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We highlight some important conceptual issues that biologists should take into account when teaching evolutionary biology or communicating it to the public. We first present conclusions from conceptual development research on how particular human intuitions, namely design teleology and psychological essentialism, influence the understanding of evolution. We argue that these two intuitions form important conceptual obstacles to understanding evolution that should be explicitly addressed during instruction and public communication. Given that a major issue in evolution is understanding how very different forms may share common ancestry — antievolutionists have argued that this is inconceivable — we suggest that evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), which provides concepts and evidence that large morphological change is possible, could be used to address the intuitions that organisms have fixed essences (psychological essentialism) and that their structure indicates some kind of intentional design (design teleology).
Why is it so hard to get students talking in science class? Who is responsible? Are the students unwilling to speak in class? What kinds of supports are helpful for in-the-moment teaching during classroom discussions in science? We present one high school teacher's facilitation of science discussions while supported by a dialogic discussion structure that was collaboratively developed through professional-development workshops. Our findings provide a real-time teaching tool for teachers working toward integrating inquiry-based science discussions in their classrooms.
Both the old National Science Education Standards (NSES) and the recent Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) devote significant resources to learning about human environmental impact. Whereas the NSES advocate learning about human environmental impact in a section apart from the science-content learning strands, the NGSS embed them in the core life-science and ecology learning strands. We describe a study that compared the effects of these different approaches on ninth-grade biology student learning. It found that students learned significantly more human-environmental-impact and ecological-function content when human-impact content was embedded in ecology content than when human impact was taught as a discrete unit from ecology.
A fundamental component of science curricula is the understanding of scientific inquiry. Although recent trends favor using student inquiry to learn concepts through hands-on activities, it is often unclear to students where the line is drawn between the content and the process of science. This activity explicitly introduces students to the processes of science and allows the classroom to become a scientific community where independent studies are performed, shared, and revised. We designed this activity to be relatively independent of the chosen content, allowing instructors to utilize the presented framework for classes of various disciplines and education levels.
The behavior of animals is an intrinsically fascinating topic for students from a wide array of backgrounds. We describe a learning experience using animal behavior that we created for middle school students as part of a graduate-student outreach program, Graduate Partners in Science Education, at Arizona State University in collaboration with a K—8 public school. This activity capitalizes on the interest that animal behavior can generate to introduce and reinforce student understanding of the scientific method. Specifically, our activity highlights the general utility of the scientific method and uses this method to examine ant social behavior, with emphasis on generating and testing hypotheses. Furthermore, this activity introduces the idea of animal societies and encourages students to apply the concepts they learn to other species, including humans. By collecting ants locally, from schoolyards or nearby habitats, this experience situates learning in the context of students' own communities. We also provide optional assessment materials that teachers can use to assess learning objectives and standard mastery.
“Forest health” is an important concept often not covered in tree, forest, insect, or fungal ecology and biology. With minimal, inexpensive equipment, students can investigate and conduct their own forest health survey to assess the percentage of trees with natural or artificial wounds or stress. Insects and diseases in the forest are the focus, though student guides could be modified for many terrestrial or aquatic systems, depending on location. The lesson is geared toward older students, with suggestions for adaptation in earlier grades as well.
A standard part of biology curricula is a project-based assessment of cell structure and function. However, these are often individual assignments that promote little problem-solving or group learning and avoid the subject of organelle chemical interactions. I evaluate a model-based cell project designed to foster group and individual guided inquiry, and review how the project stimulates problem-solving at a cellular system level. Students begin with four organism cell types, label organelles, describe their structures, and affix chemicals produced or needed for each organelle's function. Students simulate cell signaling, cell recognition, and transport of molecules through membranes. After describing the project, I present measures of student participation and a rubric, compare individual versus group work, and highlight future modifications, including alignment with the Next Generation Science Standard of “Structure, Function, and Information Processing.”
Anyone who has taught an introductory biology lab has sat at their desk in front of a towering stack of lengthy lab reports and wondered if there was a better way to teach scientific writing. We propose the use of a one-page format that we have called a “mini-report,” which we believe better allows students to understand the structure and characteristics of proper scientific writing and reduces the grading-time investment for instructors.
A major challenge in teaching organ development and disease is deconstructing a complex choreography of molecular and cellular changes over time into a linear stepwise process for students. As an entry toward learning developmental concepts, I propose two inexpensive hands-on activities to help facilitate learning of (1) how to identify defects in heart and kidneys and (2) what evolutionarily conserved strategies from organ development can be applied to understand how to repair these defects. The ease of assembling these activities, combined with traffic flow as a metaphor for physiological function of heart and kidneys, provides students the opportunity to explore and discover biological concepts in organ formation and disease.