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An Application of HyperCard-Based Media in the Secondary Biology Classroom

By Bruce Miller

Entry type:

  • Team-Based Student Project

Activity Type:

  • Group/Cooperative Learning

Target Audience:

  • Advanced/AP Biology

Background Information

Teacher notes:

This is a long term student project in which a team of students will use HyperCard to develop and produce an interactive piece of software or Stack that covers some topic in Biology in as much depth as would a major Research Paper. In so doing, these students will be able to utilize the computer as an integral tool in the assembly and presentation of their ideas, exactly as it is used in the working world.

I have used this project with great success with my Biology II/AP students for several years and it has been used by other teachers across the country with equally good results with various levels of students. The real key to success is the amount of preparation on the part of the teacher and the proper instruction of the students in the basics of HyperCard. The key is to not overwhelm the students with the programming aspects of the HyperCard software, but to instead inspire the students with the myriad possibilities presented by this medium. They need to learn to see the computer as a "lens" that helps them to focus their creative energies most effectively. This is also a great project in giving students the chance to experience team-based learning.

I have developed a full range of ancillary materials which I would be happy to distribute and share with any one. These materials include an interactive tutorial to HyperCard and a set of resources that can be easily used by the students (and teacher) as they develop their Stacks, as well as a paper-based introduction to the basics of HyperCard. Also included are a set of review notes that can be used by the students as they learn the fundamentals of HyperCard. This project requires at least a Macintosh Plus Computer with 2-4 Megabytes of RAM, a hard disk drive and HyperCard 2.1. There should be one computer for every three students, which I consider to be an optimum size group.

Preparation Time and Class Time:

The amount of preparation time spent by the Teacher will depend upon the level of computer experience he or she may have. For a computer veteran, there should be little time spent learning the basics of HyperCard with the help of the tutorial Stack, which I call Hyperworks. For a less experienced Teacher, it might require several hours to learn the basics of the Macintosh and HyperCard. When I have done this project, it usually takes about 3-4 class periods of fifty minutes to get the students up to speed on HyperCard (they learn this very quickly!)

The actual amount of time spent by the Students, including research on the topic, the planning and actual development of the software is probably in the neighborhood of 20-30 hours, both in and out of class. I know this sounds like a lot of time, but the results are well worth the time and effort!



HyperCard is an application for the Macintosh computer that gives a computer user the ability to design and develop a piece of high quality, interactive software with out having to become a master programmer. The basic unit of HyperCard is the Card, onto which a combination of text and graphics can be placed. A series of Cards can be assembled into a functional unit called a Stack by using simple commands, or Scripts that are used to move throughout the Stack.

The chief objective of this project is to have students (in this case Biology II students) work in a group to design and develop a HyperCard Stack on some topic in Biology. By doing this, these students gain valuable hands-on experience in the actual use of computer technology as a part of a real course and they gain valuable skills in learning to see the computer as a partner in creativity. Students also learn a great deal about their particular topic. In addition, these students are actually producing a library of high quality interactive software that can be used by many other students for years to come.

Materials Needed:

  • Macintosh Computers with a least 4 MB RAM and a hard disk drive
  • A Flatbed Scanner is recommended for putting various Graphics into the student Stacks
  • HyperCard version 2.1
  • HyperWorks Stack (provided on disk)
  • HyperWorks Review Guide (provided on disk)
  • HyperCard Project Guidelines (provided on disk)
  • HyperCard New Stack Practice (provided on disk)
  • HyperCard Project Grading Summary (provided on disk)


This activity usually requires at least one Semester, with a great deal of work being done outside of the regular class day later in the Project.

  1. The first thing to be done is to have the students form their own groups, with three being the largest number. I have them form their own groups, but you may have different ideas on this.

  2. I then have the students work their way (in class) through the HyperWorks Stack provided. This will help them overcome any fears they may have about computers and it also gives them a brief introduction to just what HyperCard is. As they work through this Stack, they should fill in the notes on the HyperWorks Review Guide (provided on disk). It usually takes about 3-4 days for the students to go through the HyperWorks Stack.

  3. When they are feeling comfortable about the computers and are becoming more interested in HyperCard, I take another couple of days to let them look at Stacks that have been produced by others so they can see just what is possible.

  4. When the students really begin to get excited by the possibilities of this medium, I assign them their first small project, the development of a small practice Stack. In this way they learn the basics of Stack construction. In this Practice Stack they will create cards, Fields, Buttons and work with Graphics. This assignment is described in detail in the HyperCard New Stack Practice (provided on disk).

  5. This Practice Stack is graded and returned to the students with constructive comments from the teacher, usually on Stack design and mechanics.

  6. At this point, the students are ready to begin the design of their Stacks. For details of this, see the handout HyperCard Project Guidelines (provided on disk).

  7. It is very important to have a series of deadlines for the students to meet to avoid the "last minute rush" problems. Deadlines and Timelines should be set for each of the major tasks to be accomplished, such as a decision as to the Topic, and a list of resources to be used, as well as an outline or even a flowchart of the Stack as well as some idea of the overall "look" of the Stack. Some planning here by both the teacher and the student can result in available learning experience for everyone. What will happen without this planning is that the students will actually be writing their Stacks on the computer, which is very difficult to do.


The Stacks are collected and graded by the teacher. I make this project worth a total of 400 points (the Practice Stack was worth 50 points), about one fourth of the Semester Grade. I have enclosed a copy of the form I use to determine the Final Grade on the HyperCard Project Grading Summary (provided on disk).


As I have been doing this project with my Biology II students over the last few years, other teachers in other Departments have begun similar projects with their students. Next year, students in the Social Studies Department will be writing Stacks in those courses.

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