Game On!

What started two months ago as a manipulative plot to get my seniors to prepare for IB exams has turned into an epic quest:  to annihilate Lida the Mango (#1 in the world in biology) in a battle of wits while accidentally preparing for exams of course. The QuizUp biology topic update has finally gone live and my students  couldn't be more excited... or sleep deprived.

QuizUp: If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em!

Click through on the image to find out more about QuizUp

Click through on the image to find out more about QuizUp

For a while now I have been using Quizlet to help my IB Biology students learn vocabulary for my course.  Finals are just around the corner, so I posted the following messages to our class Facebook group: 


My first reaction was to dismiss this idea as I suspected that it was going to serve the same function on a different platform, which means twice as much work for the same result.  However, I went ahead and signed up for QuizUp to see what the fuss was all about. 


A week later, I find myself ranked #2 in India hot on Rams tail, though admittedly he has a bit of a lead on me.  A couple of days into my obsession with this game I mentioned it to a colleague of mine.  At midnight a couple of days later he sent me this message: 


We have decided to start a QA group at our school:  QuizUp Anonymous or 12 steps to getting more sleep at night.  But enough about us... it IS all about the students after all. 

To play the game, you choose a category (there are tons of options) and then you either challenge a friend to play with you (in real time or asynchronously) or you can challenge a random person in the world in real time.  Each game has 7 questions and you have 10 seconds to answer the question. You get experience points for guessing a correct answer, your speed in answering the questions, completing games and victories.  For each category, points add up to numerical levels and levels add up to achievements in the form of player titles (I am an Evolutionary Einstein formerly a Genetics Genius) as well as badges such as this one:


There are even a few badges for the not-so-fortunate among us: 


A student of mine discovered this after challenging me one too many times.  He should have known better than to go after an Evolutionary Einstein! 

Anyway, you can check out your stats as well as the stats of your "friends".  Here is a breakdown of the games played by the student that introduced me to this game. 



Can you tell that he is studying for his SAT in December?  I love that his top three topics include Biology and Physics.  Unfortunately, after playing "a few" games under the topic of Biology, I realized that the biology questions for the most part didn't address the IB Biology curriculum.  In passing my student had mentioned that we could create content for QuizUp, so I wrote to them and asked if I could create content for a new Science category with my students that would be focused on the IB Biology content that they would be tested on in May.  I figure if you can't beat 'em, you might as well join them.  How great would it be to leverage a tool like this for student learning?

They loved the idea, and have charged me with creating a spreadsheet with a minimum of 300 questions to launch the new topic.  Once this new topic is released, students all over the world will be able to access this question bank and play other students while accidentally preparing for their exams in May. 

I would like to open this up to other IB Biology teachers.  The format required for the questions is as follows: 

  • All questions are multiple choice and need to be submitted in a spreadsheet
  • Questions can be a maximum of 130 characters
  • Answers are limited to 30 characters
  • The order on the spreadsheet needs to have the question first then the CORRECT answer, followed by 3 wrong answers.

If you are an IB Biology teacher, and you are interested in helping me to create content for this game, send me a message and I will be happy to add you to the Google Spreadsheet that I have started with my students.  The faster we get this done, the sooner it will be available for our students to use.  You can reach me at my Twitter handle @roryaileen, or by email at  I am also looking for a catchy title (with IB somewhere in it to avoid the addition of non-related content) as well as achievement level title suggestions.  I am thinking of going with an evolutionary theme.  Instead of beginner, they start as primordial slime, and progress to higher organisms until they reach the top level, Super Human Intellectual Terrestrials.

I will keep you updated on the release, but for now, my arch nemesis from Spain has just challenged me to a rematch, so I must go. 

Myth Busters: Summer Slide and The Loss of Learning

So I had this great evil plan to destroy the confidence of my grade 12 IB Biology students on the first day of school today ... with the intention of developing great strategies to start the year of course :-)  My 12th graders had returned from a very restful summer filled with very little biology revision (I suspect).  It is crunch time, the final stretch before their exams in May, so I decided to start class with an activity to show them how little they remember from their first year of IB.  I divided them into two groups and assigned them to two white boards.  No smart phones, no computers, no syllabus, no prompts...just their collective bank of memories that were formed back in January of this year.   One group was told to diagram everything that happens in respiration (aerobic and anaerobic) outside of the mitochondria, and the other group was instructed to diagram everything that happens inside of the mitochondria during respiration.  I then loaded up a couple of the videos they had produced in an activity I had them do last year as a comparison of what they knew then to what they know now.  Turns out the answer was almost everything.  One group had zero mistakes, and the other had only one error in the sequencing of two of biochemical steps in glycolysis.  They remembered all of the terms, were able to distinguish reduced molecules from oxidized ones, and accurately described all of the products for all of the stages in both anaerobic and aerobic respiration.  Here is one of the drawings produced.  


Now in the past this had been a foolproof plan...but then last year, I approached the teaching of the material differently than before.  When planning the unit on Cellular Respiration, I paid careful attention to the type of activities that I had the students engage in along with the sequence and spacing of exposure to the content according the current neuroscience research on memory retention.  Eric Jensen recommends the following strategy for content exposure to maximize retention in his book, Teaching with the Brain in Mind


By following Jensen's schedule of learning exposure combined with the use of collaborative multimedia learning activities, particularly this one, I have to put this one in the win column.  We reviewed a couple of the videos that my students created for this assessment, and were surprised to find that one of them had over 650 views!  Even better, one of the students claimed that she was probably responsible for 100 of them while she was reviewing for her final, and it wasn't even her video!  I will definitely be rethinking my plan for teaching photosynthesis over the next couple of weeks.  It is pretty awesome walking away from day feeling this optimistic!  Maybe that other shoe won't drop! 

Pop Culture Science: Creating a Game of Thrones Food Web

Taken in Kenya at the Masai Mara reserve 12/12

Taken in Kenya at the Masai Mara reserve 12/12

We started our Ecology unit in IB Biology today.  Every year I struggle with teaching this as the benchmarks tend to sacrifice critical thinking and other higher order thinking skills for the rote memorization of specific definitions and classification terms that my kids will most likely never use again.  That is unless they become an obnoxious biology teacher who tends to identify all organisms encountered by their phylum and trophic level while snorkeling, hiking, or doing community service projects with students.  I am embarrassed to admit that I once quizzed a biology student on all of the organisms we discovered while clearing brush in a cemetery...for hours.  She ended up scoring a 7, but she will forever break out in hives upon hearing the words bryophyta, mollusca or filicinophyta, and the sight of a spore will forever cause her adrenaline to surge.  I just hope she always chooses flight over fight. 

So last night, I started brainstorming ideas that would teach these concepts, while at the same time engage the students AND for them to use some of those 21st century skills that we value so much.  At around 10:00 pm, it came to me.  Game of Thrones

I started researching things about this show as I know that several of my students have either seen the show or are reading the books.  Then I came across two links that helped me to put the pieces together. 

The first is a fictional food hit list, containing 75 names of dishes consumed in the series. 

Click on the image to see the list.     Image credit:

Click on the image to see the list. 

Image credit:

With a little imagination, students will be able to identify organisms from the delectable dishes that exist in the Game of Thrones ecosystem.  Add a little research to the equation, and students could easily identify a sufficient number of organisms for their food web.  For example: 

  • Flea Bottom Bowl of Brown (fleas)
  • Venison stew with barley, onion, and carrot with bread (deer, barley, onions, carrots, wheat)
  • Fruits and sweetgrass stews (lots of sweetgrass recipes....hmmmm a primary producer maybe?)
  • Meat skewers with onions, fire peppers, and mushrooms with trenchers and beer (Finally a decomposer... and how pray tell is beer made?)
  • Dothraki blood pies (now things are getting interesting and complicated)

You get the idea.  But what about the top predators?  Should we include the hierarchy of human groups in our food web?  One students posted this comment on our class Facebook group when I posed the idea to them:

                 Producers: Starks 

                 Primary Consumers:  Lannisters

With a little more digging, I came across this site.  A compilation of the strange animals that can be found in Game of Thrones.  Enter dragons, direwolves, manticores, and shadow cats.  Where do the white walkers fit in?  

So you see, constructing this ecosystem will require a sizable helping of critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and research skills. Sadly, by the time I fleshed this idea out (that was for you Carsten), I had run out of time to troubleshoot and create a food web of my own, so had to find something quick for class the next morning.  Luckily I came upon a similar ready-made food web activity using imaginary animals created by Michael Rockow.  With a little tweaking, it was ready to go. I will share my IB adaptation of this activity on the Biology Lessons page.  However, next year, it is game on for Game of Thrones

For those of you interested in pursuing this on your own, there were also lists on this site for Hunger Games.  I wonder what tracker jackers and jabberjays feast on when they aren't busy torturing and spying on contestants?  Next year I plan to offer several options, so students that are not so keen on Game of Thrones will be able to find their learning niche.  There is even potential for gamifying this project. Hmmmm... more on that later!