“BiteScis”: Bite-sized research to promote scientific thinking

Are you looking for biology lessons that promote scientific thinking, are classroom-tested, and are fully customizable to your own needs? On second thought, who isn’t? While reading The American Biology Teacher recently, I learned about a good source: BiteScis, a website with lesson plans that “make it easy for teachers to share exciting, creative, and authentic science research with their students.” BiteScis has existed since 2015, so I am a little late to the party, but it’s never too late to share a great resource.

BiteScis logo

Lessons are available for biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science. Of course, I gravitated toward the biology section. I found eight lessons tagged as “Classroom Tested!” plus two more labeled “Beta Test Me!” Most are focused on evolution, including antibiotic resistance, convergent evolution in animal locomotion, homologous gene expression in mammals, mismatch diseases, HIV evolution, and more. (I later discovered that many of the lessons that aren’t classified under the Biology topic nevertheless have a life sciences component, including animal navigation, bioluminescence, kinematics, swimming dolphins, and coral reefs. So I recommend that you don’t narrow your search too much.)

I didn’t see anything I didn’t like, but my favorite lesson was “From Lab to Newsfeeds: Why We Need To Be Skeptical (Like a Scientist) In The Age of COVID-19.” It is one of the two available for beta-testing, and it does not yet have a full suite of student resources. However, there’s plenty there for instructors who want to try it out. If you click on the site, you’ll see a short introduction, accompanied by links to a PDF and an editable Google doc of the “Bite.”

The Science Bite is a 5-page document explaining why science has never actually worked as depicted in the familiar diagram of the simplified “Scientific Method” (question –> hypothesis –> experiment –> data –> conclusions –> repeat). The Bite then goes on to describe how the COVID-19 emergency has promoted a “new normal” of research being rushed into publication while social media platforms hype results that haven’t necessarily been peer reviewed. Fortunately, readers are not left to flounder helplessly in a sea of misinformation. Instead, the Bite includes tips for recognizing real science and, at the end, it provides five “Thinking Questions.” The questions are open-ended and thought-provoking, and they could lead to fruitful classroom discussions.

The second lesson plan I checked out was “Evolution and E. coli: Natural Selection in a Stable Environment.” That one included a Bite plus a student handout; I couldn’t see the Educator portion, which requires login credentials. The Bite is about a long-term experiment in which researchers have tracked mutations and fitness in E. coli cells in a stable environment for a mind-boggling 60,000 generations. I loved the student handout, which walks students through questions about alleles, competition, reproductive success, natural selection, data interpretation, speculation about alternative outcomes, predictions, and more. The level was not too hard, and not too easy—it was in that hard-to-find “just right” Goldilocks zone. (If you disagree with that assessment, no problem. The Google doc version of the student handout is easy to modify to suit your students’ needs.)

The website says the activities are designed for high schoolers, and the lessons are aligned to NGSS and Common Core state standards. As someone who teaches nonmajors biology to college students, however, I can attest they are perfectly appropriate to university-level introductory biology classrooms as well. Next time I teach my nonmajors biology class, I expect to give my students a taste of BiteScis resources.

This entry was posted in Assignments, Engaging students, Learning at home, Teaching and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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