Blog Archives


Grow a Tiny Forest Anywhere!

This video recently came through in my daily feed from TED. I love trees. If I have a logo, it’s a tree. Specifically, my logo would be a baobab (Adansonia digitata), which is probably the coolest tree I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. I camp under an amazing one in Mikumi National Park, about 5 hours from Dar es Salaam, every May. Same tree, year after year.

But I digress. In the video below, Shubhendu Sharma describes how his firm has applied industrial manufacturing processes learned from Toyota to the planting of biodiverse forests. It’s pretty cool what they’re able to accomplish in a short period of time in tiny little spaces.


Infographics: Information, Graphically!

Happy Monday morning! This morning I’ll share with you one of my favorite resources on the web: the GRID-Arendal Maps and Infographics Library from the United Nations. It sounds complicated, but it’s really pretty simple. And it’s simply pretty, too! The Infographics Library is essentially a repository of data the UN has collected from its various programs all around the world. Much of the data has been converted into easy-to-interpret infographics by skilled graphic design professionals.

Money Grows on Trees - just one example of the resources available at the GRID-Arendal Maps and Infographics Library.

Money Grows on Trees – just one example of the resources available at the GRID-Arendal Maps and Infographics Library. Image courtesy of Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal.

The good people at the UN encourage users to share the information they’ve collated, in an effort to educate the planet about the way we impact our world. You can search the data sets and graphics by keyword, tags, location, and/or UN agency.

I have found this site to be incredibly helpful as a teacher, and I believe that it can help students better understand the many issues they will face when they become professional members of our networked world. Bookmark it.

Also, watch this TED Talk by David McCandless about data visualization, in which he examines not only how we see information, but also when we see it and what that means for our perception.


The Carbon and Nitrogen Cycles

Biogeochemical cycles trace the movement of matter and nutrients through living organisms (“bio-“), planetary systems (“geo-“) and chemical reactions (“chemical”) throughout every part of Earth. The carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle are possibly the 2 most important biogeochemical cycles on Earth. Here are a few fun videos to help you learn about these two essential cycles in our study of life and ecology.

First, a nice explanation of the carbon cycle:

Second, a little carbon music video:

Third, click on this link to BBC Bitesize Science for a very well-thought-out activity about the carbon cycle. It incorporates photosynthesis, respiration, biological molecules, and trophic levels.

Fourth, this animated tutorial found at W.H. Freeman thoroughly explains each step in the nitrogen cycle. While not super exciting, it’s well-done and includes a brief 3-question quiz.

Fifth, CrashCourse Science at YouTube offers us this entertaining and educational video about the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles (You don’t have to know about the phosphorus cycle in this class, but it’s helpful if you take more advanced biology courses):


Biological Molecules

Well, today was a little wacky, with no electricity or projector, class photographs in the middle of one class, and virtually no air circulating in my room to make for a hot hot hot day at school. Add in the noise and distraction of holding class in the courtyard, and we have….well, we have a bit of a mess.

Just so we’re all on the same page of the biology unit, I thought I’d summarize the key points from today’s lesson on biological molecules. Below are the finer points of the lesson.

The 3 major functions of all biological molecules

  1. Instructions
  2. Energy storage
  3. Source of energy

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 3.02.57 PMCarbohydrates

  • chains of C, H, and O
  • supply all energy in cells and food chains
  • energy tends to be short-term energy (glycogen)
  • simple sugars such as glucose may build more complex molecules
  • some long chains of sugars, such as cellulose, are used for cellular structure

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 3.03.49 PMLipids

  • do not dissolve in water
  • long chains of C, H, O, and P
  • have more bonds than carbs, so they’re used for energy storage
  • slow release of energy
  • saturated fats: all single C-H bonds, tend to be solids
  • unsaturated fats: some C-C double bonds, tend to be liquids (oils)
  • Image credit:

    Image credit:

    phospholipids make up cell membranes and have two main parts:

    • a phosphate group at one end, which is polar (charged), meaning it is hydrophilic
    • the hydrophobic hydrocarbon tails


  • most important biological molecule
  • many functions in organisms:
    • enzymes
    • structural components (building blocks)
    • hormones
    • antibodies
  • made of chains of amino acids
  • only 20 amino acids make all the 1000’s of proteins in the world


  • made of C, H, O, P, and N
  • 3 parts of each nucleotide:
    • nitrogen base
    • sugar
    • phosphate
  • Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 3.03.33 PM

    4 different nitrogen bases to know: A-C-G-T (shown at right)

  • several functions in organisms:
    • chemical messengers
    • coenzymes
    • carry energy from one part of a cell to another
    • build nucleic acids
  • two kinds of nucleic acids:Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 3.03.20 PM
    • DNA: sequence of nucleotides makes up the genetic code of an organism
    • RNA: translates the code into specific proteins

And finally, the slides from class…



Plants and Animals: Cellular Differences

Plants and animals are both eukaryotes, meaning they have distinct nuclei. (Bacteria, by contrast, are prokaryotes, which means they don’t have a nicely organized nucleus.)

Plants and animal cells have many other similarities: ribosomes, mitochondria, chromatin, cell membranes, smooth and rough endoplasmic reticula (ER), vacuoles, and Golgi complexes, among some other organelles we’re not studying in this unit. However, there are some fundamental differences between plants and animals on a cellular level:

  • cell wall in plants
  • chloroplasts (plastids) in plant cells
  • large central vacuole in plant cells
  • centrioles in animal cells
  • some differences in the structure and function of the Golgi complexes

Watch this video for a nice summary, and please do click on the links he posts at the end for a deeper explanation of the topics he covers.

The following video is a bit more ‘scientific’ and uses some nice computer animation to tour plant cells. It’s worth a quick watch, too.


Bill Nye: Revolutionary!

I still think of Bill Nye as that kind of geeky science guy who did cool experiments on television when I was younger. It turns out that there was a lot more to his show than I thought, and his role in promoting science education has evolved over the years.  Here’s a little video outlining Bill Nye’s defense of  science education in modern society.


Environmental Value Systems

Here are the video and both presentations from today’s lesson. The notes we viewed can be found on the Topic 7 page under the ESS tab of my home page.