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Sparking Student Interest in Biology Classes

Grade Level: Middle/High School Grade Level
Discipline: Biology
Author: Alan O.

While biology is the study of life itself, most methods of teaching it are restricted to book learning, with occasional experimentation thrown in. At the same time, unlike in the case of physical sciences, biology labs can be relatively lackluster; they mostly involve observations of existing specimens and charts as opposed to the more involved methods of experimentation that characterize chemistry or physics labs, for instance. Thus, biology classes can tend to become one-sided affairs requiring little active participation from students except in the form of answering the occasional pop quiz and turning in assignments.

This lack of interactivity is detrimental to the development of students’ interest in the subject as a whole, even as inspiring it and sustaining it is crucial for further education and development of the field (Li, 2011). It can, however, be remedied by introducing methods to boost student engagement during biology classes. And in order to do so, the lesson plans drawn up, and the lesson prep done by biology teachers and educators at the middle and high school levels will likely need to be adapted.

Preparing For Class

Planning out and preparing lessons for any sort of class is fundamental to defining the nature of that class. Thus, the pre-class prep sets the tone for what is to follow, and so also the stimulation of student participation during class begins here.

However, this is also one of the few tasks within the purview of teachers’ duties that, while revolving around educating students, cannot rely on their immediate presence or any piece of work submitted by them. In essence, most pre-class prep is done in an environment with little to no feedback from students, and thus, teachers may not be able to accurately predict their response.

Recently, edtech has become an important element bridging this gap. Edtech tools and services have rapidly developed over the last decade, and the situation brought about by the pandemic and online learning has, no doubt, woven them into the fabric of modern learning and education, even that which is offline. Thus, teachers must adapt to these new conditions and use edtech tools while planning their lessons. In fact several tools are designed especially for teachers, allowing them to easily create online interactive elements for specific classes, such as quizzes and/or diagrams.

Even tools and services designed primarily for student use, such as Bartleby Learn, or gamefied interactive platforms, provide valuable insights into their needs. In spaces like these, teachers can observe the kinds of questions students ask, how they ask them, and the kinds of answers they request. This gives them an insider's view of student expectations and may fill the feedback and response gap, thus ensuring that they design engaging lessons from the get-go rather than having to alter them and try again.

Participation In Class

The classroom is the arena where student interest is sparked and the flames are fanned. One of the main methods to achieve this is by introducing activities that drive participation. However, given the varied nature of the content of most middle and high school biology classes, there is unlikely to be a template activity that can be adapted for each individual lesson. Rather, unique activities will have to be devised depending on the scope of each topic.

On the other hand, certain well worn activities can be dusted off and adjusted to fit requirements. For instance, show and tell activities are widely conducted at the elementary levels of education. Their framework can however also provide the base for deeply interactive and inquiry based biology classes at higher levels of education. Students can be asked to collect and study specimens, and then present these, and their observations and findings to the rest of the class. This works as an excellent means of breathing life into the class, both figuratively and literally.

Another age-old method to tap into would be experimentation that calls for more engagement. Real world instances where biology knowledge is applied, for instance fermentation, can be introduced and studied in the somewhat controlled classroom setting. Putting students in charge of these set-ups, such as a fast-growing plant, or a sourdough starter to study yeast creates an environment for greater participation as a replacement for passive learning.

Biology Outside The Classroom

Besides bringing the outside world into the classroom, expanding that space to include what lies beyond its four walls is a sure-fire way to incite interest in biology (Uitto et al., 2006). Planning in-class activities such as those mentioned above lays avenues to do so.

Maintaining a record of their surroundings and the changes wrought on them as a consequence of the biology of the organisms that make it up helps students greatly in engaging directly with the subject itself. Observing these changes will likely drive them to research their causes, and encouraging them to share their independent findings with classmates can have the snowball effect of reeling in the rest of their peers (Hazari et al., 2017). Allowing them the freedom to maintain their records in any manner they desire, as journals or otherwise, is a relatively easy method to embolden a fledgling interest in the subject, and to inject confidence in their research abilities.

Interactive experimentation too, can be spread beyond the classroom, with students being encouraged to undertake similar procedures at home. For instance, having them grow or cultivate fruit and vegetable bearing plants that have shorter growth cycles, and then partake of its yield is a great way to build engagement with the subject as they apply theory to produce results they are familiar with.

When compared with chemistry and physics, biology is a science that relies on careful observation more than anything else. Thus, making this observation process more tangible is the key to stimulate interaction, engagement and ultimately, long-lasting student interest. This, however, does not discount reading as an effective means of learning about the subject. Resources such as this abound across the Internet, and are great for students in the digital age.

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