Biology is in full swing at the Ridenhour abode. Ian is trucking along with his Thinkwell AP Biology course, and Eva and I are steadily working through the “Cells” curriculum by Ellen McHenry. We’re exploring all the different parts of the cell, playing games, watching cool youtube videos, and making cell art.
Eva is so enamored with cell biology, she’s decided to set her new novel within one. She’s developed quite an extensive plot, shrinking and trapping a goth girl within a cell as the protector of a secret code that her parents (now deceased) placed as codons within the cell’s DNA. This secret code contains the magic formula for world peace. The cell is of course under attack as the evil folks want to get at the codons, and it is up to Goth Girl and a band of superhero cousins to save the day. Every day Eva is working on plot and character development ideas, and her story is feeding her desire to understand cell structure and functions. She doesn’t start writing the book itself until Nov. 1 (National Novel Writing Month), but she is very excited.
Interestingly, Stephen Colbert just last week interviewed a geneticist from Harvard who is working on mapping the personal genome. At the end of their conversation, he presented Colbert with a tiny slip of paper that held a dot. He informed Colbert that the dot contained 20,000 copies of the geneticist’s new boo; he and his team had converted all the book’s text and photos into binary code, and then converted that code into patterns of TCA and G amino acids, which comprise DNA’s magic alphabet. I couldn’t believe it. It’s Eva’s science fiction/fantasy book, happening right now! I dragged Eva into the room and showed her the interview. She loved it.
The other completely addictive activity we dived into is a video game called CellCraft. Holy cow, folks – this was ridiculously fun. Though the creators definitely took some artistic license (you find the organelles you need, and at one point our animal cell is given plant cell chloroplasts to generate more energy), the science behind most of the game is pretty accurate. The player must run the cell, making sure all organelles are doing what they need to do, and are getting the resources they need to thrive. Viruses periodically attack the cell, which you must biologically defend, and there is an overarching fantasy narrative: an alien platypus race on a threatened planet is sending this cell across the expanse of space to land on a new planet (Earth) where it can grow into new platypusses. Platypi? Whatever. It’s cute and fun. Eva and I played it together for days, and I loved hearing her yell out “we need more lysosomes!!” and the like. It’s free for download, so check it out. Ian played it a little too, but he hasn’t covered cell biology yet. After watching both experiences, I recommend using it after the student has already studied the structure and function of a cell. It’s better as a reinforcement activity than a straight-ahead teaching tool.
We’re wrapping up this week with mitosis and meiosis, and going back to play with some activities and quizzes we skipped over. After we complete the study of internal cell function, we’ll launch in to various cell types. This will in turn move us further out and onto anatomy.
It’s funny – neither of my kids was too excited about biology going in, but now both of them will tell you it’s among their favorite subjects! Until next time….