Help me design a science competition!
November 14, 2007 10:47 AM   Subscribe

I have been given the task of designing questions for the biology portion of an 8th grade science competition. Unfortunately I don't know what today's 8th graders are learning in biology, and the people running the competition aren't being much help.

It has been a decade since I was that age, and I would imagine that today's 8th graders are learning more about biology than I did as an 8th grader. Because of this, I'm having trouble coming up with questions that are the correct difficulty level and pertinent to a common 8th grade curriculum. I am also having trouble finding resources to pull information from.

Here is an excerpt from from an email from one of the organizers:

Description: This event is a lab-oriented competition involving the fundamental science processes of a middle school life science/biology lab program.

Competition: This event will consist of a series of lab stations. Each station will require the use of process skills to answer questions and/or perform a required task such as formulating and/or evaluating hypotheses and procedures, using scientific instruments to collect data, making observations, presenting and/or interpreting data, or making inferences and conclusions.

Possible stations include:

1. Formulating and/or evaluating hypotheses and procedures.

2. Making predictions.

c. Making observations and collecting data by measuring length, volume, temperature, pH, and mass using a variety of tools–both traditional and/or electronic (i.e., rulers, calipers, pipettes, graduated cylinders, balances, thermometers, and electronic probes).

d. Using compound microscopes and stereomicroscopes as measurement and identification tools.

e. Interpreting data in the form of tables, charts, graphs, food labels, food webs, flow charts, pedigrees, karyotypes, etc.

f. Making simple calculations such as area, density, percentages, averages (mean, median, mode).

g. Determining genetic ratios and probabilities.

h. Using or formulating a taxonomic/dichotomous key.

i. Using indicators.

j. Making inferences and conclusions based upon data and observations.

I would really appreciate any insights the hive mind has as far as potential questions, topics, or resources I can explore to get started.
posted by Paul KC to Education (6 answers total)
Are you in the US? If so, what state?
You can go on the state department of education's website to download the state standards of education that students should learn each year.
posted by rmless at 11:29 AM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Contact the school district in which the children in the competition attend and ask them what the curriculum is. The answer you'll get will be pretty broad, so I would also suggest speaking with/emailing at least one biology teacher in the district. You'll get much more detailed information that way. In our district, the schools all have websites and you can get teacher's emails from the site.
posted by cooker girl at 11:53 AM on November 14, 2007

seconding contacting a biology teacher (specifically one in the same district) and asking them. They would know better than we would.
posted by boreddusty at 11:58 AM on November 14, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. It is actually a statewide competition, so I will definitely look in to the education standards here as a starting point.
posted by Paul KC at 12:08 PM on November 14, 2007

Personally I'd turn down the task stating that you're not qualified to set these questions - why are they asking you rather than a biology teacher?

However, the list they've given you states the aims of each possible station. The skills they are being taught should be tranferable regardless of topic eg. they should still be able to calculate mean, median and mode regardless of whether the topic is lichen samples or womens shoes. Most of the 'stations' are not specific to biology (8th grade or otherwise), it shouldn't be too hard to come up with some questions based on the suggestions they've provided.
posted by missmagenta at 12:25 PM on November 14, 2007

I teach Grade 8 science in B.C. I would echo what missmagenta said above: each of those stations would be simple to adapt with biology examples.

One question that would meet some of the aims above would be to collect a number of 'natural' items: chestnuts, leaves, beans, etc. and ask the kids to measure the length of each one, then calculate the mean, median, mode and range, and plot the data on the graph. They could also design a hypothesis to test whether bigger chestnuts lead to improved germination, etc.

Another thing that you could do would be to collect samples of branches with leaves (and fruit/reproductive structures, if possible) and ask the kids to classify each using a simple dichotomous key.

Try to get a copy of a textbook from a local should provide you with lots of examples of labs that the kids are doing that you can adapt to meet your needs.

Let me know if you need more advice! My email is in my profile.
posted by ms.v. at 2:47 PM on November 14, 2007

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