Teaching Secondary Science: Constructing Meaning and Developing Understanding

By Keith Ross; Liz Lakin et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
Difficult Ideas in Biology

Chapter overview

We begin this chapter by looking at the big ideas in biology, in particular the notion
of being alive and the characteristics of life itself, we then explore these ideas in the
context of plants. These are sometimes neglected in our teaching and many mis-
conceptions build up about how the web of life works. We take a brief look at some
other problems facing learners, many of which we have mentioned earlier in this
book. Unlike physicists, biologists tend to invent new words when they need them,
usually based on classical origins. This means that biology can be filled with strange
long words, but un-cluttered with everyday meaning. We conclude with some
examples of the opposite: confusion that occurs when biology takes over existing
words for its own use.


Big ideas in biology

Biology is the study of living things. These are usually cellular but a few are acellular (for example many fungi) in organisation. It is therefore appropriate that most curricula recognise the ‘organism’ as one of the key concepts underlying an understanding of the world around us. It is interesting to note that since viruses share the same nucleic acids and proteins as cells, they are regarded as biological systems but not usually as organisms. Organisms are interdependent and adapted to their environment; this adaptation and its associated variation can lead to evolutionary changes; and it includes life processes (including the role of microorganisms and immunity) and the more complex ideas of genetics. All life (even fungi!) starts as a single cell, and the overarching characteristic of an organism is that the single cell can divide making copies of itself. So we look first at the characteristics of life and then at cell division.


Mrs Gren: characteristics of life

At the basis of all biological studies are the characteristics of life itself: what makes something living as opposed to something that is inanimate and, indeed, something that

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