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First reported in March 2014, the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa has now claimed more lives than all other known EVD outbreaks combined, making it the deadliest occurrence of the disease since it was first discovered nearly 40 years ago. In hopes of turning the outbreak into something positive from an educational standpoint, a module was developed focusing on EVD, infectious disease, and epidemiology. The module engages students in a series of inquiry-based lessons, providing accurate and up-todate information on the current outbreak of EVD in West Africa. The lessons also serve to correct popular misconceptions about the disease. The lessons include a jigsaw WebQuest using resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a simulation based on fluid exchange to model the spread of an outbreak of infectious disease, and a “disease detective”—style mapping activity based on published data outlining the start of the current EVD outbreak in Guinea.
Creating partnerships that leverage skill sets from universities and corporate entities to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education is often discussed in theory. However, examples of successful models that might inform practice are scarce. This article describes how one STEM business, university educators, and middle school administrators and teachers successfully developed and implemented an integrated STEM education (iSTEM) experience for all eighth-grade students at a local middle school. We created a professional learning community to establish the goals and vision for the iSTEM day, which included the use of instructionally sound pedagogical methods, intellectually stimulating learning experiences, and a deeply developed understanding of the school context. Our team successfully completed a one-day learning experience that focused on the fundamental concept of osmosis and problem-solving skills. However, the broader impacts of this day included a new collaborative network between the university, the company, and the middle school that remains intact and productive.
We designed a course based on inquiry learning using WISE, an online inquiry-based science environment platform, and the 5E instructional model. This article summarizes guidelines used in designing the course, analyses of student needs and school environment, setting of course objectives, modification of materials, and evaluation of student performance. A “Healthy Life” course based on those guidelines was implemented, along with a teacher-training workshop, in two schools, and pretests and posttests were administered to evaluate the achievements of the project participants. The results showed that the participants had constructed scientific concepts and improved their level of cognitive knowledge. An efficiency questionnaire and semistructured interviews demonstrated the effectiveness of the course, thus indicating that we should share the guidelines and features of the Healthy Life course with other course designers and teachers.
Population growth presents a unique opportunity to make the connection between mathematical and biological reasoning. The objective of this article is to introduce a method of teaching population growth that allows students to utilize mathematical reasoning to derive population growth models from authentic populations through active learning and firsthand experiences. To accomplish this, we designed a lab in which students grow and count populations of Drosophila over the course of 12 weeks, modifying abiotic and biotic limiting factors. Using the data, students derive exponential and logistic growth equations, through mathematical reasoning patterns that allow them to understand the purpose of these models, and hypothesize relationships between various factors and population growth. We gathered student attitudinal data and found that students perceived the lab as more effective, better at preparing them for lecture, and more engaging than the previous lab used. Through this active and inquiry-based method of teaching, students are more involved and engaged in both mathematical and biological reasoning processes.
The process of exploration and the methods that scientists use to conduct research are fundamental to science education. In this activity, authentic scientific practices are used to develop hypotheses to explain the natural world. Students observe grass shrimp in aquaria and construct an ethogram, which is a compilation of the observable behaviors an animal exhibits. They then conduct an experiment, just as real scientists would, to determine how changes in the environment alter shrimp behavior. This activity is designed for a fourth-grade science class and allows students to experience the excitement of observing a live organism while learning about scientific inquiry, and also reinforces quantification and graphing skills. “Do You See What I See” covers Next Generation Science Standards and addresses the science and engineering practices of engaging in argument from evidence.
We describe a multiweek laboratory exercise that engages students in class-based research related to sexual reproduction, selection, orientation, and operational sex ratios. Specifically, students discuss contemporary research on sex in the bean beetle, Callosobruchus maculatus, and then develop and test hypotheses related to bean beetle sex. Working with bean beetles is inexpensive and logistically manageable, allowing instructors to scale up to large-enrollment courses. In addition, live organisms engage students in meaningful dialogue related to evolution, sex, and the process of science itself.
Phylogenetics has a central role in the biological sciences. We suggest a hands-on exercise to demonstrate the task of character coding and its importance in phylogenetic systematics. This exercise is appropriate for undergraduate students in life sciences and related courses. The teacher must provide a single group of masks in which color patterns, textures, and formats provide the characters to fill the data matrix. (The mask could be replaced by a set of other complex objects.) In this case, because there is no actual phylogeny, students will not be concerned with recovering the correct topology. Character coding is the aim of the exercise. After the character matrix is completed, a phylogenetic tree is drawn and the students interpret the evolution of a single character, starting from the common ancestor, based on the topological pattern of the tree and on the data matrix. In sequence, the students name and provide a full diagnosis for the group of masks as revealed by the topological pattern. The comparison between group results is also educational: there will be some common patterns between trees, but others will differ as in biological systematics.
Freshman students are instructed to read a popular science book related to the topic of the course and produce an outline of the work. To achieve this, they must identify the author's thesis and the arguments brought forth in support of the thesis. This analysis is done for the whole book and is repeated for every chapter. This exercise develops the ability to grasp how experiments serve as evidence in scientific discourse. This gives students the tools to read popular science books critically. Given the ease of access to this type of resource, this assignment may develop lifelong skills for scientifically informed citizens.
Active learning exercises can help students understand and remember complex, three-dimensional processes. By modeling molecular processes with their bodies, students gain an appreciation for the three-dimensional nature of these processes and the physical sequence of events that constitute them. The exercises presented here focus on DNA replication and the translation of mRNA into amino acid sequences, multistep processes that require specific series of events. The exercises help students appreciate the spatial and temporal frameworks of these essential cellular functions. They can be incorporated into classes when these concepts are introduced or used as review exercises for exams.
Oral health is often in the news lately as researchers explore the link of oral health with general health — and, particularly, with cardiac health (Shetty et al., 2012; Parkar et al., 2013). In this inquiry-based experiment, students explore microbes present in saliva and how the numbers are affected by using oral hygiene products such as toothpaste and mouthwash.
A simple phylogenetic tree of the great apes provides many important teaching opportunities, both in the general skill of reading phylogenetic trees and in using them to explore evolutionary relationships.