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Please hit me with any "outside the box" Biology study/project ideas!

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DD14 is very interested in molecular biology and genetics. Her interest in the area was piqued when a natural-history-for-homeschoolers teacher described hemimastigotes as new branch of life; at around the same time, she started reading my old HS Bio AP textbook on her own because she found it super interesting. When asked, she currently (which obviously may change) describes her ideal job as: "observation and analysis, searching for patterns and relationships, with the goal of answering previously undefined questions in animal/human (not plant) molecular biology/genetics".

She's chosen to do a Biology elective this year, and is reading through a text (more current than my old book), answering study questions, etc. @Farrarsuggested doing a unique project to make the year more special, and she and I both loved this idea. Problem is, even after searching, reading, discussing, scouring the library and the web for ideas - neither she nor I have had success in coming up with a topic or question to explore that would be both meaningful and doable. I remember reading about @lewelma boys' incredible, in-depth science projects...Gah. Any thoughts?? Farrar and Ruth, I hope you don't mind my tags. Now that it's November, I'm feeling desperate.

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Science isn't as much my wheelhouse, but I always think looking at the syllabi for college courses is a good starting point, especially for a motivated kid. And then combining those topics, books, and resources with more lay friendly ones. Have you and she tried looking over what's offered at a few different colleges - maybe especially a few smaller schools known for their biology programs? You can also try envisioning it as a science fair type project that simply lasts for the whole year or semester - in other words, the scope and level is just upped. If she was going to try to "win" the science fair with a big project in her interest area, what would it be? With science - especially biology - I always think one of the challenges for kids is to get them to focus smaller on their own backyards. What do you realistically have access to in your community that could stand to be studied?

I think Ruth will have good ideas...

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Part of the problem with science in high school is that there is so much factual material a person needs to know before they can even hope to do authentic, creative work.  So a project at this stage is by necessity going to look more like library research than it is like an actual scientific study.  And that's forgetting about how difficult it is to do lab work in biochemistry/molecular biology in the home.

One idea might be to come up with a (library) research question that combines science and other aspects of human experience.  Some examples:

  • What are the ethical implications of genetic engineering?
  • In the field of molecular biology, what has been the relationship between advances in technology and advances in understanding?
  • How has the identification of DNA as the molecule of inheritance changed the human experience?
  • What are the implications of applying evolutionary theory to processes that seem removed from biology (cultures, for example)?

 

 

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Very good food for thought, thank you both. Questions like yours are exactly what I need to push me past the wall I've hit. I think it's worth mentioning that I have a background in medicine and some firsthand experience in research; I feel equipped to help her navigate a more complex project, if only we could come up with a topic! I was hoping (ever the victim of wishful thinking) that her independent reading would lead her to something a bit more tangible that would, in turn, ignite her curiosity. Clearly, that would be the foundation for the best project ever.... 

 

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Does your library have a subscription to Scientific American?  You might check out some old issues or their website and see if there are any biology-related research that is summarized there.  Then take a look at the bibliography for anything that piques, and go from there.  Keep reading and following rabbit holes until you hit upon something.

Do you live near a college or university?  Are there any lectures presented by biology faculty that are open to the public?  If so, look up their publications, and see if anything piques interest.  

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Do you have a microscope?  If so, we did an awesome biology project.  Not microbiology or genetics, but we collected water from lots of different sources (a puddle, a stream, a rocky intertidal pool, and water from a frog aquarium.  My ds identified the organisms, drew them, classified them, measured their size, measured their density, measured their speed.  His question: "which of the different environments had the most diversity?" Secondary questions: 1) where was the diversity located (top/bottom/sunny/nonsunny/muddy/clear etc) in each location? 2) how do you decide what *diversity* is? 3) Is the stream safe to drink from with a filter bottle? 4) What is the best way to make a slide? 5) how do you measure density? How do you measure size to help you with identification? What are all the parts he saw within each micro-organism? etc.  There were so many problems to solve when doing this study.  It was so much fun!  And I still have all his drawings. 

Edited by lewelma
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