Saturday, September 6, 2008

Something to think about when creating a high school biology curriculum

As I decide what I will try to present to my kids this year, I'm coming across advice and lists I've saved in the last few months. Here is something I found on a discussion list for parents of homeschooling high schoolers. The parent looking for teaching suggestions was advised by a biology professor to have the kids develop questions and then search for the answers. He wrote:

And where will the questions come from? Various sources. Here are
thoughts: go to a park; to an aquarium; to a beach; to a natural
history museum (some can be deadly dull, of course); on vacation go to
a desert, a forest, a national park; just go outdoors and look around;
get a bunch of seeds (such as cucumber or sunflower), plant them in
disposable cups (maybe in Perlite) and do things with them (tip them
on their sides, put them across the room from a window, let them grow
in the dark from Day Zero to when they croak, cut off the top of the
plant, whatever) and see what happens and question WHY/HOW it
happened; take advantage of cuts, colds, bruises, allergies, sunburn,
suntan, zits--ANYTHING--to have an excuse to learn what's happening;
ANYTHING that can lead to questions.
He also wrote a random list of questions off the top of his head to
start on if the kids had not developed questions on their own:
Why do antibiotics stop working after a number of years?
Look at a map of Galapagos--why do same birds have diff beaks on
diff islands?
How do we know (or are learning) how different things are related?
How do new species evolve?
What IS a species?
How did life colonize the dry land?

How can you produce a calico cat? Can you just breed them with
each other?
Can two brown-eyed parents produce a blue-eyed child?
Look at those ants out there! What sex are they?

Why is vomitus sour/"burny"?
Why don't our stomach contents digest the stomach lining?
Why does our digestive tract have so many parts?

What is pollen? What does it do?
Why do plants grow toward the light?
What happens if you tip a plant on its side? Why?
Why don't some seeds germinate right away?
Why do poinsettias bloom around Christmas?
(look at root x.s., figure it out (no refs) and ask questions)
How do some plants manage to live where it's very dry?
Could we teach other plants to live where it's very dry?
(plant seeds--cucumber, sunflower, radish--in cups and just do
things with them; design experiments to understand why interesting
things happened)

Musculoskeletal system
Why are bedridden patients likely to break bones?
Why do astronauts have to exercise while in space and
be careful when they come down to Earth?
Why is a popped Achilles tendon serious? What does it do?
How does a broken bone heal?
Whales breathe air--why can't they breathe while on the beach?
Athletes are forever tearing their ACLs. What IS the ACL,
what does it do? What is the problem if it's torn?
Why are some runners better at distance events and others
better at dashes?
Are all the joints in our body structured the same? How do
they differ? Why are they structurally different?
Why are our knees so darn complicated?

Endocrine system
We keep reading about athletes on steroids... what are
steroids, do normally have them in our bodies, what do they do,
what are steroids used for in medicine, what's the fuss
about use by athletes, are there useful artificial steroids... ?

Cardiac system
What is your doctor learning by listening to your heart?
What does your heart do? How?

Respiratory system
How can whales dive so deep and stay down so long?
What do your lungs do? How?

Excretory system
What do your kidneys do? How?
Why do some fish live only in fresh water and others only in

Why are there so many more zebras/etc. than lions/etc.?
What caused the Dust Bowl?
Why is the vegetation on one side of a mountain range so
different from that on the other side?
What drives ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream and the
California Current and what effects do they have?
When a pest (such as the gypsy moth) attacks an area, should
we simply try to kill all of them (everywhere) by spraying?
How does a constantly growing population (people, bacteria in
a bottle, coyotes in a city...) affect the rest of the world?
Why do so many flying insects have black/yellow striped
abdomens? What's going on there? What are the consequences?
What are corals? What are coral reefs? What will they be
like by the time I'm a grandparent?

Why do male dogs pee on trees?
Why do puppies roll over on their backs when a frightening dog
comes along?
Why do snakes/lizards bask in the sun?
Why don't we have to?
How does a digger wasp learn the location of the hole in
the ground that is its nest?
How does an ant manage to lead her nestmates to a food source?
How does a honey bee direct her nestmates to a food source?
What do fireflies accomplish by their flashing?

Nervous system
Why does our foot move when the doc taps our knee?
How do we respond to some things faster than we are aware of them?

Why don't antibiotics work on viruses (use penicillin example)?
How do some viruses make us sick?
Are viruses alive? (note: biologists don't agree--it's a
matter of criteria, and useful to discuss)
Why does penicillin kill bacteria without hurting us?
How does (some drug taken by the child) work to make me better?

MolBiol (NA and proteins)
How did they make the green-glowing kitten?
How did "they" discover that genes are DNA?
What is the genetic code?
How did "they" crack the genetic code? (need an FAQ here
Why do I keep hearing about cracking of more organism's genomes?
What are mutations? How does a mutation (of DNA) cause a
change in the organism (or animal, or human)
What is cancer? How can we treat it?

Why can we vaccinate against (smallpox/polio/mumps/etc.)?
Why can't we vaccinate against (malaria/HIV/etc.)?
Why/how are some people allergic to (ragweed/etc.)?

The "card trick" modeling the London cholera plague [Note: Have to look that one up!]

Why do different cells make different things (pigments, etc.)?
How does a single cell turn into an adult animal/person?
What is cloning?
How can I avoid becoming pregnant?
What is menstruation?

Do all plants have flowers?
Do all plants have seeds?
Do all animals have eyes?
Do all snails live on land?
What do ... eat?
What eats ... ?
Are fungi (or molds) good for anything?
Would it be a good idea to kill all the molds on Earth?
She added: "His wife (a biology major) also suggested having the kids read the
health section in the newspaper. He said that trying to cover all the
material typically attempted in an introductory college biology course
is crazy - the end result is that the scientific process (thinking,
reasoning, making connections, drawing conclusions) is lost and that
instead it's just a lot of facts to memorize which the kids promptly
forget anyway."

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