#ModBio Workshop Day 10


  1. Teacher Talk:
    1. HW
    2. Article
    3. Unit 3 Teacher Notes
  2. CO2 from where? Food or Oxygen
  3. Cellular Respiration Laboratory

We’ve been taking a shorter lunch all week so that we could leave a little earlier today, hence the short agenda.  Our day started with a discussion of an article we read for homework, Engaging Students in Conducting Socratic Dialogues: Suggestions for Science Teachers.  This was a very interesting article.  It began with a brief discussion about why students struggle with the idea of questioning each other.  As teachers we’ve modeled this strategy for their whole lives.  The short answer is because they have not been expected to question and they have not received guidance about what good questioning looks like.  Students are often viewed as passive recipients of information.  But in Modeling Instruction students are expected to become actively involved in constructing knowledge with each other based on careful observation, data collection and analysis, logical reasoning and most importantly questions.  Next the authors discussed the Rhodes’ typology of questions, a very thorough list of questions divided into eight categories.  This list can be very helpful for leading Socratic dialogues.    The categories of questions are: informational, interpretive, explanatory, procedural, relational, verificational, heuristic, and evaluational.  I like the framework, but I would be hesitant to use the entire list.  Geoff Schmit blogged about the use of posters to help with Socratic questioning.  I think that is a great idea.  I can definitely see some posters in my classroom in a few weeks to help guide my students and myself through this process of Socratic questioning.  The article finished with some additional suggestions to keep students comfortable so they will stay engaged in the Socratic dialogue.  Some of the highlights:

  • allow students to present without interruption
  • show respect for student conclusions
  • maintain a positive atmosphere
  • let the students feel that a new idea is theirs

Next we discussed the teacher notes for Unit 3 – Evolution.  Some members had a list topics that were part of their curriculum.  Angela pointed out that the modeling curriculum is really just a starting point.  If you have other aspects of your curriculum, please add them, but keep the storyline in mind.

The rest of the day was spent introducing and conducting our cellular respiration laboratory.  First we discussed different kinds of waste; feces, urine, and CO2.  Next we brainstormed where the CO2 might come from and came up with the air and food.  We conducted an experiment using Vernier CO2 probes.  We had four different experimental groups:

  1. dead yeast exposed to air
  2. dead yeast under a layer of mineral oil
  3. living yeast exposed to air
  4. living yeast under a layer of mineral oil

Data collection was fairly straight forward with the probes.  We collected data every 15 seconds for 4 minutes.  We analyzed the results and created a whiteboard but did not present until Monday morning.

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#ModBio Workshop Day 9


  1. Group Evolution Model Summary Boards
  2. Homework:
    1. Discuss Exercise 2
    2. Discuss Test
  3. Energy Stations Activity – WB & Discuss
  4. Zoom
  5. A Vital Commodity Activity – WB & Discuss
  6. Exercise 1 – Discuss
  7. What is Food
  8. Energy Organism View

We started the day by collaborating on our group Evolution Model Summary Boards.  Members of both groups commented that the flow of this model was harder to track than previous models.  My guess was because evolution is a more difficult concept to wrap your head around that experimental design or classification.  I personally liked how just about every topic that was brought up could be linked back to the Thirsty Bird Laboratory.  As someone who was not originally sold on the lab, I do see a lot of merit to it, especially if you are following the modeling biology sequence of units.

Next we briefly discussed the exercise and test.  No big revelations in either conversation.  I did find a nice sequence of questions that with a little modification I think I’ll be using this year.  As someone who is not a huge fan of tests, I’ll be working to create some more authentic assessments.

I’ve been waiting to work through the energy stations activity since I read about them last year.  They didn’t disappoint.  It was a series of simple observations about different energy transfers.  At each station we had three questions to answer: summarize the procedure, make observations, and describe the energy storage and transfers.  After completing all the stations, each pair whiteboarded two of the stations.  The ensuing discuss was eventful.  We got into some very specific details about energy and energy transfers.  I can see how this particular portion of the unit can be very different if you are a biology first course or a physics first sequence.  This would be further compounded if the PCB sequence was also a modeling school.  Eventually we settled on energy either being stored (chemical potential, gravitational potential, elastic potential or kinetic), or transfered (radiating, heating, working, or dissipated – heat, sound, sound).  I’m sure I’ll be leaving it much simpler than this with my students, probably just referring to stored or transfered energy.  I do think the idea of dissipation is important because of the inefficient energy transfer between trophic levels.  I’d like my students to get away from saying that ~10% energy is “lost” between trophic levels and instead talk about that energy being transfered to the environment.  The homework for the day with kids would be for them to storyboard one of the experiments  for beginning-middle-end of the activity discussing how energy is stored and transfered.

Next we did a simulation called A Vital Commodity.  In this activity, we took different roles  in an aquatic ecosystem; plankton, shrimp, cod, and dolphin.  In this activity, we used beans to represent energy.  This energy was transfered between organisms through either feeding or interactions.  In a feeding, the prey would give the predator 5 beans and both organisms would add 2 beans to the environment.  Plankton would interact with the energy source to get 10 beans for each interaction.  We progressed with multiple interactions, although you had to interact with everyone before repeating an interaction.  Eventually time was called, slightly late, as two shrimp died.  We totaled up the energy of each organism. Next we whiteboarded the results of the experiment in words, visual, and graphic forms.

The model deployment tool here is Exercise 1 – Energy.  I was not a big fan of the exercise as written.  It would definitely be too complicated for my kids.  I’ll be modifying it in some fairly substantial ways before using it in class.

The rest of the day was “hand waving” as Angela would say.  We quickly discussed introducing the idea of macromolecules through food labels.  This is exactly how I introduce it with my kids.  The homework would be a macromolecule research project.  Assign each kid a group (carbohydrate, lipid, protein) and they need to identify one example from the group, describe the job/function of the molecule and identify the smaller parts that are combined to make the macromolecule.  I think this is a fantastic idea.  It will definitely make this information more student centered.  I dread this portion of the lecture each year, so I’ll be excited to try this out in the fall.

In the modeling curriculum we would next take a trip through comparative anatomy through an earthworm, grasshopper, frog and fetal pig dissections.  Only two of our ten teachers would be presenting this in class, so we skipped it.  We’ll also skip the comparison to plants later on.

A couple thoughts from the day:

Some of the participants mentioned that the evolution unit was difficult for them to follow because they needed more structure.  This brought up a discussion about the interactive science notebooks.  I gleamed a couple great ideas for unit organization:

  1. Reserve the 1st left hand page for the Ahh… Page
  2. Reserve the next left hand page for a vocabulary page, all the definitions go here and are modified as necessary through the unit
  3. Reserve the next left hand page (3rd of the unit) for a model representation page.

I think these additions will help keep my students organized.  I’ve been thinking about the interactive science notebooks for a year or two now.  I’m really liking how it is working in this course.

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#ModBio Workshop Day 7


Parking Lot


Thirsty Birds Experiments 4-6

Exercise 1 – Natural Selection

We started off the day by logging into a free one year membership to the American Modeling Teacher’s Association.  I must admit was nice to finally be able to delete my e-mail notification that my membership was expiring.  Those little red circles on the app get on your nerve after a while.

Next we continued our Thirsty Bird Simulation that we started yesterday.  Today we introduced the mutation of a spoon.  We worked through the same three experiments as yesterday; no competition, competition with differential reproduction; and drought.  After running through several generations for each experiment we pooled our data with another class, really Angela just made up some data, because having a bunch of data really helps with this particular simulation.  We whiteboarded our results and discussed. We noticed that the graphed data looked very different from what we had experienced in terms of the percentages of spoons during the drought.  We re-graphed just that experiment with each data set separate.  Eventually we settled on the following conclusions; color and mouth part (fork/spoon) did not matter in the no competition experiment.  In the competition experiment, color did not matter and being a spoon helped, but being a fork was not necessarily harmful.  In the drought situation, color did not matter, being a spoon helped and being a fork was harmful.  Finally we created a storyboard about one of the experiments projecting the results out 100 generations.  I really think that my students will understand the concept of natural selection better by having the three different representations; text, graph, picture, to use to process the results from the laboratory.

Next we were supposed to read an article on genetic drift.  But we were running short on time so it was assigned as homework.

The last part of the day was spent working on Exercise 1 – Natural Selection.  In this exercise we worked individually for 5-10 minutes to look at four different situations; a peppered moth style example, an acquired traits example, an American Chestnut Tree/fungus example, and a bird weight selection example.  After working individually we partnered up and whiteboarded one of the situations.  Unfortunately I must have spaced out because I didn’t get any pictures of those whiteboards.  If anyone from the workshop has any I’d greatly appreciate a copy.

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#ModBio Workshop Day 6

Agenda for the day:

  1. Check Seeds
  2. Teacher Talk
    1. Parking Log
    2. HW Articles
    3. HW Test
  3. Thirsty Birds Experiments 1-3
  4. Lunch
  5. Thirsty Birds Experiments 4-6

In the parking lot for today were, as usual, a number of topics.  We discussed how vocabulary hang-ups can really be a teacher created problem.   As teachers we often feel the need to use and reinforce a particular set of vocabulary words.  I believe this phenomena can be exemplified by biology teachers because of the vast amount of vocabulary associated with the subject matter.  We need to be careful not to reinforce a vocabulary word that a student uses if they do not really understand the definition and can provide us with their own description that is not parroted from the glossary.  We have to be okay with letting the terms go until another time, when the kids have a better understanding of what the term means.  Next we discussed the process of facilitating a whiteboard meeting.  Angela stressed the importance of having a reason to run the meeting and having an idea about ultimately where the meeting should lead.  It is important to be able to guide the students to your expected outcome.  A couple resources were mentioned to help frame the big ideas of class.  One was Science for All Americans, which was revised in 2011 and is available for free online.  The second was the big crosswalk reference book that I believe ties together Science for All Americans, Project 2061, National Science Standards, among other references.  These were two resources can help us develop those big picture ideas for the class.  Finally we had a discussion about motivating the “difficult students”.  Those students who may not want to play game, they do not generally enjoy school.  Eventually Angela mentioned that often these students excel in a modeling science course.

Next we discussed each of the two homework articles.  The first, Never Say Anything a Kid can Say.  We came to a consensus that some of the big take home messages were:

  1. Create a participatory class were all students are listening and participating.  Even if a student does not have an idea to contribute, they need to ask a question.
  2. As a questioner, it is important to be nonjudgemental.  This applies to both positive and negative judgements.  The negative piece was obvious, I would never say, “Joe that was a really stupid question”.  But the positive piece really makes sense, but I’d never really thought of it that way.  If I praise a response, who is going to want to follow up that comment.
  3. Continue asking questions even beyond when the “right” answer is provided.
  4. Group work is often beneficial to build confidence in students before beginning a discussion.  The think-pair-share strategy works well for this.
  5. Patience is incredibly important.
  6. Don’t give away too much… Don’t do the thinking for the kids.  Ask them a question instead.

Next up was an ASCD article, Analyzing Classroom Discourse to Advance Teaching & Learning.  Our big ideas here:

  1. There needs to be accountable talk; the burden should be on students to listen to each other, question each other, and keep each other accountable.
  2. Students should be questioning each other.  The dialogue should be a ping-pong game between the teacher and a line of students.  In this scenario, the teacher asks a question and the student answers it, and the teacher asks a different question and a different student answers it.  Repeat.  The dialogue should be more like a dodgeball game with questions and answers flying all around.  But hopefully the kids are not avoiding being hit with them.
  3. The idea of knowledge acquisition over knowledge generation.  It is not that knowledge acquisition is bag, but knowledge generation is certainly better.
  4. Reflection is important.  Daily!  This is true not only for teachers, but also for students.  On the student end, I think the Interactive Science Notebook provides a perfect forum for the expectation of daily reflection.  On the teacher end, I think it is incredibly powerful to have an opportunity to reflect (hence the blog here).  When I was carpooling with a colleague who teaches chemistry at my school, we would often “talk shop” the whole way home and even occasionally continue the conversation in his driveway.  This was/is a fantastic opportunity to flush out idea.  If you can make the reflection public in a blog format, it will only help get more people involved and will hopefully generate new and different idea.  I put in a plug for some of the 180 Day Teacher Blogs out there.  It was enlightening to see what other professionals were doing on a daily basis.  There are a few out there although many folks appear to have used Posterous a website that is no longer being supported.  I’ve stolen several ideas from other teacher’s 180 Blogs.

On to the business of the day.  We collected and shared the data gathered from our pea seed germination experiment.  We have two more days and then we’ll tabulate our results.  So far it appears that darkness and basic environments are doing better than dry and acidic environments.

The rest of the day was spend on an activity called, The Thirsty Bird.  We started by creating a class concept map of the characteristics of life.  We focused on determining why organisms are different.  After generating a list of all the possible reasons, we decided to narrow our simulation to look at the idea of a species changing over time.  We will be attempting to use a fork to gather water from a 1,000-mL beaker into our “stomaches”, plastic cups.  We will use mass as a way to determine how much food we were able to capture.  Angela gave us some feeding etiquette tips and we were off.  We spent the rest of the day making our way through three different experiments.

  1. No competition
  2. Competition
  3. Draught

In each situation, we had a set of colored cards (either 4 gold, 2 gold/2 blue, or 4 blue).  We tracked the number of individuals each round who were either gold, gold but with blue cards, and blue.  Finally we whiteboarded our results.  I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this activity yet.  It will be interesting to see what the second half holds tomorrow. I can see the potential power of the simulation if I were going to discuss genetics after evolution, because we are keeping track of both genotype and phenotype data.  But I will have already discussed genetics by the time I arrive at evolution.  I’m thinking about modifying an existing laboratory that I do with forks, spoons and knives capturing marshmallows to be more in line with the modeling pedagogy.  But I’m not ready to make that decision yet.

At some point today we ended up discussing pedagogy reform and reflection.  This brought up the Reformed Teaching Self-Assessment Inventory (RTOP self-assessment).  I had previous experience with a modified version of the RTOP by Drew Isola called the Inquiry-Based Teaching Self-Assessment Inventory.  At some point in the last year or so, I completed the self-assessment.  The self-assessment provided a nice framework for personal reflection.  Angela provided us with a 1-page version that the Modeling Trainers use.  I feel like the two tools together might be a powerful addition to my Professional Learning Group at school.  Another participant shared the Critical Friends Group – Reform Initiative.  This group apparently has protocols for examining different aspects of professional practice.  This information should be found at nsrfharmony.org  I have not investigated this group yet, but the night is still young.  I like the idea of having a simple protocol to use to help guide the reflective and collaborative processes.

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#ModBio Course Sequence and Storyline

I’ve spent the morning thinking about the sequence of models for my course and developing a storyline for that particular sequence. I really liked the idea of using the characteristics of life as a hub for the course and launching off into different models to explain those characteristics.  Eventually I’d like to be able to let the students guide the movement through the course as we investigate different ideas.  But for now I think that it is important that I maintain a similar course sequence to my colleagues.  I teach in a department with two other biology teachers and we have a number of common experiences and assessments for our students.  With that in mind, I created a flowchart, using OminGraffle, for my model sequence with questions to help guide the transition from one model to the next. By no means is this set in stone, but I wanted to get it down somewhere so I could begin reflecting on it.  I’m inserting a picture and also posting a pdf file.

Biology Modeling Sequence

I’m happy to share the OmniGraffle file if anyone wants it.  Any thoughts would be appreciated!

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#ModBio Workshop Day 5

The Agenda for the Day:

  1. Teacher Talk – Parking Lot
  2. Discuss Homework
  3. Venn diagram Whiteboards
  4. Readings: What is a Species? & History of Classification
  5. Building a Dichotomous Key of Shoes
  6. Salamander Dichotomous Key Practice
  7. Classification Model Summary Board
  8. Homework Assignments

During teacher talk we branched out into a discussion about ways to help the advanced students in class, especially those in the group who teach Biology to juniors in a Physics-Chemistry-Biology sequence.  Those students will already have a firm understanding of the modeling process and may be prepared to deal with more complicated subject matter.  We briefly discussed a flipped classroom approach to provide enrichment outside of classroom time.  We discussed ways to help students build their own understanding of these complex topics.  It was suggested to use the story board cartoons from one of our resource texts, Exploring the Way Life Works: The Science of Biology.  These story boards might be a good way to allow the students to construct their own understanding of complicated biochemical processes such as photosynthesis, cellular respiration, DNA replication, and protein synthesis.  The story boards have cartoon sequences with captions that could be used to build a conceptual framework for understanding the processes.  It was also suggested that Molecular Workbench could also be used to allow the students to explore the concepts before discussing them as a group.  Finally those of us staying on campus exchanged room and phone numbers for some potential socializing this weekend.

First up was to discuss the three Venn diagrams from last night.  We discussed our Venn diagrams with our partners and made revisions.  Angela circled around chatting briefly with each group and then assigned each group one Venn diagram to whiteboard.  Our whiteboard meeting was led by two students who were able to use good questioning techniques to draw out of us the important differences between all the different groupings.

Next up were two readings; What is a Species? and History of Classification.  After the readings we discussed with our partners.  The ensuing discussion was led by a new set of partners.  As a class we built a model for classifying living organisms.  We began with a discussion of Aristotle’s ideas.  This model was based on plant vs. animals, blood vs. bloodless animals, and then how the animals moved (flying, swimming, walking).  But they did not hold true for several different types of animals.  Next we discussed  Carolus Linnaeus’ ideas, with a grouping for plants and another for animals.  The animals were then placed into genera and further divided into species.  The classification of the animals was based on physical appearance.  This model did not work for a comparison of fish and dolphins, two organisms that look similar but are not be closely related.  Finally we discussed how the contributions of Charles Darwin helped to refine the tree of life.  We had some prior experience with classification because we had discussed the 6-Kingdom system yesterday.  We wrapped up by talking about modern advances to classification including using DNA comparisons.  I like the approach of discussing why the previous classification system did not work instead of just presenting it from a historical perspective.

Next we constructed a classification system for our shoes.  Each member of class donated their right shoe to the pile in the middle of the classroom.  We then took turns dividing the pile(s) into smaller groups by dividing an existing pile in half.  Finally we named each shoe with a scientific name.  I’ve done this activity with my classes before.  After students get over the initial “ickiness” of using shoes, it goes fairly quick and straight forward manner.  I’m think of using a selection from a fictitious group of organisms called Caminacules.  Students can classify these organisms based on their physical appearance.

After learning about constructing a method for determining which species an organism belongs to, we practiced our skills by completing an activity for classifying Salamanders.  I’ve also used this activity in past and students generally are able to effectively classify the salamanders.

Lastly we worked in pairs to construct our Classification Model Summary Board. After 5-10 minutes of working we got into groups of five and constructed one board.  The Summary Boards did a good job of depicting the important ideas and concepts in the model.

Our first homework for the weekend is to read two articles; Never Say Anything a Kid Can Say! and Analyzing Classroom Discourse to Advance Teaching and Learning.  The second assignment was to take the Classification Model Test.

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#ModBio Workshop Day 4

Today’s Agenda:

  1. Teacher Talk
  2. Parking Lot
  3. Discuss Experimental Design Model Test
  4. What is Living Activity – Model Development
  5. Exercise 1 – WB
  6. Organizing Living (part 1)
  7. Organizing Living (part 2)
  8. Exercise 2 – WB

There was a variety of topics in the parking lot today.  First up was a breakdown for the number of instructional minutes for each unit.  This time does not include the beginning of the year business (syllabus, safety, expectations, textbooks etc..) or the time need to administer the unit assessments.

  • Model 1 – Experimental Design = 450 minutes
  • Model 2 – Classification = 450 minutes
  • Model 3 – Evolution = 1080 minutes
  • Model 4 – Energy = 1800 minutes
  • Model 5 – Cell Structure & Function = 1350 minutes
  • Model 6 – Growth & Reproduction = 830 minutes
  • Model 7 – Heredity = 1350 minutes

There was discussion about breaking the Energy Model into a Macrolevel Energy Model (energy flow through ecosystems and organisms) and Microlevel Energy Model (photosynthesis-cellular respiration cycle).  Angela mentioned that she redistributes laboratory groups at the beginning of each model.  I really like this idea.  I tend to redistribute my groups each quarter, but by doing it with each model it would give me almost twice as many different combinations of students and it would give my students an opportunity to work with a greater diversity of their peers.  Next up was an aside from me regarding a side conversation we were having waiting for photocopies to be made.  We were discussing the language teacher use around what they teach.  I was reminded about a time I saw Chris Lehmann as the Keynote Speaker at a conference in 2009.  He talked about how if you ask a teacher about what they do, they’ll tell you “I teach (insert subject/grade level here)”.  He stressed to us the importance to rewording this statement to “I teach kids (insert subject/grade level).”  I student should never be the implied object of their own education.  Chris has subsequently blogged about the topic here.  Then we discussed how specific or general we need to be in defining the terms we use for experimental design such as independent variable and hypothesis.  I think the short answer is we need to use our professional judgement because we know our  particular students.  I then suggested the CamScanner App to folks.  I was initially introduced to this app by Frank Noschese on either his blog or twitter feed, it all blurs together.  It is a great little app that turns your iPhone (and Android phone maybe?) into a scanner.  I like to take all the pictures at the same time and then important them together, do me processing (finding the edges of the whiteboard if the app messed up, checking for clarity and adjusting contrast if necessary) and then export the whole pile as a pdf and e-mail it to myself directly from the app.  This is the app I’ve been using to capture the images of our whiteboards.  We then discussed how it took us a really long time to come up with a detailed experimental design for the Seed Investigation.  Angela reassured us that teachers in “student-mode” are generally less malleable than actual students.  After seeing our Experimental Design Model Summary Boards, we discussed group sizes and number of boards to present.  We also discussed the fit between modeling instruction and different learning styles.  Finally, I made a plug for the #modbio hashtag on Twitter.

On to the business of the day, we were given a box of 13 items and asked to use our list of characteristics from yesterday to determine if the items were living or non-living.  I do a very similar activity with my kids were we develop the list (usually the night before) and look at items.  But I’ve always run it as a station activity by setting an item one desks around the room and having the students circulate around.  I think giving each group a tray works much better for a couple reasons; there is less movement around which should decrease the time needed and the groups can not cross pollinate with each other.  I think limiting the cross pollination at this point makes a ton of sense.  During the whiteboard session another student and I led the class discussion to refine our characteristics of life list.  I wish I could have done a better job of leading the discussion, but practice makes perfect right?  Finally, we were given a Nano HEX Bug toy in an aluminium roasting pan and we were asked to determine if the thing was living.

Next we entered the deployment phase of our Characteristics of Life Model.  In Exercise 1 we classified five items as living or non-living, made a judgement about how many of the characteristics of life were necessary to be considered living, contemplated a unique substance from another planet, and researched and answered questions about viruses.  We had a whiteboard session were each group answered either question 1, 2, or 3 AND 4.

We were distributed a series of organism cards animals and plants together, followed by protists, then fungi, and finally bacteria.  Initially we were asked to look at the pile of cards given (plants and animals).  Some groups immediately started looking at and sorting the cards.  As an aside, some areas of the countries may be able to go outside and collect specimens to observe instead of the organism cards.  Angela mentioned that several groups had started sorting the cards into different groups and asked us to sort them into two different groups.  We then determined the two different groups that were used by students and attempted to name those groups (plants and not plants/animals).  Angela distributed another pile of cards and continued to circulate around the room asking questions of the groups about their sorting combinations and distributing the other organism cards as necessary.  Finally we came together as a big group and identified five major groups of organisms.

Next we were given a big pile of color pictured and information rich animal cards.  We were again asked to sort those cards into two piles.  Most groups choose invertebrates and vertebrates because the cards were clearly labeled in that manner.  Next each pair was asked to sort the two piles into additional piles.  This was to get to the idea of classes from phyla.  After discussing the groupings, we were directed to research the levels of classification beyond Kingdom, Phylum, Class AND determine the classification of human beings using textbooks or the internet.  We came back together and developed a classification system and addressed the idea of a Scientific name.  Finally we researched the classification of the domesticated dog.  

The next exercise was to create a series of three Venn diagrams using our textbooks or the internet comparing:

  1. prokaryote vs. eukaryote
  2. plants vs. animals vs. fungi
  3. protists vs. plants vs. animals

When I assign this to my class, I think I’ll change the last Venn diagram to protists vs. eubacteria vs. archaea.

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