Tagged: experiments

CORMS is dead: Long live DORIC

In Ancient Greece, the Doric order was one of their favoured architectural styles and offered the simplest way of decorating columns.. As you can see from the featured image, Doric columns have an undecorated square capital at their top.

I am sure you won’t get questions on ancient architectural styles in your GCSE Biology, but Doric (now DORIC) is perhaps a simpler way of remembering the key points to include in the experimental design questions in the exam.  I have written about CORMS before and there is nothing new in this post, simply a new acronym.

D stands for Dependent Variable.   This is what you will measure in your experiment.  The mark is often for how you plan to measure the dependent variable, how frequently you will take measurements etc.

O stands for Organisms.  What are the key variables relating to the organisms involved?  If using a living organism in your experiment (other than humans) often this involves using organisms of the same species, the same age and sometimes the same mass.  If you are using humans, you often need to standardise your groups for gender, health, age etc.

R stands for Repeats.  If you do more than one replicate of each set of conditions, it allows you to see how reliable your method is and also allows an average result to be calculated.  Think about how many repeats you think you would do: it depends on the experiment of course.  In a laboratory experiment, three might be sensible, if you are growing seeds to investigate germination, you might grow 200 identical seeds in a tray…..

I stands for Independent Variable.  This is the thing you are going to alter in the experiment.  So how do you intend to alter it and over what range?

C stands for Control Variables:  what are the variables that need keeping the same in every experiment in order to make the investigation a fair test?  Think what other factors might affect the dependent variable other than the one you are investigating.  And then think how you would keep them constant in an experiment.  I would suggest you need to identify at least two or three of the most obvious control variables to ensure you get full marks.

Simple!  DORIC is the new CORMS….

Controlled experiments: what do examiners mean? A* understanding for iGCSE Biology

There are several specification points in the iGCSE syllabus that mention controlled experiments.  For example in the E Michaelmas work, there are two:

  • describe how to carry out simple controlled experiments to illustrate how enzyme activity can be affected by changes in temperature
  • describe simple controlled experiments to investigate photosynthesis showing the evolution of oxygen from a water plant, the production of starch and the requirements of light, carbon dioxide and chlorophyll

So what exactly do they mean by a controlled experiment?

In an investigation you need to know what is meant by the independent variable and the dependent variable.  To put it in the simplest terms, the independent variable is the thing you are altering; the dependent variable is the thing you are measuring.

In any experiment there will also be a range of other variables that might affect the dependent variable.  For example in the first bullet point above, enzyme-catalysed reactions are not only affected by changes in temperature.  They can be affected by pH, by the concentration of enzyme and by the concentration of substrate.  A controlled experiment is one in which these other variables – now called control variables – are kept constant to ensure it is a fair test.  So if you were devising an experiment to investigate the effect of temperature on an enzyme reaction, make sure the pH is kept constant by using pH buffers and that the enzyme concentration and substrate concentration are exactly the same in every experimental set up.

It’s as simple as that…….

Respiration experiments: A* understanding for iGCSE Biology 2.37

There is a syllabus point in the iGCSE Respiration section that asks candidates to know about an experiment that demonstrates heat production in respiration.  This must be one of the least interesting experiments ever devised but here goes…..

Respiration is the chemical process occurring in all cells in which food molecules are oxidised to release energy for the cell.  Cells need energy for a whole variety of things – active transport of molecules across the cell membrane, muscle contraction, movement of materials around the cytoplasm, cell division, many metabolic reactions etc.   In fact, much of the energy released from glucose molecules in respiration is not “useful energy” for the cell but is given off as heat, a waste product.  In warm-blooded animals such as humans, this heat energy is used to maintain our body temperature at around 37 degrees Celsius.

How can you demonstrate heat production in respiration?

release-of-heat-during-respiration

The germinating seeds in the vacuum flask on the left are respiring because they are alive.  The boiled seeds in the vacuum flask on the right will not be respiring because they are dead – boiling will denature all the enzymes needed for metabolism,   The thermometer on the left will show a rise in temperature, the one on the right will stay the same.  The flask on the right with the boiled seeds is a control.  Vacuum flasks are used to insulate the seeds and so prevent heat loss.

The experiment is as simple as that.  If the examiners wanted to ask a question on this, I guess they would give you the set up, ask about the design of the experiment, ask about which variables you might control and perhaps what conclusions could be drawn.

Experimental Design questions IGCSE Biology

I have been posting comments about the questions that appear year after year on iGCSE Biology papers.  Questions like the one below are found in every past paper we have.  I call these the “Design an experiment to” questions for obvious reasons…..

“Rivers are sometimes polluted by warm water from power station outflows.  This is known as thermal pollution and can affect the growth of plants.  Design an experiment to investigate the effect of water temperature on the growth of plants.  6 marks. November 2010”

As you all know, the mark scheme for this kind of design an experiment question is based around the acronym CORMS.

C – how do you change the independent variable?

The independent variable is the thing you are going to change to see its effect.  In this experiment it is the temperature of the water.  So how are we going to change it?  Well it might appear obvious but you need aquatic plants living in water baths at a range of temperatures, say 10,20,30,40,50,60 degrees.  Try to make your independent variable continuous if it is possible – the range of temperatures above is much better than just one set of plants in hot water, another in cold water.

O – what organisms (or other biological material) will you use?

To get this mark you will need to say something about the plants you will use in your investigation.  For the experiment to produce reliable results, there are many features of the plants that will need to be kept the same in each water bath.  Same species, same age of plants, same starting size, same surface area of leaves etc.  There are other factors too about the plants that need to be controlled.  Can you think of any others?

R – reliability

In order to produce reliable results you will need to set up multiple repeats of each experiment so anomalous readings disappear as you average your results.  How would you do this?  Well in the example above, I would set up 5 identical water baths at each temperature.  We are investigating six different temperatures so we will need 30 water baths.  Don’t worry about this.  For research as vital as this fascinating experiment, no expense should be spared……

M – how are you going to measure the dependent variable?

There are often two possible marks for this and you will see M1 and M2 on the mark schemes.  The key idea is often the same however (there’s a shock)  The first mark is for identifying what you will measure about the plants to measure growth.  There are lots of alternatives depending on what kind of plant you are using.  I am picturing a small floating algae growing in my water baths so I would measure the mass of the plants.  (Dry mass would be better but this would lead to destructive sampling – plants won’t grow further if you dehydrate them completely in an oven before weighing them……)  You could measure the height of the stem of a plant, or the total surface area of water covered.  It doesn’t really matter which thing you choose as long as it is a sensible measure of growth.  What will M2 be awarded for?  Well it is essential you leave all 30 waterbaths for exactly the same length of time between measurements.  How frequently will you measure the growth of your plants?  Every hour would be too often, so perhaps every day would be sensible.  So a statement that says “use a mass balance to measure the total mass of the plants in each water bath every day for a period of 10 days” will be certain to get both M marks…

S – what factors do you need to standardise to make the experiment a fair test?

You will have mentioned some of these “fair test” factors in the mark point O above.  Now it is time to show that you understand what factors other than the temperature of the water will effect the growth of your plants.  Growth of plants is done by photosynthesis so I would be aiming to show you understand the other factors that will effect rates of photosynthesis:  i.e. light intensity. light wavelength and carbon dioxide concentration.  All three should be kept constant and I would say how:  same lamp at the same distance from the water baths, carbon dioxide in water controlled by dissolving same mass of sodium hydrogencarbonate in the water.  There are often two S marks but by stating all three important control variables this should guarantee we get both.

Now I have written this post without looking at the mark scheme.  “Promise….  Honestly Sir I wouldn’t cheat myself like that…..”  But here it is and look we would have got full marks.  Full Marks = A* #result

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