ENSIWEB HIGHLIGHTS for 2011 - 14th Year of ENSIweb
What Did We Do in 2011?
1. “Recent Advances and Research in Molecular Evolution from NESCent/AIBS Evolution Symposium at Nov. 2010 NABT Conference in Minneapolis (videos of illustrated talks available).”
2. “Dinosaurs’ Living Descendants” in the Dec. 2010 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine.
3. New Pre-Test Tool to measure Understanding of Natural Selection (CINS), and another effective strategy for repairing natural selection misconceptions (added to the ENSI site).
4. Added: New Digital Version of the Laetoli Trackway, directly available for download from the ENSI site.
5. The CESLA Outreach Project by Dr. Terry Hutter in many areas of South Africa, having African students walk in the steps of Lucy on the full scale Laetoli Trackway.
6. Added Laetoli data (to the Footsteps in Time lesson) from actual studies of those tracks. Also improved the Lengthy Relationships lesson.
7. New commercial source for multiple Hooey Sticks.
8. “Fossil Patterns in Time” article by Larry Flammer in the Feb. 2011 issue of Science Scope (NSTA journal for middle school teachers). It gave overview of the Patterns in Time lesson on the ENSI site.
9. Evolution Education Opportunities for the Summer.
10. New Assessment Tool for Science Misconceptions from AAAS.
11. Do-It-Yourself DNA Kit files revised. Added some DNA Demo pages to help teachers and students.
12. PowerPoint presentation for Whale Evolution added to ENSI site.
13. AIBS/NESCent Evolution Symposium and Teaching Workshop at the NABT conference in Anaheim, CA in October.
Evolution: Education & Outreach Journal offered Free Open Access to all the articles in the first four years of publication (4 volumes, 16 issues, over 300 articles) during the month of December, 2011. Hopefully, you took advantage of this to sample some of those fascinating articles, either for their current information about various topics in evolution, or their many teaching ideas and classroom lessons. And, of course, you thanked SpringerLink for their kindness in doing this. If you forgot to take a look at their many goodies, you can scan their tables of contents any time by going to their latest issue - featuring Evolution & Medicine, and select issues from their index to all past issues (top of left column). If you find any articles that you would like to read, but are no longer in “open access,” let me know (EEO volume and number, and article title). If I have the article, I’ll email you a copy. If an article leads you to develop an interactive classroom lesson and it works with your classes, be sure to share with other teachers via the ENSI site.
Canadian biology teacher Tom Mueller raised the excellent question about how major chromosome alterations (e.g., the chromosome fusion event early in the hominin lineage) got passed on to future generations. With the help of ENSI Co-Director Craig Nelson, we created a page on Chromosomal Speciation Models on the ENSI site at If such questions arise in your class, here’s a good source of information to provide.
Later in the year, Tom shared some materials that he developed and used with his biology students about Abiogenesis (original origin of life), and the growing evidence for how our “junk DNA” might be what separates apes and humans. His worksheet on the latter topic relates to ENSI’s cytochrome c lesson (Molecular Biology & Phylogeny, by Beth Kramer) and makes a nice extension of that lesson. He has also submitted other interesting material dealing with human/chimpanzee relationships, and, more recently, some deep probing into the actual phylogeny of all the animal phyla, based on recent molecular studies, there are lots of surprises, suggesting that the animal phylogeny diagrams shown in most (all?) textbooks are very much out of date! As soon as possible, these worksheets and related materials will be posted on the ENSI site, and will be announced on our listserve. Thanks, Tom, for all of your deep probing into these issues.
LESSONS BEING REVISED
Author of our “When Milk Makes You Sick” lesson, Therese Passerini, will be making some major revisions of this lesson to reflect current data on lactose intolerance. Two other lessons are also being revised by their authors: “Pseudogenes, Vitamin C & Common Ancestry” was pulled from the site by request of co-author Mary Ball to be replaced with revised instructions for using online molecular data and the new online tools for their analyses. This should be completed by sometime this coming summer.
Our “Flat Earth” lesson is still accessible, but author (and ENSI Co-Director) Jean Beard wants to re-write the lesson.
Our “Evolution Survey” test has been very popular. Nearly every week I get several requests for the key and explanations to the survey to be used as a pre/post test to measure the extent of misconceptions about evolution amongst students, and how effective their course is in correcting those misconceptions. If you haven’t used this useful assessment tool (or one of the others listed), give it some serious consideration.
Fifth grade students at a local charter school happened upon the ENSI site in their search for information about evolution and the origin of life that they could use in their projects for individual presentations. From there, they contacted me and learned that I lived in their vicinity, and was willing to come to meet them in their classroom to show them some useful things that they could use in their presentations. This was lots of fun for me, and they did excellent jobs in their presentations (which I also attended).
Most recently, I was asked to participate in an all-day “Evolution in the Classroom” Conference and workshop at San Jose State University, sponsored by a group of students in a class for Teaching About Evolution. In my short (20 minute) time, I shared a potpourri of engaging “props” used in many of the ENSI lessons, inviting teachers and teacher-ed students to ask for more information about any selected item of interest. This was fun and opened doors to several of the ENSI lessons.
We replaced the student copy for the Crime Against Plants lesson, with new online resources to use. See We also replaced the Crime Scene lesson map with a new one, kindly prepared by ENSI user Wendy Riggs.
PLAGIARISM into ENSI: As students get ever more agile in tracking down the keys and other “hidden” materials on our site, I’ve had to remove them from the site, and ask teachers to email me (from their school address) to request those items. Most notable of this is the number of comments from teachers about students finding information on the web about John Banister-Marx’s Magic Hooey Sticks, not just our “hidden” information, but also information on other sites that short-circuits creative thinking by students to come up with some hypotheses about what makes the Hooey Stick do what it does to show that it really isn’t “magic.” I have already removed all explanatory material from the site (available now only by email from Co-Webmaster Larry Flammer). But we’re also thinking about calling those Hooey Sticks by another name, and changing that name wherever it appears on the site. If you have any ideas for another name that conveys its “mysteriousness” or its “magical nature” but would not likely lead to online discovery of their real nature, please share. Send us some better names for those magical Hooey Sticks. BTW, as a possible alternative device for the purposes of the Hooey Stick lesson, I have also added a link (from the Hooey Stick lesson) to the “Phantom Tube” device as described in one of Flinn’s Chem-Fax papers (as a Think Tube), with its excellent construction and presentation information. More magic to help clarify the distinction between scientific explanations and the “magic” of supposedly supernatural phenomena.
REBUILDING THE ENSI WEBSITE
For much of the past Summer and Fall, I spent a lot of time rebuilding the html code on which the site was built. Its current code is so out of date that it could fail as future browsers come into use if they don’t recognize the old html conventions. In order to help with this, I bought a new website authoring system, Adobe’s Dreamweaver. It would not work on my old iMac, so this required the purchase of a new iMac. (Nice big screen and much faster, too!) But the intricacies of replacing a foundation to support the ENSI material became seriously challenging. Fortunately, one of the people who helps new Dreamweaver users came to my rescue, started answering my questions, then offered to give me some major help by rewriting the main navigation pages. He was a former biochemist turned professional website author. He liked what ENSI was doing, and has been very helpful. Due to my other projects, I had to put the integration of those navigation pages on hold for the past month, and should be able to return to this (including re-linking all the interlinks) this coming Spring.
NEW ENSI WEBSITE CO-MANAGER NAMED
With so many other websites and science teachers around the world becoming increasingly dependent upon the ENSI material, we wanted to assure that the site would be monitored into the indefinite future. There are times (travel, medical, etc.) when it might be inconvenient for me to do this, so we decided to search for some of the original ENSI-trained Lead Teachers who would be willing and able to share the responsibilities of managing the ENSI site and maintaining the ENSI message. In that process, we discovered that Colorado teacher Beth Kramer (ENSI 1992) would be retiring this past June, and would be happy to help us out. Beth was an active Lead Teacher for both ENSI and for WGBH. She developed three of the lessons found on the ENSI site. Since Larry is still learning how to operate the new website management program, and still upgrading the code for the site, we “let” Beth enjoy her much deserved retirement while Larry irons out the kinks, and develops an easy-to-follow guide for monitoring and maintaining the site to make the job as easy as possible for Beth to transition into.
We have reached new highs in 2011. In February, our hit counter logged the unbelievable high of 13,936 hits! Again, in June, we reached 10,490 hits for the month. For the year, we had a grand total of 73,891 hits, and averaged about 6,158 hits per month. There is some suspicion that the counter might have malfunctioned, because it was so high in February (unlike any previous February, or the adjacent months). But without any other clear clues to the contrary, we’ll take the hits!
Our ENSI/SENSI/FENSI listserves are also looking good. We still have 44 ENSI teachers and 34 SENSI teachers on their lists, plus 502 FENSI teachers (including 57 new ones in 2011) receiving periodic announcements, about 1 per month. That’s a total of 580 teachers on our listserves.
HOMINID CHROMOSOME ARTICLE: Look for the April edition of the NABT journal, The American Biology Teacher. Its cover will feature the array of matching chromosomes of apes and humans as prepared by author Jorge Yunis for his article published in Science (215, 19 March 1982, p. v1527). This impressive photo has inspired several interactive lessons to give students a visual comparison of the chromosomes from apes and humans, especially their striking similarities. In that issue, you should find an article on “Chromosome Connections: Compelling Clues to Common Ancestry” by ENSIweb Co-Manager Larry Flammer. Here’s the abstract of that article:
Students compare banding patterns on hominid chromosomes, and see striking evidence of their common ancestry. To test this, the human #2 chromosome is matched with two shorter chimpanzee chromosomes, leading to the hypothesis that human chromosome #2 resulted from the fusion of the two shorter chromosomes. Students test that hypothesis by looking for (and finding) DNA evidence of telomere segments at the fusion site, reinforcing the likelihood of our common ancestry with chimps, and showing us that we all carry the “molecular fossils” of telomere fusion! Students see how multiple lines of evidence make a compelling case for common ancestry, and they experience an important element of inquiry: testing hypotheses.
NEW STUDENT BOOKLET ON THE NATURE OF SCIENCE: In the works is a new booklet for students, called Science Surprises. It presents the nature of science, integrating many of the ENSI NoS lessons. It’s intended to replace or supplement chapter one in any science textbook, for grades 7-10. Unlike most textbooks, this booklet (with selected ENSI lessons) shows why pseudoscience is not science, how science is so often misrepresented and misunderstood, and why science is so effective in getting answers that work. It shows what science can and cannot use for explanations, and why that is, along with other important limits. This booklet, formerly called The Limits of Science, has been a work in progress by Larry Flammer for many years. It was finally submitted for publication to the NSTA Press, and was generally well-received by several reviewers. What remains (in addition to a number of refinements) is to make the revised version available for teachers to field-test the booklet in their classes this coming Fall. The revised version (with teacher guide) will be sent to selected teachers early this spring, so they can plan to incorporate the booklet with its special approach. If you are interested in using this booklet in even one class next Fall, for any science, and providing feedback, please contact author Larry Flammer.
A NOTE OF SADNESS:
We who knew him were greatly saddened by the untimely death of ENSI Lead Teacher Steve Randak. Steve was memorialized in August with his many well-deserved accolades, including mention of the several nature-of-science lessons that he authored or co-authored that were selected for the ENSI site. Three of these in particular have been very popular: The Great Fossil Find, The Checks Lab, and Footsteps in Time (the Laetoli Trackway). What many of you might not know is that a fitting endowment (the Stephen H. Randak Scholarship Fund) has been established. If you would like contribution information on this, please contact Larry Flammer.
KUDOS for ENSI: Here are a couple of the many compliments received for ENSI lessons this past year:
“Just a note to thank you for your work on your web site. I Presented your [Mystery of the] Matching Marks in my 7th grade RTI [Response To Intervention] class. Students were spellbound. [They] found the telomeres before I did at the end of the ppt. I was introduced on the NSTA listserve. As I browse more of your lessons they will be integrated not only in my science classes but in my reading class and for science enrichment in RTI.” [From Steve Werner, Washington Middle School, Washington, IL. Steve also sent his nicely done PowerPoint on Sticklebacks: Reading & Speciation as a “thank you” to ENSIweb. This ppt will be added to the ENSI site].
Re: Whale Evolution lessons: “[I] wore my REI/ 'paleontologist' clothing, and the 7th graders had a great time! We did the lesson over 2 days, and the kids liked unveiling and comparing the different fossils. As further support, I also tracked down pictures from Gingerich's blog, and we watched the whale evolution clip on PBS.org's evolution website. (it shows some of Gingerich's fossils in situ in Pakistan). We had a great experience....and you helped make this lesson go 'swimmingly'. Can't wait to try more of your lessons next year.” [From student teacher Lisa Korney in Palos Verdes, CA]
HAPPY NEW YEAR: HAVE A GREAT 2012
Larry Flammer, ENSI Co-Manager
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