More Minds-on Activities for Teaching Biology
This website offers:
- multiple minds-on analysis and discussion activities for teaching biology to high school students (and also middle school students and students in college non-major biology courses)
- overviews of important biological topics, including major concepts, common misconceptions, and recommended learning activities to help students overcome common misconceptions and develop a genuine solid understanding of important biological concepts
- games for learning and review.
Our companion website (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_edu/waldron/) offers:
- multiple hands-on, minds on activities for teaching biology to high school and middle school students
The topics covered include biological molecules, cellular respiration and photosynthesis, cell structure and function, cell division, genetics, molecular biology, ecology and evolution and human health, biological concepts, and scientific method.
Many of these activities are explicitly aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, as indicated by (NGSS) in the descriptions below and described in Summary Tables and in the Teacher Notes for individual activities. These activities foster student understanding of Disciplinary Core Ideas, engage students in Scientific Practices, provide the opportunity to discuss Crosscutting Concepts, and prepare students to meet the Performance Expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards. In the months to come we will publish additional activities that are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. We encourage you to subscribe to our listserv to receive notices when we post new activities or significantly improved versions of current activities.
The Student Handouts for these minds-on analysis and discussion activities challenge students to actively develop their understanding of biological concepts and apply these concepts to the interpretation of scientific evidence and real-world situations. We provide Word files so you can easily modify the Student Handout to best meet the needs of your students. The Teacher Notes provide learning goals, suggestions for teaching the activity, relevant scientific background, and suggestions for introductory and follow-up activities.
Most of these activities are designed for use in high school biology courses, but some of them are designed for or could easily be adapted for use in a middle school classroom and others are appropriate for use in a college non-majors biology course. We encourage you to modify these activities to best meet the needs of your students, and we invite your feedback and comments.
Authors: Dr. Ingrid Waldron is Professor Emerita in the Biology Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Co-authors include Dr. Jennifer Doherty, who is a member of the instructional faculty in the Department of Biology, University of Washington, and Dr. Lori Spindler, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. They have developed these activities in collaboration with colleagues at Penn and middle school and high school teachers in the Philadelphia area.
Understanding the Functions of Proteins and DNA (revised 9/2014)
This overview provides a sequence of learning activities to help students understand that proteins and DNA are not just abstract concepts in biology textbooks, but rather crucial components of our bodies that affect functions and characteristics that students are familiar with. Students learn about how proteins contribute to the digestion of food and how different versions of a protein can result in a characteristic such as albinism, sickle cell anemia and hemophilia. Then, students learn about the relationship between the genetic information in DNA and the different versions of these proteins. The discussion, web-based, and hands-on learning activities presented are appropriate for an introductory unit on biological molecules or as an introduction to a unit on molecular biology. (NGSS)
This game reviews introductory chemistry, including organic compounds and chemical reactions.
Cellular Respiration and Photosynthesis – Important Concepts, Common Misconceptions, and Learning Activities (revised 6/2014)
This overview of energy, cellular respiration, and photosynthesis summarizes important concepts and common misconceptions and also suggests a sequence of learning activities designed to develop student understanding of these important concepts, overcome any misconceptions, and relate basic concepts to familiar topics such as food, body weight, and plant growth.
How Do Biological Organisms Use Energy? (revised 6/2014)
This analysis and discussion activity is designed to help students understand the basic principles of how biological organisms use energy, with a focus on the roles of ATP and cellular respiration. This activity provides a useful basic understanding of cellular respiration and provides an important conceptual framework for students who will be learning the complex specifics of cellular respiration. This activity concludes with a brief introduction to two important principles: conservation of energy and the inefficiency of energy transformations. (NGSS)
Using Models to Understand Photosynthesis (new 6/2014)
In this analysis and discussion activity, students develop their understanding of the basic process of photosynthesis and also analyze the advantages and disadvantages of different types of models of photosynthesis, including chemical equations, a chart and a diagram. In addition, students analyze how photosynthesis and cellular respiration work together to provide the ATP that plants need to carry out their molecular and cellular processes. (NGSS)
Cellular Respiration and Breathing (revised 5/2011)
The questions in this worksheet/discussion activity help students understand the relationship between cellular respiration, O2, CO2, and breathing.
Food, Energy and Body Weight (revised 6/2014)
This analysis and discussion activity reinforces student understanding of cellular respiration and helps students to understand the relationships between food, energy, physical activity, and changes in body weight. (NGSS)
Where Does a Plant’s Mass Come From? (revised 6/2014)
This analysis and discussion activity helps students to understand that a large part of a plant’s mass consists of water, most of the biomass comes from carbon dioxide, and minerals from the soil contribute only a tiny amount of the plant’s mass. This activity engages students in analyzing and interpreting data and arguing from evidence. (NGSS)
Plant Growth Puzzle (revised 6/2014)
This analysis and discussion activity presents a structured sequence of questions to challenge students to explain why a plant that sprouts and grows in the light weighs more than the seed it came from, whereas a plant that sprouts and grows in the dark weighs less than the seed it came from. (NGSS)
Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration (revised 3/2011)
Students use puzzle pieces representing the components of the equations for photosynthesis and aerobic cellular respiration and answer questions about these processes.
Cell Structure and Function – Major Concepts and Learning Activities (revised 7/2014)
This overview presents key concepts that students often do not learn from standard textbook presentations and suggests a sequence of learning activities to help students understand how the parts of a cell work together to accomplish the multiple functions of a dynamic living cell. Suggested activities also reinforce student understanding of the relationships between molecules, organelles and cells, the diversity of cell structure and function, and the importance and limitations of diffusion. This overview provides links to web resources, hands-on activities, and discussion activities.
Cells as Molecular Factories (revised 10/2011)
This analysis and discussion activity reviews how eukaryotic cells are molecular factories in two senses: cells produce molecules and cells are made up of molecules. The questions guide students to think about how the different parts of a eukaryotic cell cooperate to function as a protein-producing factory and as a recycling plant. Additional questions require students to identify the locations and functions of different types of molecules in eukaryotic cells.
Structure and Function of Molecules and Cells (revised 9/2014)
In this analysis and discussion activity, students learn how the function of molecules and cells is related to their structure (including shape, constituent components, and relationships between components). Students analyze multiple examples of the relationship between structure and function in diverse proteins and eukaryotic cells. In addition, students learn that cells are dynamic structures with constant activity, students learn about emergent properties, and students engage in argument from evidence to evaluate three alternative claims concerning the relationship between structure and function. (NGSS)
Structure and Function of Cells, Organs and Organ Systems (revised 9/2014)
In this analysis and discussion activity, students learn how the structure of cells, organs and organ systems is related to their functions. (Structure includes shape, constituent components, and relationships between components.) Students analyze multiple examples of the relationship between structure and function in diverse eukaryotic cells and in the digestive system. In addition, students learn that cells are dynamic structures with constant activity and they learn how body systems interact to accomplish important functions. (NGSS)
Diffusion and Cell Size and Shape (new 7/2011)
This analysis and discussion activity helps students understand that cell size is limited by the very slow rate of diffusion over any substantial distance and the insufficient surface-area-to-volume ratio for larger cells. In addition, students calculate why these problems do not apply to long slender cells or parts of cells (e.g. the axons of neurons that extend from your spinal cord to your foot).
Cell Vocabulary Review Game (new 7/2011)
This game helps students to enjoy reviewing vocabulary related to cells, organelles, and the plasma membrane. Each card in the deck has a target vocabulary word and two related taboo words that the student may not use as he/she gives clues so the other students in his/her small group can guess the target word. Many students have trouble learning the substantial new vocabulary required for biology, and this game lets students have fun while reinforcing their understanding of key terms.
Mitosis, Meiosis and Fertilization -- Major Concepts, Common Misconceptions and Learning Activities (revised 8/2012)
These teacher notes summarize important concepts concerning mitosis and meiosis and propose a sequence of learning activities that will help students understand and learn these concepts and progress beyond common misconceptions. Students also learn how understanding meiosis and fertilization provides the basis for understanding how inheritance occurs. Links to suggested activities are provided, including a hands-on simulation of mitosis, meiosis and fertilization, a card sort activity, a discussion activity about the effects of mistakes in meiosis, and a vocabulary review game. (NGSS)
How Mistakes in Cell Division Can Result in Down Syndrome and Miscarriages (new 8/2012)
This analysis and discussion 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.
Mitosis and Meiosis Card Sort Activity
This activity is designed to help students review the processes of mitosis and meiosis and to ensure that students understand how chromosomes move during mitosis vs. meiosis. Students arrange the cards from a shuffled deck of the stages of mitosis and meiosis in the sequence of steps that occur during cell division by mitosis and another sequence of steps that occur during cell division by meiosis.
Mitosis, Meiosis and Fertilization Vocabulary Review Game
This game helps students to enjoy reviewing vocabulary related to mitosis, meiosis and fertilization. Each card in the deck has a target vocabulary word and two related taboo words that the student may not use as he/she gives clues so the other students in his/her small group can guess the target word. Many students have trouble learning the substantial new vocabulary required for biology, and this game lets students have fun while reinforcing their understanding of key terms.
Genetics – Major Concepts and Learning Activities (revised 11/2013)
This overview summarizes important genetic concepts and provides links to suggested learning activities. Part I provides an outline of key concepts needed to understand how genes are transmitted from parents to offspring and how genes influence phenotypic characteristics. Part II recommends learning activities to develop student understanding of these key concepts. (NGSS)
Soap Opera Genetics - Genetics to Resolve Family Arguments (revised 12/2013)
This analysis and discussion activity contains four "soap opera" episodes that can be used to reinforce understanding of principles of genetics and the relevance of genetics to everyday life. Concepts covered include Punnett squares, co-dominance, incomplete dominance, sex-linked inheritance, test cross, polygenic inheritance, and the interacting effects of genes and the environment on phenotypic characteristics. Each section can be used separately or with other sections, depending on your teaching goals. (NGSS)
This Genetic Condition Was Not Inherited
This analysis and discussion activity guides students in thinking about how genetic conditions that are not inherited can result from a new mutation or meiotic nondisjunction. This activity also addresses the reasons for the rarity of inherited lethal dominant alleles. (NGSS)
Should states repeal their laws banning first cousin marriage? – Effects of first cousin marriage on health risks for their children (revised 8/2012)
This minds-on analysis and discussion activity challenges students to analyze which types of genetic conditions will be more common among children of first cousin marriage and to use evidence concerning the magnitude of observed health effects to evaluate whether laws banning first cousin marriage in 25 states should be repealed.
Genetics Web Search Activity
This web search activity provides instructions and recommended sources to investigate genetic conditions and diseases.
Genetics Vocabulary Review Game
This game helps students to enjoy reviewing vocabulary related to genetics. Each card in the deck has a target vocabulary word and two related taboo words that the student may not use as he/she gives clues so the other students in his/her small group can guess the target word. Many students have trouble learning the substantial new vocabulary required for biology, and this game lets students have fun while reinforcing their understanding of key terms.
Genetics Review Jeopardy Game
This game reviews genetics, with 25 questions of varying levels of difficulty.
Molecular Biology: Major Concepts and Learning Activities (revised 2/2014)
This overview reviews key concepts and learning activities to help students understand how genes influence our traits by molecular processes. Topics covered include basic understanding of the important roles of proteins and DNA; DNA structure, function and replication; the molecular biology of how genes influence traits, including transcription and translation; the molecular biology of mutations; and genetic engineering. To help students understand the relevance of these molecular processes, the suggested learning activities link alleles of specific genes to human characteristics such as albinism, sickle cell anemia and muscular dystrophy. Suggested activities include hands-on laboratory and simulation activities, web-based simulations, discussion activities and a vocabulary review game. (NGSS)
DNA Structure, Function and Replication (revised 7/2014)
This analysis and discussion activity can be used to introduce your students to key concepts about DNA structure, function and replication or to review these topics. This activity includes hands-on modeling of DNA replication. (NGSS)
From Gene to Polypeptide -- The Roles of the Base-Pairing Rules and the Genetic Code (new 10/2011)
The questions in this analysis and discussion activity reinforce student understanding of the information flow from a gene to a polypeptide, with an emphasis on understanding the roles of the base-pairing rules and the genetic code chart.
The Molecular Biology of Mutations and Muscular Dystrophy (new 10/2011)
In this analysis and discussion activity students explore the effects of different types of point mutations and deletion mutations and analyze the reasons why deletion mutations generally have more severe effects than point mutations. Students use their understanding of the molecular biology of mutations to analyze the genetic basis for the differences in severity of two types of muscular dystrophy. (NGSS)
Molecular Biology Vocabulary Review Game (new 10/2011)
This game helps students to enjoy reviewing vocabulary related to DNA and RNA structure and function, transcription and translation.
Genetic Engineering Challenge – How can scientists develop a type of rice that could prevent vitamin A deficiency? (new 2/2014)
This analysis and discussion 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. (NGSS)
Golden Rice – Evaluating the Pros and Cons (new 2/2014)
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.
Population Growth – Exponential and Logistic Models vs. Complex Reality (revised 4/2014)
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. (NGSS)
Resources for Teaching and Learning about Evolution (revised 8/2013)
This annotated compilation of some of the best resources for teaching and learning about evolution includes activities, videos and articles. The first section provides general and introductory resources, and the second section provides resources for understanding and analyzing the evidence.
How could complex eyes have evolved? (new 8/2013)
This analysis and 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. (NGSS)
Evolution and Adaptations (new 8/2013)
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. (NGSS)
In these activities, as students learn about health-related topics, they also review and apply important aspects of basic biology (e.g. physiology, molecular, cellular and evolutionary biology in the sports drink, cancer and HIV activities). These health activities also engage students in important scientific practices, as recommended by A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13165 ).
Using Molecular and Evolutionary Biology to Understand HIV/AIDS and Treatment (new 8/2012)
This analysis and discussion 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. (NGSS)
Understanding the Biology of Cancer (revised 7/2014)
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. (NGSS)
Carbohydrate Consumption, Athletic Performance and Health – Using Science Process Skills to Understand the Evidence (new 11/2012)
This analysis and discussion 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.
Vitamins and Health – Why Experts Disagree (new 11/2012)
In this analysis and discussion 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).
Should You Drink Sports Drinks? When? Why? (revised 9/2013)
The questions in this activity help students to understand the effects of consuming sports drinks and when and how the consumption of sports drinks can be beneficial or harmful. This activity provides the opportunity to review some basic concepts related to osmosis, cellular respiration, mammalian temperature regulation, and how our different body systems cooperate to maintain homeostasis.
Sexual Health and Reproduction
This activity provides questions and Web sites to guide student investigation of birth control methods, fetal development, risks of alcohol and smoking during pregnancy, changes during puberty, and HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Get the Lead Out
This board game reinforces learning about the sources and biological hazards of lead exposure.
If you have any comments or would like additional information, please contact Ingrid Waldron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright, 2014 by Dr. Ingrid Waldron, Dr. Jennifer Doherty, and Dr. Lori Spindler, Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania
Teachers are encouraged to copy and modify these activities for use in their teaching.