Sarah Bodbyl

Sep 122013


This lesson plan provides a simple introduction to the mechanism of natural selection for students who are already familiar with concepts such as ecosystems, species, and variation. The lesson includes a short walk (can be done with nature photos) to identify the types and scales of variation in the natural world. Students then work in groups to adapt organisms (seeds) to different environments (soil types) in a fun, interactive exercise. Once seeds are well adapted to their environments, students will try to determine what made some of the organisms better than others, and try to predict how a new seed type will fare. The entire lesson is framed around how adaptions may help invasive species, but is equally applicable to native species. Teacher scripts are provided for the lesson introduction and accompanying power point.

This lesson would be appropriate in sections covering: natural selection, evolution, variation, invasive species, and adaptation.

At the conclusion of these lessons, students will be able to:

  • Explain the role of the environment in natural selection and evolution
  • Explain how variants lead to evolution through natural selection
  • Explain how invasive species create competition with native species
  • Explain how invasive species can affect natural selection and evolution


Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellow Amanda Charbonneau, 2013

Sep 122013

MI most unwanted

How do we identify invasive species, and why do we care? In this lesson, students learn to make and use dichotomous keys to identify common invasive species. Students will gain an appreciation for why invasive species are important through a series of discussions, videos, and keying activities. A graphing activity will allow students to make graphs, interpret data from graphs, and draw conclusions based on data.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Make and use simple dichotomous keys to identify species
  • Discuss why species identification skills are important to understanding and preventing invasion.
  • Convert a data table into a figure and draw conclusions
  • Interpret a figure and discuss ecological explanations for the data shown


Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellow Susan Magnoli and Partner-Teachers  Marcia Angle and Jodie Lugar-McManus, 2013

Sep 092013

A new school year begins and our Fellows are back in the classrooms!  As always, we enjoy bragging on our Fellows, Partner-teachers, and districts, so here are a couple of recent GK-12 community happenings that we’re proud to be a part of.

Olivet’s Salmon in the Classroom (SIC) project

2013-05-13 Salmon Release (4)

Students in Russ Stolberg’s 8th grade classroom (with Fellow Jake Nalley) raised salmon fry from the DNR Wolf Lake hatchery during the 2012-2013 school year. In May, the class traveled to the MSU main campus to release the 4-inch fry into the Red Cedar River. The Olivet salmon project received first page honors on the Olivet Community Schools Newsletter, The Oakum, which you can read here.

2013-05-13 Salmon Release (1)

GK-12 Fellow Developed Lesson Plans go to Vegas!

Our Lessons Page and Interactive Lessons Table now contains full access to 90 Fellow and Partner-Teacher developed lessons for use in the classroom! Lesson content spans ecology and evolutionary biology, covering topics from nutrient cycling to predator-prey interactions, and folks from outside the K-12 Partnership are beginning to access our resources.

Recently, the Forest Service in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (northwest of Las Vegas) has adapted the Invasive Species Game to their environment as a stewardship lesson for students and teachers traveling to their new visitor’s center.

Jul 272013

Participants in the 2013 KBS K-12 Summer Institute

It was the last week of June and KBS was a hive of activity. The annual K-12 Summer Institute lasted just 3 days this year but was action packed. Sessions were conducted by the GK-12 fellows, both new and returning, and by the MSP research associates. Since the institute ran for just three days, we had a plenary session everyday!

Our first plenary speaker was Dr. Carolyn Malmstrom from the Dept. of Plant Biology at MSU. She spoke on the topic ‘It’s a small small world: Plant viruses and ecology’. She was a perfect fit for us since one of the questions she focuses on is ‘How do we preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services in working landscapes’? Sounds a bit familiar, right? Dr. Malmstrom started her talk by describing viruses as a ‘space capsule with a protein coat containing genomic nucleic acid’. She went on to describe the remarkable diversity in viruses – in their structure and genomic acids.

Viruses affect their hosts in many different ways. Some of them alter the host genome expression. By marking which part of the DNA should be transcribed they can change the expression without changing the DNA sequence. Virus infection also helps to augment the host genome. Plant viruses have been found to endogenize into insect genomes including that of mosquitoes and Monarch butterflies. Viruses also can alter an organism’s performance.

In our efforts to get viruses out of our food plants we have concentrated only on one part of the landscape, i.e. agriculture. In this bid we have taken our focus away from the big picture, we do not understand what is happening in the natural ecosystem. There are big ecological differences between agricultural systems and the natural ecosystem. It is important to understand how ecosystem diversity and stress in the natural ecosystems affect viruses. Before she concluded, Dr. Malmstrom left us with this different perspective: Viruses might actually be helping to bind the fabric of life and keep it supple.


Landscape protocol water levels are the best!

We had two sets of concurrent sessions on the first day. Following ‘tradition’ our returning fellows and their partner teachers conducted sessions based on the BEST plots. They did a commendable job of making the ever-so-familiar protocols new and exciting. Of course, the cool titles that they came up with had a fair bit to do with the excitement.

Dustin and his partner teachers, Becky and Liz, presented ‘Dirty deeds done dirt cheap’. As the topic suggests they explored the revised soil protocols. It should be noted too, that this session had an added attraction in the form of ‘dirt cup-cakes’.

Jake teamed up with Russ, Cheryl and Chris in ‘Uncovering the Legacy of our Landscapes’.  They put a new spin to the landscape protocols by introducing a historic perspective. The teachers did get to play with the now-famous water level, too.

In ‘Invertebrates, going above and beyond’ Cara, Sandy and Mary stepped beyond the standard invertebrate protocols. They encouraged the teachers to use the existing data to generate new questions and hypothesis.

Sara, Marty G. and Lisa dealt with the plant biodiversity and biomass protocols in their unambiguously titled session ‘BEST Plots: Plant Biodiversity and Biomass’. They attempted to explore the unexplored aspects of growing our fuel while keeping our flowers and butterflies too.

Three of our new fellows to got their feet wet the first day. Dani Fegan’s interests include community ecology, landscape ecology, and restoration ecology. She teamed up with Marty B. and presented ‘Bug Lyphe: A Next Generation linked observational study in biodiversity’.  They went out and trapped insects (using our BEST protocols of course), and used the data that they thus generated to compare biodiversity in natural and disturbed habitats.

Emily Dittmar is interested in adaption, specifically in the role that genes play in allowing populations to adapt. She, along with Jamie, conducted a session titled ‘Variety is the Spice of Life’. They used a variety of props including a deck of cards, dice and a game of musical chairs to introduce the basic logic behind Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium.


Considering natural variation

Amanda Charbonneau comes to us with an interest in evolution and adaption of species to new environments. Along with Terri and Meredith, she lead the session ‘Survivor: Extreme Environments: How invasives outwit, outplay and outlast their competitors’. With the help of a short ‘variation walk’ they explored the need for variation in order for adaption to take place.

Jenny Dauer, representing the Carbon Strand of MSP, conducted the session ‘Keeling Curve-arama: understanding what is local versus generalizable about atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations’. Her session discussed the reason why Keeling went to Mauna Loa to collect his data instead of just collecting it in his backyard. The teachers also got a chance to see the local differences in CO2 concentrations by measuring CO2 levels at different locations in the KBS property.

Dr. Catherine Lindell from the Dept of Zoology at MSU was our plenary speaker for Tuesday. She spoke on ‘Birds & their roles in ecosystems : Tropical Forests to Michigan’s food crops’.

Dr. Lindell stressed that the value of birds in a particular ecosystem depends on the use humans have assigned to that particular ecosystem. One of her study sites is in Costa Rica where there is massive habitat loss due to deforestation.  Efforts are now going on to try and restore these habitats. Birds are great helpers in this process. They not only serve as agents of seed dispersal but they also prey on herbivorous insects, and pollinate the flowers. Studies are going on to try and determine the optimum design for planting taking into consideration these seed dispersers and their needs.

On the other side of the coin birds in Michigan can prove to be pests, especially to fruit farmers. Birds cost farmers millions of dollars through fruit loss and management efforts. Dr. Lindell and researchers from several other institutions have teamed up to try and quantify this damage and test strategies to minimize the losses.


Botanizing under the supervision of Larry the Lamprey

Following the plenary, instead of breaking into concurrent sessions as usual we had one more common session. Sara S., Cheryl and Nancy conducted a session on the Next Generation Science Standards. Their aim was, to quote Cheryl, ‘To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’!

They reminded us of the fact that the NGSS are written as performance expectations and they will require contextual application of the three dimensions by students. By conducting a simple polling exercise they tried to get teachers used to the idea of including more practises in their classrooms.

One set of concurrent sessions followed the lunch break. Two new fellows (assisted by their partner teachers) made their debut. Sarah Jones studies the biological causes of sex differences in aggression in spotted hyenas. Along with Sandy she explored this very topic in their session ‘Roid Rage: Just for Boys?’. They tried to analyze if there are differences in aggression among sexes, what causes them and how do we study and interpret them.


Teachers excited for new sessions!

Susan Magnoli is motivated by a fascination with invasive plants. Marcia and Jodie joined her to talk about ‘Michigan’s Most Unwanted’. They guided the teachers in making and using a variety of keys to help students to identify invasive species. They also used several graphing activities that allow students to make their own inferences based on the data provided.

Jennifer Doherty, from the Biodiversity strand of MSP, attempted to present diversity in an evolutionary context in her session : ‘Unifying Life: Placing tree diversity in an evolutionary context’.  She presented three lesson plans. The first illustrated the importance of careful observations and precise language; the second used observed similarities and differences to organize species into larger groups; and the third lesson plan aimed at helping students understand that traits are a reflection of ancestry.

Before we concluded for the day, everybody met in the auditorium to get the latest update on the State of the BEST Plots and enjoy some snacks.

Our last plenary speaker was Dr. Maren Friesen from MSU’s Plant Biology Dept. Her topic was ‘Ecological genomics of salinity adaptations in model legume Medicago truncatula’. Her chosen study species Medicago truncatula serves as a genetic model for crop legumes. It is a diploid, annual selfing plant. In order to study the salinity adaptations in the legume, Dr. Friesen has conducted experiments with plants derived from saline and non-saline sites in Tunisia. She later carried whole genome sequencing for each of the 40 lines to locate candidate genes for local adaptations. As a result of her extensive research she has shown that rhizobia influence plant salt tolerance. Adaptation to salinity is not only due to the differences in the plants but due to the differences in the rhizobia present in the different plants.

Before we could draw the curtain on another wonderful summer institute, we participated in a ‘KBS Trivia’ game conducted by Kara Haas. It was a fun and candy filled finale of the KBS K-12 Partnership Summer Institute 2013. Thank you all for making it another great one!

~ By KBS volunteer extraordinaire, Joelyn de Lima.

Jul 252013

Former Fellows Kali Bird (center), Laren Kinsman-Costello (right), and K-12 partnership teacher Liz Ratashak (left) work together on a project in 2010.

Former GK-12 fellow Kali Bird continues to train teachers and bring exciting science to K-12 classrooms as an Education Program Specialist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.  During the 2010-2011 academic year, she partnered with Sandy Breightenbach of Plainwell High School, gaining experience and improving her ability to communicate science, while invigorating the classroom with inquiry-based lessons based on the latest scientific research. She says that “the experience of working with kids and teachers through the GK-12 program helped me to better understand the interests and needs of both; while the practice of presenting the process and insights of science to varied audiences improved my ability to communicate these effectively, meaningfully, and confidently.” Since January, she has been developing and updating data-driven curriculum focused on the Hudson River and its watershed.  Leaders of the Cary Institute’s education program include Dr. Alan Berkowitz, Head of Education, and Cornelia Harris, Education Program Leader, who are collaborators in the same Math Science Partnership in which many of our graduate students and partner teachers have participated.  Kali says she’s looking forward to this fall, when she will coordinate and teach a graduate-level course for local teachers about Hudson Valley invasive species, thanks to a recently awarded Maryland Sea Grant from the Mid-Atlantic Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species.

Jun 232013

2013 – 2014 GK-12 Fellows, Partner-Teachers, and Leadership pose at the Summer Institute Planning Days

This upcoming June 24-26 (Mon.-Weds.), KBS will again host the K-12 Partnership Summer Institute! We have a superb group of Partner-Teachers hailing from 11 of our SW Michigan partner districts,  5 brand new Fellows, and 4 returning Fellows. All have been hard at work, both developing new, exciting lessons to introduce at the institute and learning about each others’ roles as scientists and educators.

This year, the institue features three invited plenary speakers from Michigan State University: Drs. Carolyn Malmstrom, Catherine Lindell, and Maren Friesen, as well as a special seminar session on the Next Generation Science Standards with Nancy Karre (BCAMSC), Cheryl Hach (KAMSC), and Sara Syswerda (MSU, KBS). The full schedule, including abstracts of all concurrent sessions, can be found here.

If you plan to attend (and we hope you will!) please RSVP to Sara S. at .


May 122013

Congratulations to former GK-12 Fellows Liz Schultheis and Nick Ballew for the following awards granted this spring: 

Liz received the 2012-2013 Fields Teaching Award from the MSU Department of Plant Biology. The award is given once annually to a Plant Biology graduate student, “recognizing originality in teaching methods and a recipient’s ability to generate enthusiasm about learning and to influence student attitudes and interests”.  

Liz_1Liz has honed her teaching and science communication skills over the last three years of service as a GK-12 Fellow. She is also beginning a second year of partnering with the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action. She has created and presented many lesson plans for K-12 students, hosted workshops for K-12 teachers, and attended local and national education conferences (GK-12 annual meeting, MSTA, NABT, ESA Life Discovery). She helped co-create Data Nuggets and is continuing to improve their format, create a new website, and host workshops helping other scientists create nuggets based on their own research, in collaboration with BEACON and GK-12. You can read her recent post about Data Nuggets on the BEACON website here.

Nick (GK-12 Fellow from Fall 2010 to Spring 2012) received two outstanding awards this spring. The MSU Zoology department awarded him the 2012-2013 Hensley Research Award. The Hensley award was established in 1995 to further the disciplines of zoological and biological science. The scholarship recognizes one outstanding undergraduate and graduate student each year that is pursuing education in vertebrate zoology with emphasis on field study. Nick studies how behavioral traits impact fitness at different life stages in largemouth bass. Specifically, he investigates the effects of behavioral traits on juvenile survival and adult reproductive success. He’s been actively researching this topic since 2008. Nick is also investigating the relationships between behavioral traits and vulnerability to being caught by fishing.

011 - CopyYou may wonder why Nick is interested in bass behavior. He says, “Largemouth bass are one of the nations most popular sportfish species. Recreational fishing has the potential to alter the fitness effects of different behavioral traits, which could cause the population to evolve in response to fishing pressure. Specifically, the population could evolve to become less vulnerable to fishing pressure, meaning it would be harder to catch fish. This could have negative impacts on the billion+ dollar a year bass fishing industry. Thus, my research could be important for fishery managers and policy makers.”

Nick also received funding for his NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG), titled “Fitness tradeoffs in animal personalities across life stages.”

Congratulations again to these fine Fellows!



Apr 172013

rfpThe above Call for Proposals is sponsored by Project GREEEN.

Originally known as the Plant Initiative, Project GREEEN is a collaborative effort by plant-based commodities and businesses in cooperation with AgBioResearch (formerly the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station), MSU Extension, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to advance Michigan’s economy through its plant-based agriculture. Its mission is to develop research and educational programs, ensure and improve food safety and protect and preserve the quality of the environment.


If you are curious where you can find Michigan native plants for your backyard or schoolyard, see:

Michigan Retail Sources of Native plants (.docx)


Apr 172013

The inaugural MSU Science Festival kicked off this weekend in East Lansing and Fellow Anne Royer was featured as a presenter in this State News article. Anne ran a hands-on demonstration of “Darwin Builds Better Cars” all day Saturday and Sunday, in the Biomedical and Physical Sciences building on campus. Participants learned about evolutionary processes by first building Lego cars and testing their models on short tracks, then used online software (BoxCar2D) to optimize 2D car design on various types of terrain. Fellows Anne, Liz Schultheis, and Sara Garnett recently presented “Darwin Builds Better Cars” at the K-12 Partnership Workshop in March.

Apr 112013

IMAG0790After days of work in the field and lab collecting data on their BeSt biofuel plots, four classes at Lawton Community Schools – Ms. Angle’s 8th-graders and Ms. Visich’s Environmental Science class – finally got to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  As any scientist knows, no fruit is more satisfying than juicy, crunchable data.

We started this adventure by looking at what kinds of data we had.  This included the planting, fertilization, and harvesting treatments as well as the data we collected, from plant and insect biodiversity to soil characteristics.  Each student made his or her own hypothesis about why a pair of variables might be related.  Does fertilization increase insect abundance?  Does moisture increase plant biomass production?   Only one way to find out…

The students plotted their data by hand, then ventured into the computer lab to produce graphs and analyze the data with Excel.  Then they searched for published papers that supported or refuted their findings.  Finally, they presented their conclusions in class.  Among other findings, it turns out fertilization doesn’t affect insects, but moister plots did produce more plant matter.  Using the data across years and schools will make this even more exciting!

By GK-12 Fellow Anne Royer, 2013

Apr 112013


Student will explore the idea of what ecosystem services are, focusing on the importance of plant’s root systems. A brief introduction to ecosystem services will be followed by an interactive demonstration illustrating a basic ecosystem service. Then students will have an opportunity to construct their own root systems and test out their designs to see how they fare in a heavy rain event. Finally, after conducting a month long experiment with different watering regimes, students will determine whether certain plants are more equipped to deal with drought and what makes them better. This is a highly interactive lesson that requires some preparation prior to implementation.


At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Understand how healthy ecosystems provide valuable services
  • Distinguish between four different categories of ecosystem services
  • Understand the specific role of roots in providing services
  • Understand the differences in root systems between many native and exotic plants
  • Demonstrate the role of root systems in drought resistance

Length of Lesson

Introductory presentation: 15 minutes

Soil erosion demo: 10 minutes

Root building competition: 20 minutes

Drought experiment: 20 minutes

Grade Levels

Grades 6-12


Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellows Tyler Bassett, Dustin Kincaid, Jake Nalley, and Michael Kuczynski, 2013

Apr 102013


GK-12 fellows Tyler Bassett and Jake Nalley have been honing their public presentation skills all year in middle and high school classrooms. On March 29, they put those skills to good use by participating in the Plant Science Graduate Student Research Symposium that was hosted on Michigan State’s East Lansing campus.

Both presented on their individual research topics in front of a small crowd and judges. Tyler and Jake both research the many benefits that can come from diversity, a topic that should be familiar to students and teachers that have studied the BEST Plots. Tyler focused on how diversity may be a crucial factor in resisting invasive species in restored prairies. Jake spoke about how growing multiple species of algae together results in higher levels of biomass that can be converted into biodiesel fuel.

Tyler received third place in the Oral Presentations for Applied Research. Congratulations to Tyler!Biovolume_JN

invasive richness figure

Mar 292013


In this lesson, students explore how the basic principles of evolution can be used to produce a better vehicle using web-based software. The program, BoxCar2D, allows the user to observe evolution in action with cars in a virtual environment and design vehicles to move over a variety of 2- dimensional landscapes. The program utilizes the basic principles of biological evolution: mutation, reproduction with recombination, and selection (moving faster and farther = higher fitness).

Screen Shot 2013-03-29 at 1.41.51 PMObjectives

Through guided exploration of the dynamics of digital evolution in BoxCar2D, students will gain an understanding of the following concepts:

  • Evolution happens over generations in populations, not to an individual within its lifetime.
  • Mutations and recombination create variation.
  • Although much of the variation is not helpful, some of it is – this random variation allows evolution by natural selection to solve problems in novel and efficient ways
  • Evolutionary processes can be used to find innovative solutions to engineering problems

Length of Lesson

This lesson requires two one-hour class periods to complete. The first class period can be used to introduce the website and the principles of evolution by natural selection. The second class period can be used for independent student inquiry projects. Additional class periods could be added on if students were to present their findings to their classmates.


Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellows Liz Schultheis, Anne Royer, and Sara Garnett, 2013

Mar 292013

bestIn the following lessons, we use questions generated for and data collected from the BEST (BioEnergy SusTainability) plots to have students make predictions, draw graphs, interpret data patterns, and support claims with evidence. Students play a fun and engaging game that helps them think about the biology involved in how plants grow or how invertebrates find food in their environment. The outcomes of the game help students make predictions. We also have four classroom activities, based on the Data Nugget model, that get students looking at real data, making graphs, and answering questions by making evidence based claims. These lessons focus on parts of the overarching scientific question for the BEST plots: “Can we grow our fuel and save our flowers and butterflies, too?”

3These lesson plans address the following questions:

  1. How do the kinds of plants we planted (switchgrass and prairie) affect how much plants grow (measured as biomass)?
  2. How does soil moisture affects biomass?
  3. How does biomass affect the diversity of invertebrates?
  4. How does the diversity of plants affect the diversity of invertebrates?

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Make predictions about outcomes of scientific experiments
  • Describe patterns in data and relationships between variables
  • Create graphs
  • Interpret graphical data
  • Use data as evidence to support claims

Length of Lesson: Two 45- to 60-min class periods, or more

  • One class period to discuss scientific question and game to generate predictions
  • 0.5-1 to complete the graph and data interpretation
  • Each additional activity will take 0.5-1 class period



These activities were created based on the Data Nuggets model, developed in 2011 by MSU fellows in the K-12 Partnership. To access Data Nuggets on a variety of topics, follow this link! BEST Plot lesson plan and activities written by GK-12 Fellows Cara Krieg, Alycia Lackey and Tomomi Suwa, 2013.

Mar 252013

Lake Mixing_1

Ever wonder why when you dive in a lake, there is a sudden drop in temperature? Russ Stolberg’s 8th grade Earth Science students have been discussing why we observe this phenomenon in our lakes and oceans. It all has to do with density! Cold water has a higher density than warmer water, and as solar radiation continually warms the surface of our lakes it makes this separation even more pronounced.  I [Jake] had the pleasure working with the students on an exciting lab simulating how waters can become Lake_Mixing_3layered, or stratified, and then simulate how this stratification can be broken down through natural processes.  Groups of students each got to work with their own pond (a clear plastic tub), which was heated by the sun (a heat lamp) and received warm wind via a blow dryer. We started with “Winter” conditions, where the entire water body was cold water.  As we moved into “Spring” and “Summer” the heat from the sun began warming the surface waters. Students recorded the temperature of the water at several depths to observe how the temperatures changed over a 30-minute period. Students witnessed how the warm waters sat on top of the cold waters with a distinct separation of the cold and warm water forming, or what is called a thermocline. Then as “Autumn” approached the winds picked up, blow dryers were set to High, and the aid of a blue crystal dye, we were able to visualize a lake turnover event as the warm, dyed water from the surface was forced to the bottom of the lake via strong winds. Students recorded the temperature of the different depths one final time, observing that the thermocline that had formed had disappeared through the mixing event. Lake_Mixing_2Below is a copy of the lab protocol. Any follow-up questions can be directed to Jake at

By GK-12 Fellow Jakob Nalley, 2013

Mar 132013

 Purple Loosestrife 11

On March 8th, Dave Williams (GK-12 partner teacher and RET) and Liz Schultheis (GK-12 fellow) presented at the Michigan Science Teachers Association Conference (MSTA). Dave developed this lesson while working as an RET in Jen Lau’s lab, where graduate student Liz studies the role of enemies in plant invasions. The lesson covers invasive species in Michigan (like purple loosestrife and garlic mustard), and guides students through collecting data to test the Enemy Release Hypothesis – which posits that invasive species escape from natural enemies in their invasive range, contributing to their success. In this lesson, students develop predictions, design experimental sampling methods, collect data, and create graphs for data interpretation. Participants were also introduced to Data Nuggets – activities where students can practice making claims based on scientific data.

Lesson and other materials available via these links:

For any additional information about the lesson, or the Enemy Release Hypothesis, please contact Dave ( or Liz (

Mar 112013


Whether you’re new to inquiry learning in your classroom, or you’re looking for new projects to spice up your curriculum, this workshop is for you! Come enjoy an intensive week of field and lab exploration, working with scientists and educators. Participants will experience five days of cutting edge research, while creating lessons that will work in the classroom and with the Next Generation Science Standards.

 Lessons cover a diverse set of topics, including ecological field research, mathematical modeling, evolution, and computer simulations. Not only will participants come away with new research ideas, but more importantly, an increased comfort with the process of real science – including the unexpected and exciting new results that come from scientific inquiry!

Room and board at Kellogg Biological Station paid by the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action at Michigan State University. Travel costs paid by participants. Limited to the first 20 applicants.

Dates: June 28 – July 3, 2013

Cost: FREE – food, housing, and teaching materials covered by BEACON. Participant must pay for travel costs to the Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners, MI

Website to register:

Mar 082013


Using a simple inquiry exercise, a short presentation, readings, and discussion, you will explore how water and winter interact in temperate lakes and ponds. From the properties of solid and liquid water to the effects of biannual nutrient turnover through freezing and thawing, this lesson will highlight how winter dictates the ecology in temperate lakes. It ends with current event tie-ins that will get your students excited about ice in their daily lives.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • List the unique properties of water
    • Hydrogen bonding
    • Ice is less dense than water
    • Water is most dense at 4°C
  • Explain how turnover affects nutrients, plants and animals in a lake
  • Explain how the density of water at certain temperatures causes turnover to happen

To complete this lesson in full will take two 50-minute periods. The lesson could be shortened to focus only on water properties, how turnover works, or how turnover affects living things in the lake.


Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellows Anne Royer and Raffica La Rosa, 2009

Mar 082013


Students explore mutualistic interactions by focusing on pollination.  Do flowers attract specific or a variety of pollinators?  Students hear a presentation on mutualism and pollination in particular, and the go outside and use actual observations and data collection to discover what types of pollinators visit flowering plants in their vicinity.  The lesson is adaptable to multiple topics, grade levels, and habitats.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the major kinds of interspecific interaction
  • Explain what pollination is and how it works
  • Identify one or more species of local flowering plants
  • Identify pollinators by broad or narrow group, depending on age of students
  • Collect pollinator visitation data in a scientifically rigorous way
  • Discuss some of the ecological factors affecting composition and abundance of pollinator communities

Presentation: 20 minutes

Field: 30 minutes (plus time to get there and back)

Data collation and recap: 20 minutes

K-8; through 12 if instructor’s insect identification and statistical analysis skills are up to the challenge.


Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellow Anne Royer, 2009

Mar 082013


This lesson offers an introduction to aquatic invertebrates living in ponds, and a look into how the presence or absence of a top predator – fish – affects the community composition and structure.  This is a lesson teachers can do at KBS if they are interested – just contact Gary Mittlebach.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Display familiarity with techniques used to sample aquatic invertebrates
  • Describe how predators influence prey community composition and structure
  • Identify several major groups of aquatic invertebrates
  • Use microscopes to examine zooplankton

If classes want to come out to the KBS pond laboratory, we would suggest allowing at least a half day to spend on the facilities. This will allow time for

  • an introduction to the history and research done at the pond lab
  • an introduction to the study system and questions
  • brainstorming research questions and hypotheses
  • examining zooplankton under microscopes
  • sampling the ponds for macroinvertebrates and tadpoles
  • identifying and quantifying sampled macroinvertebrates
  • measuring macroinvertebrates for size
  • summarizing the data and offering conclusions, discussion

Activity can be modified for grades 3-12.


Lesson created by GK-12 Fellows Anne Royer and Melissa Kjelvik, 2009

Mar 082013

Semester-long projects that will allow students to see evolution in action


In this lesson, teachers explore potential semester to year-long evolution lessons that will enable the development of classroom lessons about evolution by natural selection. These lessons consist of long-term studies where change in populations over time is observed rather than simulated.

At the conclusion of the lesson, teachers will be able to:

  • Develop a long-term natural selection lesson for the classroom
  • Plan for the effective measurement of traits and fitness
  • Discuss and teach the 3 requirements for evolution by natural selection: phenotypic variation, relationship between a trait and fitness, and heritability of the trait.

The lessons discussed are designed to be semester to year long, long term, experiments. The long duration is necessary in order to see a response to selection.

This lesson is intended for either an Intro Biology or Advanced Biology class. Adjustments are suggested for younger students as well.


Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellows Anne Royer and Jay Sobel, 2009

Mar 072013

The KBS GK-12 Bioenergy Sustainability Project is now accepting applications for Teacher Partners for 2013-14.

Teacher Partners are K-12 teachers from 15 local school districts forming the KBS K-12 Partnership for Science Literacy. Teachers are paired with GK-12 graduate student fellows in a year-long relationship.Teacher Partners provide fellows with K-12 classroom and teaching experience. Fellows work with teacher partners to improve curricula and student learning, in part by utilizing established schoolyard science research plots (BEST plots) in K-12 Partner districts. These partnerships offer graduate students an opportunity to bring leading-edge research practices and findings to K-12 learning settings. Graduate Student Fellows are meant to serve as role models to K-12 students and help stimulate their interest in STEM disciplines.


GK-12 Teacher Partners and Fellows enjoy a BBQ dinner at Orientation May 2012

Please see the application form for more details on the project and teacher partner responsibilities and benefits.

To apply, please submit (1) this completed application form and (2) a letter of support from your school principal. Your application and your principal’s letter of support should demonstrate a familiarity with the general goals and expectations of the NSF GK-12 program and the KBS GK-12 project. Questions and application materials should e-mailed to Tom Getty and Sarah Bodbyl via . Review of applications will begin April 1, 2013.


Jan 212013

Weeds, Seeds, and Dispersal! That was our theme for the December 5th KBS K-12 Partnership workshop. Our plenary speaker for the day was Dr. Joe Dauer, MSU research associate in Plant Biology. We learned that when he is not wearing his ‘weed ecologist’ hat, Dr. Dauer makes ‘the best pancakes’! We did not get any pancakes but we did get to hear his talk: ‘Going the Distance: Investigating dispersal across scales’.

PC052572Dr. Dauer began with a discussion on investigative ecology. How and what do you investigate about weeds? One question would be – why do we see a patchy distribution of weeds and not an even distribution? Another could be – what is the role of humans in facilitating the movement of weeds or controlling it? During the talk we considered two methods of dispersal: wind and soil. When considering wind dispersal, the important questions according to Dr. Dauer are: How do the seeds move and how far do they move? For a plant relying on wind to disperse its seeds, it would be a smart move to get those seeds as high as it can. This is because the wind speeds are higher and the flow much more laminar at greater heights. Using some cool model airplanes for seed collection in one experiment, Dr. Dauer found that Horseweed seed dispersersed long-distances, travelling at least 6 meters above ground surface.

In the case of plants which disperse via the soil we learned that different plants have different ‘growing points’ i.e. the lowest point at which a plant must be cut in order to kill it. Dr. Dauer spoke of the ‘curious case of the Japanese Knotweed’. This is a plant that was introduced to the USA as a horticultural plant. The curious aspect is that since it does not produce viable seeds here what we see is basically the same plant all over eastern USA. Piece of friendly advice: do not try to grow, mow or use it for your garden deco. It is against the law in Michigan. The growing point of this weed is below the ground so mowing it does not kill it, all it does is spread it some more.

After the talk, session leaders got their 15 seconds of fame in which they had to do the best to sell their talk! Some of them did such a great job that I think they may have an alternative career in advertising!

PC052575Teachers had multiple concurrent sessions to choose from throughout the day. Robby Cramer, of the Van Andel Education Institute, conducted a couple of sessions for elementary school teachers. Her session was marketed under the title ‘Pill Bugs, Millipedes, and Hissing Cockroaches OH MY!! Science is indeed a Verb!’ In this session, which was conducted in a room full of creepy crawlies, the teachers gained insights into making science fun by making their students think and act like scientists. They were given ‘QPOE2’ (Question, Prediction, Observation, Explanation, Evaluation), Investigative Organizer Step Books, and Sticker Books to help them conduct investigations in their classrooms.

Jenny Dauer (the one who gets to eat Dr. Joe Dauer’s best pancakes) and Andy Anderson conducted an MSP Carbon Session for MS/HS teachers. Their strategy to attract teachers to ‘Ecosystems: Carbon Cycles and Energy Flows!’ was having ‘cool PowerPoint tricks’. They delivered on their promise and the teachers had a great time exploring carbon-transforming processes at an ecosystem scale. In good GK-12 tradition, they also had an online interactive activity called Sunny Meadows in which students have to adopt the best strategy that leads to the maximum number of foxes (representing the top trophic level) at the end of 10 (virtual) years.

PC052582To explore the Weeds, Seeds, and Dispersal topic, the GK-12 fellows come up with innovative, interactive and interesting concurrent session ideas. When it comes to designing games, we have a reigning king at KBS. Michael can sell any of his sessions by just hinting at an exciting game. And that is exactly what happened. Michael Kuczynski, Anne Royer and Sara Garnett teamed together to conduct ‘Seeds on the Run: A Model of Seed Dispersal’. They designed a game to explore the Janzen–Connell hypothesis. This widely accepted hypothesis explains the distribution of tree species in tropical rainforests. The game used tiddlywinks (they claimed it was deceptively simple) to walk students through predicting, collecting data and graphing it to understand the hypothesis.

Despite having planted a known mixture of seed in the BEST plots, teachers and students have found that there are tons of other ‘volunteers’ growing there. Fellows Cara Krieg, Tyler Bassett and Dustin Kincaid pitched their session towards offering an answer to this question. In the session titled ‘Weeds: Tricks of the trade’ they explored how plant traits and land-use history influence the assembly of plant communities. As said in their sales pitch, they focussed on the volunteer species commonly found in the BEST plots. They also conducted an activity to predict which traits make certain weeds more successful than others.

PC052589Fellows Tomomi Suwa, Liz Schultheis and Jakob Nalley promoted their session called ‘The double life of a squirrel – seed disperser and predator’ by referring to an intriguing ‘Chocolate Chip Cookie Study’. Teachers learnt that the 1985 study researched the fine dining habits of squirrels. This study was replicated in the session using trays of sunflower seeds. While conducting the activity, there was an exciting discovery: an actual cache of seeds in a tree hollow! The teachers also explored the different strategies employed by plants to spread their seeds.

For the final session ‘Ecology and Evolution in the Human Microbiome’ Jennifer Doherty posed some interesting questions, one of which was ‘What is a faecal transplant and why would someone do that?’. Her strategy seemed to work and the session was standing room only! She applied the concepts of community ecology and evolution to investigate Human Microbiome scenarios. A couple of these scenarios for the curious: Bacterial cells in your body outnumber your body cells 10:1 and the back of your heel and the area between your toes have different bacterial communities!

After the concurrent sessions, teachers Lisa W. and Marty B. gave us an update on their Alaskan Trip. They had gone to the Alaskan LTER in July 2012. From what we heard they had tons of fun, learned a few things, got stranded in a no-horse town and yet managed to get a few cast-off antlers shipped back home!

Thanks to all of you for another wonderful workshop!

Written by K-12 Partnership member Joelyn de Lima.

Jan 212013

pic2This lesson will explore how plant traits like seed dispersal (e.g., wind-dispersed, animal-dispersed, etc.), seed hardiness, and land-use history influence the assembly of weed communities following a major disturbance (e.g., construction of a BEST plot, agricultural field, or garden plot). The focus will be on volunteer species (read: weeds) most commonly found in the BEST plots across the network. The lesson begins by providing students background information on seed traits and land use legacies. After covering this information, participants will do a brief activity that involves making predictions about which plant traits make weeds made most successful. Students will spend the remaining portion of the lesson analyzing and interpreting volunteer species abundance data from the BEST plot network.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • List and describe four different plant dispersal mechanisms
  • Describe three determinants of “how a plant got there” (dispersal mechanism, seed bank longevity, effect of landscape)
  • Better interpret histograms and scatterplots


Lesson Plan created by GK-12 Fellows Tyler Bassett, Dustin Kincaid, and Cara Krieg, 2012


Jan 182013

In the 1970’s, an influential ecological hypothesis was developed by two tropical biologists trying to explain the distribution of trees in the hyper-diverse rainforests of planet Earth. We use a deceptively simple board game as a model for students to explore how two basic concepts (dispersing far is hard, and living at high density is dangerous) can be combined to explain this baffling natural pattern. We show you how to interactively lead students through the predictions of the hypothesis, give you the tools to collect data from the game itself, and finish by graphing and discussing our board-game data.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain dispersal in an ecological context including why dispersal is important and the challenges of dispersal
  • Make predictions based on ecological concepts
  • Understand the principles of the Janzen-Connell hypothesis
  • Graph data generated from a game/model


Lesson created and designed by GK-12 Fellows Sara Garnett, Anne Royer, and Michael Kuczynski, 2012


Jan 032013

Congratulations to Fellow Elizabeth Schultheis who has been selected as a recipient of a Dr. Marvin Hensley Endowed Fellowship in Science. Way to go, Liz!

Fellow Liz collects biomass from the LTER BEST plots

Dec 032012

The KBS GK-12 Bioenergy Sustainability Project is accepting applications for graduate student fellowships for 2013-14.  This graduate training project is funded by grant from the NSF Division of Graduate Education. Fellowships are intended for students who have completed at least their first year of graduate coursework.

The NSF GK-12 program is meant to advance the professional development of STEM graduate students while they continue to make good progress on their dissertation research.  NSF stipulates that fellows will spend a maximum of 15 hours per week directly involved in GK-12 project activities, with approximately 10 of these hours devoted to activities in K-12 partner districts or at KBS.  KBS activities will include a one-day orientation in May, an intensive summer science institute in late June, two one-day school year workshops and weekly Friday fellows meetings associated with a course focused on the professional development of fellows.Stipend support is $30,000/year, plus $10,500/year in cost-of-education benefits (tuition and health care).  The eight NSF fellowships are limited to citizens, nationals or permanent residents of the United States.  The MSU Graduate School will provide one additional fellowship that does not have this restriction.  Appointments will run from the beginning of Summer semester 2013 through the end of Spring semester 2014, with the possibility of renewal for a second year.  Applicants who have established research and residency at KBS will have priority.*

To apply, please submit (1) a statement of interest, (2) your current CV, and (3) a letter of support from your faculty advisor. Your statement of interest and your advisor’s letter of support should demonstrate a familiarity with the general goals and expectations of the NSF GK-12 program and the KBS GK-12 project.  Questions and application materials should e-mailed to Tom Getty and Sarah Bodbyl via .  Review of applications will begin December 21, 2012.

* We anticipate that a few fellowships will be available to EEBB/ESPP students whose research is not established at KBS.  Campus-based fellows will need to be prepared to spend up to 15 hours per week working at KBS or in nearby K-12 districts. 

Nov 072012

This lesson takes the student from understanding the meaning of biodiversity to understanding how important it is in real ecosystems. Using the insects captured during the BEST Plots Invertebrate Diversity Protocol, students play Bug Bingo and have fun while recognizing differences in diversity from place to place. Then, students play the Biodiversity Stock Market, to demonstrate the importance of biodiversity and the consequences of eliminating diversity.  Additionally, the game will demonstrate the many economic benefits provided by high levels of biodiversity through valuable ecosystem services.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Understand what biodiversity means in the scientific community
  • Recognize several insects to order
  • Understand that diversity differs from place to place, and is declining.
  • Understand that biodiversity has economic and social benefits
  • Understand that high levels of biodiversity improve ecosystem productivity and stability
  • Recognize that healthy ecosystems provide people with a variety of services that have a substantial economic value.


Lesson written and created by GK-12 fellows Tyler Bassett and Michael Kuczynski, 2011

Nov 072012
An organism’s genetic composition plays an important role in its chances of survival, but will the same combination of genes always win?  An organism, (or more specifically, a set of genes) that succeeds in one environment or season may not fare so well under different conditions.  In this lesson plan, students will explore how genetics and environmental conditions can affect the survival of different organisms.  This classroom activity simulates how birds with different beak sizes might have a competitive advantage depending on environment.  Students will then graph their data to see how environment influences the success of different genotypes.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain how survival of an organism is affected by both its genotype (nature) and its environment (nurture)
  • Understand environmental factors that contribute to the varying success of organisms, including climate, seasonal change, disease, and competition
  • Define and differentiate between a genotype and a phenotype
  • Construct and interpret graphs relating to genotype by environment interactions
  • Relate patterns to theory
  • Use evidence and reason to form a conclusion


Lesson written and created by GK-12 fellows Michael Kuczynski and Kate Steensma, 2011

Nov 072012

In this lesson, students learn about the difference between climate and weather and how we expect Michigan’s climate to change.  They use real data from the Kellogg Biological Station’s agricultural Long Term Ecological Research site to predict how specific crops may respond to climate change.

At the conclusion of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the difference between climate and weather
  • Name three ways the Michigan climate is expected to change
  • Show how some crops may improve with climate change while others decline


Lesson written and created by GK-12 fellows Tomomi Suwa and Anne Royer, 2012