Here is a brief discussion of the kinds of new manuscripts I would like to encourage. The American Biology Teacher needs articles in the critical areas of biology education listed below, all of which tend to be underrepresented in K——16 biology classroom curricula and instruction.
•• Inquiry Biology Learning Activities in General
This means authentic inquiry, not just attempts at inquiry or overly directed inquiry. Authentic inquiry means that students are engaged actively and meaningfully in all aspects of the inquiry process. These include (a) making interesting observations that will lead to puzzling questions; (b) formulating questions that have high potential to be addressed through classroom (or extended classroom) research; (c) crafting researchable hypotheses that predict the relationship between independent and dependent variables; (d) identifying assumptions and limitations of a specific research study; (e) determining an experimental plan with procedures that address the hypotheses; (f) listing materials, equipment, and resources needed, including space and time; (g) crafting a plan for data collection and the type of data intended; (h) stating a proposed method of displaying and analyzing the data within the expertise limits of the students; (i) proposing a means of interpreting the data that includes acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis; (j) providing inferences, conclusions, or even surprises that appear to be supported by the data; and finally (k) identifying new questions that arise from the research that would shed additional light on the research question or related areas.
It needs to be emphasized that the teacher directs as little of the inquiry as possible: the role is that of a guide, expert resource, facilitator, and even referee. Moreover, the process must be practical within the limitations of a classroom setting. More elaboration on authentic inquiry can be found in the references below. We also need discussion of creative ways to learn through inquiry in classrooms that contain a relatively large number of students. (This is a growing national concern being forced by the poor economy.)
•• Activities That Address National Biology Standards
The biology components of the National Research Council's National Education Standards and the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Benchmarks (see references below) are not perfect, but they are a great beginning. There was very widespread K——16 involvement in their creation and review. Some biology teachers argue that the national standards include too much content, some argue that they are too limited, and many of us have observed some major omissions. But revision efforts are planned. A real benefit was that nearly all state science standards made extensive use of the national biology standards. Perhaps the most important emphasis of the national standards was that students should learn largely through inquiry. New manuscripts for The American Biology Teacher should identify and address specific biology standards, including inquiry as a content standard.
•• Inquiry Learning of Evolutionary Concepts
Evolutionary principles are so critical in students' understanding of all biological concepts that we simply cannot overlook evolution, in spite of some misguided pressures to limit the teaching of it in schools. One challenge is that most evolutionary principles are abstract and many students do not see everyday applications. I think that inquiry is part of the answer, but we need many more inquiry activities for learning about evolution, particularly for concrete learners at the middle and high school levels.
•• Applications of Mathematics to Make Biology Concepts Richer & More Quantitative
We need to use more mathematics in biology because quantifying biology makes it more understandable. Also, the more mathematical applications used in biology learning, the more students learn mathematical processes. Our society is far too nonquantitative in general, and this only leads to misconceptions in many areas. Here are some of the many opportunities to have more mathematics in the biology classroom: (a) using statistical tests to determine the probability that two data sets are really different or that differences are due to chance alone, (b) manipulating common logs for pH and decibels, (c) using other exponentials for dealing with large numbers such as evolutionary time, (d) using binomials (e.g., in Hardy-Weinberg equations for studying allele frequency shifts), (e) applying precision versus accuracy, (f) using proportional reasoning for population sampling, and (g) studying the entropy of an energy pyramid in an ecosystem. Mathematics is used regularly by biological researchers, and our students should be using math regularly as well. Modern ecologists use chaos theory to study the nonlinear complexities in an ecosystem. Is it possible that our students use chaos theory too?
•• Realistically Teaching Genetic Principles as Mostly Non-Mendelian
As much as Mendel has contributed, what he discovered is actually more the exception than the rule. We simply cannot base our teaching of genetics on the very few single-gene/two-allele traits in the human genome, but that is what seems to happen. We need inquiry activities in which students can learn about multiple alleles, multiple loci, limited dominance, and pleiotropy. Such activities can make the study of genetics very rich and very realistic.
Finally, it should be evident that the five areas I have outlined above are not mutually exclusive. The more areas that can be addressed simultaneously, the better. I welcome your new manuscripts.