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Authentic, “messy data” contain variability that comes from many sources, such as natural variation in nature, chance occurrences during research, and human error. It is this messiness that both deters potential users of authentic data and gives data the power to create unique learning opportunities that reveal the nature of science itself. While the value of bringing contemporary research and messy data into the classroom is recognized, implementation can seem overwhelming. We discuss the importance of frequent interactions with messy data throughout K–16 science education as a mechanism for students to engage in the practices of science, such as visualizing, analyzing, and interpreting data. Next, we describe strategies to help facilitate the use of messy data in the classroom while building complexity over time. Finally, we outline one potential sequence of activities, with specific examples, to highlight how various activity types can be used to scaffold students' interactions with messy data.
Problem-based learning via virtual exchange affords opportunities for students to learn biology while developing abilities to learn about and work with diverse others. We describe an activity using these methods, with goals for students to develop useful cell structure analogies, analyze how analogies are not perfect representations of target concepts, practice working with diverse others, deepen cell structure knowledge, and learn about people from another culture. We explain the framework for the activity and share student evaluation data. The activity had U.S. and Egyptian high school girls compare their Phoenix and Cairo homes, create an imagined combined home, construct an analogy for how cell structures and organelles are like parts of this home, and then analyze their analogy to see where it breaks down. The activity does not require special materials, only internet access through a computer or mobile phone and access to Google Docs. Students used critical and creative thinking, first to construct their analogies and then to analyze those analogies. Evaluation data suggest that students learned from the activity, enjoyed it, and appreciated the opportunity to work with someone from a different culture.
There have been multiple national calls for curricular reform in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), including a need to instill democratic skills in students. Democratic skill building can be embedded in STEM classrooms through intentional “deliberative pedagogies” that include communication, collaboration, and application of information. We developed and implemented a deliberative pedagogy, Deliberative Democracy (DD), for introductory majors and nonmajors undergraduate biology courses and took a longitudinal, qualitative research approach to understand students' experiences and perceptions of DD. We asked students to respond to open-ended survey questions regarding DD at two time points and conducted semi-structured follow-up interviews. All data were iteratively open-coded using content analysis. Students' perceptions of DD were lasting and generally positive, including self-reported themes related to DD promoting their awareness of the “real-world applications of science,” and increased “scientific literacy.” Negative perceptions of DD were largely related to issues with “group dynamics.” We detected differences between majors' and nonmajors' perceptions of DD, including in regard to scientific literacy and class time use. DD is a replicable pedagogy that can assist in instilling democratic skills in biology students.
Although research and new technologies have introduced different ways of observing microorganisms, including scanning and electron microscopy, these methods are expensive and require equipment that is typically not found in a middle school classroom. The transmission-through-dye technique (TTD; Gregg et al., 2010), a new optical microscopy method that can be used with current basic light microscopes, relies on the fairly simple mechanism of filtered light passing through a dyed medium to produce an image that reflects cell thickness. With this technique, living microorganisms look bright red against a dark background, and movement can be seen easily among dead microorganisms and debris that show up black. Since the technique is low-cost and easy to implement, it addresses the needs of practitioners and is appropriate for a wide array of school contexts. We describe a three-week, hands-on, inquiry-based unit on TTD microscopy for middle and high school students.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colorless, odorless gas that makes up a small fraction of Earth's atmosphere. Despite its inconspicuous nature, CO2 plays an integral part in sustaining life on Earth, a part that is largely unknown or underappreciated by the general public. We present a set of activities designed to help students overcome the most common misunderstandings about CO2, from its sheer existence as a mass-containing molecule to its complementary roles in photosynthesis and respiration. Through these activities, students will be able to apply their knowledge to real-world phenomena, including weight loss and global warming.
Microplastic pollution is an environmental threat with substantial effects on ecosystems. Persistence and ubiquity are the central causes of the problems microplastics generate, especially throughout water-based food webs. To limit microplastic pollution, accountability of individuals is needed, which requires reliable information for an individual to act accordingly. Knowledge about sources, contamination, fate, and effects of microplastic in the environment may be an essential element in enhancing students' motivation and sense of responsibility. Our module “Plastic Detectives – The Search for Plastic” offers consciousness-raising tasks that involve students in hands-on learning activities. Within student-centered activities, different tasks on sources in everyday life, sinks in aquatic ecosystems, effects on marine animals, and prevention strategies for microplastics are in focus. With an appropriate overview, students may be sufficiently enabled to ponder their purchase decisions and potentially limit microplastic pollution in everyday life.
We share a STEM activity designed to integrate biology and mathematics through technology. The proposed activity was completed in two class hours (80 minutes), during which middle school students worked with LabQuest and Vernier probeware to collect data and Geogebra to graph and study data. The activity was designed to foster understanding of photosynthesis and linear relationships. With this activity we were able to effectively integrate both mathematics and biology concepts through technology and propose multiple learning modes for students through real-world context.
“Hands-on inquiry” has become a buzzword in science education but does not have an exact definition for most practitioners. This leads to many different ideas of what inquiry should look like in the classroom, and researchers have discovered that just doing hands-on activities does not lead to deeper understanding. This is why it is important to incorporate the scientific practices of the Next Generation Science Standards into activities in the classroom, particularly designing an investigation and analyzing data. A new twist on a classic high school biology lab demonstrates how students can design and analyze their scientific investigation to draw conclusions and apply their new understanding to the human body. This activity also demonstrates how teachers can incorporate instructional material into an inquiry activity, since time constraints are a particular concern in the high school classroom.
Engaging undergraduates in the mechanisms of post-translational modifications lies at the heart of molecular and cell biology education. An important challenge for science educators is developing inclusive and equitable approaches and hands-on demonstrations to clarify post-translational modification mechanisms, such as the protein-splicing mechanism called split inteins. Here, we describe step-by-step assembly of recycled materials to help clarify the molecular action of split inteins in inclusive classroom teaching settings.
A challenge for introductory students in conservation biology is to understand how different environmental and human factors – in particular, density-dependent and density-independent factors – can interact to increase extinction risk in species. To enhance students' processing of sometimes dry and challenging material, we use a kinetic exercise in which students become an endangered animal, move around their environment, and act out a series of scenarios that highlight how species can be driven down a path toward extinction.