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The National Research Council's Framework for K—12 Science Education and the resulting Next Generation Science Standards call for engaging students in the practices of science to develop scientific literacy. While these documents make the connections between scientific knowledge and practices explicit, very little attention is given to the shared values and commitments of the scientific community that underlie these practices and give them meaning. I argue that effective science education should engage students in the practices of science while also reflecting on the values, commitments, and habits of mind that have led to the practices of modern science and that give them meaning. The concept of methodological naturalism demonstrates the connection between the values and commitments of the culture of science and its practices and provides a useful lens for understanding the benefits and limitations of scientific knowledge.
New phylogenomic methods have made it possible to obtain a robust phylogenetic tree of the animal kingdom. The resulting tree confirms much of what was already known but also contains some nice surprises.
I offer comments on two recent articles in The American Biology Teacher by Davenport and colleagues addressing the interpretation and construction of phylogenetic trees. The “tree-thinking” literature suggests that students need to acquire a clear understanding of the meaning of phylogenetic tree diagrams. To this end, I provide clarifications of terminology and address the problematical status of “ancestors.” Cladograms are not genealogies viewed from a distance, but empirical hypotheses of relationship based on the distribution of shared derived character states. I describe an exercise employed in an introductory systematics course that emphasizes the empirical activities of character delimitation and formation of groups based on those characters.
We respond to the preceding commentary (Brower, 2016) regarding our “Inquiry & Investigation” articles (Davenport et al., 2015a, b) published recently in this journal. Our two articles describe a pair of activities, informed by biology education literature and national standards documents, whose primary goal is to help teachers assist introductory students in evaluating basic evolutionary datasets. In this short response to Brower's critique, we acknowledge that our activities, which address the complex field of systematics, contain simplifications and inaccuracies. At the same time, we hold that the activities are grounded in careful pedagogical decisions that allow students in general biology courses to readily understand major features of phylogenetic trees. We also argue that the design of the activities allows students to experience firsthand a vital component of the nature of science: prioritizing data when formulating a claim.
This article describes a study designed to compare the vocabulary demands of introductory college textbooks in several disciplines. The results suggest that the new-vocabulary load biology textbooks is not as high as that in foreign-language textbooks — as has often been reported — but is higher than in other disciplines. The article concludes with suggestions for helping students manage the vocabulary demands of introductory courses across the curriculum.
With the looming global population crisis, it is more important now than ever that students understand what factors influence population dynamics. We present three learning modules with authentic, student-centered investigations that explore rates of population growth and the importance of resources. These interdisciplinary modules integrate biology, mathematics, and computer-literacy concepts aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. The activities are appropriate for middle and high school science classes and for introductory college-level biology courses. The modules incorporate experimentation, data collection and analysis, drawing conclusions, and application of studied principles to explore factors affecting population dynamics in fruit flies. The variables explored include initial population structure, food availability, and space of the enclosed population. In addition, we present a computational simulation in which students can alter the same variables explored in the live experimental modules to test predictions on the consequences of altering the variables. Free web-based graphing (Joinpoint) and simulation software (NetLogo) allows students to work at home or at school.
Biology is often taught as disconnected facts, even though the subject itself provides a holistic approach to the study of life, particularly through the overarching frame of evolution. The Framework for K—12 Science Education and Next Generation Science Standards promote a coherent approach to science that uses a developmental approach to learning. This is consistent with the use of data, reflective strategies, and a research inquiry approach that encourages students to confront their own thinking and reasoning, and thus encourages the engagement of argumentation in the classroom. This article presents narratives and classroom scenarios that might provide insights into learning strategies, with implications for a more cohesive approach to learning both biology concepts and the practices of science.
Engaging students in the process of science to increase learning and critical thinking has become a key emphasis in undergraduate education. Introducing environmental topics, such as the effects of endocrinedisrupting chemicals, into undergraduate courses offers a new means to increase student engagement. Daphnia magna can serve as a model organism for endocrine disruption, and its ease of handling, rapid reproduction rate, and clearly defined endpoints make it useful in short-term, student research projects. The concept of endocrine disruption can be tested through a 21-day reproductive study of D. magna exposed to varying concentrations of the pesticide fenoxycarb. Students will observe an altered reproduction rate and increased production of males under conditions that would typically result only in the production of female offspring. This research system allows students to formulate hypotheses, set up experiments, analyze data, and present results, leading to a greater appreciation of and interest in science.
The action of hormones such as insulin in contributing to life-threateningdiseases such as diabetes may be difficult for students to understand. To teachstudents the critical details of the regulation of blood glucose and the differenttypes of diabetes, we created a laboratoryexerciseusing a five-patienthypoglycemic—hyperglycemic coma case.
Technology applications can offer an accessible way for teachers to bring the real world into science classes. Using MapBox Studio, a free mapping software program, our cross-disciplinary student teams were able to visually conceptualize large datasets and see emerging trends for themselves, facilitating the research process while making student learning more active and engaged.
Students are almost universally interested in animals, and especially endotherms, including mammals and birds. According to Bergmann's rule, endotherms that live in colder climates at higher latitudes are larger than those living in warmer climates. As with most biological principles, hands-on investigation will provide a better understanding of why size is important in endotherm thermal regulation. One easily observable aspect of this principle is that larger organisms have a lower ratio of body surface area to total body volume. This affects how efficiently they can retain or radiate heat, which can be easily tested in the laboratory using commonly available materials. In this activity, simple models of endotherms of different sizes are used to assess the effects of body size on heat loss.