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Biodiversity Show and Tell: An Accessible Activity to Encourage Students to Explore the Tree of Life

An appreciation of organismal diversity is a requirement for understanding evolution and ecology, and can serve as a source of amazement and wonder that inspires students to enjoy biology. However, biodiversity can be a challenging subject to teach: it often turns into a procession of facts to memorize and a disorienting list of Latin names. To help engage students in this topic, we developed an activity in which each student contributes to a class "biodiversity tour" of strange and intriguing species. Students in our large-enrollment introductory biology course use the Internet to find a species that interests them and that they think will interest their peers. They research their species and complete a worksheet to report their findings. Then they meet in discussion sections of ~32 students (in person or online) where each student gives a brief presentation about their species using a slide they have prepared, producing a lively, crowd-sourced, rapid-fire nature documentary. The performance for their peers motivates students to find the strangest species possible. Students overwhelmingly reported that this activity taught them something new about life on Earth and increased their interest in our planet's species. Many students also reported that this activity caused them to talk to someone about biology outside of the class and increased their personal connection to the natural world, suggesting that it helped them see the relevance of biology to their everyday lives. This simple activity can enrich an introductory biology course of almost any size.

Primary image: Photos of some of the species chosen by students in Fall 2019.

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Phenotypic plasticity and predation

Students predict changes to tadpole morphology and coloration after considering characteristics of the predator species and the prey themselves then test their own hypotheses (typically with t-tests or ANOVA) by collecting novel data via image...

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Debating Conservation: Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Introductory Biology Classes

Role-playing activities in the classroom promote students’ critical thinking, research, and communication skills. We present an activity where students debate a current controversy in conservation. In our case study, students debate the topic of wolf reintroduction in California. Each student is assigned a stakeholder role (e.g., rancher, environmental scientist, hunter, or politician) and a position (either pro or con). First, the whole class participates in a vote on the debate topic so as to register pre-debate sentiment. Then, in the first part of the activity (75 minutes or as homework), students prepare arguments with others representing their stakeholder group by reading the primary and secondary literature and answering guided questions. In the second part of the activity (75 minutes), students participate in a live debate divided into three sections: introductory arguments, questions from the jury, and concluding arguments. The whole class then votes again to decide the winner of the debate, leading to a discussion about which factors do and do not lead to changes in understanding and opinion. The interdisciplinary nature of this activity reinforces student knowledge on ecological networks, keystone species, and natural history, as well as introduces the importance of non-scientific stakeholders in conservation. While this case study focuses on the reintroduction of wolves in California, the activity can be adapted to the reintroduction of controversial species in other regions, or used as a framework for any debatable topic in conservation biology.

Primary Image: The reintroduction of the gray wolf Canis lupus is a controversial topic in conservation biology and environmental policy.

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Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Conservation

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is based on deep understanding of systems from observations made over hundreds to thousands of years. This resource connects TEK to modern conservation through media and primary literature interpretation.

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Helping Students to Metacognitively Read Scientific Literature With Talking to the Text

Metacognitive approach to improving students ability to read complex science articles.

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Microbiology Data Problems 2023

This project focuses on the use of data analysis problems to introduce students to specific topics in microbiology and to give them practice in the interpretation of figures and tables of data. Each problem is based on a single journal article and includes five to eight multiple-choice questions.

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Quantifying Bacterial Growth in the Guts and Hemolymph of Fruit Flies: Mathematical Modeling and Data Interpolation/Extrapolation

In this activity, students will analyze raw data obtained from an experiment that explores the effect of overexpressing the Ssk protein in order to strengthen the intestinal barrier and prevent bacteria from leaking out of the gut and into the hemolymph, which is the fruit fly equivalent to blood in the circulatory system. Using Excel, students will fit an exponential function to the few known data points and will then interpolate the missing data points and extrapolate a few future data points. They will also learn how they can fit a linear model by transforming the data (applying the logarithmic function) and use that model to estimate the missing data points. This activity involves both statistical analysis and mathematical modeling as well as displaying the usefulness of mathematical models for biological data analysis.

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Some Figures of the Day for Microbiology

Students use their number sense to make observations and come up with reasonable guesses or explanations for the patterns shown. These are some specifically for microbiology.

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GBIF Tutorial - BLUE Resource

A user guide and video instructions for GBIF

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Tom J Devitt onto Biodiversity

Practical Ideas

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Building Biodiversity Datasets

A module guiding students through the process of building a biodiversity dataset using field data and protocols derived for a study of the invasive aquatic plant species, European frog-bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae L.). 

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Life Is Just a Game: An Active Learning Activity to Teach Life History Evolution

A novel activity was designed to introduce students to the concepts of natural selection and life history using an active-learning, constructivist format. It consisted of two parts: 1) a brief introduction to the basic mechanism of natural selection, and 2) a game that introduces life-history strategies. The activity was designed for use in the college classroom. It was shown to be an effective means of fostering a deep and transferrable conceptual understanding of the principles of natural selection specifically through the lens of life-history strategies. The activity is available in the supporting materials. It takes approximately one 50-minute period to complete.

Primary Image: Student Performing Life History Activity, a picture of a student filling out the life history game component of this activity.

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Life Is Just a Game: An Active Learning Activity to Teach Life History Evolution

A novel activity was designed to introduce students to the concepts of natural selection and life history using an active-learning, constructivist format. It consisted of two parts: 1) a brief introduction to the basic mechanism of natural selection, and 2) a game that introduces life-history strategies. The activity was designed for use in the college classroom. It was shown to be an effective means of fostering a deep and transferrable conceptual understanding of the principles of natural selection specifically through the lens of life-history strategies. The activity is available in the supporting materials. It takes approximately one 50-minute period to complete.

Primary Image: Student Performing Life History Activity, a picture of a student filling out the life history game component of this activity.

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Investigating the effects of urbanization on bird biodiversity: Testing three biodiversity hypotheses using citizen science data

Students generate predictions and test three hypotheses about how biodiversity is affected by urbanization over time using citizen science generated bird count data and land use data from 13 locations in Florida over a 10 year time span

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Student-Led Research; Integrating Citizen Science & Field Methodology in the Ecology Classroom

Targeting undergraduate students in lower-division ecology courses, this module guides students through authentic research. The purpose of this project is to provide hands-on research experience to enhance students' skills and confidence in the field of ecology. Within the module, students conduct a research project that allows them to: (1) explore recent studies in urban ecology, introducing the ecological research tools of camera traps and citizen science; (2) gain experience as a citizen scientist, generating data for different projects in Zooniverse; (3) write a hypothesis based on two possible research questions; and (4) analyze and test their hypothesis. The two possible research questions are: How do species’ diel activity patterns differ between land cover types (e.g., forest vs. anthropogenic)? How do diel activity patterns differ between/among species? Data for analysis is obtained through Snapshot USA. Through the module, students obtain skills in constructively reading and evaluating research papers, constructing testable hypotheses and predictions, using Excel to calculate Chi-Square and P-Values, interpreting statistical evidence, and presenting research findings.

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Bird Beak Adaptations

Students will navigate through different stations experiencing simulations of adaptations, manipulations of 3D examples, and making connections to the standards to formulate hypotheses about certain adaptations and how they manifest in the morphology.

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Biodiversity Counts! Making sense of diversity metrics and graphs

In this lesson students 1) become familiar with various graphs that are used to study diversity patterns within and across sites, 2) learn about some of the questions that can be addressed by metabarcoding studies, and 3) reflect on an interview with evolutionary ecologist Maria Rebolleda Gomez, who collected the data used in the lesson.

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Linking Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis to Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Conservation

Traditional Ecological Knowledge is based on deep understanding of systems from observations made over hundreds to thousands of years. This resource connects Traditional Ecological Knowledge to modern conservation through media and primary literature interpretation. The adaptation of this research aims to link the material to the ecological concept of the intermediate disturbance hypothesis and to highlight ecologists whose careers have focused on the concept.

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The River Breathes: Stream reach metabolism as an integrative and comparable measure of stream processes

Stream reach metabolism integrates organism respiration & production to provide a valuable ecosystem measure that varies as a function of biotic & abiotic factors. As a powerful indicator of whole system functioning, it is important students can estimate stream metabolism. This field lesson engages students in study of ecosystem metabolism through its components, production & respiration. Students connect to the reach through guided reflection, predict and explore dissolved oxygen, investigate metabolism drivers in a matching game of diel oxygen curves from streams around the world, and collect & analyze diel dissolved oxygen data. This is designed for mid to upper-level undergraduates to complete in one 2-hour field visit at a wadable reach of run habitat, and a 30-minute analysis session. This lesson complements lessons including hydrogeomorphology, field sketching, organismal studies, ecosystem energetics, mapping, any that provide an ecosystem or energetic framework (RCC, Fluvial Landscape Ecology) to student understanding of flowing waters. Additionally, it can be replicated in space and time to highlight the relative importance of the key drivers of ecosystem metabolism.

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Simple, Accessible River-Based Field Investigation of Riverine Microplastics

Scientists have discovered that microplastic pollution is ubiquitous in the environment, but the small size of these microscopic pollutants prohibits most people from recognizing their prevalence. This river-based field lesson will introduce environmental science students to this emerging environmental concern, and encourages them to explore microplastics in their local waterways with sample collection, density separation and field-based microscopy. Students will appreciate the opportunity to connect to this topic from anywhere in the world, allowing them to see microplastics with their own eyes and without the use of sophisticated equipment. In addition, this lesson helps students recognize their own personal impact on microplastic pollution and identify ways to reduce their creation of microplastics.

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Shroomology 1010: Introduction to the Fascinating World of Fungi Lesson Plan

A lecture will be hosted by the educator. The first four sections cover factual information and in the activity students will draw conclusions about spore germination. The last section will highlight a scientist and current trends in mycology.

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Environmental Pollution & Public Health (Project EDDIE) used in an introductory Environmental Challenges course

Environmental health is a field of study within public health that is concerned with human-environment interactions, and specifically, how the environment influences public well-being. In this module, students will explore how environmental pollution impacts public health through comparing cancer rates of areas with known environmental pollutants to the national average through a t-test. Students can further their knowledge by comparing the concentrations of atmospheric pollutants in areas with known sources to control sites without such sources. Project EDDIE modules are designed with an A-B-C structure to make them flexible and adaptable to a range of student levels and course structures.

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Investigating Enzyme Structure and Function Through Model-Building and Peer Teaching in an Introductory Biology Course

A foundational knowledge of the relationship between structure and function is critical to understanding how enzymes work. The seemingly invisible nature of these molecular interactions makes it challenging for undergraduate students to conceptualize the dynamic changes that occur during a catalytic cycle. In this Lesson, we describe an interactive, collaborative modeling activity that we use in introductory biology courses to teach students how enzymes catalyze chemical reactions. First, the students imagine a fictitious enzyme and its associated reaction, and use modeling compound to demonstrate the progression of the reaction while focusing on the three-dimensional shape of active site and substrate in facilitating this catalysis. Second, they then select one of four types of enzymatic regulation (competitive inhibition, allosteric inhibition, allosteric activation, or feedback inhibitions) to incorporate into their model. They then demonstrate these reactions to groups of peers. This student-centered approach uses active learning and peer instruction to provide students with prompt feedback to strengthen their understanding of the inter-relatedness of structure and function. This modeling activity concludes with student reflection and discussion, and student learning is assessed with exam questions.

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Online Information Literacy: Applying the CRAAP Test to Vaccine (Mis)information

Teaching scientific literacy skills can help combat the propagation of misinformation online. This lesson is intended to give students practice identifying reliable scientific information on the Internet, in the context of vaccine safety. It was designed for a first-year seminar taught fully through remote instruction but can be adapted for any in-person or blended course. It can also be easily modified to use for other biologically-relevant topics and is especially well suited for controversial topics. This lesson consists of three activities. First, students review an article about identifying reliable Internet resources and search online for vaccine safety information. Then, students meet in small groups to review and rank the resources that each of them found from most to least reliable, referencing the criteria laid out by the CRAAP test (Currency, Relevance, Accuracy, Authority, Purpose). After ranking each resource, students reflect on how their thinking about online resources has changed during the activity and how they will evaluate scientific information online in the future. Finally, students use the reliable resources that they and their classmates compiled during the activity as references to write about how the biology of vaccines relates to the five Core Concepts. Following this lesson, 100% of student groups were able to correctly identify at least one reliable and unreliable online resource and 95% of groups were able to articulate particular qualities of resources that helped them establish their reliability. Further, 100% of groups could articulate how their thinking had changed throughout this activity.

Primary Image: A drawing of vaccines and a vial, used with permission from Pixabay. 

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Teaching Cell Structures through Games

As the basic unit of life, cells are a foundational concept for all of biology. Before students can appreciate how eukaryotic cells function either in isolation or in higher order and multicellular organisms, they must first have a basic understanding of the organelles that make up these cells. The primary objective of this lesson is to provide a fun and engaging way for students to learn the function and arrangement of eukaryotic organelles. This lesson uses familiar and easy to learn games, such as Pictionary® and Bingo, to help students enrolled in introductory, non-majors biology courses better recognize cellular organelles and understand their functions.

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