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Introductory Biology

  • Photograph by Marilyn Chung, The Desert Sun
  • Image from

    Air Quality Data Mining: Mining the US EPA AirData website for student-led evaluation of air quality issues

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Describe various parameters of air quality that can negatively impact human health, list priority air pollutants, and interpret the EPA Air Quality Index as it relates to human health.
    • Identify an air quality problem that varies on spatial and/or temporal scales that can be addressed using publicly available U.S. EPA air data.
    • Collect appropriate U.S. EPA Airdata information needed to answer that/those questions, using the U.S. EPA Airdata website data mining tools.
    • Analyze the data as needed to address or answer their question(s).
    • Interpret data and draw conclusions regarding air quality levels and/or impacts on human and public health.
    • Communicate results in the form of a scientific paper.
  • pClone Red Makes Research Look Easy

    Using Synthetic Biology and pClone Red for Authentic Research on Promoter Function: Introductory Biology (identifying...

    Learning Objectives
    • Describe how cells can produce proteins at the right time and correct amount.
    • Diagram how a repressor works to reduce transcription.
    • Diagram how an activator works to increase transcription.
    • Identify a new promoter from literature and design a method to clone it and test its function.
    • Successfully and safely manipulate DNA and Escherichia coli for ligation and transformation experiments.
    • Design an experiment to verify a new promoter has been cloned into a destination vector.
    • Design an experiment to measure the strength of a promoter.
    • Analyze data showing reporter protein produced and use the data to assess promoter strength.
    • Define type IIs restriction enzymes.
    • Distinguish between type II and type IIs restriction enzymes.
    • Explain how Golden Gate Assembly (GGA) works.
    • Measure the relative strength of a promoter compared to a standard promoter.
  • Modeling the Research Process: Authentic human physiology research in a large non-majors course

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Read current scientific literature
    • Formulate testable hypotheses
    • Design an experimental procedure to test their hypothesis
    • Make scientific observations
    • Analyze and interpret data
    • Communicate results visually and orally
  • Pipets - photo by Magnus Manske

    Learning to Pipet Correctly by Pipetting Incorrectly?

    Learning Objectives
    • Students will be able to use analytical balances and micropipettes.
    • Students will be able to calculate averages and standard deviations.
    • Students will be able to use t-tests to compare two independent samples.
    • Students will be able to justify accepting or rejecting a null hypothesis based on an interpretation of p-values.
    • Students will learn to use spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel and/or Google Sheets
    • Students will be able to explain how pipetting incorrectly leads to errors.
  • Format of a typical course meeting
  • American coot (Fulica Americana) family at the Cloisters City Park pond in Morrow Bay, CA. "Mike" Michael L. Baird [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons,

    Knowing your own: A classroom case study using the scientific method to investigate how birds learn to recognize their...

    Learning Objectives
    • Students will be able to identify and describe the steps of the scientific method.
    • Students will be able to develop hypotheses and predictions.
    • Students will be able to construct and interpret bar graphs based on data and predictions.
    • Students will be able to draw conclusions from data presented in graphical form.
  • Students at Century College use gel electrophoresis to analyze PCR samples in order to detect a group of ampicillin-resistance genes.

    Antibiotic Resistance Genes Detection in Environmental Samples

    Learning Objectives
    After completing this laboratory series, students will be able to:
    • apply the scientific method in formulating a hypothesis, designing a controlled experiment using appropriate molecular biology techniques, and analyzing experimental results;
    • conduct a molecular biology experiment and explain the principles behind methodologies, such as accurate use of micropipettes, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), and gel electrophoresis;
    • determine the presence of antibiotic-resistance genes in environmental samples by analyzing PCR products using gel electrophoresis;
    • explain mechanisms of microbial antibiotic resistance;
    • contribute data to the Antibiotic Resistance Genes Network;
    • define and apply key concepts of antibiotic resistance and gene identification via PCR fragment size.
  • Students engaged in building the PCR model

    A Close-Up Look at PCR

    Learning Objectives
    At the end of this lesson students will be able to...
    • Describe the role of a primer in PCR
    • Predict sequence and length of PCR product based on primer sequences
    • Recognize that primers are incorporated into the final PCR products and explain why
    • Identify covalent and hydrogen bonds formed and broken during PCR
    • Predict the structure of PCR products after each cycle of the reaction
    • Explain why amplification proceeds exponentially
  • Hydrozoan polyps on a hermit-crab shell (photo by Tiffany Galush)

    A new approach to course-based research using a hermit crab-hydrozoan symbiosis

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • define different types of symbiotic interactions, with specific examples.
    • summarize and critically evaluate contemporary primary literature relevant to ecological symbioses, in particular that between hermit crabs and Hydractinia spp.
    • articulate a question, based on observations of a natural phenomenon (in this example, the hermit crab-Hydractinia interaction).
    • articulate a testable hypothesis, based on their own observations and read of the literature.
    • design appropriate experimental or observational studies to address their hypotheses.
    • collect and interpret data in light of their hypotheses.
    • problem-solve and troubleshoot issues that arise during their experiment.
    • communicate scientific results, both orally and in written form.
  • Grow the Gradient game board. A student moves game pieces on the game board as they learn how the loop of Henle creates a salt concentration gradient in the medulla.

    Grow the Gradient: An interactive countercurrent multiplier game

    Learning Objectives
    • Students will be able to simulate the movement of water and sodium at each region of the loop of Henle.
    • Students will be able to associate osmosis and active transport with movement of water/solutes at each region of the loop of Henle.
    • Students will be able to model how the descending and ascending limbs of the loop of Henle maintain a concentration gradient within the medulla.
    • Students will be able to predict the effects of altering normal water and salt movement out of the loop of Henle on the salt concentration of the medulla, urine concentration, and urine volume.
    Advanced Learning Objectives for Extensions
    • Students will be able to predict the impact of the length of the loop of Henle on the magnitude of the concentration gradient within the medulla.
    • Students will be able to predict the length of the loop of Henle in organisms from different habitats.
  • A pair of homologous chromosomes.

    Meiosis: A Play in Three Acts, Starring DNA Sequence

    Learning Objectives
    • Students will be able to identify sister chromatids and homologous chromosomes at different stages of meiosis.
    • Students will be able to identify haploid and diploid cells, whether or not the chromosomes are replicated.
    • Students will be able to explain why homologous chromosomes must pair during meiosis.
    • Students will be able to relate DNA sequence similarity to chromosomal structures.
    • Students will be able to identify crossing over as the key to proper pairing of homologous chromosomes during meiosis.
    • Students will be able to predict the outcomes of meiosis for a particular individual or cell.
  • Using phylogenetics to make inferences about historical biogeographic patterns of evolution.

    Building Trees: Introducing evolutionary concepts by exploring Crassulaceae phylogeny and biogeography

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Estimate phylogenetic trees using diverse data types and phylogenetic models.
    • Correctly make inferences about evolutionary history and relatedness from the tree diagrams obtained.
    • Use selected computer programs for phylogenetic analysis.
    • Use bootstrapping to assess the statistical support for a phylogeny.
    • Use phylogenetic data to construct, compare, and evaluate the role of geologic processes in shaping the historical and current geographic distributions of a group of organisms.
  • 3D Print Model of the Mars Curiosity Rover, printed from NASA 3D Resources (

    Exploring the March to Mars Using 3D Print Models

    Learning Objectives
    • Students will be able to describe the major aspects of the Mars Curiosity Rover missions.
    • Students will be able to synthesize information learned from a classroom jigsaw activity on the Mars Curiosity Rover missions.
    • Students will be able to work in teams to plan a future manned mission to Mars.
    • Students will be able to summarize their reports to the class.
  • “Phenology of a Dawn Redwood” – Images collected by students for this lesson pieced together illustrating a Metasequoia glyptostroboides changing color and dropping its leaves in the fall of 2017 on Michigan State University campus.

    Quantifying and Visualizing Campus Tree Phenology

    Learning Objectives
    The Learning Objectives of this lesson span across the entire semester.
    • Observe and collect information on phenological changes in local trees.
    • Become familiar with a database and how to work with large datasets.
    • Analyze and visualize data from the database to test their hypotheses and questions.
    • Develop a research proposal including empirically-driven questions and hypotheses.
    • Synthesize the results of their analysis in the context of plant biodiversity and local environmental conditions.
  • blind cave fish
  • DNA barcoding research in first-year biology curriculum

    CURE-all: Large Scale Implementation of Authentic DNA Barcoding Research into First-Year Biology Curriculum

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to: Week 1-4: Fundamentals of Science and Biology
    • List the major processes involved in scientific discovery
    • List the different types of scientific studies and which types can establish causation
    • Design experiments with appropriate controls
    • Create and evaluate phylogenetic trees
    • Define taxonomy and phylogeny and explain their relationship to each other
    • Explain DNA sequence divergence and how it applies to evolutionary relationships and DNA barcoding
    Week 5-6: Ecology
    • Define and measure biodiversity and explain its importance
    • Catalog organisms using the morphospecies concept
    • Geographically map organisms using smartphones and an online mapping program
    • Calculate metrics of species diversity using spreadsheet software
    • Use spreadsheet software to quantify and graph biodiversity at forest edges vs. interiors
    • Write a formal lab report
    Week 7-11: Cellular and Molecular Biology
    • Extract, amplify, visualize and sequence DNA using standard molecular techniques (PCR, gel electrophoresis, Sanger sequencing)
    • Explain how DNA extraction, PCR, gel electrophoresis, and Sanger sequencing work at the molecular level
    Week 12-13: Bioinformatics
    • Trim and assemble raw DNA sequence data
    • Taxonomically identify DNA sequences isolated from unknown organisms using BLAST
    • Visualize sequence data relationships using sequence alignments and gene-based phylogenetic trees
    • Map and report data in a publicly available online database
    • Share data in a formal scientific poster
  • This collage contains original images taken by the course instructor. The images show a microscopic view of stomata on the underside of a Brassica rapa leaf (A), B. rapa plants in their growth trays (B), a flowering B. rapa plant (C), and different concentrations of foliar protein (D). Photos edited via Microsoft Windows Photo Editor and Phototastic Collage Maker.

    A flexible, multi-week approach to plant biology - How will plants respond to higher levels of CO2?

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Apply findings from each week's lesson to make predictions and informed hypotheses about the next week's lesson.
    • Keep a detailed laboratory notebook.
    • Write and peer-edit the sections of a scientific paper, and collaboratively write an entire lab report in the form of a scientific research paper.
    • Search for, find, and read scientific research papers.
    • Work together as a team to conduct experiments.
    • Connect findings and ideas from each week's lesson to get a broader understanding of how plants will respond to higher levels of CO2 (e.g., stomatal density, photosynthetic/respiratory rates, foliar protein concentrations, growth, and resource allocation).
    Note: Additional, more specific objectives are included with each of the four lessons (Supporting Files S1-S4)
  • Adult female Daphnia dentifera. Daphnia spp. make a great study system due to their transparent body and their ease of upkeep in a lab.

    Dynamic Daphnia: An inquiry-based research experience in ecology that teaches the scientific process to first-year...

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Construct written predictions about 1 factor experiments.
    • Interpret simple (2 variables) figures.
    • Construct simple (2 variables) figures from data.
    • Design simple 1 factor experiments with appropriate controls.
    • Demonstrate proper use of standard laboratory items, including a two-stop pipette, stereomicroscope, and laboratory notebook.
    • Calculate means and standard deviations.
    • Given some scaffolding (instructions), select the correct statistical test for a data set, be able to run a t-test, ANOVA, chi-squared test, and linear regression in Microsoft Excel, and be able to correctly interpret their results.
    • Construct and present a scientific poster.
  • Human karyotype

    Homologous chromosomes? Exploring human sex chromosomes, sex determination and sex reversal using bioinformatics...

    Learning Objectives
    Students successfully completing this lesson will:
    • Practice navigating an online bioinformatics resource and identify evidence relevant to solving investigation questions
    • Contrast the array of genes expected on homologous autosomal chromosomes pairs with the array of genes expected on sex chromosome pairs
    • Use bioinformatics evidence to defend the definition of homologous chromosomes
    • Define chromosomal sex and defend the definition using experimental data
    • Investigate the genetic basis of human chromosomal sex determination
    • Identify at least two genetic mutations can lead to sex reversal
  • Bacteria growing on petri dish

    You and Your Oral Microflora: Introducing non-biology majors to their “forgotten organ”

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Explain both beneficial and detrimental roles of microbes in human health.
    • Compare and contrast DNA replication as it occurs inside a cell versus in a test tube
    • Identify an unknown sequence of DNA by performing a BLAST search
    • Navigate sources of scientific information to assess the accuracy of their experimental techniques
  • Multiple sequence alignment of homologous cytochrome C protein sequences using Jalview viewer.

    Sequence Similarity: An inquiry based and "under the hood" approach for incorporating molecular sequence...

    Learning Objectives
    At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
    • Define similarity in a non-biological and biological sense when provided with two strings of letters.
    • Quantify the similarity between two gene/protein sequences.
    • Explain how a substitution matrix is used to quantify similarity.
    • Calculate amino acid similarity scores using a scoring matrix.
    • Demonstrate how to access genomic data (e.g., from NCBI nucleotide and protein databases).
    • Demonstrate how to use bioinformatics tools to analyze genomic data (e.g., BLASTP), explain a simplified BLAST search algorithm including how similarity is used to perform a BLAST search, and how to evaluate the results of a BLAST search.
    • Create a nearest-neighbor distance matrix.
    • Create a multiple sequence alignment using a nearest-neighbor distance matrix and a phylogram based on similarity of amino acid sequences.
    • Use appropriate bioinformatics sequence alignment tools to investigate a biological question.
  • 3D Print Models: A collection of 3D models printed from online repository files.
  • A three-dimensional model of methionine is superimposed on a phase contrast micrograph of Saccharomyces cerevisiae from a log phase culture.

    Follow the Sulfur: Using Yeast Mutants to Study a Metabolic Pathway

    Learning Objectives
    At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
    • use spot plating techniques to compare the growth of yeast strains on solid culture media.
    • predict the ability of specific met deletion strains to grow on media containing various sulfur sources.
    • predict how mutations in specific genes will affect the concentrations of metabolites in the pathways involved in methionine biosynthesis.
  • Using the Cell Engineer/Detective Approach to Explore Cell Structure and Function

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Identify the major cell organelles
    • List the major functions of the organelles
    • Predict how changes in organelle/cell structure could alter cellular function
    • Explain how overall cellular function is dependent upon organelles/cell structure
    • Relate cell structure to everyday contexts
  • Image adapted from :Image:Citric acid cycle noi.svg| (uploaded to Commons by wadester16)

    A simple way for students to visualize cellular respiration: adapting the board game MousetrapTM to model complexity

    Learning Objectives
    • Students will be able to describe the three stages of cellular respiration.
    • Students will be able to identify the reactants entering and the products formed during each stage of cellular respiration.
    • Students will be able to explain how chemical energy in carbohydrates is transferred to ATP through the stages of cellular respiration.
    • Students will be able to explain the effects of compartmentalization of cellular respiration reactions in different cellular spaces.
    • Students will be able to predict biological outcomes when a specific stage(s) of cellular respiration is altered. 
  • Sodium-Potassium pump

    Lights, Camera, Acting Transport! Using role-play to teach membrane transport

    Learning Objectives
    At the end of this activity, students should be able to:
    • Compare and contrast the mechanisms of simple diffusion, facilitated diffusion, and active transport (both primary and secondary).
    • Identify, and provide a rationale for, the mechanism(s) by which various substances cross the plasma membrane.
    • Describe the steps involved in the transport of ions by the Na+/K+ pump, and explain the importance of electrogenic pumps to the generation and maintenance of membrane potentials.
    • Explain the function of electrochemical gradients as potential energy sources specifically used in secondary active transport.
    • Relate each molecule or ion transported by the Na+/glucose cotransporter (SGLT1) to its own concentration or electrochemical gradient, and describe which molecules travel with and against these gradients.
  • Arabidopsis Seedling

    Linking Genotype to Phenotype: The Effect of a Mutation in Gibberellic Acid Production on Plant Germination

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • identify when germination occurs.
    • score germination in the presence and absence of GA to construct graphs of collated class data of wild-type and mutant specimens.
    • identify the genotype of an unknown sample based on the analysis of their graphical data.
    • organize data and perform quantitative data analysis.
    • explain the importance of GA for plant germination.
    • connect the inheritance of a mutation with the observed phenotype.