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What is a species?

3 wolvesIn this analysis and discussion activity, students learn that the concept of species is useful because organisms within a species are evolving relatively independently of other populations of organisms and thus can evolve a distinctive suite of adaptive characteristics.

Students confront the difficulties of defining a species and analyze data from various examples to appreciate that these difficulties arise from the realities of evolution.

Why do some plants grow in odd shapes?

In this analysis and discussion activity, students investigate several examples of plants that have grown in odd shapes.

As students analyze these anchoring phenomena, they learn (1) how the zones of cell division and elongation contribute to the growth of stems and roots; (2) how the effects of a plant hormone on cell elongation contribute to plant responses to light and gravity; and (3) how differentiated cells (xylem cells, phloem cells and photosynthetic cells) cooperate to supply all parts of the plant with needed molecules and ions.

In this activity, students interpret data from scientific studies, develop and refine scientific models, and answer additional analysis and discussion questions.

This activity can be used in a unit on cells or as an activity on development after students learn about cell division.

What causes melanoma and other types of cancer?

This minds-on, analysis and discussion activity introduces students to basic cancer biology, somatic mutations, and regulation of the cell cycle.

Students view an introductory video about a teen with melanoma and then complete six sections: “What is melanoma?”, “How does a melanoma develop?”, “Why do melanoma cells divide too much?”, “Environment and inherited genes influence your risk of melanoma.”, “Different Types of Cancer”, and “Research Challenge”.

Concepts covered include cell cycle checkpoints, somatic mutations, and DNA repair enzymes

How Whales Evolved – Evidence and Scientific Arguments

Students begin by comparing the characteristics of whales, mammals and fish to decide whether whales should be classified as mammals or fish. To support their conclusion, students make a scientific argument (claim, evidence, reasoning).

Students learn about the evolution of whales and other cetaceans by analyzing evidence from comparative anatomy, embryology, fossils, and DNA and proteins. Finally, students make a scientific argument for the claim that whales and other cetaceans evolved from land mammals.

How does evolution result in similarities and differences?

Earthword, mealworm,and cricket

In this hands-on, minds-on activity, students analyze the similarities and differences between bat and squirrel skeletons and between bat and insect wings.

Students learn about the two ways that evolution produces similarities: (1) inheritance from shared evolutionary ancestors (homologous characteristics) and (2) independent evolution of similar characteristics to accomplish the same function (analogous characteristics).

In the laboratory investigation, students observe the external anatomy and locomotion of earthworms, mealworms, and crickets. Students use these observations and the concepts they have learned to figure out which two of these animals are more closely related evolutionarily. (NGSS)

Download Student Handout: PDF format or Word format

Download Teacher Preparation Notes: PDF format or Word format

Gene Editing with CRISPR-Cas – A Potential Cure for Severe Sickle Cell Anemia

This analysis and discussion activity introduces Victoria Gray whose severe sickle cell anemia was effectively treated by gene editing with CRISPR-Cas.

To begin, students review the molecular biology of sickle cell anemia, transcription and translation.

Next, they learn how bacteria use CRISPR-Cas to defend against viral infections. Then, students examine some of the research findings that scientists used to identify the target for gene editing.

Finally, students analyze the CRISPR-Cas gene editing treatment for sickle cell anemia.

The Teacher Notes present an optional additional video and question to stimulate students to consider the ethical controversies related to potential uses of CRISPR-Cas.

COVID-19 Vaccines – How do they work?

Graphs of antibody responses after exposure to coronavirus

Students learn that vaccination or a previous coronavirus infection reduces the risk of severe Covid-19.

They learn how the immune system responds to a coronavirus infection and analyze how this response differs after a first vs. second exposure to the coronavirus.

Then, students analyze the biological effects of an mRNA vaccine and develop an evidence-based explanation of how vaccination protects against severe Covid-19.

The Genetics of Sickle Cell Anemia and Sickle Cell Trait – How One Gene Affects Multiple Characteristics

In this activity, students analyze information about the molecular and cellular basis for sickle cell anemia and sickle cell trait. This provides the basis for understanding how a single gene can affect multiple phenotypic characteristics.

Students also create a Punnett square, analyze a pedigree, and evaluate the relative advantages of Punnett squares and pedigrees as models of inheritance.

The Teacher Notes include several optional questions which apply student understanding of the biology of sickle cell trait to practical and policy issues.

Genetics and Probability – Sex Ratios of Births

In this minds-on analysis and discussion activity, students analyze the inheritance of sex chromosomes. Students use a Punnett square to predict the sex ratio of births and compare their prediction to data for individual families and for the entire US.

As students analyze the reasons why many real families deviate from Punnett square predictions, they learn about the probabilistic nature of inheritance and the limitations of Punnett square predictions.

A mistake in copying DNA can result in dwarfism.

In this minds-on activity, students analyze evidence about achondroplasia to learn how a mistake in DNA replication can result in a new mutation that affects a child’s characteristics.

This analysis and discussion activity reviews several basic genetics principles and helps to counteract several common misconceptions about genetics.

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