Field Biology – Learning to Identify Birds

Took my Field Biology students out for the first time on Thursday, for a field experience on campus. I’m planning to spend the first part of the semester introducing them to different taxonomic groups, and helping them develop naturalist skills – especially observation, identification, and keeping details notes in the field – and this seemed like a good way to start.

As I told them on Tuesday, during the introductory lecture, I’d decided to throw us all into the “deep end,” and start out with learning to identify birds. On the one hand, birds can be difficult to learn to ID, as there are so many different varieties (more than 600 species in California alone), including many that look frustratingly similar to one another. On the other hand, birds are extremely easy to find – they’re everywhere – so any birding excursion will almost certainly be a success in one way or another. Plus, there’s something to be said for teaching to my strengths, and birds are where I honed my own naturalist skills.

I did have some stressful moments during the day. Class begins at 1:00, but around 11:00, it started pouring down rain. I spent the next little while panicking (just slightly), and trying to come up with an indoor activity we could do if the weather chose not to cooperate. Fortunately, it cleared up enough that I felt good about taking them outdoors. It’s not like there was any great risk to us – we were just going to wander around on campus, never more than 5 minutes from the nearest shelter. Still, inclement weather usually sends the birds into hiding, so I was glad to see the sun peeking out from behind some otherwise ominous rainclouds.

We started out in the classroom with a relatively brief lecture on the anatomy of a field guide – an indispensable tool where birds are concerned – and then a run-down on the major groups of birds we were likely to see this semester.

I handed them each a pair of binoculars, and we grabbed some field guides (mostly Peterson’s Western Birds, 3rd edition; since our campus library doesn’t have a lot of field guides on the shelves, I’d picked up several copies relatively cheaply on eBay, for students to use for the duration of the semester). After a few minutes of practicing focus out the window, we headed out on campus.



Jesica studying a warbler

Almost immediately out the door, we started spotting birds: a crow or raven on the roof of Stevenson Hall, a hawk of some sort (probably red-shouldered) spiraling far overhead. We took at peek at the barn owl boxes on the west side of Stevenson, but didn’t see any owls (no surprise – it was still full daylight). A smallish brown bird stopped running right in the middle of the path, and I set my students on their first ID of the day. It didn’t take long for them to identify this extremely cooperative California Towhee.

When I looked up from the bird, to see my students lined up, with their binoculars trained on the bird, or flipping through the field guide, I knew I’d made the right decision starting with birds.

We headed over to the Art Pond, where we found some Canada Geese (always reliable there). A Black Phoebe demonstrated some textbook flycatching behavior, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler flitted about in the trees. From there, across the lawn to the Commencement Lake, where Mallards tried to beg for food. A California Scrub Jay sat at the top of a tree. I spotted another pair of ducks on the other side of the lake, and when I had them in focus, I realized we had something reasonably different. These weren’t Mallards. I pointed out the birds, and set my students on a hunt through the field guides. Once again, they were quick to get the ID: Common Mergansers. OH YEAH!!

Next, we headed toward Copeland Creek, and I showed them one of my favorite places to look for birds on campus – some deciduous trees between the big lake and the bike path. It was quiet while we were there, but I suggested it as a possible “patch” for some of them to set up their regular outdoor observations (1 hour per week, throughout the semester). I think we spotted a Turkey Vulture here, before heading toward the Environmental Technology Center.

We had some nice surprises there: seeing this gorgeous rainbow on our first field experience seemed like a good omen. And I noticed for the first time some adorable little carvings on one of the arbors in the garden – mostly, I was surprised that I’d never seen them before. One definitely looks like a dragon, and the other maybe a turtle? (Or maybe I just see dragons and turtles wherever I go).

On the way back to Darwin Hall, we saw some American Crows and a trio of Mourning Doves, and there are probably a few other species I’ve forgotten (while I asked my students to take detailed field notes, I neglected to do this myself)! We also saw quite a few mushrooms, but I’m going to wait and talk about fungus, as that will be the focus of next week’s lab.

A very respectable list of birds seen in a relatively short outing, and I think it was exactly the right way to introduce my class to learning some identification skills. Best of all, they were all smiles as we made our way around campus – they seemed to really enjoy it (of course, we were looking at birds . . . what’s not to love)?

Oh, and one tiny postscript – after I’d collected the equipment, dismissed my students, and left the building to head to my car, the sky opened up and started raining on me. Perfect timing, as far as I was concerned.

Arrangement Games

Oh my . . . it’s been a while since I posted anything. I had such good intentions last semester, but never found the time to sit down and write. Over the next little while, I’m going to go back and post about cool things that happened last year, but for now, I thought I’d jump back in by moving forward with some content that is timely for the beginning of a new semester: arrangement games. This isn’t anything particularly new or groundbreaking – people have been doing these things for years – but I thought I’d do a quick round up of some of the ones that I find work particularly well.

Arrangement games fall into the category of “Ice Breakers” – something to get a new group of students interacting with one another in a low-pressure way. In this case, the games get students up out of their seats, to mingle and form groups with other students based on some sort of criteria. I find this particularly important with a discussion or lab class, where students will be asked to do a lot of group work. It’s a nice way for them to interact with a few different people before having to make a decision about who they might want to partner up with for a longer-term assignment. I’ve also found it really useful in my big (125+ student) general education courses, as a way of helping them get to know their classmates, so they can work on homework together, or form study groups, etc. (In these big classes, though, I skip out on the “arrangement part,” and just have them chat with people already seated nearby).

These activities are great for freshmen classes, where the majority of them won’t know anyone else in class. And, while it might seem less important for upper division majors courses where many students have existing relationships (and could easily form groups with people they already know), it’s worth taking the time to integrate students who don’t yet know anyone else (recent transfers, change of major, etc). Plus, for any group of students, I find it tends to both relax and invigorate them, and at the end they’re more engaged for whatever we’re going to do next.

There’s another a really nice side benefit to this, especially for those huge general education courses: I ask them to jot down their answers to the questions on a sheet of paper – one sheet of paper per group – and turn it in at the end of class. Then I can use these responses to check attendance, rather than going through the process of calling out 125 names off of a roster.

There are endless ways to go about doing an arrangement game, but the basic format is as follows:

  • Ask them to arrange themselves into groups (some ideas for this below)
  • Have the group members “interview” one another with a list of questions provided to them
  • At the end, come back together as a group and do some sharing with the whole class. At this point, I usually share my own answers to the interview questions, as a way of helping them get to know me. Then, we go around the room and ask everyone to introduce someone else from their group to the class, or (in a large class) ask for a few people to volunteer their answers.

As for the arrangement activity, here are my favorites:

Hometown. Ask students to get into groups (of whatever number you like – I usually do groups of 3 or 4) based on what they consider their hometown. You can designate one corner of the classroom as the town your school is in, for people who didn’t move away from home to attend college, and the other corner for people who moved from a long distance. Then, they have to introduce themselves to one another and say where they grew up, and eventually they’ll find their way to the correct spot somewhere along the continuum. I’ve had really good success with this one – sometimes, students discover that someone else in the class came from the same place, even if it’s not all that close to campus. (“You’re from Fresno? ME TOO!”). Overall, this is my favorite of the games for forming groups where students will be doing long-term projects together.

Birthday. Ask students to get themselves into a single line, based on the month and day they were born (don’t include the year). Again, they’ll have to chat with one another to figure out who goes where. This is by far the simplest one, and usually takes the least amount of time to accomplish. It doesn’t work in all classrooms, though, depending on the set up of furniture. Ideally, there should be enough room for them to form a single-file line.

Clothing. This one is super fun, especially if you want them to have to think a little bit more to get to the end result. Tell them to arrange themselves into groups based on their clothing. That’s it. Those are the only instructions you give. It’s up to them to decide what that means. Are they grouping themselves by the color they’re wearing? By footwear (boots, sandals, athletic shoes, etc.) By short sleeves or long sleeves, jeans, skirts, etc.? This one is fun to watch, as they work out just what to do. A benefit is that this allows students who already know one another to potentially group themselves together – they just look for some aspect of their clothing that all matches – but it also opens the door for other students to join. “Hey, we’re all wearing jeans – I’m going to come hang out with you!”

Comic Strip. I print out a set of comic strips, and cut each comic into its individual frames. (The ones I’ve linked to below are designed to get students into groups of four, but you could also use comic strips with three frames if you wanted smaller groups). Cut up enough comics so there are the same number of individual frames as there are students. Put all the frames in a “hat,” and have each student randomly select one. Then, let them mingle around until they find the other 3 students with a frame from the same comic. This might not be as easy as it seems at first – I usually have more than one strip from the same comic strip, so even if they find another students with a “Calvin and Hobbes” piece, it might not be from the same “Calvin and Hobbes” strip.

Calvin and Hobbes

Once they’re in groups, you can have them ask one another 3 or 4 “interview” questions. I like to have a mix of school related ones, along with some fun, personal interest type stuff. I usually give them anywhere between 3 and 7 minutes to do this, depending on how many questions I’m asking. I also like there to be a little bit of time afterward for them to connect on a more individual level. The list of potential questions is endless, really, as long as you’re not having them share things that might be uncomfortably personal.

Some of the questions I typically ask include:

  • What is your full name? (I always start with this one, so I have that info to take roll)
  • What name do you like to be called? (Nicknames, people who go by their middle name, etc)
  • What is your major? If undeclared, what are some subjects of interest?
  • (For majors classes) What first got you interested/inspired to major in this subject?
  • What sort of work do you hope to do after you graduate?
  • What are some things you’re hoping to learn in this class this semester?
  • Tell me something fun you did over [the Summer; Winter Break, etc].
  • What song are you really into RIGHT NOW? (I particularly like asking this one, because I can go through later and see if there are any songs I like – it’s a great way of finding out about “new to me” music).
  • What is your favorite film (or film genre, or favorite film you saw this year)?

For a bit more extended version:

  • Collectively, find something that all three group members have in common (they can’t just say that they’re in this class, or attend the same university). Maybe they all come from the same hometown, or they all have dogs, or they like Canadian bacon and pineapple on pizz, whatever. Kind of a little scavenger hunt.
  • Then, they each come up with something totally unique – something about themselves that they think won’t apply to anyone else in the class. For example, I might say that I’ve lived in Scotland (since not that many people living in California have done that)

This makes for a fun classroom share (in a small class), as you can go through the various “unique” statements, and see if they really ARE the only one in the class with that trait.

For a very heavily discussion oriented class, you can target the questions specifically toward fostering good discussions:

“Think about your favorite class ever . . .”

  • What did the teacher do to help create a good learning environment?
  • What did the students do to contribute to this environment?
  • What did the teacher and students NOT do?
  • What is necessary in class for you to feel comfortable sharing with the whole group?

“Think about the CLASS FROM HELL . . .”

  • What did the teacher do to create this situation?
  • What did the students do to contribute to this situation?
  • What did the teacher and students NOT do?

With this exercise, I like to bring them together after they share within their groups, and have them share their responses while I create a brainstormed list on the board for each category. If you think students might be shy about calling out their own ideas, you can always anonymize it somewhat by having them write things down on paper, and then trade around with other students, so they’re calling out someone else’s comments.

That’s all there is to it. A full arrangement game, depending on class size, and how much sharing we do afterward, usually takes somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes. That’s a small amount of time to spend on an activity that can potentially increase engagement a lot. Also, with lecture classes, I don’t do this right at the beginning of class. I wait until about half-way through, and it gives them a little break, which helps them wake up and get refocused, after sitting still and listening for a while.

Here are some comic strips that I use for my biology/ecology classes (you might want to find comics that relate to your own field of study):

Dinosaur Comics: Chicken or Egg
Dinosaur Comics: Earth Day
Calvin and Hobbes: Tyrannosaurs
Calvin and Hobbes: Scientific Experiments
Sherman’s Lagoon: Ecosystem Services
Sherman’s Lagoon: Eating Assignment

If you’d like to read about some additional ice breaker ideas, check out this article:

The Wildlands Will Recover

Near the start of Winter Break, I was able to tag along on a walk-through of Crane Creek Regional Park, hosted by Hattie Brown of the Sonoma County Regional Parks, and John Parodi, with Point Blue Conservation Science. The primary reason for the trip was to discuss opportunities for students to get involved in fire recovery research, as parts of the park burned in the Nuns Fire last October. We did come up with some great ideas for student research, which I’ll talk more about during the Spring semester, when the research will be happening. For now, I thought I’d share some of my photos from that day.

The thing that struck me most is how undamaged most of the park appears. Already, the landscape is green, and there are very few obvious signs of the fire. As Hattie said while we were walking, “the wildlands will recover.”

Planting Graminoids!


Yesterday and today, we achieved a big milestone in the Copeland Creek riparian restoration project: putting in some native plants! For this first phase of planting, we started out with grasses, rushes, and sedges (collectively known as “graminoids”), all of them planted near the spot we call Snowberry Corner.

The plants were cultivated here on campus, by the Native Plant Propagation class – they provided us with more plants than we were able to get into the ground! Here they are in the greenhouse, the day before our first planting day:

On Friday, first thing, I sent part of my Restoration Ecology class to retrieve the plants from the greenhouse, while the “surveying team” marked out some plots, all roughly 800 meters square. They were marked with PVC piping – these would become our permanent zones, to help us track survivorship. We’ll keep track of how many plants were planted in each zone, and in future years we’ll be able to come back and monitor their progress.

Map showing the newly established plots. The large building in the lower left quadrant of the photo is the Environmental Technology Center.

(A more detailed map can be found here:

Finally, we were ready to start planting! In the drier area close to the bike path, we put in mostly native grasses – Blue Wild Rye (Elymus glaucus), and Beardless Wild Rye (Elymus triticoides). To the east, and back a bit from the path, there’s an area that retains more moisture throughout the year, so we’re treating it as a seasonal wetland. In those areas, we put in mostly Santa Barbara Sedge (Carex sp), and Juncus.

Alongside the planting, we also grubbed out a bunch of Himalayan blackberry. I did most of the grubbing (so my students could focus on planting, which is arguably more fun).

We made some great progress on Friday, but since there were still plants left unplanted, a smaller group of students offered to come in on Saturday morning, and help me get even more plants in the ground:

Dream Team: Wendy, Desirae, Audrey, and Jesica

In addition to the planting, we also constructed a little woodpile out of sight behind a slight hill. Partly, we wanted to clear away some branches from the wetland meadow area, but we also took the opportunity to build it up around a small California blackberry plant, to give it some support as it grows.

Even though we didn’t get every single plant into the ground, I’m thrilled with the progress we made. Look at all these precious baby plants in the ground, ready to grow:

The final touch: a string of yellow flagging tape all around the Snowberry Corner area. That’s an area where joggers and bicyclists like to cut through, rather than staying on the path. So, we put up some tape to discourage this type of “foot” traffic while the plants are getting established.

A little bit of pedestrian protection.

Such great progress! Looking forward to watching them grow.


Maker Space: 3D Printing

Last October, a really spectacular space opened up on campus – we now have a dedicated Maker Space! Loads of equipment, including: vinyl cutter, embroidery machines, sublimation printer, oscilloscope, Arduino, soldering station, engraving machines, laser cutters, Carvey mill, and a virtual reality set up. Oh, and of course, we have 3D printers.

That’s where I decided to start. I don’t really have any pressing need for things I can laser print, but the technology is SO cool, I wanted to learn how to use the machines. My son and I started out with two projects: some Lantern rings (Indigo for me, and Yellow for him). Mine didn’t come out too well – I need to learn enough about the software to make some adjustments, and try again.

3D printed Indigo Lantern ring - not quite right!
3D printed Indigo Lantern ring – not quite right!
3D printed Yellow Lantern ring. Nice!








I had much better success with a little owl figurine. I’ve been collecting owls for years and years, so I hoped this would make a cute little addition to my collection.

It did take me two tries – the first machine we tried cut out part-way through – but look at this little cutie:

3-D printed owl


Summer School – Day 14 – Ecosystem Service and Food Security

The penultimate day of the summer term! Compared to some of our other days, this one was pretty low key, but we did have a little unexpected adventure.

I’d intended to lecture on ecosystem services in the morning, and then watch one of my favorite “teaching” films, “Hurricane on the Bayou.” And this is mostly what happened, except for a little detour part way through. When I arrived on campus, I noticed some flyers posted in the science building – one of the biology grad students, Vanessa Dodge, was giving her thesis defense. Not only was I really interested in her research, as I’d been up to the field site in Point Reyes a couple of times, but I also thought this would be a good way for my students to learn a bit more about the process of science. So, I gave them the choice – do you want to listen to me lecture all morning? Or do you want to go hear someone else talk for a while? They voted in favor of variety, so about an hour into the day we headed upstairs to the thesis defense.

Taking them was, I think, a good experience for them. The talk was good – she did her research on the effects of tule elk on soil composition, so it was very ecology focused, and not too technical. And my students were a great audience! So, that was a little bit of serendipity for our last week.

Eventually, though, I did finish up the ecosystem services lecture, and then we watched “Hurricane on the Bayou.” It’s a beautifully filmed documentary about Hurricane Katrina, and the ways in which the loss of natural coastal habitats led to more severe storm damage than would have happened otherwise. Probably the most interesting thing about this film, though, is the circumstances under which it was made. They’d actually started filming it some time before the hurricane hit, and obviously had no idea that Hurricane Katrina would happen when she did. The original intention was to talk about the importance of wetlands, and the need to conserve them, to protect against a “big one” that could hit in the future. But part way through filming, in August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina happened, and the film changed from something more theoretical into video documentation of the disaster and some of the people whose lives were devastated. There’s an authenticity about it that is remarkable, and disturbing, and really gets the point across: preserving ecosystems and the services they provide is so crucial to human well-being. I highly recommend this film, even though it can be difficult to watch at times. (All photos © MacGillivray Freeman Films)

After lunch, we started talking about human populations, including an activity on population growth. This makes an easy transition to our next topic: food security, but we didn’t get all the way through the lecture . . . I decided to save one of the most interesting topics for the next day: GMOs. Oh yeah. That’s always an entertaining lecture. 🙂

Selected Materials

110 Hurricane on the Bayou
110 Population Growth

Sonoma State University hosts largest youth campus tour ever

Here’s an article in the Press Democrat about the outreach I took part in last week at SSU:

Photo from Press Democrat

Hundreds of elementary and middle school children swarmed the cafeteria, dorms, quads and halls of Sonoma State University Thursday for what’s becoming an annual tradition.

It’s the second year the Rohnert Park campus has hosted “I Am the Future Day” for the Sacramento nonprofit Roberts Family Development Center, which provides academic and other services to hundreds of economically disadvantaged children and their families. The event is intended to give children a “taste of college” to encourage them to pursue higher education.


You can read the entire article here:

Summer School – Day 13 – Climate Change, Biomes and Food Webs

We covered a lot of ground today. We started out with a lab activity, since we hadn’t had time to explore biomes fully the previous day. I started them out with a super cool Google Earth file that I found here. One of the resources is an interactive Google Earth map with layers that show various aspects of climate – average winter temperatures, average summer temperatures, that sort of thing – along with a layer that shows the location and distribution of biomes, worldwide.

After working with this data for a bit, I handed out an outline of a continent, with the instructions that they should place the biomes wherever they wanted, as long as it was in keeping with the concepts we’d just learned – which biomes are found at which latitudes, how landforms like mountains can affect climate, that sort of thing. And yes, this was another coloring project! (Always popular). Although we hadn’t talked about climate change yet (that would happen next), I set that up by asking them to think through what sort of shifts we might see in the location of biomes, if temperatures were to rise by even a few degrees.

After lunch, we talked about the movement of energy and materials through ecosystems, including the concept of food webs. For lab, we did an activity that I adapted a couple of years ago for an upper division biology course: “Trophic Interactions in the Kelp Forest: An Ecological Detective Story.” My original inspiration for this activity, an NSF case study, can be found here. In the past, I’d provided students with a matrix of trophic (feeding) relationships, and asked them to create a food web diagram:

I’d always assigned this as homework, so I needed to make some adjustments to turn it into an in-class activity. The biggest change was the addition of some little “Food Web Cards,” each of which had a picture of an organism, along with the details of what that organism eats, and also what it gets eaten by. Each group received a complete set of cards, and instead of giving them a completed matrix, they had to come up with that on their own.

Then, instead of doing their food webs online, we made good use of the white boards, and some colorful wet erase markers. (This ended up being not ideal for me – it took me AGES to clean off all the marker, since it needed to be sprayed down. But it was worth it).

The activity went REALLY well! Everything worked out just as I had hoped, and they did a great job of coming up with their food webs. A REALLY good job . . . in the past, I’d had complaints from students that the matrix was too complicated, and it took them too long to complete. I think maybe the difference was that doing this in class gave them plenty of time and space to really get into it, whereas the attitude for doing it as homework might have been to speed through it as quickly as possible? I don’t know . . . all I know is that my non-majors totally owned this activity, so next time some upper division bio students try and tell me it’s “too hard,” I’m going to have a rebuttal for them haha. 😉

While they were drawing food web diagrams, I did a bit of kelp forest artwork of my own:

I really liked the way this went using the little cards . . . I think I’ll incorporate that into the activity for the upper division students, as well.

Selected Materials

110 Climate and Biomes lab activity
Google Earth file can’t be uploaded to WordPress, but should be available at the link in the first paragraph
110 Trophic Interactions in the Kelp Forest SU17
Kelp Forest Food Web Cards

Summer School – Day 12 – Human Evolution, and Intro to Ecology

Not a whole lot to post about this day . . . once again (as usual on exam days), I didn’t take any photos. Our morning was taken up with the third exam, including an exam review session. No Pictionary this time, though . . . instead, I put together a game of Jeopardy, using this awesome Powerpoint template.

Here is a sample of the questions (answers at the bottom of this post):

After the exam, we finished up with diversity, and talked about the evolution of humans. I do a fairly quick run-through of the main groups of ancestors (Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis), and the patterns of dispersal from Africa. I share with the class that 2.5% of my DNA was inherited from my Neanderthal ancestors (2.7% is the average for people of European heritage), and of course we talk about the appearance of Homo sapiens. I had to change up my powerpoint presentation this term, however, in light of some REALLY COOL fossils found in Morocco, which push the timeline back a great many years. Previously, we placed the evolution of humans about 200,000 years ago; now, that date has been pushed back to at least 300,000 years ago. SO COOL!!!!

We also watched an interactive video from HHMI: Great Transitions: the Origin of Humans. ( It’s about 20 minutes long, with quiz questions embedded along the way, so students are able to reinforce the most important points from the video.

We finished up today with an introductory lecture on Ecology – what it is, and a bit about why it’s important. We didn’t get far enough to do a lab activity, though, so I’ll expand on this tomorrow.

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Summer School – Day 11 – Vertebrate Diversity

Another favorite day! And another rotation lab. Today’s lectures focused on the diversity of vertebrates. We started out with chordates, and then followed the major groups all the way through their transition to land. In the morning, we covered fish, amphibians, and (some) reptilian vertebrates. Then, we stopped for some lab activities that allowed them to explore further the transition to land.

First, an activity from the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, “A Strange Fish, Indeed,” This interrupted case study describes the extraordinarily COOL discovery by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer of a living Coelacanth – a sarcopterygian fish from an order believed extinct for 70 million years. This is one of my very, very favorite biology stories, and I did touch on it briefly in lecture, but working through this case study, which allowed the story to unfold gradually, was wonderful. On the whole, I’ve found that the case study activities put out by the NSF are excellent. I used this one as is, without any modifications.

I also showed them this adorable music video about Tiktaalik – another transitional fish.


We ended the morning with this cool interactive activity from HHMI: Great Transitions, Transition to Land

After lunch, it was time for probably my favorite lecture of the entire semester . . . *drumroll* . . . DINOSAURS!!!!!!! I do love dinosaurs, always have, so this is a big deal for me! When the students return from lunch, I have the “Jurassic Park” theme song playing to set the mood. I have animated slides, including the most epic image ever created:

The dinosaur lecture has a bunch more cool stories – how Othniel Marsh put the wrong head on his “Brontosaurus” skeleton; why the original name for Megalosaurus was Scrotum humanum; the problem with the “Velociraptors” in the Jurassic Park films.


And of course, the question that everyone wants answered: WHEN WILL I BE ABLE TO GENETICALLY ENGINEER MY OWN BABY DINOSAUR? This leads to a discussion of cloning, which, sadly, will probably not ever allow us to make baby dinosaurs, BUT there are some other genetic techniques that will – our first attempts have led to the majestic CHICKEN-O-SAURUS!!!!!

After lecture, more fun during the vertebrate rotation lab! The trick with this lab is choosing which of the LOADS OF COOL SPECIMENS from our Vertebrate Museum to pull out and put on display.

This time around, in addition to some specimens from each of the major groups (fishes, amphibians, “reptiles,” birds, and mammals), I went with a couple of stations that would allow them to explore function: skulls, to look primarily at the teeth, and hypothesize about diet, and bird feet, to determine whether they were for perching, wading, swimming, grasping prey, etc.

Once again, they really enjoyed everything! And one of my students said something really sweet at the end of the day. He’d asked if I’d set up the entire display myself (I answered honestly that I’d had assistance in pulling out the museum specimens, but I’d set up the classroom myself. During the summer semester, I am solely responsible for most of the lab set up and tear down, since I’m not technically employed by the Biology Department, but instead by the Department of Extended Education. I have access to department materials, but not the same level of support that happens during the regular semesters).

After I explained this, he said, “Thank you so much for all the hard work you put into setting all this up for us.”

It meant a lot to me, to know that he’d been enjoying the lab activities, and appreciating the work that went into putting them together. Seriously presh. <3


Selected Materials

110 Vertebrate Lab SU17
110 Mystery Skull Chart

Mystery Skull Station 
(Adapted from this activity, developed by Arizona State University: