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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Minds-On Biology

These minds-on activities, initially designed for use in the classroom, have been adapted for use in online teaching or distance learning. Advice for Using Google Docs is available at

Introductory Activities Energy – Cellular Respiration and Photosynthesis Cell Division Genetics and Molecular Biology Evolution Ecology Human Physiology and Health

How Genes Can Cause Disease – Understanding Transcription and Translation

Transcription with RNA nucleotides

In the first section of this analysis and discussion activity, students learn that different versions of a gene give the instructions for making different versions of a clotting protein, which result in normal blood clotting or hemophilia.

Next, students learn how genes provide the instructions for making a protein via the processes of transcription and translation. They develop an understanding of the roles of RNA polymerase, the base-pairing rules, mRNA, tRNA and ribosomes.

Finally, students use their learning about transcription and translation to understand how a change in a single nucleotide in the hemoglobin gene can result in sickle cell anemia.

Throughout this activity, students use the information in brief explanations, figures and videos to answer analysis and discussion questions.

This activity can be used to introduce students to transcription and translation or to reinforce and enhance student understanding. 

If you prefer a hands-on activity that uses simple paper models to simulate the molecular processes of transcription and translation, see “How Genes Can Cause Disease – Introduction to Transcription and Translation” (

How have mutations and natural selection affected fur color in mice?

Four differently colored mice

In this analysis and discussion activity, students figure out how mutations and natural selection have resulted in matches between the fur colors of populations of rock pocket mice and their environments.

Next, students view a video that presents relevant research findings, and students answer the embedded multiple-choice questions.

Then, students answer multiple questions and analyze several scenarios to enhance their understanding of mutations and natural selection.

The Student Handout is available in the first two attached files and as a Google doc designed for use in online instruction and distance learning. The Teacher Notes, available in the last two attached files, provide instructional suggestions and background information and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

Stability and Change in Biological Communities

This analysis and discussion activity engages students in understanding how biological communities remain stable and how they change during ecological succession.

Students analyze several types of research evidence, including (1) repeated observations of a biological community to assess stability or change over time, (2) analyses of dated fossils in a peat bog, and (3) analyses of how mutualism, competition and trophic relationships contribute to stability or change in biological communities.

Students use this evidence to understand the causes of stability and succession in a variety of habitats, including a tropical forest, a new volcanic island, abandoned farm fields, and ponds. Students also analyze the effects of climate and non-native invasive plants.

The Student Handout is available in the first two attached files and as a Google doc designed for use in online instruction. The Teacher Notes, available in the third and fourth attached files, provide background information and instructional suggestion and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards. A PowerPoint with illustrations of each habitat is available in the last attachment.

The Ecology of Lyme Disease

Tick anatomy diagramThis analysis and discussion activity engages students in understanding the lifecycle and adaptations of black-legged ticks and the relationships between these ticks, their vertebrate hosts, and the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

Students use this background to analyze when and where human risk of Lyme disease is greatest, why rates of Lyme disease have increased in recent decades in the US, and ecological approaches to preventing Lyme disease.

How do muscles get the energy they need for athletic activity?

ATP in muscle cells

In this analysis and discussion activity, students learn how muscle cells produce ATP by aerobic cellular respiration, anaerobic fermentation, and hydrolysis of creatine phosphate. They analyze the varying contributions of these three processes to ATP production during athletic activities of varying intensity and duration.

Students learn how multiple body systems work together to supply the oxygen and glucose needed for aerobic cellular respiration.

Finally, students use what they have learned to analyze how athletic performance is improved by the body changes that result from regular aerobic exercise.

Structure and Function of Cells, Organs and Organ Systems

Process of phagocytosis after injury to skinIn this activity, students analyze multiple examples of the relationship between structure and function in diverse human cells and in the digestive system.

Students learn that cells are dynamic, with constant molecular activity.

Students analyze examples that illustrate how organelles work together to accomplish cellular functions and organs and organ systems work together to accomplish functions needed by the organism.

Finally, students evaluate the claim that structure is related to function in cells, organs and organ systems.

Using Models to Understand Photosynthesis

chloroplast modelIn this analysis and discussion activity, students develop their understanding of photosynthesis by answering questions about three different models of photosynthesis.

These models are a chemical equation, a flowchart that shows changes in energy and matter, and a diagram that shows the basic processes in a chloroplast. Students use a drawing of a plant to create another model of photosynthesis.

Finally, students evaluate the advantages of each type of model for understanding photosynthesis; this helps them to appreciate the role of scientific models.

The Student Handout is available in the first two attached files and as a Google doc designed for use in distance learning and online instruction. (For additional information, see, especially item 7.) The Teacher Notes, available in the last two attached files, provide instructional suggestions and background information and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

Genetic Engineering Challenge – How can scientists develop a type of rice that could prevent vitamin A deficiency?

Parts of rice diagram

This analysis and discussion activity begins with an introduction to vitamin A deficiency and a review of transcription, translation, and the universal genetic code.

Several questions challenge students to design a basic plan that could produce a genetically engineered rice plant that makes rice grains that contain pro-vitamin A. Subsequent information and questions guide students as they learn how scientists use bacteria to insert desired genes, together with an appropriate promoter, in the DNA of plant cells.

In a final optional section, students evaluate the pro and con arguments in the controversy concerning Golden Rice.

How Eyes Evolved – Analyzing the Evidence

Human eye and octopus eye with lens and retina

This analysis and discussion activity focuses on two questions. How could something as complex as the human eye or the octopus eye have evolved by natural selection? How can scientists learn about the evolution of eyes, given that there is very little fossil evidence?

To answer these questions, students analyze evidence from comparative anatomy, mathematical modeling, and molecular biology. Students interpret this evidence to develop a likely sequence of intermediate steps in the evolution of complex eyes and to understand how each intermediate step contributed to increased survival and reproduction.

The Teacher Notes suggest additions to the Student Handout that can be used to introduce concepts such as the role of gene duplication in evolution and/or homology and analogy. 

Evolution and Adaptations

Sketch of ocean ecosystemIn common experience, the term "adapting" usually refers to changes during an organism's lifetime.

In contrast, evolutionary biologists use the term "adaptation" to refer to a heritable trait that increases fitness.

To help students reconcile these different concepts, this activity introduces the concept of phenotypic plasticity (the ability of an organism to adapt to different environments within its lifetime).

Questions guide students in analyzing how the balance between the advantages and disadvantages of a characteristic (e.g. an animal’s color) can vary in different circumstances, how phenotypic plasticity can be a heritable trait that can optimize fitness in a variable environment, and how natural selection can influence the amount of phenotypic plasticity in a population.

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