Situational Factors Impacting a High School Biology Course-ww5

I will be developing my project-based lesson plan for the high school, Sophomore Biology class that I currently teach. There are two sections, of approximately ten students each,ages 15-16. Classes are part of a 90 minute block schedule that meets M-W-F on one week and T-H the following week. Classes are delivered primarily through live classroom instruction, but some material will be accessed outside of class through online means. I would not consider this a truly blended classroom as most direct instruction will occur in the classroom. I am very comfortable with the material being presented in my course and the process in which it is being taught. I have taught Sophomore Biology in the same high school for 10 years. Prior to teaching I worked in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology and have a MSc. in Aquatic Ecology. I plan to continue to teach this course into the future as it is a part of the state core curriculum This is a public alternative high school where all students are considered “at-risk.’ Student’s are considered “at-risk’ because of a broad range of issues including behavioral, emotional, academic and motivational reasons. Classes are ethnically diverse, predominantly male and include about 25% English Language Learners (ELL). Most ELL students are considered “fluent’ while several still receive extra services, such as access to a content link class. Many of the students work part-time or have substantial roles as caregivers to younger siblings. Students are identified and enrolled in the alternative high school, based on lack of success in junior high, which is usually indicated by an excessive number of classes failed during that time. Students come to my class with a general understanding of ecology and the physical sciences. However, most students did not receive passing scores on most or all of the state mandated criterion referenced tests?past science scores. My students are transitioning between early adolescence to late adolescence and their levels of maturity and capacity for abstract thought are varied but growing. Most of the students I teach have been identified as visual or kinesthetic learners.

The expectations of society for a secondary science class include foundational knowledge of basic biological principles, understanding of the nature of science and scientific inquiry and  development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. More specifically, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) has laid down specific core content standards and intended learning outcomes that are expected of all students at this level. The Utah Biology Core Curriculum has two primary goals:  “(1) students will value and use science as a process of obtaining knowledge based on observable evidence, and (2) students’ curiosity will be sustained as they develop and refine the abilities associated with scientific inquiry’(USOE 2013).  More specifically, the state of Utah expects students to use the following list of scientific processes and thinking skills:

  •     Manifest science interests and attitudes.
  •     Understand important science concepts and principles.
  •     Communicate effectively using science language and reasoning.
  •     Demonstrate awareness of the social and historical aspects of science.
  •     Understand the nature of science

Specific benchmarks and standards are outlined by the Utah State Core and objectives are recommended within those standards.  For example the Benchmark for the Ecology unit is:

Ecosystems are shaped by interactions among living organisms and their physical environment.  Ecosystems change constantly, either staying in a state of dynamic balance or shifting to a new state of balance. Matter cycles in ecosystems, and energy flows from outside sources through the system.  Humans are part of ecosystems and can deliberately or inadvertently alter an ecosystem.

One of the standards under this benchmark is “Students will understand that living organisms interact with one another and their environment.’ The USOE has also developed objectives and recommends specific indicators that can be used to assess student understanding.

For the most part, Biology is considered convergent by nature, though there are areas that can be extended to include divergent topics, particularly when asking students to recommend policy based on science. The subject is both cognitive and skill based. There are skills of measurement, data collection and analysis requirements. The primary topics that I will address have remained stable.

I believe that the situational characteristics that will make the lesson most challenging is the general lack of understanding for the scientific process, gaps in content background knowledge and a lack of motivation from the students.  Most of my students have been unsuccessful in science in the past and there is a general lack of confidence that needs to be addressed. My challenge will be to help students adequately build the necessary background knowledge and develop their understanding of scientific inquiry so that they can confidently propose hypotheses, design, implement and analyze data in an experiment.  I think that once they have the confidence, motivation will follow.

Works Cited

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Utah State Office of Education. (2013). Biology Core Standards. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from https://schools.utah.gov/arc/curr/CORE/CoreBinder2013/index.html

2 thoughts on “Situational Factors Impacting a High School Biology Course-ww5

  1. Bob

    “I think that once they have the confidence, motivation will follow.”

    At once a beautiful and terrifying starting assumption, why do you think this? With 10 years of teaching experience perhaps some your “why” comes from direct observation. But does that experience truly transfer to learners selected, or rather deselected, for “alternative schooling”? What is different about the schooling situation that is alternative from the non-alternative schooling situation? Said differently have they moved from one classroom to another? What if the classroom itself is what stripped their confidence? Perhaps, the “alternative high school” offers an alternative architecture. What about that difference is likely to build confidence? If there is no difference in the situation except for you, yourself, what is your plan for building confidence? How will you disrupt the role of teacher so that they can stop being students and start being learners?

    I think you have found an important starting place for our assignment for a personal philosophy of pedagogy later in this class.

    Reply
  2. Owen

    Jenny, nice job identifying your situational factors. They sound daunting, to say the least. I share some experience teaching science to a similar cohort of students. A challenging proposition with significant lost ground to make up.

    Bob asks some great and challenging questions.

    Reply

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