Educator’s Corner

Educator’s
Corner

Welcome to the Biomedical Beat Educator’s Corner! This free resource is designed for educators to build on the existing NIH STEM content, like topics from our Pathways collaboration with Scholastic and other basic science areas, through the integration of supplemental material in Biomedical Beat blog posts. The Educator’s Corner is intended to give you additional tools to use in your lesson plans.

Below you’ll find a carefully curated list of blog posts from NIGMS that connect topically to STEM categories. We also provide suggestions for how to use the posts as educational supplements.


A radiating barrier keeping colorful, cartoon microbes from reaching a shield with a plus sign on it.
Colorful background with text: Coloring Pages.
A cartoon of a researcher holding a DNA double helix and standing in front of a life-sized chemistry flask, a large prescription pill bottle, and pills on the ground.
The Vaccine Science Issue cover
The Brain and Anesthesia Issue cover
The Imaging Issue cover
Superbugs cover
The Circadian Rhythms Issue cover
The Regeneration Issue cover
Basic Science Careers cover

Immunology

What Is the Immune System?

A sphere with evenly spaced blue projections and a pink core.
ABOUT THE POST

The first post in our miniseries on immunology introduces the immune system, which protects you from microbes that could cause infection. One important aspect of the immune system is its ability to remember the microbes it has seen before. This phenomenon, called immune memory, is a key part of vaccine science.

ACTIVITY

After students have read the post, compare and contrast the innate and adaptive immune systems together as a class. Then, using the Journey of an mRNA Vaccine infographic, have students identify which steps are related to the adaptive immune system (answer: steps 4, 5, and 6).

How Can the Immune System Go Awry?

A yellow orb (HIV) resting on a protruding tip of a gray mass (infected T-cell).
ABOUT THE POST

The second post in our immunology miniseries is all about diseases related to the immune system. The immune system’s job is to protect us from infectious intruders, but it sometimes gets confused and attacks the wrong cells, reacts to harmless substances, or fails to respond to intruders effectively.

ACTIVITY
After the students read the post, lead a class discussion about the different conditions discussed. Ask them to summarize the trigger and effect for each condition—you can use the simplified bulleted list below as your guide. For a more in-depth activity, have students choose an autoimmune or immunodeficiency disorder that isn’t discussed in the post and identify the part of the immune system that’s gone awry and how the body reacts. (The MedLinePlus links include examples.)

Immune System Conditions
  • Autoimmune Disorders
    • Trigger: Immune cells specific for self
    • Effect: Self-cells attacked
  • Immunodeficiency Disorders
    • Trigger: Missing or nonfunctional immune cells
    • Effect: Microbes not cleared from the body
  • Sepsis
    • Trigger: Infection or injury
    • Effect: Overwhelming immune response
  • Allergies
    • Trigger: Immune system sees unharmful substance as harmful
    • Effect: Whole-body immune response

What Does an Immunologist Do?

A cartoon person wearing a blue cape and holding a shield, blocking the approach of floating spiky blobs representing viruses.
ABOUT THE POST

In our third post in the immunology miniseries, we talk about immunologists, who are researchers and doctors who study the immune system or treat patients with immune-related diseases. Learn more about the NIGMS grantees we’ve highlighted on Biomedical Beat who study the immune system.

ACTIVITY
Have students read the roundup post and choose one of the five individual researchers. Ask them to read through that researcher’s individual post and note the specific education that the researcher received to become an immunologist as well as anything they find interesting about the researcher or their work. Come together as a class and discuss the requirements for becoming an immunologist (hint: training and education can vary widely!). Then go down the list of the five researchers and ask for a student who read each full post to mention something they found interesting about that immunologist.

Coloring Pages

Research Organism Superheroes: Fruit Flies

A cartoon drawing of a fruit fly wearing a cape. Text reads: Superpower: Reproducing quickly with similar genes to people. Did you know? Fruit flies reproduce quickly and have short life spans, so scientists can easily study all stages of their lives in 6 to 7 weeks. Why is this important? Because fruit flies and humans have similar genes in their bodies. Genes are instructions our bodies use to live. Scientists study fruit flies to learn about those genes and how they affect our health.
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Scientists have been using fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) for over a century to understand human genetics and diseases. Not only are fruit flies much simpler than humans to study while having similar genes, they also reproduce quickly and have short life spans, so scientists can easily observe all life stages in just weeks. This post provides more in-depth information about why fruit flies are so commonly used in research as well as some examples of discoveries about human health that scientists have made by studying them.

ACTIVITY

Print copies of the free coloring page beforehand. After students read the blog post and color the page, see if they can come up with more than the two superpowers listed on the coloring page that make fruit flies excellent research organisms. The post describes many reasons why researchers use them.

Research Organism Superheroes: Tardigrades

A cartoon drawing of a tardigrade wearing a cape. Text reads: Superpower: Surviving harsh conditions. Did you know? Tardigrades are teeny-tiny creatures that can survive very hot, cold, or dry conditions. Scientists study them to learn new ways for materials, like blood cells, to “survive” in an unnatural condition, like a blood bank.
ABOUT THE POST

Very few things can be described as both cute and indestructible, but tardigrades can! They’re research organisms studied for their translucent bodies and ability to survive a wide range of harsh conditions. This post provides more in-depth information about tardigrades, including where they’re found and why they’re used as research organisms.

ACTIVITY

Print copies of the free coloring page beforehand. Have students read the blog post, either individually or as a class. Then watch this video about tardigrades living in the Canyonlands potholes while students color the coloring page. Once the students have seen the video and pictures of the tardigrades, vote as a class to determine which nickname they should have—water bear or moss piglet—and why, based on what the students have learned about them.

Pharmacology

What Is Pharmacology?

A collage of different cartoon images showing scientists working across a spectrum of basic science, chemistry, biology, research, genetics, and medicine, illustrated by images of an EKG readout, test tubes and a pipette, a syringe and medicine bottle, a chemical structure, a microscope, a pill bottle and pill, a data chart, a hospital, a DNA strand, and a human silhouette.
ABOUT THE POST

The first post in our pharmacology miniseries gives an overview of the research-based science situated at the intersection of chemistry, biology, and medicine. Pharmacologists explore how molecules and bodies interact, and their research can have major impacts to how we understand human health and how clinicians treat patients.

ACTIVITY

Before having students read the post, ask them what they know about the areas of chemistry, biology, and medicine. Then ask them to imagine a scientist who would use all three of those areas in their work. Did they come up with someone who makes and designs medicines? Pharmacologists study how bodies and molecules interact. Some develop new medicines to target specific health issues, some use molecules as tools to study the body, and some work directly with patients and their doctors to optimize their treatment. Once the students read the post, discuss as a class the different roles of pharmacologists. Encourage students who find this career interesting to explore it more and see what’s required to become a pharmacologist (college degree, then a Ph.D.).

What Happens to Medicine in Your Body?

Cutaway diagram of the human body (head, arms, and torso) showing the blood (arteries in red and veins in blue) and internal organs. Drug delivery is shown by intravenous drip with blue arrow into the arm, tablet with black arrow into the mouth, and inhaler with twin blue arrows through the mouth into both lungs. Life of drug in the body is shown by black arrows from mouth to stomach, from stomach to liver, from liver to heart, from blood to kidney, and from liver to intestines.
ABOUT THE POST

The second post in our pharmacology miniseries introduces pharmacokinetics, the study of how the body acts on a medicine. The post follows a medicine entering the body, finding its therapeutic target, and eventually leaving the body to answer the common question, “What happens to medicine in your body?”

ACTIVITY
Before students read the post, ask them what they think happens to a medicine in their bodies. Did they think about how it gets into the body, travels to the target to be effective, AND gets out of the body? All of those steps are important parts of being an effective and safe medicine. After the students have read the post, discuss each of the pieces of ADME. Sometimes pharmacists will put a label on a medicine bottle warning not to take it with certain foods. Pharmacologists have determined that those foods can alter how the body responds to certain medicines. Discuss how ADME properties would be affected in the following hypothetical situations (with the reminder that not all medicines have these interactions and all bodies process medicines slightly differently, so reading and following specific instructions are very important!):
  • Calcium from dairy in the stomach binds the medicine: The body is unable to absorb the full dose, so less active medicine gets into the blood and distributed to the therapeutic target.
  • Leafy greens like spinach and kale are high in vitamin K, which can be a problem when consumed with medicines intended to lower vitamin K levels: The medication dose is based on the normal amount of vitamin K in the patient’s body, so adding more through the diet can lead to too much of the vitamin that doctors are trying to lower with medicine.
  • Grapefruit juice blocks the enzyme that metabolizes the drug: Pharmacologists establish dosing with the amount that will be metabolized in mind, so if the enzyme isn’t functioning normally (due to genetics or something blocking or using it), then more of the medicine than anticipated will be available because the enzyme isn’t breaking it down at the normal rate.

How Do Medicines Work?

A person in a white lab coat and blue gloves touching a screen with a holographic human body and data readouts.
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The third post in our pharmacology miniseries introduces pharmacodynamics, the study of how medicines act in the body. Most medicines bind to molecular targets, which results in their therapeutic effects. In this post, we explore how medicines act at different targets or directly upon the immune system and how pharmacologists help determine dosages that maximize a medicine’s effectiveness while minimizing side effects.

ACTIVITY

Once the students read the post, have them freewrite or discuss as a class why it’s important to follow instructions listed on medicine bottles as well as the information from their doctors and pharmacists. They should identify that pharmacologists have carefully determined the instructions and guidelines so that they get the benefits the medicine may provide while minimizing negative effects.

Quiz: Do You Know Pharmacology Facts?

Various pills spilling out of an orange bottle onto a blue background. A quiz question reads: What is pharmacology? Three blank answer options are below.
ABOUT THE POST

The final post in our pharmacology miniseries discusses some areas of pharmacology that NIGMS-funded researchers study and puts your knowledge to the test with a quiz.

ACTIVITY

After students have read the first three posts in the miniseries, have them test their knowledge with this interactive quiz. They can see and share their results by selecting the “finish” button at the bottom of the quiz.

The Vaccine Science Issue

Science Snippet: Zooming In on Nanoparticles

A circle divided into six different, brightly colored slices, each with a different style of nanoparticle. In the center is a gray circle with the word nanoparticles.
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At their largest, nanoparticles are about one-thousandth the width of a human hair. But these tiny particles can make a big impact in many ways, including helping medicines reach the necessary places in a patient's body.

This post discusses nanoparticles and how researchers use them medically, including their role in the COVID-19 vaccines described in Pathways.

ACTIVITY

Before students read the post, ask them what the word nanoparticle brings to mind. Afterward, ask them in what ways their ideas matched actual nanoparticles and how they differed. Explain that nanoparticles have other uses in addition to vaccines and drug delivery. Divide students into groups and have each group explore a section of the Applications of Nanotechnology page from the National Nanotechnology Institute. Then have them share what they found most interesting with the class.

Science Snippet: RNA’s Remarkable Roles

Single strand of RNA
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RNA molecules play essential roles in protein building and other cellular processes. They also have the potential to help prevent, diagnose, and treat disease.

This post discusses RNA’s role in protein synthesis and in the COVID-19 vaccines, which is the topic of Pathways.

ACTIVITY

After students have read the blog post, have them compare and contrast the mRNA found naturally in our bodies and the mRNA found in vaccines, either individually or in small groups. Then have students share their conclusions with the class. Examples: both are made of nucleotides, both are recognized by the body as instructions for making proteins, both lead to protein synthesis, our bodies make the endogenous mRNA and scientists make the vaccine mRNA, endogenous mRNA codes for human proteins while the vaccine mRNA codes for a viral protein.

Science Snippet: The Marvels of Membranes

An illustration of a cell cut in half with gray lines indicating its borders and borders of adjacent cells. The cell contains a variety of round and oblong structures in several colors.
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The boundaries of cells and many organelles are marked by membranes—layers of lipids and proteins. Membranes not only provide structure, but also control the import and export of molecules and support cellular communication.

For mRNA vaccines to be effective, they must be able to cross membranes. Pathways mentions that the mRNA is specially packaged to cross these membranes.

ACTIVITY

Once students have read the blog post, ask them why they think that lipid nanoparticles are necessary for the mRNA to survive and be effective. The lipid nanoparticles encapsulate the mRNA by creating a bubblelike barrier that won’t rapidly disintegrate. They also help the mRNA get into cells, which is necessary for their transformation into spike proteins. Cell membranes are composed of fatty lipids too, so the nanoparticles can pass through them without needing a specialized transport protein like large or charged molecules usually do. Once the nanoparticle is inside the cell, it eventually disintegrates and releases its mRNA package into the cell. Optional demonstration: You can do this demonstration in front of the class or divide the students into small groups and have them do it on their own. Drop some oil into a glass of water. You’ll see the oil immediately form small bubbles that will merge into larger bubbles. Ask the students to explain how this demonstration mimics lipid nanoparticles. The small bubbles that form are like nanoparticles, staying away from the water. The small bubbles merging into larger ones are an example of how the nanoparticles will be allowed through the membrane, since lipids and oil are both fats and prefer to be with other fatty things rather than with water.

In Other Words: Translation Isn’t Only for Languages

Below the title “Translation: In Other Words,” two images are separated by a jagged line. On the left, is a large speech bubble with the word “hello” surrounded by smaller speech bubbles with greetings in other languages, and on the right is a ribosome producing a protein. Under the images, text reads, “Did you know? In biomedical science, translation refers to the process of making proteins based on genetic information encoded in messenger RNA.”
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What comes to mind when you hear or see the word translation? Likely, you might think about converting words from one language into another. But in biology, translation means producing proteins from messenger RNA. It’s part of the system through which DNA directs the processes of life. Our cells carry out translation constantly to build protein molecules that transport oxygen, defend us against infection, and perform many other tasks.

This post explains how the body makes proteins from mRNA, which is what’s found in the vaccines for COVID-19 described in Pathways.

ACTIVITY

Have students read the short post individually or as a class. Then discuss how the COVID-19 vaccine skips a few of the early steps mentioned in this post by directly delivering mRNA (so no need for RNA polymerase to access the DNA and copy it into mRNA). Have students follow along with the post’s description to discuss how mRNA is converted into the spike protein (all part of step three of the Pathways infographic): mRNA is injected and gets into the cell, the ribosome reads and translates the mRNA into amino acids, and those amino acids are folded into the spike protein. Then the spike protein activates the immune system to create immunity within the body (steps 4-6 in the infographic).

COVID-19 Vaccine and Therapeutic Trials ACTIV-ate in West Virginia

Hands in medical gloves drawing liquid from a vial into a syringe with a model of SARS-CoV-2 in the background.
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The NIH-supported Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines partnership is coordinating nationwide clinical trials of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. NIGMS-funded clinical and translational research networks are stepping up to help these trials reach underserved areas and populations. In this post, we highlight a network in West Virginia that involves people from rural parts of the state in trials.

This post discusses clinical trials for COVID-19 in rural areas, including the trials for the vaccine described in Pathways.

ACTIVITY

In the blog post, Dr. Sally Hodder says, “When folks participate in the science, when there is good community discussion about the trial designs and the results, then I think those populations may be more trusting of the results.” Ask the students to think of something they were hesitant to do at first, but once they knew the how or why it was being done, they were more open to doing it. Then discuss why it’s important for people from different parts of the country—including rural populations—to participate in clinical trials. It’s not just important for increasing the diversity of the people and locations in the trials, but it also gets more people engaged in and understanding the science that’s happening. Many people are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine because they don’t think the vaccines have gone through enough testing to be safe. But often that actually means that people don’t fully understand the clinical trials process. As a class, discuss the four stages of clinical trials: phase I, experimental; phase II, safety; phase III, effectiveness; and—if approved by the FDA—phase IV, long-term safety and effectiveness (full descriptions found here). Ask the students how involving people in a clinical study could help increase their understanding of the process and the safety of the vaccine as well as their willingness to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

The Brain and Anesthesia Issue

All About Anesthesia

A woman wearing a hospital gown and a hair net, lying on a hospital bed as a gloved hand places a face mask emitting general anesthesia over her nose and mouth.
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Anesthesia is a medical marvel that keeps patients from feeling pain. If you’ve ever had a surgery or even a minor procedure, you’ve probably benefited from it! In this post, we dive into the different types of anesthesia, its history, the way it works, and NIGMS-supported research on it.

ACTIVITY

Have students read the post and infographic to learn more about anesthesia and its history and how it keeps us from feeling pain. Then look at the list of NIGMS-funded anesthesia research at the end of the post and engage students in class discussion, asking them which they would study if they were an anesthesia researcher. For more advanced exploration, divide students into groups, assigning each an NIGMS-funded anesthesia research topic from the list. Have the groups discuss why their topic is important to the broader scope of physical/mental health and wellness. Then have each group share their thoughts with the rest of the class.

Science Snippet: Get to Know Your Nerve Cells

An illustration of a neuron that shows a round cell body with dendrites branching away from it and a long axon.
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Did you know that some cells in our bodies use electricity to carry information? These nerve cells, or neurons, are fundamental for how we interact with our environment. In this post, we explore the role of nerve cells and describe NIGMS-supported research on them.

Nerve cells allow us to feel pain (among other things), and anesthetics, as described in Pathways, prevent us from feeling pain.

ACTIVITY

The post outlines how your brain detects and reacts to something dangerous (for example, a thorn). Divide the class into groups of five to seven students and have each group form a line from one side of the room to the other. The students at the head of the line will act as the brain of the group, the student at the back of the line will be the neuron that senses the trigger, and the ones in between will be the neurons that carry the message. Without telling the entire group, assign each sensing neuron an environmental factor that would trigger a reaction, like a hot stove, a missing rung on a ladder, an unexpected step on muddy ground, a sharp edge, etc. Have the sensing neurons “transmit” their message to the next neuron in line without speaking or touching. Each student (neuron) in line receives the message with their eyes (dendrites), interprets the message with their brain (cell body, nucleus), and then transmits it to the next student with their own body (axon). Once the message makes it to the front of the line, the student acting as the brain can say it out loud. The first group to successfully transmit their message to the brain wins.

Biology Beyond the Lab: Using Computers to Study Life

A professional headshot of Dr. Andre Holder wearing a doctor’s coat.
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Computers and mathematical methods are increasingly important tools for studying biology. In this post, we share the stories of a medical doctor who aims to use these tools to predict sepsis and a computer scientist who applies them to understand cell development pathways.

Pathways discusses machine learning as a possible way to discover a definitive biomarker for pain. This post explains how scientists use computers to study biological processes.

ACTIVITY

Before students read the post, engage them in a quick freewrite about what they think machine learning means and how it’s used in science. After they’ve read the post, have them compare and discuss what they wrote with what they learned and now think of the topic.

The Imaging Issue

Photo Quiz: Puzzles in Purple

Many cells (in purple), each containing a blue sphere.
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This quiz features eye-catching, purple-hued images paired with questions that test your knowledge of basic science concepts. The images were captured using some of the techniques described in Pathways.

ACTIVITY

Have students test their knowledge of cells and science concepts by taking the quiz. For a more in-depth activity, have students look up their selected answers in our glossary. For any incorrect answer, have them define that term and compare it to the correct term.

Automating Cellular Image Analysis to Find Potential Medicines

Headshot of Dr. Anne Carpenter.
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Anne Carpenter, Ph.D., has developed software for analyzing images of cells that can identify signs of diseases and potential medicines to treat them. Thousands of researchers, including many at pharmaceutical companies, have adopted her computer program. Dr. Carpenter never imagined this achievement when she started her journey in science as a biologist without any computer science training.

Both this post and Pathways describes tools used for imaging microscopic biological structures such as cells.

ACTIVITY

The blog post discusses how cells affected by disease sometimes have features that visibly differ from their healthy counterparts. Dr. Carpenter’s Cell Painting tool visualizes these differing features in cells that include the nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, plasma membrane, Golgi, and part of the cytoskeleton. Have students search for photos of these structures in our image and video gallery and/or identify a disease that affects one of these structures.

Fifty Years of the Protein Data Bank!

Macromolecular structures in the shape of the number 50.
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Since 1971, the Protein Data Bank has served the scientific community as an open-access resource of 3D protein structures. To celebrate 50 years as a key resource in the community, we spotlight an educational board game that simulates the process of determining a protein’s structure. Knowing the structures of proteins and other biological molecules helps scientists understand their roles in human health and disease and leads to the discovery of new and more effective medications.

Researchers use many imaging techniques in determining protein (and other macromolecular) structures. Some of these techniques are described in Pathways, and others are introduced in this post.

ACTIVITY

After reading the post, divide students into small groups to play PDB50: The Game simulating how researchers identify macromolecular structures.

Cool Video: A Biological Lava Lamp

A cone-shaped structure containing round objects of various sizes.
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The glowing, twisting cells in this video look just like a bubbling lava lamp, but they actually show a step of egg cell development.

The video was taken using a confocal laser scanning microscopy (sometimes shortened to just “confocal microscopy”), one of the techniques mentioned in the Pathways timeline (1970s).

ACTIVITY

Have students research what confocal microscopy is. They can start with our glossary definition (also linked in the post). Then have them search our image and video gallery to find another cool image that was taken using this method (Search term “confocal”) and describe what they see in the image and why it’s important or being studied.

You can also do this exercise with any of our other Cool Images posts. Pick a type of microscopy, a color, or a component of a cell for your students to research and then search the image and video gallery.

A Focus on Microscopes: See Eye-Catching Images

A transparent S-shape with a blue spot at the top on a white background.
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Did you know that there are many kinds of microscopes? Each offers its own advantages to researchers studying the tiny components of life, but all of them can capture eye-catching images.

The images in this post were taken using some of the imaging techniques described in Pathways.

DISCUSSION

Using the captions in the slideshow pictures, discuss what cell parts or phenomena the images are showing and why scientists might be studying them.

Through the Looking Glass: Microscopic Structures in Many Sizes

A still shot of the Cell Size and Scale interactive.
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Microscopic structures can vary greatly in size. The largest objects that we view through microscopes are about 10 million times larger than the smallest!

The relative sizes in the microscopic world described in Pathways can be difficult to conceptualize. This post describes an interactive tool to view these relative sizes.

ACTIVITY

Use the Cell Size and Scale interactive supported by our Science Education Partnership Award program to illustrate how cells, viruses, proteins, and more measure up. One of the largest objects on the scale is a grain of rice. Start the lesson by giving each student a grain of rice to hold as they think about how small each object on the scale really is. Give the students a list of some of the items shown on the scale and ask them to place them in order from largest to smallest. Then, either as a group or individually, have them slide the scale from the largest items to the smallest atom to see how well they did.

Superbugs

What Is Antibiotic Resistance?

Large clumps of blue, spherical bacteria on a rough, green surface.
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Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem where bacteria develop the ability to fend off the antibiotics we use to fight them. Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria are difficult to treat and can be deadly. This post explains how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and what you can do to help prevent that from happening—topics that Pathways also explores.

ACTIVITY
After students read the blog post, ask them what actions they can take to prevent antibiotic resistance (there are four bullet points at the end of the post). One step from this list is to take the entire course of antibiotics as prescribed and then properly dispose of any left over. Break the students into small groups and have them brainstorm two to three impacts that improper disposal of antibiotics (or any medication) could have on the environment. Then as a class, look at the U.S. Geological Survey’s site and graphic about pharmaceuticals in
water
. Are there any impacts that your group didn’t come up with? Or any that aren’t included on this graphic? Lastly, show students how to look up safe disposal locations in your area.

Antibiotic Resistance and Researchers Studying It

Quiz logo
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Test your knowledge of bacterial infections with this quiz, using examples from some of the scientists we’ve featured on the blog who explore new ways to fight antibiotic resistance. This post and Pathways discuss antibiotic resistance.

ACTIVITY
Read the introduction of the post together as a class. Divide the students into groups of four, and have each student read a different post from the list at the bottom of the quiz. Then have the groups answer the quiz questions together. As a class, discuss how the groups worked together to answer the quiz questions. You can also talk about the researchers’ backgrounds and how they became scientists with questions like:
  • How did they know they wanted to be a scientist?
  • What made them choose the field of research that they’re in now?
  • Can you see yourself having a career like this scientist?

Science Snippet: Brush Up on Biofilms

A red-stained circle with raised ridges, and a smaller circle in the middle.
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Microbes often form organized communities called biofilms. Some are useful to people, but others cause disease. Many NIGMS-supported researchers study biofilms and are developing ways to combat those that can threaten your health.

Pathways describes antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and this post describes biofilms, which are also antibiotic resistant.

DISCUSSION

Biofilms can form through quorum sensing. This is a complex form of communication where individual bacteria produce chemical signals in response to the population density around them. Other bacteria can sense these signaling molecules to determine information about their environment and regulate their responses.

After reading the post, discuss quorum sensing with your students through the example of a TikTok (or other social media) trend. An individual user creates content, just as an individual bacterium produces a signaling molecule. Other users see that post and make their own similar content, creating a trend. This is similar to what happens when other bacteria sense the signaling chemicals and put out their own in response. Social media trends don’t last long before the next thing hits, and similarly, a bacterium must continue to produce chemicals to communicate with other bacteria in the quorum. You can also watch this YouTube video on quorum sensing.

Cool Images: Bewitching Bacteria

A green pattern resembling a flower on a red background.
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The effects of bacteria on our bodies range from helpful to life threatening. But regardless of their relationship to us, many species of bacteria can be surprisingly stunning.

This post shows pictures of bacteria, and Pathways is all about bacteria and superbugs.

ACTIVITY

Have each student (or group of students) choose one of the four bacteria shown in the post to research. (To make this activity more difficult, have them search our image and video gallery for types of bacteria not found in this post.) Have them write 2-3 sentences about the bacterium, including what type of bacteria it is, where it’s commonly found, what diseases it can cause, which of those diseases can be treated with medicine, and what versions of drug-resistant superbugs are known or common.

Exploring Nature’s Treasure Trove of Helpful Compounds

Yellow spheres attached to a sinewy red structure.
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Compounds that plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals produce can sometimes help people as well. In fact, many medicines, molecules used in research, and other useful compounds originated in nature.

Natural products are a source for new antibiotics that may help us fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria and superbugs.

ACTIVITY

Ask the students if they can think of a natural product. Caffeine is probably the natural product they’re most familiar with, but many life-saving medicines are also natural products. Caffeine is naturally found in tea leaves and coffee beans. When you brew a cup of tea or coffee, you've actually extracted caffeine and lots of other natural products out of the plant material (tea leaves or coffee beans). When researchers want to study a natural product, they start by extracting lots of chemicals out of the plant—like your cup of tea—and then take that tea and further purify it to isolate just the chemical(s) they’re looking for. This post discusses some of the difficulties that natural product researchers face and how they’re working to overcome them.

Pair and Share: Read the introduction paragraph as a class, then divide students into four groups to each read one of the sections in the article (Seaweed Empowers Neuroscience Research, Discovering New Antibiotics, Replacing Plastic, and Advancing Natural Products Research with Better Libraries of Microbes). Have the groups discuss the section and come up with one sentence that summarizes the research. Then come back together so that a representative from each group can share their summaries.

The Circadian Rhythms Issue

Why Am I So Tired?

Alarm clock on a model brain. In the background, gold stars on dark blue for nighttime (L), and white clouds on light blue for daytime (R).
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Circadian rhythms are your internal timekeepers—they control daily activities such as when you go to sleep and wake up. When they fall out of sync with your environment, you may feel groggy and have trouble focusing.

ACTIVITY

Have students read the blog post about what can disrupt sleep on Earth and watch the video of Expedition 55/56 flight engineer Ricky Arnold discussing the crew sleeping quarters, the importance of sleep, and ways in which the crew adapts for circadian rhythms aboard the space station. Then use the surveys and worksheets from NASA’s STEMonstrations: Sleep Science to get your students thinking about their own sleep and what might be disrupting their circadian rhythms.

Quiz: What Can Research Organisms Reveal About Health?

Two fruit flies facing one another.
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Research organisms such as fruit flies and mice help scientists better understand basic biological processes and develop treatments for human diseases. This interactive quiz tests your knowledge of these important creatures.

Much of what we know about circadian rhythms in humans was first discovered in research organisms.

ACTIVITY

Have students test their knowledge of research organisms with this quiz. They can learn more about uncommon research organisms by reading the post, Amazing Organisms and the Lessons They Can Teach Us.

Scientist Interview: Investigating Circadian Rhythms with Michael W. Young

A human silhouette containing clocks throughout the head and body that are intended to represent circadian rhythms.
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When circadian rhythms are disrupted—for instance, by the beginning or ending of daylight saving time that occurs each March and November—we often feel “off” until our bodies adjust. But for some people, this adjustment never happens. Nobel laureate Michael W. Young, Ph.D., describes his current research on circadian rhythms and delayed sleep phase disorder in a short video interview.

The scientist interviewed in this post, Dr. Michael W. Young, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize for his research on circadian rhythms.

ACTIVITY

Watch the video interview as a class. Dr. Young discusses a mutation that can lead to delayed sleep phase disorder. Ask the class what a mutation is (a change in a DNA sequence) and how it might cause a sleep disorder (our DNA is the code that tells our bodies how to function). Use this image to explore how a small change in DNA can result in a physiological change in our bodies. Compare nucleotides to letters, mRNA to those letters typed out, amino acids to words, and the protein to a full sentence. If you choose the wrong letter in a single word, the final sentence probably won’t make sense. Similarly, if one of DNA’s nucleotides is changed, the mRNA, amino acids, and protein will end up changed. (But thankfully, we have spell-check—and in a way, so do our cells! DNA polymerases have a proofreading function to prevent major DNA mutations from occurring.)

The Regeneration Issue

A Tale of Tails: How Reptile Regeneration Could Help Humans

A profile picture of Dr. Lozito wearing a white lab coat.
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Thomas Lozito, Ph.D., has been fascinated by lizards since he was about 4 years old. He now researches how they regrow their tails in hopes of unlocking secrets that could ultimately improve human healing. Within the next 10 years, Dr. Lozito aims to take his research a step closer to humans by enabling a mouse to regenerate its tail.

Both this post and Pathways feature Dr. Lozito and his research on regeneration.

ACTIVITY

Have students read the blog post. It discusses how Dr. Lozito has worked with other scientists to test potential medicines. Explain to students that science is a “team sport” where many people work together within and across labs. Ask students how they think scientists who have different skills or study different topics could help one another. You may want to refer to the descriptions of scientific roles in the “Help Wanted” section of Pathways.

Make Like a Cell and Split: Comparing Mitosis and Meiosis

Image of a cell dividing.
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Mitosis is essential for growth and cell replacement, while meiosis creates egg and sperm cells for reproduction. In this post, an illustration places the two types of cell division side by side, emphasizing their striking similarities and key differences.

Our bodies may not regenerate like some of the research organisms described in Pathways, but they can heal and replace damaged cells through mitosis—the subject of this post.

ACTIVITY

After students have read the post, watch these videos of yeast cells dividing: video 1 and video 2. Explain that researchers have colored different parts of the cells to allow us to see them splitting. Ask students to name a stage of mitosis and when they saw it happen in the clips (cytokinesis is the easiest to see, since the cells split in two). Have them look at some of the images related to the videos (image 1, image 2, image 3, image 4, image 5) and identify cells that are in the various phases of cell division, including interphase.

Quiz Yourself to Grow What You Know About Regeneration

A purple and pink sea urchin on a rock under water.
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Do you know which tissues and organs the human body can regenerate? How about which animals can regrow entire limbs? Our quiz will test your knowledge of regeneration and regenerative medicine.

This post quizzes how much you know about regeneration, the topic of Pathways.

ACTIVITY

After reading Pathways, have students test their knowledge (and probably learn a few more new facts) with this interactive quiz.

Interview With a Scientist: Unlocking the Secrets of Animal Regeneration With Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado

Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, wearing eyeglasses and a black sweater, and smiling.
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Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, Ph.D., is making exciting discoveries in the field of regenerative medicine. For the last 2 decades, NIGMS has supported the work of his laboratory in studying flatworms to uncover the genetic and developmental basis of regeneration. In a short video interview, Sánchez Alvarado describes his research findings and how they might impact our health.

Both this post and Pathways feature Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, Ph.D., and his work in regenerative medicine.

DISCUSSION

Watch the video interview as a class. Then have students choose a research organism—it could be the planarian that Dr. Sánchez Alvarado uses in his work, one of the organisms from our coloring pages, or another they’re interested in. Instruct them to research and write a paragraph on the organism they choose. They should include information on what the organism is, how it’s useful in studying disease, what (if any) discoveries have been made studying it that have shaped human health, and what benefits and limits it has over other research organisms. (These questions are taken from the headers of the fact sheet, so students can use it as a model for their own writing.)

Basic Science Careers

How Research Works: Understanding the Process of Science

Cartoon scientists working together to answer research questions around a large magnifying glass with a question mark in the middle.
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Have you ever wondered how scientific discoveries are made? Scientists follow the scientific method when they ask questions about the world around them. They perform experiments, analyze their results, and draw conclusions based on the results.

Pathways introduces the important role that scientists play in understanding the world around us, and all scientists use the scientific method as they make discoveries—which is explained in this post.

ACTIVITY

After students have read the article, ask them if they think the item you’ve chosen for this activity will dissolve faster in cold or hot water. (Colorful hard candies work great, but if you don’t have any, salt or sugar also works.) Have students think about the steps of the scientific method outlined in the post to decide how they’d answer the question. Instruct them to write down their hypothesis, the techniques they’ll need to find the answer, and the evidence they’ll collect in the process. Then, as a class, apply the process with a demonstration to determine an answer. (You’ll need two cups, preferably clear, one with cold and the other with hot water. Add equal amounts of the hard candy, salt, or sugar and watch to see which dissolves first.) Ask the students if their hypotheses were correct and if this demonstration sparked any other questions that they can test using the scientific method.

Any of Our Posts on Being a Scientist!

Female scientist wearing a mask and holding a test tube with a microscope in the background.
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We regularly interview scientists to hear about their research and what led them to where they are in their careers. Check out our Q&As with:

We also have posts highlighting some of the researchers featured in Pathways, including Computational biologist Melissa Wilson and Geneticist Michael Young.

Pathways discusses the importance of basic science, and these posts highlight researchers who study different fields of basic science.

DISCUSSION

Have students read one of the Being a Scientist posts. Then, in a class discussion, ask questions specific to that post, such as: Did this person always want to become a scientist, or when they were your age, did they think they’d grow up to do something else? What training and education does this scientist have? What’s interesting about their career path? What’s interesting about their science? What tools or techniques does the scientist use in their research? How is the basic science that they do related to human health?

Select a topic from the dropdown above to view blog posts that directly or indirectly connect to the STEM topics along with activity suggestions for how to use the posts as educational supplements.


Other Resources for Your Classroom

If you’re looking for other educational supplements, check out the short scientific posts in these series:

In Other Words.

Posts comparing a word that means one thing in everyday language and another in science

Quizzes.

Posts in quiz format on various scientific topics

Science Snippets.

Short posts exploring basic science topics

Find more educational content and curriculum supplements on our NIH-wide K-12 STEM resources website.

We’d love to hear how you’re using these resources or if there’s one you suggest that we add. Feel free to leave these comments below!

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