Advanced Biology Students Get STEAMy About Photosynthesis

By: Mr. Matthew Trump

The curriculum of the Advanced Biology class offered to 11th and 12th grade students at YCDS is modeled after a freshman college Biology course. The level of detail of biological concepts covered in the course, such as the chemistry of photosynthesis, is sometimes mind-numbing, especially for those not totally enthralled with biochemistry. Traditional collegiate-style lecture with a slide deck can make the study of the organic chemistry of photosynthesis one of those topics that students memorize for an exam and then quickly let slip from their pre-frontal lobes. To inspire and nurture the innovative and creative spirit of students as they pursue their intellectual promise, the study of photosynthesis this semester took a sharp left into STEAM-town. Students were introduced to Ozobots.

unnamed (1)These admittedly cute little robots do two things rather well. First, using light sensors, they follow a solid black line drawn with markers. Second, they detect codes inserted into the line using dashes of red, blue, and green. Based on the drawn code, the bots perform a variety of tasks. These include things such as: turning a certain direction at the next line intersection, speeding up or slowing down, pausing for a certain amount of time, or turning backward and “moonwalking” down the line.

Students were tasked with modeling the biochemical processes of photosynthesis using the Ozobots. Breaking into groups, the students quickly set to task exploring the functionality of the robots. They discovered how long the speed bursts last, how sharp of a turn they can accomplish, and the fact that the bots light up green when sensing a green dash or line (something one group in particular utilized to demonstrate the wavelengths of visible light that are reflected and transmitted by chloroplasts). Students used the robots to represent items such as electrons, glucose molecules, and glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate. After two class periods of researching the science, experimenting with the technology, drawing the code, and calculating the coordination of the bots, they presented their final products.  

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It was amazing to see the creativity of the students, as all three groups took different approaches toward incorporating the Ozobots into the presentations. As a faculty member of a STEAM school, I couldn’t have been more proud of their approach. Specifically as their Biology teacher, I am certain the biochemistry of photosynthesis will be something that gets transferred from the short-term working memory of the pre-frontal lobe through the hippocampus to long-term memory…even if that long-term memory is focused on the cute-factor of those robots.