Monday, March 30, 2009

Its All In the Genes

"Its all in the genes!" What does this mean and how does it relate to our environment? These are the questions for this week. What is DNA? What does it look like? Is the DNA of bacteria the same as the DNA in my cells? In fact, what IS DNA? If you look it up in a textbook or on-line you find it stands for Deoxyribonucleic Acid. WOW! That's a mouthful. Deoxy........ sounds like we are talking about one less oxygen. EXACTLY! Ribonucleic.....well, I guess it is some kind of 'ribo' that is in the nucleus. YOU GOT IT!! Acid?? Does that mean it is really an acid. YOU BETCHA ! In fact, DNA is a molecule, a really big molecule, that is made up of a sugar (ribose), and some nitrogen parts and all tied together into a twisted double ladder. We call it a double helix. A helix is a twisted, corkscrew-like figure. Check out the image to see what a DNA drawing looks like.

So what are we going to do with DNA? We are going to extract it. We are going to pull it out of the cell. What cells? Different kinds. We can get it from strawberries. We can get it from our own cells. It really won't matter. It is still DNA.
Here is the "Question of the Week." --> how does DNA relate to Chromosomes?
How do chromosomes relate to cells? (Big prizes for the best answer in class.)

We are going to be real forensic lab experts too. We will learn how to use some of the tools of DNA science--> the Automatic Micropipette, and the Gel Electrophoresis apparatus. WHAT?
We said DNA is a large molecule, but it is still a molecule and we need only very small amounts of it to study it. Once we "see" DNA we need to separate it. That is what we are doing in the ELC lab in Week Five.
Finally, we are going to do an microbiological environmental survey of the area around us.

Check out the Porter Explorers Wikisite for new pictures of the Porter explorers at work.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Is Here!!

Its official--Spring has arrived to Northern Ohio!! Well, actually, it is official that Spring has arrived all over the northern hemisphere. We don't usually think about Spring in other parts of the world, or Fall for that matter. Not until we start traveling to other places that is. My best friend (is that "bff" ?) teaches biology and other sciences in Melbourne, Victoria. That is in Australia and that is in the Southern Hemisphere. He just saw the arrival of Autumn and he is extra happy this year. You see, the past Summer brought incredible extremes to southern Australia. You may have heard about the terrible fires that "broke-out" just outside of Melbourne this past month. I put quotes around "broke-out" because arson is suspected. But mother nature created the conditions that led to this disaster. You see, I have been following the weather in Melbourne for the past 5 years or so. Ever since I traveled to Trinity Grammar School one year and the University of Melbourne the next to teach teacher workshops. They have had a drought for the past 7 years. About a month ago I noticed that there was a 90 degree F difference in the temperatures of Concord, Ohio and Melbourne, Australia. It was 14 degrees here in Ohio and 104 degrees in Melbourne. Later that same month it got up to 114 - 116 degrees with strong winds. It was very dry and the conditions for a fire disaster were perfect. That's when the fires "broke-out." Over 230 people perished. Two educational aids at my friend's son's school are included in this total. Here is a link for a short video about how the fires impacted one of Australia's most beautiful parks--Wilson's Promontory.

Why did I bring this up? Well, for lots of reasons.

First, it connects to "Where In the World Are We?" If you are here in Northern Ohio, it is now Springtime. If you are in Melbourne, it is Autumn. In fact it is 9:23 Monday morning (I am typing this at 6:23 pm Sunday evening.) The students are closer to the beginning of their school year, Ohio students are starting to look for the end of the year (some Ohio students actually start thinking about the end of the school year in October, but that is another problem ;)
Second, I thought that we need to think about the impact our abiotic environment has on us and on the biota around us. The conditions for disaster in Melbourne were set in motion by the high air temps, the low humidity and the high winds (not to mention the years of drought that preceded the fires.) The beginning of Spring in Northern Ohio brings about lots of new plants, lots of returning birds and lots of moving amphibians, reptiles, fish, and insects.
That's what this entry is all about--the changing face of our environment, wherever it is. We visited Jordan Creek (or ________ Creek according to the USGS Topo map of the area--Be the first to tell me the name that is on the topo map and receive this week's great surprise -either here or in class.) We monitored the physical and chemical parameters of the Creek (Do you remember what a parameter is?) Now we will see what is living down there. All of this will help us to determine the nature of our environment. It is all a part of "Where In the World We Are!"
Let's hope the weather holds and our nets don't have holes that are too big !!


Friday, March 13, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere!

It is a very wet world out there! At this time of the year in Northern Ohio that statement has more than one meaning. It seems that the land is almost as wet as the rivers and streams. One needs only to try walking down the muddy trails to be reminded that March is as rainy around here as April is. But take a look at the rivers and streams and listen to the roaring rapids and you will know that most of the rain that falls is making its way into the streams and creeks of Lake County. Well that is what we will be looking at over the next two weeks. Watersheds make themselves rather obvious at this time of year. The bigger the watershed the more water. That is not a mysterious concept, but it does tell us about how long the river or stream or creek will be over run with water. If the watershed is small, the runoff water will fill the stream or creek and flow quickly until it is back at its "normal" volume. If the area of land is great, the water feature will be filled for a much longer period of time.

This week we will venture to the shore of Jordan Creek and take a look at the characteristics of this watershed. We will identify it on a topo map (be the first to comment below and tell me what a topo map is and get another "special" gift at our next meeting.) Next we will learn how to identify the test site itself (sketches in our journals, descriptions, and measurements.) Finally we will gather some beginning data about the chemical and physical characteristics. This preliminary information is what we call BASELINE DATA. That is what this next week involves. The following exploration will be about the BIOTA in Jordan Creek. What do you think I mean by BIOTA? What do you think we will be studying the week after this when we go down to Jordan Creek? Let me know what you think.

Here are a few pictures of Porter Explorers working and a few pictures of where we will we adventuring this coming week. RB

Sometimes we need to journal the nature all around us.

"What do you mean put scales and feathers on my fingers?"
When its rainy and cold you might have to draw pictures of your own hands!!

Here is where we are going this coming week.
The waters are flowing and data needs collectin'.......

Monday, March 9, 2009

So What's a Nature Journal?

You know where you are--you're in an environment. An environment full of Energy and Plants and Soil and Rocks and Earth forming phenomena and Water!! But what does it look like? Did you actually SEE the world around you? Did you notice the compass as you entered the Environmental Learning Center (ELC) ? How about the birds in the tree that is painted on the wall above the Plant display? How many rabbits are in the nest that is at the base of the tree over the Soil and Rock display? When we look at our environment do we really see what is there? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Week two of the Porter Explorers is about SEEING. Seeing the world around you is a special skill. Not everyone develops this skill and those that do develop the ability to "see" things differently. Last week I came back to the ELC to "take a look at my bacteria." How many people would make a special trip back to the ELC to LOOK at a bunch of bacteria growing? I see things differently sometimes. In January I stopped everything I was working on in my office to SEE a visitor at the bird station outside my window. Check this little video I put together of my visitor.

(By the way, the first Explorer that mentions what the visitor was will get a special reward
when you visit the ELC this week.)

So we need to learn how to "see" the world around us this week. How can we do that? Well the simple answer is --we need to learn how to look!! That is what we will be learning at the Porter Explorers this week. To help this lesson we will start Nature Journals. There will be two types of Nature Journals--
  • The traditional drawn, illustrated, and narrated paper and pencil journal
  • The e-journal made on a Wikisite with digital entries

We will learn to look, to see, to illustrate, to digitally capture, and to interpret the world around us. To see the e-journal for the Porter Explorers go to this web site:

Have you ever kept a journal of what you have seen and experienced in the world around you?
Here are a few pictures of my nature journal. One is what I saw at a watering hole when I was in South Africa and the other is a picture of a small pond I built in my backyard.

Let me know in a comment. OR Tell me about some special thing You have seen in
the natural world around you in the comments below. RB

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Week One--So Now You Know Where You Are!

So now you have an idea of where you are. You discovered a little about Energy and Plants and Soils and Rocks. You dove into Water (cute huh!) and dug through the Earth a little bit. You found our Latitude and Longitude and hopefully are checking out the Galapagos Islands location. Get ready for next week by thinking about what a journal is. What about a Nature Journal? You know where you are now you need to start looking around you. You need to really SEE the environment and learn to record it. We will draw it, we will describe it and we will photograph it. Speaking of photographing, here are just a few pictures of the Perry Explorers exploring the Environmental Learning Center.

Here are some picts of the 6-8 grade Explorers.

So what did you learn about where you are?
Post a comment and let us know.