In November 2014, Lisa Gizas and her AP Biology students won a $5000 grant from BASF Corporation to do a research project they call the “Christmas Tree Phenomenon.” Gizas teaches in the West Morris Regional High School District, which serves approximately 2800 students in northern New Jersey. We recently sat down with Gizas and asked her about this exciting opportunity for her, her students, and the local community.
Q. What is the Christmas Tree Phenomenon experiment?
A. We’re trying to figure out if there’s mold on Christmas trees. At first, the trees are outside in the cold, so the mold is dormant. But when you cut down a tree, bring it inside, and decorate it for Christmas—it germinates. So, people who have asthma or [something similar] are getting sick, and they don’t know why they’re getting sick in December.
Q. Where did the idea for the experiment come from?
A. The idea actually came from my sister who has two boys who are asthmatic. She said "I think they’re allergic to the Christmas tree.” And I said “That’s ridiculous! They can’t be allergic to the tree!” But now I think it might be because there’s an increased amount of mold.
Q. Who is involved with the experiment?
A. It’s awesome, we’re involving about 100 members of our community. All of Mrs. Liggett’s (her colleague in the Science department) classes, my classes, and the students’ parents. The whole community is participating.
Q. How does the experiment work?
A. [The participants] bring home a petri dish, and they’re testing the air quality in their house right now. I provided detailed instructions and pictures from my own house on how to do it. I put my petri dishes on a high shelf because I have dogs (see picture below).
The first dishes went home before any decorations went up, and the second dishes went home one week after decorations went up. Our participants are divided into three groups:
- those with live trees
- those with artificial trees
- those with no tree.
After the petri dishes are collected, they incubate in my classroom, in the new incubator purchased from the BASF grant money, for one week. The students are counting the number of mold colonies on each petri dish.
The class will have to use advanced statistical analyses to determine whether there is a true difference in the amount of mold among the three groups. Finally, we are asking participants if anyone in the household experiences increased respiratory symptoms, such as those related to asthma, when either the first dish or the second dish was out. Again, we'll do statistical analysis and try to determine if there is a difference among the groups.
(Detailed instructions, written by the students, can be found here.
Q. How are you using Haiku Learning for the experiment?
A. I created a site in Haiku for all the participants, and I've directed everyone to it. I have step-by-step instructions for the people at home. So, they get their instruction sheet if they lose it and the permission slips that we did. I also posted a photo of my class that won the grant. We were interviewed by a couple of local papers, so links to those interviews are here too. I can put more stuff up here as we go on. So, it’s kind of like a community resource.
Q. Do you have any future plans to expand the project?
A. This year we're only doing it for Washington Township (one of the district’s sending towns). But maybe next year we’ll go global!
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