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.
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.
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.
Are using whiteboards in your classroom?
Are you thinking about trying white boarding?