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DNA is a central topic in biology courses because it is crucial to an understanding of modern genetics. Many instructors introduce the topic by means of a sanitized retelling of the history of the discovery of the structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick. Historical research since 1968 has revealed that Rosalind Franklin's contributions were more significant than they are usually depicted. In light of this, we developed a two-class lesson plan that draws attention to Rosalind Franklin's role in the discovery and to the social and cultural aspects of science. The first class provides background information regarding what led scientists to recognize that DNA was the molecule of heredity. Students watch a documentary video that includes interviews with some of the surviving protagonists. Students (working in groups) are then asked to debate Franklin's role to refine their awareness of how social and cultural factors affected both the process of science and how it has been recounted. The second class has students work in groups to build a structural model of DNA through hands-on activities. The essay concludes by drawing attention to how the two-day lesson plan, developed for a college-level biology course, can be adapted for use in other settings.
A key question in teaching a General Genetics course is whether to present the major concepts of Mendelian genetics first, or to start with the essential ideas of molecular genetics. A comparison of two sequential courses at Creighton University with similar groups of students indicated that there were no statistically significant differences in exam scores or final grades with the two approaches. It thus may be better to focus on the questions of how best to present the material in each area to contemporary students and how better to prepare them to take exams that involve different types of questions requiring analytical, numerical, and writing skills. These issues are discussed in the context of the modern biology curriculum.
Climate change can drive evolution. This connection is clear both historically and in modern times. The three-lesson curriculum described below provides opportunities for students to make connections between climate change and evolution through various modes of inquiry and self-investigation. Students examine how genetic variation may either facilitate or limit the ability for species to survive changing climates through work with the model organism Drosophila melanogaster. Students are asked to layer new understanding of the mechanisms of evolution onto their observations of genetic variation in fruit fly thermotolerance, and then synthesize this information to make predictions regarding the survival of species threatened by climate change.
Phylogenetics plays a central role in understanding the evolution of life on Earth, and as a consequence, several active teaching strategies have been employed to aid students in grasping basic phylogenetic principles. Although many of these strategies have been designed to actively engage undergraduate biology students at the freshman level, less attention is given to designing challenges jor advanced students. Here, I present a project-based learning (PBL) activity that was developed to teach phylogenetics for junior and senior-level biology students. This approach reinforces the theories and concepts that students have learned in their freshman courses along with incorporating Bioinformatics, which is essential for teaching zoology in the 21st century.
Experiential learning helps students make connections between different skill sets and allows them to engage in a deeper level of inquiry. To enhance the connection between field and laboratory practice for undergraduate students in our wildlife ecology curriculum, we developed an exercise using environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis. eDNA sampling involves extracting and amplifying the DNA from specific organisms from an environmental sample, rather than from the organisms themselves, and has been rapidly adopted by conservation practitioners around the world. In our activity, students collect water samples from a local pond and process them to detect the presence of American bullfrogs. Practicing this procedure not only introduces them to professional skills they may utilize in their careers, but also helps create context for how laboratory science and field work support each other and can be used to connect to larger issues of conservation, environmental studies, or ecology.
Arabidopsis thaliana, a model system for plant research, serves as the ideal organism for teaching a variety of basic genetic concepts including inheritance, genetic variation, segregation, and dominant and recessive traits. Rapid advances in the field of genetics make understanding foundational concepts, such as Mendel's laws, ever more important to today's biology student. Coupling these concepts withhands-on learning experiences better engages students and deepens their understanding of the topic. In our article, we present a teaching module from the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center as a tool to engage students in lab inquiryexploring Mendelian genetics. This includes a seriesof protocols and assignments that guide students through growingtwo generations of Arabidopsis, making detailed observations of mutant phenotypes, and determining the inheritance of specific traits, thus providing a hands-on component to help teach genetics at the middle and high school level.
Introductory science students participate in peer review as a component of their final lab report assignment. The peer review activity is conducted during lab time at least two weeks before the final report is due. This activity is designed to increase student understanding of science as a process that includes peer review as well as the lab activity, and to provide feedback before the final assignment is submitted for grading. It can be used for any science laboratory course with large lab report assignments.
Arts-related science activities provide unique opportunities to engage students' strengths and motivate different types of learners (Jolly, 2014). Incorporating arts into the discussion of gene expression and microbiology introduces students to a multidisciplinary approach to STEM and provides an opportunity to explore the use of science in different fields such as design, art, and industry. In this protocol extension students create living works of art on agar plates by “painting” with E. coli that express fluorescent proteins of various colors.
In educational and research settings, Tetrahymena is an excellent model organismfor engaging students to investigate function, morphology, structure, phagocytosis, and ciliary motion. Here, wepresent applications of Wright stain and Sytox green as useful low-cost tools for phenotypic analysis. We used heat-fixed Tetrahymena followed by Wright-stain-labeled organelles at different stages of its life cycle. In addition, a low concentration of Wright stain, at 1 percent (vol/vol), enabled visualization of filled vacuoles with stain in live Tetrahymena. Furthermore, we identified that Sytox green fluorescence labels not only nuclei of pre-incubated cultures of Tetrahymena, but also nuclei and some notable cytoplasmic staining after heat fixation. These applications can be used alongside inverted, battery-operated, bright field, fluorescence microscopes (Miller et al., 2010), as well as Cellcams Martin & Shin, 2016) for acquiring images and time-lapse movies. In the future, these useful approaches can be applied broadly in many lab inquiry settings, such as toxicology and molecular genetics.