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The nature of scientific research sometimes involves a trial-and-error procedure. Popular reviews of successful results from this approach often sanitize the story by omitting unsuccessful trials, thus painting the rosy impression that research simply follows a direct route from hypothesis to experiment to scientific discovery. The discovery of insulin is a classical case study in this genre that begs for an explanation to our students because it is so often ignored or misrepresented even in biology and physiology textbooks.
By growth, in size and complexity (i.e., changing from more probable to less probable states), plants and animals appear to defy the second law of thermodynamics. The usual explanation describes the input of nutrient and sunlight energy into open thermodynamic systems. However, energy input alone does not address the ability to organize and create complex structures or explain life cycles — in particular, growth, regulation and dying in the presence of adequate nutrients. Understanding the roles of macromolecules such as DNA, with their apparent information-processing capability, affords opportunity to understand biological order.
The National Science Education Standards have highlighted the importance of active learning and reflection for contemporary scientific methods in K—12 classrooms, including the use of models. Computer modeling and visualization are tools that researchers employ in their scientific inquiry process, and often computer models are used in collaborative projects across disciplines. The goal of this project was to develop and field-test a module that used a computer model to teach marine sciences content in an applied, inquiry-based, and collaborative manner. Students used an estuarine transport model to explore the question of how circulation patterns affect planktonic organisms, demonstrating the interdisciplinary interaction of physics and biology. Our experience suggests that computer models, when used for inquiry, can help foster students' understanding of the nature of science and critical-thinking skills.
Research shows that students face challenges as they learn about genetic inheritance. The challenges could emanate from the fact that genetic inheritance involves unseen processes at different organizational levels. We explored students' understanding of heredity and related concepts such as cells and reproduction using a Web-based Science Inquiry Environment (WISE) curriculum unit that was developed to help middle school students learn about genetic inheritance. Our findings suggest that students made significant gains from pretest to posttest. However, despite overall gains, some students struggled to explain the importance of mitotic and meiotic divisions in transferring genetic information.
Engaging students in a predator—prey simulation to teach natural selection is a common activity in secondary biology classrooms. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how the authors have changed their approach to teaching this activity from a laboratory investigation to a class-constructed simulation. Specifically, the authors drew upon a research-based teaching tool (FAR guide) to help students understand how the simulation is analogous to what happens in nature. Teaching the activity in this way can help students connect the parts of the simulation to four basic components of natural selection.