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We present results from the first year of a three-year extramurally funded project involving a partnership between an ethnically diverse urban high school and professional research botanists. The goals are to provide students exposure to real-world science, broaden interest in scientific fields of study, and increase floristic data and herbarium specimen collections in under-sampled areas of Solano County, California. A floristic survey was conducted in a 425-acre, open-space public park in Vacaville, California, that is actively grazed by cattle and characterized by grasses, forbs, and oaks. A total of 77 students were enrolled in the course associated with the partnership, and 47 participated in four visits to the collection site. Twenty-five unique plant specimens were collected, including 14 native and 11 introduced species. Results of a student perception survey suggest that the partnership has had a positive impact on students' understanding of scientific methodology and interest in pursuing a science career. Perception survey results were disaggregated by ethnicity; Hispanic students, more than any other group, indicated that they feel more confident in scientific research and writing skills. There was no significant difference between male and female students' responses.
The ability to make criteria-based and thought-out decisions in everyday life as well as to answer questions pertaining to society at large, such as those regarding climate change and the loss of biodiversity, is becoming more and more important against the backdrop of an increasingly complex world with a wide range of options for action or inaction. Using the method of “data-based decision making,” this article presents a decision-making strategy for improving the evaluation competence of students that is particularly suitable for teaching socioscientific issues in the context of sustainable development. Using the example of human consumption of insects (sometimes termed “entomophagy,” although this term is defined as the consumption of insects by any organism), the students will evaluate the potential for insects as an alternative, sustainable source of protein as compared with conventional meat.
The human brain is limited by its capacity and incapable of memorizing all information. The memory system evolved to give preference to memory information related to maintaining and increasing individual fitness. We have chosen fungi, a heavily neglected area in science education research, to investigate which kind of information about mushrooms will be better retained by secondary school students. Furthermore, we investigated whether information about mushroom toxicity is better retained when presented only orally or in combination with a written text. The research sample consisted of 160 secondary school students from Slovakia. Pretest/posttest experimental between-subject and within-subject design was used to examine research questions. Data were collected through questionnaires (using a Likert response scale). We found that survival-relevant information (i.e., mushroom toxicity) was retained significantly better than survival-irrelevant information (i.e., mushroom naming and occurrence), but there were no differences in recall between the presentation conditions. Unexpectedly, male students retained information about mushroom toxicity significantly better than female students. Our results suggest that information retention by secondary school students in regard to mushrooms that cause serious poisoning is in accordance with evolutionary predictions and can be utilized by science teachers.
Science denial, misinformation, and science con-artists are on the rise. We are plagued by anti-vaxxers, climate change naysayers, and promoters of ineffective fad diets and medical cures. The scientifically literate citizen or consumer needs skills in differentiating good science and trustworthy sources from impostors. Here, I present a series of student-centered activities that help students inquire into the nature of credibility and the problems of expertise, mediated knowledge, and science communication. I open with a playful guessing game about “fantastic beasts” reported in the 16th century, then follow with more modern examples. I then describe a science version of “To Tell the Truth,” a reflective exercise on “Finding the Expert,” and then a student opportunity to explore deceptive strategies by trying to bluff their classmates with false news stories about science. These all develop basic concepts in science media literacy and prepare students for more serious investigation into a contemporary scientific controversy.
The purpose of the proposed lesson is to help students develop media literacy skills, which are necessary across the curriculum and in students' everyday lives. Students will do so by evaluating a provided conspiracy theory and, later, a pseudoscience claim (alternatively, students may supply either material). In order to thoroughly evaluate the claim, students will generate and answer media literacy questions, with instructor or peer support as needed. Once students have practiced using the media literacy questions to evaluate the conspiracy theory, they will progress to more challenging material, such as a pseudoscience claim about a fad diet. Finally, the instructor may choose to extend the lesson to allow students time to apply their media literacy skills to a curricular pseudoscience claim, perhaps regarding climate change or the efficacy of vaccines. To complete the lesson, students will reflect on the content of the claims, why the misinformation matters, and the process of evaluating the material to draw appropriate conclusions.
Despite the inclusion of a lab component in many STEM courses, college students often struggle to apply these skills in different situations. This outbreak simulation gives students a taste of some of the challenges associated with being in charge of an essential research project. Students will hone their grant writing, presentation skills, experimental design, data analysis, ability to prepare for failed experiments, and ability to understand the big picture of their research. Senior undergraduate biology students are split into small groups that represent distinct laboratories. Each laboratory receives the same starting information about an emerging pandemic. The laboratories must use their knowledge and innovation to design a series of experiments to identify the pathogen, and progress toward a treatment and/or a vaccine to limit the global spread of infection. My students unanimously felt that the outbreak simulation helped solidify their understanding of research and improved their engagement. One student reflected that “[the simulation] was very effective in furthering my limited knowledge on pandemics, the characteristics of disease spread, experimental design, writing grants, types of assays, and vaccine development. Despite studying science for so many years, experimental research is not something that had been well addressed.”
Climate change is causing widespread forest mortality due to intensified drought conditions. In light of a dynamically changing planet, understanding when forest die-off will occur is vital in predicting forest response to future climate trends. The Environmental Ecology Lab studies plant physiological response to drought stress to determine the lethal level of drought for pinyon pine. This drought research inspired this high school biology lesson, which addresses the NGSS Performance Expectation HS-LS4-6. Students engage in a climate change discussion regarding the devastation of California wildfires. Ongoing research in the lab is then introduced, leading students to design their own drought experiment using radish plants. Students determine an effective drought detector as a solution to mitigate human-induced climate change. Experimental data are statistically tested using R, to determine the effectiveness of drought detectors. To place their observations in a global context, students research the NASA Global Climate Change website to provide evidence to support their claim of human-induced climate change and relate this to a reduction in biodiversity. In a final presentation, groups share their most effective physiological measurement and propose potential applications of drought detection in mitigating adverse impacts of climate change.
The Board of Curiosity is an easy tool that allows students to ask anonymous questions and perform their own research. This tool was particularly effective in a group of adult learners, who commented that the board was a fun way to increase the breadth and depth of the course without derailing class time with tangents. Overall, this simple intervention helped foster a collaborative atmosphere of group accountability.
I briefly review the use of the passive and active voices in scientific writing and formulate an argument in favor of the active voice's use. I provide fictitious examples of each narrative type and make a side-by-side comparison. Each style has advantages and disadvantages. Papers written in the active voice are concise and clear, although they are also considered colloquial and unsophisticated. Those written in the passive voice, in turn, are centered on the actions – rather than on the individuals – and are perceived as more objective but can also be ambiguous and pompous. I conclude this essay by noting that the active voice – with its greater economy, simplicity, and precision – is now pervasive in scientific writing, and I urge educators to greatly reduce teaching and enforcing the use of the passive voice.