1. Creating a learning environment
Students have their own ideas about a topic and an effective teacher takes account of these ideas when teaching. So a good way to start teaching any topic is to find out what your students already know about it. You may be surprised about what they have learnt from newspapers, peers, adults, older brothers and sisters, and observations. Often their ideas are not the same as the scientific ideas we want them to understand. Sometimes they only begin to realise how much they already know when you give them the chance to think out-loud with each other, in a brainstorming activity. By asking simple, open-ended questions you can make sure that as many students as possible take part in the discussion and you will have a better understanding of what they know.
As a biology teacher, if you are lucky enough to have your own classroom, you should bring in examples of living creatures to keep in the classroom. Pot plants, small insects that the students take it in turns to feed and seeds to plant will all be resources you can draw on in your lessons. Many students may already know a lot about animals and plants. You need to give them the chance to demonstrate their knowledge and interest, but you also need to challenge them to think about why certain living things have certain characteristics. While your syllabus may specify particular organisms that the students should know about, both adaptation and classification are topics based on one or two key ideas that can be applied to the many varied organisms that are found on Earth.
Case study 1 shows how a teacher organised her classroom to inspire and motivate her students and Activity 1 describes a brainstorming session that will provide material you can use as examples throughout the topic.
Case study 1- Creating a stimulating learning environment
Mrs Yara had been teaching biology in MoshiJunior High School for two weeks. She was lucky enough to have her own classroom. Before she started teaching she spent the last week of the holiday preparing her room. She collected pictures of animals from magazines and tourist brochures, making sure she had one from each of the main vertebrate groups and some invertebrates. She brought in a pot plant from home and took some cuttings; a friend gave her a cactus and she bought an old glass tank from a market stall. She collected some insects and filled the tank with twigs, leaves and created a living space for the insects. To do this she used the guidance in Resource 5 . Finally she planted some seeds that were beginning to sprout.
When she started to teach classification, she divided the class into groups of four and gave them 10 minutes to go round the room and look at all the pictures, the plants and the insects. For each one they had to try and identify it and say where it would normally live.
She then gathered them round the front and asked questions about what they had seen. She started off with simple, closed questions such as the name of the organism and where it lived, and moved on to harder questions that challenged them to think about the different adaptations. On the board, she wrote the names of the plants and animals and asked them how the animals could be divided into groups. Finally she asked them about other plants or animals that they knew about and was delighted when Joshua told the class about a carnivorous plant that he had seen.
Mrs Yara was very impressed by how observant they had been and realised that they knew and understood quite a lot about how animals were adapted to their habitats. Finally she asked for volunteers to take responsibility for the plants and insects in the classroom, and was very pleased with the responses.
Activity 1: Conducting a brainstorm
Choose a habitat like the sea, grasslands or a rain forest.
Gather your students round the front desk and ask for some examples of animals that might live in the chosen habitat. You are going to use brainstorming (see Resource 1) to build up a picture of how much your students already know about animals, how they are adapted and how they can be classified.
Once you have gathered some names, you could ask them about how they are adapted for that environment, which ones are vertebrates, which ones are mammals, etc. This is the sort of topic about which students will probably have quite a lot of general knowledge, but have perhaps not thought about it in a scientific sense.
Build a spider diagram on the board using their ideas. You could link specific adaptations to both habitat and mode of life. Encourage them to suggest both structural and behavioural adaptations. You could use coloured chalk to distinguish these. Resource 2 shows an example of a diagram that another class produced. It is important that the one you produce is based on what your students suggest.