How to Get Ebola, Cancer, and 5-Hour Energy Drinks Into Your Classroom

” I don’t get science”….. “Biology isn’t my thing”…. If you are a science teacher,  you have heard these statements and others like them many times before – especially if you teach general science education classes. But the truth is, today’s students are exposed to more science and technology then at any other point in history, and many of their future careers will require that they have a fundamental understanding of science and tech.

So, when I hear these statements – what I hear is “You are not making science relevant to me”. And that is the root of the problem in science education – we aren’t telling our students effectively why science is important to them.

Several years ago I started teaching a topics-based biology class at Appalachian State. The topics included cancer, evolution of viruses (Ebola), human genetic diseases and the 5 Hour Energy drinks.  But in order to do this, I needed to restructure the content that was found in a traditional textbook.


In order to do effectively jump around between topics, I needed to make sure that the students had a basic understanding of the topic before coming to class. More importantly, I had to assess what they didn’t know and quickly review those topics before starting the “lecture”.

I presented this as a keynote address –Cancer, Energy Drinks and Ebola: Using Data to Build a Relevancy-Based Course  – at the McGraw-Hill Virtual Event – Discover, Learn, Decide: Tools for Implementing Data and Engaging Students in Non-Majors Biology.   The recording of that session (below) outlines my my strategy, how this process relied heavily on adaptive learning, and the student response to the approach:

There will also soon be an audio file of the session on my SoundCloud site.

I frequently give presentations on the use of analytics to get inside the minds of our students and build better course content. For a list of upcoming presentations, visit my Events page.

This article was updated on December 15, 2015 with video and SoundCloud links