Biology Lessons

Biology lessons are incorporated throughout the PULSE curriculum, but primarily in three units: Dawn of New Revolutions: Revolutionizing Biology to meet Needs, Disease and Epidemics: Architects of History, and Protecting Human Subjects: Skin Cancer Clinical Studies. There are life science components to other units as well.

The lessons are organized to concentrate on big ideas, each addressed by a learning cycle. At the completion of each big idea’s learning cycle students should be able to answer the corresponding essential question.

Typically, each learning cycle contains four lessons. The lessons associated with a specific learning cycle may take from a couple of days to a few weeks to complete. The first lesson engages the students' interest in the big idea, prompting them to demonstrate the background they bring to the topic and to ask questions. In the second lesson, students explore the big idea, searching for answers to their questions and expanding their understanding of the concept. The third lesson is an opportunity for students to explain the big idea. In the fourth lesson the students apply what they learned to a new situation.

The biology learning cycles of all three units address National Science Education Standards. In Dawn of New Revolutions and Disease & Epidemics students explore biological concepts that have shaped the world’s history. These two units also address world history, language arts and general mathematics. The Protecting Human Subjects: Skin Cancer Clinical Studies unit addresses biological concepts alongside physics, government, language arts and mathematics.

  • In "Dawn of New Revolutions: Revolutionizing biology to meet Needs", described below, students investigate how revolutions, conflict and change, and resource management impact human health. Students develop an understanding of basic genetics, photosynthesis, plant reproduction and introductory toxicity issues in relation to pesticides and genetically modified foods.
  • In "Diseases and Epidemics: Architects of History", described below, students explore how the study of diseases, epidemics and disease management offers opportunities for exploration of biological evolution, immune systems, interaction between humans and their environment, and interaction among organisms.
  • In "Protecting Human Subjects: Skin Cancer Clinical Studies", described below, students explore the timeline of biomedical research and the importance of animal and human (clinical) trials in that process. To do this, students will use the example of skin cancer and its relationship with UV exposure.

At the end of the unit, the students will be able to apply their new scientific understanding to the Major Project where they produce a product to demonstrate what they learned in the unit.

  • For "Dawn of New Revolutions: Revolutionizing Biology to meet Needs", students piece together the myriad of conflicting factors that complicate the world of international decision making and debate these factors from the perspectives of various nations, in a United Nations style debate.
  • For "Diseases and Epidemics: Architects of History", after connecting with a public health official, students provide a public service message concerning a local health concern.
  • For "Protecting Human Subjects: Skin Cancer Clinical Studies", students create an informed consent document for a skin cancer study.
"Diseases and Epidemics: Architects of History"
5 Essential Questions for 5 Big Ideas
Project time to complete: 10 weeks
What is disease and what are the possible origins of disease? What characterizes an infectious disease?
Big Idea
Most of the diseases we are familiar with are the result from the impacts of external factors, (biological and chemical), genetic, or developmental. Infectious diseases are transmitted person to person, via contaminated food & water, and/or via animal vectors. During a disease, some aspect or aspects of the body’s normal state is disturbed and homeostasis is not maintained.
How does the body defend itself? What is immunity?
Big Idea
The immune system is an interacting system of specific and non-specific components that protects the body through physical, chemical and cellular means.
Bugs are bugs right? How different are different microorganisms and how does that affect the damage they inflict and how they are dealt with?
Big Idea
Pathogenic microorganisms take a variety of forms and correspondingly impact the body in different manners
How do medications work? How are specific pathogens dealt with?
Big Idea
Building upon our understanding of natural immunity has allowed the development of vaccinations and antibiotics and a greater understanding of disease.
Where do new diseases come from and how do they ‘beat the system’ we have in place to defend against them?
Big Idea
Diseases emerge & re-emerge over time. The emergence of a disease can be impacted by behavioral practices.


"Dawn of New Revolutions: Revolutionizing Biology to meet Needs"
6 Essential Questions for 6 Big Ideas
Project time to complete: 8 weeks
How do humans modify plants and animals to suit their agriculutral needs and what impact does that have on the larger ecosystem?
Big Idea
Humans modify the environment and change interactions between specific organism within an ecosystem through this modification. Genetically Modified Organisms are an example of this modification and are prevalent in agriculture. They are seen both positively and negatively by people across the world.
What is the relationship between the sun and living organisms?
Big Idea
Photosynthesis is the process by which plants make sugar using energy from the sun. Sugars are a basic building block for growth of the plant
What is the role of insects in plant reproduction?
Big Idea
The interaction between insects and flowering plants is central to many plants reproduction
How do human affect their environment?
Big Idea
Humans modify the environment using physical, chemical & biological means and in doing so may impact multiple systems.
Why is there such diversity on life?
Big Idea
DNA is a large polymer comprised of four bases that code for the creation of proteins. DNA carries the genetic instructions for all living organisms.
How do species change over time?
Big Idea
Changes in DNA occur through mutation, random or intentional. Some mutation affect a single organism, other affect the species. Only mutations in reproductive cells create variations that change offspring and potentially the species.


"Protecting Human Subjects: Skin Cancer Clinical Studies"
1 Essential Question for 1 Big Idea
Project time to complete: 2 weeks
What do clinical trials do to support the development of medical treatments? What is skin cancer? How are clinical trials being used to address skin cancer?
Big Idea
Clinical trials play an integral role in advancing our understanding and innovative treatment of medical concerns. Understanding how clinical trials work is essential to follow the current topics in healthcare, as is a grasp of the underlying principles of the topic being studied. Skin cancer, its prevention and its treatment are all current areas being investigated and are personally relevant to students.







PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: March 7, 2007
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