Lesson Plan help

17


Discussion by: crookedshoes
I offered extra credit on a test today.  I asked the students to draw me a fish to earn a couple extra points on our first honors test of the year.  The kids responded with a huge variety of offerings.  I cut the drawings out, pasted them into a document (a few pages long) and, tomorrow, I am going to use them to start conversation about agnathans, chondrichthyes, osteichthyes… and their appearance in the fossil record as well as advances within each group and misrepresentations that the “artists” of each drawing has demonstrated.  

Most kids submit a rudimentary “fish” and I can espouse on gill slit number and operculum, and things like embryonic tissue layers, protostome vs. dueterostome, radial vs spiral cleavage… we can talk about … etc….  I can even look ahead to amphibians and reptiles.  Some deliver “religious fish” which I use to illustrate the establishment of world view and how these drawings “bumpersticker” a serious discourse….
I have come to  realize that the order that all animals appear in the fossil record is essential to the kids’ understanding of the big picture.  If they encounter all animals in a haphazard presentation, they take little away (a strategy of evolution deniers); if they encounter the animals in the order that they appear in the fossil record, then they are likely to observe and internalize patterns that show evolution’s logic.  
I have heard of how teachers “poison” their students… how my presentation of this material might “make or break” a young person’s future perception and involvement in this MOST important topic.  I ask you all to reminisce about your formative lessons and experience that either drove you away from these concepts or drove you toward them.

17 COMMENTS

  1. I only remember having 1 year of biology in high school. (We had 1 science class a year if I remember correctly, and two of those years were chemistry. Advanced students got more science training.)

    The thing I remember most about the biology class was that I got to sit next to Natalie C. so I guess I had a different kind of biology in mind.

    In anycase, the formative experience I had that convinced me evolution was true had more to do with histrory then biology. For example, the fact that medicine made much more progress after 1859 then in the centuries prior. For crying out loud, we weren’t that far removed from using leaches for medicinal purposes in 1859. Also, the fact that genetics and DNA, etc were discovered after the publishing of The Origin of Man and supported the theory. Stuff like that.

    On the other hand, religion seamed to change it’s tune after the fact. Adam & Eve is just a parable. Well, why didn’t you say that all along?!?!

    I can’t say this happened in one Eureka! type moment and I can’t remember when exactly when it happened, but by time I was 18 I knew that religion was a farce.

    Of course, I stll believed in God for about another decade and a half. You know, spritual not religous! It wasn’t till I learned about confirmation bias, control groups, sample size, etc that I was able to overcome that bit of confusion. But that’s another story!!!

  2. I was geared to fight over things when I went to college, having come from a Christian high school that required seniors to take a “Defense of the Faith” class in preparation for college.

    I remember a biology professor saying that he didn’t care what we believed and he wasn’t there to question it or argue with it. That threw me off guard. I had been raised with the understanding that their goal was to make us stop believing in God.

    I still wanted to argue, but I had also discovered peer reviewed papers. I loved killer whales (still do) and when I got to college, discovered I could download copies of all this published research. Google had just started becoming popular right around then and I used it to look up a lot of stuff as well. I noticed that people backed up every fact with published research, so I knew I had to do that for all of the things I had been taught in school if I planned on arguing about it. The stuff I had learned was really crazy, like “the sun decreases at a rate of 5 feet per year, and if you go back more than 10,000 years, the sun is too large for life to be supported on Earth.” Couldn’t find that source. I thought the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics was a deal breaker for evolution, so I read about that. I found out that my teachers didn’t understand the 2nd Law at all. (They were pastors, not people with degrees.) I found out evolution wasn’t, in fact, the stuff I had been taught in Christian schools. If people really believed the stuff I was taught then, yeah, it would be wrong. But scientists didn’t believe any of those things either. I think the elegance of the citric acid cycle, oddly enough, pushed me further away from religion. I could see how things were just chemical reactions, like falling dominoes, and didn’t need some mystical force.

    Then there were all those nagging questions, like why did I always hear how evil Islam was because it called to kill infidels, when God told the Israelites to kill all sorts of people all the time? “They were very bad people” didn’t work for me anymore. That’s what people were saying about the US after 9/11 and I didn’t accept that, so why should I accept my church’s reasoning? I started reading about religion, because I wanted to know why so many cultures had it. An anthropology course helped here, and I spent a lot of time talking with my professor about religion.

    I read Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” and that was also a really strong push. I think that’s where I learned about the misconceptions about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. He addressed a lot of questions I had and it was like a light bulb going off, since he had been taught those things and knew where I was coming from. I started going to the skeptics lectures at CalTech, too.

    I think it helped that I never had strong God feelings (which I didn’t dare tell anyone about). I never felt God’s presence or that God was speaking to me or answering prayers.

    It was a lot of things. I think learning how to learn and how to think critically did a lot of it, really. I still have a lot of room for growth in those areas, though. But I do plan on applying to graduate schools at some point to further study evolutionary biology – I love it. =)

    • In reply to #2 by Kim Probable:

      I was geared to fight over things when I went to college, having come from a Christian high school that required seniors to take a “Defense of the Faith” class in preparation for college.

      I remember a biology professor saying that he didn’t care what we believed and he wasn’t there to question it or argue with it. That threw me off guard. I had been raised with the understanding that their goal was to make us stop believing in God.

      I still wanted to argue, but I had also discovered peer reviewed papers. I loved killer whales (still do) and when I got to college, discovered I could download copies of all this published research. Google had just started becoming popular right around then and I used it to look up a lot of stuff as well. I noticed that people backed up every fact with published research, so I knew I had to do that for all of the things I had been taught in school if I planned on arguing about it. The stuff I had learned was really crazy, like “the sun decreases at a rate of 5 feet per year, and if you go back more than 10,000 years, the sun is too large for life to be supported on Earth.” Couldn’t find that source. I thought the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics was a deal breaker for evolution, so I read about that. I found out that my teachers didn’t understand the 2nd Law at all. (They were pastors, not people with degrees.) I found out evolution wasn’t, in fact, the stuff I had been taught in Christian schools. If people really believed the stuff I was taught then, yeah, it would be wrong. But scientists didn’t believe any of those things either. I think the elegance of the citric acid cycle, oddly enough, pushed me further away from religion. I could see how things were just chemical reactions, like falling dominoes, and didn’t need some mystical force.

      Then there were all those nagging questions, like why did I always hear how evil Islam was because it called to kill infidels, when God told the Israelites to kill all sorts of people all the time? “They were very bad people” didn’t work for me anymore. That’s what people were saying about the US after 9/11 and I didn’t accept that, so why should I accept my church’s reasoning? I started reading about religion, because I wanted to know why so many cultures had it. An anthropology course helped here, and I spent a lot of time talking with my professor about religion.

      I read Michael Shermer’s “Why People Believe Weird Things” and that was also a really strong push. I think that’s where I learned about the misconceptions about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. He addressed a lot of questions I had and it was like a light bulb going off, since he had been taught those things and knew where I was coming from. I started going to the skeptics lectures at CalTech, too.

      I think it helped that I never had strong God feelings (which I didn’t dare tell anyone about). I never felt God’s presence or that God was speaking to me or answering prayers.

      It was a lot of things. I think learning how to learn and how to think critically did a lot of it, really. I still have a lot of room for growth in those areas, though. But I do plan on applying to graduate schools at some point to further study evolutionary biology – I love it. =)

      Loved your comment. I’m sending it to my son. He’s a senior next year, then college. Thx…

  3. Thanks for your input. It seems that, so far, there is no real defining moment, rather a kind of continuum that paves the way. Of course, a sample size of two is not really what I was after.

  4. In reply to #3 by crookedshoes:

    Thanks for your input. It seems that, so far, there is no real defining moment, rather a kind of continuum that paves the way. Of course, a sample size of two is not really what I was after.

    I think teaching critical thinking and that claims need to be backed up by evidence is what’s most important.

  5. There’s probably a thousand ways for a teacher to poison students. Identifying each possibility might be a wasted effort if there are only a few effective ways to inspire. Best to focus on what inspires.

    A useful book reference might be ‘The Talent Code – Unlocking the secret of skill in Maths, Art, Music, Sport, and just about everything else.’ – Daniel Coyle.

    The author makes a distinction between teachers who impart specific skills, and who are necessarily more skilled and knowledgeable than their students, and those teachers / coaches who can impel students towards greater things, despite their students already exceeding the understanding and performance capabilities of their teacher.

    There’s a point of transition in approach that varies with the individual student and teacher – probably what makes being a secondary school level teacher particularly complex compared with primary or tertiary education. Most primary school kids all think adults are great. Most tertiary students respect and pay attention to professors because they have exercised a choice to attend. Secondary school kids are somewhat in between. They don’t know what they really want and they behave accordingly.

    Behind every famous and extraordinary person there is some unknown and unacknowledged teacher, parent, or guiding light who the world never gets to hear about. The corollary of this is that it might not be clear whether any particular teacher is having a tangible influence. You have to trust your instincts, or the relevant science to the extent it is available. Much of the relevant science for teaching is quite new. Generally the science agrees with what has proven to work in practice. But there’s a few contradictions with established practice and institutional convenience.

    Keep in mind that our entire education infrastructure is mostly oriented towards institutional convenience, rather than where the science of learning is heading.

  6. I remember we read an excerpt from Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene in A level biology. It was still a bit heavy but it got me intrigued. In hindsight I’d say that Richard’s depiction of the very beginning of life totally captured me. He starts off with just molecules and explains very clearly how – in principle – replicators can evolve from them. This automatically raises fundamental questions: What IS live, to begin with?

    In analogy to your fishes, maybe it would be interesting to ask “What IS a fish, to begin with?” Turns out, it’s a continuum of species we (more or less arbitrarily) group together.

    Also, there must be computer programs that simulate phylogenetic development. Should be fun to play with that. Maybe even games like Creatures (Cyberlife Technology / Creature Labs). I know I would have loved that.

  7. I think a particular moment is going to really vary based on personal interests. I really do think a lot of it has to do with being self motivated, and perhaps that will come through inquiry based teaching, where kids are free to question and learn how to find answers. It may be important to learn that you can be wrong and be able to accept that. One’s idea for “why things are this way” may be wrong, but it’s important to come up with that idea and then take the steps to test it or verify it. I’ve been observing a 5th grade teacher working with her students in science lessons, and I’ve noticed that in the beginning, she lets them be wrong. She asks them what they think and even if it’s totally wild, she’ll just say, “That’s an interesting idea” or “Why do you think that?” She uses it to see what they’re thinking and will adjust her lessons to make corrections for that later on and the students, to some degree, correct their own misconceptions by actually trying stuff out.

    Having a real world application always helped me too. I enjoyed the lesson more and it was easier to remember. I could apply facts to a specific task and it set me off on wondering what other questions could be answered in the same way.

    I remembered something else – a friend of mine described a game she played in high school (she went to a really cool high school) in which students tried to figure out the relationship of various imaginary creatures to one another. The guy who created the game gave the creatures various shared features, and students had to create a tree showing their relationships. Then he revealed what was “discovered” based on their genetic information, and students saw how that altered the tree. It really challenged the kids and gave them a good understanding of how creating phylogenetics worked. My friend spoke really fondly of it and said she’d look up the lesson and send it to me, but we both forgot. I’ll go bother her about it and can let you know more if you’re interested in it. =)

    I also really enjoyed puzzles based on genetics. My genetics professor came up with good ones on tests. One was a story of how some group of people suspected that a zoo had been smuggling in baby chimps and trying to pass them off as the offspring of their resident chimps. She had us look at DNA bands of several chimps and determine if the presumed parent chimps really were their parents, or if it was more likely that the chimp had been smuggled in.

    We also had to do really complicated things with determining locations of where restriction enzymes cut plasmids. I really enjoyed those because they were just brain teasers for me, but it may be out of the scope of what you’re teaching.

    How people learn is a subject that interests me, so I’m glad you’re asking about it. =)

  8. Kim Probable,
    Thank you for the phylogenetic tree lesson. It is great!

    I found your comments very interesting. A huge issue in a person’s life centers on where their motivation comes from. If the locus of their motivation is external, then, I think, eventually they run into problems. I try to stress the idea of being intrinsically motivated. Your post reminded me of this concept.

    If you are studying because your Mom promised you a car if you earned an “A”, then, when the car is yours; the lessons are over. But, ifI, as a teacher, can get you to be self motivated within my subject area, then I have really accomplished something special.

    In reply to #9 by Kim Probable:

    I think a particular moment is going to really vary based on personal interests. I really do think a lot of it has to do with being self motivated, and perhaps that will come through inquiry based teaching, where kids are free to question and learn how to find answers. It may be important to learn that you can be wrong and be able to accept that. One’s idea for “why things are this way” may be wrong, but it’s important to come up with that idea and then take the steps to test it or verify it. I’ve been observing a 5th grade teacher working with her students in science lessons, and I’ve noticed that in the beginning, she lets them be wrong. She asks them what they think and even if it’s totally wild, she’ll just say, “That’s an interesting idea” or “Why do you think that?” She uses it to see what they’re thinking and will adjust her lessons to make corrections for that later on and the students, to some degree, correct their own misconceptions by actually trying stuff out.

    Having a real world application always helped me too. I enjoyed the lesson more and it was easier to remember. I could apply facts to a specific task and it set me off on wondering what other questions could be answered in the same way.

    I remembered something else – a friend of mine described a game she played in high school (she went to a really cool high school) in which students tried to figure out the relationship of various imaginary creatures to one another. The guy who created the game gave the creatures various shared features, and students had to create a tree showing their relationships. Then he revealed what was “discovered” based on their genetic information, and students saw how that altered the tree. It really challenged the kids and gave them a good understanding of how creating phylogenetics worked. My friend spoke really fondly of it and said she’d look up the lesson and send it to me, but we both forgot. I’ll go bother her about it and can let you know more if you’re interested in it. =)

    I also really enjoyed puzzles based on genetics. My genetics professor came up with good ones on tests. One was a story of how some group of people suspected that a zoo had been smuggling in baby chimps and trying to pass them off as the offspring of their resident chimps. She had us look at DNA bands of several chimps and determine if the presumed parent chimps really were their parents, or if it was more likely that the chimp had been smuggled in.

    We also had to do really complicated things with determining locations of where restriction enzymes cut plasmids. I really enjoyed those because they were just brain teasers for me, but it may be out of the scope of what you’re teaching.

    How people learn is a subject that interests me, so I’m glad you’re asking about it. =)

  9. The very best teacher I ever had liked to give the impression that he had no lesson plan at all. Dave Marlborough our physics teacher, when I was fourteen or fifteen, looked like a rock star and dated the the most glamorous woman teacher in the school. He was cool. He jigged around like he was bored and wanted get out as soon as possible.

    One exemplary lesson he came in looking particularly indifferent. “Simple Harmonic Motion is today I think.” Big sigh as if fighting a hangover. . “…errr, Phil, any ideas? Simon? Anybody?”

    Over the next two periods he got us to find a puzzle (and many similar puzzles) to solve. He got us to devise the mathematics to analyse it. He did this in little steps by getting us to see the right way by himself mostly going the wrong way asking if this helped….no?…what would be better?…etc.

    We nailed it by the end and the lesson was not about simple harmonic motion but about our own ability to work things out for ourselves given some rudimentary maths, a logical approach..and a questioning mind.

    Best double period of my life.

    The cool bit worked for him because you indulged him but still had low expectations.

  10. Great story, Phil!

    I am not sure I could pull that off. I do not look like a rock star; although i do play a pretty good rock guitar. I do not date a hot teacher, but my wife is a beautiful woman. The rest of it, though, I do not have much of a chance of pulling off!!!

    In reply to #14 by phil rimmer:

    The very best teacher I ever had liked to give the impression that he had no lesson plan at all. Dave Marlborough our physics teacher, when I was fourteen or fifteen, looked like a rock star and dated the the most glamorous woman teacher in the school. He was cool. He jigged around like he was bored and wanted get out as soon as possible.

    One exemplary lesson he came in looking particularly indifferent. “Simple Harmonic Motion is today I think.” Big sigh as if fighting a hangover. . “…errr, Phil, any ideas? Simon? Anybody?”

    Over the next two periods he got us to find a puzzle (and many similar puzzles) to solve. He got us to devise the mathematics to analyse it. He did this in little steps by getting us to see the right way by himself mostly going the wrong way asking if this helped….no?…what would be better?…etc.

    We nailed it by the end and the lesson was not about simple harmonic motion but about our own ability to work things out for ourselves given some rudimentary maths, a logical approach..and a questioning mind.

    Best double period of my life.

    The cool bit worked for him because you indulged him but still had low expectations.

  11. In reply to #15 by crookedshoes:

    Great story, Phil!

    I do play a pretty good rock guitar.

    Cooler than him!

    I do not date a hot teacher, but my wife is a beautiful woman.

    More successful than him!

    I was thinking about how it worked out so well, because it is a standard kind of approach, in a way, trying to get the kids to figure it out for themselves. The point is motivating the kids to do so. Certainly, the fact that he genuinely appeared to need help (to this day I don’t know how much of an act it was) opened us up. It was easy for us to feel whatever we offered wouldn’t be much worse and he was the teacher. The real key, however, I think is getting us to find a decent question. What could we know about this thing SHM? What kinds of things could be known? What could we do with them? Why would we want to?

    Finding answers is only half the fun. Finding the really good questions is a delight in itself and requires broader skills than technical answer-finding. You need to understand how the thing itself fits into the big wide world of stuff. If you can get the kids to find and own the problem, their problem, you’ll most likely get the investment in the intellectual sweat of finding (and remembering!) the answer.

  12. What a great answer!! Thanks for the post; it is excellent.

    In reply to #16 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #15 by crookedshoes:

    Great story, Phil!

    I do play a pretty good rock guitar.

    Cooler than him!

    I do not date a hot teacher, but my wife is a beautiful woman.

    More successful than him!

    I was thinking about how it worked out so well, because it is a standard kind of approach, in a way, trying to get the kids to figure it out for themselves. The point is motivating the kids to do so. Certainly, the fact that he genuinely appeared to need help (to this day I don’t know how much of an act it was) opened us up. It was easy for us to feel whatever we offered wouldn’t be much worse and he was the teacher. The real key, however, I think is getting us to find a decent question. What could we know about this thing SHM? What kinds of things could be known? What could we do with them? Why would we want to?

    Finding answers is only half the fun. Finding the really good questions is a delight in itself and requires broader skills than technical answer-finding. You need to understand how the thing itself fits into the big wide world of stuff. If you can get the kids to find and own the problem, their problem, you’ll most likely get the investment in the intellectual sweat of finding (and remembering!) the answer.

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