Modeling biological systems

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When we see the word “model” some of us get flashbacks to Styrofoam planets, papier-mâché volcanoes, or pretzel-stick log cabins. Their construction often was more of an arts-and-crafts exercise. But models in science can be more than representations of objects. As the editor notes, models “help us make predictions, understand complex systems, generate new ideas, and visualize both the very large and the very small. Examples include physical models, mathematical models, computer models, climate models, and model organisms such as laboratory mice and Drosophila fruit flies. The generation of models is the creative engine that drives scientific progress.” Several types of models are described in this month’s issue, and I’ve noted the SciLinks topics that would support the content or include additional activities.

As illustrated on the cover, Antigenic Shift and Drift has information about how modeling can help students understand the evolution of the influenza virus. Along with a basic primer on viruses, the article describes a 5E lesson in which students construct models of viruses to visualize how genetic reassortment (i.e., antigenic shift) occurs in the influenza virus. The author includes a list of materials used in the models as well as online materials. [SciLinks: Virus, Viral Diseases]

Modeling Natural Selection describes a unit that incorporates model-based inquiry and creating wikis to share student learning with a wider audience. (Edutopia recently had a article on the value of writing for an audience.) Because students may have misconceptions about natural selection, the unit begins with a pre-assessment. The links to the assessment are in the article. [SciLinks: Natural Selection]

The author of A Tale of Four Electrons shows that using creative writing can be an engaging way for students to demonstrate what they’ve learned about chemical bonding. Students are given basic concepts and key vocabulary to incorporate into an original story. The author provides a sample story line as a model or guide to help students get started. When it’s so easy for students to copy and paste information, this appears to be a way of encouraging originality and creativity. Writing in science does not have to be dry formulaic, as shown in the samples provided in the article. [SciLinks: Chemical Bonding, ElectronsElectron Configuration]

This month’s New Teacher’s Toolbox looks at Making the Most of “Lost Days”—how to take advantage of the days before holidays or time before starting a new unit. One suggestion could be to use engaging, multidisciplinary investigations such as the one described in One Fish, Two Fish, Redfish, You Fish! Although the authors refer to the three hands-on simulations as “games,” the teacher can guide the students through a focused discussion on the impact of recreational overfishing. The authors provide suggested procedures and data sheets. This activity could also be appropriate for younger students. [SciLinks: Overfishing] The videos and resources described in Electronic BeeSpace could also be integrated into various topics related to genetics, environmental science, or molecular biology. [SciLinks: Honeybees]

If you thought that case studies were only used in law school, the authors of Teaching Forward show that students’ critical thinking skills can be enhanced and reinforced with case studies on topics of interest (and they can also learn content). The source for the case studies is the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCST) at the University of Buffalo.

Another type of communication is described in Student Sustainability Conference. Student interact with community members and professionals in a school-based conference format  to discuss the ideas for promoting sustainability in the schools.  [SciLinks: Sustainability]

In the classroom, many teachers use a “model” of instruction. In the case of Flipping Your Classroom, the teachers still provide the same instructional strategies, but in a different order. Students watch or listen to presentations (e.g., vodcasts) outside of the class period. The teachers then have more in-class time for investigations, clarification, additional practice, or group activities. The teachers act as mentors while the students take on more responsibility for their learning.  Check out Bergman and Sam’s website or their social networking site  for more information and ideas (I’m going to search the program for sessions on this at the NSTA conference next month—I’ll be there.)

Don’t forget to look at the Connections for this issue (February 2011). Even if the article does not quite fit with your lesson agenda, this resource has ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, etc.

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One Comment

  1. MaryB
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    I just saw another example of a “backwards” class, similar to the “flipped” ones in this issue.

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