Monday, May 29, 2017

Genius Hour Update #2

This week, I distilled the wintergreen oil. Or at least, I put the wintergreen leaves I had collected with water in the distiller over the hotplate and collected everything that came out of it. There was quite a bit of liquid, and from the looks of it, it was a mixture of at least two different substances. After it had sat overnight, the substances had roughly separated, with a layer of whitish liquid on the bottom and a  lot more clear liquid on the top. I assumed the top layer was water; after some research, I discovered that wintergreen oil is denser than water, so this seemed correct.

To further purify the oil, I next boiled off some of the water. I didn't want to boil too much of it though, and risk losing any oil I had been able to collect. It is unlikely that I will try to purify it any further. Not only would it be very difficult to do so, but I would probably have to repeat the whole process again with more leaves to get enough oil for my purposes, and there is not much time left in the school year. However, I believe it is alright if the wintergreen oil is not pure. 

Next, I plan on preparing two or three Petri dishes of bacteria. Over the next few days, I want to apply the oil I distilled to one dish and leave the other as a control, and monitor the growth of the bacteria to see if the oil is actually toxic. If I can get a hold of some pure methyl salicylate, which is the primary chemical in wintergreen oil, then I will apply that to the third dish as another point of comparison. I am very interested to see the results of all this, and I am excited to share them with the class.  

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?



Monday, March 13, 2017

Weekly Reflection for the Week of March 6th-10th

How did you do on your work?
Last week, the major assignment we worked on was the write-up for the PCR lab. I felt pretty good about this because of the online simulation we did beforehand. However, the Allele Server Exercise in which we compared genotype frequencies among groups complicated the lab a bit, and I’m not sure that I discussed it properly. The other assignments we did were vodcasts; these I understood very well because I remembered learning the material sophomore year.


What do you think you understand well?
I understand mitosis well because it was review for me. The “click and learn” activity we did was especially helpful in helping me recall that material, as well as learn about it in greater detail.

Where do you think you can improve?
While the “click and learn” was helpful, it also introduced new and potentiality confusing topics such as tumor suppressor genes and proto-oncogenes. I understand generally how mutations in these affect organisms, but I could improve on the specifics. For instance, how mutations affect the proteins/receptors that are involved in certain processes.

What strategies will you use to improve?
To improve, as always, I could ask more questions. Although I do a good job of discussing the material with peers, asking Mrs. Cole would help me with the more difficult topics, on which none of my classmates are too solid either.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of the course?

This course is all about relating biology information to relevant, real-world situations. The work we did about mitosis and mutations in certain genes during it relate to the very real problem of cancer and how doctors treat it. I think talking about both sides of this topic helped me understand it better, because it links it to something I’m already familiar with.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Weekly Reflection for Week of February 27th- March 3rd

How did you do on your work?

Considering that this was the first week back to school following vacation, I did surprisingly well on the work! I guess getting to do the PCR lab was exciting enough to get me back into a working mode real quick. I did not get any results from this lab, (no bands appeared for my well on the agarose) but I still think it was successful because it helped me understand the process of PCR. In addition to running the experiment, we began the process of comparing our class results to those of other groups online. While the Chi-square tests we are doing bring me back to my Stats days last year, the other aspects of the online exercises were a little confusing to me. We closed out the week with a quiz on biotechnology, which was a good review of material I hadn't studied since before vacation.

What do you think you understand well?

I understand PCR pretty well, since we actually got to do it. I understand electrophoresis too (same reason). After taking the quiz, I think I also understand the other bio-technologies well, although I could benefit from using them. We probably don't have the resources for most of them, though.

Where do you think you can improve?

I think I could improve in my understanding of the significance of the Chi-square tests. I remember (for the most part) what the test is and why it is used from Statistics. However, I am not as clear on how the results in this particular case are significant and what we can glean from them.

What strategies will you use to improve?

I have only just begun the lab write-up on these tests, so it makes sense that I am still a little confused. I think I will gain a better understanding simply by continuing my work. As for other topics covered this week, I could solidify my understanding by studying more, asking questions, and looking to supplemental sources.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of the course?

The work we did this week fits into the context of this course. In weeks past, we were introduced to certain techniques. Then, we learned about them in more detail. Next, we experienced them first hand, and finally, we were quizzed on them. This is how the course is taught, and I think it is very effective. As for the content of the course, the work fit into it because we learned about DNA, the information molecule of cells; it is only natural that after, we learn about how scientists can work with DNA and use its amazing abilities to their advantage. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Weekly Reflection for Week of February 6-10


How did you do on the work?
I did well on this week's work. For homework, I did vodcast 4.3, which had three parts. I completed all parts on time and was more thoughtful about the organization of my notes than I think I have been in the past. In class, we worked in groups on creating a video demonstration of the process of transcription and translation. Not only did I enjoy this because I got to play with Play-Doh, but I also solidified my knowledge of the process we were modeling with it. On Friday, we took a quiz on the material covered by the last two vodcasts, and besides one or two questions, I was confident in all my answers. As usual, we did a couple of packets during class time this week, which I felt helped me because they provided real-world examples of what we were learning about, such as the rock pocket mice.
What do you think you understand well?
Thanks to the Play-Doh activity, I understand the process of transcription and translation (for the most part.) I also understand very well how mutations in these processes can affect organisms, because this ides ties back to our first units on natural selection and evolution
Where do you think you could improve?
The additional processing that the RNA in eukaryotic cells go through is still a little confusing to me. Taking notes on it made sense, but when we had to model it in our video, I realized that I didn't fully understand how it worked. I could improve by studying this topic more, perhaps with the use of my textbook or online videos.
What strategies will you use to improve?
As I said last week, taking advantage of the supplemental material would help me improve. Although we haven't received our graded quizzes back yet, I also could go over my quiz more thoroughly to make sure I understand why I got certain questions wrong.
How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of the course?
This class is supposed to teach us biology (obviously,) but it is also supposed to teach us how biology is relevant. The information in vodcast 4.3 about the applications of new bio-technologies in the real world does this. If we are to become scientists, or at least people who understand what we hear in the news about science, it is imperative that we learn this material.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Weekly Reflection for Week of January 30th-February 3rd

Weekly Reflection for the Week of January 30th-February 3rd
Standards: [4.1]


How did you do on the work?
This week, we worked through vodcasts 4.1 and 4.2 at home. In class, we worked in groups to analyze DNA sequencing evidence and determine whether the fictional "Jeff M." was related to the H. family. We also completed packets that reinforced the lessons from the vodcasts. I feel that I did well on this work. The vodcast was long, so I broke it up over the course of several days. I understood everything I was taking notes on at the time, but I need to go over them again to put together what I learned on different days. Most of the WSQs I was able to complete either from memory or by looking at my notes, but I had to use other resources to answer some more difficult questions.
What do you think you understand well?
I think I understand the processes of DNA replication in a general sense. I credit this to advanced biology in my sophomore year.
Where do you think you could improve?
Although I understand everything we've learned this week, I don't remember all of the more specific details. I could benefit from studying the structure of all the participants in DNA replication more.
What strategies will you use to improve?
To improve, I could take more time to process my notes as I take them. Sometimes, especially with more extensive presentations, I tend to write as quickly as possible with the intention of coming back to them later for thorough processing. I think I would understand better and be more efficient if I took down notes and processed them fully simultaneously. In addition, consulting the textbook or the supplemental videos when I find something particularly confusing would help me to improve.
How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of the course?
It seems that in this course, we began with broad concepts and have worked towards more specific ones. For instance, we learned about evolution and natural selection, which affects whole species and populations. Then we took a look at individual organism and what their cells were made up of with the Organelle Campaign. Now, we are going becoming even more focused and learning about the processes those organelles perform.