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Students come to science class with many ideas of how the natural world works, some of which do not match the consensus of the scientific community and can lead to misunderstandings. Because a growing body of educational research indicates that these misconceptions can serve as resources for learning, we developed a four-point plan to leverage knowledge of common misconceptions to improve classroom teaching by refining instructional focus, providing opportunities for reflective practice, applying evidence-based practices, and promoting exploration of learning theories. By sharing this plan with our teaching colleagues, we were able to foster a collaborative approach to our and others' practice. To do this, we compiled a resource bank of common student misconceptions using data collected from the University of Toronto's National Biology Competition, developed a guide for using this misconception resource bank to promote best teaching practices, then shared this plan with our teaching colleagues in order to foster a collaborative approach to our pedagogy. In this article, we present the resource bank and guide and provide teaching tips that can be applied to a wide array of scientific course types and educational levels.
Human rights issues can be topics of conflict, resistance, and indifference; thus, these issues are seldom broached in traditional college STEM courses. In this article, I share process, content, and sources used to introduce college students to the biology of the singularity of race and the biology of sexual identity. One or two class meetings on the connections between biology and human rights were all that was necessary for students to recognize that science courses in fields such as human anatomy and physiology should address human rights issues; science courses can be used as venues to help explain human differences, and these discussions can be of personal significance and use to students.
Communicating science with nonexperts (SciComm) is an important scientific practice. SciComm can inform decision making and public policies. Recently, seminal reports have indicated that SciComm is a practice in which students should engage. Unfortunately, students have few opportunities to engage in SciComm, partially due to the absence of a framework that can help instructors facilitate such activities. We present a framework of the essential elements of effective SciComm that synthesizes previous work to describe the who, why, what, and how of effectively communicating science with nonexperts. We applied the framework to a lesson for undergraduate biology students and assessed student outcomes. The lesson uses an introduction, assignment sheet, and worksheet to guide students through planning, producing, and describing their SciComm assignment. We assessed the outcomes of the lesson by quizzing students on their knowledge of SciComm and asking about their perceptions of SciComm and the lesson. Students performed well but focused some of their responses on what they were assigned in the lesson instead of what was best for effective SciComm. Moreover, students perceived the lesson positively. This work can be used by practitioners and researchers to understand how to engage students in the important scientific practice of SciComm.
Students need procedural understanding—that is, knowledge of the procedures that scientists use to establish scientific evidence (also known as “concepts of evidence”), to successfully perform scientific investigations, and to evaluate public and scientific claims. However, concepts of evidence are seldom explicitly targeted in routine practical activities in secondary school science classrooms. We describe how a commonly used practical activity, yeast fermentation, can be modified to provide a meaningful context for developing students' understanding of concepts of evidence associated with measurement, as well as more difficult-to-learn scientific ideas, such as rates of reaction. The modified practical activities give students opportunities to exercise their creativity in assembling setups; brainstorm solutions to design problems in teams; reflect on their decisions related to concepts of evidence associated with measurement when designing their setups; compare the validity and reliability of data produced using different setups; and develop their understanding of difficult-to-learn scientific ideas.
The rise of “big data” within the biological sciences has resulted in an urgent demand for coding skills in the next generation of scientists. To address this issue, several institutions and departments across the country have incorporated coding into their curricula. I describe a coding module developed and deployed in an undergraduate parasitology course, with the overarching goal of familiarizing students with the Python programming language. The module, which was completed over four days, aimed to help students become comfortable with the command line; execute summary statistics and Student's t-tests through coding; create simple bar and line graphs using code; and, parse, handle, and analyze imported data sets. There is currently no standard “best practice” for teaching coding skills to biology majors, but this module can serve as a template to ease students into coding, and can then be modified and built out for teaching more advanced skills.
We describe a series of three experiments in which students develop a model system for measuring the LC50 of household substances, using grass seed as the model organism. Students use statistical methods to compare two samples (using chi-square and Student's t-tests), conduct a two-level multifactor experiment to look at multiple factors simultaneously and observe interactions, and make serial dilutions to measure the LC50 over a threefold concentration range. The experimental series was very inexpensive to run and tended to provide very successful LC50 measurements.
This project involves students in a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) as part of the traditional introductory biology laboratory course. Recently, research has shown that student engagement in authentic research has significant positive impacts on students, such as development of science literacy and reasoning skills. Being recently featured in the news, microplastics are a timely, interesting, and relevant topic for students. The authentic research conducted by students was the first attempt at quantification of microplastics in the Great Plains, which garnered further student excitement and engagement. Surface water and substrate samples were collected at 23 locations from small streams, rivers, ponds, and reservoirs in fall 2018. Authentic research, as broadly defined in the pedagogical context, is research conducted primarily by students. In the context of this project, authentic research is specifically defined as research done primarily by students in which the students are asking questions, designing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and writing a final manuscript that was submitted, and accepted, as a peer-reviewed publication. This project could be incorporated at the high school or university level, for biology major or nonmajor courses. The purpose of this paper is to serve as a how-to, sharing the lesson design with specific detail on student responsibilities.
This paper describes the possibilities of supporting the teaching of neural tissue biology and biophysics through experiments with a simple, commonly available electroencephalography headset. Data are transmitted over a Bluetooth virtual serial port and can be analyzed in several ways by students or used solely as a potential motivational factor for teaching otherwise challenging and abstract curriculum about the human brain.