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The historic debate of nature vs. nurture has emerged as a central yin-yang of contemporary health and disease research. The Human Genome Project provided the capability to define the nature of an individual by one's genetic sequence. But tools are not available to sequence lifelong exposures (i.e., the nurture of an individual). Many believe that nurture has an even greater role than genetics in determining lifelong success, health, and well-being. In contemporary terminology, the cumulative measure of environmental influences and associated biological responses throughout the life span is termed the exposome. This includes all external exposures from the environment, diet, behavior, societal influences and infections, and also cumulative biological responses to exposures and endogenous processes. Pursuit of a “Human Exposome Project” is a vision worthy of our youth: development of strategies and tools will require the brightest and most imaginative. Incorporation of the exposome into education curricula will foster discussion, development of interest, improvement of skills, and promotion of critical thinking to prepare students for civically engaged lives, ongoing study, and future career opportunities. The longterm vision is that sequencing the exposome will support better understanding of healthful and harmful lifelong exposures and lead to improved opportunity for the health and prosperity of all.
Scientists use models to represent their imagination and conceptualization of a particular phenomenon. They then use models to develop an argument to debate, defend, and debunk ideas in their peer community. Modeling is an essential practice of authentic science. To foster the pedagogical practice of incorporating models in argumentative contexts, we introduce an approach called “Science Negotiation Pedagogy.” We show how models can support argumentation practices in science classrooms in six phases of action: (1) create a driving question; (2) construct a tentative model in groups; (3) construct a tentative argument in groups; (4) negotiate models and arguments in a wholeclass discussion, then revise models and arguments through negotiation; (5) consult the experts; and (6) reflect through writing. A unit on the human respiratory system is used as an example to demonstrate how Science Negotiation Pedagogy can be implemented in biology classrooms.
Although animal dissection is common in classrooms, growing concerns for animal welfare and advances in nonanimal teaching methods have prompted the creation of policies that allow students to choose humane alternatives to classroom animal use. We assessed the prevalence and content of policies that allow students to opt out of animal dissection in states and large public school districts across the United States — data that have not previously been collected or analyzed. We found that such policies exist at the state level in 22 states ( plus the District of Columbia) and in many large public school districts in the other remaining states. These data illustrate that at least 63% of students in U.S. public schools have access to some kind of dissection choice, although the content of these policies varies widely. We discuss these results and recommend components of a comprehensive student dissection-choice policy.
We describe how to enable students to learn about the transmission of disease, resistant bacteria, and the importance of taking a “full course” of antibiotics by developing models and simulations to represent the growth and demise of bacteria. By doing these activities, students experience a model of the effects of antibiotics on the population of disease-causing bacteria during an infection. Students learn about the spread of infection through game playing and then, using a simulation, investigate how different variables, such as skipping a day of medication, affect the persistence of the disease. A key concept is that almost every naturally occurring population of bacteria that causes disease has a component that is resistant to antibiotics. Therefore, through graphing data and computer models, students can visually understand why it is important to take a complete course of antibiotics to kill all the bacteria and decrease the likelihood of bacteria becoming resistant, which can be harmful to human health. In this hands-on, inquiry-based activity that is seamlessly integrated with technology, the teacher becomes the facilitator of learning while the student is an active, engaged partner.
The interdependence of living organisms and related ecology concepts are often difficult for students to grasp if they only study them from textbooks. To really understand how habitat fragmentation affects biodiversity, it is best to allow students to study it in the field. In the activities described here, I used inquiry as a basis for experiential learning. Focusing on two natural areas of unequal size, students investigated the areas to assess arthropod species richness and examine whether it was correlated with the size of the area. By establishing 10 daily observation periods and identifying arthropods in each session, students observed firsthand the relationship of species richness to biodiversity and that the size of the natural area was not significant. This translated to a greater understanding of biodiversity and its role in the relationships of living organisms in a local ecosystem. Students also gained valuable insight into how scientific studies are conducted.
This transformed DNA-extraction lab activity offers a framework that strategically draws upon the essential elements of both scientific and effective teaching practices to establish an alternative approach to the teaching and learning of science. The pedagogical methods utilized throughout this activity encourage students' motivation, engagement, and learning through inquirybased, teacher-facilitated scientific practices. Additionally, this activity emphasizes Dimension 1 of the Framework for K-12 Science Education (Scientific and Engineering Practices; National Research Council, 2012). In the activity, students worked in groups and were allowed to examine different traditional lab protocols and other resources. The students had the freedom of selecting an independent variable that could possibly have an effect on the DNA extraction. To demonstrate how this activity was implemented in the classroom, a running vignette of a DNA-extraction activity in a high school biology class, in which the teacher adhered to the elements of this framework, is included.
We have developed an experimental module that introduces high school students to guided scientific inquiry. It is designed to incorporate environmental health and ecological concepts into the basic biology or environmental-science content of the high school curriculum. Using the red worm, a familiar live species that is amenable to classroom experimentation, students learn how environmental agents affect the animal's locomotion by altering sensory neuron-muscle interactions and, as a result, influence its distribution in nature. In turn, the results of these experiments have direct application to human-caused environmental disruptions that cause changes in species distribution and indirectly increase the recognition that environmental chemicals affect human health. Students undertake a series of explorations to identify how red worms sense their environment and then apply that knowledge to understand the effects of chemical exposure on locomotor behavior. The activities are designed to generate critical thinking about neuromuscular processes and environmental pollutants that affect them.
Class discussion can be a valuable way to meet educational standards and make student ideas visible. Tools like Twitter can be used to encourage discussion both in and outside of class. In this article, we provide (1) a concise explanation of Twitter and its use (including a comparison to similar digital communication tools); (2) a brief overview of educational gains and experiences in using Twitter; and (3) a step-by-step introduction to conducting Twitter discussions using hashtags. We conclude with an introduction to #scistuchat, a monthly Twitter discussion between scientists and students that addresses many of the core ideas in the biological sciences. We invite instructors to join this ongoing discussion series or use the ideas within this paper to begin their own discussion groups on social media.
The term frequency dependence describes scenarios in which the likelihood of an event occurring is strongly tied to how common a particular trait is. Understanding frequency dependence is key to understanding numerous biological processes relevant to evolution by natural selection, such as predation, mimicry, disease, and effective vaccinations. We use dodgeball to demonstrate frequency dependent selection in a hypothetical predator—prey community, and provide possible extensions into other topics. This activity can be used with biology students in high school through upper-level undergraduate courses.
Building evolutionary trees can be an excellent way for students to see how different gene sequences or organisms are related to one another. Molecular Evolutionary Genetics Analysis (MEGA) software is a free package that lets anyone build evolutionary trees in a user-friendly setup. There are several options to choose from when building trees from molecular data in MEGA, but the most commonly used are neighbor joining and maximum likelihood, both of which give good estimates on the relationship between different molecular sequences. In this article, we describe how to collect data from GenBank, insert the data into a text editor, import the data into MEGA, and use the dataset to create phylogenetic trees.