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Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

Why I started Flipping Biology

For the first 6 years of my teaching I followed a rather traditional method of teaching. I delivered content in class using a PowerPoint, students took notes and then we may spend a lesson doing a practical or an activity, then I would set homework which we may or may not have time to go through in a future lesson. Every year in faculty meetings we would lament the lack of time for activities, quality individual feedback, development of scientific skills and longer-term projects. To try and combat this we would argue for extra contact time with senior management and get angry with exam boards for never reducing the size of the syllabus that needed to be delivered. Every year you would feel the pressure to ‘get through the content’ and many topics needed to be rushed through only once to meet the deadline of exams. If students were ill, or absent for matches or music lessons then it meant meeting with them at other times to repeat the lesson. When the exams approached you were asked to repeat many lessons by students who couldn’t remember, had poor notes, didn’t listen or just wanted to sit and feel like they were learning it again. Then I found Flipped Learning . . .

“Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which first contact with new concepts moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space in the form of structured activity, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.” (flippedlearning.org)

The important point to make here is that flipped learning is not just getting students to do homework in class and then teach themselves in their own time. It’s about making the most of the time spent in the classroom when the teacher is present (group space). Through the use of technology it has now become possible to deliver the content to a high standard out of the classroom (individual space). When looking at Bloom’s taxonomy one can see that remembering and understanding are at the base of the pyramid. These are lower order skills that the students can work on in their own time. The advantages of this are that they can learn at their own pace at a time that suits them. I make detailed animated tutorial videos for each Biology Topic; these are hosted on YouTube and internally on planet eStream. The students watch these and answer the questions that come up on screen to make sure they engage with the content and provide me with feedback about how and when they watched the video. They use the video along with a detailed PowerPoint to make notes on that particular topic. They can pause, rewind, and replay the lesson as many times as they like. They can watch it and make notes at a time that suits them. They will never miss another lesson again!

When they come into class they have done the groundwork on the topic and we can use the notes to take part in the practical activities that I have planned for them. Looking back at Bloom’s taxonomy they will now build on the higher order skills such as applying, analysing, evaluating and creating. These are quite often covered at homework time when the teacher isn’t there to help, but now I can go around and see individual students much more often, give them instant feedback, help them with problems and develop their learning. It solves many of the problems listed in the first paragraph and also creates better independent lifelong learners. The classroom becomes a fun engaging place to be rather than a lecture theatre. Better student teacher relationships are developed and teacher becomes a ‘guide on the side’ rather than a ‘sage on the stage’.

Just like any teaching method, Flipped teaching requires good planning and preparation for it to be effective. I am currently over half way through an online course in flipped teaching that will give me Flipped Certification Level I.

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Easter Revision Time

For most students you will be enjoying a well earned break over Easter weekend after what I’m sure has been a busy and frantic school term. However, when it comes to Monday or Tuesday you will probably be searching for some motivation to start your revision. Getting started can be the hardest part of revision, my advice is to plan plan plan. You can spend a lot of time procrastinating otherwise but if you wake up and you know exactly what you are meant to be studying that day you will get started much quicker. You can also tick off tasks as you complete them throughout the day. I recommend three sessions of revision per day, with decent breaks in between and two at the weekend.

Spend this weekend planning what you want to achieve over the next three weeks. Make sure all your subjects are covered in the right amounts and write specific tasks, such as ‘complete paper 1’ or ‘notes on bonding’ rather than just the subject name.

GOOD LUCK!

Mr Exham

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Biology A Level 2015 – Content or context?

By now I’m sure you will have all looked at the various options for which specification to choose from. For my department the first question was did we want to choose a context based or content based course. The traditional courses are content led, this means that the topics are discreet and are just taught as individual topics, rather than the context based courses which give a context to each section of the specification. For example, the context may be the blood and you would teach various topics from that context, such as cells, immunity and hormones.

As teachers we always give context to what we are teaching and in this way the content based courses are more flexible as you can arrange topics how you want and apply your own contexts where relevant. However, the content in the context based courses seems to be more current and interesting.

Once you decide which approach to take, the task of deciding which exam board to choose is actually quite tricky. Now that coursework as such has been removed from the qualification, the differences between the options are very slight. The content is much the same across all exam boards and so it just comes down to the type of assessment, style, resources, loyalty and personal preference.

Please fill in this poll and write in the comments your opinions and thoughts regarding this important decision.

Teaching and Learning – Animations

Recently in my department we have been using modelling clay to help animate complex biological processes that students find hard to visualise and learn. It’s very simple to do, all you need is some modelling clay, a smartphone or digital camera, some pens and paper and some basic video editing software like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. To make the animations as smooth as possible the students should take as many still frames as they can. These are then put into the software and text, music and transitions are all added. It can be done in the class in small groups or for a homework task. Below are two examples of processes that this works particularly well for meiosis and protein synthesis.

Protein Synthesis:

Meiosis:

Other biology topics that this technique would be useful for include: movement of substances across membranes, the nephron, genetic engineering of human insulin, action potentials, respiration, photosynthesis, enzymes and many more.

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