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Writing-to-learn (WTL) is an effective instructional and learning strategy that centers on the process of organizing and articulating ideas, as opposed to writingto-communicate, which centers on the finished written product. We describe a WTL model that we have developed and tested with various student groups over several years. With effective instructor guidance (through prompts and in-class discussion), students demonstrated greater scientific literacy after participating in writing activities about engaging socio-scientific issues. We believe that WTL activities are underused in secondary and post-secondary biology courses.
This study explores upper-elementary and early-middle-school students' ideas about cells and inheritance and describes patterns of understanding for these topics. Data came from students' responses to embedded assessments included in a technology-enhanced curriculum designed to help students learn about cells and heredity. Our findings suggest that the instruction aided students in progressing to more sophisticated levels of understanding, especially by reviewing non-normative ideas and integrating new content into their previous understandings. Students, however, tended to struggle in distinguishing genes, chromosomes, and DNA and had some difficulties connecting the cell division process with the inheritance of genetic material.
A hypothesis-driven laboratory is described that introduces students to the complexities of ecosystem function. Students work with live algae, brine shrimp, and sea anemones to test hypotheses regarding the trophic interactions among species, the exchange of nutrients and gases, and the optimal ratio of producers to consumers and predators in enclosed, artificial-seawater ecosystems. In the initial iteration of the activity, multiple ecosystems that differ in their composition of organisms are assembled according to simple recipes by individual students or small lab groups. Two weeks later, the ecosystems are deconstructed, and the students tally the organisms and assess key water-quality measures, including salinity, pH, and ammonia levels. Some sample data and results are presented, as well as tips for successful implementation.
Invasive species are a substantial threat to biodiversity. Educating students about invasive species introduces fundamental concepts in biology, ecology, and environmental science. In the Race to Displace game, students assume the characteristics of select native or introduced plants and experience first hand the influences of species interactions and changing environmental conditions on community composition as they advance across a game board. Through game play, students learn about ways in which species can interact, as well as attributes of successful invaders and the impacts of invasion on communities.
Understanding human environmental health is difficult for high school students, as is the process of scientific investigation. This module provides a framework to address both concerns through an inquiry-based approach using a hypothesisdriven set of experiments that draws upon a real-life concern, environmental exposures to lead (Pb2 ???). Students learn how scientists use model organisms to understand basic biological concepts, and how these models relate to human and environmental health. Students observe how Pb2 alters fish behaviors. Because many levels of biological organization are involved, this module has application for multiple units within general and advanced biology classes. Beginning with what is known about Pb2 toxicity, students develop testable hypotheses about how it may affect behavior, apply this knowledge to human populations, and identify the “next experiment.”
The process of protein translation and translocation into the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) can often be challenging for introductory college biology students to visualize. To help them understand how proteins become oriented in the ER membrane, I developed a hands-on activity in which students use Play-Doh to simulate the process of protein insertion into the ER membrane. After completing the hands-on activity, students are better able to solve problems in which they have to predict the membrane orientation of a protein.
Guided-inquiry lab activities with bean beetles (Callosobruchus maculatus) teach students how to develop hypotheses, design experiments, identify experimental variables, collect and interpret data, and formulate conclusions. These activities provide students with real hands-on experiences and skills that reinforce their understanding of the scientific method and experimental design. This teaching method can easily be adapted to other test organisms or alternative themes.