2010-2011 Helms Middle School

Four graduate student fellows are working with 7th grade science teachers Esther Soto and Brian Tibbot at Helms Middle School this year: Mariska Batavia, Carrie Cizuaskas, Paul Falso, and Molly Wright.


Week 1: Introductions. Our fellows kicked off the year by introducing themselves and their research to the four classes they'll be working with during the fall semester. Carrie showed slides of her field site in Namibia and described her work on disease outbreaks and immunology in zebra populations. Molly showed the students specimens of some of the crustaceans she studies and described their unusual fighting and mating behavior. Paul gave the students a lot to think about after describing his research on how pesticide runoff affects our water and the animals that depend on it. Mariska told students about techniques she is developing to help discover when and how hibernation evolved in rodents.

Week 2: Is it alive? In this lesson students explored the characteristics that living organisms share. They went into the school yard and looked for objects that were alive (plants, insects), were once alive but are now not alive (e.g., a piece of wood), and items that were never alive (e.g., soda cans, plastic toys, rocks). Students found many examples of all three, and created a list of features that all living things share. They also discovered that what seems like a simple challenge — to come up with criteria for defining what is alive — is not so simple!

Week 3: Mystery tubes. The purpose of this lesson was to get students thinking about what it means to be doing science. They were presented with a "mystery tube," a black tube with four strings coming out of it. Their job was to try to determine what the interior construction of the tube looked like — without looking inside! Working in groups, students posed explanations (hypotheses) for what they observed and tested their ideas by manipulating and observing the tube and strings. They were then further challenged to build a model of the mystery tube. Many creative ideas and models were produced — and everyone was doing science!

Week 4: Visit to UC Berkeley Campus. We invited the students to come to campus for the day and see where we work. Fellows put together a tour of labs, museums, displays and activities that introduced the students to many of the different resources and activities that go on at UC Berkeley. In the research lab they visited, students saw several different types of frogs and talked to undergrads, grad students, and the professor about their work. They looked at the fossil dinosaurs on display at the Museum of Paleontology and checked out the human evolution exhibit in the main foyer. They got a closer look at fossils when they picked through field samples of rock and dirt to find fossilized fish teeth, camel bones, and crocodile scales. A visit to the Essig Museum of Entomology wowed them with the incredible and seemingly endless variety of insects in the collection, and in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology they got to see whale skulls and other amazing vertebrate animals. The day ended outside with a tour of Strawberry Creek and a chance for up-close observation of some of the organisms that live in the creek.

Week 5: Know your watershed

Week 6: Creek Doctor

Week 7: Creek Doctor — diagnosis

Week 8: Creating a disease web — Lyme disease as an example of connectedness

Week 9: Learning about immune cells

Week 10: Infectious diseases in zebra — using the microscope to make an investigation

Week 11: Common ancestry and cladograms

Week 12: Homology and skulls

Week 13: Natural selection

Week 14: How fit am I — structure and function in crustaceans

Previous Years (at Adams Middle School, Richmond, CA)

2009-2010 AMS activities
2008-2009 AMS activities
2007-2008 AMS activities
2006-2007 AMS activities
2005-2006 AMS activities
2004-2005 AMS activities