the other half of the book

I am going to reveal a little-known trade secret about the modern high school Biology class — we no longer do most of the things that defined the experience for last hundred years or so.

1. We only teach half of the textbook (more about this in a minute).

2. We don’t do dissection — no frogs, no grasshoppers, no earthworms. I blame the usual suspects — time, cost, delicate sensibilities. It’s too bad — we probably shouldn’t underestimate how many scientists and doctors were initially drawn to the macabre thrill of peering into the innards of various critters.

3. We don’t go on field trips. Again the usual suspects — time, cost, delicate sensibilities.

4. We don’t study zoology or botany. Really. This one is harder to parse — maybe it’s just a logistical issue (one needs lots of stuff to do this properly), but frankly, classroom management of students who never learned good habits of working in the lab also comes into play. I strongly suspect, but cannot prove, that today’s students who grew up in schools saturated with the dogma of “collaborative learning” (aka “group work”) work less effectively than students from previous eras who primarily learned to work by themselves, and then later had opportunities to work together in a lab setting.

This year, I’m determined to begin to walk my way back toward a more balanced approach. My Honors Biology classes are going to rediscover the second half of our biology textbook — the chapters dealing with prokaryote, protist, animal and plant characteristics. Without real plants and critters I’m going to have to find interesting pictures and videos to supplement our text. It won’t be anywhere near ideal, but I hope it begins a process of moving back toward biology as a living, breathing thing — the very thing that captivated me (and so many others) when I was a young student.

chemistry experiments

Low-pressure extraction of alkaloids from oxidized Coffea arabica seeds with an emulsified colloid of liquid butterfat globules dispersed within a water-based solution. Very successful experiment. I hope I can replicate this.

First trial of an experiment for Honors Biology. Students develop a standard curve of changes in mass of uncooked potato slices in response to various concentrations of solute (either salt or sugar). A little surprising that the change leveled off so much on the upper end of the salt concentration series. Any thoughts out there?

All in all a fun and easy experiment.