Biology, like all sciences, interacts strongly with technology, but the technology which is appropriate for the K-12 level has to be easy, cheap, informative, teachable, and durable. Biology is becoming more quantitative, from the application of systems theory in gene circuits, to computer methods in neural modeling. However we perceive a disconnect between the quantitative progress of biology at the graduate level and the qualitative way biology is taught at the K-12 and college levels. The reasons for the disconnect are many, but we believe that easy, inexpensive availability of appropriate technology, correctly packaged, will help.
The progress of consumer electronics has made it possible to construct low-cost electronics aimed at teaching biology and to write powerful programs which present a simple user interface on a computer. This year I have worked on three such projects: (1) A low-voltage, low-power strobe light to allow investigations of behavioral mutant fruit flies which show a response to light similar to human epileptics. (2) Simple hardware to allow high school students to investigate neural nets by wiring "neurons' together with "synapses' to produce a variety of behaviors. There are sensory "neurons' for input. (3) A computer program (called Koé) which supports teaching of biologically related math concepts. Koé is a high-level, block diagram, data-flow language intended to simulate plug programmable audio gear in a teaching environment. A basic set of draggable modules can be combined (with wires) to produce a large range of interesting audio experiments. It is being developed under the auspices of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor Award to Ron Hoy, who oversees a development team headed by Land and Nick Burlett, a computer programmer. Most of the details are available on several websites. http://www.nbb.cornell.edu/neurobio/land/PROJECTS/StrobeHoy/index.html http://www.nbb.cornell.edu/neurobio/land/PROJECTS/NeuralModels/index.html http://www.nbb.cornell.edu/neurobio/land/PROJECTS/Koe/KoeFrame.html
The potential of Koé as a tool for undergraduate courses is extremely broad, encompassing courses and fields as diverse as music and mathematics, electrical engineering and linguistics, behavioral biology and English, speech and hearing pathology and psychology, and physics and psychoacoustics. This is because it merges sound (speech, music, etc) and visual representations that permit detailed analysis. This opens up the ability to engage our sense of hearing and speech in zones of teaching where previously only visual depiction of concepts and ideas were employed. This is a novel idea and is now being tested in several classroom setting. For example, Professor M.L. Zeeman at U.Texas San Antonio, has used Koé to demonstrate how the functions of mathematics (e.g., sines, cosines) can be heard as well as seen. In her experience, this has been especially attractive for engaging the interests of her minority (Mexican-American) undergraduates in her precalculus math courses, as well as in her advanced linear algebra course and her biomathematics course. At Cornell, Koé is used in our bioacoustics courses and permits an entirely new approach to the teaching of animal signals and their analysis. Because Koé is a work in progress and not yet a fully completed software tool, we can offer its description as one of considerable promise in the educational domain. Once completed, our plan is to distribute Koé to educators and students on a nationwide basis.