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Variations in Life Science

Variations in Life Science is designed for use in middle school life science courses. It is a series of 12 individual video/print units. Each unit addresses a topic identified by middle school life-science teachers as particularly challenging for students to understand.

Such topics traditionally have been taught in a manner that emphasized vocabulary over concept development and have largely relied upon the recall of factual information rather than student discussion and understanding.

Variations in Life Science takes the non-traditional approach to learning. It encourages students to construct their own knowledge by becoming actively engaged. As students watch dynamic processes in life science, they build a deeper understanding of key concepts.

Each Variations in Life Science unit is designed to answer four basic questions:

  • What do we know?
  • How do we know it?
  • How do we use that knowledge?
  • What does this knowledge mean to our everyday lives?

Teachers are encouraged to select those activities that are most likely to meet the needs of their curriculum and of their students. Each unit identifies related Benchmarks for Science Literacy developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The units

Video Unit 1: An Eye into Life Cells and Microscopes

What are cells really like?
All living things are composed of cells whose details are usually visible only through a microscope. Students explore the basic building blocks of plants and animals as they view and identify a cell’s structure.


Video Unit 2: The Ultimate Survivors: Bacteria

What do we know about bacteria? Why doesn’t bacteria take over completely?
This unit introduces key concepts and describes basic characteristics and behavior of bacteria.


Video Unit 3: Invisible Allies: Beneficial Bacteria

In what ways could we use bacteria to make our lives easier?
This unit discusses the useful functions of bacteria from making yogurt, to treating sewage, to fighting disease.


Video Unit 4: Something in Common: Classification

What is a species?
Students will learn about the importance of classifying organisms and how we go about determining biological classification.


Video Unit 5: Without Which Nothing: Photosynthesis

How does photosynthesis affect all forms of life?
What would happen if all photosynthesis stopped? Students learn how plants convert the sun’s energy to food and how this food becomes the energy that all plants and animals use to sustain life.


Video Unit 6: The Price of Survival: Tropical Forests

Is there any way to save the tropical rainforest?
Students enter the tropical rainforest to learn of its biodiversity and examine its structure, location, and threatened existence.


Video Unit 7: What’s in a Face?: Skin

What is skin? What should you do for your skin?
This unit helps students discover a part of themselves—their skin. They’ll learn about the skin’s component cell types and function; plus, what they can do to prevent common skin problems.


Video Unit 8: Life is Motion: The Muscular-Skeletal System

What are the systems involved in human movement?
This lesson introduces the human skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems. A case study shows the use of computer imaging to better understand the human gait.


Video Unit 9: A Matter of Heart: Circulation

How many hearts do you have? What color is blood in the veins?
Students will learn about the human circulatory system’s mechanisms for supplying the body with oxygen. They’ll also see how a teenage boy gets a chance at life with a surgically-implanted defibrillator.


Video Unit 10: Angie’s Ear: Hearing

What sounds can damage your ears?
Students will come to understand the hearing process and the damage that loud noises can do as they watch the story of a young woman getting a cochlear implant to overcome her nerve deafness.


Video Unit 11: Like a Key: Hormones

What would your life be like if your body could not produce adrenaline?
This unit introduces the hormones in the human body, shows where they originate, and explains the effects of the hormone adrenaline. Students will watch as doctors treat young patients with growth hormone deficiency.


Video Unit 12: The Way We Are: Genetics

What are genes? Could brown-eyed parents have a blue-eyed child?
In this module, students learn how living organisms receive genetic material from their parents in the form of chromosomes and genes. They also look at cystic fibrosis and a new gene augmentation therapy.


Unit design

Flexible in design, each unit contains a video lesson and several related activities. The video lessons (approximately 10 minutes in length) are each divided into two segments. The first segment covers what scientists know about the topic, while the second segment contains a case study in which a scientist uses the content of the topic in current research and practice. “Stop Video Questions” act as a bridge between these two segments and encourage students to share ideas.

The Teacher’s Guide includes reproducible activity masters listing materials needed, specifications for data collection and analysis, and other related resources.

The creators of Variations in Life Science

Variations in Life Science was created by the Educational Film Center, Anandale, VA; in association with the Montgomery County, Maryland Public Schools; and Toby Levine Communications, Inc.