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Doing Biology. Joel Hagen, Douglas Allchin and Fred Singer. Harper Collins (1996). ISBN 0-673-99638-7. 200 pp.
Every biology teacher and student should own a copy of Doing Biology! Hagen, Allchin and Singer have crafted an informative, insightful, and highly readable work which would complement, and greatly enhance, any intro-ductory biology text. As stated in their preface, "Every biological fact has a story behind it." This text communicates the stories behind seventeen separate "biological facts." The stories thus told reveal much more about science, and how it is done, than merely stating the concepts that were discovered. As those of us interested in the history of science realize, it is much more enlightening to understand how we know than to simply be told what we know.
In Doing Biology, the episodes of discovery described range from Kettlewell's peppered moth research to Eijkman's discovery of the cause for beriberi to Kreb's elucidation of the citric acid cycle. The diversity of topics covered in such a short text is impressive. In each case, the reader is led through the social and intellec-tual milieu surrounding the scientists and events in question. However, the authors do much more than simply relate these stories, fascinating as they are; rather, each chapter involves the reader in the problem-solving exercise at hand. In order to achieve such a goal, the textual material is interspersed with "Problems" which provide focus and prod the student toward a deeper understanding of how biologists do their work. I found this problem-solving approach to be particularly engaging as it made me feel that I was actually doing biology, rather than simply reading about it. (I look forward to sharing this experience with my own students, once they each have copies!) The logical flow of each chapter is further enhanced by the inclusion of an epilogue to allow the discussion of current understandings and implications of the work just described. The chapters conclude with "Questions and Activities" as well as a list of suggested readings.
In addition to being a well-designed text, a virtue of Doing Biology which makes it truly invaluable is the particular stories which the authors have chosen to share with us. While a few episodes from the history of biology are covered by virtually all biology texts, such as Mendel's pea experiments, most other episodes are essentially ignored. For instance, how many texts include the process and events of discovery that led to Peter Mitchell's chemiosmotic model? For that matter, how many teachers, and by extension students, truly understand chemiosmosis in the first place? It could be argued that ignoring the how of biology makes it difficult to understand the what of biology. Herein lies the greatest value of Hagen, Allchin and Singer's text. Their historical, problem-solving approach promotes a depth of understanding that is simply not possible for most students to achieve by passively reading descriptions of the concepts of biology. The fact that Doing Biology takes such an approach to the teaching of concepts for which most texts include no historical background at all makes it an especially valuable and important supplement. The authors have achieved in admirable fashion their stated goal of going a significant step beyond the teaching of biological content to the teaching of how to do biology!
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