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The study of flower structure is essential in plant identification and in understanding sexual reproduction in plants, pollination syndromes, plant breeding, and fruit structure. Thus, study of flower structure and construction of floral formulae are standard parts of first-year university botany and biology courses. These activities involve developing a complex set of skills, and it is useful for students to review this material after practical sessions. The Virtual Floral Formula Web site provides students with a unique resource for practicing their floral structure interpretation skills. The site provides detailed dissection photographs of the flowers of 12 species, and floral formulae are progressively assembled via drop-down menus. When students are satisfied with their answers, they submit them, and any discrepancies from the “official” formula are highlighted. Students appreciate the interactivity of the application, the feedback they receive on any inaccuracies in their formulae, and the ability to make progressive improvements in their skills.
I use the diary that Darwin wrote during the voyage of HMS Beagle and recent images of a few of the places he visited to illustrate some comparisons between Darwin's world and ours. For today's students, increasingly committed to environmental issues, this may be an especially promising way to introduce Darwin.
The Biodiversity Community Action Project is a stimulating and vigorous project that allows students to gain an in-depth understanding of the interconnection between organisms and their environments as well as the connection of science to their lives and society. It addresses key content standards in the National Science Education Standards and integrates research, writing, and communication.
The “new biology” of the 21st century is increasingly dependent on mathematics, and preparing high school students to have both strong science and math skills has created major challenges for both disciplines. Researchers and educators in biology and mathematics have been working long hours on a project to create high school teaching modules suitable for both biology and mathematics classrooms, as well as classes held jointly, to help supply teachers with materials that can be used in classrooms attempting to overcome the disciplinary boundaries that often separate them. Biology topics such as evolution, ecology, bioinformatics, and epidemiology are interwoven with a variety of mathematical topics, including algebraic equations, multiplying matrices, algorithms, dynamic programming, probability, and graphing. These modules will be free to educators for a few years. We give an overview of the modules and describe how to obtain them.
The National Science Education Standards prescribe that an understanding of the importance of classifying organisms be one component of a student's educational experience in the life sciences. The use of a classification scheme to identify organisms is one way of addressing this goal. We describe Conifer ID, a computer application that assists students in the identification of conifers without requiring prior specific knowledge. Conifer ID promotes careful observational skills and presents students with visual aids during the identification to overcome some of the weaknesses of more traditional identification methods.
Serial dilution is often a difficult concept for students to understand. In this short dry lab exercise, students perform serial dilutions using seed beads. This exercise helps students gain skill at performing dilutions without using reagents, bacterial cultures, or viral cultures, while being able to visualize the process.
First-year university students have misconceptions about the source and dynamics of publicly funded research money. We designed an activity in which students take part in a mock grant panel. The results indicated a strong tendency toward student funding of applied medical research at the expense of basic research. Exposure to a few examples of important basic research moderates this tendency.
Clay models have proved to be useful teaching aids for many topics in biology that depend on three-dimensional reasoning. Students studying embryonic development struggle to mentally reconstruct the three-dimensional structure of embryos and larvae by observing prepared slides of cross-sectional slices. Students who build clay models of embryos and slice them into cross sections, however, have a much easier time interpreting the slices of real embryos and gain a deeper understanding of development in three dimensions.