 

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - On Monday, I lectured to the students about important characteristics of carbohydrates.  Afterwards, they built paper models of carbohydrates.  The important idea from this activity,is that the students be able to identify a monosaccharide from a disaccharide from a polysaccharide (the three different types of carbohydrates).  They will also need to be able to distinguish those three types of molecules from the molecules we learned about on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Homework was to complete the questions in their biochemistry worksheet packet that dealt with lipids.

    Tuesday - The students took notes on the important characteristics of lipids.  Following that, they built models of lipids.  The students need to be able to distinguish lipids from the three types of carbohydrates, as well as identify the building blocks of a lipid molecule (glycerol and fatty acids).  Homework was to complete the questions in their biochemistry worksheet packet on proteins.

    Wednesday - This was the final day of introduction to a type of biomolecule.  Students learned about the important characteristics of proteins, as well as their building blocks, amino acids.  They will need to be able to identify an amino acid and a protein, as well.  Homework for first hour was to read about the importance of proteins, while my other classes tried identifying important functional groups and types of molecules on a worksheet.

    Thursday - We began a two day lab using different indicators for carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids.  We began by using Benedict's solution to indicate the presence of monosaccharides, and iodine solution to indicate the presence of polysaccharides.  Homework was to complete through question eight in their lab packet, as well as to read the introduction of the lab.

    Friday - Class began by taking our fourth prefix quiz.  Following that, we finished our identification of biomolecules lab by using Biuret solution to test for the presence of proteins, and the grease spot test as well as solubility in water vs. solubility in hexane test for lipids.  I also posted the following statements on the board for the students so they would know what they needed to know from the lab experiment:

    1)  Know which biomolecule Benedict's is used to indicate.
    2)  Know which biomolecule Iodine is used to indicate.
    3)  Know which molecule Biuret is used to indicate.
    4)  Know what a positive and negative test looks like for Benedict's, Iodine, Biuret, and the Grease-Spot
    5)  Identify the types of solvents lipids will and will not dissolve in.
    6)  Be able to distinguish between a positive and a negative control.
    7)  Be able to use the results of the four indicator tests to determine the contents of an unknown solution.

    Upcoming Events:

    Monday - This will be a day of review for our test that is scheduled for Wednesday.  We will begin Monday by reviewing the results of our lab from Thursday and Friday.  Following that, we will review on Monday by using many different graphic organizers that I have put together over the years to help the students organize all of the material they have on carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids.  Homework will be to study for the test on Wednesday.  Today's them for homecoming dress up day is pajama day.

    Tuesday - We will play a review game using remote control clickers with the students.  Homework will be to study for the test on Wednesday.  Today's dress up theme is "Under the Sea".

    Wednesday - We will take our test on chemistry and biochemistry.  This will cover all of the material from the periodic table webquest through our lab on carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins.  The them for dress up day is "Happy Birthday" to celebrate Fremd's 50th birthday.  No birthday suits, please!

    Thursday - We will review our results from the biochemistry test and begin our unit on the metric system, graphing, and scientific notation with a worksheet on scientific notation.  Homework will be to finish the worksheet.  Today is class color day.  Freshman wear blue, sophomores wear red, juniors wear green, and seniors wear gold.

    Friday - We will review the scientific notation worksheet and then conduct a lab reviewing the metric system.  The focus of the lab will be units of length, mass, and volume.  Homework will be to complete the questions in the lab.  Friday is green and gold day.  The pep assembly follows 8th period, so the class periods will all be shortened by about 8 minutes.

    Graba Geek of the Week

    The geek of the week this week goes to Jennie Yang.  Jennie has done very well on all of our quizzes and tests, and is always willing to volunteer answers to any questions that I pose.  If more of my students were willing to take the risks she does in volunteering, more students would be very successful.  Way to go, Jennie!

    September 18, 2011

    September 18, 2011

    September 18, 2011

    I hope all of you had a wonderful weekend.  Sunday was pretty dreary, but I know we used it to get a lot of cleaning done inside our house, anyway!

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - We began the week by finishing our acid/base lab.  Students investigated the concept of buffers, chemicals that prevent the pH of a solution from fluctuating, in this lab.  Homework was to finish the questions in the lab and study for a quiz on basic chemistry.

    Tuesday - The students began class by taking their quiz.  When they finished their quiz, the students worked on answering questions in their study guides for biochemistry.  The questions pertained to the element carbon, and why it is so important to living things.  For homework, they were to finish answering through question 43.

    Wednesday - We began class on Wednesday by taking our 3rd prefix quiz.  When everyone was finished, I introduced our lab experiment on building models of molecules.  Included in this was an explanation of the difference between a molecular and a structural formula.

    After introducing the lab, the students were given their quizzes from Tuesday back to go over.  There was a checklist that was used to help the students analyze their performance.  The list had them focus on which topics they needed to work on before the next quiz.

    As soon as they were done checking their quiz results, students immediately moved into beginning their molecule building lab.  There was no homework, as no one finished the lab in class.

    Thursday - Since Thursday was a half day, all we had time to do was finish building our molecular models.  Homework was to finish the 6 questions at the end of the lab.

    Friday - On Friday, we began class by asking questions about the homework from Tuesday night about carbon.  After everone was finished asking questions, I lectured to the students about some important concepts related to organic molecules.

    Students were then given the opportunity to begin their homework, which was to answer questions 44-54 in their biochemistry study guide.  Any questions that were not finished had to be finished for homework over the weekend.

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - The plan for Monday is to begin class by asking for questions related to the homework from the weekend.  Hopefully the questions will lead to a productive discussion of important ideas related to carbohydrates.  Anything that I consider important for the students to know that we don't cover during the question answer period will be covered during a brief carbohydrate lecture. 

    The lecture will be followed by a modeling lab, where the students will be building paper models of the three different types of carbohydrates:  monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.

    If there is time left, I will lecture on the topic of lipids.  Homework will be to answer the questions in their study guides related to proteins and lipids.

    Tuesday - We will begin class by building paper models of lipids.  I will then lecture briefly on proteins, and then the students will build paper models of proteins.  For homework, the students will be asked to read over the lab we will do the next two days.

    Wednesday - On Wednesday, we will do day 1 of a 2 day lab.  This is the first time I'm attempting this lab, so it may take more than 2 days, but that is the plan for now.  We will be using different indicators, and testing them with different types of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids.  The idea is for the students to learn what the following indicators actually indicate the presence of:  Benedict's solution, Biuret solution, and Iodine solution.

    Thursday - The students will be given an unknown solution, containing anywhere between 1 and 3 of the different types of molecules we will have used indicators with, and they will have to run the indicator tests on the unknown solution to figure out what is in it.

    Friday - Friday will be day 1 of review for our biochemistry unit test.  We will play a review game with whiteboards and dry erase markers, or with cell phones (I'm not sure which I'll try yet), to help get the students ready for their test.  There is a website called, that allows you to type in multiple choice questions, which the site then saves as a PowerPoint slide that can be downloaded.  After downloading the slide, the user puts it into a presentation, and when the slide comes up, students text their answers to the question.  The results of the texting come up in real time on the PowerPoint slide.  I have used it before with kids, and they really enjoy it.

    Have a great week!

    September 11, 2011

    September 11, 2011

    September 11, 2011

    On this day of remembrance, I hope that all of you are able to find some time to reflect and find some peace.  It is hard to believe that 10 years have passed since that terrible day.  It's also hard to believe that these freshmen were only 4 on that day.

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - LABOR DAY

    Tuesday - On Tuesday we discussed some of the questions from the students' webquest that they completed over the weekend.  Afterwards, the students took notes on four different types of bonds:  ionic, nonpolar covalent, polar covalent, and hydrogen.  For homework, the students completed questions 1-22 in a packet on biochemistry by using their textbook.

    Wednesday - We began class by watching a video from the "World of Chemistry" series on the properties of water.  The movie was paused several times during the course of watching it so that we could discuss many of the concepts presented, and the students were supposed to take notes while watching the movie.

    After finishing the movie, we began our lab activity investigating the properties of water.  There were several stations for the students to investigate cohesion, adhesion, capillarity, and surface tension.  They should be able to show you some of the activities done in class with materials from around your house, if you're interested!  Hopefully they can explain the science behind those activities, as well.

    Thursday - The students were given 10 minutes to finish visiting each of our seven lab stations investigating the property of water.  Then, they were given a lecture on the properties of water.  I tried to draw on their knowledge of water properties gained from their lab experiment, the movie, and their reading to make the lecture as meaningful to them as possible.  The PowerPoint used that day is available under the "Worksheets and Presentations" of the accelerated biology page on

    Homework on Thursday was to read the introduction to our lab investigation on acids and bases, and to answer the six prelab questions that followed.

    Friday - We began investigating the properties of acids and bases by using pH paper, red litmus paper, and blue litmus paper to determine which household substances are acids and which are bases.  Students will be expected to remember what blue litmus paper indicates, and what red litmus paper indicates, but not the exact pH of the household chemicals, nor will they be expected to remember which household chemicals were acids and which were bases. 

    Homework was to read and highlight the procedure for part 2 of the acid and base lab, which will investigate the properties of buffers.

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - Monday's plan is to compare how many drops of acid it takes to change the pH of a weak basic solution versus an egg white solution.  The students should find that it takes many more drops to change the pH of the egg white because it contains a buffer, which is a chemical that prevents changes in the pH of a solution.  The egg white has a buffer because if the pH of the egg white were to change, the developing embryo inside could be harmed.  The basic solution does not because no living thing was dependent on the solution I made in the back prep area!

    Homework on Monday will be to finish any questions remaining from the lab, and then to study for our quiz on atoms, chemical bonding, the properties of water, and acids and bases.  A list of the topics on the quiz was put on the board for the students on Friday.

    Tuesday - Quiz day!  The students will need to bring their textbooks to begin working on the next section in their "Biochemistry Worksheet" when they finish their quiz.  Homework will be to finish the questions from that packet that are assigned in class, and to study for their third prefix quiz.

    Wednesday - Class will begin with the third prefix quiz of the year, followed by time to process the results from the quiz on Tuesday.

    After finishing those two activities, the students will be introduced to the difference between a molecular formula and a structural formula.  This is to prepare them for the lab activity for the day, which will involve using ball and stick models to build several molecules important in biology.  The lab will help reinforce the idea of a structural formula, as well as introduce the students to four important groups of atoms called "functional groups" that they will be responsible for knowing and recognizing.

    Thursday - We will finish our model building lab.  There will then be a lecture on the properties of carbohydrates, again drawing on the knowledge the students have gained from their reading out of the textbook on the topic.  This is only a half day due to open house, so I may have to finish the lecture up on Friday.  I look forward to meeting all of you!

    Friday - Class will begin with a lecture on the properties of proteins, followed by the beginning of a modeling lab to reinforce what students will have learned from their reading and lecture on the topics of carbohydrates and proteins.

    For homework, students will read an article called "Why Structure?" about the important role proteins play in living things.  You may want to read it, too!  I think it's a pretty interesting read.  Then again, I am a biology teacher and a bit of a geek!

    Interesting Tidbits

    As part of our celebration of Fremd's 50th anniversary, each department in the school is planning activities for a different month.  This month, the family and consumer sciences department has chosen each Wednesday as a day to dress up from a different decade of Fremd's history.  Last Wednesday was 60's day, this Wednesday is 70's day, and next Wednesday is 80's day.  Encourage your kids, if  you can, to take part!  The more people taking part, the more fun these days become.

    Also, Mrs. Gattuso shared with me a summer science program available to girls that is run through the University of Illinois.  Registration begins in February, but the sooner you are made aware of the opportunity, the better, as far as I'm concerned!  Now you'll know to start looking for it.  Here is the link to the program:

    Come and learn how a little engineering can make a BIG difference! Campers will discover how chemical engineering and bioengineering are teaming up together to help cure diseases, provide alternative sources of energy, and make a real impact in developing countries. Young women will learn how tissue engineering is working to repair human muscles damaged by illnesses such as polio and how to harness alternative sources of energy to use it for constructive ends, as economically as possible, with the least damaging impacts on our environment. As part of the challenge and fun, students will work in state of the art UIUC labs to establish and observe their own culture of muscle cells, to develop medicine to prevent disease, and to create environmentally friendly alternative sources of energy.

    Have a great week, everyone!

    September 4, 2011

    September 4, 2011

    September 4, 2011

    I hope everyone is having a relaxing Labor Day weekend with time to enjoy family and friends.  We had a busy week in class this last week!

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - We completed our scientific method experiment by analyzing the results from the petri dishes we streaked on Friday.  There was some really impressive bacterial growth!  Unfortunately, we were not able to conclude whether or not antibacterial soap is actually more effective at removing bacteria than regular hand soap. 

    After analyzing our results, we moved on to our next experiment, which was used to investigate some of the characteristics of living things.  The students were given some mystery matter (yeast), sugar, and water that they had to warm up a little bit.  All the materials were placed in a flask, tested for the presence of glucose (to see if the mystery matter was metabolizing the sugar), and then a balloon was put on top of the flask.  The setup was then allowed to run overnight.

    Tuesday - We gathered data from our characteristics of life experiment by testing for the presence of glucose in each flask, and observing how inflated the balloons on our flasks were.  There was one question to answer about whether or not the "mystery matter" was alive or not.  Everyone figured out that it was, and most students knew that it was yeast.

    The next class activity was to observe 15 different specimens set up around the room, and decide whether they were alive, dead, never alive, or the product of a living thing.  Some groups in some classes had to finish observing some of the specimens on Wednesday, so the questions in the lab were not assigned for homework.

    Wednesday - We began class with a reading about a fish hitting the windshield of an airplane.  The students in every class were able to correctly figure out that a bird must have been startled and dropped the fish, which then hit the plane!

    After getting our brains going with that activity, we finished looking at all of the specimens and had about 10 more minutes to answer questions from the handout that went along with the activity.  Any unfinished questions were homework.

    We spent the next 10-15 minutes, depending on the class and how many questions that they had, reviewing the characteristics of living things and the levels of biological organization.

    Finally, we had a review worksheet that the students had to complete in class.  There was a reading about the scientific process in action, followed by 11 multiple choice questions that the students answered in regards to the reading.  Afterwards we briefly discussed the passage and the questions.

    Thursday - Everyone got their first taste of an accelerated freshman biology test.  This was the shortest, and probably least difficult, test of the year.  Overall, each class did pretty well!  When the test was completed, every student picked up their very own copy of the periodic table (which I personally believe everyone should have!), and began a packet reviewing the characteristics of atoms, ions, and isotopes.  Any parts of the packet that were not completed by the end of class were to be completed for homework.

    Friday - We took some time Friday to go over the results from our first test.  The kids had some good questions!

    Once we were done going over the test, we discussed the homework, "Exploring Atoms", from the night before, and then we began a webquest to review the information found in the periodic table, which will be important for us to know during our biochemistry unit!  Homework was to complete any parts of the webquest that were not finished in class.

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - LABOR DAY! 

    Tuesday - The students will turn in their webquests, and I'll answer any questions that they may have.  Hopefully their questions lead into a discussion of atoms vs. ions vs. isotopes.  If not, I'll be trying to lead them there so we can have a discussion about the differences between them!

    Afterwards, I will review with them the different types of chemical bonds that will be important in biology.  Those are covalent bonds, ionic bonds, and hydrogen bonds.

    For homework, the students will be completing a chemical formula writing worksheet.  This will involve looking at the charges on two different ions, and determing how many of each ion would be needed to make a molecule.

    Wednesday - We will begin class by watching about 15 minutes of a video on the properties of water, an essential molecule for life!  Afterwards, we will be doing some experiments investigating the properties of water at various stations set up around the classroom.  Ask your kids to show you some of them.  Most of them can be done at home, and some of them are pretty cool (at least if you're a geek like me)!

    For homework, the students will be getting a packet that corresponds to the chapters in their textbooks on biochemistry.  The assignment will be to complete the section in the packet related to the properties of water.

    Thursday - We will finish our properties of water lab.  Once every team has completed all of our stations, we will process the science behind each station, and the students will be taking some lecture notes on the important characteristics of water.

    For homework, everyone will be reading the introduction to a lab we will do on Friday investigating acids and bases, and then completing the prelab questions that go along with it.

    Friday - We will investigate several household products using different pH indicators, both pH paper and litmus paper, to determine whether they are acids or bases.  The students will also be expected to remember the color changes associated with red and blue litmus paper when they are each placed in an acid or a base.  I try to help them with a little rhyme:  "Blue to red it's an acid" (I emphasize and slightly mispronounce acid as "a-SAID" so that they remember it better). 

    Homework will be to complete the questions in the lab that go along with the investigating household chemicals portion of the lab.  There is a part 2 to the lab that we will do on Monday of the following week.

    Interesting Tidbits

    I wanted to remind everyone one last time that if you do not want me to post a picture of your child on this blog, please let me know by e-mailing me at  If I don't hear from you by next Sunday (the 11th), I'll assume that it is OK with you.

    Also, I sent an e-mail from Mrs. Oakes, who coordinates internships for us, about an opportunity for those interested in becoming a doctor to intern at Northwest Memorial.  If you have any questions about the internship, please contact her at  If you did not receive the e-mail, please send me an e-mail at so that I can resend the e-mail to  you.

    Have a good week!

    August 28, 2011

    August 28, 2011

    August 28, 2011

    The first week of school is always exciting for me as a teacher.  It's always fun to meet, challenge, and have fun with a new group of students!

    This blog will be a way for me to communicate with all of the parents of my accelerated biology students on a weekly basis.  One part of this blog will be a feature at the end of each one called the "Graba Geek of the Week".  I will pick one student each week to highlight.  Part of this will include a picture of the student, unless you would rather that I not post a picture of your child on this blog.  If that is the case, please let me know by e-mailing me at  I will have no problem with it if you do, and it will not impact a child's opportunity to be the "Geek of the Week".

    Events of the Past Week

    Monday - The students were not in school, but the teachers were, as we busily made final preparations for the first day of school!

    Tuesday - We did quite a few things on our first day.  Some were exciting and some were, well, necessary.  As their schedules were checked, the students picked up their textbooks.  They then had to get themselves into order by birthday, but all communication had to be nonverbal.  It was interesting to see how the students approached solving their first problem of the year.  Many flashed hand signals, and then some realized that their birthday was on their schedule, which made communicating much easier!  The order the students arranged themselves in was then used to put them into their seats for the first quarter (unless I decide that someone's seat needs to be changed).

    After that was done, we did a people search to help the kids get to meet other people in their class.  Biology is a class where we do a lot of group work in labs and activities, so I want the students to get to know each other early in the year.  Finally, we talked about some of the questions in the people search as a way to get to know a few things about several of our classmates.

    Homework was to type an answer to the question at the end of "Look Out Below!"  The reading passage is a fictional description of a very odd behavior exhibited by some sloths kept in captivity.  Many of the students expressed that they were definitely interested in the article, and a few were pretty grossed out!

    Wednesday - We first went over the policies and procedures for our class.  After this brief discussion, the kids were put into lab teams.  I have several quotations from John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach from the 60's and 70's.  There were fourteen quotes, and each of the fourteen was found on two notecards.  The students had to find the other person in class that had the same quote as they did.  The person they found is their lab partner for the first quarter.  After discussing a few of the quotes that are some of my favorites (such as "If what you did yesterday still impresses you, then you haven't accomplished much today"), we moved on to our next activity.

    We played a little memory game that was used to illustrate the importance of organizing information when you study, and breaking what you study down into small groups to study a little bit at a time.  The kids should be able to explain that activity to you.

    Finally, we took a look at our first lab, which is being used to learn about the scientific method.  For homework, the students read and highlighted the introduction to the lab, and completed a portion of the lab on identifying and writing good, testable hypotheses.

    Thursday - The students came into class and we got to work on our lab right away.  First, the kids got together with their lab partners to discuss their hypotheses from the night before.  Then, we came back together as a class so that we could discuss what the lab teams had determined in regards to the hypotheses from their homework.  Then, we took a look at a hypothesis regarding antibacterial soap versus regular soap.  After looking at the hypothesis, the kids were given the task of starting to design an experiment to test whether or not antibacterial soap is more effective than regular soap.

    For homework, a worksheet was handed out to every period but 1st, which was moving a little slower through the discussion we had, that asked the students to identify what was wrong with seven different experiments, based on their knowledge of the criteria for a good experiment.  In addition, the students had to study for their first prefix quiz, which was given on Friday.

    Friday - Class started with the first quiz of the year.  Most students did very well on this ten point quiz.  A few did not, most likely because they forgot about the quiz or studied some of the wrong material.  For example, one student let me know that they studied the examples of words with the prefixes in them, rather than the meaning of the prefixes that would be on the first quiz. 

    After the quiz was completed, we got to work on setting up our lab.  Ask your kids to describe the procedure we developed together.  They should be able to explain what we did and why we did it.  Finally, I handed out the lab we will be running on Monday.  Students in every period but 1st period were asked to read and highlight the introduction, and read through the procedure for the lab.  We didn't have time to get to handing out the lab during 1st hour, so they did the Criteria for a Good Experiment homework that they did not get on Thursday.

    Upcoming Events

    Monday - We will analyze the results of our experiment on antibacterial vs. regular soap by checking our petri dishes that have been in the incubator over the weekend for bacterial growth.  After looking at the results, we will learn about how statistics are used to analyze data and draw some conclusions as a class.

    Then we will investigate the characteristics of living things by trying to determine whether or not some "Mystery Matter" is alive.  This is another experiment we will set up on one day and analyze the final results on the next day.

    Tuesday - We will be looking at the results of our Mystery Matter lab, and then also looking at several examples of objects that may or may not be alive.  It will be the job of the students to determine whether or not the sample is alive, and to defend their decision.  Homework will be to finish the questions at the end of both experiments.

    Wednesday - Wednesday will be a day to review the scientific method and characteristics of living things for our first test!  Homework will obviously be to study for the test.

    Thursday - The students will have their first test of the year on Thursday.  It will be multiple choice, so they need to make sure they bring a pencil to class!  Many of the questions will ask the students to analyze an experiment to identify parts of the experiment, like the hypothesis, data, conclusion, etc.  They will also have to identify the proper characteristic of life when given a description of a particular behavior, adaptation, etc.  These higher level type questions, where students have to apply their knowledge to a situation, will be typical of tests in accelerated biology.

    Friday - Friday will be a day to review our results from the test on the scientific method and characteristics of living things.  Afterwards, we will begin our unit on chemistry and biochemistry by reviewing the periodic table.  Rather than be lectured to about it, the students will review the information in the periodic table by doing a webquest.  Most of the students in class have learned about the periodic table before, but need a little bit of a refresher here at the beginning of the year.

    Interesting Tidbits

    This year I have started a website for my classes.  The web address is  On that site I have links to all of the worksheets for our first two units (as of right now, the subsequent units will be updated as the year goes on), as well as all of our labs, this blog, and a calendar for our course.  The calendar is a tentative schedule that can be adjusted as we go and I assess the needs of the students in class.

    Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have at  I also love to have people post comments on the various blog posts, so feel free to leave one here!