activities for teaching biology

Genetic Engineering Challenge – How can scientists develop a type of rice that could prevent vitamin A deficiency?

This activity begins with an introduction to vitamin A deficiency, rice seeds, and genetic engineering. Next, several questions challenge students to design a basic plan that could produce a genetically engineered rice plant that makes rice grains that contain pro-vitamin A. Subsequent information and questions guide students in developing an understanding of the basic techniques of genetic engineering. Students use fundamental molecular biology concepts as they think about how to solve a practical problem. This activity can be used to introduce students to genetic engineering or to reinforce basic understanding of genetic engineering. 

The attached files have the Student Handout and Teacher Notes.

Golden Rice – Evaluating the Pros and Cons

This activity engages students in evaluating the evidence and arguments related to Golden Rice and other possible strategies for preventing vitamin A deficiency. Students use this information to develop evidence-based conclusions about Golden Rice and the prevention of vitamin A deficiency. Students also develop questions that could provide important additional information for evaluating the arguments in favor of and opposed to Golden Rice and related policy proposals. In addition, students analyze how two reasonably accurate articles can present totally opposing points of view on this complex policy issue.

The attached files have the Student Handout and Teacher Notes. 

Understanding Osmosis

The three parts of this activity can be used as a coordinated sequence to develop student understanding of osmosis or you can use each part separately (provided your students have the needed background specified for each section below). "Introduction to Osmosis" presents a series of questions that guide students in understanding the basic process of osmosis and relevant vocabulary. "Demonstration of Osmosis Using Chicken Eggs" can be used as a classroom demonstration or a hands-on student activity, with questions to guide students in understanding the changes in volume and appearance of the eggs. "Challenge Questions" presents questions which challenge students to apply their understanding of osmosis to interpret phenomena observed in halophilic archaea, freshwater plants, and humans.

The Student Handout is provided in the first attached file and the Teacher Notes are provided in the second attached file.

How could complex eyes have evolved?

This discussion activity introduces students to evidence from comparative anatomy, mathematical modeling, and DNA analysis. This evidence suggests a sequence of steps that appear to have contributed to the evolution of the human eye. Questions in the Student Handout guide students in analyzing this evidence, evaluating whether the similarities between human and octopus eyes are due to convergent evolution and/or common descent with modification, and understanding the role of gene duplication in evolution. This activity is designed to help high school students meet the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards.

The first attached file has the Student Handout and the second attached file has the Teacher Notes.



Evolution and Adaptations

In common experience, the term "adapting" usually refers to changes during an organism's lifetime. In contrast, evolutionary biologists use the term "adaptation" to refer to a heritable trait that increases fitness. To help students reconcile these different concepts, this activity introduces the concept of phenotypic plasticity (the ability of an organism to adapt to different environments within its lifetime). Questions guide students in analyzing how the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of a characteristic (e.g. an animal’s color) can vary in different circumstances, how phenotypic plasticity can be a heritable trait that can optimize fitness in a variable environment, and how natural selection can influence the amount of phenotypic plasticity in a population. This activity is designed to help high school students meet the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards.

The first attached file has the Student Handout and the second attached file has the Teacher Notes.


Population Growth – Exponential and Logistic Models vs. Complex Reality

This analysis and discussion activity is designed to help students develop a solid understanding of the exponential and logistic models of population growth, including the biological processes that result in exponential or logistic population growth. Students learn about the simplifying assumptions built into the exponential and logistic models and explore how deviations from these assumptions can result in discrepancies between the predictions of these models and the actual trends in population size for natural populations. This activity is designed to help students meet the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards.

The first two attached files have the version of the Student Handout that engages students in understanding the mathematical formulae for the exponential and logistic models of population growth, as well as evaluating the relative advantages of graphs and mathematical formulae as models of population growth (first file is a Word document and second file is a PDF). The third attached file has the version of the Student Handout that omits the mathematical formulae. The fourth attached file has the Teacher Notes for this activity.

Resources for Teaching and Learning about Evolution

This annotated compilation of some of the best resources for teaching and learning about evolution includes activities, videos and articles. In the attached file, the first section provides general and introductory resources and the second section provides resources for understanding and analyzing the evidence.

The attached file has brief descriptions of the resources with links.


Resources for Teaching and Learning about Evolution

This annotated compilation of some of the best resources for teaching and learning about evolution includes activities, videos and articles. In the attached file, the first section provides general and introductory resources and the second section provides resources for understanding and analyzing the evidence.

The attached file has brief descriptions of the resources with links.


A Scientific Investigation – What types of food contain starch and protein?

Students learn about scientific investigation by carrying out key components of the scientific method, including developing experimental methods, generating hypotheses, designing and carrying out experiments to test these hypotheses and, if appropriate, using experimental results to revise the hypotheses. Students design and carry out two experiments that test whether starch and protein are found in some or all foods derived from animals or plants or both. 

Download Student Handout: PDF format or Word format

Download Teacher Preparation Notes:PDF format or Word format

We invite comments on this hands-on activity, including suggestions for other teachers who are planning to use the activity and any questions you have. If you would prefer to send your comments or questions in a private message, please write Ingrid Waldron at iwaldron@sas.upenn.edu 

Vitamins and Health – Why Experts Disagree

In this discussion/worksheet activity, research concerning the health effects of vitamin E is used as a case study to help students understand why different research studies may find seemingly opposite results. Students learn useful approaches for evaluating and synthesizing conflicting research results, with a major focus on understanding the strengths and weaknesses of different types of studies (laboratory experiments, observational studies, and clinical trials). Students also learn that the results of any single study should be interpreted with caution, since results of similar studies vary (due to random variation and differences in specific study characteristics).

The Student Handout is provided in the first attached file and the Teacher Notes are provided in the second attached file.

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