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 Bioinformatics Lessons on ENSI Teacher Planning Tips & Tools

WHATEVER YOU TEACH, if you want to
you've GOT to add this widely acclaimed book to your toolkit:
Harry Wong's excellent book, filled with an abundance of practical, important, easy-to-find and use ideas for being the most effective teacher you can be. For practicality, this book may very well be the most important tool in your toolbox, the best well-spent money for your teacher education. Central is the critical importance of what you do the first day of school, and the few days which follow:
The First Days of School, by Harry K. & Rosemary T. Wong
Tel. (650) 965-7896. CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS.


An Overall Course Outline, Incorporating Evolution and
the Nature of Science Thematically

 For a detailed article utilizing this approach,
with specific lessons choreographed into the curriculum,
see the "
The Evolution Solution" below

There are many ways to teach biology, many sequences which work. This suggested curriculum outline has worked very effectively. It is offered as a starting point to those looking for a curriculum revision that meets national and state frameworks and standards, and extensively incorporates important elements providing experience in the nature of science and evolution throughout, both fundamental to a deeper understanding of science in general, and biology in particular. Click here to see this list.

 "The Evolution Solution"
Teaching Evolution Without Conflict
by Larry Flammer
from The American Biology Teacher March, 2006

Observations of life may sometimes
contradict traditional ideas
and raise tantalizing questions.
Show how evolution answers those questions
and provides unity throughout your course.


A detailed sequence 5 units for introducing
the nature of science and evolution
follows below.


Detailed suggestions for effectively introducing
the nature of science and evolution early in your biology course,
suggesting sequence and content reflecting the ENSI philosophy
and using many of the ENSI lessons.
Classroom tested by ENSI teacher and webmaster, Larry Flammer, ENSI 1992

Pre-test, what science IS, is NOT, and its limits...exposing common misconceptions. Includes a look at Illusions, both natural and intentional, and how these can be used to teach the nature of science. Presents several key "Rules of Science", especially the key role of testing, and the rule that science cannot use supernatural explanations, and why that is. Includes a look at the key tools of science: critical and skeptical thinking and the clues for distinguishing good science, poor science, pseudoscience, and science denial. Immensely helpful is the new e-text Science Surprises: Exploring the Nature of Science, (with Teacher Guide), along with selected ENSI NOS lessons. Using these materials meets ALL the many NOS expectations in the NGSS (Appendix H).

2. DIVERSITY of LIFE: Introduction to Biology, as the Science of Life:
An Overview of the diverse forms of life, Past & Present, and their Changes Over Time. This is where you can bring your entire class together in their awareness of the main subject of any Biology course: Living organisms. In particular, it's a chance to show some of the more unusual life forms, then introduce a key tool of biologists: the microscope, to explore the world of microorganisms and cells. Finally, this is a great point to explore a sample of the fossil record, and the patterns of changing life over hundreds of millions of years. At some point, students will find themselves assigning different organisms to particular groups, e.g., animals, plants, fungi, etc. And there's your segue to the next topic: Classification.

Using furniture, hardware, etc. as example of arbitrariness in biological classification sends a WRONG message about the nested hierarchy of biologically RELATED groups. For a far more valid introduction to classification, do the Nuts & Bolts: Classification: Arbitrary or Not? lesson. Also, keying is not classifying. Clearly show the nested or hierarchical structure of biological classification, along with the taxonomic terms for each level. Show how classification has been based mainly on degrees of similarity of structures (morphology), and how useful comparative anatomy has been in doing this. As an extension of this, have your students compare the skulls of a group of hominids: Comparative Anatomy of Hominid Skulls. This is one of our most engaging lessons, and should be followed with the Chronology of Hominin Fossils, showing gradual changes over time. Problems in classification are many. For example: organisms that don't clearly fit into one of the classification categories we've recognized, e.g., Archaeopteryx, platypus, and Euglena. Each seems to fit equally well into two major groups. How can this be? How can we solve this problem? [To be answered later.]

4. EVOLUTION of LIFE: As a Testable Solution to the Many Problems Encountered:
Pre-test, what evolution IS, and is NOT...exposing common misconceptions.
Strategies and sequence for how you can effectively and engagingly introduce evolution to your students.
And be sure to introduce Tree-Thinking as it relates to classification, introducing phylogenies and cladograms.
As much as possible, use ENSI lessons that provide compelling evidence of human evolution. Now, or later in course, do Chromosome Connection, Chromosome Fusion, and/or the Molecular Sequences in Primates lesson.

If evolution explains the origin of species and the diversity of life over time, we are still left with the question: How did all of this begin? How did the first life come to be? What are some scientific explanations that attempt to answer that question? For this, we need to understand a little basic chemistry.

6.INTEGRATING EVOLUTION and NOS Throughout the Course

by Steve Randak (ENSI 1990)
NABT's first "Evolution Teacher of the Year" 2003
A suggested sequence which has worked well
and reflects much of the ENSI philosophy.


First Semester:
-----Nature of Science (5 weeks)
...........Scientific methods, science vs non-science, brief history of science

Second Semester:
-----Cell Structure and Function

by Nate Fairchild
A suggested course sequence that works well,
(especially with students who oppose evolution),
with his NEW
Integrated Introduction to Evolution and the
Nature of Science
(Contact ENSI Webmaster for Info on this if interested)

Nate Fairchild, is a dynamic middle school science teacher in Redding CA. He has a website on which he details his approach to teaching a very effective and comprehensive introductory unit on evolution (as well as incorporating the concept throughout his course) in a community with many anti-evolution families. He sent me this comment recently:
"Ultimately, it's all about learning and replacing dogma with logical thought. I have been very happy with this approach, and since it approaches the kids from left field, I do not get any (ANY!) complaints from parents, though I am sure one day I will. I feel very strongly that in a community like mine I might as well not teach evolution if I stood up and said, "OK, this is a unit on evolution and you can believe what you want." Ugh." I would add that we have an obligation as life science teachers to help students recognize inaccurate claims and concepts about science and scientific topics, and to do all we can to replace them with the most accurate and current scientific information, while making it clear why science cannot use supernatural explanations. We can do this without compromising basic religious beliefs, and certainly with respect and sensitivity for students with those beliefs. We must be as effective in this as we can.

Nate's NEW site:
(Contact ENSI Webmaster for Info on this if interested)

Nate adds: "Welcome to Discovering Evolution, the result of years of combing the web and researching methods of teaching introductory evolution to middle school students. Here you can find everything you need to teach a unit on evolution including lessons, downloadable documents and images, and links for more ideas. Extensions are included as well, particularly the excellent GEMS Life Through Time unit that my masters research showed was essential in cementing the early understanding of how life evolves over time." [In that study, his students increased their acceptance of evolution from an initial 31% to an amazing 60% (a 93% improvement!). As for understanding evolution, pre-test and post-test comparison indicated that 74% of his students either improved their scores or retained good scores after the unit (N=38). Twenty-six percent had low scores and showed no gains. - ed.]

"Although this unit can be used for simply teaching evolution, it is designed to promote acceptance of evolution as well, particularly in areas where the community generally rejects evolution. The students discover the ideas of evolution and accept them before labeling them as “evolution.” See the philosophy page for the reasoning behind this idea."

"I hope you enjoy my site and find value in it as an educator. Please contact me if you have feedback on the content or usability of this site."

Nathan Fairchild
North Woods School
Redding, CA

by Craig E. Nelson


ENSI Co-Director, Craig Nelson, has compiled a collection of about a dozen
"Effective Strategies for Teaching Evolution and Other Controversial Topics".
The Published Version is available from NSTA in the booklet titled: The Creation Controversy and the Science Classroom. (2000). Scroll down a few books, click on the title to order from NSTA Book Store. It is 32 pages long (pages 19-47), and is well-worth purchasing from NSTA for about $15 (same web page).

Craig's comments about his article in that book:
"In this I propose about a dozen specific strategies. Some of them suggest teaching young-earth and progressive and gradual creation as well as non-thesistic evolution in science classes IF AND ONLY IF they are taught in a framework that commpares their scientific strength and asks what views on non-scientific consequences might lead one to adopt each of them. This seems to me to fit with the view from physics that the only way to deal with alternative conceptions in science is to put them on the table, ask how they match the evidence and also ask why many people prefer them."

"I realise that some of the strategies I have used and present may not be prudent in some local political situations (though we have found that many high school teachers do find them useful even in quite conservative communities)."

An example of one spin-off from this rich reservoir of teaching ideas is a one-page summary and example for teaching the criteria for critical thinking and how we can use the Fair Test to get the best explanation. Take a look at this: "Fair Tests: A Basic Model for Critical Thinking in Science". If you use this in your classes, be sure to let us know how it went, and what additonal ideas you may have used to improve its effectiveness.

Another spin-off from Craig's rich reservoir of teaching ideas is an activity which has students comparing the strengths of different scientific ideas in "Is Evolution Weak Science, Good Science, or Great Science?" Take a look at it, and TRY it!

In addition, please let us know about ANY of your efforts to implement ANY of the suggestions presented by Craig. We are anxious to share these ideas with other teachers.


CRAIG E. NELSON, Professor of Biology, Indiana University
McGill Journal of Education · vol. 42 no. 2 Spring 2007, pp. 265-283.
Click Here for Abstract and Review

 An Effective Strategy for Teaching Evolution
The Natural Selection:
Identifying & Correcting Non-Science Student Preconceptions
Through an Inquiry-Based, Critical Approach to Evolution

Jennifer R. Robbins, Pamela Roy

The American Biology Teacher, vol.69, no.8, October 2007, pp. 460-466.

Review and Links by Larry Flammer

How would you like to see your students increase their accurate explanations of evolution from 6% before the unit, to 92% afterwards? Likewise, wouldn't it feel good if the number of your students accepting evolution as a viable explanation of diversity went from 59% before your course to 92% afterwards? These are the kinds of results obtained from a closely monitored approach to teaching evolution. The students were 141 college non-majors in a course that devoted about 7.3 hours (4 weekly 110-minute labs) to the assessment and teaching of evolution.


We hope that all teachers using our material will want to be as effective as they can, stimulating interest and understanding in all their students. Whenever we find useful articles that provide practical ideas for doing this, we will post them in this section. Likewise, if you discover (or write) such articles, please share with us.

Engaging Strategies:
Lots of clever ideas for the "Engaging" phase of the 5-E learning cycle.

Larry's Tips: A number of teaching strategies that have worked for many years.

Big Classroom Models: A sampling of classroom-size models to dramatize your studies and surround your students all year. Big impact on student learning.

Teach for Understanding: A collection of ideas for teaching and assessing for student understanding.


Tips and Tools for planning the school year, unit plans, and lesson plans. Early organization facilitates ordering of supplies, especially living materials needed in the course. It also includes accommodations and timing around Test Days, Teacher Work Days, school and district Off Days, etc. Plans assure that required and desired content will be included, and allotted appropriate time blocks. The whole year flows more smoothly if you've planned carefully. Note that the Planning Tips and Tools are also in PDF format for easier downloading.


There are many ways that elementary teachers can prepare their students for the science they will be studying in middle school and high school. These are just suggestions that will help them to avoid learning misconceptions and misuse of terms and concepts that would get in the way of understanding at higher levels.

First, it doesn't hurt for them to be introduced to aspects of the nature of science (NOS). There are several NOS lessons on the ENSI site that will help with this. Elementary teachers should go to the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) Appendix H. They should read it carefully, and especially notice, on the two tables on pp. 5 and 6, the appropriate grade level column on those two pages. Listed there are the Learning Outcomes (LOs) expected in science for those grade levels. Teachers should incorporate interactive experiences that will help their students to learn about those LOs. Again, several of the ENSI NOS lessons will help do this.

For more details on helping students learn material that will help them later on in science, go to the Science Preparation for Elementary Students page.