PLC Biology Syllabus

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PLC Biology combines independent study with once per week group activities (e.g., labs, discussions, field trips). We focus on the big ideas in life science: cellular processes, genetics and information transfer, feedback processes, communities, and evolution. Participating students are encouraged to identify a particular area of interest related to life sciences, through which they can expand their understandings.

Class meetings

Class meetings are once per week on Mondays, 1-3pm. These sessions offer hands-on opportunities for youth to explore and experiment in relation to overarching biological concepts. Topics for activities include: diffusion and osmosis, earthworm dissection, investigating the action of enzymes, photosynthesis, respiration, determining the genetics for a virtual fly, DNA gel electrophoresis, DNA extraction, cardio fitness, macroinvertebrate collection/ID, investigating heartrate in daphnia, shark dissection, measuring and analyzing coyote skulls.


We will use Exploring the Way Things Work to organize and enrich our study of biology. There are two versions of this book both by Mahlon Hoagland and Bert Dodson:

  • Exploring the Way Life Works: The science of biology, 2001, ISBN-13: 978-0763716882. (paperback) Amazon has a number of inexpensive used versions for sale, available from their used books merchants.
  • The Way Life Works, 1995, ISBN-13: 978-0812920208. (hardback) This book is available in many libraries...should be able to borrow it.


Each student should establish a notebook for use in documenting their biological explorations. The notebook includes such things as printouts of instructions for activities, printed graphical and tabular results of experiments, drawings (e.g, of a macroinvertebrate collected in a stream), and notes (e.g., about how DNA provides instructions for creating proteins).

Course communications

During the course, our main communication tool is a blog. By the Friday before the next class meeting, Alison will post information needed to prepare for the Monday class session. All class participants have edit access to the blog and are encouraged to post ideas and links to resources others might be interested to check out.