October 5th, 2015
Camp BIOmed – A Science Summer Camp!

The 2015 Northwest Association for Biomedical Research’s Camp BIOmed successfully ran from July 6- August 21, at Seattle Lutheran High School and the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. High school students had a great time learning the science and applications of biotechnology, biomedicine, and bioethics!

This year, Camp BIOmed featured three different scientific track options:

1. Do-It-Yourself Scientific Cancer Laboratory was taught by Dr. Jan Chalupny. Students explored the science of cancer biology, biomarker analysis, and current cancer treatments by performing DNA gel electrophoresis, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, building smart phone microscopes, and dissecting sheep brains.












2. CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) was taught by Dr. Alaina Garland. Students spent the first few days learning how to use scientific techniques including DNA fingerprinting, blood spatter analysis, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays for poison detection, heart dissection, and blood typing to understand human physiology and investigate crime scenes.  On the next to last day of camp, they used their scientific knowledge to solve a mock murder all by themselves!






















3.Origami of Life with Bioinformatics was taught by Andrew Klock. Here, students examined the relationship between protein structure and function using bioinformatics tools like BLAST, a tool to compare DNA and protein sequences, and Fold-it, an online video game designed at the University of Washington to allow the public to help scientists solve complex protein structures.


We had some great feedback from students showing that they had FUN learning science!:

  • “This past week I attended the DIY camp at Seattle Lutheran High School. This was a wonderful program and I am very glad that I was able to be a part of it. I really enjoyed how small the class sizes were because I felt like I got a very personalized experience. The techniques and curriculum that I leaned this past week were very interesting and prevalent. I have a leg up on many other people my age due to this program. Thank you so much for putting this camp on.”
  • “The Camp made me interest in biomed spike dramatically. I want to have a career involving biomed when I grow up.”
  • “Dr. Garland helped me realize bio is a really cool subject and that Biomedical Engineering is a great career option for me.”
  • “This was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to do it again next year.”
  • “I found what we did really interesting and would love to do this sort of stuff again.”

We hope to run the 2016 Camp BIOmed at University of Washington facilities. The registration for 2016 camp opens in the month of February!

Keep visiting our webpage www.nwabr.org for updated information on camp and our other great student programs.

Feel free to email any questions to camp.mansi@nwabr.org or camp@nwabr.org




Mansi Kaushik Vats holds a masters degree in biotechnology and is the Camp BIOmed Manager at the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research.





September 15th, 2015
Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week is Celebrating 10 Years!

PhUn Week Logo DRAFT-Version 2

Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week is the American Physiological Society’s annual outreach program that reaches more than 14,000 K-12 students across the country! This year we are celebrating our 10th anniversary and as part of the festivities, the LifeSciTRC Community is highlighting past blog posts related to PhUn week. Click on the links below to discover for yourself how fun and easy PhUn week can be!

If you are interested in having an American Physiological Society member and scientist come to your classroom or school, visit the PhUn Week website!


Past PhUn Week Posts:


Shain-Head shot

Margaret Shain Stieben is the Pro­gram Man­ager for K-12 Education Pro­grams at the Amer­i­can Phys­i­o­log­i­cal Soci­ety. Her main responsibilities include developing, orga­niz­ing, and imple­ment­ing edu­ca­tion projects aimed at pro­mot­ing professional development opportunities for middle and high school science teachers and outreach opportunities among phys­i­ol­o­gists and K-12 teachers across the nation. This includes the Frontiers in Physiology Research Fel­low­ship Pro­gram, PhUn Week, Local Science Fair Awards, APS Special Awards at the International Science and Engineering Fair and promoting career development in K-12 classrooms. She works exten­sively with both the Education and Careers Opportunity Com­mit­tees on these projects and reg­u­larly attends meet­ings and con­fer­ences to give pre­sen­ta­tions about these programs.

September 14th, 2015
Are You Putting Your Students to Sleep?

Sleep DeskIt may sound odd, but sitting down is exhausting.

After graduating in May, I can safely say the bulk of my time in high school was spent sitting. For seven classes a day, each 47 minutes long. Some students even have to endure 90 minute classes – I can hardly imagine their suffering.

In a blog post published by the Washington Post, veteran teacher Alexis Wiggins wrote about her experiences shadowing a high school student for two days. “I literally sat down the entire day, except for walking to and from classes. We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work…,” Wiggins wrote. “But students move almost never. And never is exhausting.”

As kids grow up, school becomes more sedentary. Teachers tend to make more of an effort to get kids up and moving in elementary school, probably because there are more opportunities for hands-on activities and fun games.

High school students are the ones who need to get up and move around the most. They have to deal with dense subject matter and, according to www.sleepfoundation.org, only 15% of teens report sleeping for at least 8 and 1/2 hours on school nights. Sedentary lectures combined with sleep deprivation are a recipe for boredom.

There is also scientific reasoning behind the need to get out of your seat. In a Ted-Ed Talk titled “Why Sitting is Bad for You,” Murat Dalkilinç investigated the dangers of being sedentary. He says, “The longer you stay put, the more agitated your body becomes. It sits there counting down the moments until you stand up again.”

Even if our bodies are built for movement, how does being sedentary affect learning?

“Being stationary reduces blood flow and the amount of oxygen entering your blood stream through your lungs,” Dalkilinç explains in the video. “Your brain requires both of those things to remain alert, so your concentration levels will most likely dip as your brain activity slows.”

As a student who spent many classes willing her eyes to remain open, the science makes perfect sense. The most memorable moments of my high school career were spent standing – whether I was working on a lab assignment in chemistry, or acting out the function of the phospholipid bilayer in biology.

After her two days shadowing students, Wiggins wrote out a few things she would immediately change about her classes. She recommended a mandatory stretch halfway through the period, and a few minutes of play time with a Nerf basketball hoop at the beginning and end of class. She even wants to include at least one hands-on activity per class.

“Yes, we would sacrifice some content to do this – that’s fine,” Wiggins wrote. “I was so tired by the end of the day, I wasn’t absorbing most of the content, so I am not sure my previous method of making kids sit through hour-long, sit-down discussions of the texts was all that effective.”

For many teachers, taking a few minutes to stand up and move around may feel like a waste of precious time. There are only so many minutes in the day to prepare students for their exams, after all. However, taking a few minutes to ensure students are alert and more focused is far better than spending the whole period on a topic that is not absorbed or grappled with at all. And while changes may not happen overnight, any small step toward making the classroom a more active, engaging environment is a good one.

Bio Pic_Leah Yared

Leah Yared is a freshman at Harvard College. She worked with the American Physiological Society as a 2015 summer intern for the LifeSciTRC.


August 1st, 2015
Transitioning from State Content Standards to the NGSS

While many science teachers have already embarked on the journey of “how to deal with the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards)”, others are just starting to wrap their minds around the shift or are perhaps in a state that has not yet adopted the standards. Wherever you are in your journey, I think it wise to focus on the process, where it takes your teaching, and to begin small. I myself have just finished the second year of a continuing process of understanding the NGSS, what they mean, how they are organized, and what it looks like in my classroom and in my own teaching. With lots of patience, collaboration, and professional developments, it can be done!

Two years ago, my science department and I started by working on two things:

  1. Identifying which lessons, labs, and activities already achieved the NGSS
  2. Developing a new way of teaching the scientific method.

I mention the second step because it was important for us to all be on the same page about what we were teaching as the process of science, and to establish a common language amongst students throughout each grade level (especially since I worked at a 6-12th grade school). This is especially important since secondary science education does not always necessarily progress in the same way as a math class.

Science Cycle (1)Developing a new way of teaching the scientific method

After much debate and discussion, we eventually developed our own science cycle where we identified 10 terms, such as “question”, “model”, “design”, and “justify”, put them in a context (such as “identify limitations”), and produced posters and handouts for all students. We even had several heated debates on where to place the terms within the cycle. Having this done, however, helped tremendously when we began to shift our perspective on how this was all going to look in our classroom. Any time the students did an activity or lab, we referred them back to the science cycle to help them identify how they were doing science. This also helped us to further align with the science and engineering practices of the NGSS.

Identifying which lessons, labs, and activities already achieved the NGSS

Okay, now back to the first step. If you are just starting out with the NGSS, see what you are already doing at the beginning of each unit, because I am willing to bet that you are doing more than you think. Align the NGSS with your state content standards by looking for common language. Then, take out your post-its! I stuck them all over my hard copies to help me remember how each activity aligned for the following year. Then, repeat the above steps until you have gone through all units. This process will help you get more familiar with the language of the NGSS and how it relates to your classroom.

Now, you might be thinking, “I cannot even read these things to understand where my activities align!” You wouldn’t be alone. I was fortunate enough to attend an NGSS rollout session in California that was worth the time and money to figure out just a few little things that I do not think that I would have noticed.  For example, the letters and numbers separated by dashes at the top of each subset of standards are the performance expectations (what students should be able to do), but letters and numbers separated by periods in orange are the corresponding disciplinary core ideas, or the content standards (the “what” we are supposed to teach). Understanding these little nuances is a tremendous help and will continue to be as assessments are developed. I find this page to be the most helpful for understanding how the standards are organized (I am a visual learner): http://www.nextgenscience.org/how-to-read-the-standards

Learn from my experience

While I could go on and on about the standards, I want to mention one final thing to keep in mind while you roll out this process in your schools and classrooms: teaching inquiry is not for the faint of heart. One thing that my colleagues and I learned this year is that you will now have TIME to teach science in the way that it should be taught. Not through a list of facts, lectures, and textbook notes, but through hands-on, thought-provoking, real-world problems. You will need to let go of the expectation that you will be keeping on pace with how you have taught in the past, because you won’t. Teaching through inquiry and through the use of the NGSS takes much, much longer. But the amount of learning that takes place, exciting discoveries, and in-depth discussions that your students will experience is so much more valuable. So, be patient. Let go of your internal timelines, and make goals that focus on how the students can have a meaningful experience in your classroom that they will never forget.

If you are reading this and thinking that you do not have the luxury to take the time at your own school to implement NGSS, work towards this goal by becoming a voice in your department. It took me three years to get my department on board with getting rid of teaching a linear scientific method that was outdated and unrealistic. Take some risks and show your school and administrators data that teaching in this way really works.

Picture of Shannon Baird

Shannon Baird has been teaching 7th grade life science and high school biology for the past five years in San Diego, CA. She recently moved to Tucson, AZ to teach biology and earth science in high school. Throughout her career, Shannon has focused on primarily using inquiry-based strategies in her classroom. Shannon was a 2014-2015 APS Frontiers in Physiology Research Teacher Fellow and is a LifeSciTRC Community Member.

June 22nd, 2015
Taste and Supertasters

tongue_squareHow many times have you been asked to “map” your tongue? Did you (or your students) use solutions and cotton swabs to generate that classic map of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and, now, savory (umami)? We know now that the map is artificial. But what happens when the molecules found in food hit the taste buds?

Research from the University of Pennsylvania suggests that when you eat something sweet, bitter or savory (umami), your taste buds release ATP as a neurotransmitter to trigger neurons to carry the message to the brain’s taste centers. However, when you eat something sour or salty the signal to the brain seems to work by a different biological mechanism. This new research helps us trace the path from food to taste bud to receptor to transmitter release to nerve impulse to brain.  So…in my unending quest to have yet another reason to eat chocolate, I wonder…if we eat sweet foods, does the ATP release significantly counterbalance the intake of calories? (OK, that one is just wishful thinking!).

Lovelace found that people vary in the number of taste buds per square millimeter of tongue surface and in their taste sensitivity. In one study, she found that people who cook for a living (e.g., chefs) had greater taste sensitivity than did people in other professions. Those with proportionately more taste buds have been labeled “supertasters.” Want to know where you stand on the taste bud density issue? A drop of blue food coloring on your tongue will let you see your taste buds, should you be into quantification! Hmm…do supertasters use up significantly different amounts of ATP when eating sweet, bitter, or savory foods compared to normal tasters? Something to think about. Or perhaps something just to savor the next time you pop a Hershey kiss.

Want to try out some taste and other sensory activities in your classroom? Check out the LifeSciTRC resource Welcome to Your Senses.




Marsha Matyas, PhD is a biologist, educator, and science education researcher. For nearly 30 years, she has worked at scientific professional associations (AAAS and now APS) to promote excellence in science education at all levels and to increase diversity within the scientific community. Her research focuses on factors that promote science career interest and success, especially among women and underrepresented minorities. She directs the Education Office and programs at APS, which span from pre-Kindergarten to professional development and continuing education for Ph.D. and M.D. scientists. In her free time, Marsha enjoys traveling with her family and scrapbooking.

May 14th, 2015
5 Reasons You Should Submit to the LifeSciTRC

hand5I would wager that if you are reading this blog post, you have created at least one lesson, video, or activity that your students enjoy and learn from. Have you considered submitting your creation to the LifeSciTRC Community? If you haven’t (or if you haven’t yet gotten around to it yet) here are 5 Reasons You Should Submit to the LifeSciTRC this Summer:  

Reason #1: Receive feedback on your submission

It can be hard to find someone to give feedback on your teaching resource, especially if there are only a few science teachers in your school (or if you’re the only one!). When you submit to the LifeSciTRC, your submission will be reviewed and commented on by three educators from across the country. Free constructive criticism from the comfort of your computer chair!

Reason #2: What you submit will always be yours

If you created the resource, then you hold the copyright for the resource. Every resource in the LifeSciTRC is covered by Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. This means that a resource can be used by others as long as they attribute it to the author, don’t make any changes, and don’t use it for commercial purposes. If you ever want to remove your resource from the LifeSciTRC, simply contact us.

Reason #3: It counts as a publication

When a resource is accepted into the LifeSciTRC digital library, it is assigned a unique URL that can be used for a citation. You can download the citation of your resource in APA or MLA format by visiting the assigned URL and clicking the appropriate citation link in the “Citations” box on the left side of the screen. Time to fill up that resume or teaching portfolio!

Reason #4: Impress your school’s administrators and your student’s parents

The LifeSciTRC is a digital library and teaching community that has served the life science educator community for over 15 years. Currently 9 scientific societies partner to contribute and curate materials; every resource in the digital library is peer-reviewed. The LifeSciTRC website receives over 65,000 unique hits each month – that’s over 850,000 per year. Now imagine yourself telling an administrator or parent that a teaching activity you created is included in there….pretty impressive!

Reason #5: Contribute to the teaching community

You’ve just read about four ways that submitting to the LifeSciTRC can directly benefit you, now think about how it can benefit your fellow teachers. Why do you come to the LifeSciTRC? Are you teaching a new subject? Trying to find new ways to teach a difficult concept? Wanting to try a new learning method in your class? There are other teachers out there who come to the LifeSciTRC with these same questions as well as others. Maybe the resource they need is the one that you have not yet submitted.

Hopefully this list has convinced you to help yourself and to help your fellow teachers by submitting to the LifeSciTRC this summer! When you’re ready to get started go to Submit to the LifeSciTRC. If you have any questions, visit our Submission Help Page or Contact Us.

Miranda Byse






Miranda Byse, PhD is the American Physiological Society (APS) Program Manager for the LifeSciTRC. Her LifeSciTRC user profile may be viewed here.

April 8th, 2015
The “PhUn”damentals of Physiology Understanding Week

phun-color-bigI first learned of the American Physiological Society sponsored event, PhUn Week (Physiology Understanding) during my year as a Frontiers in Physiology fellow. As a fellow, I created relationships with research scientists who were eager to visit my middle school students and present the work they did, as well as the path it took them to become scientists. The fellowship transformed my role as an educator, partly because it introduced me to PhUn Week which will be part of my physiology unit as long as I am teaching.

PhUn Week has two components that will make every teacher happy: 1) excellent lesson plans that are ready to use, and 2) FREE STUFF! The purpose of PhUn week is to engage students in a variety of lessons regarding different aspects of physiology and disease. The lessons, developed by physiologists, incorporate technology, research, and inquiry through hands-on investigations, and are ready to be implemented immediately. In fact, there are so many high-quality lessons, that the hardest part of planning PhUn Week has always been deciding which ones I did not have time to present! The APS has a website dedicated to PhUn Week with all of the information, lessons, suggested time frames, press releases, and more, needed for teachers planning a PhUn Week event. In addition to the student-centered, high-level lesson plans, the APS also sends “freebies” to teachers hosting a PhUn Week. In years past, some of the freebies have included string backpacks with the PhUn Week logo printed on them, anatomically accurate heart stress balls, and information regarding physiology for EACH STUDENT! The teachers and physiologists involved also receive goodies like t-shirts and coffee mugs that promote PhUn Week.

So, here are the PhUn-damentals of PhUn Week:

  1. PhUn Week is usually the first week in November, but this date is flexible. If the first
    week in November doesn’t work with your schedule, do it when it does!
  2. To get started, first you must find a physiologist in your area that is looking for outreach
    opportunities. I knew immediately upon learning about it that I wanted to host PhUn
    Week on my campus, but arranging the physiologist visits seemed daunting. I was
    pleasantly surprised to learn how eager so many physiologists are to promote science to
    K-12 students! If you don’t already know a physiologist, the APS has a list compiled (on the PhUn Week website) of willing scientists.
  3. After the physiologist is lined up, it’s time to register. Again, the website has the
    registration forms to fill out. I have never had a problem getting the freebies, but they are
    first come, first serve, so as soon as you have your physiologist booked, fill out and return
    the registration.
  4. Look at the lessons provided by the APS. I always use the ready-made lessons, but
    depending on my students in each class, I sometimes make minor adjustments to meet
    their needs.
  5. Meet with the physiologist at least a few weeks before the visit. The physiologist will likely want guidance on what you want them to present. When I meet with the physiologist that presents on my campus, I let her know the information I need my kids to get from her. The most successful physiologist visits have involved specimens, and stations that students rotate through. In addition to the specimens and lab equipment, the physiologist brought student volunteers from the university where she teaches. After you make your plans for the physiologist visit, fill out the media release form. Don’t forget to include all the awesome activities you and the physiologist will be exposing to your students!

After you participate in one PhUn Week, you will be hooked! It is incredibly beneficial to your students, and incredibly easy to implement. Not only will you be hooked, but it is highly likely your students will be hooked on science as well.







Anne Joy has served as an APS Frontiers in Physiology Fellow and as a LifeSciTRC Scholar and Fellow. Anne teaches at Driscoll Middle School where she has been honored as Teacher of the Year.

February 17th, 2015
Using Visual Tools for Science Learning

I’m a visual thinker.  I don’t just make lists.  I make lists with arrows leading to check-boxes.  My lists include Venn diagrams, connected boxes, clouds, and call-outs like the ones above characters’ heads in comic books.  It’s just the way I have learned to think.  I once had a class challenge me to write my notes simply in outline Roman numeral format without the arrow, without the parenthetical clouds, etc.  I stood at the overhead projector nearly speechless.  I couldn’t do it.  But my class let me off the hook that day and several students told me at that point that they were glad for my clouds and arrows and little diagrams because they modeled how the thoughts or ideas that we were talking about connected. As I’ve grown professionally, I have been exposed to numerous varieties of visual presentations and read report after report on best practices in teaching that indicate that the use of such techniques (in the form of concept maps and visual organizers) are very helpful for learning. So, it seems my inability to make a simple list may actually be a hidden talent.  This isn’t about me though; it’s about how to use techniques such as concept mapping and visual learning tools to help students make meaning out of their learning, specifically in scienceIMG_0672.

For starters, I have learned that visual tools in whatever form they take in your classroom have to be a regular practice.  Students can’t be expected to simply use visual tools at random times – they have to be used weekly and they have to be embedded in your instruction and classroom practice. The diagram to the left is an icon in my class, we call it the “bubble map,” and we use it on the first day of class and at least once a week to learn human anatomy.

Next, visual tools and concept maps work best when they serve to help students take new content and incorporate it with what they know.  With the bubble map example, we take the structure that we are learning and write it in the middle (filled) oval.  Then, students choose known structures to compare it to in the surrounding ovals.  Next, we use the anatomical location terms such as anterior and posterior to describe the new structure (in the middle oval) to the surrounding structures.

Lastly, visual tools have to resemble authentic thinking in your class. I model out loud often what this bubble map tells us by stating the three comparisons that each bubble map makes: ex “the middle oval is anterior/posterior to the bottom oval.”  I require that students use a different location term (medial/lateral, proximal/distal) at each branch.  bubbleAfter a while, not only are students adept at comparing new structures with old, and using a study tool to become more independent as learners, but the use of this tool also enhances their ability to write and speak about what we are learning.  No longer can they say “I don’t know” when we review anatomy before a test, and they are less likely leave a blank answer when I ask them to describe the location of body parts. So many times I have bemoaned the fact my students won’t even try to learn independently, but with a visual tool like this that is regularly modeled, utilized, tested, and evaluated – they can.







Dan Bartsch is a National Board Certified biology instructor and department chair at Billings Senior High School in Billings, MT. He has served as a LifeSciTRC Scholar and Fellow. Dan has been teaching for over 20 years and feels blessed to be part of such a great endeavor.


November 7th, 2014
Get Your Science Students to Gobble Up Reading

girlreadAs science teachers, we all want our students to become lifelong learners. We want our curriculum to give them a better understanding of what is going on in the real world. One way I have tried to accomplish these goals is through a variety of reading techniques.  Teaching kids to read about science gives them a much needed skill they can use in the future.

But wait, this isn’t English class! How many science teachers (or math, or history, or anything other than English) have heard this from their students? Reading is not something that should be limited to one period a day. It certainly won’t be when they leave school! So here are three reading techniques that I use in my high school biology classroom to give students a better understanding of how science happens in real life. Once your students get used to them, the complaints will go away. Who knows, they might even enjoy your class more!

Technique #1 –Biology Reading Days

Preparation: I put together a list of books (both fiction and non-fiction) that have a strong tie to biology. I find a variety of topics at a range of difficulty levels. I also make sure that the books are available through our library system so that students can check them out.

Implementation: Once a week I give my students an entire class period to read their book. Students also have to complete a weekly reading slip to bring in some of the Common Core Standards. We also do group discussions towards the end of the semester. I love walking around the room and listening to my students have conversations about what they read!

Reading Recommendations: A few of our favorites from the list are “Peeps” by Scott Westerfield, “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin, “Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers” by Mary Roach, and “Crashing Through” by Robert Kurson.

Technique #2 – Current Event Articles

Preparation: There are tons of great news articles out there. One of my favorite sources is the New York Times science section (if you haven’t checked it out yet, GO NOW… then come back to this blog, of course). I assign articles from there at least once a week.

Implementation: I have my students turn the article in with the important information highlighted and they write a one paragraph response (what they thought about what they read- NO summaries allowed). This shows them real world examples of what we are learning about in class.

Article Recommendations:

Technique #3 -Collaborative Reading

Preparation: One thing that always bothers me is that when I give my students questions to answer, they just skim through to find the answers instead of actually reading. I also find that they have trouble listening (which I’m sure is shocking). So here’s my solution: I take an article and spilt it into two parts, going paragraph by paragraph.

Implementation: The students take turns reading and have to answer questions about the sections that their partner reads. This means they have to LISTEN! Let me be honest, they hate this at first (“why can’t I just read the whole thing myself?”). But if they’re struggling, it means they have to actually apply themselves and WORK! It’s worth the time and effort it takes to plan it out.

Hopefully these ideas are useful for your classes. What techniques do you apply to improving science literacy?







Aubrey Mikos is a LifeSciTRC Community Member, Scholar, and Fellow. She teaches Biology and Anatomy and Physiology at Serena High School in Serena, IL.


October 10th, 2014
What’s the Constant in Your Teaching?


That’s a sin wave. It’s my precious graph, I try to sound like Golem from Lord of the Rings when I introduce it. I draw it on the board after my students try to balance a meter stick with one finger (they wear goggles, of course).  I have the students draw the sin wave and we talk about how the meter stick moved one direction, and they moved their hand the opposite direction and we laugh about how difficult it is to balance the meter stick and at how irritated the class below us must be after hearing all the dropped meter sticks. I don’t label the y-axis, but I call the x-axis the set-point, which represents the meter stick standing in perfect balance. As long as the meter stick doesn’t go too far to the right (above the line) or too far to the left (below the line), we can keep it on our hands, if it goes too far (past the curve), the meter stick falls.  We then label the peaks of the curve and dotted lines parallel to the set point line and we call the distance, normal limits.

The graph forms the basis of how we study physiology in my class. I introduce a new factor every week and students have to explain how it relates to the graph. Sometimes the factor is a mineral or a vitamin, sometimes it’s a variable like heart rate or breathing depth. We relate everything that has some sort of homeostatic control to this graph. Blood sugar, pH, salt levels in extracellular fluid, hormones, nutrients – they all have to relate to the graph. Every organ has a function related to the graph, and students write about this graph in relationship to daily experiences such as getting too much or too little sleep or having too much or too little space between themselves and whomever they are talking to. Eventually students come to see how this graph relates to negative feedback and maintaining the endless cycles that the human body experiences in a lifetime. Sometimes the graph is not symmetrical and sometimes it’s two waves separated in time to examine cause and effect. Sometimes the graph seems like a natural fit, sometimes it’s forced, but the point is its consistency and the framework it provides for asking questions. It teaches my students to expect that whatever happens to raise a variable, will be counteracted in some way to bring it back down. This graph is a sin wave, I did not invent it (by ifland). This graph was never my idea, applying physiology to this graph was not my idea (I truly cannot remember who taught me this), but using it, and using it regularly, has impacted my teaching as much as designing curriculum, examining scope and sequence, using reading strategies, and even using technology. What’s more, I am completely open to my sin wave not being the best idea or the best tool in the shed – it’s just what works now, it could very well change.

I’m curious, what’s your graph? What’s the constant in your teaching, that little tool, or protocol that helps you communicate the material and helps your students understand it?  It may be as simple as what a popular sixth grade teacher does on her whiteboard every morning  “if it’s in blue, it’s what you must now do…,” but share it with your colleagues, share it on this blog, because collectively these little algorithms and ideas become what we call best practice, and our students deserve that.


Dan Bartsch is a National Board Certified biology instructor and department chair at Billings Senior High School in Billings, MT. He has served as a LifeSciTRC Scholar and Fellow. Dan has been teaching for over 20 years and feels blessed to be part of such a great endeavor.