Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Technology in Biology

I used to teach IPC - integrated physics and chemistry. In IPC, students need to use a lot of math, mostly in solving physics problems like speed, acceleration, force, momentum, energy, etc. Most IPC students are taking Algebra I at the same time and a lot of them have brand new graphing calculators that they LOVE to use - mostly for playing the games they all learn how to download almost as soon as they get the calculators! There were times that I had to forbid certain students from having their graphing calculators out in class because they had a tendency to spend their class time playing games on the calculator rather than paying attention to what we were doing in class.

When I started teaching biology, I was looking forward to not having to fight that battle anymore! There were still students who wanted to play their calculator games in class, but I was glad to be able to tell my biology students that they didn't need to use their graphing calculators in biology. Alas, those days are no more! I recently spent a week at Rice University learning new ways to incorporate technology in biology. We did several labs each day using lab probeware which interfaces with computers and graphing calculators, as well as some other computer-based labs using graphic manipulation software.

We will be doing a number of labs and activities this year using graphing calculators. Some of the labs will involve using various kinds of probeware to measure pH, temperature, and pressure; others will involve various kinds of calculations, data tables, and graphs to illustrate such topics as genetics (can you believe it? Genetics on a calculator!!). It's really cool! I must admit, I'm pretty impressed with myself for finally learning how to do data tables and graphs on the calculator (back in the dark ages when I went to school, we had to do it all by hand!). We will still do plenty of graphs and data tables by hand (sorry - the calculator ones are difficult to print out!), so those skills will still be important. But I like being able to keep up with the times and learn new ways of studying and learning about biology. So go ahead and bring that calculator to class - just don't waste your time and mine playing games!