Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Meme Way of Teaching Biology

Charles Darwin Drew This and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

In light of the tripe being crammed down the collective throat of social media these days and being the Optimist that I am, maybe it is time to create some education reform taking advantage. I mean, all you need is a catchy title phrased in current teen-twenty-something language and then the educational payoff.

See This Mitochondria? It’s hiding a Secret that you are going to Absolutely Love…Trust Me!

(click on mitochondria)

I mean, how hard can this be?

This DNA Polymerase Shocked Everyone With Its Copying Ability! No One Expected That!

This is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel.


Physically Changing a Traditional Learning Classroom to an Active Learning Classroom

About 5 years ago my school (open since 1996) added a new wing for science teaching. I was curious to see what the design of the classroom would be, since technologically times had changed a bit since the school opened. I found that the plans for the wing were pretty standard and not very flexible. Each lab class would have a room divided with fixed “pods” for experiments and then 32 desks on the other side of the demonstration table for content learning.

Since I moved in I have wanted something different. The main reason is that by keeping kids in traditional desks, we isolate them from each other. They can scoot the desks together, but this becomes crowded and the merged desks are still not optimal for collaboration. The desks face one direction and the purpose it to focus the students on the teacher. The entire physical set up of the room is for the teacher to drive the learning and the environment becomes passive.

In an effort to change his room to become more active, my friend Scott Kent decided to change his physical environment. He teaches English and wanted the physical room to emulate his teaching style and more importantly, stress active learning to kids kids. So he used technology to map out what he needed and then he went to Indiegogo as a way to create his “Revolutionary Classroom“.

Here is his video:

The science classroom has changed as well over the years, from a traditional lecture environment to one of short instruction and student collaborative work. The focus becomes student centered and the teacher acts more of a coach. This does not mean content is allowed to be watered down, what it means is the teacher has to plan specifically so that the content rigor remains, but in a way that kids are doing the investigating and the teacher is not talking at them.

The science classroom physical environment must also change with the pedagogy. Here is a great example about how they did it at the University of Minnesota. Very high tech, savvy and effective.

There is no way I can change my classroom this way. However, there are some simple things that can be done to the physical environment of the classroom that can produce dividends. One of these changes is to get rid of the student desks and replace them with moveable learning tables. The tables in mind also flip down vertically so that they can be pushed out of the way to open up the room, or they can be used as a vertical presentation space. Ideally, they top would be whiteboard material. Eventually, I would like to have a Chromebook for each student table, for research purposes.

The simple change of having kids 4 to a table in working groups allows them to collaborate at will, discuss and share.

My Indiegogo proposal can be found HERE. It is not perfect, but I think that by adding the tables and chairs, my physical environment can better match the active learning environment.

Thanks for reading and taking a look. If you can help out a little by contributing or sharing the campaign, thank you!




Summer Projects

Illustration by David S. Goodsell, the Scripps Research Institute

Just because the school year has ended does not mean I have nothing to do in the realm of eduction. Here are some projects keeping me busy this summer.

  • I have a HHMI workshop showcasing some of the evolution resources on June 11 and 12. It is being organized by Jennifer Barnes, a teacher at Woodstock High School in Cherokee County, GA. I will be presenting how to use the phylogeny tools through inquiry. If you are in the area, the workshop is FREE.
  • I have started growing some fast plants for the AP biology artificial selection lab. I have not done the lab so I want to try it out this summer to get familiar. So far, I have sprouts!
  • I have been pretty obsessed with the art/science information produced by David Goodsell both through his book The Machinery of Life and the models produced by 3D Molecular Designs. I have begun working up activities for the models for the AP standards and learning objectives. I plan to have activities finished for 3-4 standards by the end of the summer.
  • There are a number of performance indicators that are lacking activities in the SBL system I emulate, so I will try to fill in those gaps this summer.
  • I need to nail down my modification of my SBG/SBL system for this fall. Please take a look and comment if you’d like. The big stickler is homework accountability and whether I will grade it.
  • Lastly, I will be attending the BSCS/NABT AP Biology Leadership Academy this summer. I really can’t wait for this and I know I will learn a lot.