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Networking Topics

One of the goals of the Life Discovery – Doing Science Education Conference is to facilitate networking during and beyond the conference. The Life Discovery partner societies are interested in building faculty learning communities! Learn more about the Networking discussions at the 2020 conference:

During the Conference

All networking sessions will be held at 3:45 PM EDT  Thursday-Saturday. During these sessions, participants will be able to join one of the groups below.  There are two types of networking sessions offered each day. These topics are an extension of the panel discussions and breakouts held from 2:00 pm EDT to 3:30 pm EDT.

We have developed tips for participants, presenters, and moderators. Please review these tips carefully.

Each group will  1) prioritize key issues related to the topic and 2)  generate some recommendations on action steps.

After the Conference

We will summarize the discussion and post the report online. We hope to take these reflections to online forums following the conference to build collegial support and exchange of ideas and information.

Thursday, October 22, 2020, 3:45 PM – 5:00 PM EDT

N1) Data Analysis and Interpretation

Facilitator: Arietta Fleming-Davies 

Data analysis and interpretation are essential scientific skills that can sometimes act as roadblocks for biology students at both the undergraduate and the high school level.  Students’ lack of confidence can lead to decreased performance, in a cycle where students with negative math experiences are then reluctant to engage with new quantitative content, leading to further negative experiences.   Instructors might lack the background or formal training in statistics, leading to lower comfort with the material.  Explicit strategies and materials to address these barriers and teach specific data analysis and interpretation skills can produce substantial learning gains in students’ critical thinking and understanding of biological topics.    

  • What techniques, materials, and activities have you found to be successful to address these barriers and help build students’ data analysis skills?
  • Similar to a molecular lab course, data analysis concepts are closely tied to the tools used (R, Excel, SPSS).  How do you address concepts separately from tools, and what works best? Do you teach data interpretation separately from data analysis or graph creation? Why or why not?  Which strategies are more effective for one or the other?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using published research data versus student-generated data for data analysis practice?  Other sources for data?

N2) Online (Remote) Teaching 

Facilitator: Catrina Adams 

Some high school teachers and higher-ed faculty have been incorporating online or remote learning into their courses for many years. With the COVID-19 pandemic, online and remote teaching has become a necessary tool for maintaining social distancing. A widespread and rapid transition to primarily online/remote learning has caused strain for many instructors and students, but also provides an opportunity to explore ways to make this type of teaching and learning as effective, engaging, and inclusive as possible. What can we learn from early-adopters about best practices for online or remote teaching and learning? For those thrown into the deep end last spring, what worked and what didn’t…and what will you do differently in the future after this experience?

  • What are the design, techniques, and activities that are working well for teaching online or remotely? 
  • What have been your most significant struggles with teaching online/remotely, and how might you approach mitigating them in the future? What are the institutional or societal supports needed to increase the accessibility and quality of online/remote teaching? 
  • Are there course designs, techniques, activities, or general “lessons learned” from online/remote teaching that you will try to incorporate into in-person courses in the future? 
  • What are the best ways to share information and best practices around online/remote teaching and learning? 


Friday, October 23, 2020, 3:45 PM – 5:00 PM EDT

N3) Models

Facilitator: Rich Kliman

A common problem in science education is finding the right balance between oversimplification and overcomplication. Ecologists understand that many variables (known and unknown; some broadly relevant, others context-specific) influence ecological phenomena, and this does need to be communicated. However, some fairly straightforward mathematical models can be illuminating in ways that aren’t immediately apparent and allowing students to explore these models and their behaviors can bring insight. For example, the Lotka-Volterra competition formula — a simple extension of logistic growth — can be used to explore the ability of a species to rebound from a reduction in population size (e.g., due to overharvesting). Likewise, the species-area relationship provides a starting point for discussion of biodiversity in different contexts (e.g., islands). Participants in the session will be encouraged to share experiences using simple models to inform discussion of complex topics.

  • What are your favorite “simple” ecological models, and why?
  •  How do you engage students with the models? Do you derive them (level-appropriate) and refer back to them as relevant? Do you have students work with the models (e.g., using spreadsheets and graphs)?
  • What would you like to be able to do with the models that you have not yet tried?

N4) Field Ecology 

Facilitator: Thomas Meagher

Field ecology centers on direct experience with biological systems through observation and experiments run under field conditions. Making the most of field ecology requires a sound knowledge of the system itself, such as identification of relevant species and their interactions with their surroundings.  It is very likely that one will go into the field with pre-formed notions about what to observe, only to require adjustments once you are there. One needs to prepare in advance but also be flexible on arrival! Experimental work in the field is quite different from laboratory work. The various conditions that prevail under field conditions require careful thought to ensure that experimental ‘controls’ are appropriate to test the hypotheses one wants to test. Finally, exposure to field conditions can be educational in its own right. Allow time, and encourage students to allow time, to simply take in their surroundings. 

  • How can teachers make the most of field ecology in their teaching, for example achieving a balance between classroom teaching of methods against hands-on experience?
  • How can teachers engage students in the co-production of biological concepts or ideas to structure field observation or to enable the design of field experiments?
  • How can we make the most of fieldwork to help students achieve a stronger understanding of how science works?  Put another way – How can we best use the science of nature to achieve a stronger understanding of the nature of science?


Saturday, October 24, 2020, 3:45 PM – 5:00 PM EDT

N5) Engagement and Communication

Facilitator: Andrew Martin

Thinking like an ecologist involves being able to see processes operating over space and time in the patterns we see in nature. Thinking like an ecologist involves imagining the myriad interactions between the readily observable species and the enormous number of unobserved species that comprise communities of organisms through which energy and nutrients flow. Thinking like an ecologist involves seeing the history of a place from the different sizes and types of organisms.  Thinking like an ecologist involves understanding our knowledge of the world is uncertain because there are so many interdependent parts. Thinking like an ecologist takes time, patience, and a willingness to get to know some of the intimate details of each of the players, including natural history and their place in the enormous web network of life. The rewards of thinking like an ecologist are immeasurable and fulfilling because it is a way of understanding our deep dependency and embeddedness in nature. Participants in the session will be encouraged to share experiences about why ecological thinking is important, how they have cultivated ecological thinking and what experiences have contributed to a deeper understanding of nature through ecology. 

  • Why is ecological thinking important for all citizens of the world? 
  • How has ecological thinking improved your life and your ability to know the world?
  • What are the most important components of ecological thinking? 

N6) Nature of Science

Facilitator: Paul Strode

The Nature of Science is often the first topic in science textbooks and thus also in a typical science course. Many teachers briefly review “the scientific method” at the beginning of the year and then focus mainly on course content thereafter. However, knowledge of how science works and the ability to unconsciously perform scientific thinking is perhaps the most important product of a person’s science education.

  • What are five science practices in which all citizens should be skilled and why?
  • Child psychologists argue that humans are born “little scientists” with the ability to observe and identify patterns in the natural world, ask questions, and propose cause and effect hypotheses about natural phenomena. If this is true, how is it that so many citizens end up poorly skilled at logic and reasoning as adults?
  •  Biology knowledge is growing at a pace that makes it impossible for biology educators to keep up. How can teachers of biology efficiently stay abreast of new knowledge and how should we choose what to add to our curricula (and what to subtract)?
  • What is the purpose of the lab report and does it exist as an actual type of useful writing beyond the science classroom? Should students be writing one or two manuscripts during a course in place of a dozen lab reports?