activities for teaching biology

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

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.

Carbohydrate Consumption, Athletic Performance and Health – Using Science Process Skills to Understand the Evidence

This discussion/worksheet activity is designed to develop students' understanding of the scientific process by having them design an experiment to test a hypothesis, compare their experimental design with the design of a research study that tested the same hypothesis, evaluate research evidence concerning two hypothesized effects of carbohydrate consumption, evaluate the pros and cons of experimental vs. observational research studies, and finally use what they have learned to revise a standard diagram of the scientific method to make it more accurate, complete and realistic.

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

Understanding the Biology of Cancer

This analysis and discussion activity introduces students to the molecular and cellular biology of cancer, including the important contributions of mutations in genes that code for proteins involved in regulating the rate of cell division. The questions in this activity challenge students to interpret the information presented in prose, tables and diagrams and apply their knowledge of basic molecular and cellular biology in order to understand multiple aspects of the biology of cancer, including the contributions of a variety of environmental exposures to increased risk for different types of cancer and the long lag between exposure to carcinogens and the diagnosis of cancer.

The first attached file provides the Student Handout and the second attached file provides the Teacher Notes. The Teacher Notes provide background information and instructional suggestions and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

Using Molecular and Evolutionary Biology to Understand HIV/AIDS and Treatment

This discussion/worksheet activity introduces students to the biology of HIV infection and treatment, including the molecular biology of the HIV virus lifecycle and the importance of understanding molecular biology and natural selection for developing effective treatments. The questions in this activity challenge students to apply their understanding of basic molecular and cellular biology and natural selection and interpret the information presented in prose and diagrams in order to understand multiple aspects of the biology of HIV/AIDS and treatment.

The first attached file provides the Student Handout and the second attached file provides the Teacher Notes. The Teacher Notes provide background information and instructional suggestions and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

How Mistakes in Cell Division Can Result in Down Syndrome and Miscarriages

This discussion/worksheet activity reinforces student understanding of the process of meiosis and the importance of having exactly the right number of copies of each chromosome in our body's cells. This activity also helps students to understand that miscarriages are often the result of genetic abnormalities and that genetic conditions sometimes are not inherited (e.g. Down syndrome due to meiotic nondisjunction). Optional additional questions can be used to promote student understanding of sex chromosome abnormalities and X chromosome inactivation. 

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

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