Book Review: Biology Inquiries

October 9, 2009

Biology Inquiries: Standards-Based Labs, Assessments, and Discussion Lessons by Martin Shields

Let me start by saying, I’m a chemistry teacher that also teaches a section of Biochemistry/Biotechnology.  Chemistry is where I am most comfortable, but I have been branching out with my new course (Reference my posts on chromosome materials).  I bought this book a while back because I am always interested in inquiry lab work, and thought there might be some interesting items.

Right out of the gate, Martin introduced me to mini-poster presentations (an idea he credits to Williamson), which I started to use in my classroom immediately.  He follows this with some general scientific inquiry labs and activities that are appropriate to any science classroom, though there is some emphasis on biological topics.  These ideas were quite valuable to me, though I have certainly seen similar ones elsewhere.

At this point, the value of the book for me comes from key activities in chapter 4: The Molecular Basis of Heredity.  Here Martin includes a couple of dry labs using Mendel’s genetics data, and Chargaff’s DNA analysis data.  In each case, he presents students with data gathered, and provides guiding questions to lead them through the data.  This is one of the ways I really like to teach science.  I truly enjoy leading students through the scientific processes that lead to the great discoveries.  It is powerful to watch them draw insights from data analysis.  They get a clear idea about how evidence supports or undermines models, and how new hypotheses must be generated to explain data, which in turn leads to further experiment.  Rather than simply tell students that purines pair with pyrimidines, it is so much more powerful to give them the tools to reach that conclusion based on evidence.

I have read through much of the rest of the book, and can see how many of the activities and labs would fit into Biology classes.  Indeed, I have lent the book to colleagues, and they have adopted some of the activities in their classrooms.  For me, though, the general ideas in the introduction, and the insightful activities in the Molecular Basis of Heredity section make the book well worth the price of admission.

The Good:

There are many solid inquiry labs and activities in the book.

The Bad:

Not much.  I think the book is solid.

The Ugly:

I wish there was a book like this more specific to material I regularly teach, because I really enjoy it, and feel an affinity toward it’s goals and style.

Check it out at Amazon:
Biology Inquiries: Standards-Based Labs, Assessments, and Discussion Lessons (Jossey-Bass Teacher)


Kit Review: Ward’s Chromosome Extraction & Analysis

October 7, 2009

Ordering and Receiving:

The kit arrived on time and in good condition.  The Ward’s salesperson was friendly and informative.  There is an included coupon for the Drosophila virilis culture, which can be redeemed by mail or phone.  Service on this was also prompt.

Initial Impressions:

The package is appropriate for the material and clearly labeled.  The contents of the package were listed in the instructors guide, and were easily inventoried.

What the kit includes:

  • 72 microscope slides
  • 100 cover slips
  • 5 dissection probes
  • 5 pairs fine dissection forceps
  • 15ml bottle stain
  • 15ml bottle 8% HCl
  • 15ml bottle mounting media (Piccolyte II)
  • 6 3ml drop bottles
  • Drosophila virilis Salivary Gland Cell Reference slide
  • Copymaster set of student handouts
  • teacher’s guide
  • coupon for Drosophila virilis culture

All in all, I’m impressed with what the kit includes.  I particularly like the reference slide, which makes a nice addition to our school’s collection.  It would be nice to have more forceps and probes, but I imagine most people have some of them already.

Comments on the instructors guide and student handouts:

I think the accompanying documentation is pretty good.  The student handouts have good background, and there are questions to verify that students assimilate the material.  Instructions are clear and laid out in a sensible manner.  The instructor’s guide suggests that a maximum of 5 students dissect at any given time due to logistics and difficulties in dissection.  They suggest that the dissections be staggered over a few days.  This will also give the larvae time to mature.

It would be very nice to have labeled color pictures of the dissection process.  Perhaps they could be included on CD-ROM or be made available for download via the Ward’s website.  This would aide tremendously in improving the success rate of dissection.

Comments on the materials:

I was pleased with all of the materials from a quality perspective.  Ward’s did not skimp on slides, covers, or solutions.  The included reference slide is also quite nice.  Consider purchasing extra forceps and probes if you do not already have some.

You will need a dissecting microscope for every station, and it would be nice if it can light both from above and below the specimen to better visualize the anatomy.  You will also need compound microscopes to view the resulting slides.  You can definitely visualize the chromosomes at 400x, but 1000x is definitely preferable.


The Good:

This is a solid kit, that provides everything but the microscopes needed to extract and visualize giant fruit fly chromosomes.  Along the way, students get to produce slides of their work, and participate in small-scale dissection.  If you want, you can even maintain the culture, and give students experience working with a key model organism.

The Bad:

By necessity, there is a great deal of trial and error involved in successful salivary gland extraction.  There is simply no getting around this difficulty, so be prepared for some frustration.  Student results will vary wildly, but can be improved with care and practice.

The Ugly:

Not too much is ugly.  There are some significant infrastructure demands in terms of microscopes.  You need decent microscopes of both types.  Also, the kit itself is not particularly cheap, though it is reasonable for what you get in it.


I will continue to either refill or repurchase this kit in the years to come.  I think it is a good value, and provides a positive though challenging experience.

Link to kit at Ward’s:

Good website for Drosophila dissection and chromosome extraction

October 7, 2009

Today, I found a great website describing a procedure for Drosophila dissection to supplement the materials contained in the kit from Wards.  It would be great for Wards to produce a CD of similar images to go along with their kit.  The review for the kit is incoming soon, but for now check out this site:

plenty of awesome information and pictures to help your students get good results from this lab.


Hello world!

October 6, 2009

Welcome!  Right now, I am working with a few kits from Ward’s Natural Science dealing with chromosomes.  In particular, my biotech class is working with both “Chromosome Extraction and Analysis Lab Activity” and “Karyotyping Human Chromosomes Lab Activity”.  In the near future, I will review both kits, and give some report on our success with them, or lack thereof.