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Biology: Lab Equipment

Excerpts from AP Biology Teachers' Discussion Group

Question: "Does anyone have experience gathering data from AP Biology labs using probes, CBLs, etc.? What equipment do you use? Did you attend training? I would like to begin updating my labs with this type of technology and would like to attend some training -- preferably run by someone with AP Biology experience."

Answer 1: "Original TI Calculator-Based Laboratory™ System (CBL™) is a site to go to find a manual you can download called CBL's Made Easy, and it is free from Vernier. (You can find the link below.) You will need Adobe Acrobat as a reader. Vernier is a very good site to help beginners with CBL labs using PCs or TI 82s or TI 83s. It takes you step by step, with diagrams, through a lab using their probes and equipment. My students and I were able to figure out and put together the lab with the gas pressure sensor for photosynthesis and for seed respiration as well as the pH probe for osmosis and diffusion using the TI 82's, and we are all novices."
-- Eloise Farmer, Torrington High School, Torrington, Connecticut. 1/22/99

Answer 2: "We have Logal and Vernier probes at Emma Willard. The most successful lab that we have done involved independent investigations of the cardiovascular system. Students construct testable hypotheses and then use the probes to run the experiments. The students are generally very excited to try this and they get a real taste of research. My Logal probes (pulse, temp, ECG) are notoriously difficult to use on tiny, cold girls, so I recently tried some Vernier probes. They are much more sensitive, and the accompanying software is wonderfully intuitive and flexible. I have found Vernier's dO2 probes fussy and not very useful. We recently did the respiration lab with a CO2 sensor, and it is infinitely better than those arcane respirometers. The students can concentrate on the theory, not making the contraptions work or interpreting what they mean. You can even see the dormant peas respire!"
-- Jonathan Calos, Emma Willard School, Troy, New York. 2/24/99

Answer 3: "I have used Vernier probes for the past year. I really like the CO2 sensor for doing the respiration lab. I was also very happy with the results using conductivity probes to do labs relating to osmosis and diffusion. The book Biology with Computers, which can be purchased from Vernier, is a must have. It gives you ways to do most of the AP labs and I have found my students spend less time on set up. We have had some not so good days using the biology gas pressure sensors for doing the catalase lab, but part of that is getting just the right concentration of the enzyme so the cap does not blow off too soon. I also had some difficulty doing the transpiration lab, but I believe Vernier has produced some clips or something that you can put on the stem of the plant, which makes the set up easier. Get the book from Vernier; it's a good starting point."
-- Bob Heun, Brooks School, North Andover, Massachusetts. 2/24/99

Answer 4: "I have been using the CBL in my AP Biology class for three years now. I was introduced to it by a fellow member of our department who has been using them for many years. I also attended two technology conferences in San Antonio for additional training. There is a tech conference sponsored by the College Board coming up in Dec. in San Antonio. It is very popular and has been a sellout the last two years. Call the College Board at (512) 891-8400 for more information. Carol Leibl also does an excellent week-long AP Biology and Technology conference here in San Antonio.

I use the:
  • CBL and TI-83 calculator with CO2 probe for the respiration lab
  • temperature and bio gas pressure probe for enzyme catalysis lab
  • bio gas pressure probe for transpiration lab
  • colorimeters for photosynthesis lab
Some people also use the pH probe for diffusion and the O2 probe for dissolved oxygen. I really like these probes!"
-- Franklin M. Bell, St. Mary's Hall, San Antonio, Texas. 11/16/99

Answer 5: "There were some good workshops at the NABT convention on the use of CBLs and probes. Your best bet is to contact Texas Instruments, either online or by phone ([888] 282-8233). They have lots of programs available, depending upon your needs."
-- Cheryl Hollinger, Central York High School, York, Pennsylvania. 11/16/99

Answer 6: "I have done a diffusion lab, the cell respiration lab, photosynthesis lab, and enzyme catalysis lab using the probe ware and directions in the book Biology with Computers, which is available from Vernier for $35. Almost forgot: I also have done the transpiration lab and parts of the circulatory physiology lab using it as well. I find it very easy to use, data is gathered quickly, and students spend more time graphing and analyzing the data. I have also tried the DO and Primary Productivity Lab but did not find the readings from the probe reliable so I reverted to using the Winkler technique. I believe that covers nearly every one of the 12 required AP labs for which you could use a probe."
-- Bob Heun, Brooks School, North Andover, Massachusetts. 11/17/99

Answer 7: "I would suggest the 83+. The application that will run the probes is called CHEMBIO and it is made by Vernier. It can be downloaded for free from vernier.com. You need the program called Graphlink to move the program from your computer to the calculator. The Graphlink program can also be downloaded for free from Texas Instruments at ti.com. However, you need to purchase the Graphlink cable for about $35. You will want that cable for a number of reasons. The 83+ is a more updated version of the 83. There are several advantages to the 83+. One is that you can more easily store data in an area of the memory that will not interfere with data that you collect while doing an experiment. The Application CHEMBIO can also be stored in an area of the memory that will not interfere with data that you collect while doing an experiment.

The CBL-2 is also a more updated version of the CBL, so definitely order that one (though first read my note below regarding Vernier calculator/probe interface).

The probes can be ordered directly from Vernier or one of their suppliers. I don't know which gives the best prices. For AP Biology you definitely want to buy the gas-pressure sensor, which can be used for doing the AP enzyme, transpiration, respiration, and even the osmosis and diffusion labs. Temperature probes came with the CBL-1. If they also come with the CBL-2, they are adequate, though the Vernier temperature probe is better. The dissolved oxygen probe can be used for doing the DO lab, but this is a very expensive probe. Definitely order the colorimeter, which can easily be used for doing the photosynthesis lab. Although the $100 colorimeter can't do as much as a Spec 20 (or equivalent model), you can buy a class set of them (12-14) for less than the price of one Spec 20. They can only be used at three wavelengths, so they are not good for doing absorption spectra, but they can be used to monitor numerous reactions, including the reduction of DPIP by photosynthesizing chloroplasts.

There are other probes, some of which are expensive but useful. The carbon dioxide probe is super for measuring respiration of small organisms and photosynthesis. The new oxygen probe, pH probe, EKG, ion selectives, and water current probes are useful, but my top three are the gas-pressure, colorimeter, and temperature probes, which you can use to teach a whole biology course with super labs.

I would also suggest ordering Graphical Analysis, which allows you to move and graph data from the calculator to the computer. A site license isn't that expensive.

Also consider ordering Vernier's calculator/probe interface, which is more expensive that the CBL-2, but can also be used as a computer/probe interface -- so it is more versatile.

Finally, if you are not that experienced with this equipment, I would very strongly suggest that you or your colleagues consider taking a one-week summer institute called CHEM/BIO or Connecting Biology and Algebra. These institutes are offered through Teachers Teaching with Technology. The sites for this year's institutes will be on the TI Web page (ti.com/calc) soon."
-- Bob Goodman, Hunter College High School, New York City. 1/14/00

Answer 8: "I have Vernier probes for TIs and Macintoshes. I avoid the TIs whenever possible. They are flaky, seizing up just when they should not. I should say that this usually happens when I push the data sampling limit. Perhaps the 83+'s handle the software better. If you can invest in computers instead of calculators, do so. If it's TIs or nothing, they work fine, just baby them and get lots of practice before introducing them to your kids.

I find the probes especially useful for cardiovascular experiments (heart rate monitor, EKG, respiration, temperature) and respiration and photosynthesis work (CO2 probe). One note, the dissolved O2 probe is very unreliable and difficult to calibrate. Not worth the money. Vernier has a new O2 probe that may work better.

Vernier has a new product that works with TIs, LabPro. I wish I had waited a year before my department bought CBLs. Vernier products are solid and easy to use. I suspect that this product is great, though I've never used it."
-- Jonathan Calos, Emma Willard School, Troy, New York. 1/14/00

Answer 9: "If time is not an issue, here are my recommendations: (1) The Vernier Lab Pro will be a CBL2 with several extra features that make it usable with calculators and computers. It will act as an interface between the computer and probes. It will also have a memory to store the necessary programs, a feature shared with the CBL2. (2) With the use of the Lab Pro or CBL2, the choice of calculators is not as critical. However, the ability to load the necessary programming into the Flash memory provides two advantages. First, the students are less likely to be able to 'mess' with the programming. Second, the 'standard' memory is fully available for data storage and other programs.

I would not get the traditional CBLs at this time, as they are about to become dinosaurs. Very useful dinosaurs, but not the best 'bang for the buck.' Only glitch is that the new technology is not scheduled to arrive until March. Both Vernier and TI swear on a stack of bibles that this date is still good, but we know what can happen with release dates."
-- Israel Solon, Greenhill School, Dallas, Texas. 1/15/00

Answer 10: "We purchased CBLs and TI-83s for use in all of our science classes several years ago. I have always worked with Vernier to purchase these. If you call, and then fax them your order, they will make some price reductions based upon how many of each item you purchase. We have the 'plain' CBL and the TI-83 as neither of the others were available at the time we made our purchase. I believe if I were making the purchase now I would select the TI-83+ as they have more memory and the Lab-Pro (this will connect to both the calculator and either a Mac or PC computer). The CBL generally runs about $179 (they say CBL2 will be less expensive) and the Lab Pro is $220. As the ULI (Universal Lab Interface) for the computer ran about $300, I think the Lab-Pro is your best bargain. Comparing the CBL with CBL 2, the CBL 2 has the programs built directly into the machine, so you won't have to deal (as much) with downloading programs with the TI graph link. Get one of these ($50, with a site license), as your students can then transfer their graphs to the computer and print them. The Vernier Web site is great (as are their sales reps) for helping you make your final decision. Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions. I love this equipment and can't imagine teaching without it at this point!! Oh by the way, Vernier will let you 'try' the equipment for a week or so if you sign up on their Web site (Educator Loan Program.) Good luck."
-- Gena Barnhardt, Hickory High School, Hickory, North Carolina. 1/14/00

Question: "My administrator has just informed us we have to cut $7,200 from our science budget. He is questioning a power supply/electrophoresis bed as a requirement for a high school biology lab. Any suggestions? We've also increased our biology section offering from 7 sections to 14 sections, yet must cut our budget a total of $9,000 from last year (we came in lower than last year). Any thoughts on how to calmly address this issue would be much appreciated."

Answer 1: "A couple of random thoughts:
(1) We have learned the hard way about administrators and how they look at budgets. As the academic year draws to a close, our department chairperson asks how much we have left in the budget. He then tells each of us what we should spend in the remaining weeks of the year, so that we can use it all up. Knowing that that will happen, we keep a running 'wish list.' For example, I pick up digital balances, incubators, and so on that I need.
(2) If you end up HAVING to settle for a lower budget for next year, even though you have more students, you might consider looking into other schools in your area, especially those that teach AP Biology. Some schools I've worked with have an informal consortium, in which they share equipment such as spectrophotometers, electrophoresis equipment, and other expensive items. I realize that even if you know of such schools, it takes some logistical planning and trusting that your peers will treat your equipment with respect.
(3) Find that section in your AP Biology acorn book that discusses the importance of labs, or get someone on the AP Biology Development Committee to write a letter to your administrators spelling out the importance of having college-level equipment if one is to offer a college-level course. If you need suggestions for names of such people, let me know. As a past member of the development committee, I would be happy to do this, if you have no one else more appropriate.

Once, when we got a new business manager for the school -- someone from the business world came to our school and wanted to run the school the way corporations are run. I wrote to him, with a copy to the rest of the administration, and said that if they wanted me to run a life sciences program without money for experiments, I would do that, but they should realize in advance what an impact science without labs would have on the quality of our program. They came around and have been more supportive since then. Good luck! You're fighting an important battle. And if you lose, well, there are all sorts of ways to cut corners if it becomes necessary. And you can always try again next year."
-- Barbara Beitch, Hamden Hall Country Day School, Hamden, Connecticut. 3/17/99

Answer 2: "With regard to the administrator who questioned an electrophoresis chamber for a biology course, you may want to consult the acorn book for AP Biology under the lab section. It has a section addressed to administrators indicating that an AP lab is more expensive to teach than a traditional course. Then show him the recommended lab in the lab manual. I have referred to the section in the acorn book myself when I was dealing with an administration that did not understand the requirements of an AP lab course. Something about having it in writing from the College Board makes the point a little more compelling."
-- Tricia Glidewell, Marist School, Atlanta, Georgia. 3/17/99

Answer 3: "Do you have a community college or local university that might have an apparatus that you could borrow? Or even an older model that they could let you have for a minimal cost? Our local community college allowed our High Q team (like College Bowl) to borrow their brand new buzzer/timer set for practice when our old set broke irreparably. It was too expensive for us to replace, but with help from the community college, we were still able to prepare our students for competition."
-- Jo Ann Burman, Andress High School, El Paso, Texas. 3/17/99

Question: "All year I struggled with money for lab supplies. Our students are all assessed the same lab fee, regardless of what science course they take, and it is only $5/yr. Do any of you find ways to justify a higher lab fee for AP Biology? Will the administration support this? Our department is having a few budgetary questions about the way things are spent, and how much we are getting for what we do. I was wondering if we could collect some data from other schools regarding funding vs. population, classes, etc.

Population: 1,550 students, 9-12
School setting: middle/upper middle class, university town of 60,000
Entire science budget: $9,000
Physical science: 14 sections, 340 students, $1,200
Biology: 18 sections, 430 students, $2,800
Chemistry: 14 sections, 305 students, $2,800
Physics: 7 sections,150 students, $2,200

How do you break down money spent in different classes? How do you cover major expenses, such as electronic balances, water stills, TV/VCR/Laserdisc/computer replacement? Does textbook replacement come out of regular department/subject money? Do you charge additional lab fees for classes with lots of expendables?"

Answer 1: "How can any science department and school your size even function on only $9,000 each year? I spend about three to four thousand dollars just on my budgetary items for my two biology courses, and that doesn't include the Biology I classes. We do have a separate budget fund for technology and we can order new and replacement items if we can justify their purchase. As far as textbooks go, we have the option to purchase new ones when we want to, but we usually wait until we write curriculum, which is every five years. We also use the 'you break, you buy it' idea when it comes to equipment and glassware. With big items like balances, we order a few every year and spread the expense out over an extended period of time. It is taking us three years to replace all of the old microscopes with new ones, but we don't get asked questions that way."
-- Cheryl Hollinger, Central York High School, York, Pennsylvania. 5/7/99

Answer 2: "We get about $6,000 in a school of 2,200 for all science classes! Nine thousand dollars is a dream. I spend about three to four thousand dollars just on my budgetary items for my two biology courses, and that doesn't include the Biology I classes. My costs for biology and AP are probably not $1,000 (estimated). The biggest items are the kits/materials for the biotechnology. We do have a separate budget fund for technology and we can order new and replacement items if we can justify their purchase. As far as textbooks go, we have the option to purchase new ones when we want to, but we usually wait until we write curriculum, which is every five years. Our textbooks (regular biology) are 14 years old and will not be replaced for a couple of more years, if we're lucky. AP books are newer, a 1990s edition. We also use the 'you break, you buy it' idea when it comes to equipment and glassware.

With big items like balances, we order a few every year and spread the expense out over an extended period of time. It is taking us three years to replace all of the old microscopes with new ones, but we don't get asked questions that way. We spent about $1,000 this year refurbishing our old microscopes and we were even able to buy some new ones with one-time special state funding for science. We did get a nice slug of one-time money in California this year. It figured out to about $1,500 per teacher. When I was department chair a few years ago, we were getting around $5/student to run our program. The disparity in funding around the country is amazing."
-- Phil Vandershagan, San Pasquel High School, Escondido, California. 5/7/99

Answer 3: "When I took over as department chair in a school with about 280 9-12 students, our science budget was about $29.00 per student. At that time we did not teach AP Physics, and AP Chemistry was taught only every other year. We also had very few students taking a fourth year of science and, therefore, virtually no science electives. We have since grown to about 320 students and added two full-time positions. Virtually all students now take four years of science, and most take four and one-half to five years. We have also added science projects to the curriculum as a requirement for graduation, which has met with a great deal of success. We have been able to use that success, as well as the success of our AP program -- adding AP Chemistry and AP Physics every year with the highest AP scores of any of the school's departments -- to increase our budget. For a few years, we were able to justify up to $100/student. This was due to the fact that we had very little actual equipment in the department, and what we did have was quite dated. We have worked very hard in getting all core areas properly equipped, and also the new senior electives such as anatomy and physiology, engineering, human genetics, environmental studies, etc., and I find that we have settled at about $65/student. About $4,000 is used for science fair competitions, although we also have to rely on outside donations for the international competitions."
-- Cher Callahan, Savannah Country Day School. 5/8/99

Question: "Can anyone suggest a good quality, not too expensive microscope ($650 range)? I want to get a scope that is optically good and mechanically sound. I want 4X, 10X, 40X, and hopefully 100X lenses, an Abbe condenser, and mechanical stage..."

Answer 1: "I'm currently looking at some high end Meiji scopes but when we opened the school we opted for Swift. We haven't been disappointed. They've held up well and their quality is good at the prices you are talking about."
-- Brad Williamson, Olathe East High School, Olathe, Kansas. 3/28/00

Answer 2: "I use PARCO scopes with all of the requirements you listed and they were much less expensive than $650. When you deal with PARCO, you deal directly with the manufacturer. The number is (800) 247-2726. Give them a try. I'm quite satisfied with the scopes we bought over the past four years."
-- Cheryl Hollinger, Central York High School, York, Pennsylvania. 3/28/00

Question: "What about smartboards?"

Answer: "We have and use the Hitachi boards in our math and science classes (6-12) here at Providence Day School. They also have the newer 'smartboards' in our lower school classes. The kindergarten classes were the first to get them and the teachers just love them. In addition, their document cameras are better than the ones we purchased two years ago -- better clarity. Gone are the overhead projectors. It's great to see the technology being used with the younger students right off the bat!"
-- Bobbie Hinson, Providence Day School, Charlotte, North Carolina. 3/15/00

Question: "We have money to upgrade our multimedia technology -- any suggestions?

Answer1: "I teach in a hi-tech school in Nova Scotia and one of the most useful multimedia devices I have is the ceiling mounted data projector. The computer can be connected for the viewing of whatever program you are using (PowerPoints, spreadsheets, biology related programs), VCRs can be connected as well as microscope cameras. We also have a direct connect to our local cable TV station, giving us 24 channels to select from. It all projects on an 8 x 8 screen mounted at the front of the room. All classrooms in the school have these and they are the one thing that teachers say they could not do without. Taking some of the money to have an Internet connection in the classroom would also give you great flexibility in your programming. It is especially good for smaller classes such as AP classes because it can also be used as a multimedia work station when students are conducting activities at various stations. One area where it is especially good is when you are collecting class data for activities. My spreadsheets are already organized to do the calculations (usually averages). As the students put the data into my laptop, they can view the data on the screen."
-- Peter Selig, Horton High School, Greenwich, Nova Scotia, Canada. 10/29/00

Answer 2: "I would buy an 'in-focus' projector. It is awesome. Hook it up to the computer and, whoa, a picture perfect image on a screen. The projector is much better than the machine you put on top of the overhead. I use it for my PowerPoints and animations. It is fantastic. I can show Web sites and the image is perfect. Reconditioned in-focus projectors go for about $3,500."
-- Tracy Reynolds Sheehan, Westborough High School, Westborough, Massachusetts. 10/29/00

Answer 3: "Another option is the AverMedia, Averkey3 Plus. This little black box is about $250 and will allow you to place your computer image on the TV. It interfaces with the monitor and the CPU. I have a 26-inch and two 19-inch color TV's hooked up, and my students can see what is on the monitor. I plan to add a fourth TV, once the parent is able to bring it in!"
-- Tony Poletti, Santiago High School, Corona, California. 10/30/00

Question: "I'm in the process of ordering equipment for next year. I'd like to take advantage of this opportunity to ask for equipment/supplies for the future. What I should ask for? We have plenty of microscopes and larger equipment, and a number of the lab kits, but what sorts of additional 'small stuff' do you use most or wish you could have (e.g., slides, specimens, models, etc.)?"

Answer: "I never seem to have enough pipettes (disposable) as the entire department shares (chemistry uses a lot) as well as small, standard 250 mL beakers. I would love to have models, but they are very expensive, so I rely on posters and transparencies. My AP instructor at Purdue showed us a model he made himself of a lac operon, which was made of a dowel rod, modeling clay, and Legos. It was pretty cool, although I didn't have time to make one myself (it's on my summer to-do list)."
-- Anne Brewer, Mooresville High School, Mooresville, Indiana. 4/14/00

Question: "Help! I am about to begin my second year teaching AP and we don't have the equipment to do the more complex labs. Yes, I know I could try some substitutions, do the labs on paper only, or skip one or two, but I want to do them right. I feel I owe that to my students. It doesn't look like the school is going to be able to come up with the money for electrophoresis chambers, micropipettes, and spectrophotometers, and I need some ideas on where to get grant money for this stuff. Does anyone have any experience with getting funding for equipment?"

Answer 1: "...In the Detroit, Michigan, area, Wayne State University lends equipment such as this to individual teachers to use in their classes. I do not know if that is going on where you are, but surely WSU is not the only university with a lending program for high schools. I suggest you check this out. You can still explore grants, but if you can borrow the equipment, you'll have it for this year!"
-- Linda Wichers, Birmingham Seaholm High School, Birmingham, Michigan. 7/4/00

Answer 2: "Check out your local university. I am the director of the biotechnology teaching lab at SUNY and we have an equipment lending program so you could borrow the equipment to run the DNA labs. This program was set up by Dr. Nancy Morvillo and she is now at a university or college in Florida so she may have set up a similar program near you. The funds for the equipment were available nationally, so other universities probably have similar programs."
-- Joan Kiely, SUNY, Stony Brook, New York. 7/4/00

Answer 3: "This isn't an idea about grants, but have you asked your local community college if you could borrow some of their equipment? Our community college is really supportive (although I agree that it is always better to have your own stuff)."
-- Mary Wuerth, Tamalpais High School, Mills Valley, California. 7/4/00

Answer 4: "Scientific American has a column on 'kitchen' labs. They have in the past shown how to make a simple electrophoresis chamber. This past month was PCR. I don't have the magazine with me, but if you go to their Web site (See below) there should be a link or more information."
-- Lisa Moore, Duarte High School, Duarte, California. 7/4/00

Answer 5: "Can you borrow the equipment from another school? Or, can more than one school pool its resources to buy equipment, then share it?"
-- Bruce Faitsch, Guilford High School, Guilford, Connecticut. 7/5/00

Answer 6: "I have a few suggestions for you. First, I did an Internet search and found a terrific Web site -- WisTEB: Wisconsin Teacher Enhancement in Biology (See "See also" for link). It gives simple directions for making gel boxes. There are other Web sites, but I thought that this one was the most detailed and clear.

Second, I've known of AP Biology teachers who got together with teachers at other schools in their area and set up more or less an equipment consortium. Each school purchased one piece of equipment, then they all shared them. How the details would be worked out would be up to the individuals in the group.

Third, my school is up the road from Yale, and some of our students are the sons and daughters of professors there. Sometimes they buy new equipment and throw away the old. The old stuff is perfectly fine, but their grant allows them to upgrade. Make it known to your students that you are in the market for such hand-me-downs. You'd be surprised what you get. We've gotten pipettes, glassware, an infrared spectrophotometer, incubators, and lots more wonderful stuff.

Fourth, my husband teaches life sciences at a nearby college, and some of his colleagues have been very generous with advice, bacterial stocks, and so on. A lot of colleges are interested in establishing good relationships with area high schools and sometimes offer to allow students to come in and do labs on Saturday mornings or something like that. This includes use of equipment and sometimes the expertise of faculty members. A call to the chairperson of the Biology Department and/or an inquiry about who among your students is the son or daughter of someone who works in a nearby college might turn up such a possibility for you.

Next, our Parents' Association has been incredibly generous to us. They run a very successful auction every other year that brings in tons of money. They then use the money to grant special requests of our faculty members. I've gotten wonderful equipment for my lab in this way, including, for example, a shaking constant temperature water bath, a microfuge, micropipettes, electrophoresis gel boxes, power supplies, incubators, and spectrophotometers. I keep a running list, my 'wish list,' so that when parents say to me, 'We really appreciate what you have done for our son/daughter. Tell us what we can do for you,' I have a ready answer. Not knowing how much money they are willing to part with, I give them some options, with approximate prices listed. It is amazing how generous they can be. Incidentally, I also tell them that a letter to that effect to the administration would also be appreciated!

Finally, I've seen notices in the past in NABT's publications (The American Biology Teacher and the newsletters) of granting agencies -- some private, others governmental. I vaguely remember that NSF has funds for impoverished schools. Does anyone else on the list have any ideas of such funds? A good place to ask is Cold Spring Harbor; they have lots of ideas to help teachers wishing to get into molecular biology and are sensitive to issues of financial need. By the way, the Acornbook that the College Board publishes makes a special statement that college biology MUST include a strong laboratory component and that it is not inexpensive. I cannot get my hands on the most current edition of this helpful publication ('Advanced Placement Course Description, Biology'), but in the 1998-1999 edition it is on page 21, in 'The Laboratory' section. It says that 'Some of the laboratories will require equipment you may not have.... Many teachers have indicated that their administrations do not fully realize the implications, both in cost and time, of incorporating serious laboratories into their programs. An AP course is a college course, and the equipment and time allotted to laboratories should be similar to that in a college course.' You may want to photocopy that and share it with your administrators."
-- Barbara Beitch, Hamden Hall Country Day, Hamden, Connecticut. 7/5/00

Answer 7: "Aside from grants -- call any local research facilities and beg! We got three great centrifuges for chemistry this spring. Try your local universities or community colleges as well -- they will sometimes loan equipment to AP programs."
-- Rene McCormick, Carroll High School, Southlake, Texas. 7/6/00

Question: "I will be teaching AP Biology for the first time at our school. 1. Are the labs kits the best way to go for the labs? 2. Who is the best supplier to order the kits from?"

Answer 1: "I use as many kits as I can. I get them from Carolina and find them to be well put together and the kids do usually get good results if they are careful with their technique. I have a lab aide who does put together the diffusion and osmosis lab and a couple of others. You don't have to order the population genetics kit, you can have a couple of students put it together on index cards, but you should order the ptc tasting papers."
-- Bonnie Polan, Beverly High School, Beverly, Massachusetts. 7/13/00

Answer 2: "Colleagues have told me that Ward's AP Biology Kits are NOT very good. I'd stick with Carolina Biological. While not perfect, I've used them effectively for about 15 years. Now, I just purchase the refills."
-- Marcia Fischer, Desert Mountain High School, Scottsdale, Arizona. 6/1/01

Question: "How do you assign/take care of microscopes?"

Answer 1: "At my school the students accuse us of anal retentiveness where the microscopes are concerned. Each of ours has a serial number and we do maintain an inventory that links them to the number the students use to identify them. The cubbies are numbered too so that each group knows where to find their particular scope. There are numerous reasons for this. All our scopes are not the same model. Once a student learns where the diaphragm and coarse and fine adjustments are on that model, they are still there the following week. Your scopes will not have a long life span if the students don't care for them properly and, unless you know which one they used, you will be unable to enforce good care of them. We posted a sign on the cabinet reminding them points will be deducted from their final report grade if they do not: return the scope to its proper cubby with the power cord looped around the body tube, remove slides from the stage, and put lowest power objective in place. We have too many classes and too many teachers using the equipment to not have some controls. Students love to report infractions form the last user and our teachers relay the information to the previous teacher in the lab."
-- Mary Jane Davis, Red Bank Catholic High School, Red Bank, New Jersey. 9/2/00

Answer 2: "I put labels with numbers on all of my microscopes and assign a particular microscope to each student for the entire year. The reasons are as follows: (1) There are minor differences among the various microscopes, and this way students get used to their particular microscope, and (2) most important, each student feels more responsible this way and is much more likely to take good care of his or her microscope. If they were in good shape at the beginning of the period, and if there is a problem at the end of the period, then we all know whose responsibility it is. Each student is told this, and at the beginning of the period, it is typical for a student to call me over and tell me about a particular problem (e.g., focusing issues, dirt in the system, a loose part, etc.). That way I can better keep up with my equipment and keep it in better working order."
-- Barbara Beitch, Hamden Hall Country Day School, Hamden, Connecticut. 9/2/00

Answer 3: "I have my complex equipment coded by number; I also have the storage location coded to match. This makes it easier for me to inventory -- I just have to look to see which equipment is missing and I can leave notes for the repair people. For example, microscope two has oil in the objective, microscope three has a short in the cord, etc. I do assign equipment by number to the students but not to 'increase accountability.' I hate that fatuous concept! It just makes it easier, they can leave me a note -- microscope one needs a new bulb. And they know that they have to report the problem today because they will not be able to just grab another working microscope tomorrow. I like to think that this is good training for being a good citizen."
-- Joan Kiely, SUNY, Stony Brook, New York. 9/11/00

Question: "Speaking of reliable data, can I ask the listserv about pH meters? I cannot get any sort of reliable data out of the ones we have, including one professional unit that was donated to us by a parent scientist. I get wildly differing results out of the same solution using different meters, even after careful calibration with 'store bought' buffers designed for that purpose. Anyone have comments on this?"

Answer: "I have never been able to successfully use a pH meter that cost me more than $100. We have two very nice Corning meters that cost about $300 that never seem to work right. My best success has been with the little pocket pH meters -- about $60 each -- and I have had very good success with the Vernier pH probes. As a bonus, neither one of these two probes requires that you add solution to the electrode."
-- Israel Solon, Greenhill School, Dallas, Texas. 01/10/01

Question: "I have been asked if the science department could use a device that projects from a microscope to a monitor (of course, I said yes) and, if so, what brand should be ordered. I know this technology is available from different manufacturers. I would appreciate any recommendations you can offer."

Answer 1: "I have a Flexcam by Videolabs, Inc., and I love it! I can not only use it with a microscope but also can use it when doing dissections to project on a screen (if you have a projector) or on a television through a s-video hookup, an example of what I want them to do next. The picture is good quality (though some of the color washes out if you try to magnify the image too much). What is amazing to me is that I can use the microscope on say 400x magnification and then see the field of view on a high-quality monitor magnified even more with relatively little loss of resolution. I don't get to use it as often as I would like because I teach courses that have a fairly rigid curriculum that does not allow me much time for microscopy. However, if you have the money to spend, try it!"
-- G. Rad Mayfield, III, East Rutherford High School, Forest City, North Carolina. 1/22/01

Answer 2: "Get a Videolab Flexcam system if you can afford it! Cynmar has the complete kit for $839."
-- Bruce Faitsch, Guilford High School, Guilford, Connecticut. 2/01/01

Answer 3: "I am purchasing -- haven't gotten it yet -- a digital microscope and stereoscope from Science Kit and Boreal. It goes to the computer and images and video can be captured with their software and then sent to a TV monitor."
-- Deborah A. Hill, Norman High School, Norman, Oklahoma. 2/01/01

Question: "What apparatus do you use to get deionized water?"

Answer 1: "Consider looking into getting a deionizer instead of a still. We had a system installed. A service person comes out once a year to change the filters. The water works fine for high school 'stuff,' is cheaper initially, and requires less upkeep and maintenance. Look in your local yellow pages for companies. We switched over about five years ago and have never had any water quality issues."
-- Israel Solon, Greenhill School, Dallas, Texas. 1/29/01

Answer 2: "We don't have a still. We use water from the water fountain. It is a reverse osmosis (RO) system with three filters (some have four) that gets the solute concentration down to less than one part per million. That's lower than the distilled water I used to purchase! I have never had a problem, even in chemistry. If your school does not have them on the water fountains, a unit designed for home use can produce 4L per hour. Low cost, low maintenance. Filters are replaced every three months to a year depending on water quality in your area. The dealer can tell you what is."
-- Gerald Rau, Lincoln American School, Taichung, Taiwan. 1/29/01

Answer 3: "Do you need a still or just deionized water? I use a Millipore water purification system -- it is faster than a still and smaller. It produces water with low conductivity and contaminants suitable for everything I do. I cannot tell you the price range, but Millipore has a Web site and sales people that will come to you."
-- Joan Kiely, SUNY Stony Brook, New York. 1/31/01

Question: "I am on a fast track to offer AP Biology next year. The decision was reached about two weeks ago that we would offer AP Biology and I need to spend the money for supplies by this Friday, or at least get the purchase order. Should I just order what Carolina recommends for the 12 AP labs? Normally I shop around but I just found out today that I have to order so soon. Any advice?"

Answer 1: "The Carolina kits are pretty much turnkey. You would only need to supplement several of the big ticket items, notably a spectrophotometer, the electrophoresis equipment, a fan for the transpiration lab, several lights for photosynthesis, transpiration and DO labs, and a few more things. Some of the kits send you a few silly things (fishbowls with the photosynthesis kit, soil with the transpiration kit), but if you can afford them, they are a good way to know that you have what you need in a short amount of time. If you look in the catalog, each kit description will tell you what else you will need to use each kit. I have used the kits in summer institutes and have been happy with the results. Other kits are cheaper (Edvotek, for one) but they are not as complete. You have to be sure to have more supplementary stuff on hand."
-- Israel Solon, Greenhill School, Dallas, Texas. 5/29/01

Answer 2: "Carolina's stuff is well organized, saves time, and works great! I would recommend everything but the meiosis beads. They're hard to use and a waste of time to put together. Colored yarn or licorice work great."
-- Scott Stein, Springside School, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 5/30/01

Answer 3: "If you have the funds, you can't go wrong ordering from Carolina. As a beginner, I really relied on them for structure and, as I picked up experience, I've improvised so that I'm not spending that kind of money each year."
-- Joyce D'Augustine, Edward Little High School, Auburn, Maine. 5/30/01

Answer 4: "One thing about the Carolina kits is that there is a list of supplies in each kit in the catalog. I tell my workshop participants to look through the list and see what they already have in their stockrooms. The osmosis and diffusion lab is one I remember has lots of stuff like plastic cups and sugar in it -- things that are cheaper to buy at the grocery. They also sell replacement kits that have the expendable parts of the kit, so many people can get by with the replacement kits after checking that they have the basic equipment or buying the basic kit. I confess that I buy the replacement kit for the photosynthesis lab because all the solutions are in bottles to dispense for six groups. I recycle the bottles and don't have large amounts of the solution left over to go to waste or to store for the next time I do the lab."
-- Tricia Glidewell, Marist School, Atlanta, Georgia. 5/30/01

Answer 5: "I just wanted you to know that we offer a 30 percent discount if you do decide to order a full set of labs from Carolina. This would amount to almost $500 in savings for a full set of the six-station kits. The 30 percent discount also applies to the replacement kits or any combination of six-station and/or replacement kits as long as all 12 labs are included. Hope this helps stretch your budget!"
-- Pat Ryan, Carolina Biological Supply Company, Burlington, North Carolina. 5/31/01

Question: "I would appreciate help on ordering gas pressure sensors. We have a large investment in original CBL units for physics. I want to adapt these for gas pressure experiments in AP Biology (transpiration, respiration, etc.). Should I order the biology gas pressure sensor (GPS-DIN) or the new gas pressure sensor (GPS-BTA). Which one works best for these experiments?"

Answer 1: "That Vernier GPS with the BTA ending is for the new Logger Pro but it will also work on your CBLs. They are just putting that BTA adapter on all their sensors now since the older style CBLs will no longer be available. I think that sensor is really a good one."
-- Doug Herman, Iowa City West High, Iowa City, Iowa. 6/26/01

Answer 2: "A few years ago Vernier offered three sensors that measured air pressure. Of course, they had to come up with different names so one was called a 'barometer,' one was called a 'biogas pressure sensor,' and the other was called a 'pressure sensor.' The barometer was most sensitive, but had the smallest range -- it could not tolerate the high pressure one encounters when studying Boyle's Law or the catalase lab. The pressure sensor had a higher tolerance... but it wasn't as sensitive so it didn't show the small pressure changes seen during transpiration or respiration. The biogas had an intermediate range and sensitivity. Now, Vernier offers the gas pressure sensor, which essentially combines the sensitivity of the biogas and the tolerance of the pressure probe. As a biologist or chemist... the gas pressure sensor is the one to purchase now. I could teach a whole course with this sensor -- transpiration, enzymes, cell respiration (peas), osmosis, water potential of potato cells, change in pressure at different water depths -- it is worth its weight in gold!"
-- Bob Goodman, Hunter College High School, New York City. 6/26/01

Answer 3: "Write to Vernier to check but I think the newer probe is for the newer connector only. Check this on their Web site."
-- Tom Svoboda, West Geauga High School, Chesterland, Ohio. 6/27/01

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