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Model Organisms in Teaching Life Sciences
Model Organisms in Teaching Life Sciences
Subject Biology
Level Lower and upper secondary
Language English
Type Experiments, teaching tool, lesson sequence

Basic life processes are conserved among species. As far back as Gregorio Mendel's use of the pea plant as a "tool", the strategy of employing 'model organisms' such as Drosophila melanogaster, Arabidopsis thaliana, Caenorhabditis elegans, Danio rerio, has been, and still is, extremely commonplace in scientific research. Each model organism has its own advantages and disadvantages. Choosing an appropriate model depends on the exploratory situation one wants to address. Model organisms have long been used in the classroom to help students learn important concepts. Each discipline has its own set of organisms. For example, E. Coli and Drosophila have been widely used as model organisms in introductory biology courses to teach microbiology and genetics. There are three obvious advantages to use model organisms in teaching biology. First of all, in a laboratory setting, the model organism's immediate response to the change of environment will enhance students' learning, and serve to hold their attention and interest. Furthermore, students not only understand what they see, but also know it is real. Secondly, the use of model organisms involves hands-on activities that provide a unique experience that could not be obtained with other teaching methods. Thirdly, by working with model organisms, students are able to explore scientific methods and concepts themselves. Moreover, they will come to understand the investigative nature of science, including how conclusions are drawn from data. These three advantages might be obtained by using any living organism. However, model organisms are well-established experimental systems possessing certain properties, and are more amenable to classroom use.  
The didactic projects will be on the model organisms: bacteria, peas, fruit flies, worms and fish. They have already been introduced in schools at different levels in Italy and as follows:
  1. Inclusive of experimental protocols, student resource/observation files and teacher's guide
  2. Organisation of independent, graded experiments based on complexity of theme and laboratory techniques and the acquisition of cross-level skills.
  3. Inclusive of a number of "classroom friendly" activities which require neither sophisticated instruments nor fully equipped laboratory facilities. The organisms presented, though they vary greatly, have the advantage of being small, cheap and easy to keep and breed, and well suited for experiments in the school lab.
  4. The organisms employed are the very same as those used in research laboratories, thus bringing the students closer to science, especially if an attempt is made to create an opportunity for interaction with research centres.

Contact details
NameAngela CrimiAnna Pascucci
Last update: 17 July 2007

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