Classroom Technology

Tech Tools Help Make Biology Classes a Visual Experience

By Michelle R. Davis — June 25, 2008 3 min read

Biology teacher Samantha A. Moyer weaves the use of an interactive whiteboard, PowerPoint presentations, streaming video, and a three-dimensional projector into her teaching, whether the topic is ecology or genetics. She wouldn’t know how to use the old-school transparencies that were once a staple of biology class if she had to.

Moyer, who teaches 10th graders at Carlisle High School in Carlisle, Pa., says high-tech gadgets and presentations are the way to reach her students, turning once-abstract concepts into easier-to-understand visual images.

“You’re talking about things on a microscopic level, and suddenly they’re seeing how it really happens,” says Moyer. “The technology brings it to life.”

Her 4,700-student district is part of Pennsylvania’s digital-school-district initiative, a state-sponsored effort to identify better ways to use technology to raise student achievement and improve the management of schools.

Many of the changes in technology used in biology instruction, particularly at the high school level, have trickled down from colleges and universities, says John M. Moore, the president-elect of the Reston, Va.-based National Association of Biology Teachers.

“There’s been a fast movement into the DNA and biotechnology areas on the college and graduate levels,” he says. “That has filtered down to what needs to be taught in high schools in any type of advanced courses.”

That can mean high-tech probes and equipment for cutting, splicing, and separating DNA, or introducing viruses for lab study, he says.

Many of the high-tech devices collect computer data and do calculations in an instant, says Bunny Jaskot, the director-coordinator for the NABT’s executive board and the association’s Region II coordinator for New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. “The benefit is that it gets done quickly, and in school you have a limited number of minutes,” she says. “Time is of the essence.”

Electronic data-collection tools also help students avoid a time lag in data collection so they don’t lose interest, says Brian R. Shmaefsky, a professor of biology at Kingswood College in Houston.

“It expedites interpreting the data,” Shmaefsky says. “In the earlier stages, it gets [students] to the outcomes you want to teach quicker with less frustration. For the younger kids, I want them to succeed using the right thinking and not having to worry about every variable and things going wrong.”

In addition, the gadgets help prepare students for the real world of research. ”I don’t know of anyone in research doing their own calculations,” says Jaskot, who recently retired from teaching high school life sciences after 40 years.

Shmaefsky says that in his own research field of biochemistry, he and his colleagues often do computer modeling before they begin any actual laboratory research.

Visualizing Biology

Technology also helps students picture key biology concepts that take place on a micro level and can be hard to grasp. New computer simulations that can be presented with an interactive whiteboard or on class computers, for example, give students a better visual concept of what takes place, Moore says.

For example, teaching concepts about cell respiration, protein synthesis, or even what the inside of a cell looks like has been difficult in a static, one-dimensional format, but now “it can be in a three-dimensional format, and technology almost places you inside of these structures,” he says.

“It removes the abstract nature so students can picture what is actually happening.”

Other teachers use simulations in place of dissections to allow students who object to picking apart earthworms, frog intestines, or fetal pigs to instead get a virtual experience.

Moyer, the Carlisle High biology teacher, says when she introduces earthworm dissection to her students, she uses a special projector, which allows for 3-D projection, to show her dissection to the class. “I’ll put the whole dissecting tray on the projector and put it up on the Smartboard,” she says.

Virtual labs and manipulation can also help in classwork on biotechnology and genetics. Programs let students breed fruit flies “virtually”—without worrying about the variables that can come into play in real life, Shmaefsky says. And such technology can enable students to do experiments that otherwise would be too dangerous or too costly.

“Today’s students expect this high-tech approach,” Shmaefsky adds.

“They’re really used to this 3-D image from video games like World of Warcraft,” he says. “They live in this three-dimensional world.”

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Interactive Learning Best Practices: Creative Ways Interactive Displays Engage Students
Students and teachers alike struggle in our newly hybrid world where learning takes place partly on-site and partly online. Focus, engagement, and motivation have become big concerns in this transition. In this webinar, we will
Content provided by Samsung
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology Opinion The Stanford Scholar Bent on Helping Digital Readers Spot Fake News
Rick Hess speaks with Sam Wineburg about fake news, digital learning, and how to help children navigate online content.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Whitepaper
Assessing Integrity & Reliability White Paper
A survey of 600 teachers, principals, and administrators about their experiences with remote and hybrid learning during the COVID-19 scho...
Content provided by GradeCam
Classroom Technology Opinion Beyond the Invite: What Is Clubhouse and Why Should Educators Care?
Clubhouse is a new social-media app with clubs, rooms, and stages. Why are so many educators flocking to it right now?
7 min read
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Whitepaper
Maximize the Effectiveness of School Technology
Download our white paper to learn about three key factors to consider when making purchasing decisions around education technology.
Content provided by Reading Plus