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How to Introduce Evolution to Your Students

By Sara Tallarovic

Darwin Day is coming up on Wednesday, February 12th. It presents an excellent opportunity to introduce or discuss the concept of evolution by natural selection with your students. While I’m now part of the Vernier Biology Department, I previously worked for 15 years as a university biology professor and know first hand how creative teachers have to get when introducing new concepts to a classroom of students. There are plenty of ways to get students excited about evolution, and here are a few ideas.

Introducing Evolution with Candy

Hands-on activities easily engage students, and when I was teaching biology, one of my favorite ways to introduce evolution was with a candy hunt. You can find multiple versions of this exercise online using different types of candies, but I like mixing together a bag of plain M&M’s® (the original kind with six colors) and several bags of candy corn (the original yellow, orange, and white type) in a large shallow bowl or tub. I pass it around and ask students to select a number of M&M’s® but not to eat them. You can vary the number they choose to match your class size.

Once the candy circulates around the entire room, we count how many of each color of M&M’s® were selected and graph it on the board. The results are always striking. Very few of the yellow and orange M&M’s® are typically selected, while more contrasting colors, especially blue and green, are selected in higher proportions.

Right away, students can begin picturing the forces at work in the natural world. We then talk about the variation of our “population” of M&M’s® and how some “individuals” might have a selective advantage by blending in with the substrate (candy corn) whereas others were easier for their “predators” to spot. The exercise makes a fun prelude to a more in-depth lesson on evolution and natural selection.

Deepening Student Understanding of Evolution

I found that incorporating a variety of interactive and informative activities resonated with my students. After introducing the concept of evolution through the candy hunt, I used a mixture of short videos and hands-on experiments. If you enjoy sharing media with your class, you can also browse HHMI BioInteractive’s evolution collection, where you can find a wealth of free activities and short films.

One of my favorite films is The Making of a Theory: Darwin, Wallace and Natural Selection. This half hour piece presents a compelling history lesson, telling the stories of both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, which helps students visualize the physical and intellectual journeys that led these two men to the discovery of evolution and natural selection.

If you are more interested in the mechanics of evolution than the history of its discovery, my colleague and former high school biology teacher, Colleen, recommends The Making of the Fittest: Adaptation and Natural Selection, which is a 10 minute film about the evolution of rock pocket mice.

How Vernier Can Help

Whether your lesson plan includes activities like the candy hunt, videos, or other approaches, engaging students through evolution-themed laboratory activities are highly effective, and Vernier has multiple experiments to fit your class. Our inquiry-based laboratory experiments include exploring the evolution of yeast, comparing the respiratory systems of different aquatic organisms, and many more. You can access more information about these experiments here.

Professional Development and Training with Vernier Technology

An map of the US with markers where we will have workshops in 2019.

Are you looking for professional development using Vernier technology? We offer free hands-on workshops across the country, online training opportunities, and options for personalized professional development. Each option allows you to immediately apply your new learned skills in the laboratory with students.

4-hour Professional Development Workshops​

These free workshops are hands-on, 4-hour data-collection workshops for science educators available nationwide during the school year. One of our knowledgeable training specialists will work right alongside you, providing guidance and inspiration as you explore classroom-ready experiments. You’ll leave the workshop ready to excite your students about learning using data collection technology. And, to make it even easier, you’ll receive instructions to download the Workshop Training Manual, which includes ready-to-use experiment handouts for all science disciplines.

Video Training Library

We have a free online library of introductory and advanced videos featuring experiments and product demonstrations. Because the library is available any time and anywhere and is accessible on a variety of platforms, you can choose what works best for you.

Personalized Interactive Webinars

Another popular option is our free webinars. We know instructors want a voice and choices when professional development opportunities are offered, and our customized webinars make it possible to tell us what to focus on. These are interactive, web-based sessions for your department to deliver basic or advanced training on Vernier data-collection technology.

On-Site Workshops

We also offer a fee-based option, if you prefer to have a full day of training on-site. This training takes place at your school and uses the equipment you already own. To request this option, please fill out the online request form.

When Will I Use Forensic Chemistry in Real Life?

A graph showing the absorbance spectra for fresh wine and crime scene wine
Absorbance spectra for fresh wine and crime scene wine

While teaching chemistry and physics for 34 years in public schools in Maryland, nearly every semester, students asked, “When will I use this in real life?” When I supplied a scenario for a lab activity, students could see how a topic studied in their chemistry lab could have real-world application.

For instance, it might be difficult for a student to see where absorbance spectroscopy and Beer’s law could be useful to a chemist. But, what if the technique is used to analyze poisoned wine from a crime scene? This definitely piqued the interest of my students.

The scenario: At a local dinner party, some of the guests became ill and had to be transported to the hospital. Most of the stricken guests recovered, although it took varying amounts of time for them to recover. Some guests even died. What could have stricken these people and why was the effect different?

Go Direct SpectroVis Plus

Using a Go Direct® SpectroVis® Plus Spectrophotometer, students can compare samples of fresh wine to those collected at a crime scene. Samples of tainted wine will show absorbance spectra different from those of fresh wine. By comparing the spectra of suspected toxins with those from the crime scene, the nature of the poison can be determined.

Once the identity of the poison is determined, Beer’s law can be used to determine the concentration of poison in the tainted wine. From additional evidence from the crime scene, including estimates of the wine consumed and body mass of the victims, students then calculate the amount of poison consumed and compare this to the LD50 for that poison.

Due to the local restrictions on the presence of alcohol containing products in schools, the poisoned wine and suspected poisons are all created using food dyes. A similar activity called “Killer Cupa Joe” in the Vernier lab manual Forensics with Vernier uses coffee. My students and I did this lab and used food dye as the poison.

Vernier sensors can also be used for other forensic scenarios. Future blog postings will discuss more activities.

To get a free copy of this activity, email us at chemistry@vernier.com

LabQuest 2.8.5 Update

We’re pleased to release the latest update for LabQuest 2. The version 2.8.5 update is free and recommended for all LabQuest users.

Download LabQuest 2.8.5 Update »

Happy Holidays from All of Us at Vernier!

Your friends, colleagues, and fellow scientists at Vernier wish you a heartfelt happy holiday, winter fun, and the joy of scientific exploration.

In keeping with our commitment to Earth-friendly practices and to supporting the community, Vernier Software & Technology has donated to 21 charities, including The Nature Conservancy, Oregon Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, and Mercy Corps.

2019 Vernier Engineering Contest

The annual Vernier Engineering Contest provides a great opportunity for educators to showcase how they are creatively using Vernier technology to introduce engineering concepts to students. Contest entries can include activities such as introducing coding by reading Vernier sensors with Scratch, using sensors in the engineering design process, controlling digital outputs based on Vernier sensor inputs, integrating Vernier sensors with robotics platforms such as LEGO®, VEX®, or Arduino®, and so much more.

The deadline to submit your application for the 2019 Vernier Engineering Contest is February 15, 2019.

The winning educator, selected by a panel of Vernier experts, will receive $1,000 in cash, $3,000 in Vernier technology, and $1,500 toward expenses to attend either the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) STEM conference or the ASEE conference.

Watch on YouTube

Tate Rector, an Engineering and Project Lead The Way teacher at Beebe Public Schools, challenged his 8th grade engineering students to present a solution (using Vernier sensors with LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Education EV3) to an everyday problem in order to make connections with the engineering practices identified in NGSS.

“Winning the Vernier Engineering Contest in 2015 kick-started our engineering program here at our school,” said Tate Rector, a teacher at Beebe Junior High in Arkansas and a former Vernier Engineering Contest winner. “While my 7th and 8th grade students used to think it was just fun or cool to see things explode or fly, evaluation of the data we collect using Vernier technology has helped them see the reason why we do the experiments.”

Learn more about the 2019 Vernier Engineering Contest »

The 2019 Vernier/NSTA Technology Awards Deadline is Approaching!

The deadline for applications for the 2019 Vernier/NSTA Technology Awards is quickly approaching. This annual awards program recognizes seven educators—one elementary teacher, two middle school teachers, three high school teachers, and one college-level educator—for their innovative uses of data-collection technology in the science classroom or laboratory.

Each winner, chosen by a panel of NSTA-appointed experts, will receive $1,000 in cash, $3,000 in Vernier products, and up to $1,500 toward expenses to attend the annual NSTA National Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 11–14, 2019.

All current K–12 and college science educators are eligible to apply. The deadline for submitting an application is December 17, 2018.

Last year’s award winners, including Robert Hodgdon from Richmond Hill Middle School, Richmond Hill, Georgia, demonstrated a variety of ways data-collection technology can be used in and out of the classroom. Hodgdon engaged his students in real-world ecological investigations to help them develop STEM career readiness skills. This included students using Vernier data-collection technology, such as pH sensors, to understand the biotic and abiotic factors relevant to their local habitats including tidal marshes, ephemeral wetlands, and relic forests.

“Winning the Vernier/NSTA Awards provided us with a new collection of LabQuest® 2 interfaces, as well as new temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity probes,” said Hodgdon. “Students are able to use these technologies during ecological activities and as an integrated part of their science instruction year-round.”

Learn more about the Vernier/NSTA Technology Awards »

Go Direct® Sound Featured on NSTA Recommends

Martin Horejsi, from NSTA Recommends, has collected data with Go Direct Sound just about everywhere on campus. In his review, “The Vernier Go Direct Sound Sensor: See Sounds in a New Light (Bluetooth),” Martin discusses the importance of sound safety, provides a brief history of the decibel, and details various investigations using Go Direct Sound.

Martin concludes his experience by saying:

“The Vernier Go Direct Sound Sensor is a welcome addition to the family of bluetooth sensors giving our students a tremendous visual inspection into the world of sound. And it really does put a face on those eardrum-generated electrical pulses bouncing around inside their brains. Soon the students will be saying things like, ‘I thought that sound looked loud.’ And it will make perfect sense.”

With Go Direct Sound, students can capture and evaluate waveforms. Exploring the waveforms of various musical instruments has never been easier. Students can also use the sensor to measure wave amplitude and sound intensity level at the same time during decibel scale investigations. They can even take the sensor outside the classroom to measure sounds in their natural environment.

The sensor is part of the complete Go Direct family of sensors that offers teachers and students maximum versatility to collect scientific data either wirelessly or via a USB connection. These affordable sensors can be used in more than 300 teacher-tested experiments developed by Vernier and are supported by free graphing and analysis software, the Graphical Analysis 4 app.

Read more about the Go Direct Sound on NSTA Recommends »

Join 100 Million Students in Hour of Code

“Computer science empowers students to create the world of tomorrow.” – Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

What is Hour of Code?

The Hour of Code is a global movement introducing tens of millions of students worldwide to computer science, inspiring kids to learn more, breaking stereotypes, and leaving them feeling empowered. The Hour of Code began as a one-hour coding challenge to give students a fun first introduction to computer science and has become a global learning event, celebration, and awareness event.

Why computer science?

Computer science is foundational and is changing every industry on the planet. Every 21st-century student should have the opportunity to learn how to create technology. Computer science concepts also help nurture creativity and problem-solving skills to prepare students for any future career.

Economic Opportunity for All

Computing occupations are the fastest-growing, best paying, and now the largest sector of all new wages in the US. Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed. The value of a computer science education

Students love it!

Recent surveys show that among classes students “like a lot,” computer science and engineering rank near the top—only performing arts, art, and design are higher. Students like computer science and engineering Vernier offers coding activities appropriate to introduce your entry-level coders to block-based languages like Scratch and LEGO® MINDSTORMS®. We also offer activities for intermediate-level coders utilizing Python® or JavaScript. For applications that require test, measurement, and control with rapid access to hardware and data insights, Vernier sensors are supported in advanced languages like LabVIEW and Arduino®.

Ready to participate with your class?

We’ve created two free coding activities utilizing Scratch to help you and your students participate in Hour of Code this year. Scratch offers colorful and modularized drag-and-drop graphical blocks that make it easy for programmers to code.

Hour of Code Activity for Entry Level Coders

In this activity students program a catch game where they can make choices on graphics and game options. The free Scratch software works on your web-connected device. If you have an Low-g Accelerometer in your classroom, our free activity guide integrates the sensor into the Catch Game activity and your students learn how to integrate their code with hardware. Download the Vernier Catch activity for Scratch The Catch Game can also be completed by any classroom with no sensors needed. Explore the Catch activity in Scratch

Hour of Code Activity for Advanced Coders

For more advanced coders, this activity combines Scratch-based coding and exploration of the ideal gas laws. Students can change multiple variables and observe changes. Results can be compared with their calculations. Download the Ideal Gas Law Exploration activity with instructors guide Explore the Ideal Gas Law Exploration activity in Scratch

The ‘Hour of Code™’ is a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week [csedweek.org] and Code.org [code.org] to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming.

SDS vs. MSDS

Dr. Elaine Nam holding up MSDS and SDS papers

What is an SDS?

A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) serves the same purpose as a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). They provide a formal and consistent format, in 16 sections, that are organized in a specific order to make them easy for people to understand. The SDS also follows the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS).

What is the difference between an MSDS and SDS?

While the MSDS came in multiple forms, the SDS is presented in one format. Many MSDS components can be found in an SDS. New sections and types of information have been added to make SDS more useful. To be categorized as a Safety Data Sheet, it must include all 16 of the required sections and conform to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). That format consists of a specific order and set of headlines. The OSHA® QuickCard lists the 16 sections.

What is GHS?

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is a set of international guidelines developed by the United Nations. These guidelines were created to ensure the safe manufacturing, handling, use, disposal, and transport of hazardous materials. Their goals are

  1. Define health, physical, and environmental hazards of chemicals.
  2. Create classification processes that use available data on chemicals for comparison with the defined hazard criteria.
  3. Communicate hazard information, as well as protective measures, on labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDS).

Does Vernier provide an SDS?

Yes. An SDS is provided for each chemical that we ship. In 2015, Vernier adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). All of our MSDS have been updated to an SDS. The Safety Data Sheet for chemicals and solutions sold by Vernier can be found on each product’s web page and in our Product Manuals and Reference Guides.

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