High School SMILE Meeting
1999-00 -- 05-06 Academic Years
General Biology, Ecology, and Evolution

28 September 1999: Karlene Joseph (Lane Tech)
showed us a part of a video tape of a Star Trek show. The characters were involved in a discussion of what constitutes life, with an android (synthetic "human") wondering about him-it-her self. Karlene then got us involved in a very interesting discussion of what constitutes life and how ethics, science, and religious beliefs are all involved in such life issues as cloning, artificial reproduction of human cells, etc. She certainly showed us how her students can be motivated; we certainly were! Great!

26 October 1999: Eartha Sherrill (Williams School)
handed out black construction paper (about 14x17 sq in), small cards (about 2x3 sq in) of different colors, piece of chalk, page listing objects under City Ecosystems (mice, grasses, cats, etc) and Pond Ecosystems (minnows, algae, frogs, etc). Looking at City Ecosystems, we entered on the small green cards the name of each "producer" (grass, weeds, vegetables, etc) The cards were placed in a line across the bottom of the black paper. Then on yellow cards we entered the first level names (consumers - mice, grasshoppers, etc.)  The idea of food chain was introduced, and the web of interconnections between various living things in the ecosystem. A beautiful way to analyze and see those interconnections, and to gain insight into what an ecosystem is!

15 February 2000: Karlene Joseph (Lane Tech HS)
(handout) had us make "birds" of paper, soda straws and tape. We discovered that some of the next generation (mutant) birds flew farther, some a shorter average distance. If flying to an oasis is needed for survival, a mutant selection will occur. A wonderful way to understand evolutionary process and relation to survival! The detail in the handout was very well done, and made it most useful. Excellent!

29 February 2000: Ed Scanlon (Morgan Park HS)
showed us how to construct an Analytical Key for Identification. (handout)
Directions: Group the 30 organisms according to some characteristic and then subdivide each group according to different states of that characteristic. Students are given a sheet of 30 Whatsits (drawings of obviously related organisms). By the end of the activity, students must have assigned a 2 word name to each Whatsits and written out a classification scheme that will give each Whatsits a unique name. Ed took us through this in some depth, and we really learned something! Thanks, Ed

02 May 2000: Kim Baker (Fairfield Academy)
did "something different." We each received a page titled "Don't Use it All Up," and on it we were asked to list as many as 15 uses for water. Then she passed out plastic shoe boxes containing 7 sponges (different sizes). Each group put 2.5 cups of water into the box. Then we added the sponges one at a time, each sponge representing a different use of water. The original water level, representing the height of the water table, decreased with each sponge added. We then discussed how water resources can be conserved, as we squeezed out the sponges to bring the "water table" nearly back to its original level. A pretty analogy and a good way to get your students to conserve.

10 October 2000: Pam Moy (Morgan Park HS)
had an "eye opener" for us - she placed on the table an "alien fetus" in a jar. Question: Could this be possible? The point was to get us to practice scientific inquiry by examination of the "specimen" and the give-and-take of the discussion it provoked. It worked, Pam. Thanks!

05 December 2000: Chris Etapa (Gunsaulus Academy)
(handout: 1997 Keep America Beautiful, Inc. - pp 47-50. "Understanding Waste Management.") Garbage Pizza - She told us that this is a recycling activity. It lists Objectives, Method, Materials, Vocabulary, Procedure. For example, Method states that "Students will construct a garbage pizza, a three-dimensional pie chart, which represents the MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) discarded in the United States; each slice of the pizza will represent a different solid waste category." Students bring in items from home such as these:

For the "pizza crust" you can use homemade play dough (see instructions), spread it on a 9 inch aluminum pie plate. Use the pie chart showing the percent of the various MSW component as the basis for cutting it into the appropriate number and size of slices, and bake until hard. Then paint "pizza sauce" (red tempera paint) onto the slices. Glue the waste items onto their corresponding pizza pie-chart slices. You could use plastic beads for waste "glass," and macaroni for "food waste," etc.

This brings home very graphically that the biggest slice by far is the paper category of waste (37.9 %), with yard waste next (14.6 %).

Among other things, students learn that Garbage refers only to organic or food waste thrown away. Trash represents broken or worthless things (rubbish).

So be careful how you sort your waste stuff! It's the first step to helping with waste disposal. Chris, thanks for the good ideas!

13 February 2001: Erma Lee (Williams School)             Estimation
Erma had three containers, each containing a different kind of dried beans [or peas]; the sizes were "small", "regular", and "large".

At some point in the experiment we ran out of beans. [Be sure to get a plentiful supply when you do this experiment.]

24 September 2002: Carl Martikean [Wallace HS, Gary] Teaching of Science from a Humanistic Perspective
raised the following questions:

Comment by Porter Johnson:  similar issues are discussed in the book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond [W W Norton 1999] ISBN 0-393-33755-2, as well as another book by the same author,Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal.[Harper 1992] ISBN 0-06-098403-1.
Interesting ideas, Carl! See you next time!

08 October 2002: Ed Scanlon [Morgan Park HS, Biology]     Capture-Recapture Sampling Method [Handout]
This method is used for estimating the size of animal populations. This exercise presents a popular method useful for estimating the population size of a single species of highly mobile animals, such as most vertebrates. Some literature refers to this method as the Lincoln-Peterson method.

N:  This is the total number of individuals in a population
M: This is the number of individuals in the first sample-- you must mark this, then return them back into the environment.
n:    This is the number of individuals in the second sample.
R:   This is the number of marked individuals in the second sample.
We may now estimate the size of the population (N) using the following formula:
N = M n / R
Standard Error: There will always be some error when you do any type of sampling. The formula to find the standard error for this method is:
SE = ( M2(n+1)(n-R) / (R + 1)2(R + 2)

Marking: After catching, mark and release the individuals as soon as possible. Use a method to mark the individuals that will not come off or adversely hurt them.

Ed got us all actively involved, indoors and out, in the Capture-Recapture Sampling Method [for additional details of the method see A Practical Study of the Capture/Recapture Method of Estimating Population Size: http://www.rsscse.org.uk/ts/bts/dudley2/text.html] used by naturalists/conservation professionals to estimate populations of animal species in the wild, using toothpicks to represent the species of interest. We all went outside to a lawn near the Life Sciences building where Ed had previously strewn an undisclosed number of toothpicks and we conducted a five minute "search" that netted 196 toothpicks, Each toothpick was marked unobtrusively with a small black dot from a felt tipped pen and (as we turned our backs), Ed redistributed these in the same area. In actual animal studies a harmless marker is used, e.g. putting a small distinctive nick in the fin of a fish (not likely to occur naturally). We then conducted another search collecting 214 toothpicks (our searching skills seemed to have improved!) of which 140 were marked. Ed presented the formula n = (a ´ b) / c where a = 196 the total collected the first time, b = 214 the total collected the second time, and c = 141 the number of marked toothpicks recovered in the second search. When Pat used her calculator and announced that n = 299.6, Ed's face fell and he said "are you sure?" Pat rechecked with the same result and Ed said "I can't believe it!" Most of us thought the answer must not have agreed with reality until Ed pulled out a paper from his pocket and dramatically held it up: 300, we read! We burst into applause because Ed had previously warned us that "errors" of 20 % are common in this kind of population estimate. Ed handed out another version that can be done indoors, e.g. on a rainy day.

Great Job, Ed! and all for the price a a box of flat toothpicks!

05 November 2002: Estellvenia Sanders [Chicago Vocational HS]       Bilingual  Biology
Estellvenia put a list of science terms on the whiteboard ---  Acid, base, etc, --- then faced us, and began shouting and flailing her arms around! (I was worried and started to go for help until I realized she was repeating the words on the list accompanied by signing the same words.)  She then used the words in two mini-lectures, first in English then in Spanish and told us about new educational challenges at her school as the population becomes more culturally (and linguistically) diverse. But we aren't worried, it was clear she would be able to cope! Thanks for sharing with us, Estellvenia.

19 November 2002: Brenda Daniel [Fuller Elementary]        The Future World of Biodiversity
Brenda gave her very first SMILE miniteach presentation [welcome aboard, Brenda!!] by having us fill in a "pyramid" concerning biodiversity issues, putting the most important issue at the top, less important issues on the second row, still less important issues on the third row, and least important issues on the fourth and bottom row.  The issues were take from the following list:

  environmental education   
clean water
natural lands/
open space
less conflict   
clean air
racial justice
and equality
less crime
cures for
less trash
enough food
for all people   
healthy fish
fewer invasive species
smart growth
otters, bobcats,
and eagles
The individual issues were pre-chosen in the interest of focusing the discussion of the class. Very interesting approach to class discussion of significant issues. Thank you, Brenda!

04 May 2004: Ron Tuinstra [Illiana Christian HS, chemistry]         Environmental Science Activities
distributed these four activities that he had personally developed and used in class as Soil Laboratory exercises, which can be performed with soil samples brought to class by students:

Ron also passed around the Earth Day Footprint Quiz [http://www.ecosherpa.com/uncategorized/earth-day-footprint-quiz/],  a survey to estimate the amount of land required to maintain your lifestyle. The average ecological footprint in the United States is 10 hectares (25 acres) per person, whereas there are only 1.8 hectares (4.5 acres) of biologically productive land per person on earth.  How did you do on this survey?  Editorial Comment by PJ1 hectare = 100 meters ´ 100 meters = 10,000 square meters,  is the standard international measure of land area.  If you advocate using the English System of units, you should be able to define the acre? [ http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Acre] Can you?

Great stuff! Thanks, Ron.

28 September 2004: Chris Etapa  [Gunsaulus Academy]           The Ecosphere
Chris' son bought an "ecosphere" for her for about $20 (oddly, at an electronics store). It is a glass globe that is sealed. It is 3-4 inches (8-10 cm)  in diameter. It contains brine shrimp (5) and algae and about 6 snails.  The system is self contained and self sustaining. It is about 3/4 filled with water. The algae make oxygen for respiration of the snails and shrimp which make CO2 for the algae. The algae presumably make biomass to support the growth of the shrimp and snails. Enough nutrients (presumably for algal growth) are included in the solution to support at least 2 years of sustainability. We enjoyed passing the ecosphere around and examining it close up.  Very interesting, Chris!

07 December 2004: Mary Lucy Adetunji    [Gale Elementary School]     The Five Senses (Handout)
Sister Mary had us do activities that she uses with her kindergarten students.  These activities were interesting to us; we learned how observational science can be taught to students at an early age.  

  1. We looked around at various objects with and without sunglasses and noted the differences in what we saw with and without them.
  2. We repeated the first exercise, looking through a toy “fly's eye” [http://www.toysandmore.com.au/item.cfm?item=OPL+MIS+FLYEYE&CFID=77275&CFToken=17074203]  that divides a scene into many different small versions of that scene, as well as looking at objects using a hand lens.
Mary, you showed us that we could enjoy and learn from quite simple activities! Thanks!

08 March 2005: Wanda Pitts [Douglas Elementary School]            The Straw Balance and Gravity
Wanda started out by asking the question, "What is gravity?" It is the force that pulls two objects together. We then received a handout from Wanda with the instructions for building the straw balance using the materials that Wanda supplied (ruler, drinking straw, marking pen, scissors, small index card, straight pin, and two wooden blocks of equal height and not as wide as the length of straw).  When the balance is level, both gravity and torque are at work, the gravity producing the force on each "pan" (ie, card), and the distance from the center of the straw to the pan multiplied by the force producing the torque, which balances the pans. But if the distance from center to pan is the same on each side, the balance will directly measure the force of gravity (the weight) of whatever is placed on the pans.

We then did this with small pieces of index card of unknown mass/weight on one pan, measuring their mass/weight in units of "punch holes", pieces of paper made with a paper punch, placed on the other pan. At the balance point, the masses and weights on each side were equal.

Good stuff, Wanda!

15 November 2005: Ed Scanlon (Morgan Park HS, biology)            Evolution
started with the following handout:

The questions on Ed's list ask what makes humans different from other organisms. Continuing, classification of organisms into groups is based (mostly/historically) on similarities among organisms; but what makes one species (e.g., us) different from another species (e.g., apes)? So after discussing the first handout, Ed hands out a condensed version of a probable family tree for humans with a list of characteristics that primates share and another list of characteristics peculiar to humans. Regarding the latter, our foramen magna (openings in skull for the spinal cord) point straight down, our legs are relatively much longer than our arms, etc. Pat Riley pointed out that our "complete package" of characteristics is perhaps what makes us really different from other species.  This led to an extremely lively discussion of evolution, creationism, and "intelligent design".  Thanks for the info, Ed!.