Tag Archives: biology

Teaching science as religion

22 Jan

How do you teach science?

Most science teachers ideally incorporate projects, research, and inquiry into the curriculum.  Honestly, to what extent do we do that?  We spend a lot of time also teaching the history of science and performing traditional “cookie-cutter” labs.  We tell our students what the currently accepted theories are and then we test them over it, expecting them to have all of the “facts” memorized.  And, if you’re in the public school system, you hardly have time for inquiry and what-not since you are essentially forced to teach to a standardized test.

So (brace yourself), how is this fundamentally any different than teaching religion?

In many circles those two words, science and religion, don’t get along so well (which in my opinion is silly, as the two are not mutually exclusive, but that’s a topic for another time).  The last thing many science teachers want to hear is that they are, in fact, teaching religion. 

If we don’t make the students actually PERFORM science though, how is it truly different?  Telling the kiddos that Mendel mated pea plants and found a 9:3:3:1 ratio when he crossed parent plants that were heterozygous for two traits…teaching that the world came into existence as a result of the big bang…teaching that there is a teeny tiny organelle called a mitochondrion in your cells that basically helps you produce energy…these are all explanations that can be memorized.  Very little of it is usually taught in such a way that the students come to this idea on their own. 

And, taking this idea one step further, if this is how we teach science, is it any wonder that some students choose NOT to accept the currently accepted theories of evolution and the big bang?  We often present it as memorizable facts–just like their parents and pastors do for creationism.

Bottom line: we need more project based learning, research, and inquiry in science classes.  Make the students think, make them hypothesize, make them research, make them collaborate.  Make them DO science.

Science education’s great loss

6 Jan

Recently the science education world, and more specifically the world of biology teachers, lost a great colleague, Kim Foglia.  Ms. Foglia was an extremely generous and well-known AP Biology teacher who shared everything online (ExploreBiology) with other science teachers, many of whom she probably never even met.  Many biology teachers around the world were, and are, incredibly grateful for the help and support she provided other teachers by sharing her ideas and lessons.  Many of us are probably better teachers in many ways because of her.  She will be missed.

Starting the new year off with a bang…

4 Jan

Literally, we’re talking about banging in class.  Well, more specifically, meiosis.  (Get it?  Meiosis?  Sexual reproduction?  Banging?  Yeah, lame, I know.) 

In my experience, students seem to have a difficult time keeping the ideas of chromatin, chromatids, chromosomes, homologous chromosomes, etc, straight.  Anyone have any ideas or tips for addressing these issues?



DNA and Enigma

28 Nov

Those of you who happen to be World War II buffs probably know a lot about the enigma machine.  This machine was used before and during WWII by the Germans to encrypt and decrypt secret messages.  In the 1930s, Polish cipher experts began working on breaking these codes and passed the information to the British before WWII began.  enigma machine

There is a neat website you can use with your students called “Enigma and the Code Breakers“.  Here there are pictures of the machine, a description of how it worked, and more.  REALLY interesting stuff. 

There is also a site with an Enigma simulator (make sure your Java is working properly) that you can have your students go to, type in a message, and then see how it would be encoded.  Neat!

So, what does this have to do with science, and more specifically, DNA? 

I used these sites this year at the start of our DNA unit to demonstrate what it means for something to be encoded, what a code is, what decoding means, etc.  I used it in conjunction with this BBC “Decoding Humanity” site and had the students compare how both enigma and DNA are codes. 

I imagine you could probably use this type of information in conjunction with a history teacher at your school to create some sort of neat cross-curricular unit. 


Quick and easy way to demonstrate basic DNA structure

27 Nov

Here’s  a quick and easy way to get your students out of their desks for just a few minutes and demonstrate DNA structure at the same time.  It will also take very little preparation time on the part of the teacher, too (always a bonus).  This should be done after discussing the basics about DNA:

  • It’s a nucleic acid.
  • It’s made of monomers called nucleotides.
  • Each nucleotide in DNA has 3 parts–a 5 carbon sugar, a phosphate group, and a nitrogenous base.


Give about half of your students a nitrogenous base.  You can either write the letters A, T, C, G on notecards and tell the students the base-pairing rules, or you can get more elaborate and create complementary shapes for A and T, and C and G and have them figure it out.

Line up these students with bases and tell them to place the base in their left hand and hold it out to the side.  They must then put their right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them.  Their bodies represent the 5 carbon sugar (deoxyribose) and their right hand stretching out represents the bond holding the backbone of the molecule together. 

Next, tell your other students to grab a base and line up next to the others to create the complementary strand.  They will automatically try to put the bases in their right hand and stand facing the same direction as the original line of students.  Say, “No, remember, the bases should be in your LEFT hand.”  After a puzzled moment, they’ll figure out that they have to face the opposite direction to make this work, and then you can tell them that they’ve just demonstrated one of DNA’s most important properties–the strands are anti-parallel.  🙂

Science of Everyday Life

26 Nov

All teachers have heard students ask, “Why do we have to learn this?”  or “How are we ever going to use this?” or “What does this have to do with anything?”

3M (known for Post-Its) and Discovery Education have partnered to create the website Science of Everyday Life.  On this website, one will find resources for students and teachers in regards to…well, science in everyday life (good name for the site, then, huh?).  The following quote sums it up:

Aligned to national standards, these exciting inquiry-based lessons address key areas of life science, physical science, earth science, and technology/innovation using common materials you can find in your classroom. Help students make real world connections to science and ignite the spark that may eventually lead students to a scientific career!

Here is an example of a lesson from the site–

“Cushion It”: Collisions are a part of everyday life. Some are wanted (baseball and bat), some are unwanted (car crash), while others are unavoidable (stubbing one’s toe). There is a great deal of basic science involved with collisions and in this lesson.

Cool stuff for making science relevant.  Go check it out.

Dramatic DNA!

15 Nov

Most high school biology textbooks contain a brief description of the history of DNA research.  Stduents read a little bit about Francis Crick, James Watson, Maurice Wilkins, and sometimes Rosalind Franklin as well.  Dramatize this for your students by showing clips from the film “Life Story”, starring Jeff Goldblum:

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