Students in a high school biology class were introduced to the case of “Marcus”
(a pseudonym), a high school football player who collapsed on the football field
during a game and was rushed to the emergency room with various symptoms.
Throughout the two-week, project-based unit, students worked in cooperative
groups to diagnose Marcus, learning about various inherited diseases and heat-related ailments that might impact young athletes. This unit integrates
ultrasound technology into the classroom as a teaching and diagnostic technique
and introduces students to health science careers. Student groups work to
produce a final product that is presented to a public audience (e.g., parents,
teachers, coaches) to increase their awareness of the science content underlying
the causes of sudden collapses in young athletes. This learning experience ended
with students individually writing a letter to Marcus’s family explaining his
diagnosis and the related biology concepts.
Key Words: Project-based learning; inquiry; genetics; cell biology.
With the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS
Lead States, 2013) and state implementation of these or similar
standards, teachers are having to change their instruction to integrate
science content and practices, teaching for in-depth understanding.
Project-based learning (PBL) curricula, which engage students in
investigating authentic real-world problems through science practi-
ces, collaborative discussion, and investigation, align well with
this reform vision. Literature reviews of project-based instruction in
K–12 environments summarize evidence that when properly enacted
this instruction leads to improved student science content knowl-
edge and 21st-century process skills as well as better performance
on standardized content assessments (Thomas, 2000; Holm, 2011;
Hasni et al., 2016). Literature also shows that these positive effects
extend to students of various ethnicities, ages, and academic levels
(Thomas, 2000; Moje et al., 2001; Schneider et al., 2002; Larmer
et al., 2015; Han et al., 2016).
According to Krajcik and Czerniak (2018), project-based science
units are organized around a real-world driving question that gives
learning activities a central focus and engages students collaboratively
in scientific practices to develop standards-based learning products
that address this question. Larmer et al. (2015) described “gold standard” PBL units as having seven key design elements that work
together to build student content knowledge and 21st-century skills
(critical thinking, communication, collaboration, etc.): (1) a challenging question, (2) sustained inquiry, (3) authentic (real-world) problems, (4) voice and choice, (5) reflection on their own learning and
skills, (6) critique and revision, and (7) the production of a public
product (p. 34). Table 1 shows how students were engaged in each
of the “gold standard” PBL elements during our unit.
During this PBL unit, students in a high school biology class were
introduced to the case of “Marcus” (a pseudonym), a high school football player who collapsed on the football field during a game and was
rushed to the emergency room with various symptoms. Throughout
the unit, students worked in cooperative groups to diagnose Marcus,
learning about various inherited diseases and heat-related ailments
that might impact young athletes. The teacher acted as a liaison to
the hospital, providing updates on Marcus’s condition throughout
the unit. This learning experience ended with students writing a letter
to Marcus’s family explaining his diagnosis and the related biology
concepts. Student groups also presented information to a public audience (e.g., parents, teachers, coaches) to increase their awareness of
the science content underlying the causes of sudden collapses in
young athletes. This unit was developed collaboratively with a southern university’s college of education, its school of medicine, and teachers who participated in a professional development program.
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 81, No. 6, pp. 442–448, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. © 2019 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2019.81.6.442.
A Project-Based Biology Unit:
Star Athlete Collapses on the
• CHRISTINE LOTTER, RICHARD HOPPMANN,
STEPHANIE BAILEY, NATHAN CARNES,
DANIEL A. KIERNAN