Photosynthesis Lesson Plans That Rock

Photosynthesis Lesson Plans That Rock


Creating photosynthesis lesson plans can be both frustrating and exhausting for teachers.  Most students have come into my high school biology classes with very little background knowledge about plant structures and functions.   In addition, photosynthesis can be difficult because this is one of the first times students are learning a biological process through a series of steps.  Here are five tips that I hope you find useful when designing your photosynthesis lesson plans

Create photosynthsis lesson plans that front-load the vocabulary

Teaching biology can often feel like teaching a foreign language with so many new vocabulary words embedded into the curriculum.  Students can find it intimidating trying to pronounce many of the photosynthesis vocabulary words, much less explain their meaning.  A simple solution to this issue is to introduce the relevant photosynthesis vocabulary words at the start of the unit when developing your photosynthesis lesson plans.  In my biology classes I would frequently give a photosynthesis vocabulary worksheet as a bell ringer activity on the first day of the unit. It allowed students to begin researching the meaning of the words before we even began discussing them in class.

Add Images To Your Photosynthesis Lesson Plans


Adding images to your photosynthesis lesson plans is a great way to help your students understand the content.

A picture can help tell a story.  And using pictures when presenting the content is so helpful in your students connecting to your photosynthesis lesson plans.  I try to imbed as many relevant images as possible in my photosynthesis lecture notes.  This really helps students connect the key vocabulary terms to the process of photosynthesis.  The reality is that the process of photosynthesis is occurring at the cellular level and students aren’t able to watch it occur.  Images bring the process to life and boost student understanding.

Solidify Understanding With A Photosynthesis Activity

It doesn’t matter how well you present your photosynthesis lesson plans if your students don’t understand them.  Adding photosynthesis  activities into your unit plan is a great way to help your students build a deeper understanding of the topic.  Labs and worksheets are great activities for helping students understand the concepts being taught.  Websites that link concepts to current events are also a great way to help students make connections.


Photosynthesis task cards are a great way to check for understanding.

Unfortunately, I see too many teachers who go directly to a quizzes and tests without checking for understanding to determine if any of the material needs to be reviewed..  Photosynthesis task cards are a great way to check for understanding and can be used in several different ways.  They can be used as a class walk-around, parter activity, and even as a review game to help figure out which topics students have learned and which still need further discussion.

Combine Photosynthesis And Cellular Respiration

Teaching photosynthesis and cellular respiration together under the umbrella of “cell energetics” has helped my students make connections between these topics.  This is especially true when teaching the equations for photosynthesis and cell respiration.  Personally, I like to teach  ATP, followed by photosynthesis, and finally cover cell respiration.  It has helped my students link the concepts and solidify the information.  It is also a great time to review the chloroplast and mitochondria as key cell organelles.


Creating photosynthesis lesson plans that rock is all about making a difficult topic easy for students to understand.  Hopefully these tips will help lower any frustration while making photosynthesis a topic you look forward to teaching every year.



Hypertrophy Training



When people talk about “gains”, they are talking about the process of hypertrophy.  Hypertrophy is the term used to describe an increase in muscle size because of training.  That being said, hypertrophy is a polarizing topic that is riddled with several myths and misconceptions.

Each muscle fiber is composed of several myofilaments, contractile units consisting of actin and myosin proteins.  And our muscles will respond and adapt to the stress they are put under through resistance training.  When a muscle is not used it will atrophy, reducing the size of the muscle fibers and the amount of proteins that it contains.  However, when a muscle is forced to work under mechanical and metabolic stress, it will adapt and grow bigger to meet the work demands.

Hypertrophy Vs Hyerplasia

Hypertrophy is not to be confused with hyperplasia, which is an increase in the number of muscle cells.  While more research is needed to understand the developing more muscle cells, it appears that hyperplasia may only contribute to less than 10% of muscle growth.  But through hypertrophy, muscle cells can increase in diameter the size by adding new actin and myosin proteins to the existing myofilaments.

Research has shown that to maximize absolute strength, exercises should consist of low repetitions at intensities above 85% of the 1-repetition max (1RM).  At the other end of the strength continuum curve, to maximize muscular endurance, exercises should consist of a high amount of reps at lower intensities (below 60% of the 1RM).  The middle of the curve and how it relates to hypertrophy is much less clear.

Hypertrophy In Muscles


Hypertrophy training can be initiated regardless of the intensity and repetition ranges being used

Traditionally, 8-12 repetitions of an exercise at intensities around 70-75% of a 1RM have been recommended for hypertrophy training.  While this may result in hypertrophy, increases in muscle size are not exclusively connected to this magical formula of weight and repetitions.  If enough total volume of work is completed, hypertrophy training can be initiated regardless of the intensity and repetition ranges being used.  The total volume of work can be calculated as the amount of weight intensity times the number of sets times the number of reps.  Your body will adapt to demands of your work completed regardless if you are doing a heavy bench press or push-ups.  Your muscles can not distinguish between the two.

Total Volume = Weight x Intensity x Sets X Reps

In 2010, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published that hypertrophy is the result of muscular tension and metabolic stress.  Muscular tension is the product concentric and eccentric contractions to recruit the maximum number of muscle fibers.  Metabolic stress involves training with moderate to high intensity and low periods of rest to induce muscular fatigue.

Hypertrophy And Genetics

While all muscle fibers can undergo hypertrophy, the amount of muscle that your body hold onto is largely due to your genetics.  Your bone structure, the number of muscle cells you are born with, and even your hormone levels are all predetermined to a certain extent.  You can maximize your genetics, but you cannot change them.

While many people fear starting a resistance training routine for fear that they might look “bulky”, adding muscle mass is a slow process with multiple variables.  Unfortunately, social media, the steroid culture surrounding bodybuilding, and even the movies have given the illusion that it is easy to bulk up quickly through working out.

What Are The Best Workouts To Promote Hypertrophy

The best workouts are always the ones that you complete.  Too often people start a workout program only to stop training shortly after.  For me this meant it had to be simple, fun, and and fit into my busy lifestyle. I workout at home or at the gym 5-6 days a week for about 40-45 minutes.  We have 3 kids and blocking off a few hours to go to the gym each day for my personal workouts is just not realistic.  Life is too busy. But I can always find a half hour during the day to fit it in my schedule.

The best workouts are the ones that get noticeable results.  I would say my genetics are “average” at best.  I don’t have a build that will ever let me put on a large amount of muscle while staying lean.  But hypertrophy training has given me the confidence to like what I see in the mirror or to have my shirt off at the beach without feeling embarrassed.

Starting A Hypertrophy Program?

The best way is to answer a few questions and I can guide you in the right direction.  When you are ready to get started I will be here to help you every step of the way.

What Do I Teach Students About Hypertrophy?

The topic of hypertrophy is a very polarizing issue when we go into the weight room in my physical education classes.  Unfortunately there are a lot of myths and misconceptions generated by “bro-science” and the bodybuilding culture when it come to hypertrophy.

Here is the assignment I use in my classes to explain the science behind hypertrophy.

Should I Be Taking Creatine Supplements?



For several years creatine has been one of the most popular supplements sold.  But it hasn’t always been this way.

While creatine was first discovered in 1832, its popularity as a nutritional supplement did not arise until 160 years later.  After winning the 100m Gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Linford Christie shared that he had been using creatine as part of his preparation.  Reports also surfaced that Sally Gunnell, who won the 400m gold medal in Barcelona, also had been using creatine while training for the Olympics.  Shortly after, companies began commercially producing creatine to be marketed and sold to the masses.

Where Does Creatine Come From?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound present in most muscle tissues.  It can be synthesized by the body in the liver and kidneys before being transported to the muscle cells.  Creatine can also be consumed through various foods.  Beef, pork, and some types of fish can also be significant sources of creatine.  After digestion, creatine can be shuttled to the muscle cells via the bloodstream.   Once creatine is in the muscle cells, a phosphate molecule is added to creatine converting it into the molecule phohpocreatine (PCr).  Phosphocreatine is then available to work as an energy source for cellular metabolism.

Creatine Becomes An Energy Source For Your Muscles

Our muscle cells need ATP (energy) to contract.  Unfortunately, ATP is not able to be stored in the cells of the body. and during intense exercise, there is only enough ATP for muscle cells to work for 1 or 2 seconds before they run out of ATP.  The solution is to use other molecules to supply the cells with a constant supply of ATP.   In our muscle cells, the concentration of PCr is three to four times greater than the concentration of ATP.  This makes PCr a valuable fuel source for muscle cells and the renewal of ATP for energy.  PCr is quickly broken down to replenish ATP and prevent the immediate fatigue of our muscles.

In our muscle cells, ATP is supplied through three metabolic pathways: the phophocreatine pathway, glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway.  While each pathway is continuously producing energy, at different times during exercise each pathway becomes the primary source for ATP.  The phosphocreatine pathway for energy production becomes the primary energy source for muscle cells for the first 8-15 seconds of energy as the cell ramps up the release of ATP through glycolysis, the initial breakdown of glucose to release ATP. The Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association concluded that while creatine appears to be beneficial in shorts bursts of high-intensity exercise, it may not be as useful for endurance exercise.   This is because most of the ATP produced for endurance exercise is derived from the oxidative pathway, and less from the use of PCr and glycolysis.

Creatine Supplements Can Prevent Muscle Fatigue

While high levels of stored PCr in muscle cells may reduce the need to rely on anaerobic glycolysis and lactate creation during ATP production, creatine appears to have another benefit as well.  Creatine can act as a buffer which can help stabilize the pH levels in the body.  Excessive H+ ion production from the use of ATP can lead to muscle acidosis or the “burning” feeling experienced during exercise.   Having high levels of creatine and PCr in muscle cells appears to lessen muscle acidosis allowing for muscles to perform more work before the effects of fatigue set in.

Creatine Improves Muscle Size and Strength does-creatine-work

I have been using creatine for several years as a supplement to help me get stronger.  Studies show increases in strength and mass have been seen after as little as one week of usage.  The initial increase in mass is generally between 1-3 pounds and may be the result of increases in water retention in the muscle cells, the stimulation of protein synthesis, or a decrease in muscle breakdown.  Over time, creatine can contribute to muscle fiber growth by signaling biological pathways to stimulate muscle growth.  This benefit works in conjunction with creatine’s metabolic function to allow for more ATP production during resistance and high-intensity exercise.  A 1999 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology noted that individuals who consumed creatine during a 6-week training program gained on average 4.4 more pounds than those in the control group.

Are Creatine Supplements Safe?

With over 200 peer reviewed article and some studies lasting over 5 years, creatine is one of the most studied supplements being used today.  To date, no studies have reported that the effects of creatine can be detrimental to a person’s health.  However, many people report that consuming creatine can cause symptoms such as muscle cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues. Because creatine tends to contribute to the retention of water in muscle cells, it is important to stay properly hydrated while consuming creatine as a supplement.

How Do I Start Using Creatine?

Adding creatine to your daily routine is simple.  It usually comes in a white powder that is both tasteless and odorless.  Personally, I add it my super-food shake or recovery protein shake each day.  Creatine can be mixed into juice or water as well.  Many people recommend a “loading phase” for creatine where 20g/day (5g servings taken 4x each day) are consumed for the first 6 days to help increase the total creatine concentration in the muscle cells.  Alternatively,  the loading phase can be skipped and individuals can simply begin adding 5g of creatine daily.  While the initial concentration in the cells isn’t as great, studies have found that by day 28, both regiments will increase the PCr concentration to the same level within a month.  You body does not build up a tolerance to creatine so there is no need to cycle on and off using it.   To make sure my body has it available when needed, I consume it on both days when I am working out and on rest days.

Which Creatine Supplements Should I Buy?

Walking into your local supplement store or shopping online will yield a wide variety of options that can be overwhelming. Supplement companies will market creatine as Creatine HCl (hydrochloride), Creatine Nitrate, Creatine Citrate, and others.  And all will come at a premium price.  However, Creatine Monohydrate is the version that has received most of the testing and has been proven to be effective for both providing energy and assisting in building strength.  So this is all I chose to consume.  Next, when you look at the ingredients label it should ONLY say one thing, creatine monohydrate. Again, supplement companies will try to boost profits by mixing in other ingredients.  I am a fan of other supplements (I’ll share those later), but I don’t need to pay extra to have them formulated with my creatine.  Artificial sweeteners, salts, and other compounds are frequently add to creatine supplements which means you are getting less creatine per serving.

A final consideration is that the FDA regulates supplements under different standards than the regulations of “conventional” food and drugs.  And several studies and lawsuits revolve around the fact that supplements and supplement companies have been shown to not be truthful when labeling their products.  This topic could be a whole article on its own, but in short, supplements are not rigorously tested to ensure that only what is on the label is in the supplement.  Other compounds have been discovered to be added to supplements and the concentrations of ingredients has been found to be inaccurate.  The solution is to ONLY BUY SUPPLEMENTS THAT ARE THIRD PARTY TESTED.  Both NSF and Informed Sport test supplements to ensure they can be trusted.  And I will only use supplements that display their labels on the packaging.

Final Thoughts

Creatine is one of the most asked about topics I get from both adults and students.  Because of this, I created an enrichment article I use in class to explain the science behind creatine and how it works.  If you are interested, you can grab a copy of my enrichment article here. 

If you’re ready to get started adding creatine to your routine, here is a link my online store where I offer the same creatine I use.  Still unsure?  You can also buy a serving a creatine as part of a supplement sampler pack to see if it’s right for you.

Why are my muscles sore after working out?



Have you ever woken up sore muscles the day after working out?

If so, chances are you have experienced DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).  Sore muscles are a result movement or activity is completed beyond the scope of what the body is used to accomplishing.  The common symptoms include inflammation, tenderness, and muscle fatigue.  DOMS are commonly referred to as “muscle fever” because of the overall sickly feeling that comes with the symptoms.

What Causes Sore Muscles After Working Out?

People generally have sore muscles 12 to 48 hours after working out.  If pain or soreness occurs during or immediately after a workout, it is due to acute muscle soreness.  Acute muscle soreness is different from DOMS and should be treated differently as well.  While researchers know very little as to what causes this type of soreness (and even less on how to effectively prevent or treat it), several studies have debunked many of the more popular myths surrounding the DOMS.

While the exact cause of DOMS is unknown, studies have found a correlation between DOMS and specific activities.  A 1994 study published in the Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that “unaccustomed exercise may lead to significant damage to skeletal muscle and DOMS in both recreational and elite athletes.”  The study went on to explain that metabolic and mechanical stress may damage the muscle cells.  Twenty-five years later, scientists still do not understand the specifics of the “metabolic and mechanical” stressors.

DOMS are frequently seen when individuals go beyond their normal scope of exercise.  Because of this, even highly trained athletes can still incur DOMS.  However, as the individual becomes more accustomed to exercise, the degree of delayed muscle soreness will decrease.  This is frequently referred to as the repeated bout effect (RBE).  The RBE is why an athlete doesn’t get as sore after completing a workout that they have done before. That doesn’t mean that soreness in a sign of increased muscle strength of hypertrophy. When someone is just starting to exercise, they will coincidentally experience rapid gains while also experiencing the greatest amount of soreness.  But these are not connected.  You can still experience gains, event if you aren’t sore following a workout.

Why Isn’t Everyone Sore After Working Out?

Several theories have been tested to better understand the potential metabolic and mechanical stressors thought to cause DOMS.  Eccentric exercises tend to cause a greater occurrence of DOMS compared to concentric or isometric movements.  An eccentric movement can be defined as a muscle is forced to work during the lengthening phase of a movement.  Individual genetics is also a factor in the degree to which DOMS are experienced.  Some people are more likely to experience soreness than others. Other factors including dehydration, preexisting conditions, and even the metal fear of future pain have been shown to influence DOMS.

Scientific research has concluded that DOMS are not caused by lactate built up as a result of exercise.  The are also not caused by microtrauma inside the muscle cells.  Muscle damage may play a role in DOMS, but there is no correlation between the damage and DOMS.  Studies have shown individuals to be the sorest when there is the very little damage to the muscle cells.

How To Not Be Sore After Working Out

Since there isn’t any conclusive evidence of what the cause of DOMS is, it is not surprising that science has yet to find much evidence for their prevention and treatment.  A 2003 article published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research detailed that most of the conventional beliefs surrounding the treatment of DOMS lacked sufficient evidence.  Time appears to be the best treatment for DOMS.  Generally, after a few days the soreness decreases.  Both light exercise and anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen have been used to treat the symptoms, but it is not clear why they may work.  Light exercise increases inflammation while Ibuprofen will decrease it.

If you Are looking for workouts but want to skip the soreness, here are some ideas for you.

Want more info on muscle soreness?

Because delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is something students always ask questions about, I created an enrichment article to explain more about what it is and isn’t.  You can grab the article here.

You can also check out the Facebook Live I recently filmed debunking many of the myths around DOMS.

Simple Instant Pot Chili Recipe



Our Instant Pot chili recipe is so simple to make yet tastes so good.  It’s a favorite for our family on busy nights when we are short on time.  It also works well when we have friends over to catch a football game or fight.  It’s a savory blend of beef, beans, and spices that can be poured over chips or eaten as a meal by itself.

Serves: 8

Prep Time: 5 min    Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Instant Pot Chili Recipe Ingredients:


With the Instnt Pot, you can make chili in under 30 minutes!

2 lbs 93/7 lean ground beef

1/2  tsp salt (or Himalayan salt)

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 chili seasoning packet

1 15oz can tomato sauce

2 15oz cans kidney beans

1 15oz can black beans

1 14oz can beef broth

Instant Pot Chili Recipe Directions:

  1. Set Instant Pot to saute setting
  2. Add ground beef and brown meat thoroughly.  Add salt, peeper, and garlic powder to desired taste
  3. If using a fattier meat than 93/7, drain the fat the meat to remove some of the fat.
  4. Once the meat has browned, add the cans of beans and tomato sauce, but DO NOT STIR.
  5. Add the can of beef broth to make sure the meat does not burn to the bottom of the Instant Pot.
  6. Seal the Instant Pot and close the vent.  Cook on manual for 10 minutes.
  7. Allow 10-20 for a natural release of the steam before opening the Instant Pot to serve.

Final Thoughts:

We are always looking for new recipes for our Instant Pot.  If you have a favorite I’d love to hear it.  Send me your favorite recipe and I’ll be sure to share it on social media and the blog!

Until next time,