An Introduction to Concept Mapping

Written by Eric J. Simon, New England College; Shane Evans; LBW Community College; Caroline McNutt, Schoolcraft College; Jody Hibma, Minnesota State Community and Technical College; Robert Maynard, Pearl River Community College

Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will become familiar with the methods of creating concept maps to aid learning

Activity Description: Students are presented with a basic concept mapping activity to familiarize them with the technique. After creating individual concept maps based on a personal hobby, students are grouped to exchange and combine maps. This activity scaffolds basic concept map construction of a familiar topic with more complex tasks such as combining concept maps.

Time Needed: 20 minutes

Materials Needed: Writing implements and surface (chalk if using soapstone desks/tables, craft paper for regular desks/tables), index cards, permanent markers

Activity Instructions: Concept maps are an excellent means of teaching vocabulary terms to students and helping them see the connections between terms. But most students are unfamiliar with the construction of concept maps and require practice before they can be useful. This activity is intended to give students such practice using terms that are very familiar to them.

Start by instructing every student to think of a personal hobby, something about which they know more than the average person. Pass out index cards (5 per student) and ask students to write one term relating to their hobby per index. Students should write the term in big bold letters so that they can be read from a distance. Next, have the students arrange the index cards on their writing surface. Students should then connect each index card to at least one other by drawing a line between them. Students may slide cards around to rearrange them as they construct their concept map. Once they like the arrangement of the terms, students should write phrases on each connecting line that connects the two terms in a logical, meaningful way. For example, if a student enjoys fishing, the terms “pole” and “rod” might be connected by the phrase “attached to” so that it reads “pole attached to rod”.

After approximately 10 minutes, each student should have created a concept map for their hobby. Ask students to state their hobbies out loud and form groups that shared the same hobby. The members of the group should view and comment on each other’s concept maps. This portion of the activity emphasizes that there is no “correct” concept map; as long as terms are connected in logically meaningful ways, and as long as the connecting phrases are correct, all concept maps are equally valid. Ask students to comment on each other’s concept maps.

As a final step in this activity, ask students to combine separate concept maps into one “master” concept map for that activity. Presumably, two students with the same hobby will have some repeated terms. For these, just choose one card. Students can place all of the unique terms into a single large map that represents a broader take on that hobby.

End the activity by having groups share their concepts maps with other groups.

Be sure to write this clearly so others can follow. Consider including additional information such as how students might respond or alternative ways to do this in different sized classrooms.

Worksheet: [none]

Assessment: You may wish to have students copy their final concept map onto paper for handing in and evaluation. Provide feedback if a proper concept map format is not followed.


Peanut Butter Sandwich: Cell Membrane Structure

Written by Kathy Watkins, Central Piedmont Community College

The phospholipid bilayer is like two slices of bread with peanut butter.

The peanut butter is like the hydrophobic center (fatty acid chains). The phosphorous containing heads are like the two pieces of bread.

(Students might be asked to explore how the sandwich can be modified to represent channels, proteins, and cholesterol, etc. in the membrane.)


Gene Expression Data Interpretation

Written by Kelly A. Hogan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Learning Outcomes:

  • Analyze data and make a conclusion
  • Explain what makes cells genetically similar and different from each other.

Activity Description: Students examine output data from a microarray examining mRNA in two different cell types

Time Needed: 5 minutes

Materials Needed: Microarray image on a slide or as a worksheet; a sample data set is included but a search on the internet will yield similar types of microarray data

Activity Instructions: Individually, students are asked to describe the results and make a one-sentence conclusion about the data they see. After wrestling with the data for a while, they are asked to find a group and come to a consensus about what these data are telling them. Lastly, they can individually answer multiple-choice (clicker) assessment to confirm their individual understanding on the topic of gene expression.

Worksheet: Gene Expression Interpreting Data Worksheet

Assessment: Which conclusion is supported by the data you just examined?

1)      Different cell types have a different set of “instructions” (genes).

2)      A different set of genes is transcribed in different cell types.

3)      There is variation in amount of mRNA even within cells of the same cell type.


Choice 1: Not supported. The same genes are found in each cell of the human genome– it is the expression of these genes that differs. For example, we see in the top row that this gene is found in all the cells—it is their color intensity (expression) that differs.

Choice 2: Supported. The top set of genes are generally more highly expressed in type A cells and these same genes are lowly expressed in type B cells. (We could reveal a circle around this region on the chart to help the student see what this explanation means.)

Choice 3: Supported.  Not all type A cells are identical . For example, if you scan across a row for cell type A, you will see a range of dark pink and light pink. (Circle some example areas on the chart?)


Homeostasis of a Sleepiness Factor

Written Kelly A. Hogan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Designed with some material from:

Learning Outcomes:

  • Define homeostasis and negative feedback
  • Predict how a sleepiness factor will fluctuate throughout a 24-hour period
  • Graph a sleepiness factor’s fluctuation throughout a 24-hour period under various conditions
  • Provide feedback to peers about their predictions and graphs

Activity Description: The activity begins with some think-pair-share questions to review homeostasis or to use with a mini-lecture. Students are given some information about the importance of sleep and the function of a sleepiness factor. They then predict how it would fluctuate throughout the day under normal and sleep-deprived situations. Students communicate their predictions through a graph in which they must decide how to set up the X- and Y- axes and draw the lines.  Students then swap graphs with partners to evaluate and discuss their peer’s graphs. A final question has students making a prediction about their graphs is caffeine was introduced.

Time Needed: Introduction (5-10 minutes) + 20 minutes for graphing

Materials Needed: Powerpoint - Homeostasis.ppt;  also see for as much background as you might want to cover on the importance of sleep and other review articles

Activity Instructions: Use the powerpoint to step through ideas about how to present the material. Directions for graphing are included. Have students use blank paper to draw out graphs.  This can be done in a very large class, questions included could be used as clicker questions too.

Worksheet: [none]

Assessment: There are several included in the presentation. Plus:

1. A sleepiness factor is expected to be higher in a person who:

a) has just woken up from a night’s sleep of 8 hours

b) is two hours into a day after 8 hours of sleep

*c) has just woken up from a night’s sleep of 3 hours

2. Sleepiness factor continues to rise through the day, what keeps the levels of SF from continually rising and rising?

Negative feedback: when a person sleeps, the factor decreases. A good night sleep decreases it greatly. Sleep debt results in the SF not decreasing as much.

3. Draw a graph showing the SF levels of an individual who: works a night shift for 8 hours every night, sleeps for 4 hours in the AM every day,  is awake for another 8 hours, and then takes a 4 hour nap every day before the night shift. How do the levels compare to a person that sleeps continuously for 8 hours?


Introductory Journal Club

Written by Andrea Bixler, Clarke University

Learning Outcomes:

- To practice reading and communicating about instructor-chosen areas of science

Activity Description:

In this activity, groups of students read short newspaper or magazine articles and share the information contained therein.  It’s like a journal club, but with simpler content and writing, and a shorter time commitment, making it more appropriate for introductory classes.  The articles are chosen in advance by the instructor to fit his/her instructional objectives.  Several articles can be provided on one subject, perhaps to give additional information on a difficult topic, demonstrate multiple approaches to one problem, or offer several examples of a single concept.  Alternatively, articles may focus on a range of related subjects, such as radiometric dating, how fossils are formed, and mass extinctions.  By having different groups of students read different articles, then briefly review the highlights for their classmates, the instructor can add a lot of material to the course relatively quickly in an active learning format.

Articles may be given to students in a previous class period to be read as homework, or at the beginning of the activity to be read in class.  As with any other discussion assignment, students may hit on the crucial points easily, or the instructor may have to help the students discover the important elements with guided questioning.  After students have read the articles, the instructor solicits comments about them, either generally, or on specific points of interest.

Students will be more likely to relate the information in the article to the points the instructor wants to emphasize if they are given specific questions when they start to read the article.  Depending on the learning objectives, these questions could be as simple as “What did you find most interesting in the article?” or “How does the research described in the article relate to [support/differ from/help you understand] the discussion in your text?”  Alternatively, questions or directions could be much more specific, such as “Be able to explain how researchers arrived at an age of 12,000 years for the fossil primate.”

Time Needed: One class period (can be increased or decreased depending on needs)

Materials Needed:

Where to find appropriate articles:

- Science sections of newspapers, such as Science Tuesday in The New York Times

- Popular science magazines such as Discover, National Geographic, National Wildlife, Scientific American

- Blogs such as those at

- Or sign up for a daily e-mail of science news from Sigma Xi at

A note on copyright: most newspapers and magazines will make their articles available for classroom use for a fee that they consider to be small, but which may still be outside your budget.  To eliminate copyright concerns, you may wish to provide only a link to each article, not a copy of the article.  This would necessitate you providing the articles in advance of class unless your students all have internet access during class.  It is also considered lawful to use a new article soon enough after its publication that you could not reasonably be expected to obtain copyright permission.  This of course means that you would not use that same article the next semester without requesting permission to do so.  Blogs may be an entirely different story, depending on how they are protected.  Check the copyright specifications on the blog in question.

Activity Instructions: The article choice will vary widely depending on instructor’s objectives. To promote discussion, I typically have each group of students discuss their answers before the whole-class discussion, and I tell them that everyone is required to have an answer ready, even if it is not their own.  Under this scenario, I feel comfortable calling on anyone, hand raised or not.  Otherwise, I just ask for volunteers.  It would also be possible to do a more formal set-up in which one group member is the reporter and the others have individual jobs (recorder, researcher, etc.) .

Example: First Artificial Enzyme Created by Evolution in a Test Tube

Read the article from Science Daily here.

Assessment: (example questions that could be used with the article above).

Your textbook discusses 4 steps that would lead to the abiotic origin of life.  This explanation was around for decades before the research reported here.

1. What is special or different about how these scientists developed the new enzyme?

2. How does the development of the new enzyme help us better understand the abiotic origin of life?

3. What is relevant or important about the enzyme being a type of RNA ligase?


Speed Dating with Gene Testing

Written by Kelly A. Hogan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Learning Outcomes:

- Evaluate the strength of the scientific studies presented at direct to consumer personal genomic testing services.

- Practice science communication through a two-minute discussion several times with different partners.

Activity Description: Students (for a class of approximately 30) are assigned prior to the activity one genetic test.  They will use the 23andme website to find out information about the gene test for their assigned trait/disease. During the activity, students follow a sort of “speed dating” protocol in which each student will meet with four other students (5 min each). After the four 5-minute sessions, students will be given an opportunity to choose other students’ presentations they found especially engaging.

Time Needed: 30 minutes in class

Materials Needed: Speed Dating with Gene Testing Homework and DNA Cards Worksheet

Activity Instructions: A week prior to the activity, assign each student to a genetic test (see the list and the student assignment attached). On the day of the activity, set up the classroom– make an inner circle and an outer circle of students, with equal numbers in each circle.  Randomly give five students one of the DNA cards before the activity begins. Each student is initially paired with and talks to another student for a total of 5 minutes. During this time, they each get about 2 minutes to tell each other what they learned.

While talking, each pair should have the list of “question prompts,” but they should not have their own notes out. They can each talk for two minutes straight or they can go back and forth for the 5 minutes. They can decide as a pair initially.

When the buzzer sounds, students in the outer circle rotate and meet with the next student for another 5 minutes. Repeat two more times, such that each student has spoken with four students over the course of 20 minutes. (Rather than a circle, you might try two rows of students in which one of the two rows moves every 5 minutes).

After the four 5-minute sessions, each of the five students with a card chooses one person they found especially engaging by giving them their DNA (a picture card, analogous to a reality show and a rose; see attached). Ask them to explain why. This is meant to get the discussion started, but others might want to also tell what they found most engaging.

Print an image like this to make the DNA cards:








Q: If an Asian male wanted to be tested by 23andme, would the results be applicable to him? Explain why or why not.

A: Yes and no. Many of the tests have been validated by studies of specific ethnicities but the studies have not been replicated in all populations. This does not mean that the results won’t hold true in other ethnicities, but there are limitations to the current knowledge. Nonetheless, many tests have been validated in multiple ethnicities. The site clearly states this for each gene test, so he can look to see which have been specifically validated in Asians.

Using Analogies in Microbiology: The Bacterial Cell as an Entertainment Venue to Illustrate the ATP-binding Cassette (ABC) Transport System

Written by Kristen Z. Swider, Capital Community College

Students in my microbiology class are relatively unfamiliar with the scientific concepts involved in the course and will often attempt to rely on memorization. However, due to the complex nature of the material, it is difficult to access information from the perspective of pure recall. As abstract concepts are discussed throughout a science course, many learners still operating in the concrete stage of development may be lost by a failure to attach understanding to anything of substance. As a result, the concepts are often missed during examinations. There is no requirement that an instructor complicate the approach in order to communicate scientific principles. For these reasons, the use of analogies to illustrate complex processes can enhance a student’s comprehension of the material and make connections that promote lifelong learning. Analogies may be presented to the learner as prepared elements of a lecture or they may be generated by the learners themselves. Self-generated analogies can and do occur spontaneously in discussion. Students are encouraged to develop and present analogies to the class. In either case, the interactive, social process of exploring analogies, whatever their source, contributes to the learning process.

How the ATP-binding Cassette (ABC) Transport System Works

- ATP-binding cassette (ABC) system: This involves substrate-specific binding proteins located in the bacterial periplasm, the gel-like substance between the bacterial cell wall and cytoplasmic membrane.

- The periplasmic-binding protein attaches temporarily to the substance to be transported and carries it to

- Meanwhile, ATP gets broken down into ADP, and phosphate, releasing energy. It is this energy that powers the transport of the substrate, by way of the membrane-binding transporter, across the membrane and into the cytoplasm.

- Examples of active transport by means of ABC systems include the transport of certain sugars and amino acids. There are hundreds of different ABC transport systems in bacteria.


The Bacterial Cell as an Entertainment Venue to Illustrate the ATP-Binding Cassette (ABC) Transport System

The players:

Bacterial cell: Entertainment Venue

Substrate: Patron

Periplasm: Outer arena area

Substrate-specific binding protein: Event ticket

Cytoplasmic membrane: Inner arena barrier with turnstiles

Membrane-spanning transport protein: Turnstile

Cytoplasm: Event location (inner arena)

ATP: energy needed to move the turn-stile and allow entry of the substrate (Patron)

- The bacterial cell is the entertainment venue, with the cell wall being the outer boundary of the arena property. Once the patron reaches the arena, he/she can easily migrate through the cell wall to the inner arena (periplasm) since a “ticket” is not yet needed.

- In order for the patron to gain entry into the main arena area of the venue (cytoplasm), he/she must pick up a ticket at a will call/box office. Here in the periplasm, a patron will pick up a pre-prepared ticket (periplasmic binding protein) just before the entering the event.

- Before entering the main arena area, the patron with the ticket (transportable substance and periplasmic binding protein complex) must enter the arena through the turnstile (membrane-spanning transport protein). A turnstile is a form of gate which allows one person to pass at a time. A turnstile can restrict passage only to patrons who provide a coin or a ticket. It can also be made so as to enforce one-way traffic of people.

- Once at the turnstile, the ticket (periplasmic binding protein) gets left behind, and the transportable substrate (patron) can enter the cell via a turnstile.

- As the substrate (patron) moves through the turnstile, energy is required, and ATP is broken down. The patron (substrate) is now in the arena and can be used by the cell.


Media Review: Grade Reader created by Jeremy Petranka, Department of Economics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Reviewed by Kelly A. Hogan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Are you almost done with the semester, but still need to submit grades? Maybe your institution has you submit them electronically, directly from a spreadsheet? If so, kudos to your university! If this isn’t your situation, keep reading, as you may find this website really useful. Grade Reader reads grades from your Excel file aloud, so you can enter them electronically or write them on the official grade roll documents. I have been using my spouse for years to enter grades for over 600 students per semester. Now Grade Reader can replace my husband!

At the site below, the creator of the program, Jeremy Petranka, has a tutorial explaining the program and why it’s better than simply using Excel’s cell reading function. While he details the reasons UNC faculty will find utility in it for our specific grading management system, the function translates to any institution where instructors have to enter grades manually in some way. The program (Windows only) can be downloaded here too. It is easily edited to grades that fit your institution, and Jeremy shows this in the tutorial.

Do you have any ways that make you more efficient at the beginning or end of the semester? Please share in the comments!

Vertebrate Phylogeny

Written by Kelly A Hogan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Learning Outcomes:

- To describe how phylogenetic trees show evolutionary relationships

- To describe shared characteristics in vertebrate evolution

- To construct a simple phylogenetic tree for mammalian evolution

Activity Description: This activity can be used while teaching vertebrate evolution. It will also bring in phylogeny, as a way for students to see relationships rather than lists of characteristics to memorize about vertebrate. Students will explain phylogenetic trees, practice with the vertebrate phylogenetic tree they have seen in their textbook, and then construct their own tree to demonstrate their understanding of phylogeny. After the worksheet, an assessment question (see below) can be used b the instructor in various ways.

Time Needed: 15-20 minutes

Materials Needed: The activity worksheet can be printed for class time. A key is also attached. An optional “Guided Reading Questions” worksheet accompanies the activity for students to do on their own while reading to prepare for this day’s activity.

Vertebrate Phylogeny Worksheet

Vertebrate Phylogeny Worksheet KEY

Guided Readings Questions for Vertebrate Evolution

Activity Instructions: Students should read about vertebrate evolution before this activity. Students work through the worksheet and are then given the assessment below.

Assessment: The following assessment is adapted from an “Applying the Concepts” Question in Chapter 15 of Campbell Biology Concepts and Connections 7th Edition. It can easily be modified into a set of clicker or multiple choice exam questions.

Directions: Arrange the species on the phylogenetic tree below and indicate the derived character that defines each branch point.

Numerous questions can be made for clicker or test exams for students to make correct labels. Example:

What should be at label “Z”?

A)    Fur

B)     Green Skin

C)    Bleeker

D)    Suction Cup Feet

E)     Giant Eyes

Answer: D

Key: for all labels:

W – Green Skin

X – Giant Eyes

Y – Fur

Z – Suction Cup Feet

1- Bleeker

2- Floof

3- Snoozle

4- LooHoo