Using whiteboards in Bio class to tell “stories”.

Mario’s Arc Reflex.

Many topics in biology class CAN end up becoming highly descriptive and reduced to a list of terms to memorize. Students often times get caught up in all the picky little details but fail to see the BIG PICTURE of the system or process that is being described. This is apparent when students studying for biology create long lists of vocabulary and try to rote memorize each definition. This makes my teacher heart very sad!

One way I have tried to counteract this trivia obsession, is to talk about topics as “stories”. I explain to students that when I use the word “stories”, it implies that there is a beginning, a middle and end to the topic.  Also, that the story has meaningful and crucial sequence. Some examples of topics that I would call stories in bio are: Synaptic Gap, Reflex Arc, Nerve Impulse, Muscle Contraction, Secretory Pathway, Feedback Loops, Digestive Process, DNA Replication etc. Really all topics are “stories”;  I am trying to focus less on the detailed description and more on the bigger picture. Seeing the forest, instead of the trees, so to speak.

Robot Unicorn Attack

Flipped Class Model = Time in Class
This semester, in our flipped classroom we had time in class to further develop and share these stories and found using whiteboards facilitated this process beautifully. Students like to construct their own stories around these topics. This process is accomplished in groups and requires cooperation, dialogue and imagination.  Sometimes the story is fantasy, sometimes realistic, some use humour, some are more descriptive.

When they create the story, themselves, without me, the story then “lives” in their memory and has significance to them.

Where to buy Whiteboards?
I spent a lot of time this fall trying to track down whiteboards. Here in Canada it is not that easy. You can buy lovely, pre-cut and framed whiteboards at Staples. This is fine if your budget is unlimited.

I purchased the “whiteboards” from Industrial Paints and Plastics ; the material is actually a 1/8 inch plexiglass. I purchased two, 8′ by 4′ sheets and had each sheet cut into 6 pieces (done free of charge). I now have a total of 12 large (the large size facilitates everyone in group accessing the board) pieces of whiteboard. The edges are a little rough, I could edge them with tape (have not gotten around to it). I purchased Expo brand whiteboard markers (this brand provides the best colour and pens last longer), plastic pencil-case boxes, spray and brought rags from home.

Organized up, fav brand is EXPO.

We don’t use the whiteboards every day. When we do use them, the room is full of action, discussion, and excitement. Students take pictures of their whiteboards and post their pictures proudly on our Facebook group page. Many come back between classes with friends to show off their work.
More importantly though, their stories became part of their daily discussions and memories of the topic. The “bee sting” story (not shown) became the standard catch phrase to describe the Reflex Arc. “Pac-Man” eating became another epic story to describe the digestive process.

“I like your neurons!” An example of a descriptive story. Homemade play-dough was used to model neurons.

Are using whiteboards in your classroom?

Are you thinking about trying white boarding?


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12 thoughts on “Using whiteboards in Bio class to tell “stories”.

  1. Awesome! I never realized the power of white boards until I walked into a primary class… they use them all the time there. Kids are willing to take more risks, they seem more engaged… and for teachers, feedback is easier because you can see their demonstrated learning at the moment.

    I love how you are using this with senior students!

    • Chris, you are exactly right! For whatever reason, students seem willing to put their ideas and thoughts on whiteboards that they would not usually put onto put onto paper. The non-permanence of the white boards allows students to take risks that they would not normally take. This is just another example of how the simplest ideas are sometimes the most powerful. Also the white boards are movable and versatile.
      I so appreciate your comment and even more so appreciate your positive force in my life through twitter!

  2. Awesome post! Thanks for sharing…! I have a class set of smaller whiteboards that are blank on one side and have a graph on the other that are great for my math classes, but I would love to get some of these large-sized whiteboards for use with my A&P kiddos as you have described here. I agree with you about the “non-permanence” of whiteboards helping kids step out and try something they wouldn’t do on paper. Thanks also for sharing a pic of your marker bins — wouldn’t have thought of that, but it will be a great organizational element! Thanks!!

    • Thanks Michelle, I started with smaller whiteboards last year and was amazed how much students loved them, it inspired me to take it up a notch. I find it fascinating how students are willing to take risks and use their imagination when they feel they can erase at any time. I myself have started to use whiteboards for brain storming and it does allow for flexibility that paper just lacks. I had been meaning to get the marker boxes for a long time, so I am glad I finally got around to it, happy white boarding!

  3. I love it. These are the essence of the interactive whiteboard. Nothing fancy, but the epitome of 21st century skills at work – collaboration, creativity, problem solving. Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks Darcy, sometimes the simplest things still beat out on high tech. I am happy when I see kids excited about using something non-digital, to get them away from their phones for awhile. Yes the collaborative aspect is magic of the classroom setting, that I realize I don’t use enough.

  4. Awesome post! We purchased whiteboards for our whole school last year and teachers and students are engaging with them…but I love the idea of the larger boards as a way to enhance even greater collaboration! It is the buzz and busy-ness of the children that models for us the power of hands on learning.

    Stories are an awesome way for children to connect what they are learning in any subject area to what they love to do…tell stories…and the nice thing about the whiteboards is that you can take a picture to have for assessment if need be. Authentic assessment at it’s best. I have photocopies of Kindies names that they are very proud to have printed on their white boards framed in my office. They love seeing them framed on my wall and are very proud of their successes. Thanks for the post.

    • Hi Sue, thanks for the read and positive comment. Yes, it is handy that you can take photo as record of these works of art, it really gives the best of both worlds (photo as permanent record and non-permanent whiteboard). Students love to tell stories, and they love to make zany, silly ones bursting with imagination. In high school we sometimes forget about this love, rather than harness it to maximize on what students love to do. I like the idea the idea of archiving the photos and making public, something to add on. Thanks for the idea!

  5. […] 6. Using Whiteboards to tell stories – Low tech and multi-purpose, whiteboards are a fun way to invite student to tell stories.  It might look messy to you, but it is amazing to hear the narratives that students share when presenting their stores to the class. Everyone loves a good story! Students can archive these by taking photos of the whiteboards and adding to their digital portfolios or to our Facebook page. […]

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