Happy August!


We have purchased the boxes to store our activities in and have begun recording the video instructions for them. 

We finalized the teacher guides for the activities as well as the student versions, and Matt has compiled them together into a single document (THE Activity Journal). Look for that to be posted on here as soon as the remaining small adjustments are completed. We decided we should throw together a Glossary for key terms, so I did that this week... I'll post that on this blog as an attachment.

Our final products are: The kits, the teacher guide, instructional videos and the student activity journal. All are in their final phases and will be completed soon!

We have added tabs on this website for each of the activities. They will eventually house the instructional videos, embedded PDFs and downloadable PDFs for each activity. Enjoy!

Matt punching out E's for the Enormous E activity
Matt labeling his bag in the Fermentation in a Bag activity.
Today, I joined Sarah Roley once more to check on her N cycle research in the GLBRC plots. She gave an update on the switchgrass residue collection: it has been dried, but is still waiting lab analysis. The other previous project that I had observed was to introduce N isotope into the soil and find where and how it was dispersing. She was testing with cheaper gasses and had fine-tuned it enough to use the N isotope. However, these were also still awaiting lab analysis. I figure I need to wait a little longer to hear more about it.

The project for the morning was to trace ammonia and nitrate in the mineralization and nitrification processes. She had prepared soil cores that she had introduced the N isotope and put into a KCl solution. I helped her to filter soil from the solution so that it can then be analyzed for the individual components. We ended the morning by collecting a few more cores from other treatments.


They are growing


While I work on a few other things, Matt has been working hard at growing some Fast Plants to try out some of our activities. Fast Plants are an educational wonder in my eyes, and I'm bummed out that I didn't know about them while I was student teaching! These plants begin flowering in 11-13 days, produce seeds in 15-18 days, and begin senescence after about a month. This quick life cycle makes them ideal for classroom experiment settings! We're planning a couple activities centered on these plants, including one regarding photosynthesis and one focusing on conservation of mass. 

These little guys (photo below) were planted on Friday, July 12th, and are already ranging between 1 and 2 cm in height. 
Today Matt and I continued working on our lab modules for Gateway Academy. I completed Teacher Guides for a fermentation lab as well as a natural selection activity, while Matt is currently working on planting some fast plants, which we're going to use for several activities. After we grabbed some lunch, we picked up some lab supplies from the Bird Sanctuary education rooms, then visited the Robotic Dairy Farm!

The Robotic Dairy Farm is pretty neat. The grazing area for the cows is divided up into many sections, and different sections are opened up on different days to allow for rotation of grazing. Cows are free to wander between opened grazing areas and the barn as they please.

When cows enter the barn, they have a few things they can do... If they need milking, they can walk into one of the two milking stalls. These cows wear collars that read information about the cow's body, including how much milk they have. The collars are detected by computers in the milking stalls. If the cow needs to be milked, it is offered food at the door closes behind it and the milking process begins. If the cow does not need to be milked, it simply passes through.

Observers can see the milking process from a viewing room inside the barn. The robot attaches to the cow's teats using lasers to locate position. When milking has begun, the robotic system is able to collect health and nutrition information regarding the cow and the milk as it is transferring the milk to containers. Once the machine detects that the cow has been satisfactorily milked, the robot releases the cow and Bessie is free to return to the field!

Some of the other interesting things in the barn include a rotating back-scratcher for the cows and waterbeds! Below is a picture of me hanging out on the farm with a not-so-real cow!

On the final day of the institute, Rachael and I made this quick presentation to the rest of the participants. The assignment was to use any material or experience from the week and share how we will take that back in to the classroom as a formal lesson.

There is not much text on the presentation, but the flow goes as follows:
  • Shared a little about how Gateway classroom experience is different than the AP labs that most of the rest of the participants were familiar with.
  • Showed how the visit from Dr. Nalini provided Gateway students with experiences that broke monotony of a regular day.
  • Explained the goal was to move students up a level in learning progressions with a focus on Nitrogen matter in fertilizer and how it enters the atmosphere if not used by plants
  • Wisconsin Fast Plants will be used for an investigation on the variable amounts of fertilizer that can be used for growing plants.
  • Students will be able to visit GLBRC site to see variable use of fertilizer on plots...make observations and compare.
  • Research scientists from KBS will demonstrate how greenhouse gasses are collected and evaluated
  • Students will use the "data nugget" model to compare the output of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the GLBRC plots.
Today we were introduced to an awesome simulation computer game, worked on our projects, and completed another step in our CB2E lab.

The computer game we were shown by researcher Will Strinz was very informative and interactive. We played in teams of 2 against all other teams in the room. Goals can be established by each class that plays it... our goal was to raise the most money. To accomplish this goal, we could plant either corn, a cover crop, or switchgrass. Some other variables we could apply were fertilizer and tilling. Matt and I (Team Bucky) ended up winning by rotating corn and cover crop at a 3:1 ratio, always tilling, and applying fertilizer to all corn fields. This gave us the highest profit, but gave us very poor environmental scores. This game really made it clear how difficult it can be to balance different aspects of agriculture. There are many other variables available in the game, but since we only spent a few hours on it, they kept it basic for us. 

To move forward in our CB2E lab, we took glucose and ethanol before adding yeast. Adding yeast allows the fermentation process to begin, which will decrease glucose and increase ethanol. In tubes with no enzymes (therefore little to no glucose), little ethanol is expected to be produced.

The project Matt and I are working on is going well. We've made some slight adjustments and still need to complete a couple things... I'll be working on the preassessment tonight and he'll be completing his portion as well!

Today we had quite a bit of time to work on our group projects. We also viewed two presentations: one from Dr. Julie Sinistore and one from Dr. Joyce Parker.

 Dr. Julie Sinistore presented to us regarding Biofuels Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Life Cycle Assessors track the life of a product and calculate different impacts it may have. This impacts can include things like emissions, cost, labor or production of various by-products. Virtually anything can be tracked in an LCA. We mainly discussed biofuels, but other examples we discussed were peanut butter (yum!) and automobiles. Dr. Joyce Parker further discussed Learning Progressions regarding Matter and Energy flow. This time we focused mainly on assessment methods.

For our group project, Matt and I are thinking of working with the Nitrogen Cycle. I am working on instruction and activities regarding input/output of the parts of the cycle as well as a preassessment, and Matt is working on activities regarding biomass and fertilizer application. 

Today the entire schedule took us about 30 minutes north of campus to the Arlington Agriculture Research center. After an overwhelming day in the labs, it was a chance to walk on a little more familiar territory! 

It was a grey day and the recent rains showed their presence in the fields. The alleys were a little too wet to have been mowed recently and so muddy that all 3 vans were stuck for a time! The morning was an introduction to the sustainability research on the replicated plots. The host scientists were Gregg Sanford and Gary Oates, who have both been with the project since it was first funded in 2008. Although there was a lot of repeat information from my shadowing the previous week at KBS, it was good to hear from other members of the large team. Another difference was the fertility of the soil in Wisconsin compared to Michigan.

In the afternoon, we were introduced to some of the impacts of changing agricultural practices. One that was focused on was biodiversity of the bugs and insects in different ecosystems. We worked in small groups to select a site that high diversity in plants and one that was low. We then swept through with bug nets  and counted the number of individuals, species, and the types (herbivores, predators, pollinators) that were collected. 
Gregg Sanford welcoming the group to GLBRC plots at Arlington
Mike Casler leads a tour of the plots where he is breeding variations of switchgrass
Mike Cruse explaining how he measures LAI
Gary Oates sharing data from greenhouse gas emission samples collected at Arlington
Every row is a different variation of switchgrass
The diverse collection from my sweep net.
Today was full of lab tours around the UW campus. At each stop, we learned a little more about the specific "area" of the GLBRC project. The first stop was Area 1, which focuses on plant research. They use the NMR to study the plants structure, especially the lignin that makes it difficult to deconstruct the plants before fermentation.
Nuclear Magnetic Resonator...explained as a much more expensive MRI!
The bioenergy institute home for the week: The brand new Wisconsin Energy Institute.
Area 2 focused on deconstruction. Kate and Shishir showed models of how the enzymes break apart plants so the the sugars can be fermented. They will be created new enzymes that are housed in new, unstable microorganisms. They will be able to do the task in a controlled environment for a limited amount of time.
Area 3 focused on fermentation, finally taking a pretreated plant and converting it to ethyl alcohol. There was a lot of equipment to try different fermentation steps on large and small scale, often with 1,000 replications!
anaerobic chamber for fermentation
One of the cooler stops was into the microbiology building, home of the leaf cutter ants! Found in Costa Rica and other places in Central America, they have a mutualistic relationship with a fungus that they farm and grow by collecting leaves and then feeding it. The ants do not eat the plant material, but instead the nutrient rich fungus. The scientists in this lab are studying the fungus to see what microbes are able to break down celluloisic material.
Rachael is measuring the ethanol in a fermentation sample of corn stover
brainstorming session on bioenergy
Today was the first day of the GLBRC Institute for Educators for Matt and I. The day started off with introductions. There are 24 of us in attendance, all with different experiences and ideas to bring to the table. The occupations in attendance ranged from teachers to software developers. 

In the morning, we mostly discussed the basics of bioenergy (what it is, how it's made, how it's connected to other concepts in science and society) and how students view things like photosynthesis. We learned about Learning Progression (successive levels of learning that increase in sophistication) and how students see things different at different levels. 

In the afternoon, we took part in a hands-on activity that we can use in our curricula in the fall if we choose. We compared the fermentation of different plant materials by yeast in small plastic bags (Activity called "fermentation in a bag"). We then measured the ethanol content with ethanol probes. We discovered that sugar produced more ethanol than cornstarch or corn stover. In places with more tropical climates, sugarcane can be used as this source of ethanol, but in the US, we need more temperate crops such as corn as our primary source of ethanol. 

Also during the afternoon, we heard from Travis Tanger, a former science teacher, who shared with us a lab activity he developed for his former students. It was a 6 day to 3 week lab where students tested the efficiency in fermenting various biomasses. We will be doing this lab throughout the week...Matt's group is testing corn stover and my group will be testing switchgrass.