Are you Smarter than a Worm? (Operant Conditioning in C. elegans ) Day 3

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Students will interpret and analyze data from an ongoing investigation to describe learning trends in C. elegans worms.

Big Idea

Data is a powerful tool that can be used for students to develop or extract meaning from. In this lesson students use data from C elegans studies to articulate trends of an operant conditioning study that may me applied to human behaviors.


Lesson Background & Justification:

          Operant conditioning, sometimes referred to as instrumental learning, is a method of learning that occurs through reinforcements and punishments for behavior. It encourages the subject to associate desirable or undesirable outcomes with certain behaviors. Caenorhabditis elegans is a microscopic (~1 mm) nematode that normally lives in soil. It has become one of the "model" organisms in biology as it displays similar internal metabolic activity as humans, including neurological functions such as learning and memory. As such, these organisms have been used to study operant conditioning in animals and teaches us a great deal about the neurophysiology of our brains. In this lesson, (Part 3 of 3) students set set up investigations which allow for them to collect and interpret data about these worms and their capacity to learn by association.

Prerequisite Knowledge: It is recommended that students be familiar with the structure and function of a neuron, the concept of neurotransmission, the action potential mechanism and the neurobiology of learning (covered in a previous lesson). 

Lesson Preparations:

 In the effort to prepare for this lesson, I make certain that I have the following items in place: 

a) 1 Biorad elegans Behavior Kit. (Provide investigation materials for student pairs). Use theinstructor's manual for preparation planning. 

b) Student lab books.

c) Class set of safety wear (glasses, lab aprons and gloves)

Common Core and NGSS Standards:

SP4- Analyzing and interpreting data.

SP2- Developing and Using Models.

SP7- Engaging in arguments using evidence. 

HS-LS1-3-Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis.

RST.11-12.3- Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.

Standards Rationale:

      Modeling is the process by which scientists represent ideas about the natural world to each other, and then collaboratively make changes to these representations over time in response to new evidence and understandings. It is intimately connected to other scientific processes (asking questions, communicating information, etc.) and improves students ability to recall scientific jargon through association. In the classroom, it is important that teachers engage students in modeling practices, to set the foundation of success in a lesson or instructional unit. In this lesson modeling is used in concert with other science practices in the classroom to promote students’ reasoning and understanding of core science idea presented (mechanisms that direct specific biology of memory and learning in organisms.) 


45 minutes

Section Sequence:

       In this section of the lesson, my goal is provide students to literature that accurately articulates the parallels of the human nervous system and C elegans. This literature which provides tissue and molecular specific comparisons offers students an opportunity to reflect on their data and to assess the applicability of their data to human  subjects. This section proceeds as follows:

a) Dispense one copy of Biorad's C. elegans Learning Supplemental Activity Literature to each student pair and instruct for them to use this graphic organizer template to organize and articulate the similarities of human learning potential (on a molecular, tissue and organism level) to those of a C elegans worm. 

b) Engage students in a classroom discussion regarding their findings from the literature and guide them to use the content developed in each group's graphic organizer to generate one large, visible and collective list on the board for the class. 

c) Allow for students to come up to the board and circle the characteristics that they found to be the most compelling in creating the argument that C elegans are good models for understanding human learning activities. If students are compelled to argue in the opposite direction, grant them freedom to provide evidence for this position and to articulate why they feel more support for this position over the other. 

Standards Covered:

SP7- Engaging in arguments using evidence. 

Extend and Evaluate

45 minutes

Section Sequence:

      In this section of the lesson students translate their data into graphical representation and annotate their data with words to express trends and inferences from their data. This section proceeds as follows:

a) Share with students that now that they have a) collected some solid data and b) are comfortable with C. elegans as subjects to understand human behavior that they will translate their findings into a format that is universally understood and accepted by the scientific community; a graph. 

b) Direct students to utilize their data collect (# of worms migrated to each side of the the treated agar) to calculate their Chemotaxis Indexes as per the instructions on page 39 of the Kit's Guide

c) Remind students of how to develop a scientifically accurate graph and how to properly annotate it. Also show students how to use their background and data from their studies to generate a summary that explains the trends in their graphs. Instruct students to collate their data as a group in the form of a bar graph (See class data attached) and to draw their graphs and produce a group conclusion onto a large post it note poster. 

d) Engage students in a post lab discussion that will prompt them to evaluate the validity and consistency of data across groups. The goal is for students to learn to reflect on what their data means and how it might contribute to the scientific community. Ask prompting questions such as the following to start, sustain and grow the conversation of student :

How similar or different is the data across the room?

What variables might have contributed to any outliers?

Does the data reveal anything about how humans and worms neurologically compare? Contrast?

Standards Covered:

SP4- Analyzing and interpreting data.

SP7- Engaging in arguments using evidence.