Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Simulating Science: Manipulative Models and Small-Scale Simulations That Promote Learning of Complex Biological Concepts

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Simulating Science: Manipulative Models and Small-Scale Simulations That Promote Learning of Complex Biological Concepts

Article excerpt


It's no secret that hands-on science experiences can increase students' interest in science and science-related careers. And labs can help them master scientific subject matter and develop scientific reasoning skills (NRC 2005). But many teachers have difficulty providing these kinds of activities because they lack the time or access to lab facilities, supplies, and resources (NRC 2005).

Authentic lab activities are the "gold standard" for inquiry labs, but truly authentic approaches are often impractical in the classroom due to budget and time constraints. At the University of Rochester's Life Sciences Learning Center, we have developed inexpensive, easy-to-prepare, wet-lab simulations and manipulative models on a wide variety of biology topics. In this article, we describe three of these activities--"Diagnosing Diabetes," "A Kidney Problem?" and "A Medical Mystery of Epidemic Proportions"--in more detail.

Curriculum development

We developed these activities through our work with teachers from the New York State Biology-Chemistry Professional Development Network. We followed a two-year model of curriculum development and dissemination: Teachers field-tested the lab activities with students the first year, then presented the activities at local teacher workshops the second.

Feedback from biology teachers indicated that the activities should use inexpensive materials available from science supply catalogs or grocery or craft stores. They also suggested that preparation be simple, with reusable materials. To facilitate their use in classrooms and workshops, we designed several hands-on activities that use simulations and manipulative models.

The activities

We developed the activities for high school biology classes, but they have been used in middle school life science and college nonmajor biology classes, as well. Each uses engaging, real-life scenarios that involve students in gathering and interpreting relevant scientific information and data. These skills are key characteristics of science inquiry, and correlate with the inquiry skills found in the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996). Complete teacher and student instructions for these and other activities can be freely downloaded from the Life Sciences Learning Center (see "On the web").

Diagnosing Diabetes

In the Diagnosing Diabetes lab activity--part of the Kidney Crisis module--students act as medical lab technicians. In this two-part lesson, they are first presented with a scenario in which a patient complains of fatigue and increased urination--both of which can be symptoms of diabetes. They then compile a patient information sheet on diabetes and the glucose tolerance test, using text and graphics provided online. Students must match each graphic to the appropriate section of the information sheet.

Then, they analyze simulated blood plasma samples collected during the patient's glucose tolerance test. They test "glucose" and "insulin" levels (Figure 1) and graph their results to determine whether the patient has Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

This activity typically requires two 40-minute class periods, although the first part can be assigned as homework. Students use the following simulations:

* pH buffer solutions--ranging from pH 3 to 9--simulate the patient's blood plasma, drawn at 30-minute intervals.

* pH indicator paper simulates glucose test paper.

* pH indicator solution (a 1:1 mixture of 0.05% methyl red and 0.05% bromothymol blue) simulates insulin indicator solution.

* The "insulin testing" and "glucose testing" is done on a printed sheet of clear plastic transparency film that can be rinsed and reused.



A Kidney Problem?

In this lab activity--another from the Kidney Crisis module--students again act as medical lab technicians. …

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