Ask A Biologist is a pre-kindergarten through high school science outreach program that is hosted by Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences. The program is dedicated to answering questions from students, teachers, parents, and lifelong learners. A web-based question and answer form connects them with working scientists. Since its inception, the Web site has answered more than 25,000 queries from around the globe including some of biology’s most perplexing questions such as: Why do some plant leaves turn red or yellow in the winter? Why are fingers wrinkled after a long bath? This award winning program has been continuously running since Fall 1997, with the assistance of more than 150 volunteer scientists, faculty, and graduate students in biology and related fields.
The companion website includes a large collection of free content and activities that can be used inside, as well as outside, the classroom. Once a single page, the Ask A Biologist site now has more than 2500 pages of materials. Many of the pages were “asked” for as a direct a result of questions sent via the Web site form. For example, the coloring page section was developed in response to parents and grandparents searching for activities for young students who are at pre- or early reading levels. The Quizzes and the Mystery Image gallery came about in response to student requests for ways to test their comprehension of articles and a desire to explore the microscopic world.
Ongoing dialogue with the public has also led to the development of other media including coloring pages, worksheets, word puzzles, and quizzes. All of these are tied to online stories and activities. Ask A Biologist has added companion video channels on Vimeo, YouTube, and TeacherTube. The Image Gallery has added the biology-themed computer wallpaper and the popular Zoom Galleries, which offer the opportunity to explore the macro and microscopic world. Using a simple microscope-like interface, visitors can explore the beauty and structure of feathers or take an ultra-close view of pollen grains.
In addition to focusing on science education, Ask A Biologist recognizes the need for expanding student language skills to incorporate new ideas and concepts. Capitalizing on the popularity of comic book-based content, the Mysterious World of Dr. Biology was developed. Students fill in blank text bubbles and choose panels to create their own stories using a collection of biology-themed clip-art. The comic-book activity allows children to partner creative thinking with written language skills development around a biology-based theme.
Most recently, Ask A Biologist has been working with the Arizona Science Center to build and host a Web version of their Body Depot gallery program. The project introduces students, ages 8 to 14 years, and their teachers to three biomedical research areas inspired by National Institutes of Health’s Roadmap for Medical Research: Biological Pathways, Bioinformatics, and Nanomedicine, by using the metaphor of a hardware store to explain how the body maintains and repairs itself.
Ask A Biologist materials are free and open to anyone with internet access.