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Avoiding Lectures When Instructing Life Science

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Adam Salberg Adam Salberg 135 Points

Hello, my name is Adam Salberg and I am a student teacher in a middle school science classroom. I am preparing for my thirteen weeks of students teaching in the spring and have been beginning to think about my own personal teaching philosophy. I just completed a two week unit, and I had students fill out an evaluation of my teaching. One of the most common criticisms among the students is that they wish that science could be "more fun". They think that science is mostly just lecturing about a PowerPoint. I will be talking about a lot of life science topics next spring such as taxonomy, ecology, viruses, and anatomy. I was wondering if anyone had any advice about how to avoid lecturing, while also allowing students to learn the material. Obviously for anatomy, you could do dissections (I don't know if the school funds this), but much of the content is informational. Thanks in advance for any advice!

Pamela Dupre Pamela Dupre 92369 Points

I love Life Science. When we learn about ecosystems, I ask students to bring in clean 2 liter bottles. I get a 5 gallon bucket and scoop up some dirt, water, and plants from a ditch. (Glamorous!) We cut the bottle in half, fill each bottle about halfway full, and let everything settle. We use duct tape to seal where we cut the bottle. Once the sediment settles and the water becomes clearer, we catalog what we observe. How many living/non-living things? We've seen mosquito larvae hatch, dragonfly nymphs, tadpoles, duckweed, etc. They are still covering the same content. Each group has a bottle and it's easy to compare if there are differences in each ecosystem. I got this from an outdated book titled, Bottle Biology. It may still be available on Amazon. There are other ways to use the 2 liter bottles for terrariums, water cycle, etc. Check out for resources and lesson plans.

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64765 Points

Hi Adam,

Several years ago I was able to attend a short course at an NSTA National Conference called Lecture-Free Biology. It was led by Bonnie Wood. In the course, she outlined how she transitioned her biology courses from strictly lecture to a more student centered approach. Here is a link to an American Biology Teacher article where she outlines the steps she did to make this transition. She also has a book in which she not only explains her approach, but also gives many of the activities she used with her students. We got this book as the end of the short course and it has revolutionized the way that I teach biology.

Hope you are having a good student teaching experience.

Megan Doty Megan Doty 11847 Points

Hi Adam, Great question! While we want students to be engaged and have fun, we have to balance that with making sure the content is understood. I found a few articles with some ideas you may be able to incorporate; let me know what you think! This article includes some fun ways to spend a week engaging with the different levels of classification: And this article includes many different types of graphic organizers to increase understanding through visual literacy: Anyone else have some ways to bring in a fun lesson? -Megan

Harley Kitching Harley Kitching 617 Points

Hi Megan! Thanks for the links to the resources you listed! I love using graphic organizers and visual representations, and these sources will really up my classroom game.

Ash Mahadevan Aiswarya Mahadevan 640 Points

Hi Adam, Good luck with the student teaching, I finished my student teaching spring of 2017 too, it was a great experience and fun to teach middle school science. ! How is the technology available in your classroom? There are lots of opportunities to incorporate your whole lesson into the teacher controlled, technology-based way. I loved the use of Nearpod,, This helps you in a way that students don't feel that you are lecturing too much, and it is a one on one way of understanding your student's participation as well. You can add activities, videos, and powerpoint slides into the presentation. You can control the pace of the class and is a great way to have a fully planned week using this application. Check it out if you don't know already about this. Good luck again! Ash

Rachel Chaple Rachel Chaple 610 Points

Hi, Adam, I think it's great that you want to introduce other ways besides lecturing for instructing your students. I believe that technology can be very useful for this, as you can use media and interactive games for your students. They would like that. Additionally, incorporating many hands on mini-experiments with easy materials is useful. Check pinterest!

Claudia Corrales Claudia Corrales 450 Points

I think it is very important to involve activities instead of just listening to a lecture and observing a power point slides. I believe every ( if possible) science lecture or new topic should have a hands on activity or a lab work whether it be individual, in a group, or as a class. Besides the classwork that is already assigned in order to provide the engage in the lesson. This is important to practice because students will not be interested in a lesson that is always lectured.

Harley Kitching Harley Kitching 617 Points

I have never been someone who has enjoyed giving or sitting in a lecture. I learn by doing hands on activities and working with my peers on projects. During my practicum placements while learning to teach Biology, I have come up with a few creative ideas to teach concepts without giving long drawn out lectures. One of these was using plastic animals that students could feel, see, and move around their table to create cladograms. The students begin by organizing the animals in ways they can relate them based on their prior knowledge of the animals. Next, the students use given information about the animals to create a cladogram while comparing and contrasting their original ideas to the cladogram itself. There are a lot of cheap and easy ways to incorporate activities into our classrooms. You just have to be creative and use your imagination. I always ask myself if I would enjoy doing the activity. If not, your students probably won't enjoy it either.

Nicole Orta Nicole Orta 1015 Points

Lectures definitely aren't a favorite for kids, and sometimes it's very hard to move past them. What I have learned is that the more fun and engaging a lesson is, the bigger impact it leaves on the student. A few ways to make a lesson more engaging could be to incorporate (if possible) videos, field trips, lab activities, experiments (easy and low budget experiments could be found for virtually any topic online!), group activities (have the students teach one of the lessons to the class), games that require getting up and moving around, or even worksheets, journals, and other drawing/writing activities. 

Hope this helps someone!

Erica Herold Erica Herold 735 Points

Hello! This is a slightly delayed response to your question, but I thought I would share an idea: sometimes lecture is a necessity and serves a greater purpose.

I teach 7th grade science, and I would estimate that 1-2 of every 5 lessons involve some form of lecture. I do this by design. I implement the 5E model of lesson planning in my classroom with the first two Es being students being engaged then they explore, but eventually they get to 'explain.' Many times, I 'explain' using lecture, but I lecture through the lens of 'let me teach you how to take notes.' Many teachers make the incorrect assumtion that students know how to take notes, and in my experience, they do not. I also know that many, many high school science teachers (and even more college professors) instruct using lecture, so not exposing students to lecture could serve as a detriment later on in their lives. 

I never, never, never teach students new information through lecture because that's just boring. Instead, I have the research and invetigate a phenomena, come to their own conclusions, share their thoughts with me or the class, THEN follow up with the lecture (and never more than 20 minutes of lecture). This way I know everyone received the correct information for the unit and we have the special added bonus of them learning notetaking strategies to take with them into the future.

Erik Lucas Erik Lucas 705 Points

Love the idea of learn first, lecture later!

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