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Statistical methods are indispensable to the practice of science. But statistical hypothesis testing can seem daunting, with P-values, null hypotheses, and the concept of statistical significance. This article explains the concepts associated with statistical hypothesis testing using the story of “the lady tasting tea,” then walks the reader through an application of the independent-samples t-test using data from Peter and Rosemary Grant's investigations of Darwin's finches. Understanding how scientists use statistics is an important component of scientific literacy, and students should have opportunities to use statistical methods like this in their science classes.
A lesson plan on the phylum Tardigrada is presented in a storytelling workbook that introduces the evolutionary concepts of adaptive radiation, speciation, divergence, and “tree-thinking” through narrative, transitional art, contemplative coloring, and data searches, which can be enhanced with microscopy wet labs. Students gain insight into the invertebrate world of the highly adaptable, ubiquitous microorganisms known colloquially as “water bears,” generating a microevolutionary and macroevolutionary perspective through a narrative that includes an introduction to the TimeTree database.
Recommendations for undergraduate biology education include integration of research experiences into the curriculum, regardless of major. While non-biology majors and biology majors differ in affective characteristics, it is not clear if they differ in their incoming science process skills. We created a scenario-based assessment instrument – designed to gauge science process skills –that was accessible to nonmajors and majors. We evaluated nonmajors' and majors' open-ended responses using a rubric. We also assessed students' science identity, confidence, and attitudes with a pre-course survey. While affective differences between the populations are evident, we did not detect meaningful differences in science competency. These findings indicate that nonmajors and majors are skilled in the process of science and have the ability to engage in meaningful scientific inquiry, confirming our hypothesis that, in supporting a scientifically literate citizenry, educators must emphasize teaching strategies that target affective differences between nonmajors and majors.
Field investigations represent an excellent opportunity to integrate the Next Generation Science Standards to complement and enhance both classroom and laboratory instruction. This inquiry-based exercise is designed to introduce students to the basic anatomy, ecology, and natural history of a common backyard denizen, the wolf spider (Lycosidae). Students are charged with developing one or more testable hypotheses regarding wolf spiders in their own backyards. Wolf spiders are an ideal subject for field investigation because their secondary eyes possess a highly reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum. At night, this layer produces an unmistakable “eyeshine” when viewed with the beam of a flashlight. Playing the role of students, we tested the hypothesis that wolf spiders should occur at higher density in an undeveloped field than in a typical backyard. To test this, we utilized random quadrat sampling in both habitats using flashlights to detect nocturnal eyeshine. Students obtaining similar results would likely have concluded that wolf spiders were more abundant in natural habitats.
Students often find it challenging to learn about complex and abstract biological processes. Using the engineering design process, which involves designing, building, and testing prototypes, can help students visualize the processes and anchor ideas from lab activities. We describe an engineering-design-integrated biology unit designed for high school students in which they learn about the properties of slime molds, the difference between eukaryotes and prokaryotes, and the iterative nature of the engineering design process. Using the engineering design process, students were successful in quarantining the slime mold from the non-inoculated oats. A t-test revealed statistically significant differences in students' understanding of slime mold characteristics, the difference between eukaryotes and prokaryotes, and the engineering design process before and after the unit. Overall, students demonstrated sound understanding of the biology core ideas and engineering design skills inherent in this unit.
Bioinformatics, the study of biological data using various computational techniques, is a very important aspect of biology, and its integration would greatly benefit current high school curricula. However, because most bioinformatics tools have not been readily accessible until recently, most high school instructors were not exposed to them during their formative years. We describe a bioinformatics-based module that introduces the application of genome comparison in the identification of “pathogenic islands.” The module also introduces foundational concepts of horizontal gene transfer and the genetic basis of virulence, with a special focus on antibiotic resistance – a theme teachers and students alike can easily connect and relate to. The module takes students on a journey: from conceptualizing the perfect pathogen, to an immersive experience of being a pathogen, and finally the experience of being a research scientist identifying drug-resistant genes and other virulence factors using the bioinformatics tool of genome comparison.
This lab gives students hands-on experience with visualizing the root architecture of plants exposed to varying concentrations of the vital nutrient phosphorus. By maintainingBrassicasp. seedlings in the presence of different quantities of phosphate, students can quantify changes in the number of lateral roots as an example of how the environment influences plant pattern formation. Additional variables in the experimental design, such as the use of plant mutants altered in plant regulator action or the presence of plant regulators in the plant growth medium, allow for exploration of how plant growth regulators are involved in root development. The quantitative and qualitative nature of this nine-day activity provides instructors opportunities to introduce students to various data analyses in botanical study. Additional ties to plant anatomy and the agricultural use of plant growth regulators that alter root development make this activity a rich source of exploration for broadening student exposure to plants and their development.
Although guest speakers have been a part of our curriculum for several decades, in recent years we have adopted a system that allows us to maximize the benefit of these speakers for our students. We provide learning opportunities before, during, and after a seminar to enhance students' scientific comprehension. Our system begins with students reading peer-reviewed literature relevant to a future seminar. In class, students work cooperatively to answer guided questions about the article, which serves as a basis for a discussion of the article among the entire class. This preparation facilitates students' understanding, their engagement, and their awareness of effective presentation techniques. Finally, small-group discussions with the speaker can provide students knowledge about their curriculum, awareness of additional opportunities, and insight into the nature of science. Our system thus provides a series of learning opportunities that ensure student engagement with the material multiple times, resulting in a deeper understanding of scientific research and effective mechanisms to communicate it.