Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Balloon Biology: Balloons, Baggies & TP Tubes Help Students Build 3D Mental Maps

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Balloon Biology: Balloons, Baggies & TP Tubes Help Students Build 3D Mental Maps

Article excerpt

We have access to a wide array of high quality artwork and digital tools to help students visualize three-dimensional structures and processes. Many students have the experience and ability to mentally translate these images into three-dimensional mental constructs. However, many other students are lost when we point to a beautifully rendered, but flat, image while describing a three-dimensional structure. As a result we may find ourselves tracing the contours of an invisible structure in three-dimensional space as we talk. Some students can be drawn into our description and "see" what we are describing, but many students are still unable to imagine the three-dimensional relationships we are attempting to describe. I have found that a small arsenal of props can go a long way in translating the beautiful two-dimensional artwork on the overhead to a three-dimensional image in the minds of my students.

The most commonly used props are as simple as a long clown balloon (the type used for twisting into animal shapes), a transparent produce bag from the grocery store, and an empty toilet paper tube (Figure 1). The balloon, bag, and tube allow me to touch and point to interior and exterior surfaces as I describe a variety of processes. These items are so simple that every student can have his/her own "visualization kit" and can use it during class and while studying.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

During the discussion of membrane structure, I can hold the edge of the bag and explain that the image on the screen is zooming in on that edge and showing the interior and exterior surfaces. The baggie model can also help me illustrate processes ranging from gastrulation to the enhancement of surface area with microvilli. …

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