Biology Series (1/3)

A few weeks ago I was able to observe three different Biology teachers educating students about two types of cell division-mitosis and meiosis.  Each teacher presented the material in unique ways.  The next three posts will highlight those teachers.  First up is Becky Nelson!

I walked into Becky’s Biology 1B class about 15 minutes after class had began and the students were already immersed in their lab.

Examples of the lab product were on the board, as were the vocabulary words from the unit.  (Becky has her students play the fly swatter vocabulary review.  Learn more about this activity here!)


Prior to the lab students learned about the process cells undergo when they divide and reproduce. Evidence of their learning littered the tables as the students had textbooks open and notes out.

Their objective for the lab was to demonstrate an understanding of the different phases of mitosis through building models using the correct materials and then labeling parts. (Hello, Writing Standard 7! Nice to see you again!) Every once in a while a student would sit back to study his work and check his notes. One such student had a puzzled look on his face and raised his hand.  Here is a snippet of the conversation I overheard:

Student: “Mrs. Nelson, I need help! My partner told me I did this wrong.”

Becky: “So how many colors of DNA do you have?”

Student:  “Four.”

Teacher:  “Do you have four?”

Student: “Yes.”

Teacher:  “In the correct spot?”

Student:  “Ohhhhhhhh.  The nucleus!”

I love the way Becky responded.  She asked questions instead of simply supplying an answer.  We have all experienced students who just want to be told the right answer. Yet, we know that simply feeding them the correct answer will not benefit them in the long run.  When students face new material or encounter issues, they need to be equipped to ask the right kinds of questions.  Questioning is, therefore, a simple teaching strategy that promotes habits of mind that lead to critical thinking and problem solving. Modeling the process of asking questions will also help our students meet many of the ESLOs we identified as crucial to preparing our graduates for college and careers.

Becky’s student was able to analyze his work and make the necessary changes because of her prompting.  Her conversation was also easily overheard by the class and cued other other students to check their models.  A conversation with one student in the class often prompts aha-moments for other students and can be a great tool for teachers!

Becky, thank you for inviting me in to see your students demonstrating their understanding of a complex process!

Do you use a questioning strategy in your classroom?  Please share!