It a brand new year…and a brand new critter!


Awww…it’s a kittybearraccoonmonkey.

Welcome! So glad to have you and newly identified mammalian carnivore with us! The olinguito pictured above has been in museums for decades, but misidentified as its older cousin, the Olingo. Both are shy, arboreal creatures of the South American cloud forest, and darn cute.

That and so much more coolness of science is coming your way this week in our prep week unit on science safety and methods, with a nod to the upcoming unit on the properties of matter. We will come to understand the beauty of the scientific method and how you have been lied to about what it is up to this point, and practice it by trying to make sense of strange phenomena. We will also tour the possible dangers in a lab and how to avoid them.

Everything will be served with a side order of, “whoa…that’s weird.”  Ask your kids about neutrinos….

A Vaccine for Zits! Practical Microbiology.

Within a few years, you should be able get a treatment to prevent acne. Seriously.

If he only knew as a kid where he woudl be as an adult...

Yes, this is Cristiano Ronaldo as a teenager. Acne doesn’t care.

What causes zits?
1. Excess production of normal skin oils.  Because you are a teenager or stressed adult.
2. Clogging of hair follicles caused by accumulation of dead cells. Face washing can help with this….
3. Bacterial buildup: Too much oil and plug creates pressure, which can rupture the cellular walls of the pores make a great breeding ground for that bacteria, propionibacterium acnes, shown below.
4. White blood cells rush in to kill the bacteria. That would be the pus. Mmmmmm.

Propionibacterium Acnes

The rod shaped bacteria P. acnes in strings just waiting to build up before that important day.

Most of the treatments, like benzoyl perioxide,  are designed to kill the bacteria. But bacteria get resistant to antibiotics and the antibiotics kill the helpful bacteria you need. Sneaky researchers at USC San Diego figured out that there is a protein they call CAMP, that P. acnes uses to kill cells and create all the drama. Expose the body to CAMP, the body makes antibodies, then the bacteria can’t do their part so no acne develops.  Awesome.

Poor Ronaldo had to wait to grow out of it. Of course, he’s now a major soccer superstar and Armani underwear model so apparently, life improves after middle school.

Ronaldo living the good life.

No, I am not posting the rest of the picture.

Yeah, we’re looking at your fatty acid….

Sounds like I said...heh heh.

Fatty acids are a critical component of your phospholipid bilayers – your cell membranes.

Pretty cool. The inside of the cell membrane is made of lipids – greasy little fatty acid strings attached to glycerol, a phosphate group, and topped with a polar group. Why is that cool? Because if it wasn’t made of non-polar greasy stuff, your cell membranes would dissolve in water – and thus, so would you!

Look at those fatty acid tails!

Look at those fatty acid tails!

We will be studying cell innards and what they do this week. I generally talk at you and tell you great stories, but this week I’m giving you computers and microscopes and a bunch of learn at your own pace, whoa look at this activities for you to learn by.

Our next test is Monday, 3/4. Progress reports go out Wednesday, 3/6.

Love and Intestinal Distress

I love you so much, I will boil your water before giving it to you.

I love you so much, I will boil your water before giving it to you.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet pickles of love! Eighth grade is the best place to be for Valentine’s Day because most folks don;t have significant others so they just bring love and sugary happiness to share with everybody. Big group hug on the hall. My gift today is a training essay – a scaffolded essay assignment on applications of ecology. This is a practice for future essay tests. Just want to make sure you know how to do them well. We will work in groups and you have all day in class for two questions and, if you need more time, they ca be finished over the three day weekend.

We will start our next unit – Microbiology and Tiny Things That Kill You next week. IN honor of that and the holiday, I offer you the protozoan Giradia in the last phase of cell division, making a temporary heart before it splits in two. They love you so much, that if they get in your drinking water, they multiply in your intestines and cause, er, their love to, er, flow…


These really were lovely...

These really were lovely…

And we certainly hope it stays that way. We have built some amazing ecosystems in our container worlds, adding biotic and abiotic features trying to get the relationships just perfectly balanced. Now the test – one week to see how well they survive. If they fail, we try examine where the imbalance is and try to set it right. If anything, we learn how complex and interconnected ecosystems are. (And how easily we can mess them up!)

Test is MONDAY. Study Island just came out with a new set of study aids on ecology so we will use those Friday to help prepare for the test.

Avoiding the Obvious and Looking for Nuances in the Ecology Unit

Finns actually do eat reindeer.

Predator and prey relationship in the Taiga biome. Run, Rudolf, Run!!!

Okay, fine, we will play by the rules and do evolution at the end of the year. But just because we have to do ecology again doesn’t mean we have to suffer through learning the exact same material we learned in 6th grade. And 5th. And likely 3rd. (How many times to you need to color a picture of a decomposer?!)

We will have a day and half refresher course, then take our Monday Quiz/Ecology Test. Whatever we collectively know, we can skip. Whatever we need to work on, we will, while adding some unique perspectives that only 8th grade can bring….

Did you know the Taiga, or boreal forest, biome (land of spruce, pine, and cold) covers land in the US, Canada,Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Mongolia, and Japan? In Scandinavia, the Saami people*   herd reindeer, race snowmobiles, ice fish and somehow effective deal with seasonal affective disorder. The biome defines the culture in many ways – limited food, extreme cold, geographic isolation, etc. A Finn I knew** said other Scandinavians referred to Finns as the people with crazy eyes who carry knives.” I thought he was joking, but the Saami Easternfestival specifically says that they can’t bring their knives. As for the crazy eyes, maybe it’s just freakin’ cold in the Taiga and they are tired of eating of reindeer.  Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!***

*they were described to me by a Norwegian-American as “like Native Americans, but they look like white people.”**Seriously, I don’t make these people up. He’s a microbiologist and fiddle player in Austin.  ***I’ll explain on St. Urho’s Day, March 16.