Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Making Cheese... Maybe.

This week, I took my first stab at making real cheese.   But... it didn't go too great.  I broke out a gallon of milk, added the acid and set to heating it up.  Like with my rennet making experience, the heating took way longer than I anticipated, so I was getting a bit panicky by the time it reached the mandatory 88oF.  Once there, I started the real test, adding the rennet.  I measured out a few tablespoons of the mixture, stirred it in for the required time, then covered it and furiously hoped for ten minutes that when I opened the pot, I would see any kind of separation.  Unfortunately, when I whipped off the lid, it looked exactly the same as when I covered it.  I repeated the process several more times, each time adding a little more rennet, until I was pouring in half cups, and the milk itself was turning a weird brownish color.   No matter how much I added, nothing was happening.  The only conclusion I could come to was that something was up with the rennet.  That was the key thing for the coagulation to occur, and based on my less than precise rennet making process, it seemed likely that it did not work properly.  The most likely cause of this, in my opinion, is the fact that the nettle leaves that we used had been processed and made into an herbal supplement, instead of being the hand picked leaves that the recipe called for.  Going from here, I would like to order the fresh leaves, and try my hand again at making rennet.  Unfortunately, there is not a huge amount of time left in this year, so I am just ordering rennet premade.  Hopefully, this will ensure the success of my second attempt at making cheese.

Raunchy Rennet (a little late, oops)

This biggest thing that happened this week on my journey through cheese making was making the rennet.  We finally were able to get a hold of nettle leaves, so I was a go on the rennet process.  Reading through the procedure made making rennet seem like a breeze, but it turned out to be a bit more complicated when actually in practice.  For one thing, the amount of dried nettle that we got, one pound as the recipe states, was way too much for the amount of water they suggested using, and too much for the pot I brought.  Because of this, the amount of water and nettle I used was in a much different ratio than the recipe stated.  Nonetheless I pushed on, and went to boil the mushy goop.  Boiling a goop is harder than it sounds, because the water is not distinctly separated from the solids in it.  This caused a bit of fear when the mixture appeared to be alive and breathing as bubbles moved the leaves up and down.  After a really long time, I decided it was boiling, added the salt and drained it, releasing a very strong hay smell, and revealing a very very dark liquid that was basically super steeped herbal tea.  Next week I will begin the real test of this process, the making of the actual cheese! Stay tuned for how that turns out!!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Getting It Going With Genius Hour

This week we began to explore our ideas for Genius Hour.  On Wednesday, my first class day of the week, I was very convinced that I wanted to somehow genetically engineer something.  I really like genetics, it is definitely my favorite unit, but as I was researching the different materials I would need, and the amount of work that would need to go into it, I started doubting whether or not I would actually be able to do the type of thing I wanted to.  Once I had this realization, I very drastically shifted focus.  I knew I wanted to explore, not so much an experiment, as making something.  I started researching bacterial byproducts, to see if there was anything I could make using bacteria because that would involve life.  Somehow on this escapade through google I landed on cheese.  As I was researching how cheese is made, and how I could directly tie it into life, I started looking into the ingredient rennet in cheese.  Rennet is an essential part of the cheese-making process that contains an enzyme responsible for the coagulation of the milk into curds.  While it is most often obtained from the stomach of lambs, I found several methods to get it from different plants, something that is very doable, and also ties perfectly into life and the study of biology.  So this has become my plan.  Right now, I am working on obtaining the nettle leaves that I will be using to make rennet, as well as figuring out what type of milk I will be using to make the cheese later on.  Overall, I am actually glad that the genetic thing didn't work out, because I am so stoked to make cheese!!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Transpiration Fascination: Weekly Reflection for the Week of April 24th through April 28th

How did you do on the work?
The work we did this week was primarily our transpiration lab.  For this lab, I was working with Lizzy, Kaitlyn, and Dennis, and I feel like we did pretty well on our lab.  We had a little trouble coming up with an initial idea, but once we got that it was pretty smooth sailing.  Nobody got acid burns and we collected usable data, so all in all a success in my book!  So far our analysis of the lab is going well and we are coming up with solid theories as to why our data appeared the way it did.

What do you think you understand well?
I felt pretty solid on the topics we covered in the ecology videos we watched and discoed this week.  A lot of it was some of the basics that I had already learned in other science classes, so I felt strongly about that, however the technical terms and ideas it introduced into those ideas definitely will help me on the upcoming AP exam.

Where do you think you could improve?
One thing that I didn't do this week as much as I meant to was study for the AP exam.  As it is only like, eight days away, I need to start my serious studying, but last week, I didn't do much other than start looking over some old notes.

What strategies will you use to improve?
In order to more efficiently and effectively study, I am going to use some online resources I have found like flash cards and prep tests so that I am not just reading and re-reading my notes.  I am also planning on re watching some of the vodcasts on material I am not as strong on, as well as watching some crash course videos.

How does what we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this class?
This week, the transpiration lab especially is working to connect the molecular level biology to the organism level biology.  Last week, we looked at the plant stem under the microscope, and were able to see the cells that make up the xylem.  We could then experience these cells in action through our lab regarding transpiration, a connection that you rarely get to physically see.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

SHOT THROUGH THE HEART: Weekly Reflection for the Week of April 10th through April 14th

How did you do on the work?
This week was HEART WEEK which was awesome!  Basically all of our work was centered around our big heart dissection lab and our summative assessment. I felt pretty solid on the heart stuff we did, and while I was pretty weirded out at first with the whole "real heart" thing, I definitely got more confidant and comfortable over the course of our two days actually examining the heart, and by the end of the second day I could stick my finger through the different veins and arteries without gagging!

What do you think you understand well?
After actually dissecting the heart, I feel like I really understand the structure of the heart and what all of the different components do.  Especially adding onto the fact that the week before I was in a group researching the circulatory system, I am feeling much more confident on at least one of the broader biological systems in the body.

Where do you think you could improve?
While I feel like the lab went really well, I definitely slacked a little bit on my studying for the exam.  Because this is a unit I feel pretty confident about, I didn't take studying as seriously as I probably should have, doing more of a going-over-the-notes kind of deal than actually in-depth studying.

What strategies will you use to improve?
In order to improve I just need to be more aware of time management and keeping myself focused on what I need to be doing.  I also just need to remember that studying is always necessary and really can never hurt.

How does what we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this class?
This week, and the heart lab was a really cool way to connect the microscopic things we have been learning about to the actual function of an organism on a large scale, as well as how these thing affect us.  It was also a foray into dissection, something that we haven't done in this class before, or for many of us, at all, and that, for those looking at bio as an avenue through which to pursue a career as a doctor or something it is preparation for that.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sticklebacks, Feedback, and Circulation; Oh My!: Weekly Reflection for the Week of April 3rd to April 7th

Weekly Standards: 5.1, 5.2

How did you do on the work?
I feel like I did alright on some of the work this week.  I feel pretty good on our in class work, especially the information sheet on circulation that we worked on on Wednesday and Thursday.  We also did some work on stickleback fish earlier in the week to compliment our Vodcast on genomics, and I feel like these packets have been going well.  The work outside of class hasn't been going as hot, simply because my schedule has turned up about 55 notches and I am struggling to adjust.  Because of this, my vodcasts haven't been going as well, as I often have to rush through them.  At the beginning of this week I was behind a few, but luckily I was able to catch up on Monday afternoon.

What do you think you understand well?
I feel really good about the information we researched on circulation.  I spearheaded the section on plants, and not only fount it to be super cool (like that's where rings come from, who knew?), but then when I was doing the vodcast this weekend, I came upon mentions of xylem and phloem and felt super smart and ahead of the game!!

Where do you think you could improve?
Right now my biggest obstacle is time management.  Any sketchiness I feel regarding the material we have covered is due to rushing through work to get it done.  I need to work on not just getting to my work and getting it done in a good amount of time, but taking enough time on it that I am not rushing and missing important material.  This balance is something that I am working to find, especially with the more time consuming assignments, like vodcasts.

What strategies will you use to improve?
In order to more effectively manage my time I need to prioritize my work, and take any and all opportunities to get it done.  I should start utilizing times like my lunch break, or off periods during my rehearsals to get work done, so I will have enough time to sit down and soak in the material, instead of simply flipping through it.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this class?
One thing that I am really enjoying about this unit so far is that it is connecting two distinct worlds of biology that I have been familiar with.  You always hear about bio as the study of life, with work on animals and how things grow, yet I feel like in high school biology the time constraint of one year limits class to mostly just cell biology, and looking at the basic processes of life, like photosynthesis or cell respiration.  Looking at how these things come together to form an organism is a super interesting connection between all of the microscopic things we have been studying for a year and a half, to the real life things we know from living in the world.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Contemplating Cancer: A 3-2-1 Analysis of the Cancer Patient Data Activity

Three Things You Learned from the Activity
  1. Different genes can cause the same cancer.  On the patients we looked at today, there was not a single gene that each person in my group all had in common.  Each of us had different genes, and yet the mutations all led to the same type of cancer.
  2. Cancer takes more than one mutation.  All of the patient cards we had had at least two genes that contributed to the cancer, some had four or even six different genes that played into it.  Even within the groups the numbers varied, yet nobody had one gene that by itself caused cancer.
  3. Certain chromosomes have more potential cancerous genes than others.  Chromosomes such as 12, 17, and 7 all contain many genes that are known to cause cancer when mutated.  This could be seen in the prevalence of mutated genes on these chromosomes between all of the groups, even those with different cancers.
Two Things That Surprised or Interested You
  1. One thing that surprised me was from the research I looked into on a gene associated with a specific type of Hepatic cancer.  The gene was a hybrid of two other genes and it was found in 100% of the cases of this cancer that they looked into.  This is wild, especially since the activity we did was stressing how different genes can cause the same cancer.
  2. Another thing that interested me was the way the different genes worked together.  Through the function column on the patient cards we got, I noticed that most (if not all) of the cards had genes with multiple functions.  At first I was confused by the lack of correlation, but then I realized that naturally, the multiple genes affecting different functions of the cell would make it much more debilitated.
One Question You Still Have
  1. After this activity, I am still a bit confused on the logistics of how these cells become mutated.  Obviously it is not something normal in your genome, otherwise all of our cells would be cancerous, and that just would not work.  This means that something mutates the genes in this cell, which seems like an epigenetic/environmental factor; however, we always talk about cancer as something that is heritable.  These things seem a little contradictory to me and I was wondering how they fit together.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Meeting Meiosis and Various Vodcasts: Weekly Reflection for the Week of March 6th to March 10th

Weekly Standards: 4.1, 4.3

How did you do on the work?
This week I felt a little more overwhelmed by work than I did last week.  This was primarily due to the fact that we had the lab write-up to work on and vodcasts on most nights, along with other projects due in other classes.  Aside from this I feel like I did a fairly good job on the work, although some of my WSQ responses were not the best they could probably have been.  I do feel, however that our classwork packets really helped to reinforce the concepts that I may not have gotten as great a feel on in the vodcast.

What do you think you understand well?
I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the outlines of the stuff we are learning.  I understand the process of mitosis and (for the most part) meiosis, and I understand how changes in the cell cycle control system can impact the cell and the organism.  These broad, basics I feel like I have gotten down, mainly because of the packets we have been working on all week along with the vodcasts.

Where do you think you could improve?
While I feel like most of the material I am getting and understanding, I feel like I could have a much better grasp on if I went a little more in depth with them.  For example, I understand what happens to the cell cycle when a tumor suppressor gene is mutated, but I don't know what causes this mutation, or how prevalent it is.  I feel like I should be paying more attention to the why's of what we are learning instead of just the what's so that I can better connect topics and remember the information more efficiently.

What strategies will you use to improve?
In order to work on my connectivity between topics I will not only pay more attention to the spoken aspect of the vodcasts, as this is the part that most often gives information on that kind of thing, but will also start to go back and revisit some of our older unit notes to keep myself fresh on the mechanisms of evolution or the materials that make up a cell wall.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this class?
A lot of what we are doing this week, especially in mitosis and meiosis connects to our previous unit of evolution.  Looking at the process by which new generations are made makes it much more clear how small mutations can cause lasting impacts in populations that can lead to the increased diversity of the species.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

An Alu-minating Week: Weekly Reflection for the Week of February 27th to March 3rd

Weekly Standards: 4.1, 4.3

How did you do on the work?
I feel as though I did pretty well on the work this week.  We were primarily focused on our big PCR lab, which was super cool.  We got to use several of the tools and techniques we have been learning about this week to find out our own genotype for a particular Alu insert.  My group worked really well on this lab, and made it through pretty well, with almost all of us getting solid results.  This was a particular relief after the lack of good electrophoresis results in my science fair last year!

What do you think you understand well?
I feel like I understand how most of the processes we learned about work.  I, for obvious reasons, feel most confident on the tools that I have had experience with, so gel electrophoresis, restriction enzymes, and now, PCR.  I feel like this week has helped me to connect the idea of DNA as both a physical substance and as a code, something that I already knew, but never really thought about.  The physical use of our own DNA, made it much more real.

Where do you think you could improve?
While there are some of the DNA technologies that I feel really strong on, there are a couple that I still struggle to understand. One in particular is the technique of microarrays.  I have watched the video and have talked to Mrs. Cole and India multiple times about it, but for some reason it just does not want to fit into my brain.  I also don't feel like I got the greatest of grasps on the Virus vodcast, as I did it later at night and kind of rushed through it a bit. Instead of taking my normal length of time.

What strategies will you use to improve?
To improve this week I definitely just need to take some more time with the material to let it really sink in.  I could find some more videos on microarrays, maybe something with a practical application will help me understand it better.  I also should go back through the virus vodcast to make sure I get all the information I need on that topic.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this class?
Genetics is a huge part of the field of biology in the present.  There are so many huge breakthroughs and overwhelming possibility in the field, so our activities in class is super relevant to what is going on in the scientific community right now.  Getting experience with different genetic tools, especially PCR is valuable not only for growing our understanding of genetics, but practically if we want to perhaps go into biology in our futures.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Play-Doh and Plasmids: Weekly Reflection for the Week of February 6th through February 10th

Weekly Standards: 4.2

How did you do on the work?
I feel as though I did pretty well on the work this week.  The main thing we were working on was our Play-Doh DNA project, in which we model the process of turning a DNA sequence into a protein using Play-Doh as our medium.  While at the beginning, Taylor and I were a little lost in figuring out where to start, once we started to build our molecules and take pictures, we quickly got into a groove. This week we also were responsible for completing the next vodcast, Vodcast 4.3, which was another three part video.  I really enjoyed this vodcast (despite the length) because I find the different biotechnologies super fascinating.

What do you think you understand well?
This week, the Play-Doh project in particular has helped me a lot in understanding the processing of DNA.  Because we were the ones building and moving everything, from the DNA nucleotides to the different enzymes used throughout the process, we needed to know exactly what they were and how they specifically functioned.  Because of this need for precise information, we had to delve deeper, so I feel like I have a much more solid grasp on the processes of protein synthesis.

Where do you think you could improve?
I definitely could improve by paying closer attention to the vodcasts.  Most of the time I end up rushing through them, so instead of fully processing the material, I end up just rush-writing my notes. While this does make the note taking process shorter, it makes completing the WSQ questions much more challenging and time-consuming.

What strategies will you use to improve?
In order to improve my note taking, I, first of all need to give myself more time to watch the vodcasts instead of trying to finish them as quickly as possible.  To add onto this, I will try pausing the video each time a new slide appears, so I can write down the information and then listen to what Mrs. Cole is saying, instead of rushing to write it all down while the video plays and missing all of the spoken information.  This will also allow me to jot down things that are mentioned verbally that are not necessarily on the notes.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this course?
The work we did this week, especially the last vodcast doesn't show just the basics of bio, teaching us how stuff works, or about experiments done decades ago.  This information is new, it's important, and it's constantly evolving.  This unit in particular is crazy relevant to our world, and the major research going on right now.  Who knows, maybe some of us will end up working in biotechnology.  The work we are doing right now in class has so much connection to what we could be doing if we decide to pursue biology in our future.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Diving into DNA: Weekly Reflection for the Week of January 30th through February 3rd

Weekly Standard: 4.1

How did you do on the work?
I feel as though it did well on the work this week.  We spent several class periods this week working on an argumentative project in which we were to determine whether or not a man, Jeff, who was claiming to be the long lost child of a family, was actually a part of that family based on what we have learned about the heritability of DNA.  I think I did well in this activity, and my group worked well to discuss the data we were given and reach a conclusion that we could support.  This week we also did Vodcasts 4.1 and 4.2 which went well.  I could answer most of the questions based on the vodcasts, although there were a few that I had to consult outside sources on.

What do you think you understand well?
I think I have a pretty solid grasp on DNA theory and the contents of Vodcast 4.1 discussing the reasoning and experiments that lead to the discovery of DNA and its structure.  I also feel like I understand the process of DNA transcription which made up the second part of Vodcast 4.2 pretty well, as the idea of the DNA being copied into RNA molecules makes sense to me.  I feel like for this function of DNA all of the pieces, such as the promoters and different enzymes make a lot of sense to me.

Where do you think you could improve?
I feel like I need to spend more time on the process of DNA replication, as that has been an area that I have never been super solid on, even way back in sophomore biology.  The two strands thing has always been a bit confusing to me, and although I understand the concept of the leading versus lagging strand and the differences that those cause in the replication process, I have trouble to visualize the process actually happening, and visualization is something that is important for my process of understanding and remembering information.

What strategies will you use to improve?
One thing that I can do to help me better understand the process of DNA replication is finding a video online that shows a simulation of the process. These types of videos are very helpful to me because they take all the words and information that I have in my head right now and give them an image to go along with, one that shows the movement through the cycle.

How does the work we are doing fit into the context/narrative of this course?
Our first unit this year was on evolution and the different mechanisms by which organisms evolve.  DNA is highly tied into the idea of evolution because it is certain genetic qualities that give certain organisms a leg-up over others.  Going deeper into this unit will give us a more in-depth understanding of not only the function of DNA inside ourselves and the life around us, but also in the greater scheme of populations and speciation.