Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

The Mystery Organism of the Day

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

The Mystery Organism of the Day

Article excerpt


Do you ever wish that you could cover more material in your class but you run out of time? Then this quick fix can help! The "mystery organism of the day" can be used in any course that includes biology.

In my Marine Biology course for non-majors, we cover a variety of topics from the ocean's physical environment, plants, and marine animals, up to and including human impacts on the environment. One of my goals is to create scientifically-literate students who are interested in the world around them. The "mystery organism of the day" is a quick discussion item that I use to start off the class and help students begin thinking about biology.


This exercise begins by showing a snazzy color picture of the "mystery organism" to the class. The class as a group needs to figure out answers to the following questions:

* What is it? Specifically, is it an animal, plant, protist, or something else?

* Where does it live? Marine Biology students tend to guess, "It lives in the ocean," and through discussion we decide on the most probable oceanic zone (e.g., intertidal).

* What does it eat? This answer can get quite creative and the explanations are great!

* How big is it? Most pictures don't have scale bars, so students make an educated guess as to the general size of the organism.

After a two-to-three minute discussion, I display the "answers." I list the phylogenetic placement of the group (domain, kingdom, and phylum) and explain how students could identify this organ ism as a member of that group. …

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