Category Archives: 5 Helpful Tips for Teaching

Get 5 helpful tips for teaching science subjects.

5 Helpful Tips for Teaching Evolution

Evolution ties everything in biology together, and sometimes I get so excited that I don’t know where to start (picture yourself on a shopping spree at Target with a 2 minute time limit… where to start?!)

I’ve compiled a list of five (Ok, that wasn’t enough..) seven tips for teaching evolution. And the best part? They are super easy to implement.

Here are  5 7 Helpful Tips for Teaching Evolution:

1. It’s not “just” a theory. A theory is a pretty big deal. Dismissing the research that goes behind a theory makes it sound like any ol’ Joe from down the street could come up with a scientific theory.  Evolution is not watered-down science and if you introduce evolution as such, students may not appreciate it or form thought-provoking questions.

2. Explore Darwin First. Don’t Underestimate the Finches- Darwin observed natural selection without genetics, but struggled to answer some of his questions. Focusing on Darwin’s research and conclusions helps students see natural selection in a different way. Then after establishing Darwin’s observations and conclusions, bring in the population genetics. This will answer many questions and students tend to appreciate it more.
On the same note, it really helps to spend some time on Darwin’s finches. This is a great opportunity to have a discussion with your students. If they were to put themselves in Darwin’s shoes- how would the finches, their location, the geography and history have been Darwin’s “Aha!” moment? Darwin’s finches are so mainstream that they’ve become a bit lackluster, but they were a monumental discovery as far as Darwin’s theory of natural selection goes.

3. Help students make the connection that genetic diversity drives evolution.  Population genetics should be taught either back to back or side by side evolution- it answers questions and makes connections.  Show students examples of genetic diversity and how environmental changes can have an impact on the population- via their phenotypes/genotypes.

4. Give students an alternative definition of natural selection: Natural Selection does not act on individuals. It acts upon phenotypes.  Students should be able to comprehend natural selection beyond the text book definition. Natural selection does not give individuals what they need. Natural selection does not favor individuals. Natural selection favors the phenotypes that make adaptations.

5. Give students a general idea of how natural selection works using simulations. Paper labs, demonstrations, and virtual simulations are all within reach when teaching natural selection and evolution. Some examples include

PhET Natural Selection Simulation

Who Wants to Live A Million Years

Modeling Evolution: The Charlie Shuffle– paid resource

The Hungry Games: A Game of Natural Selection– advanced; differentiated versions available- paid resource.

6. Teach what evolution is notDid man evolve from monkeys? Not quite.  Address all those common misconceptions. Bust those common misconceptions with some common ancestors…. millions of years…and phylogenetic trees!

7. Videos! The only problem when finding videos to show is narrowing them down. There are so many good ones! These are a few of my favorites:

What is Natural Selection?

What Darwin Never Knew– this is a long one, but really captivating and it ties everything in!

5 Tips for Teaching Evolution | Tips for teaching natural selection

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this super easy to use tips! If you’d like more tips, tools, and free resources, please consider subscribing:

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5 Helpful Tips for Teaching Genetics

5 Helpful Hints for Teaching Genetics

Here is #2 for my “5 Helpful Tips” series. If you missed the first one, check out 5 Helpful Tips for Teaching Photosynthesis.

Genetics is one of my favorite things to teach *cue sparkly harp music*. I really look forward to teaching genetics! And one thing that makes it so fun for me is discussing human genetics. Human genetics can be a bit mystifying, so I usually do not bring it up until we’ve discussed polygenic inheritance among other complex patterns, such as incomplete dominance. That is because most human traits are not Mendelian! For example, I have three children. Each one of my children has different colored eyes (hazel, brown, and blue).  Students love discussing this stuff and bringing up their own families, too!

Here is a complete list of human genetic myths that you can read for your consideration. But, that doesn’t stop us from making babies in biology class.  Besides, I firmly believe we still do not know everything there is to know, and we are making new discoveries every day. I tell my students that we are going to pretend that traits are Mendelian for a day so that we can do our fun Making Babies Heredity Simulation. I really feel that you need to find a happy medium here- I don’t want to teach students that human traits such as eye color and earwax are Mendelian, but I also want them to connect and have fun. So we do a pretend day each year. Besides, it gives them Punnett square practice and I honestly could not imagine teaching genetics without it! The kids have too much fun!

Visual learning is a lot of fun – I’m a visual learner and I use a lot of visuals when I teach. This website from Wiley’s Global Resources provides visual animations to help support Mendel’s ideas and laws.

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I have found this web site invaluable for those who need extra practice or need an little extra oomph for grasping concepts in class.

Busting Student Misconceptions:

  • Students tend to struggle with some terminology- it can be really difficult for students to differentiate between terms such as DNA, gene, and allele.  Be sure to remind the students that there is in fact a difference, or maybe even ask them to compare them as a do-now, warm up, or bellringer. 
  • Are popular traits more dominant? No. You know this. Your colleagues know this. But sometimes we forget to mention this to our students. Check out my Exploring Human Traits Lab, in which students are asked to analyze this using your classroom as an example.
  • Epigenetics- students should know that environment can play a role in the characteristics of organisms. Epigenetics studies changes in heritable traits that are outside the human genome. Here is a quick video you can show your students about how epigenetic tags can be passed on:
  • Lastly, be sure to mention a few times along the way that mutations are not always harmful- and in fact some can be a good thing! The two examples I like to use are blue eyes (a neutral mutation) or even a turtle’s shell, which would be considered a positive mutation of its ancestor’s ribcage!

Veteran teachers, do you have any tips or advice when teaching genetics? I’d love for you to share them in the comments! 

Stay Science Classy,

Vanessa

 

5 Helpful Tips for Teaching Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis… there was something about it that stumped me as a teacher. It was important to me that my kids understood the big picture and were able to answer their questions, but teaching it didn’t come naturally, because, well… photosynthesis. For you life science and bio teachers out there my BIGGEST piece of advice would be to focus on the “big picture”. Do not teach light reactions, followed by dark reactions. Teach them together, and then go back and fill in the details where you can.

I’ve compiled 5 helpful tips for teaching photosynthesis:

1. Photosynthesis can be a complex subject for students to learn. Scaffolding will provide optimal success: start off with the big picture and then work your way into the nooks and crannies.

2. Students should be able to comprehend energy flow in photosynthesis, from sunlight to sugar, and everything in between. Use my Mouse Trap game analogy to help!

3. Dark reactions and light reactions are dependent on each other through the ATP –> ADP and NADPH –> NADP pathway.

4. Teach the basic steps of the electron transport chain. There are two separate ones, each associated with a photosystem: one for ATP (indirectly through hydrogen ions) and one for NADPH.

5. Visuals. Visuals. Visuals. Keep the diagrams simple at first! Labs will help all learner types, too!

Tips for teaching photosynthesis in life science or biology

To help with this, I’m offering a free Photosynthesis Graphic Organizer!

photosynthesis-graphic-organizer

And if you are looking for some resources to help you and your students, please leave the planning to me! I offer a wide range of activities for photosynthesis, which follow my own advice 😉

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What is the mouse trap analogy referenced in #2? Just like in the game “Mouse Trap”, each step depends directly on the previous step. If one of the processes stopped, the next step would not be able to go on (energy flow). Ask your students what they think the marble and the foot that kicks the marble out of the bucket represent!
See the video:

Stay Science Classy,
Vanessa