Early in the school year, I visited Mike Krueger’s tenth grade biology class. In teams of three, students huddled over a jelly-like substance, measuring devises, small erasable white boards, and cutting tools. I ask Mike what was happening, and he said that the students were investigating the essential question, “Why are cells so small?”
The investigation consisted of measuring the percentage of color change of blocks of agar and determining the efficiency of that change – actually absorption of acid. The students began with large, medium, and small cubes. They submerged the cubes in acid and then measured the percentage of color change over a predetermined time. They quickly noted that the smaller the cube, the more efficient the absorption and color change. In the course of the lab, Mike conferred with lab groups, challenged assumptions, and offered options for continuing the investigation after class was over.
The students’ white boards displayed calculations that demonstrated their growing understanding of the surface area to volume ratio, a concept that comes up again and again in tenth grade biology. The students determined that the cells with the largest surface area to volume ratio do the work of cells most efficiently. A recent conversation with Barry Ide, who teaches tenth grade biology as well as AP Biology, offers analogies to car radiators, polar bears, and mitochondria, real life examples of how the surface area to volume ratio works.
This biology lab is an example of 21st Century learning at its best. Students uncover knowledge as they seek to answer an overarching question. They collaborate, explain, question, plan, observe, and measure. They manipulate data until they understand exactly what it is telling them. And they end up with an enduring understanding that weaves through their biology curriculum as well as through real life experiences. Now that’s good teaching.
It is a very short leap from tenth grade biology at Greenhill to Rohan Menon’s (Class of 2008) work at Georgia Tech. A junior majoring in biomedical engineering, Rohan recently co-authored a paper pertaining to the development of synthetic blood vessels. The American Chemical Society accepted the paper for publication. Rohan’s mother cites the nurturing he received at Greenhill as contributing to his budding success.
Our science labs are places of discovery. Every day, our faculty emphasizes thinking skills so essential to workplace success. Keep your eyes open for Rohan and others as they forge ahead with new and exciting knowledge.