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This lesson presents an interrupted case study based on the true story of the 2002 murder of Christa Worthington in Massachusetts. The case was developed for use in an undergraduate non-majors life science course, but would also be appropriate for a high school biology course or a forensic science course. During this lesson, students examine a crime scene diagram and discuss evidence collection. Students then conduct a hands-on activity extracting DNA from wheat germ to simulate how DNA would be isolated from crime scene samples. Lastly the students will analyze simulated DNA profiles produced using STRs, polymerase chain reaction, and gel electrophoresis to help match a crime scene sample to one of five suspects. The pros and cons surrounding the use of a DNA dragnet are also discussed.
Leading scientists recognize the need to be proactive about educational reform. To address some of the challenges of teaching K-6 science, our outreach program, Science in Action! (SIA!), pairs undergraduates with K-6 classrooms to do hands-on, inquiry-based science. Our goal is to increase science literacy in our community through developing the science understanding and teaching skills of pre-service teachers, recruit more STEM majors into teaching careers, and promote enthusiasm and curiosity in the science K-6 classroom. We describe Science in Action! and describe the effect participation in the program has on undergraduates. In particular, we asked how participation effects pre-service elementary school teachers, who generally have a limited science background, and science majors, who are in the process of deciding a future career path. Pre-service teachers reported that their participation in SIA! deepened both their understanding of the scientific method and science content, as well as increased their confidence in being able to teach science. The number of science majors seriously considering a teaching career increased significantly after participating in Science in Action!
Biology placement tests (BPTs) have most often been used to determine whether well-prepared students can “test out” of foundational coursework at the college or university level. However, not all high school students are equally prepared for majors-level introductory Biology. Consequently, we developed and tested an in-house diagnostic BPT that assesses preparedness for “testing in” to introductory majors-level coursework (BI 211). We found that BPT scores were significantly correlated with final course grades. Following implementation of this benchmark, we documented short-term enrollment patterns of BPT-taking students (n = 313 over 3 years). Approximately half of these students passed the BPT, with 63 percent continuing in Biology. The other half did not pass, with 25 percent continuing in Biology. The implementation of the BPT decreased the overall percentage of F/Drop students in this course. These benchmarks have not affected the first generation college (FGC) or underrepresented minority (URM) enrollment in BI 211, nor have they introduced demographic biases among F/Drop students in this course. Given these data, we argue that diagnostic BPTs have an effective place in advising and retention strategies.
Phylogenetic trees have become an important component of biology education, but their utility in the classroom is compromised by widespread misinterpretations among students. One factor that may contribute to student difficulties is style, as diagonal and bracket phylogenetic trees are both commonly used in biology. Previous research using surveys found that students performed better with bracket phylogenetic trees across a variety of interpretation tasks. The present study builds on prior research by comparing how students interpret diagonal and bracket phylogenetic trees in the context of an introductory biology course and by expanding the style comparison to include construction tasks. Students performed significantly better with bracket phylogenetic trees for some, but not all, interpretation tasks. In addition, students who constructed bracket phylogenetic trees were significantly more accurate compared to those who used the diagonal style. Thus, our results reinforce previous research for interpretations, and the performance gap between styles extended to construction tasks. It remains to be seen, however, if such differences persist after instruction that balances the use of diagonal and bracket phylogenetic trees.
Presented here is a simple teaching lab to illustrate the dynamic qualities of plant movement using smartphones to create movies of gravitropism and circumnutation. Within as little as 90 minutes, students can observe dramatic changes in plant position using the easy-to-grow, simple genetic model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. Student assessment revealed that 64 percent of students stated that this lab increased their interest in plants; and interestingly, 46 percent of students showed their movies to individuals who were not associated with the teaching lab, strongly suggesting that this teaching method can be used to propagate interest in plants to individuals in society at large.
Reversible binding between biomolecules—for example, between a cell-sruface receptor such as the insulin receptor and its corresponding natural ligand such as insulin—is central to innumerable physiological transactions. Binding of the dye HABA to egg-white avidin is a simple, reliable, and colorful laboratory model for introducing beginning biology students to the principles underlying reversible binding. They can probe the reaction quantitatively with a spectrophotometer, and model it mathematically using only high-school algebra and a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel.
Symbiosis is a fascinating and diverse phenomenon. The study of symbiosis is important to understanding ecology, as it helps us understand relationships between organisms and provides insight into co-evolution, mutualism, adaptation, and survival. Ecological studies are challenging to implement in K-12 classrooms because they often require multiple organisms (often very different in size) and complex environments that are difficult to replicate accurately (e.g., soil composition, temperature, pH, and humidity). These factors can make it difficult to study quantitative changes in ecosystems. We developed an inexpensive, quantitative experiment for classrooms that can be used to explore important aspects of microbial symbiosis, pathogenesis, and ecology, and that helps support more investigations in this area of education. The experiment is low-cost, designed for K-12 teachers and students, uses common materials, and teaches students about the exciting relationships among bacteria, worms, and insects.
The tools of molecular biology provide a rich platform for teaching the scientific process, as interesting questions pertaining to fields such as evolution and ecology can be pursued on short time scales. In this inquiry-based laboratory project, students investigate the authenticity of fish products purchased in local markets and restaurants by DNA sequence analysis of a segment of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) gene. In the course of their investigation, students are exposed to fundamental molecular biology techniques such as DNA isolation, agarose gel electrophoresis, polymerase chain reaction, DNA sequencing mechanisms, and DNA database analysis. In addition, students will observe how the evolutionary relatedness of species is reflected in the genetic code, and consider how the ecology of fish species influences their product distribution and environmental impact. This project is suitable for advanced high school or undergraduate students.
Many teachers who assign scientific research projects to students require them to present their research to their classmates. Although it is important for science students to develop research presentation skills, it is questionable whether class presentations are an effective learning tool for audience members. In this article, we describe a dynamic and interactive presentation exercise that can be used for either formative or summative assessment, which challenges students to share their expertise with their peers via a unique motivating structure. Students practice their presentation skills while engaging authentically in a process of developing crosscutting, interdisciplinary fundamental scientific questions that integrate scientific theory and practice. This exercise may be useful in science courses in which students are expected to critically and creatively engage in and reflect upon scientific processes and content.
Students have little opportunity to observe or experiment with blood filtration in the nephron. Thus, we have developed a modeling activity on the blood filtration in the nephron for middle school students. The students present their mental models of the principles of blood filtration in small groups. They then participate in a hands-on activity to conduct the blood filtration process using a syringe filter, then revising their initial models based on the activity and data analysis. Through this modeling activity, the students can build their knowledge about the excretion principle.