New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

Strategies for Teaching Molecular Biology at Grammar School Level: from Theory to Laboratory Practice

Martin Jáč, Department of Biology, Faculty of Education, Palacký University Olomouc (Czech Republic)

Vanda Janštová, Biology & Environmental Studies Department, Faculty of Education and Department of Education and Didactics of Biology, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic)


Molecular biology is one of the most dynamic fields of contemporary biology and plays an important role in biology education at different school levels. Based on our in-depth comparative analysis of 162 Grammar School Education Programmes (42.5 % of all Czech grammar schools), molecular biology together with genetics and cell biology form an integral part of the grammar school curriculum in the Czech Republic. However, the educational content of molecular biology at grammar school level, including both the subject matter and expected student outcomes, is mostly limited to theoretical concepts, without implementing laboratory experiments, bioinformatics tasks or other laboratory practice-oriented classroom activities.

In this paper, we would like to present different strategies and classroom activities for teaching molecular biology at grammar school level. We will focus on various laboratory exercises (e.g. chromosome staining in mitotic cells, different DNA extraction techniques, restriction analysis of DNA, agarose gel electrophoresis), simple bioinformatics tasks (e.g. search within genetic sequence databases, analysis of DNA and protein sequences, 3-D visualization of virus particles or protein structure, construction of phylogenetic trees) or use of virtual laboratories. Another teaching approach we will present is the critical discussion of simple scientific papers and non-fiction articles in the classroom in order to reduce the gap between the educational content and the current state of scientific knowledge in the field of molecular biology.

All presented teaching strategies were repeatedly used and verified in the instruction during a 10 years period (2003 to 2013) at the František Palacký Grammar School in Valašské Meziříčí (Czech Republic) with students in grades 11-12 (altogether 145 students, subject “Molecular Biology Seminar”). To assess the effectiveness of the laboratory exercises, we conducted a brief questionnaire survey during years 2011 and 2012. The questionnaire consisted of open-ended questions and five-point Likert-type scale items (ranging from 1 = strongly agree to 5 = strongly disagree), in total we analyzed 46 questionnaires. The data among others indicate, that students consider laboratory exercises focused on topics from molecular biology attractive and stimulative (mean value 1.54 on a Likert-type scale), fully understand the theoretical background of the exercise (mean value 1.07 on a Likert-type scale) and are easily able to follow the steps of the laboratory protocol (mean value 1.37 on a Likert-type scale). Therefore, laboratory exercises in molecular biology should be implemented in the instruction to support theoretical concepts and enhance students’ motivation.

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