Teaching Systems Biology and Genetics Through Inquiry

Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Chicago Center for Systems Biology have been collaborating to advance the teaching of systems biology and genetics since 2008. Over the past five years, museum educators and leading scientists delivered science camps and professional development programs to Chicago-area teachers and students. Annually, during the Systems Biology and Genetics Teacher Institute, high school biology teachers explored cutting-edge research, toured labs with scientists, and examined how a systems biology perspective can connect students with science in meaningful ways. In the process, participating teachers developed and tested a series of lesson plans designed to bring the science of these premier research institutions—Field Museum of Natural History, University of Chicago’s Center for Systems Biology, and Northwestern University—straight to the classroom. In addition, the project team developed video shorts that correspond to each lesson plan designed to connect students to the personal stories and research of featured scientists.  

Available Modules:

Dr. Kevin White is the Director of the Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology at the University of Chicago. He and his team use a combination of genetics, genomics, and mathematical modeling to explore the networks involved in the robustness of genes controlling segmentation in embryonic development and evolution in Drosophila melanogaster. To learn more about Kevin and his research visit his University of Chicago profile or departmental webpage.

"Systems Biology is the study of how biological processes are organized on multiple levels." -Dr. Kevin White

Funding and support provided by NIH & CCSB. The project described was supported by award number P50GM081892 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.


Vimeo Links

Hands-On Classroom Kits

The N. W. Harris Learning Collection at The Field Museum offers over 1,500 treasures—real specimens and artifacts—for educators and parents to borrow. Use the materials from our Learning Collection to engage learners in scientific practices, develop critical thinking skills, and pique curiosity about Earth’s natural and cultural diversity. The following “hands-on kits” were designed to support teachers using featured systems biology lessons:

Birds Tree of Life Experience Box 

This box includes ten bird skulls from the Bronze-Winged Mannikin, Zebra Finch, Caribbean Flamingo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Burrowing Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Cardinal, Duck, and Pileated Woodpecker.   The variation in their skull sizes and beaks reminds us that they are highly adapted to different food sources and environments.  Learn about the process of natural selection and create an evolutionary bird tree of life to show how the specimens in the box are related.  Use this box with the Systems Biology Lesson – The Case of Darwin’s Finches. 

Skulls and Limbs Experience Box 

This box includes skulls from the American Alligator, Human Female European, Dog, Cat, American Beaver, Mouse and Road Runner; along with skeletal comparison sets of hind and front limbs.  Explore the variation in skulls and limbs that show how animals and humans are highly adapted to different food sources and environments.  Use this box with the Systems Biology Lesson – The Effect of Natural Selection on Genes, Traits and Individuals. 

Borrow these materials for FREE! Download the coupon below and contact Harris Learning Collection staff during our open hours of operation (Tuesdays and Wednesdays 3-7pm and Saturdays 9am – 5pm) for more details. Be sure to mention the coupon when you talk to staff!

DNA Experience Box

This box includes DNA models, building blocks, books and DVDs.  Explore DNA, what it is and how scientists are using it.  Use this box in conjunction with any Systems Biology Lesson Plan.  Coupon does not apply to this box.

Field Trips

Visit The Field Museum’s DNA Discovery Center and speak with scientists who are conducting systems biology research!  Talk To The Scientist Hour is held Monday-Friday from 11am-12pm. Check out our Field Trip Programs for registration information, planning resources, and other student programs to learn more.