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Science of Sorting

Author(s): Julia Robinson1, Margaret t Liechty2, Ashley Kramer3

1. Cecilia Berg Center for Environmental Education; Hefner Museum of Natural History; Miami University 2. Cecilia Berg Center for Environmental Education, Hefner Museum of Natural History,Miami University 3. Cecilia Berg Center of Environmental Education; Hefner Museum of Natural History; Miami University

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The Hefner Museum of Natural History created a Science of Sorting Discovery Trunk, science kits offered to the grades K-8 audience, as an educational component to the National Science Foundation grant submitted by Michael Robinson, MRI: Acquisition of a Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting System to Expand Synergistic Research and Educational Opportunities, Number 1726645, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. With the NSF funding, Miami University purchased a Fluorescence-Activated Cell Sorter, or FACS.  The FACS Machine, no larger than a home dishwasher, physically sorts microscopic particles one at a time based on their light scattering properties that disclose size, shape and color. In fact, it sorts most any microscopic particles up to 100,000 particles per second. As particles, or cells, drop from the nozzle in the FACS Machine, a laser analyzes the droplets, each containing one particle or cell. The single droplet is given an electric charge that is dependent on the fluorescence the cell exhibits. These particles can then be further sorted and analyzed and used in the next cancer treatment, diagnosis, or biotechnology application. This makes the FACS a powerful tool for many disciplines and impacts our daily lives. Thanks to the National Science Foundation, Miami has a FACS Machine, which has become part of Miami University’s scientific tools.

Understanding the concept of sorting at its most basic level—sorting cells—and at a micro scale can be difficult for K-8 students to grasp. The Trunk explores the topic of sorting and classification in the study of life science. Every grade level from K-8 in the Ohio Department of Education Science Standards includes the topic of classification or sorting in some form. Some of the learning objectives explored in the teacher guide follow. 

  • Sort and describe objects by their properties.
  • Identify specific characteristics and physical traits and behavior of living things.
  • Discuss how living things obtain materials from their environment to meet their basic needs and that they survive only in environments that meet those needs.
  • Explore organisms' interactions within habitats.
  • Learn that offsprings resemble their parents and each other. Individuals of the same kind of organism differ in their inherited traits and these differences give some individuals an advantage to survive and/or reproduce.
  • Explore how living systems at all levels of organization demonstrate the complementary nature of structure and function.

The teacher guide containing life science inquiry activities incorporates the use of natural world specimens and can easily align to Next Generation Science Standards. Six lessons are included in the teacher guide.

Lesson 1: "Shells, shells, shells"
(activity focus: describing things in nature by their attributes)

Lesson 2: "I got your back...bone!"
(activity focus: dividing animals into two groups - vertebrates and invertebrates)

Lesson 3: "Creepin' crawlies"
(activity focus: how to classify invertebrates, such as spiders or insects, according to body parts)

Lesson 4: "All things great and small"
(activity focus: classifying vertebrates as mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians)

Lesson 5: "Taxonomy and classification"
(activity focus: identifying properties, creating different classification schemes and using a cladogram)

Lesson 6: "Leapin' lizards"
(activity focus: use of a dichotomous key)

The guide develops vocabulary for the young learner and sparks discussions of how objects can be sorted by their properties. In the natural world, these properties can provide an organism the advantage in surviving and reproducing. The guide further connects classification, taxonomy, dichotomous keys and binomial nomenclature at the most fundamental level—looking at basic traits shared by organisms, living and nonliving, to further classify and explain their relatedness to other organisms. Activities are designed to last one class period, but can easily accommodate shorter or multiple class sessions. Obtaining your own specimens or using images of specimens incorporates well for use with the Science of Sorting Discovery Trunk teacher guide. Reproducibles and a glossary are contained within the teacher guide. 

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