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To enhance learning about the processes of scientific thinking, this paper suggests that students read and write summaries of narrative accounts of research. Background is provided on the nature of narrative, learning from narrative versus expository texts, surface and deep approaches to studying, and the advantages of writing over testing for assessment. A list of narrative sources is provided.
A common complaint among instructors of introductory biology is that the courses cover too much material. Without a national consensus specifying which topics are essential, instructors are leery of excluding material. A survey was administered to two-year college and jour-year college and university section members of the National Association of Biology Teachers to identify the topics and skills that college and university biology instructors believe students completing introductory biology should know and comprehend. Analysis identified a strong consensus for 20 topics and seven skills that should be included in all year-long introductory college biology course sequences for majors.
Context-based laboratory activities are intended to engage students by utilizing personally relevant topics. In this short laboratory exercise we describe a method through which students engage in a health-related activity that highlights some of the dangers of nicotine inhalation, teaches relevant content, and provides a scaffold for the design of other inquiry-driven experiments.
In the summer of 2009, as an RET (Research Experience for Teachers), I joined the research team studying Echinacea angustifolia by assisting with ongoing research. I also prepared botanical collections for my classroom. These collections consist of flowering botanical specimens and prepared slides of fresh pollen from each plant. Digital images of fresh pollen from these plants were captured to build an online digital pollen library. A portion of the online pollen images serves as an original dichotomous hey to be constructed by students in 10th grade Biology. This article describes the field activities of the research team and the process for the plant and pollen collection as well as instructions for the pollen lesson implementation. The national content standards (9–12) for history and nature of science involved are G.1: “Develop an understanding of science as a human endeavor” and G.2: “Develop an understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge.”
A continuing challenge in life-science education is to foster student engagement with complex, occasionally dry material. One approach to this challenge is to build connections between classroom topics and the “real world.” We outline here an active-learning assignment in which students write to a local representative concerning a current social or environmental problem. In their letters, students present the scientific basis of the problem, evaluate opposing viewpoints, and describe their own science-based recommendation. This assignment empowers students by recognizing their ability to build connections and contribute insight. By fostering student engagement and interdisciplinary understanding, this can be a useful and exciting complement to classroom learning.
One of the best methods I have found for covering content in an engaging manner is to hold an informal debate. Having students argue why a particular organelle is the best one in the cell is an amusing activity that covers a lot of factual information about cell structure and function. In this activity, students are also allowed to “bash” other students' assigned organelles, as long as their arguments are factual and not personal. Since the debate takes place before any instruction, it forces students to work together to find information and formulate a persuasive argument.
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