Who doesn't love watching people get pranked? Now add science to the pranks and you have a great way to keep your students engaged. SciJinks is a new show on the Science Channel that uses science to perform practical jokes on people. Following the pranks they explain the science behind it, so it is great for your science classroom. You can see episodes by clicking here.
I made a worksheet to go along with the show if you choose to show it in your class! Click on the PDF below to download.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tamara Robertson, one of the hosts of the show, at a NASA social event (you can read about the NASA launch here). Her resume is impressive- ranging from chemical engineering to TV host. I was able to get her to answer some interview questions, so keep reading to learn more about her!
What is your scientific background and what made you interested in science?
I am a chemical & biomolecular engineer. I spent a little under a decade working in facility startup and designs as well as additive technology development for packaging.
I’ve always been good at math and science in school and liked machinery and building things but honestly never thought to pursue science. I had a teacher in college that took me aside and talked to me about engineering - at the time I thought only boys did that because I had only known one male engineer and that was Scottie from Star Trek. She helped broaden my view of the world and potential majors and that’s how I ended up in Engineering :)
Tell me a little bit about your job history- How did you end up with Mythbusters and Scijinks? Was TV something you always had an interest in?
Growing up in North Carolina I didn’t have cable as a kid but always enjoyed watching shows and movies on VHS with friends.
In college I got recruited to do commercial print modeling with a local agency and as someone that really enjoyed sci-fi and fantasy type books the idea of playing make believe sounded fun so I started pursuing acting. Doing commercials and acting in independent films helped me to overset the cost of living for college so it became a hobby of sorts while I was in school and an engineer. In engineering I was lucky that my degree allowed flexibility in career fields and industries so I got to take some really cool jobs. Some of the highlights were:
Why do you think SciJinks would be a great addition to the secondary science classroom?
Scijinks was a really fun program to be a part of because we got to utilize new emerging technology as well as some really cool old school tech to blow people’s minds with science! People often assume that science is just what is done in a lab or from a cubicle but really Science is all around us and there is such a vast number of specialties and career opportunities which I think Scijinks helps to elevate.
We also had a live audience of actual STEM students in the studio with us reviewing our field experiments which helped showcase the diversity and inclusion in these fields.
What is your favorite memory from filming the first season?
My favorite memory from the first season was probably when we utilized Hydrophobic coatings to create a “stain proof” jacket. I remember thinking - people are going to know what this is, it’s in so many materials - but in reality no one had ever seen it up close before so they all thought it was this type of magical formula! Getting to showcase to them close up how the technology enables fluids to bead up and repels them from the fabrics was really fun! Adding that to convincing them to throw an entire vat of spaghetti sauce at our “chef” and things just get hilarious!
Do you have a past teacher who was influential in your passion for science?
I had some really awesome teachers in school- especially in science!
In high school I still remember one professor Chip Howe. He dropped a piece of sulfuric acid on his shoe but didn’t realize where it had fallen so he continued demonstrating how the compound could burn through materials. About the time the sample on the table was breaking through the piece on his shoe had as well and he had quite a surprise!
In college at NC state I honestly had some of the most inspiring professors! Dr. Bullard was instrumental in keeping me driven and pushing through all the hard moments in school as well as graduating and trying to get work during a recession. Since she had been an engineer in life before teaching she was an amazing resource with regards to navigating the job market, building a portfolio and experience based resume while in college and was an amazing example of someone who had a career in STEM and a family and made it work.
What advice would you give to teen girls interested in STEM careers?
There’s so many pieces of advice I would give here - here are a few of many:
If people want to find you on social media, where can they look?
I can be found on all social media platforms under the handle @tlynnr85.
Guest speakers can be such a powerful tool to your classroom and are hugely underutilized. I don't think I truly understood their value until I started teaching project based learning. Part of PBL includes having a public audience (you can check out a blog post on this topic here). As I developed projects and started bringing in people from the community it made a huge impact on my students.
Why are they so powerful? First, students are used to hearing us teach every day, and don't always give us 100% of their attention (who am I kidding, they RARELY give us 100% of their attention). But whenever I've had a guest speaker come in, the students seem to hang on to their every word. Another reason they are invaluable is because they can bring in a level of specialized content knowledge that you don't have.
For example, I recently had my students complete a project where they had to design a food truck. We had been learning about sustainable agriculture, macromolecules, and nutrition. Students were asking questions I didn't have specific answers for, like how much local ingredients would cost and how they could decrease their company's carbon footprint. I could have done some internet research to help them find the answers, but why not go straight to the source? I sent a quick email to the owner of a farm not too far from our school asking if students could ask her some questions over the phone about her business. She was more than happy to speak to them and talk about her organic farm and the struggles of starting a small business. They were able to record the phone conversation and refer back to it later as they prepared for their presentations.
Where to find guest speakers
I promise when you begin to reach out to people in the community, you will be surprised how willing they are to come in and speak to your students. You won't always get a yes, and you won't always find people that can stay all day and speak to multiple class periods. (One way to solve the multiple class periods issue is to record the presentation and show it to your other classes). I've had luck tracking down people willing to speak to my students from almost all of the places listed below:
The Beauty of Modern Technology
While it is always ideal to have someone come in and meet with your students personally, this isn't always possible. But there are other options! Websites such as www.skypeascientist.com allow you to do a skype or google hangout session with a scientist. You choose which type of scientist you would like to skype with based on what you are teaching and they will match you up accordingly.
I've also had students do phone interviews with multiple people ranging from professors at our local university to food truck owners. If you email people and ask if they have 10 minutes to spare for a quick phone conversation they will almost always say yes. As a bonus, it is good practice for students to learn how to speak professionally on the phone.
A closing tip....
Most guest speakers that come in aren't used to speaking to teens. They do a great job, but don't have the same practice you do. One thing I've noticed is that they aren't used to what us teachers call "wait time." They tend to ask a question to students, wait about 2 seconds, and then answer it if they don't see hands go up.
When the guest speaker comes, pull them aside quickly and give them a gentle tip to wait a while after asking students a question. Explain to them that students need much longer processing time than adults. I've never had anyone be offended by me giving them this tip, and it's made the classroom discussions much better.
Good luck finding a guest speaker and enjoying a day of listening and learning instead of teaching!
Getting out the microscopes is one of the best parts of teaching biology. I love hearing the ooh's and aah's when they finally get the specimen into focus. But if you've taught biology before you know it can also be one of the most exhausting units- constantly running around the room because "Mrs, I just don't see anything!" or they end up drawing dust, air bubbles, or their eyelashes. After a decade of tweaking my microscope unit, I've come up with some tips to help save your sanity.
1. Don't get them out until it makes sense.
While it may be tempting to get microscopes out the first week of school, it just doesn't make sense. If you aren't going to use them regularly until later in the year, why are you teaching them the names of the microscope parts in week 1? They will forget the information and you will find yourself reteaching. Hold off until you get to cells (or whichever unit you need them regularly).
2. Make sure they know the names of all the microscope parts.
It can be really frustrating when you are trying to help a student, tell them to adjust the fine focus, and they look at you like you are speaking another language. Because of this I don't let students start using the microscope until they can tell me the names of all the parts. We take notes on it and I give them a short quiz at the beginning of the unit. If you want to check out the worksheets I use for teaching parts of the microscope, click here.
3. Try a virtual lab first
Virtual labs are a way to provide students extra practice on the methods of using a microscope before getting out the real deal. Extra practice never hurts, especially for your SPED or ELL students who would really benefit from some visual practice.
For practice going through the process of using a microscope, check out this activity from Brainpop. (This site is great for middle school). For some higher level practice, check out this site from University of Delaware.
4. If your scopes have a single ocular, teach them which eye to use.
The microscopes in my room have a single ocular lens, so students often ask me which eye to use. This video shows an easy and quick way to teach them which of their eyes is dominant.
5. Start with prepared slides.
I always begin with prepared slides. I put 4 different prepared slides at each lab group, and have students practice focusing and drawing. The first day of prepared slides you will hear a lot of "I don't see anything!" but eventually they get the hang of it. Not all of your students are going to be great artists, but I make sure they know when they turn in their drawings they must a) be drawn to scale, and b) be neat. No scribbles allowed. I should be able to look at the drawing and easily tell what slide it is. I use these lab templates for prepared slides. Don't have access to prepared slides? You can make your own! Check out this blog post on how to easily make a classroom set.
6. Encourage peer help
There is only 1 of you and 30 students. It is physically impossible for you to be running around helping every single student. One day when I was about to rip my hair out I made this poster and hung it up on the whiteboard. Students were not able to call me over for help unless they had checked all of these items off the list. Most of the time their neighbor can help them resolve the issue before you need to be called over. If they still needed help after going down the checklist, then they could call me over. It has helped greatly! You can download this for free in my TpT store here.
7. After they have mastered prepared slides, then move on to wet mounts
Wet mounts can be much more exciting than prepared slides because you can have students look at their own cells (if your school allows you to do a cheek cell swab) or watch microorganisms swimming around. Protists are an absolute blast to watch, but students need to have mastered focusing the microscope and scanning relatively quickly in order to see the protozoa zooming around. You don't have to spend money ordering protists from a supply company, you can easily get your own culture going. Check out this blog post on how to set up a hay infusion. During this lab, I allow students to take pictures or videos with their phones. It takes a steady hand, but they can line up their smart phones with the ocular and get a decent video.
It can be really frustrating when the bell is about to ring and students try to walk out of the classroom without cleaning up. General microscope clean up procedures should include:
a) Removing your slide and returning it to where the teacher directs
b) Turn the objective to low power
c) Turning off the light
d) Putting the dust cover back on
e) If you are putting microscopes away for the day, unplugging and winding the cord around the arm.
I have this poster hanging on my microscope cabinet- it is a freebie from my friend Bethany Lau. You can find it in her TpT store.
I hope these tips help your microscope unit run more smoothly! Have fun!
Why are cells so small? And why are we made of so many? It seems like it would be easier to be made of 100 or even 1,000 cells instead of trillions. One of the reasons we teach students that cells are small is because they need a large surface area to volume ratio. The larger the ratio, the more efficient the cell is at moving materials in and out of the cell.
I've seen cell size labs that use different sized agar cubes prepared with a pH indicator. The cubes start pink and lose their color as they soak. (Here is a free version from Flinn if you are feeling ambitious!) Frankly with 3 preps a day this year, I didn't have the time or energy to pour agar cubes. Instead I found a quick and easy way for students to see the same concept- using beets and bleach.
In this experiment, cut different sized beet cubes, a small, a medium, and a large. The students soak the cubes in bleach for roughly 30 minutes (I had them doing some practice SA:V calculations while they waited). Tip: if you use tupperware containers with lids you won't have to smell bleach fumes all day, or you can put parafilm over the beakers.
After 30 minutes of soaking, students remove the beets, cut them open, and measure the amount of red pigment remaining. It is an easy way to see that small cells are more efficient at moving materials in and out. If you are interested in seeing the lab write-up I wrote, you can view it here.
I hope your students enjoy it!