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Peer Review

PLOSable Biology (Ask a Biologist)

by Charles Kazilek


Overall Numeric Rating:

4.9 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 4.9 stars
Ease of Use: 4.8 stars
Reviewed: Sep 01, 2004 by Teacher Education

This site was initially developed by CJ Kazilek with the help from a Howard
Hughes Grant. A group of undergraduate and graduate volunteers have steadily
maintained the site. The intention of the author and team is to provide
information on various subjects related to Biology. It is maintained by Arizona
State University. Through the site a visitor may access activities, ask
pointed questions regarding biological issues, respond through feedback option,
access articles and profiles on biologists, view images at a gallery page, and
connect to related sites through an active link option. The collection includes
experiments and articles on biology research projects being conducted at
Arizona State University. The articles are written in simple language about core
science content that is appropriate for middle school or upper elementary
school life science classes.

Type of Material:

Collection of information including biographies, experiments, and science

Recommended Uses:

The material would be appropriate as learning materials for K8 life science
teachers to learn about the processes of science or as enrichment for advanced
K8 students. As an informational resource, this site provides the user with the
ability to query any biological concern by submitting questions to a team of
experts. There is also a section developed to provide engaging online activities
that have biological connections. A page is also provided for teachers to
acquire information and instruction on strategies and activities pertinent to
specific biological subjects. Many of these activities can be accomplished
without computer assistance. A variety of activities engage the student through
the use of computer assisted direction.

Technical Requirements:

Computer and internet access. Some Adobe pdf documents are associated with the
collection. Intel? Digital Puzzle Solver (a free download) is also required for
some activities.

Identify Major Learning Goals:
  1. To provide general knowledge on biology to students and teachers.
  2. To provide instructional strategies on biological concepts for teachers to
    use in the classroom.
  3. To promote and perpetuate an interest in biological concepts and their
    applications to daily life.
  4. To shows connections between actual science research projects and the
    vocabulary and life science content studied in middle school or upper elementary
    school life science classes.
  5. To provide instruction and experience in using the internet as a research
Target Student Population:

Students from kindergarten through twelve grade are encouraged to actively
engage in the site?s pages, but the content is most appropriate to grades 3-9.
Pre-service and inservice life science teachers are able to access and develop
activities and strategies from the same pages.

Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:

Use of the internet and ability to maneuver through web pages would be helpful
but a minimal understanding will suffice.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars

The approach is to provide a diverse collection of biological content as
through submissions from various scientists, teachers and other
contributors. This provides a very broad collection of material with little
connection. This is not to say that the content is not relevant. Three
strengths are notable. First, the content selection is grounded in basic
biology appropriate for foundation or core understandings of life science
(butterflies, color, seed growth, beetle reproduction, camouflage) yet the
stories illustrate cutting-edge research. Second, the seed growth visual and
quantitative time course displayed with Time Traveling Plants and the BACK YARD
EXPERIMENTS provides raw data for discoveries while encouraging simple
scientific experiments at home or school. Finally, for the visitor who may be
searching for specific answers to content there is the ability to submit a
query. All information is provided in a manner that makes reading and
comprehending the material easy for middle grade levels.



Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.9 stars

A section in the backyard experiments page includes selected activities from Access Excellence. These activities are suitable for various instructional strategies including inquiry. Each is complete in explanation and can be manipulated by the teacher to fit the needs of the classroom. The Ask a Biologist section provides excellent data in story form that can be used as
advanced organizer. Visitors will want to examine one Ask a Biologist activity
in particular - the Pocket Seed Experiment with detailed instructions for an
experiment that can be done by children at home or at school. Comparison data is
provided in the form of a -Dr. Biology pocket seed experiment- to involve
students in analyzing both visual and quantitative data that has already been
collected and carefully organized. It would not be possible for most teachers
to collect the quality of data displayed, so this instructional material
efficiently promotes understanding of seed germination, development, plant
response to gravity, experimental design with experimental and controlled
variables, and diversity or life. Along with each activity, the vocabulary, web
links, and self-assessment quizzes provide materials appropriate for enrichment
for children through independent study. The same material can be used to
challenge accelerated students to think deeply about change over time while
engaging basic students with material that is visually comprehensible.
Diversity of the web site faciliates multiple use by the teacher and student.
The intent was not to
provide a guided instructional tool and this is evident. The instructor should
decide what portion or portions of the site are appropriate for the learning
experience. The links in the activities section are exceptional. Many more can
be reached after the intial search.


Feedback for the quiz section might include instruction on the items marked
wrong. Currently only the correct answer is provided. According to the authors, instruction about wrong answers is on the list for future upgrades.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.8 stars

With very little knowledge regarding internet access or web page use the site is exceptionally accessible to all users. The video animation of the Dr. Biology
Virtual Pocket Seed Experiment requires only a web browser. The animation shows change over time in ways that would be impossible for the average science teacher to enact in a classroom without this resource. The animations can be used to show how science distinguishes itself from other ways of knowing, with wonder, curiosity, and respect toward nature used as the invitation to delve deeper and to encourage students to think critically and independently, reason using empirical criteria, question, openly criticize, and demonstrate evidence rather than deferring to authority. Each page provides clear and obvious links and instructions.


The collection is extensive and navigation is complex, although the authors attempted to make it easy to return to content branching points. Users might not at first notice the site map listed under the -About This Site- and the -Site Toobox- sections. Once a user moves from the main page of backyard experiments there is no way to return other than to use the back button of the browser.

Other Issues and Comments:

This site is a very useful addition to any classroom instruction. The video
animation of the Virtual Pocket Seed Experiment was highlighted as part of A Walk Through the Vineyard: Teacher Education's Salute to Excellence at the fourth annual MERLOT International Conference held at the Costa Mesa Hilton, Costa Mesa, California, August 5, 2004. These materials developed with the assistance of Elena Ortiz-Barney, author of Time Traveling Plants and the graduate student that worked with Charles Kazilek on the Pocket Seed Viewer, have been used effectively in pre-service and in-service teacher education courses. The collection offers appropriate items for all age, grade and ability levels. The resources are not a stand alone exercise. The teacher should spend time becoming familiar with the many pages and opportunities and spend some time planning how to use the material. If the teacher does not have the Intel puzzle solver it will be necessary to download the free software.