Biology Assignments For High School Students

Hands-on Activities for Teaching Biology to High School or Middle School Students

by Drs. Ingrid Waldron and Jennifer Doherty, University of Pennsylvania

The expression "hands-on, minds-on" summarizes the philosophy we have incorporated in these activities - namely, that students will learn best if they are actively engaged and if their activities are closely linked to understanding important biological concepts.

Many of our activities are explicitly aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, as indicated by (NGSS) in the descriptions below and the links to the right. Additional information is provided in Summary Tables and in the Teacher Preparation Notes for these activities. 

To accommodate limited budgets, most of our activities can be carried out with minimum equipment and expense for supplies.

Additional resources for teaching biology are available at Minds-on Activities for Teaching Biology.  These teaching resources include analysis and discussion activities, games, and overviews of important biological topics, including major concepts, common misconceptions, and suggested learning activities. We encourage you to subscribe to our listserv to receive notices when we post new activities or significantly improved versions of current activities.

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Intro and Biological Molecules

Is Yeast Alive?

Students evaluate whether the little brown grains of yeast obtained from the grocery store are alive by testing for metabolism and growth.

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Enzymes Help Us Digest Food(revised, February, 2017)

Students learn about enzyme function, enzyme specificity and the molecular basis of lactose intolerance through experiments with the enzyme lactase and analysis and discussion questions. Students engage in the scientific practices of designing and carrying out experiments and interpreting data. (NGSS)

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A Scientific Investigation – What types of food contain starch and protein?(revised, September, 2016)

In this activity, students first learn about the structure and functions of starch and protein and the basics of the synthesis of starch, amino acids and proteins. Then, students learn about scientific investigation by carrying out key components of the scientific method, including developing experimental methods, generating hypotheses, designing and carrying out experiments to test these hypotheses and, if appropriate, using experimental results to revise the hypotheses. Students carry out two experiments which test whether starch and protein are found in some or all foods derived from animals or plants or both. (NGSS)

 

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Who Took Jerell's iPod? – An Organic Compound Mystery(revised, November, 2012)

In this activity, students learn how to test for triglycerides, glucose, starch, and protein and then use these tests to solve a mystery. The activity reinforces students understanding of the biological functions and food sources of these different types of organic compounds.

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More Minds-on Activities

More Minds-on Activities for teaching about biological molecules are available at Minds-on Biological Molecules. These include an analysis and discussion activity and a game for learning and review.

Cell Structure and Function

Diffusion across a Selectively Permeable Membrane (revised, September, 2015)

Students investigate the effects of molecule size on diffusion across a synthetic selectively permeable membrane. This investigation includes a brief introduction to osmosis. Additional questions introduce students to the roles of proteins in transporting polar substances across the cell membrane and guide students in analyzing the relative advantages of two different types of model of the cell membrane. (NGSS)

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Introduction to Osmosis (revised, October, 2016)

This activity provides a sequence of learning activities designed to optimize student learning and understanding of osmosis by beginning with a student investigation of osmosis at the macroscopic level and then moving to analyzing osmosis at the molecular and cellular levels. In Part I, "What is happening to these eggs?" students observe and analyze the effects of osmosis on eggs. In Part II, "Osmosis – Effects on Animal and Plant Cells", analysis and discussion questions introduce students to a molecular and cellular understanding of osmosis and challenge students to apply this understanding to interpreting their results in Part I and several “real-world” phenomena. (NGSS)

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More Minds-on Activities

More Minds-on Activities for teaching cell biology are available at Cell Structure and Function. These include an overview, analysis and discussion activities, and a game for review.

Cellular Respiration and Photosynthesis

Alcoholic Fermentation in Yeast – A Bioengineering Design Challenge (revised, August, 2016)

This multi-part minds-on, hands-on activity helps students to understand both alcoholic fermentation and the engineering design process. In the first two parts of this activity, students learn about alcoholic fermentation and test for alcoholic fermentation by assessing CO2 production by live yeast cells in sugar water vs. two controls. The third part of this activity presents the bioengineering design challenge where students work to find the optimum sucrose concentration and temperature to maximize rapid CO2 production. Structured questions guide the students through the basic engineering steps of applying the relevant scientific background to the design problem, developing and systematically testing proposed design solutions, and then using initial results to develop and test improved design solutions. (NGSS)

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Photosynthesis Investigation (revised, September, 2017)

In the first part of this activity, students learn how to use the floating leaf disk method to measure the rate of net photosynthesis (i.e. the rate of photosynthesis minus the rate of cellular respiration). They use this method to show that net photosynthesis occurs in leaf disks in a solution of sodium bicarbonate, but not in water. Questions guide students in reviewing the relevant biology and analyzing and interpreting their results. In the second part of this activity, student groups develop hypotheses about factors that influence the rate of net photosynthesis, and then each student group designs and carries out an investigation to test the effects of one of these factors. (NGSS)

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More Minds-on Activities

More Minds-on Activities for teaching about cellular respiration, anaerobic fermentation and photosynthesis are available at Cellular Respiration and Photosynthesis. These include an overview and analysis and discussion activities.

Cell Division and Genetics

Mitosis - How a Single Cell Develops into the Trillions of Cells in a Human Body(revised, November, 2017)

In this hands-on, minds-on activity students use model chromosomes and answer analysis and discussion questions to learn how mitosis ensures that each new cell gets a complete set of genes. Students also learn how genes on chromosomes influence phenotypic characteristics and how a single cell develops into the trillions of cells in a human body. In our follow-up meiosis and fertilization activity students learn how the movement of gene-carrying chromosomes during mitosis, meiosis and fertilization results in the inheritance of genes. (NGSS)

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Meiosis and Fertilization – Understanding How Genes Are Inherited (revised, November, 2017)

Students use model chromosomes and answer analysis and discussion questions to learn how each person inherits one copy of each gene from each of his/her parents. As they model meiosis and fertilization, students follow the alleles of three human genes from the parents' body cells through gametes to zygotes. In this way, students learn how genes are transmitted from parents to offspring through the processes of meiosis and fertilization. Students analyze the results of crossing over, independent assortment and fertilization to learn how meiosis and fertilization contribute to genetic and phenotypic variation. Students also compare and contrast mitosis and meiosis, and they learn how a mistake in meiosis can result in Down syndrome or death of an embryo. This activity can be used to introduce meiosis and fertilization or to review these processes.(NGSS)

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Genetics (revised, February, 2018)

The Genetics Student Handout begins with sections that help students to understand basic principles of genetics, including (1) how genotype influences phenotype via the effects of genes on protein structure and function and (2) how genes are transmitted from parents to offspring through the processes of meiosis and fertilization. Then, a coin flip activity models the probabilistic nature of inheritance and Punnett square predictions; this helps students understand why the characteristics of children in many real families deviate from Punnett square predictions. Additional concepts covered include polygenic inheritance, incomplete dominance, and how a new mutation can result in a genetic condition that was not inherited. The Genetics Supplement includes (1) an alternative version of the introduction to genetic principles that does not require prior completion of our meiosis and fertilization activity; (2) an analysis of the genetics of sex determination that helps students understand the probabilistic nature of inheritance; and (3) analyses of the molecular basis of sickle cell anemia and sickle cell trait, including the multiple phenotypic effects of a single gene and a pedigree analysis. (NGSS)

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Were the babies switched? – The Genetics of Blood Types(revised, February, 2018)

In this minds-on, hands-on activity, students learn the genetics of the ABO blood type system. Students use simple chemicals to simulate blood type tests and then carry out genetic analyses to determine whether hospital staff accidentally switched two babies born on the same day. This activity reinforces student understanding of the fundamental concepts that genes code for proteins which influence an organism's characteristics and Punnett squares summarize how meiosis and fertilization result in inheritance. Students also learn about codominance and multiple alleles of a single gene. The first version of the Student Handout includes an introduction to the immunobiology of the ABO blood type system. The second version includes an analysis of the genetics of skin color in which students learn how fraternal twins could have very different skin colors, the concept of incomplete dominance, and how a single phenotypic characteristic can be influenced by multiple genes and the environment. (NGSS)

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Dragon Genetics – Independent Assortment and Gene Linkage (revised, January, 2010)

Students learn the principles of independent assortment and gene linkage in activities which analyze inheritance of multiple genes on the same or different chromosomes in hypothetical dragons. Students learn how these principles derive from the behavior of chromosomes during meiosis and fertilization.

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Dragon Genetics -- Understanding Inheritance(revised, August, 2012)

In this simulation activity students mimic the processes of meiosis and fertilization to investigate the inheritance of multiple genes and then use their understanding of concepts such as dominant/recessive alleles, incomplete dominance, sex-linked inheritance, and epistasis to interpret the results of the simulation. This activity can be used as a culminating activity after you have introduced classical genetics, and it can serve as formative assessment to identify any areas of confusion that require additional clarification.

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More Minds-on Activities

More Minds-on Activities for teaching about cell division and genetics are available at Cell Division and Genetics. These include overviews, analysis and discussion activities, and games for learning and review.

 

Molecular Biology

DNA(revised, December, 2016)

In this activity, students extract DNA from Archaea or from their cheek cells. Students learn key concepts about DNA function during the intervals required for the extraction procedure. Student understanding of DNA structure, function and replication is further developed by additional analysis and discussion questions and hands-on modeling of DNA replication. (NGSS)

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From Gene to Protein - Transcription and Translation (revised, July, 2017)

In this hands-on, minds-on activity students learn (1) how genes provide the instructions for making a protein via transcription and translation and (2) how genes influence characteristics such as albinism and sickle cell anemia. Students use simple paper models to simulate the molecular processes of transcription and translation. This activity also includes multiple figures, brief explanations, and questions, together with four recommended videos. You can use this activity to introduce students to transcription and translation or to reinforce and enhance student understanding. An alternative version omits the paper models ("From Gene to Protein via Transcription and Translation"; From Gene to Protein via Transcription and Translation).  (NGSS)

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UV, Mutations, and DNA Repair(revised, February, 2017)

Students learn about the effects of UV light, mutations and DNA repair on the survival of prokaryotes and the risk of skin cancer. In the first experiment, students evaluate the effects of different durations of UV exposure on survival and population growth of Haloferax volcanii. This experiment also tests for photorepair of DNA damage. Students design the second experiment, which evaluates the effectiveness of sunscreen. In addition, students answer analysis and discussion questions that promote their understanding of molecular biology, cancer, and the interpretation of experimental results. (NGSS)

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More Minds-on Activities

More Minds-on Activities for teaching molecular biology are available at Molecular Biology.These include an overview and analysis and discussion activities.

 

Evolution, Ecology and Diversity  

Evolution by Natural Selection (revised, February, 2018)

In this minds-on, hands-on activity, students develop their understanding of natural selection by analyzing specific examples and carrying out a simulation. The questions in the first section introduce students to the basic process of natural selection, including key concepts and vocabulary. The second section includes a simulation activity, data analysis, and questions to deepen students' understanding of natural selection, including the conditions that are required for natural selection to occur. (Alternative versions of this simulation are available). In the third section, students interpret evidence concerning natural selection in the peppered moth and answer questions to consolidate a scientifically accurate understanding of the process of natural selection, including the role of changes in allele frequency. (NGSS)

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Some Similarities between the Spread of Infectious Disease and Population Growth (revised, March, 2018)

First, students analyze a hypothetical example of exponential growth in the number of infected individuals. Then, a class simulation of the spread of an infectious disease shows a trend that approximates logistic growth. Next, students analyze examples of exponential and logistic population growth and learn about the biological processes that result in exponential or logistic population growth. Finally, students analyze how changes in the biotic or abiotic environment can affect population size; these examples illustrate the limitations of the exponential and logistic population growth models. (NGSS)

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Food Webs, Energy Flow, Carbon Cycle and Trophic Pyramids(revised, August, 2017)

In this activity, students analyze the production and utilization of organic molecules in ecosystems. Students construct a food web for Yellowstone National Park, including producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, decomposers, and trophic omnivores. Then, students analyze a trophic cascade that resulted when wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone.

Students learn how organic molecules move and are transformed in ecosystems as a result of the trophic relationships in food webs, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, and biosynthesis. This provides the basis for understanding carbon cycles and energy flow through ecosystems. In the final section, students use these concepts and quantitative reasoning to understand trophic pyramids. (NGSS).

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What Parts of a Plant Do We Eat?

Students review the structure of angiosperm plants and learn about the diversity of plant form by using evidence from examination of fruits and vegetables to identify which part of the plant each fruit or vegetable is.

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Invertebrate Diversity (revised, May, 2011)

Students compare the external anatomy and locomotion of earthworms, mealworms, crickets and crayfish, all of which can be purchased at low cost from local pet stores. Discussion questions help students understand the evolutionary basis of observed similarities and differences. This activity can be used as an introduction to the Annelid and Arthropod phyla and the principle that form matches function.

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 Moldy Jell-O

Students design experiments to determine how substrate and environmental conditions influence growth of common molds. Students carry out their experiments, analyze and interpret their evidence, and prepare a report.

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More Minds-on Activities

More minds-on analysis and discussion activities for teaching evolution and ecology are available at Ecology and Evolution. 

 

Human Physiology

Homeostasis and Negative Feedback – Concepts and Breathing Experiments  (revised, August, 2017)

This minds-on, hands-on activity begins with analysis and discussion questions that develop student understanding of homeostasis and negative feedback, the difference between negative and positive feedback, and the cooperation between the respiratory and circulatory systems to provide O2 and remove CO2 for cells all over the body. Then, students carry out and analyze an experiment which investigates how rate and depth of breathing are affected by negative feedback regulation of blood levels of CO2 and O2. Finally, students formulate a question concerning effects of exercise on breathing, design and carry out a relevant experiment, analyze and interpret their data, and relate their results to homeostasis during exercise. (NGSS)

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Regulation of Human Heart Rate (revised, July, 2013)

Students learn how to measure heart rate accurately. Then students design and carry out an experiment to test the effects of an activity or stimulus on heart rate, analyze and interpret the data, and present their experiments in a poster session. In this activity students learn about both cardiac physiology and scientific method.

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How do we Sense the Flavors of Food? (new, July, 2017)

In this minds-on activity, students develop science practice skills by developing plans for a hands-on investigation, carrying out the investigation, analyzing the data, and interpreting the results. Then, students answer analysis and discussion questions as they develop a basic understanding of how taste and olfactory receptor cells function and how sensory messages to the brain contribute to flavor perception and flavor-related behavior. (NGSS)

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More Minds-on Activities

More minds-on analysis and discussion activities for teaching physiology and health are available at Human Physiology and Health. 

 

View and Submit General Comments

If you prefer, you can send a private message with comments or requests for additional information to Ingrid Waldron at iwaldron@sas.upenn.edu.

© 2003- by Drs. Ingrid Waldron, Jennifer Doherty, Scott Poethig, and Lori Spindler, University of Pennsylvania Biology Department, and Bob Farber, retired from Central High School, Philadelphia

Teachers are encouraged to copy and modify these labs for use in their teaching.


Index of Hands-On Activities for Teaching Biology | Forums | Next Generation Science Standards learning activities | Science and Education | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 07-Mar-2018 11:28:45 EST

Biology Classroom Resources

This collection of lessons and web resources is aimed at classroom teachers, their students, and students' families. Most of these resources come from the National Science Digital Library (NSDL). NSDL is the National Science Foundation's online library of resources for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. See www.nsdl.org

Teachers' Domain: Life Science
Resource: Educator (grades K-12)
http://www.teachersdomain.org/collection/k12/sci.life/
The Teachers' Domain Web site provides information about life science including lesson plans, short video clips and high quality photographs.

Birdsleuth
Resource: Educator (grades K-8), Children (grades pre-K-8) and Parents
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/birdsleuth
Developed at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Birdsleuth curriculum is a series of inquiry-based units for elementary and middle school students who learn to identify birds and submit data to a national online database, all the while helping scientists to better understand birds. Educators can provide some simple information and get access to specific lessons. Children can also access the online magazine which features research done by children for children.

Turtle Trax
Resource: General Public and Student Research Information
http://www.turtles.org
This site highlights the wonder and beauty of the marine turtle, specifically, the Hawaiian green sea turtle. Content provides the user with information on the plight and decreasing population of the sea turtle as well as opportunities to help their survival.

Neuroscience for Kids
Resource: Educator (grades K-8), Students (grades K-8) and Parents
http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/neurok.html
This Web site "Neuroscience for Kids", maintained by Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D., is for students and teachers who would like to learn more about the nervous system. The focus is on the functioning of the brain. The site offers content for teachers in the classroom as well as captivating and fun activities and games for students from grade K-8.

Cool Science for Curious Kids
Resource: Educator (middle and high school) and Children (ages 5-7)
http://www.hhmi.org/coolscience/index.html
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute invites an audience of educators and students of all ages to explore science and math. The site provides teacher resources with free registration and a secion for "Curious Kids" with simple projects.

ActionBioscience.org
Resource: Educator (high school-college level), Science Professionals and the General Public
http://www.actionbioscience.org
This Web site is an educational resource of the American Institute of Biological Sciences that promotes bioscience literacy. The site provides articles by scientists, science educators and science students on many topics such as biodiversity, environment, genomics, biotechnology and more. It also includes original lessons and resources to enhance bioscience teaching.

Sci4Kids
Resource: Educator (elementary school) and Parents
http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/kids/
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency, finds solutions to agricultural problems that affect Americans every day, from field to table. This webpage has animated, fun stories for young children presenting factual information which affects their daily lives.

Slug Site
Resource: General Public and Student research information
http://www.slugsite.tierranet.com
The Slug Site is a Web site whoes mission is to support scientific and medical research relating to seaslugs (Mollusca, Opisthobranchia, Nudibranchia) and their allies. The site has provides professional and general information resources and photos from around the world. The photos and videos are beautiful! Although the site targets an audience of high school and above, the site would capture the imagination of the younger audience as well.

Whales Online
Resource: General Public and Student Research Information
http://www.whales-online.org
Whales Online is an information site dedicated to the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Southern Hemisphere. The site provides valuable information for the protection of these mammals and their enviornment and safety. The beautiful videos and stories will be enjoyed by all ages.

Cells Alive
Resource: Educator (high school and above), Student Research Information and General Public
http://www.cellsalive.com
All text, images and layout is provided by Jim Sullivan and represents over 25 years of experience capturing film and computer-enhanced images of living cells and organisms for education and medical research. Cells Alive provides great annimations and videos which can be downloaded for classroom use.

Marine Biology Web, an Educational Resource
Resource: General Public and Student Research Information
http://life.bio.sunysb.edu/marinebio/mbweb.html
Maintained by marine biologist Jeff Levinton, the site is an educational resource for marine biology students at pre-college level and above, and includes reference lists organized by subject. The site provides current articles and numerous links to other sites.

BioTech
Resource: Students (high school-graduate student level) and Professional Researchers
http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/
Located at University of Texas at Austin, BioTech is a hybrid biology/chemistry educational resource and research tool intended to be a learning tool to enhance knowledge of biology issues. The site provides quick access to biology-related resources for high school level and above.

Strange Science
Resource: General Public
http://www.strangescience.net/index.htm
Strange Science is a Web site which describes the history of paleontology and biology by emphasizing the people who contributed to these fields and some of their erroneous theories. Although this site focuses more on the history of science than on evolution, it treats evolution as a scientific fact, not "just a theory."

T-Rex
Resource: Educator
http://school.discovery.com
The Discovery Web site provides a lesson plan section for teachers from grades K-12. This specific one is about T-Rex and is one of many lesson plans relating to animals for grades 6-8 . All lesson plans include objectives, materials, procedures, discussion questions, evaluation ideas, suggested readings and vocabulary.

Biology Research Overview
Resource: All Audiences
http://www.nsf.gov/news/overviews/biology/index.jsp
A bat, a mushroom, a long blade of prairie grass. They're easy to identify as "life." what about a cold virus? Mold growing on a slice of bread? Or seeds encased in hard protective "shells" that can lie dormant for centuries? What, in essence, is this thing we call life? This Web page on the National Science Foundations's Web site gives us answers to many biological questions. Beautiful images can ignite the interest of all ages.

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