NSTA Teaching Standard 5: General Teaching Skills

Teaching Based on Planned Lessons

Overall, I try to write my lesson plans in such a way that they will be practical for implementing in the classroom. I pay very close attention to the sequence of activities and the connections between these activities such that they will be simple to use in a classroom setting. During my 5-week practicum in Spring 2011, I taught two carefully-planned lessons, and created a reflective video to discuss my strengths and weaknesses implementing these lessons. A link to the Youtube video is provided below.

Using a Variety of Effective Instructional Strategies

Throughout my student teaching semester, I have made use of a number of instructional strategies, depending on the particular content. I have used jigsaws, guided reading activities, inquiry-based laboratory activities, simulations/online manipulatives, etc. Below, I have included a brief sampling of my work intended to demonstrate the breadth of my instructional strategies:

Biology Students Dissecting a Sea Star

1) Mitosis with Twizzlers Activity : During the cell division unit, I found that the use of manipulatives helped students to better visualize separation of chromosome halves during mitosis. Students used pull-and-peel twizzlers to represent the fibers of the mitotic spindle and used gummy worms to represent chromosomes.

2) Genetic Disorders Jigsaw: To address all the types of genetic disorders (e.g., sex-linked, nondisjunction, autosomal recessive) without requiring too much direct instruction, I designed a jigsaw activity in which students taught each other about genetic disorders. Prior to this activity, we had briefly discussed several of the disorders, so this was intended to reinforce and extend the students' understanding of genetic disorders.

3) Godzilla Paleontology Mini-Project : During the evolution unit, my biology students learned about how the fossil record provides evidence for evolution. To give them a sense for the fragmented nature of the fossil record and the guesswork often inherent in paleontology, I designed a mini-project with a creative prompt. For this activity, students were told that they were members of a disaster relief team trying to identify characteristics (e.g., diet, social behavior, habitat) of a Godzilla-like creature roaming Washington D.C. In order to identify said characteristics, the students were asked to analyze the bones of Godzilla's extinct relatives (the dinosaurs). Pictures of various dinosaur skeletons were provided, and students were required to create an informational flier about Godzilla based on conclusions gathered from viewing the skeletons.

4) Kingdoms of Life Webquest : To give the students a more in-depth knowledge of the six kingdoms of life, I created a webquest that guided students through the process of researching each kingdom. After researching each kingdom, students were asked to fill in a chart comparing various aspects (e.g., reproduction, cell type, cell number, movement) of the six kingdoms. Once this chart was complete, students were asked to create a children's book with six characters representing the six kingdoms. Alternate products such as wanted ads or comic strips were accepted. Overall, I felt this activity helped students to organize a good deal of content and draw relevant comparisons.

Students Studying Scallop, Clam, and Oyster Shells
5) Chesapeake Bay Exploration Lab : To better familiarize students with bay organisms and conservation concerns, I conducted a two-day lab. On the first day, students did background research on bay characteristics and conservation and tested water samples from local rivers, ponds, and streams for pH and the presence of protists. One group found a very active euglena, which they named Eugene! On the second day, students had the opportunity to view various types of mollusk shells and pre-dissected organisms (i.e., yellow perch, crayfish, and sea urchin). They were asked to take observations and make various conclusions about the connection between structure and function. Additionally, students had the opportunity to dissect a sea star to learn more about its anatomy, physiology, and place within the ecosystem. To conclude the two-day unit, students were asked to generate plans for conserving biodiversity in the bay and to make judgments about the usefulness of preserving the bay.

Providing for Individual Differences in the Classroom

As I have conducted significant research regarding educational inequality and feel passionate about ensuring that each student has an equal opportunity to reach his or her full potential, I plan to do all that I can to provide for individual differences in my classroom. During my student teaching experience, I incorporated the results of student information surveys in my instruction by incorporating a historical perspective for one student who was interested in history. During the genetics unit, we discussed the biology behind hemophilia and then looked at inheritance patterns of the disease by taking a look at the Romanovs, a Russian royal family plagued by hemophilia.

In order to differentiate the content, process, and product, I used a variety of strategies in my student teaching classroom. With regard to the content, I carefully chose students to become experts on various biomes and cycles based on their prior achievement levels in my classroom. Students who had a stronger command of previous material were assigned cycles, as these can be more difficult to understand than terrestrial biomes.
Ecology Unit Concept Map

To differentiate process, I made use of mixed ability grouping to allow higher-achieving students to assist struggling students. Additionally, I provided concept maps at the beginning of several lengthy units to help students who have difficulty organizing information follow the sequence of the units.

In terms of differentiating product, I provided opportunities for students to turn in written or visual products based on their individual learning preferences. For example, during a lesson regarding reptiles, I allowed my zoology students to create a flier about sea turtle conservation or write a letter regarding sea turtles to a fictional friend living on the Atlantic Coast. To account for differences in student finances, I also designed an alternate assignment for an insect model project that did not require students to purchase any materials but still guided them to an understanding of insect anatomy.

Promoting Critical Thinking Skills Through Scaffolded Inquiry Activities

In my classroom, I use inquiry-based activities to promote critical thinking skills. In an exploratory activity such as the elephant genetics coin flipping activity that I designed in Fall 2010, students must use critical thinking skills to come to an understanding of the relative influence of dominant and recessive alleles. In the egg osmosis activity students developed critical thinking skills by using their observations to make educated guesses about what has happened to the eggs. As a class, we compiled a list of observations and drew relevant conclusions.

During my ecology unit, I began each day by providing students with a list of organisms and asking them to create a food web incorporating all the organisms. Each day, I asked students different questions to draw in knowledge from other parts of the unit. For example, one day I asked students to analyze the food web for evidence of inter-species relationships (e.g., predation, competition, mutualism, commensalism). During this same unit, I asked students to generate plans for conservation in the Chesapeake Bay, which required them to synthesize their knowledge from the entire unit.

Motivating My Students

Throughout my field experience, I have found that the best way to increase student motivation is to connect the content to their lives and interests. Each day, I try to incorporate as many relevant examples as possible. In my co-taught osmosis lesson, we used the example of sports drinks to discuss tonicity. As many of the students in that class are athletes, this example was intended to increase their interest in the content and overall motivation. During the lesson, we were thrilled to find that several students who do not usually participate were volunteering their comments!

Glossy Crayfish Snake

During the ecology unit, I provided students with a report from their county's planning commission. This report and an associated document regarding the glossy crayfish snake, a threatened species native to the area, seemed to interest the students and several students were very excited to realize that they had seen the snake in their community.

Additionally, during a zoology unit regarding segmented worms, I brought in earthworms so that students could directly observe earthworm movement and compare it to the movement of nematodes. I even allowed one of the students to bring in her pet turtle to eat the earthworms once we had finished observing their movement.