Rethinking Biology

means rethinking the text, visual program, and assessment. Ordinarily, textbooks are developed by first writing chapters, then making decisions about art and images, and finally, assembling a test bank and ancillary media. Biology: How Life Works is the first project to develop the three pillars—the text, visual program, and assessment—at the same time. These three pillars are all tied to the same set of core concepts, share a common language, and use the same visual palette. In this way, key concepts are conveyed and explored in multiple ways, and the visuals and assessments become integral parts of student learning.

3 Pillar Graph
I think the best selling point is that the text focuses on helping students make connections between the sub-fields of biology. -Cindee Giffen, Instructor, University of Wisconsin, Madison

3 Pillar Approach to Learning

Rethinking The Text

Rethinking the Text


Biology: How Life Works takes an integrated approach to biology to help students make connections across concepts and move away from memorization. Chemistry is presented in context, structure and function are covered together, the flow of information in a cell is introduced where it makes the most conceptual sense, and cases serve as a framework for connecting and assimilating information.

James Morris on the book’s coverage of structure and function.

James Morris on the organization of the molecular chapters.


Biology: How Life Works was envisioned not as a reference book, but a resource focused on foundational concepts, terms, and experiments. This allows students to more easily identify, understand, and apply critical concepts, and develop a framework on which to build their understanding of biology.


Biology: How Life Works was written with six themes in mind. Introduced in Chapter 1 and revisited throughout the text, these themes help students see biology as a set of connected concepts.

See It Now: See Table of Contents
Rethinking the Visual Program

Rethinking the Visual Program


Across Biology: How Life Works, whether students are looking at a figure in the book, watching an animation, or interacting with a simulation, they always see a consistent use of color, shapes, and design.


Every image—still and in motion—engages students by being vibrant, clear, and approachable. The result is a visual environment that pulls students in and helps them see a world of biological processes.

A Visual Framework

Scientists often build a contextual picture, or visual framework, in their mind upon which they hang facts and connect ideas. To help students think like biologists, the visual program was designed to provides such a framework. Individual figure present foundational concepts; Visual Synthesis figures connect multiple concepts across chapters; and online, dynamic versions of the Visual Synthesis figures allow students to interact with the concepts. Zooming in and out, students can explore both the big picture and the details, building a framework for how concepts connect and relate. It also serves as a launch pad to other resources, like animations that bring concepts to life, and simulations which offer opportunities to observe, predict, and learn.

See It Now: Visual Synthesis Figure See it Now: Gene Expression (animation)
See It Now: Simulations
Rethinking the Assessment

Rethinking Assessment


Everywhere a student engages with Biology: How Life Works—whether it is reading a chapter, watching an animation, or working through an experiment—the opportunity to assess that experience exists. The book’s assessment team collaborated closely with the authors to make sure the text, visual program, and assessment are all aligned with each other.


For the first time, biology major instructors have access to a set of thoughtfully developed, peer-reviewed formative and summative assessments, addressing all types of learning, from recall to synthesis. Questions can be used in a variety of settings and come in a wide range of formats (multiple choice, multiple true/false, free response).


The authors of Biology: How Life Works believe that questions aren’t just for testing--they are for teaching too. Progressions (organized sets of questions) are aligned with one or more core concepts, and are designed to move a student from basic knowledge to higher order skills and deeper understanding. Progression questions can be used individually or in a series as pre-class quizzes, in-class clicker questions or activities, post-class homework, or exams.

See It Now: Assessment

6 Themes


We learn how life works by applying the scientific method, which involves making observations, generating hypotheses, and testing hypotheses through experiment and observation.

and Physics

Life works according to fundamental principles of chemistry and physics. All organisms share a limited number of molecules and chemical processes.


All of the chemical and physical functions of life are packaged within cells. Multicellular organisms function by the differentiation and coordinated operation of many cells.


Both the features that organisms share and those that set them apart are explained by evolution. Variation exists within as well as between species.


Organisms interact in nature, with basic features of anatomy, physiology, and behavior shaping the ecological systems that sustain life.


Humans have emerged as major agents in ecology and evolution. Our future welfare depends in part on improving our knowledge of how life works.