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Please hit me with any "outside the box" Biology study/project ideas!

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DD14 is very interested in molecular biology and genetics. Her interest in the area was piqued when a natural-history-for-homeschoolers teacher described hemimastigotes as new branch of life; at around the same time, she started reading my old HS Bio AP textbook on her own because she found it super interesting. When asked, she currently (which obviously may change) describes her ideal job as: "observation and analysis, searching for patterns and relationships, with the goal of answering previously undefined questions in animal/human (not plant) molecular biology/genetics".

She's chosen to do a Biology elective this year, and is reading through a text (more current than my old book), answering study questions, etc. @Farrarsuggested doing a unique project to make the year more special, and she and I both loved this idea. Problem is, even after searching, reading, discussing, scouring the library and the web for ideas - neither she nor I have had success in coming up with a topic or question to explore that would be both meaningful and doable. I remember reading about @lewelma boys' incredible, in-depth science projects...Gah. Any thoughts?? Farrar and Ruth, I hope you don't mind my tags. Now that it's November, I'm feeling desperate.

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Science isn't as much my wheelhouse, but I always think looking at the syllabi for college courses is a good starting point, especially for a motivated kid. And then combining those topics, books, and resources with more lay friendly ones. Have you and she tried looking over what's offered at a few different colleges - maybe especially a few smaller schools known for their biology programs? You can also try envisioning it as a science fair type project that simply lasts for the whole year or semester - in other words, the scope and level is just upped. If she was going to try to "win" the science fair with a big project in her interest area, what would it be? With science - especially biology - I always think one of the challenges for kids is to get them to focus smaller on their own backyards. What do you realistically have access to in your community that could stand to be studied?

I think Ruth will have good ideas...

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Part of the problem with science in high school is that there is so much factual material a person needs to know before they can even hope to do authentic, creative work.  So a project at this stage is by necessity going to look more like library research than it is like an actual scientific study.  And that's forgetting about how difficult it is to do lab work in biochemistry/molecular biology in the home.

One idea might be to come up with a (library) research question that combines science and other aspects of human experience.  Some examples:

  • What are the ethical implications of genetic engineering?
  • In the field of molecular biology, what has been the relationship between advances in technology and advances in understanding?
  • How has the identification of DNA as the molecule of inheritance changed the human experience?
  • What are the implications of applying evolutionary theory to processes that seem removed from biology (cultures, for example)?

 

 

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Very good food for thought, thank you both. Questions like yours are exactly what I need to push me past the wall I've hit. I think it's worth mentioning that I have a background in medicine and some firsthand experience in research; I feel equipped to help her navigate a more complex project, if only we could come up with a topic! I was hoping (ever the victim of wishful thinking) that her independent reading would lead her to something a bit more tangible that would, in turn, ignite her curiosity. Clearly, that would be the foundation for the best project ever.... 

 

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Does your library have a subscription to Scientific American?  You might check out some old issues or their website and see if there are any biology-related research that is summarized there.  Then take a look at the bibliography for anything that piques, and go from there.  Keep reading and following rabbit holes until you hit upon something.

Do you live near a college or university?  Are there any lectures presented by biology faculty that are open to the public?  If so, look up their publications, and see if anything piques interest.  

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Do you have a microscope?  If so, we did an awesome biology project.  Not microbiology or genetics, but we collected water from lots of different sources (a puddle, a stream, a rocky intertidal pool, and water from a frog aquarium.  My ds identified the organisms, drew them, classified them, measured their size, measured their density, measured their speed.  His question: "which of the different environments had the most diversity?" Secondary questions: 1) where was the diversity located (top/bottom/sunny/nonsunny/muddy/clear etc) in each location? 2) how do you decide what *diversity* is? 3) Is the stream safe to drink from with a filter bottle? 4) What is the best way to make a slide? 5) how do you measure density? How do you measure size to help you with identification? What are all the parts he saw within each micro-organism? etc.  There were so many problems to solve when doing this study.  It was so much fun!  And I still have all his drawings. 

Edited by lewelma
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Ooo! Thank you! I will check the library and the local college. And yes, we do have a microscope! Thank you @lewelma for the list of questions. They are very helpful regardless what topic/question she chooses.

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I am a big fan of open ended questions.  Science is about investigation. Investigation is about the thrill of discovering something you cannot look up, that no one else has ever done.  We really enjoyed figuring out how the different types of water supported different communities of critters. And the more you study, the more questions you have. 

You could study puddles in sunny areas vs shady areas. 

You could study water from different frog tanks in different peoples homes.

You could study water from different locations in a stream - fast moving, slow moving, deep, shallow, muddy, clear. You could make a grid and try to figure out why each is the way it is. 

You can even get into experimental design if you want and try for replication of pools, replication of samples, etc.

This is basically a community ecology study on a micro-organism scale. 

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40 minutes ago, lewelma said:

I am a big fan of open ended questions.  Science is about investigation. Investigation is about the thrill of discovering something you cannot look up, that no one else has ever done.  We really enjoyed figuring out how the different types of water supported different communities of critters. And the more you study, the more questions you have. 

 

I wholeheartedly agree! 

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Maybe you might be interested in looking into a citizen science project? There are several lists of them on the web; here's the home page of one site: https://scistarter.org/citizen-science and the project finder: https://scistarter.org/finder . You could use an idea from there, and, if you wanted to, expand it to include a few more experimental parameters of your own.

For instance, we're currently in the research/planning stages for a bumblebee project: reading lots of books by entomologists, learning to identify our native species from photographs, finding out what kinds of flowers bumblebees visit, taking an inventory of flowering plants already in our yard and identifying gaps in bloom periods (we need more things that bloom in early spring, we've learned, and we have another big gap in late summer), investigating which nurseries/seed companies don't use neonics, planting lots of new things in the garden (and planning for the other things that we'll plant in the spring), learning how to take macro photographs, etc. The kids are also building some bee houses, and will investigate which (if any) design is attractive to the bees.

Once the bees wake up in about February, we'll start taking lots of pictures and submitting them to bumblebeewatch.org . The kids have decided to try to track which species visit which flowers: does colour matter? or flower structure? or whether or not the flowers are planted in drifts of the same plant, or whether areas of randomly mixed flowers are more attractive? are all of the expected native species present, or not? at what times of the day are they more active, and does the weather affect that? how late into the season are they active? does that vary by species? And so on--they're still coming up with other questions they'd like to investigate. 

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On 11/14/2019 at 8:47 AM, Emerald Stoker said:

Maybe you might be interested in looking into a citizen science project? There are several lists of them on the web; here's the home page of one site: https://scistarter.org/citizen-science and the project finder: https://scistarter.org/finder . You could use an idea from there, and, if you wanted to, expand it to include a few more experimental parameters of your own.

For instance, we're currently in the research/planning stages for a bumblebee project: reading lots of books by entomologists, learning to identify our native species from photographs, finding out what kinds of flowers bumblebees visit, taking an inventory of flowering plants already in our yard and identifying gaps in bloom periods (we need more things that bloom in early spring, we've learned, and we have another big gap in late summer), investigating which nurseries/seed companies don't use neonics, planting lots of new things in the garden (and planning for the other things that we'll plant in the spring), learning how to take macro photographs, etc. The kids are also building some bee houses, and will investigate which (if any) design is attractive to the bees.

Once the bees wake up in about February, we'll start taking lots of pictures and submitting them to bumblebeewatch.org . The kids have decided to try to track which species visit which flowers: does colour matter? or flower structure? or whether or not the flowers are planted in drifts of the same plant, or whether areas of randomly mixed flowers are more attractive? are all of the expected native species present, or not? at what times of the day are they more active, and does the weather affect that? how late into the season are they active? does that vary by species? And so on--they're still coming up with other questions they'd like to investigate. 

 

My kids are super interested in doing a bee project like this.  Could you share some of the resources (books, etc) that you guys are using?

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I have written up as we did them our 8-week long science investigations on this board. Because I wrote them as we went, they were not all prettied up, you can actually see the mess unfolding and then how we fixed the problems.  Would you like a link to them?

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Hi, FarmingMomma!

Several of our resources are specific to our region of Canada, but here are some things of more general interest:

Bumblebee Watch: https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/

Queen Quest: https://www.queenquest.org/

Xerces Society (invertebrate conservation): https://xerces.org/bumblebees

Honeyland (fantastic film!): https://honeyland.earth/

Dave Goulson's excellent books (A Sting in the Tale, A Buzz in the Meadow, BeeQuest, The Garden Jungle, Bumblebees: Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation) https://www.google.com/search?q=dave+goulson+books&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiFm5qFrfDlAhUKP30KHWtgAooQ1QIoAHoECA4QAQ&biw=1280&bih=913

Paige Embry: Our Native Bees http://www.paigeembry.com/

Williams, Thorp, et al.: Bumble Bees of North America https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691152226/bumble-bees-of-north-america

Wilson & Carril, The Bees in Your Backyard https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691160771/the-bees-in-your-backyard

Nice big book list here (mostly UK resources): https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/recommended-reading/

Bumblebee houses: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bumblebee-nests/ , https://www.awes-ab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Building-and-Installing-Bumblebee-Houses-1.pdf (this one is a PDF)

Bee gardening: https://beecitycanada.org/what-can-i-do/plant-a-garden/  , https://wildlifepreservation.ca/bumble-bee-recovery/ https://foecanada.org/en/issues/the-bee-cause/market-action/

Photographing bees: https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/photography/photography-tips/2018/07/how-to-photograph-bees/ , https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/photo-tips/ , https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/photo-tips/ 

Hope that helps!

Edited by Emerald Stoker
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On 11/14/2019 at 10:47 AM, Emerald Stoker said:

Maybe you might be interested in looking into a citizen science project? There are several lists of them on the web; here's the home page of one site: https://scistarter.org/citizen-science and the project finder: https://scistarter.org/finder . You could use an idea from there, and, if you wanted to, expand it to include a few more experimental parameters of your own.

 

Your project sounds awesome - thank you for the idea, and for sharing all the resources!!

 

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18 hours ago, lewelma said:

I have written up as we did them our 8-week long science investigations on this board. Because I wrote them as we went, they were not all prettied up, you can actually see the mess unfolding and then how we fixed the problems.  Would you like a link to them?

 

Yes, please! Thank you ❤️ 

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https://www.rfwp.com/book/amazing-ants-simple-sidewalk-science  This is a hands-on curriculum for studying ants recommended for junior and senior high.

These publications might generate some ideas for you: http://www.naturalinquirer.org/ 

You could potentially do one hands-on project and one more secondhand project investigating research that's already been done in a particular field. Rare disease, for instance, is an area where genetics is changing lives all the time. You could look up case studies in medical literature, separate them from the results yourself while organizing the study, learn about the potential diagnoses, and then see how she thinks through what might be the real problem with the case studies--it's tons of pattern recognition. My son has a connective tissue diagnosis, and there are a LOT of different connective tissue disorders as well as subtypes of known disorders. Just in the realm of CTDs that have cardiac manifestations, the tangled genetics are crazy-making as it's not unusual for people to have both straightforward mutations but simultaneously have VUS mutations (variant of uncertain significance) for disorders that have overlapping symptoms. It's also not uncommon for these kids to be born into families with other hereditary cardiac issues that are unrelated to their genetic diagnosis. It gets very interesting, very fast. My son's family tree included three different possible explanations for his clinical features, and he had none of them--he had a mutation for something not found in either family, and a VUS for a second related disorder (which is where the genetics came in). 

If that interests you at all, the add-on would be to potentially also look up studies that use mouse models for figuring out beneficial treatments by disease type because even though the presenting clinical feature might be the same across several different disorders, the biochemical pathways for each disease branch off at different points, leading to different outcomes and risk factors. 

She could also interview geneticists to see what kinds of real life databases and tools they consult to analyze their patient data.

The rare disease community can never have too many advocates, and what your daughter is interested sounds like it could lead to opportunities in that field. 

If that interests you, these organizations have a lot of good research taking off or are companies that provide testing:

https://www.marfan.org/  This organization, in particular, has a huge advocacy base as well as deeply committed medical professionals doing amazing research. They are a broad tent and would have information that might surpass what you find in the next two links as well.

https://www.loeysdietz.org/en/medical-information

https://www.ehlers-danlos.org/information/vascular-ehlers-danlos-syndrome/

https://www.invitae.com/en/

https://www.genedx.com/

You might also talk to someone in bioinformatics. This list of links looks interesting: https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1KDEC_enUS827US827&ei=S7DRXbelBa6V_QaSgaOgCw&q=bioinformatics+projects+for+high+school+students&oq=bioinformatics+for+high+scho&gs_l=psy-ab.1.2.0j0i22i30l4.22197.26054..29030...0.1..1.443.3556.20j4j1j1j2......0....1..gws-wiz.......0i71j0i67j0i131j0i10i67j0i22i10i30.jvfByMq4U-Q

 

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6 hours ago, pgr said:

 

Yes, please! Thank you ❤️ 

Linked above.

They are not biology (we did that one the year before), but they are full scale scientific investigations documented as they went.  So lots of muck ups, frustrations, and problem solving. We did these types of projects for 8 weeks each year for 8 years. 

"Scientific Inquiry" was with my 11 and 8 year old, so it came first.  That was our earth science year.

"Scientific investigations with my 12 and 9 year old" was our Chemistry year. 

Edited by lewelma

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23 hours ago, Emerald Stoker said:

Hi, FarmingMomma!

Several of our resources are specific to our region of Canada, but here are some things of more general interest:

Bumblebee Watch: https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/

Queen Quest: https://www.queenquest.org/

Xerces Society (invertebrate conservation): https://xerces.org/bumblebees

Honeyland (fantastic film!): https://honeyland.earth/

Dave Goulson's excellent books (A Sting in the Tale, A Buzz in the Meadow, BeeQuest, The Garden Jungle, Bumblebees: Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation) https://www.google.com/search?q=dave+goulson+books&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiFm5qFrfDlAhUKP30KHWtgAooQ1QIoAHoECA4QAQ&biw=1280&bih=913

Paige Embry: Our Native Bees http://www.paigeembry.com/

Williams, Thorp, et al.: Bumble Bees of North America https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691152226/bumble-bees-of-north-america

Wilson & Carril, The Bees in Your Backyard https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691160771/the-bees-in-your-backyard

Nice big book list here (mostly UK resources): https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/recommended-reading/

Bumblebee houses: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bumblebee-nests/ , https://www.awes-ab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Building-and-Installing-Bumblebee-Houses-1.pdf (this one is a PDF)

Bee gardening: https://beecitycanada.org/what-can-i-do/plant-a-garden/  , https://wildlifepreservation.ca/bumble-bee-recovery/ https://foecanada.org/en/issues/the-bee-cause/market-action/

Photographing bees: https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/photography/photography-tips/2018/07/how-to-photograph-bees/ , https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/photo-tips/ , https://www.bumblebeewatch.org/photo-tips/ 

Hope that helps!

 

Thank you!

 

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