Welcome

Welcome to MrExham.com, an online blog designed for students, teachers and anyone who loves anything Biology!

The primary aim of my blog is to create an information resource for pupils studying Biology IGCSE, A Level and the International Baccalaureate (IB). I will also be regularly posting links to anything in the Biology world that I find interesting, be it news stories, articles, videos, or games, in the hope that Mr Exham will inspire YOU to Make Sense of Biology.

If you have any questions please email me.

Biology A Level 2015 – Content or context?

By now I’m sure you will have all looked at the various options for which specification to choose from. For my department the first question was did we want to choose a context based or content based course. The traditional courses are content led, this means that the topics are discreet and are just taught as individual topics, rather than the context based courses which give a context to each section of the specification. For example, the context may be the blood and you would teach various topics from that context, such as cells, immunity and hormones.

As teachers we always give context to what we are teaching and in this way the content based courses are more flexible as you can arrange topics how you want and apply your own contexts where relevant. However, the content in the context based courses seems to be more current and interesting.

Once you decide which approach to take, the task of deciding which exam board to choose is actually quite tricky. Now that coursework as such has been removed from the qualification, the differences between the options are very slight. The content is much the same across all exam boards and so it just comes down to the type of assessment, style, resources, loyalty and personal preference.

Please fill in this poll and write in the comments your opinions and thoughts regarding this important decision.

New TEDEd Lesson

I have just uploaded a new video and TEDEd lesson on the digestive system which I have been putting together for a while. I am also planning on updating my older video resources to bring them more up to date.

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I will be posting a Christmas Special video in the next few days so subscribe on YouTube to see it first.

IGCSE Ultimate Bundle

I am pleased to announce that I have now completed a PowerPoint for every topic in the Edexcel IGCSE Biology Course. They can be conveniently downloaded in one file containing over 750 original slides.

Click on the image to download it now!

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Over the next few months I will be checking the IGCSE pages and updating video links. I will then begin work on the new linear A Level for 2015.

Any feedback or requests for new resources please email me

Mr Exham – Past, Present and Future

I have been meaning to write this post for a while in order to let you know what the plans are going forward for mrexham.com, and this week seemed like as good a time as any with the GCSE results coming out and a new academic year starting.

Firstly I would like to thank everyone who has used the website in the last year, I have received some great emails and tweets and I am really glad that it’s been useful to so many people. I’ve now decided to take mrexham.com in a few different directions. Firstly I am making some of my key resources, which take the most time and effort to make, available to purchase through sellfy.com. This has meant spending more time on these resources to make them as clear and informative as possible, and it has also given me the impetus to make more of them! There will soon be a PowerPoint for each section of the IGCSE course along with revision quizzes.

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I will continue to make free resources as well, including Quizlets, revision sheets, YouTube dissections, practical demonstrations, worksheets and I also intend to write Socrative quizzes for teachers.

Given that there will be a new A-Level starting in 2015 (read the Ofqual announcement here) I will no longer be adding to the current A-Level pages and resources. Instead I will focus on making new resources ready for the launch of the new linear A-Level next year. I will also be blogging about the various courses and exam boards offering Biology A-Level as my department make their decision about which to choose.

Thank you once again for all the positive feedback and please let me know if there’s anything else you’d like to see on mrexham.com!

Mr Exham

Do you study the AQA AS Biology course. Why not try the revision quizzes on my new AQA AS Biology page.

http://mrexham.com/aqa-as/

Use your student book to correct your answers and keep trying the quizzes everyday to improve.

New A2 Revision Quiz

Here is the latest revision quiz for A2 Biology. It covers Unit 2 Module 1 – Cellular Control and Variation. It does not have any detailed genetic problems or maths questions as it is purely meant to be for factual recall of the key words and definitions.

 

Happy Halloween

To celebrate Halloween why not enlighten yourself with some fun Biology Halloween trivia.

  • The scientific name for the pumpkin is Curbita maxima.
  • The pumpkin is not actually a vegetable but a fruit – in fact it’s a berry! It develops from a single pistil of the flower and has no stone or papery core.
  • Pumpkins are monoecious, which means they produce both male and female flowers on the same plant. To ensure adequate pollination farmers often place beehives in pumpkin fields during the bloom period.
  • Beta-carotene gives the pumpkin it’s bright orange colour. Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A which is needed for healthy skin and good eyesight.
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the fastest time to carve a face into a pumpkin is 20.1 seconds, achieved by David Finkle of the United Kingdom.
  • If you know someone who is afraid of Halloween don’t make fun of them, they may be suffering from Samhainophobia – a condition where people have an irrational fear of Halloween.
  • According to legend, a monobrow, pronounced canine teeth, and having a long middle finger are all signs of lycanthropy – being a werewolf!

And finally, here’s a hilarious video from Steve Spangler conducting a simple halloween science experiment to make oozing pumpkins.

Teaching and Learning – Animations

Recently in my department we have been using modelling clay to help animate complex biological processes that students find hard to visualise and learn. It’s very simple to do, all you need is some modelling clay, a smartphone or digital camera, some pens and paper and some basic video editing software like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. To make the animations as smooth as possible the students should take as many still frames as they can. These are then put into the software and text, music and transitions are all added. It can be done in the class in small groups or for a homework task. Below are two examples of processes that this works particularly well for meiosis and protein synthesis.

Protein Synthesis:

Meiosis:

Other biology topics that this technique would be useful for include: movement of substances across membranes, the nephron, genetic engineering of human insulin, action potentials, respiration, photosynthesis, enzymes and many more.

Bang Goes The Borders

Tomorrow Mr Exham will be taking part in the Bang Goes The Borders Science Festival. It is a free event held at St. Mary’s School, Melrose between 10am and 4pm. There are all sorts of fantastic workshops and events taking place throughout the day. Leading Universities such as The University of Edinburgh, Newcastle University and Herriot-Watt are all taking part as well some of the leading schools from Scotland and the North of England such as Fettes College.

Mr Exham will be running four workshops throughout the day (10:45, 12:00, 14:00, 15:00) where you will be able to extract your own DNA from your cheek cells and put it into a wearable pendant. Click on the image below to view the Prezi that I will be using for my workshops.

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For a list of all the events happening at Bang Goes The Borders click here, the first 500 children to visit the event will receive a free BGTB bag packed with science themed goodies! I will be tweeting pictures and updates live tomorrow from St. Mary’s.

Would you eat this burger?

Today in London the first ever lab-grown hamburger was cooked and eaten. Would you eat meat grown in a lab? Before you answer the question you should know more about how the burger was made and more importantly, why?

How the burger was made?
It was made by Professor Mark Post from Maastricht University in Holland using using stem cells taken from a dead cow. These are muscle specific stem cells that are then provided with nutrients so that they can divide over and over again by mitosis. The cells naturally come together to form small fibres called myotubes. These are electrically stimulated to make them contract and relax, this builds the muscle fibres just like going to the gym. They are then combined with fat grown in a lab and a few other additives such as beetroot for colour and then pressed into a burger. Therefore only a few cells are needed to make a whole burger, and potentially tons of meat.

Watch the video below to learn more about stem cells.

Why was the burger made?

  • We currently have a huge demand for meat in the world. The increase of the middle classes in countries such as India and China has further increased demand for meat and also the cost. Artificial meat could therefore provide a cheaper alternative to real meat.
  • The population is increasing at an exponential rate. Current methods of producing meat will not be sustainable in the future and so artificial meat may be a good solution as it can be grown using 99% less land. Using less land for animals means more can be used to grow crops such as fruit and vegetables which are healthy and much needed as the population continues to grow.
  • Current methods of meat production are very bad for the environment. A lot of energy is used to farm meat, from producing the feed to housing and slaughtering the livestock. However the major issue is methane. Ruminants such as sheep and cattle release a lot of methane due to their digestive system. Methane is a greenhouse gas which is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This is contributing hugely to global warming and consequently climate change. In contrast, lab-grown beef uses 45% less less energy and produces 96% less greenhouse gases (Source: Environmental Science and Technology Journal).
  • Another issue is animal welfare. Many vegetarians and vegans have taken the life choice not to eat meat because they disagree with how animals are treated in the production of meat. Meat grown in the lab avoids the need to grow animals and slaughter them in the way we do now. Only one cow would be needed to make thousands and thousands of burgers.

Watch this video to see a nice summary of these issues.

What are the problems with lab-grown meat?

  • It costs about £250,000 to make lab-grown beef. However in the future when the cost of the technology involved becomes cheaper it could be economically viable to make meat on a mass scale. The question is will it ever be cheap enough to actually be used by the countries where it may be needed the most?
  • The taste of the meat may not be as good. At this afternoon’s tasting Austrian food researcher Ms Ruetzler said: “It’s close to meat, it’s not that juicy, the consistency is perfect”. It’s therefore expected that other additives will need to be used to make the meat taste better and also make it more healthy then regular meat.
  • Perhaps we should be focussing on managing our current issues with food such as food wastage – at the moment we throw away a 6th of all food!
  • The thought of growing food in a lab this way can be off-putting to people.

So now you know the details, have you made up your mind? If you’re still not sure watch this TED talk by Prof Mark Post and see if he can convince you.

Please comment below with your opinions on this amazing scientific development.

Photo credit: David Parry/PA
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