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Boardman biology teacher writes textbook for virtually weary

Boardman biology teacher writes textbook for

Heather Moran, a 19-year Boardman High School teacher, left, holds a copy of a book she recently had published. Moran said she assembled a collection of science-themed stories and anecdotes to break down the complicated subject. Next to her is Savannah White, a Boardman High senior who was selected to design the book’s graphics.

BOARDMAN — If you are a high school student studying online and find yourself scratching your head when you come across esoteric terms such as “karyotype” or “carotenoids,” you’re probably in good company.

The same might be true for anyone who assumes “actin and myosin” are a comedy duo lesser known than Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy.

Chances are that students who are familiar with these biological words merely memorized them for an upcoming test and will forget them soon after.

Boardman High School teacher and biologist Heather Moran’s new textbook may go a long way toward increasing one’s appreciation and retention of these and many other complicated concepts. She also means for the book to be an oasis in a virtual learning world.

“Academically, they’re at a college level, but they (high school students) don’t want to read a college textbook. I relate everyday things to biology and I make it personal,” said Moran, referring to the approach she took in writing “Biology Help for the Virtual Weary Student” (Amazon Publishing, $9.99 paperback, 99 cents eBook through Jan. 31).

Actin and myosin are proteins that create muscle contractions; carotenoids refer to a type of pigment that plants create to help them absorb light energy then convert it to chemical energy; and karyotype is a person’s collection of chromosomes. The term also refers to a laboratory technique for producing an image of one’s chromosomes, along with the photograph produced by the process.

Moran, who teaches advanced-placement biology to Boardman High School freshmen and sophomores, uses 17 stories written in a folksy yet scientific manner to convey difficult biological terminology and concepts. Each is intended to link aspects of the subject to ideas and scenarios most teenagers can relate to, she said.

The 139-page book also was the result of a mother and her son who were struggling with his online biology class. They had the necessary books and answer keys, but were bereft of understanding the underlying science related to arriving at the end results, she said.

“I’ve always felt that it was my job as a secondary science teacher to translate the often ‘gobbly-goo’ jargon of scientific papers into simple, understandable concepts,” Moran wrote.

Moran, a 1989 Lowellville High School graduate, attended Youngstown State University for what she thought would be a major in the medical field. Instead, a friend talked her into pursuing a position at The Ohio State University, where she spent two summers taking field ecology and other related courses at the Franz Theodore Stone Laboratory, a facility near Put-in-Bay that is affiliated with OSU and offers classes and other opportunities for those interested in freshwater biology research, science education and outreach.

Soon after, Moran landed an internship at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, which opened in May 1930 and holds about 32,000 animals. Her duties included instructing visitors about freshwater fish, assisting with setting up a large gallery and training volunteers, she recalled.

“I came up with interesting stories (for the book) there,” she added.

After she gave birth to a daughter, Moran returned to the Mahoning Valley. It wasn’t long before she found herself teaching eighth-graders at Lowellville High, her alma mater, before getting her current position at Boardman High, where’s she’s taught 19 years.

For about 10 of those years, Moran has served as coach and adviser to the school’s Envirothon Club, which is a competitive outdoor team event to test students’ knowledge of forestry, wildlife, soils, ecology and related environmental concepts.

Her deep passion for the subject also has taken Moran and many of her students far beyond the confines of classroom and lab. Their travels included a trip to Iceland, where they climbed on a melting glacier, as well as a one-week excursion to the Bahamas, which challenged the students to exercise self-sufficiency via harvesting fish and lettuce for food, Moran said.

The Bahamas experience also offered an underwater-enclosed classroom and allowed the students to go on a night dive and learn about invasive lion fish and types of coral, she said.

Teaching during the ongoing health pandemic has presented an additional challenge for Moran, who conducts in-class and virtual instruction. Few students find watching long videos on biology interesting, so the book was an ideal way around that, she said.

“Kids who are at home don’t want to watch videos, so in September, I made stories for them to be further engaged,” Moran said.

She chose Savannah White, a Boardman High graphics student, to design the complex charts, graphs, organizers and other visuals.

“Graphics is a hobby, so I decided to take one of the classes and I fell in love with it,” said White, who plans to attend YSU to become an elementary-school teacher.

The book project took about a month, and she was quite pleased to see the finished product.

“It’s awesome,” White said. “I saw it for the first time today. Being 17 and getting a part in a book is really awesome.”

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