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Learn 5 biology lessons that motivate budding biologists

Zoologist, game warden, marine biologist, botanist — the career opportunities for biology majors are diverse. You can nurture their interests with hands-on biology lessons in your lab and set them up for future success in science careers.  

Keep reading to get ideas for making careers connections through classification and dissection lab activities and more.  

Start by talking about the importance of biology careers  

Biologists focus on living organisms, studying their physiology, anatomy, and behavior. They use their knowledge to classify all living things on Earth. 

As scientists further advance their knowledge of organisms, it can have a huge impact on all our lives. These are just some of the ways they can help:    

  • Predicting the impact of species extinction on ecosystems 
  • Finding cures for diseases 
  • Helping prevent the spread of deadly disease 
  • Solving environmental problems and preserving our natural environment 
  • Making advances in food science and agriculture 

The role of dissection in biology research 

One of the ways biologists learn how to classify an organism is through dissection. By examining the makeup and function of non-living animals, biologists can gain a better understanding of all organisms, including humans. They even use dissection to solve mysteries, especially in the ocean, where there are still deep-dwelling creatures yet to be discovered.   
 
Learning more about these new life forms tells us how species have adapted to their environments and how environmental factors might affect us in the future.  

Dissection helps students study all kinds of species.

Dissection is just one piece of the puzzle  

Students may have misconceptions about what a scientist does, including thinking they spend all their time in a lab. However, many biologists spend their time in nature; examining specimens in the lab is just one of the activities they do to support their overall research.  

For example, a marine biologist studying fish might see an uptick or downtick in the population and do research to determine the cause. This might include testing the water’s nutrient levels, as well as examining a fish specimen to find answers. 

There are many opportunities for students to practice real-world activities like these. Try the biology lessons below to motivate them to take their curiosity to the next level.  

5 lab activities to engage students  

1. Learn about classification

Before they embark on dissection activities, teach students the basics of animal classification using a dichotomous key. Using the Sea Turtle ID Activity, have students use the included key to classify the eight anatomically correct sea turtles that come with the kit.  

Then challenge them to use illustrations, diagrams, or non-living specimens of two or more organisms to make their own dichotomous key. 

2. Compare invertebrates

Dive deeper into classification with the Nasco-Guard, BioQuest® Hands-On Invertebrate Study Kit. The kit includes everything you need to help students classify invertebrates, including 13 preserved specimens, 15 hand-held magnifiers, a comprehensive teacher guide, an illustrated guide representing one or more animals from each of the invertebrate phyla (porifera, coelenterata, platyhelminthes, nematoda, annelida, mollusca, echinodermata, and arthropoda), and 15 illustrated student guides with activity sheets, questions and answers for classroom review. 

Dive deeper into classification with the Nasco-Guard, BioQuest® Hands-On Invertebrate Study Kit.

3. Explore chromatography

Biologists often look at the composition of materials. For instance, the specimens you use in class are preserved in a solution. But what’s it made of?  

To find out, scientists could use the process of chromatography, which separates mixtures into their components. Try these activities to practice chromatography:   

  • Chromatography Classroom Kit: In this activity, students perform paper chromatography on three individual dyes and a mixture of dyes to determine if all three dyes are in the mixture. 
  • Plant Pigment Chromatography Student Kit: Using individual kits, students use paper chromatography to separate the various pigments of a plant sample, including chlorophyll and “hidden” pigments. 

See and touch the real thing

Encourage your students to learn and explore with the safest dissection specimens available. 

Examining organs gives students an up close and personal look at how they function.

4. Extract DNA

DNA provides the answer to many questions that biologists ask, including what organisms were like throughout history and how diseases are affecting us today. With the following kits, students can perform DNA extraction activities just like real scientists.

  • With the DNA Extraction Individual Student Science Kit, each student gets their own supplies to isolate DNA from plant material using biological detergents, enzymes, and ethanol. 
  • In the Genetics & DNA Experiment Kit, students get to see genetic material with their own eyes as they isolate the DNA from a tomato in a test tube. They’ll investigate inheritance, learn how traits are passed down from parents to children, learn about dominant and recessive genes, and more.   

5. Try dissection

Get your students thinking with questions such as the following:  

  • Why do pigs have lungs and fish do not?  
  • How does a fish or a pig protect itself from predators?  
  • What is the purpose of a two-chamber heart of a perch?  
  • How many chambers does a pig’s heart have?  

Then give them the chance to explore anatomies up close with dissection activities. Afterward, hold a discussion about what they learned. Did their answers change? 

NASCOGuard® Try It Dissection Kits make getting started easy by including everything students need: a preserved animal, elementary dissecting kit, plastic apron with anatomy diagram, illustrated dissection guide, and a pair of latex-free gloves. 

Explore more ways to showcase career paths in science  

Discover more resources that help you show students that the lessons they learn today can lead to the jobs of tomorrow: 

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