Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Importance of Variety and Planning in a Secondary Classroom

Today's guest post is by Hoover High School biology teacher, Paul McEwan. Paul has been "stepping outside of his comfort zone" this year and trying lots of new activities with his students. 
The verdict? They love it!

In a flipped classroom, it’s all about using class time to help students apply and interact with the information they have read or heard the night before. I spend a good bit of time coming up with a variety of “activities” to keep the students engaged in learning biology during a 48-minute class period.  It’s not about using technology for the sake of technology, or even using a hands-on activity for the sake of a hands-on activity.  It’s about selecting, planning, and implementing meaningful learning experiences that will facilitate our students’ learning, and that takes a lot of thought, preparation, and organization.

In biology we’re learning about classification right now so the students had to read information about “Dichotomous Keys” outside of class. The next day, we began class by briefly discussing and defining “di- and dichotomous.”

Then the students played the “Guess the Person” game, a free app downloaded on their iPads, for about 8-10 minutes. I reminded the students why they were playing the game, which was to reinforce dichotomous classification or the presence of one characteristic (e.g. blue eyes) versus the absence of the same characteristics (e.g. “non-blue eyes).  

Then we worked together to create a dichotomous key using the students’ shoes!  I drew the key on the board as students provided input on the groupings until one or two shoes were classified down to a group of one. 

Next, the students worked in pairs to use a dichotomous key, referring to their biology textbook. To provide independent practice, I sent them home with a dichotomous key worksheet on sharks.

On another evening, the students read information on the “Methods of Classification” and completed a simulation about whales

When they came into class the next day, the students answered four questions that were listed on the board and we discussed them.

Then I showed two short clips from the movie, Fly Away Home (1996) to illustrate “imprinting” and the “migration of birds.” I thought this was a more engaging way of covering the behavioral method of classification than simply lecturing about it.

Finally, we completed a small group activity called “Classification of Candy.” This activity was used to reinforce the whale simulation. Using paper plates, plastic knives, and one baggie of mini candy bars per group, the students first classified the candy by external physical traits or morphology and then by internal structure or characteristics that may not be immediately evident.

 In this way, we were able to learn about “cladogram classification.”  We used the information from the cladogram classification to create phylogenetic trees; thus, simulating the evolutionary history or “speciation” of their candy “over time.”

In each 48-minute class session I use a variety of pedagogical techniques, including but not limited to questioning, discussion, demonstration, technology-aided simulations, hands-on activities, games, audio-visual reinforcement, small group work, labs, and mini-lectures.  The amount of activities is not what’s important, and quite honestly, the type of activities can be tailored to the needs of the students or to what equipment and materials the teacher has available.  The important thing is to think ahead, to collaborate and share ideas with others, and to plan, plan, plan.

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