An Evaluation Study of the Teaching of Hands-On Investigative Biology in High-Schools "On a Shoestring"

By Butts, David P.; Jackson, David et al. | Education, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

An Evaluation Study of the Teaching of Hands-On Investigative Biology in High-Schools "On a Shoestring"


Butts, David P., Jackson, David, Oliver, J. Steve, Butts, Douglas P., Education


In this project -Biology On A Shoestring,the National Association of Biology Teachers recruited excellent, experienced high school biology teachers to develop and field test investigative laboratory activities that would require only limited resources to implement. The goal of the project was to increase the teaching of biology in high schools with an emphasis on how knowledge is generated rather than just a collection of what is known. There were two objectives for the project:

1) Facilitate hands-on investigative biology instruction by providing the teacher with effective instructional options; and

2) Enable this hands-on investigative biology to be implemented by reducing the cost of materials needed for its application.

Thus, or in concert with the objectives of the Division of Elementary, Secondary and Informal Education of the National Science Foundation, this project involved the development of new and improved instructional pre-college biology materials that involve students actively in scientific investigation. It further provided ways for teachers to involve all students, including women, minorities and those with physical disabilities in learning biology

As noted in Project 2061, Science For All Americans (Rutherford & Ahlgren 1989) and The Science Report Card: Elements of Risk and Recovery, (Mullis & Jenkins, 1988), there is an urgent call for teaching the processes of how science is generated using hands-on investigative learning experiences:

... teaching related to scientific literacy needs to be consistent with the spirit and character of scientific inquiry ... This suggests ... starting with questions about phenomena rather than with answers to be learned; engaging students actively in the use of hypotheses, the collection and use of evidence, and the design of investigations and processes ... (Rutherford & Ahlgren 1989, p. 5)

Merely calling for change does not always transform into altered experiences for students. Teaching investigative or hands-on science requires more than just a commitment from teachers. It requires resources both of time and of equipment. Asking teachers to upgrade their students' laboratory experiences at a time when there is not enough money to purchase sufficient equipment and materials to implement these changes may indeed be a key reason for the lack of change in the classroom. While there are better and longer - term solutions for the lack of money for science instruction, an immediate and critical concern is to provide teachers with hands-on science activities that require little or no money. Such experiences would enable them to teach new biology labs on a shoestring". If this innovation could be accomplished, then it is believed that students from all segments of our school populations would benefit.

The Shoestring Biology Laboratory Investigations were developed by outstanding high school biology teachers and extensively reviewed by a panel of biologists, science educators and other high school biology teachers. Each laboratory investigation included information for the teachers, such as objectives, synopsis of the lab, preparation time required, materials needed, essential teacher background, teaching tips, instructional procedures including safety notes, sample hypotheses, procedures, data analysis and references for further readings. For the student, there were sections to help students design their own experiments, safety notes, questions for data analysis and opportunities for them to generate subsequent questions and design experiments to secure relevant data.

The final NABT's Shoestring Biology Laboratory Investigations consists of fifteen laboratories that have been field tested and found to meet the following four criteria, which are both teacher and student user-friendly.

1) They require minimum money to implement.

2) They are process-oriented and stress active student involvement in scientific laboratory investigations.

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