Biology Series (2/3)

Last we met I shared Becky’s mitosis lab and highlighted questioning as a teaching strategy to help students develop habits of mind that will prepare them for college and career success.  Today we look at how Erica Hardbarger guides students to find the similarities and differences between the processes of mitosis and meiosis.

I joined Erica’s class as they were viewing two photos. Using OPTIC students analyzed the side-by-side images (remember the OPTIC strategy for close reading a picture from a fall PD session? If not, find a refresher here and here!).

Like Becky, Erica walked around the room and asked students prompting questions when they were confused.  Every science classroom I enter on our campus has a teacher skilled in questioning…I think it is something about scientists’ brains-they are hardwired for inquiry!   When a student posed a particularly astute question Erica would say, “Oooh!  Great question!” and then write it on the board for all of the students to see.


This practice not only validated the student’s question, but also provided a model for the high-level questioning we want our students to practice. (See the Depth of Knowledge chart for key words that help students think strategically and extend their thinking about concepts.)

Once students finished, Erica spent time reviewing their responses.  She asked questions like, “How are picture A and B related?”  “How do they differ?” Students would discuss with each other and then raise their hands to respond.  This allowed all students to participate in the activity and explore the answers before being called on. This peer collaboration and talk time is key to helping students who may be struggling with the material.  It is especially important for our EL population who have ideas, but lack the language to immediately communicate in a clear way.  After discussing with their peers they are better equipped to form a response.

In the end Erica had her students use the sources (the two photos) to draw conclusions based on their data. (Sound familiar?  Reading Standard 7 was the topic of Eunice Hong’s presentation on our March 3rd PD day!)  They then asked questions about the diagrams that could be researched.



Next, students were put into groups of four and instructed to create meiosis models that would prove the questions they asked.  But, she cautioned, “Models are only good if they are effective.”  Before they began, Erica gave them the assignment and showed them an example of an effective model.


Next, she provided them with a bag of random materials, a white board, and dry-erase markers and left them to determine how they would create their own unique models.

Built into the lesson on day 2 was time for students to switch tables after the first build. Groups gave feedback on the models and commented on their effectiveness.  Then they switched back and were given time to use the feedback to improve upon their models.  Some examples are below:

This was a genius plan on Erica’s part.  Think about the old school way of teaching… Lecture, note-taking, test.  That method of teaching does little to help move our students beyond memorization and on to mastery of skills they need for college and career readiness.  (Don’t get me wrong, direct instruction is necessary at times.  But, we need to also provide multiple ways and multiple opportunities to interact with material). Simple memorization of information is easily, and quickly, forgotten.  Yet, true interaction with material in meaningful ways will produce lasting learning and build in habits that motivate students to want to learn more.  We need our students to be curious-and remain curious-about the world around them and the way it works.  Isn’t this a goal for all of us?  To create lifelong learners?  Erica’s students explored and experimented.  They used inquiry methods when encountering new material. They worked in groups and collaborated to create products that would provide proof for their questions.  Best of all, they were given opportunities to analyze and critique the thinking of others.  A lesson on cell division that united her students in a shared learning experience… What is not to love about this lesson?

Thank you, Erica!

Are you teaching familiar material in new ways?  I would love to observe and share your teaching life with our staff.  Are you looking for way to incorporate more inquiry and collaboration in your lessons?  I can sit and brainstorm ideas with you…just let me know!