Hands-on Activities for Teaching Biology to High School and Middle School Students

 The expression "hands-on, minds-on" summarizes the philosophy we have incorporated in these activities -- namely, that students will learn best if they are actively engaged and if their activities are closely linked to understanding important biological concepts. For example, it is helpful to use hands-on models to engage student interest and foster multiple modality learning, but it is crucial to closely link the modeling activity to student understanding of the actual biological processes. 

Some of our activities are explicitly aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, as indicated by (NGSS) in the descriptions and described in the Teacher Preparation Notes for these activities.

We encourage you to use our Word files to modify the Student Handouts to optimize learning for your students. For example, you may want to incorporate some of the suggestions from the Teacher Preparation Notes. The Teacher Preparation Notes for each activity provide learning goals, recommended prior knowledge, suggestions for implementation including supplies needed, relevant biological information, and suggestions for follow-up or related activities. To accommodate limited budgets, most of our activities can be carried out with minimum equipment and expense for supplies.

Our activities cover a broad range of biological topics. They are listed in one possible effective sequence for learning biology. The introductory activities help students to learn about the characteristics of life, metabolism, organic compounds, diffusion and osmosis, and experimental method. The mitosis, meiosis and fertilization activity is closely linked to the basic genetics activity, since understanding of the behavior of chromosomes during meiosis and fertilization provides the basis for understanding genetics. Three additional genetics activities provide options for more in-depth learning concerning genetics. The two molecular biology activities can be used in sequence to teach students about the structure and function of DNA and RNA, including how the genes in DNA provide the instructions for making proteins. The topics for the next group of activities include evolution by natural selection, exponential growth of populations, and introductions to plant and invertebrate diversity. The last group of activities is concerned with several aspects of human physiology, and the heart rate activity provides another opportunity to reinforce student understanding of scientific method.

We often revise our activities to improve student learning, based on our teaching experience and suggestions from the middle school and high school teachers we work with and other users of this website. If an activity is new or has been significantly improved within the last few years, the name of the activity is followed by the date of the current version. We encourage you to subscribe to our listserv to receive notices when we post new activities or significantly improved versions of current activities. 

We invite you to use the Comments link below for general comments or the comments links for each activity to add your suggestions, questions or comments. If you prefer, you can send a private message to iwaldron@sas.upenn.edu.

Ingrid Waldron is Professor Emerita in the Biology Department at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jennifer Doherty is a member of the instructional faculty in the Department of Biology, University of Washington. They have developed hands-on, minds-on biology activities for grades 6-12 in collaboration with colleagues at Penn and K-12 teachers. 

We are grateful to Craig Douglas for his generous help with graphics. 

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