October 8th, 2013
Are you Virtual or Not? That is the Question!
Student at computer

Photo by Tom Woodward via Flickr.

With the popularity of digital devices, there has also been a great interest in online coursework. Discussions and research are just now being done in relation to their effectiveness. Todays’ digital natives are naturally attracted to the opportunity to take courses digitally. The question is, “Is this the best way for students to learn?” especially in the area of science, which by its very nature lends itself to “hands-on” activities.

As a longtime educator in Texas, I have seen a push for schools to consider more digital textbooks and online learning resources. As a reviewer of some of these resources, I was somewhat disappointed in that some were nothing more than PDF’s of textbooks with very little interactivity for the student. Most will agree that just putting the pages of a textbook online is not the answer to engaging students. However, what about highly interactive open-ended electronic resources?

In the July 17 Journal of “NATURE”, M. Mitchell Waldrop discusses the explosive popularity of online learning in Education online: The virtual lab.  Waldrop mentions that this approach might be fine for lectures and the like but what about the hands on experience? Can that be taught online?

I have had the opportunity to try some virtual labs with mixed reviews. My experience as a high school science teacher allowed me to see both sides of this issue. As a Biology teacher, I did many hands-on labs including dissections. Over the years concerns about dissections have been expressed for a variety of reasons, the purpose of some of these dissections, cost, effects on the environment, and just personal preferences to not touch dead things. As a result of that I began to explore some of the virtual alternatives. As I tried some of these virtual dissections, something was always lacking. How can a student feel the texture or the depth required to cut? How can a student problem solve if another tissue is in the way? (While something like radioactivity and half life would not be appropriate to work with in a high school lab and would lend itself to a virtual environment for safety issues, I feel like there are just some things that are better suited to the real thing. If I am going to be operated on I want someone who has experienced working on human tissue, knows how deep to cut, knows what to do if there is a problem, and has not just worked on a “virtual” cadaver.

Is “hands on” the only way to learn a concept? Is there any value in “virtual labs”?

If you do a search online you will find several providers of virtual labs. Here are a few I found in relation to Frog dissection. Try some of these Virtual Frog dissections and let me know what you think in the comments below.




 You can also find virtual labs in the Archive in this Virtual Lab Collection

Do you have any virtual labs that you like to use? Share below.

September 18th, 2013
Archive Time Saver Series Part 3: Saving Searches

45376198You’ve searched through the Archive and found a great resource, or two, or maybe twenty? There’s no reason to put your valuable time to waste by not saving these resources! You could bookmark what you found using your internet browser’s tools, but if you’re like me, you probably have a very long list of web pages listed under your favorites. Don’t let your resources get lost in that! Try these two Archive Tools instead: (Don’t forget, you need to be a registered member to access these tools and registration is free!)

My Folders

This is the tool to use when you want to save an individual resource. On the resource page, look for the “Save It!” section right above the resource description.  Simply click on the menu/down arrow next to “Save It!” and select “New Folder.” Then, click on the red “Save” button and you’re done! You now have a folder with a resource in it.

To change the name of your folder or to add a new folder to save resources in, click on the blue “Edit Folders” button. You can also access your folders under “My Archive” near the top of the Archive page.

If you’d like to view a video of how the process works, view this help page.

My Saved Searches

Want to save an entire search instead of just one resource? Try the My Saved Searches tool! On a search results page, look for the “Save It!” section right above your results. Type in a name for your search, click on the red “Save This Search Button,” and your search is saved. To access all of your searches hover over “My Archive” near the top of the Archive page and click on “My Saved Searches.”

We hope that you find these two tools to be a useful addition to your time-saving arsenal. Want more help saving time in the Archive? Post your question below or contact us.

Happy Searching!

September 4th, 2013
Are we having PhUn yet? The value of outreach in science and education

The bad news first….


Figure of estimated annual test score gains around the world. The US is in black. Figure from EducationNext.

The United States lags behind other countries in K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.   Even the U.S. rate of progress to improve science and math achievement is bested by 24 countries including Latvia, Chile and Brazil, who have the highest growth rates.

The public perception of science is declining.  From 1999 to 2009 the public perception that science and technology are the greatest achievements of the U.S. fell from 47% to 27%.  In addition, only 17% of those surveyed thought U.S. scientific achievement is the best in the world.  When scientists were polled, 85% felt that the public’s lack of understanding of science was a significant problem, and 49% believed that the public has an unrealistic expectation about the speed at which scientific advancements are made.

Federal support for research and development is decreasing.  U.S. federal expenditures on research and development is expected to decrease by 6.5% in fiscal year 2013, and federal spending on research as a percent of GDP will fall to 0.8%, a 40 year low. This is ominous data given that science and technology are required to solve many of the problems facing our country now and in the future. Not to mention the overwhelming evidence that investment in scientific research is a proven economic engine.

Now the good news…it’s time to have some PhUn!

The statements above paint a gloomy picture about the direction of science education and funding. They also raise the question (at least in my mind) of what we, as scientists and teachers, can do to reverse these trends. Is it sufficient for scientists to simply hunker down, spend more time in the lab, submit more grants, and be satisfied with the notion that the public just doesn’t get it, or that it is the problem of teachers to fix STEM education? Are K-12 educators to just sit back and hope that updated content and innovative lesson plans materialize out of thin air?  If these options are not sufficient (they aren’t), then what other choices do we have?  Scientific outreach may be the key, or at least an important part of the solution.

The purpose of scientific outreach is to enhance public awareness and understanding of science.  Outreach does not have to be a daunting, all-consuming task.
From the perspective of a scientist, it can be achieved by making a visit to a classroom, talking with your institute’s public affairs office about an important research finding, or writing a letter to your local representatives. K-12 educators can facilitate this process by being familiar with the ongoing work of local colleges and universities, inviting scientists to the classroom, or even getting involved in summer research projects.  What if you’ve never participated in science outreach before?  It is conceivable, maybe even likely, that this is not in the comfort zone of many scientists. In addition, teachers may not know where to find research opportunities that could benefit their classrooms, or feel comfortable contacting local scientists.  Thankfully, professional organizations like the American Physiological Society (APS) can help.  APS has great resources for physiologists on how to conduct advocacy and K-12 education outreach.


Students learning about the PhUn of heart-healthy exercise. Image from www.phunweek.org.

Among the K-12 outreach activities offered by APS, Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week is the widest reaching event having taken place annually in the first week of November since 2005. The goal of PhUn Week is to foster interaction between scientists and local schools and now reaches 12000 students annually.  I have been fortunate to be involved with PhUn Week over the last several years and have organized small and large PhUn Week events.  Typically, I bring a team of scientists to a local elementary or middle school where we set up interactive, hands-on stations for the kids.  An example of a station that we might include is to build your own glomerulus (the filtering unit of the kidney).  We spend a few minutes talking about the purpose of the glomerulus and its basic anatomy.  Then, students are presented with a series of different materials from which they can use their knowledge of glomerular function and anatomy to build their own model.  When students are finished building their models, we test them to see how good they filter the “blood”.  You can view this and other activities in this Archive Collection.

The example of PhUn Week illustrates how outreach can foster collaboration between scientists and K-12 educators promote educational resource development to enhance scientific achievement, and improve the public perception of science.  Ultimately, these outreach opportunities will help reinforce the pipeline of the future scientists who will be solving the medical and technological problems of the future. For scientists who are hesitant to interact with the public, don’t underestimate the power that improved public perception of science and scientific literacy has to influence the budget priorities of the federal government.   So let’s get out there and have some PhUn!

August 28th, 2013
Archive Time Saver Series Part 2: Sorting Through Results

19103826You have done your search in the Archive and you now have a list of results. If you have performed a keyword search or drill down listing you probably have a rather lengthy list of resources to sift through. Who has time for that?!? We know that a teacher’s time is precious so here are 5 Ways to Refine Your Search in the Archive:

1. Filter by grade level

A great thing about the Archive is that everything is tagged by grade level! If you want to only look at resources for your K-12 classroom, go to the top of the search results page and look for these boxes with check marks next to them: K      I . Make sure only the check box to the left of K is selected and you will only see resources that are tagged for K-12 classroom use.

2. Check ratings

One of the many benefits of being in an online community like the Archive is that you can find out which resources other teachers find useful. Just look for the star rating to the right of the title of each resource. 5-stars means an item is highly recommended by a fellow teacher. Often, rated resources will also include comments; make sure to check those out! If you see an item without a star rating that just means that a fellow teacher hasn’t rated it yet. Maybe you could be the first?

3. Sort your results

For people like me who enjoy an extra bit of organization in their search results, there is the sorting feature. All you have to do is click on the title of a column to sort by that column. For example, you can click on “Partner” to sort your results by Archive Partner, or you can click on “Title/Author/Resource Type/Format” to organize results by title. Note that the Archive will automatically sort your search by “Rating.”

4. Do a search within a search

This tool is great if you have a lot of results, want to refine your search, but don’t want to start your search from scratch. It can be found two lines down from the top of the Search Results Page next to “Too much?” Just type in a word of your choosing and click on “Search within Results.” If you don’t like what you see, click on the blue “Go Back” button. To give you an example of how I use this tool, I will often start with a very basic keyword search, such as “diabetes” and then refine my search with something more specific, like “activity” or “game.” This gives me a lot of flexibility if I’m searching for a variety of materials around one topic.

5. Check out collections

Teacher-Recommended Collections are an amazing time saver if you’re looking for a lesson plan or activity to use in your classroom. The great thing about collections is that another teacher has already gone through the Archive, found materials, used them with their students, and has left notes for you! Talk about a time saver! To find these collections, click on one of the grey tabs to the right of the red “Resources” tab. To learn more about collections, go here: http://www.lifescitrc.org/help-submit.cfm#collections

As always, Happy Searching!

August 21st, 2013
Archive Time Saver Series Part 1: Searching

23257167There’s more than one way to cook an egg an there is certainly more than one way to search the Archive! What’s your preferred searching style? Do you like to browse, type a keyword, search by specific criteria, or try a bit of everything?

The Archive has a variety of ways for you to search. Just use your mouse to hover over the Search the Archive button at the top of the Archive webpage and you will get a whole bunch of options! Here’s what they do:

  • Keyword Search – Looks for a word or phrase in the resource’s title and description.
  • Advanced Search – Allows you to search by all of the variables in the Archive, such as grade level, science standards, file type, etc.
  • Drill-Down Listing – Provides a list of all of resources in the Archive by disciplines, learning resources, and grade levels.

Now it’s up to you to decide which search tool to try first. But no matter how you like to search, here are some hints that will save you some time!

If You Like to Browse…

Your first stop should be the Drill-Down Listing search. This will show you everything in the Archive by discipline, learning resource type, or grade level. But hold on a second before you dive in! To the right of each category is a bracket with a number in it. This tells you how many items are in a category. For example, “Agriculture & aquaculture [48]” has 48 resources in it. This category is safe to browse, but if you find a category with more than 200 resources in it, the page is going to take longer to load. Your best bet? Try an Advanced Search. Trust me; you’ll still get a chance to browse!

If You Like to Use Keywords…

Maybe your students have a newfound interest in the brain, diabetes, or games? (Ok, maybe the games aren’t such a newfound interest…) Use the Keyword Search to quickly find a resource related to the word of your choosing. If you really want to save time, use the search box in the top right of the screen next to the picture of the running boy and his dog. This box does the exact same thing as the keyword search under the Archive Search menu. The key to saving time with keywords is to keep it simple! When looking for something about the brain try the word “neuro” instead of “neuroscience.” If games are what you’re after try “game” instead of “games.” The keyword search will look for the EXACT word or phrase you put down so the simpler the word, the more you will find. Finding too much? Try an Advanced Search. You still can use your keywords!

If You Like Precision in Your Searches…

The best way to find something specific is to use the Advanced Search feature of the Archive. If you need to meet certain National Science Education Standards or want to incorporate some videos into your middle school classroom, this is where you will find what you are looking for. To use this tool, just click on the red and white box next to each category to bring down the submenu for each category and start selecting away! Now the easiest way to lose time here is to select options under every…single…category. If you do this, chances are you won’t find anything! So, try to limit your advanced search to a few categories and if you don’t come up with anything, deselect a few more things.

Hopefully these tips and tricks will save you some time in searching for the Archive. But what if you’ve tried all three of these search tools and still can’t find what you’re looking for? All you need to do is Contact Us and we will gladly give you a hand.

Happy Searching!

August 12th, 2013
Archive Time Saver Series

45376492 croppedEveryone is looking to add a few extra minutes to their day, and with the school year fast approaching the search may become a bit more frantic. That’s why we at the Archive would like to help you save some time by sharing some tips and tricks to getting the most out of the Archive. We hope that by the end of this series you will be able to find what you’re looking for more quickly, which hopefully means some extra time for you!

Here are the topics we will be covering:

  1. Searching (Because there’s more than one way to cook an egg…)
  2. Sorting through Results (Think “refine, refine, refine….”)
  3. Saving Searches (Why reinvent the wheel?)

Is there something else that you would like to know how to do? Mention it in the comments section below!

August 5th, 2013
Researchers Helping You

By Rhoda Baer (Photographer) , via Wikimedia Commons

Do you or a family member have a disease? An injury? A lifelong condition? Chances are that somewhere in the world, a team of dedicated medical researcher is working hard to find ways to treat you and improve your health. Often, this requires looking at your illness or injury in a new way. In the Archive, you can find many examples of how medical researchers are finding innovative ways to make your life better, from an improved tool for monitoring glucose levels in diabetic patients to finding a new use for an ancient material.

How would you like to have to stab your finger five or six times a day, every day of your life, in order to get a drop of your own blood? People with diabetes do that to check their glucose levels … and it’s no fun. But now scientists are developing other, less painful, tools for patients. One of them is a glucose monitoring “tattoo”. You can read more about it here: “Honey, I Shrunk the Sensor

People getting chemotherapy for cancer know only too well that the powerful drugs they take to kill the cancer also attack the healthy cells in their bodies. Killing off healthy cells can cause a whole range of bad side effects from hair loss to heart damage.  Many scientists are working hard to create chemo drugs that target only the cancer cells. “Bullseye – Making Drugs Hit Their Targets” explains one researcher’s approach. Another story, “The Medicine of the Future – Controlled-Release Systems” looks at a different avenue to delivering medicine only where it’s needed.

Since 3000 BCE, silk has been woven to create a range of luxurious items from robes to tapestries. But did you know that silk can also have modern medical applications? From suturing, drug storage, tissue scaffolds, artificial tendons, and more, these two articles describe novel uses of this ancient material:  “Silk of the Future” and “Smooth as Silk.”

Resources throughout the Archive can introduce you to some of the wonders of modern research. What are your favorites?

July 29th, 2013
Why You Should Teach Developmental Biology (and How to Do It!)
origami chicken

Image by RangerRick via Flickr

Developmental Biology is the study of how a single cell changes into a complex plant or animal.  Although many K-12 students will observe plants growing from seeds or have an animal in their classroom that goes through its life cycle under supervision of the students, developmental biology isn’t typically a subject that K-12 classrooms realize they are studying. Yet the study of development can address many of the National Science Education Standards (NSES) for science content, such as:

  • Science as Inquiry:
    • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (K-12)
    • Understandings about scientific inquiry (K-12)
    • Unifying Concepts and Processes:
      • Evidence, models, and explanation (K-12)
      • Form and function (K-12)
      • Systems, order, and organization (K-12)
  • Life Science:
    •  Reproduction and heredity (5-8)
    • Structure and function in living systems (5-8)
  • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives:
    • Science and technology in local, national and global challenges (9-12)

Developmental biology is full of beautiful images of embryos, and is of interest to most students because it relates to their wonder about plants and animals, new brothers and sisters, and their own bodies.

One of the Archive resources that could be used with middle and high-school students who are incubating chick eggs in their biology classroom is the Origami Embryo Demo Movie. This resource shows how to fold paper to change a flat and simple embryonic disc into a complex, 3D body structure that humans, chickens, and all vertebrates share. It models morphogenesis, the process by which body structure arises during egg incubation for their chicks, and during the first few months of pregnancy for a human fetus. The folding exercise, which students can do themselves, is paired with photos and diagrams of body tissues showing the relationship between their paper folding and real chick embryos.  The exercise takes red, pink and yellow colored printer paper, a stapler, tape and a pencil or other rod, and so it pretty low budget. It wasn’t made with K-12 students specifically in mind, so some of the terms may be beyond what those students are learning.  The general principles are sound even without those terms. Are you ready to get started? Here are some resources to help you:

Origami Embryo Resources:

So, what do you think? Are you ready to give Origami Embryo and Developmental Biology a try in your classroom?

July 17th, 2013
Quality Control can be a Killer!

scared bacteriaResearch by a team of Penn State scientists has found an important extra step in protein synthesis that bacteria use to assure quality control. The extra step, called “trans-translation” keeps the protein manufacturing process in bacteria moving along smoothly. However, since the trans-translational step is NOT found in plant or animal cells, this step opens the door to a whole new type of antibiotic. The research team, led by Kenneth Keiler, tested more than 600,000 small molecules and found 46 that disrupt the trans-translation process. One promising candidate, called KKL-35, has proven especially effective. Initial testing against bacteria that cause food poisoning, anthrax, and tuberculosis were very promising.  What about antibiotic resistance? The team found no mutant strains of the bacteria they tested that were resistant to KKL-35. Promising indeed! Perhaps a new generation of antibiotics is on the way!

That would be good news. The increasing prominence of “superbugs” that are resistant to many antibiotics has health care workers worried. John Rex of the pharmaceutical company AstraZenica pointed out that, while we let research on new antibiotics lag, bacteria were mutating to develop resistance to existing drugs. He noted new antibiotics are hard to discover and develop, and that users expect them to be low-cost. However, this wouldn’t allow companies to cover the development cost of the drug, much less fund research for the next generation of antibiotics.

A 2009 Time magazine article cited the lack of research monies available for drug development: “New antibiotics are desperately needed, but the amount of money being spent on the research and development of these drugs is woefully inadequate.” With tight federal budgets and sequestration cutting the work of federally-funded researchers, new antibiotic development is caught between a time-crunch and a budget crisis. To speed up the development, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services awarded $40 million to pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to develop “medications to combat antibiotic resistance and biological agents that terrorists might use” with a promise of more money to come. Legislators and policy makers also are reviewing procedures for drug review and testing to find ways to speed up the process while assuring product safety.

Hopefully, with additional grants and funding, the work of researchers like the Keiler team at Penn State will be supported, and their findings will move forward through a streamlined development process. Watch out bacteria…we are on the lookout for your weaknesses and are ready to exploit them!

Learn more about protein synthesis, bacteria, and Immunity from the Archive:

July 9th, 2013
Get Your Science Delivered to Your Doorstep
man holding boxes

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I was a child, we had milk delivered to our door each day. Bottles of milk (yes, glass bottles!) appeared each morning in the insulated metal box on our porch, and any empties we’d left the day before disappeared. If you’ve ever waffled between going out in the cold rain to get milk or just drinking your coffee black or eating your cereal dry, you can appreciate how nice home delivery can be.

 Whether you want your science deliveries to your email, Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other social media, you can get your order served up right to your computer. Whether you like to read original research articles or prefer a summary news release, you can get info on life sciences, chemistry, astronomy, agriculture, engineering…well, you get the idea! Here is a list of 6 places where you can get updates on current science research. And don’t forget that the Archive includes press releases and related resources (podcasts, lessons, etc.) on research in physiology, medicine, developmental biology, anatomy, and other fields.

6 Places to Find Science Updates

  1. ScienceNews – Want to keep up with what’s hot in science? Receive daily e-mail alerts on a variety of science topics from the magazine.
  2. Biomedical Beat – Do you like great science images? NIGMS offers a monthly digest of research news and pictures.
  3. NASA Science – Interested in Space Science? Get the latest news in English or Spanish delivered to your inbox from
  4. Inside Science News Service – Like to keep up with research in all of the STEM discipline? Get the latest in science, engineering, and mathematics research news via e-mail.
  5. Science Is Awesome – Are you a fan of science? Check out this Facebook page dedicated to “bringing the amazing world of science straight to your newsfeed.”
  6. ScienceChannel  – Are you on twitter? Receive up-to-the minute science news updates.

Where do you get your science content? Share your favorites below.