Welcome to the latest Science and Plants for Schools newsletter.
A teacher recommends our improved bubbling pondweed technique, get topical and turn your science club into deadly disease hunters, and check out the scientists trying to extract the oldest DNA samples ever recovered from a fossilised forest in Idaho. And much, much more!
Science in the news - the biology behind 'ash dieback'
The Daily Mail have called it ‘Ashmageddon’. Could a fungus brought into the UK with imported trees devastate our native woodland and environment?
How can your students use their scientific knowledge to understand this threat?
Thousands of people have been outside checking ash trees for signs of infection by the fungal pathogen Chalara fraxinea and informing the authorities of their findings.
Chalara fungal spores attack the leaves first, before the disease moves up the leaf stems and into the branches and trunk, eventually blocking the water-carrying xylem vessels, starving them of moisture and killing the tree. Strict plant biosecurity rules have been implemented across the UK. A major programme of research, habitat surveying and citizen science has been proposed.
The Guardian’s Teacher Network gives a good list of resources.
Looking at ash dieback and using these resources gives you the opportunity to:
• Demonstrate to students why it is important to be able to identify plants correctly
• Practice plant identification skills and make a real contribution to research currently underway (students with smartphones can use the Ashtag app to upload sightings)
• Explore the structure and function of xylem in trees to understand why Chalara is so dangerous
• Introduce ideas about epidemiology and how disease spreads throughout populations
• Discuss the pros and cons of GM in relation to the resurrection of chestnuts in the USA through this Nature article
SAPS Practical - Deadly diseases and plant pathologists
Killer pathogens have been all over the news - here's your chance to get your students hands-on in the role of plant pathologists.
In this new practical, students track down leaf pathogens under the microscope, as a starting point to consider the global impact of disease on society and the environment.
The topic would make a contemporary science club activity, but is relevant to many aspects of A-level biology, such as leaf structure during the teaching of photosynthesis, productivity of crop species and reasons for using pest control.
This practical was developed by teacher and SAPS Associate Sarah Bayliss, after attending the Gatsby Plant Science Summer School.
Download it now
SAPS Practical - Bats, bees and ash keys
What do ash trees, bees and bats have in common? The surprising answer is in their wings - in the case of the ash trees, the winged fruits that spin down from the trees in autumn, often travelling long distances in the wind. Recent research shows that the wings of these fruits, like hovering insects and bats, generate more lift than would be expected by regarding the wings as aerofoil sections - an example of convergent evolution across animals and plants.
In this practical, students design an investigation to look at the relationship between the length of winged fruits and their flight capacity. Plenty of opportunities for data gathering and analysis!
Download it now
Teacher's pick of the month - better, bigger, bubbling pondweed
We asked Emma Benton, biology teacher at Arthur Mellows Village College, to pick her favourite SAPS resource. She chose bubbling Cabomba pondweed, and by lucky chance, we've just updated our technical notes and included a new students' worksheet.
"We were shown some great practical ideas from SAPS during our PGCE course, but the one that has had the biggest impact in my lessons is probably the simplest - replacing Elodea pond weed with Cabomba in photosynthesis experiments. Elodea is notoriously unreliable - in fact on some days it may refuse to produce any bubbles at all.
Cabomba has not let me down once. It bubbles at a vigorous rate and reliably slows at lower light intensities. The procedure also suggests putting the plant in a glass measuring cylinder which is rather pleasing to look at if left on a window sill. It's only short-coming is that it's difficult to keep for more than a couple of weeks.
So avoid wasting time setting up a practical that rarely works, and try some Cabomba."
Try it out for yourself!
Video: Fossilised forests - extracting the world's most ancient DNA
In this brilliant new video from the ‘Plants Are Cool, Too’ team, botanist Dr Chris Martine heads to a fossil deposit site in Idaho, where scientists are splitting open shale deposits to reveal perfectly preserved leaves – some with the last remnants of their autumn colour. The team are looking at differences between the stomata found in the trees 15 million years ago and those found now, with a view to better understanding changes in levels of carbon dioxide. The team is now working on cutting edge research to extract some of the oldest DNA ever found.
This makes a fascinating scientific resource for topics including stomata, DNA and climate change.
Watch the video now
Read Dr Chris Martine's blog
Video: Why do leaves change colour?
We're reaching the end of a spectacular autumn of leaf colour, but what's the chemistry behind it? This short (3mins) and lively video looks at the chemistry behind the vivid yellows and reds of autumn.
There are some links to photosynthesis, in terms of introducing chloroplasts and photosynthetic pigments.
Find out why leaves change colour
ASE 2013 - What's on from Science and Plants for Schools
We'll be at the ASE Annual Conference 2013, with a whole programme of hands-on activities, lectures - and a 21st birthday party. We'll also be in the Exhibition Marquee throughout, on the Big Biology stand (Stand A4). So come and join us!
- Biology practicals that work - a hands-on session (drop-in, Thursday and Friday, 2-4PM)
- Biology showcase - ideas and resources from teachers and technicians (drop-in, Friday 11am-1pm)
- 'Transforming photosynthesis' lecture - part of the Biology in the real world series (Friday 1.30pm - 2.15pm)
- Celebrating 21 years of Science and Plants for Schools with cake and gifts (Friday, 4.30pm-5.00pm)
- Biology practicals that work - trainee and early career teacher special (drop-in, Saturday 11am-1pm)
SAPS Opportunity - your post-16 students can 'ask the expert' to advise on projects
Our 'Ask the Experts' service is not just for teachers - we can also help students working on a plant science project for their Advanced Higher Investigation or their EPQ.
Dr John Hewitson, our resident expert, is a retired teacher with huge amounts of experience and plant expertise. He's always ready to give students some expert advice if they get stuck and their teachers and technicians are unable to help.
This month, we’ve had students asking about topics as broad as whether photolysis can continue in the absence of oxygen, the growth-inhibiting effects of conifer trees and the effect of salinity on photosynthesis in marine algae.
Best wishes from the SAPS team!
The Administratort, Dan Jenkins, Elizabeth McDonald and Ginny Page
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