Friday, May 19, 2017

Genius Hour Update #1


Wintergreen: more than just those red berries you see lining the trails when you go hiking!

At least, that was how I had always known wintergreen. That, and as a flavor of gum that I much preferred over spearmint. I got the idea to use them for my Genius Hour after hearing about a former student who distilled oil from pine needles. The next time I went on a hike (I like to hike, ok) I saw the familiar red berries and connected the ideas together: what if I distilled the oil from wintergreen leaves?

This past week, I researched wintergreen leaves, their properties, their uses, and methods for distilling oil. I found out that pure wintergreen oil is quite toxic--just a few teaspoons ingested can kill an adult!--so my original idea of using the oil to flavor my own homemade gum was nixed. I didn't wan't to risk poisoning anyone, even though the oil can be diluted to make it safe. Instead, I plan to take advantage of the oil's toxic property to combat bacteria. Online sources I found claimed that the oil is an antiseptic, so it would be interesting to see if directly applying it to bacteria in a Petri dish kills the bacteria, and if so, how effectively.

I need to do a little more research, especially into the process of using a distiller. Over the weekend I hope to collect the leaves so that by Monday I can start getting some oil!



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Weekly Reflection for Week of April 24th- 28th

How did you do on the work?
This week was a fairly low-key and self-guided preface to the AP exam weeks. We spent a lot of class time in the lab, working with our group to design, conduct, and write up a lab on transpiration-my group decided to test the effect of acid on the rate of transpiration. We plan to finish up our poster board and present it sometime next week. In addition to this, we learned a little about neurons, and for homework, we watched two Paul Anderson videos and answered the accompanying questions. I believe I did well on all of this work from the past week.

What do you think you understand well?
I understand the content from the Paul Anderson videos pretty well. A lot of the terms and concepts he discussed were familiar, such as population carrying capacity. Not only had I learned about that in Advanced Biology, I learned about in from a mathematical point of view earlier this year in Calculus.

Where do you think you could improve?
I could improve on my understanding of the process of transpiration. I know the general function of it, but I don't quite understand how the structure of the plant--xylem, phloem, etc.---relate to it. 
What strategies will you use to improve?
I faintly recall these topics being covered in the early unit 5 vodcasts. We didn't get a chance to disco those vodcasts, so I never really got my questions answered or got to discuss the material. I think reviewing those vodcasts and talking about it with classmates would help me reach a better understanding.  

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of the course?
By this point in the year, we've covered most of the material. I think briefly studying ecology is a good way to remind us of the "bigger picture" and tie everything together. It's easy to forget--when learning about the molecular structure of DNA or the enzymes that mediate RNA translation, for example--that we are talking about life. Looking at how all that comes together to form not only organisms, but whole communities and ecosystems helps us understand our surroundings on a new level. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Weekly Reflection for the Week of April 10th-14th

How did you do on your work?
This week was heart week <3 It was super fun to hold and cut open a deer heart, and I was proud of myself that I did not get grossed out! At the beginning of the week, we watched a documentary about hearts and the history of heart surgery to prepare for the lab. We then spent two days with the hearts and ended the week with an exam and a day to process. I felt prepared for the exam and think I did well on all the work this week. 

What do you think you understand well?
I understand the the structure and function of the heart pretty well. I also understand the topics covered in the beginning of the Information unit. 

Where do you think you can improve?
I could improve my understanding of the last topics covered in the unit: vodcasts 4.11 and 4.12. For instance, I understand operons in a broad sense, but a more detailed discussion of them would help me. 

What strategies will you use to improve?
I think referring to the textbook or youtube videos for more explanation would help me. Because work with the hearts took up most of the class time this week, there was not much time for group discussion of the information, but I think talking through my areas of confusion with classmates would definitely help as well.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of the course?
Working with deer hearts was awesome, but it was also related to everything we have been learning about. Specifically, the processes of life we researched in the weeks before: circulation, gas exchange, nutrition, excretion. Most of these processes occur in the heart, so looking at real organs was a direct application of what we had learned. Looking at the four chambers, the arteries, and the veins, we saw how blood is circulated to the lungs to exchange CO2 for O2, and to the rest of the body to supply nutrients, which before we had only read about. I must say that, although diagramming the heart prepared me for the structure of the deer heart, it in no way prepared me for how bloody it actually was!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Weekly Reflection for Week of April 3rd-7th

How did you do on your work?
I began this week feeling behind on the work, having missed class last Friday and this Monday. Luckily, I feel all caught up now, Friday night! (yeah, I'm writing this Friday night, but only because I've got a lot to do the rest of the weekend, not because I'm some mega nerd hahaha)

Anyway, the work I did this week was vodcasts 5.1 and 5.2, the quiz on vodcasts 4.7-4.10, a group project on circulation, and a packet on stickleback fish. I did well on all of these assignments, but I especially enjoyed the circulation project. I didn't know much about the topic beforehand, so the research aspect of the project was interesting. I also liked working in a group, because dividing the work allowed us to be thorough; for instance, I decided to hand draw a diagram rather than use one from the internet. Not only was it fun for me to get creative (and feel reassured that St. Paul's Studio Arts class was not a waste of money,) it also provided a great finishing touch to a great project overall!

What do you think you understand well?
I understand the process of circulation, since I researched it myself. I also understand inheritance, shown by how prepared I felt for the quiz on the topic.

Where do you think you can improve?
I don't understand the other life processes as well: gas exchange, excretion, and nutrition. Other groups were tasked with researching these processes; I only read about them during the shortened class this morning. While everyone's projects were well-researched and well-written, reading over them in such a short period of time was not enough for me to understand everything.
What strategies will you use to improve?
These projects are posted on the website, so I could always go back and read them in the quiet atmosphere of my own house (the classroom can get quite loud and distracting, but I'll admit I contribute to it.) I think discussing them as a class would also help me understand the information.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of the course?
As we progress through the year and the course material, we are constantly building off of past lessons. This most recent lesson is no exception. Last unit, we learned about inheritance patterns, and this unit we are learning about the regulation of those genes that an organism inherits. Everything connects!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Weekly Reflection for Week of March 27th- 31st

How did you do on your work?
The work for this week centered around patterns of inheritance. This included such activities as the virtual fruit fly lab, various worksheets, and vodcasts 4.10, 4.11, and 4.12. I think I did well on this work. Much of the information in the vodcasts was new to me, like the examples of diseases that are caused by certain allele combinations, etc.; however, I had a good foundation of understanding to start from, so this new information was not overwhelming. 

What do you think you understand well?
I understand how to use probability to solve problems relating to inheritance. This is in large part due to my experience in Statistics last year. Coupled with my understanding of the meiosis process, this knowledge allows me to solve most of the problems we are given correctly. 

Where do you think you can improve?
While I understand how to perform crosses and find probabilities, interpreting the findings is more difficult for me. For instance, we did four crosses in the fruit fly lab; the first three were assigned, and the last one was chosen by the students. After performing each cross, we were supposed to use the results to hypothesize what type of inheritance pattern the particular trait in question showed. The first three were fairly easy for me, but the last was very difficult. I definitely wouldn't have figured it out without help from Mrs. Cole. It turns out that the trait I was investigating, antennae, was lethal to the fruit fly in the homozygous dominant genotype. While it is important to know how to perform crosses, it is equally as important to know how to interpret them. I could improve in this area so that in the future, I could see and identify the patterns myself.

What strategies will you use to improve?
I think time and experience is all I really need to improve in this area. I think after working a lot with many patterns of inheritance, I will eventually be able to reach my own (hopefully correct!) conclusions. As always, extra studying and asking more questions could help me improve in all areas covered this week. 

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of the course?
You don't have to look hard to see how all the work we do in this class fits together. Biology is the study of life; thus. the goal of studying biology is to understand how life operates. Earlier in the year, we explored life at its simplest level, the atoms that make up the four molecules of life: proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids. Next, we looked at how these come together to form organelles and the function of these organelles in the cell. From there, we learned about functions of the cell itself, such as replication. It is only natural that then we learn about "replication" of entire organisms, or reproduction. Understanding inheritance is important in its own right, because it allows us to answer questions about real populations, but it is also a stepping stone to other topics that are soon to come.
 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Weekly Reflection for Week of March 20th-24th

How did you do on your work?
This week, we did a lot of work with probability and Chi-square analyses as they relate to Mendelian Genetics. Because I took AP Statistics last year, I already knew how to work with probability. I also remembered doing monohybrid crosses in Advanced Bio, but I had to be reminded how to set up dihybrid crosses, etc. so as to avoid huge Punnet squares. We also applied these problem-solving strategies to an activity about Sordaria. 

What do you think you understand well?
As I said, I understand the laws of probability from past experience. Now that I've reviewed it, I also understand well how to calculate the probabilities associated with different genes separately, and solve huge crosses fairly quickly. 

Where do you think you can improve?
I don't understand the "bigger picture" as well. For instance, I was a little confused during the Sordaria lab about what it was we were seeing. 

What strategies will you use to improve?
There was a lot of information attached to that activity, so I could go back and read it more carefully. If I encounter something I don't understand, I could look it up.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of the course?
Really, everything we do comes back to DNA, which makes sense; it is arguably the most important molecule for life. In units past, we have learned about the structure and function of DNA, but now we are putting that knowledge to use. The predictable nature of DNA allows us to use probability to determine outcomes when it is passed on from parent to offspring. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Examining Cancer Patient Data Activity

3-2-1 Analysis:

The first thing I learned from this activity was the names of different types of cancer. The type of cancer that was on my card was melanoma, a type I was familiar with, but some members of my group had cancers that I had never heard of before; glioma, which is cancer of the brain or spine, for instance. Another thing I learned through group discussion and comparison was that the number of genes that contribute to cancer varies among the types of cancers. The number ranged from two to six, and that was only for the five people in my group; throughout the class, the variation could have been even greater. Lastly, I learned that fewer genes that deal with genome maintenance, when affected, tend to cause cancer, compared to genes that deal with cell survival or fate.

While I was interested in all that I learned from this activity, some things stood out over others, especially what I found while researching melanoma. A recent article described an algorithm that  requires only a photo of your skin to determine whether you should have a biopsy or not, which was developed by a team from Stanford. I was surprised to discover that this kind of advanced technology exists, and interested to see how it could be used in the future to help people. I was also interested to learn, through a classmate's research, that men are actually more susceptible to skin cancer because of one gene located on chromosome X. At first I was confused; I know that women have two X chromosomes, and men have one X and one Y, so I thought that women would be more susceptible. However, I learned that women's second copy of the gene is almost like insurance, providing a backup if the first is mutated.

Naturally, questions occurred to me along with this newfound knowledge. Although my group and I spotted certain patterns among the cancer types and cancer patients, I wonder if established patterns exist. Have scientists found evidence through data analysis that there is a pattern to how types and locations of genes play into the development of cancer?