Return to Teaching Units Page

Teaching Tips
TEACH FOR UNDERSTANDING

by Larry Flammer

1. Use Pre-Tests (surveys of knowledge), especially where there are widespread misconceptions about critical topics, e.g., the nature of science and evolution. Do this the first day of school or unit, so they can be post-tested after a unit (or the course) is completed to see if their misconceptions really got repaired. Pre-tests can also be used to inform what and how you teach those topics. For sample pre-test on the nature of science, click here, and scroll down to "Science Knowledge Survey." For an evolution pre-test, click here.

2. Pre-Test sharing: If you have the means for item analysis of your pre-test, share the collective results with your students, focusing and commenting on the most-missed questions. Then proceed into a series of interactive labs and discussions where they repeatedly experience many of the elements that clearly conflict with their misconceptions, so they can actually see the errors of their understanding.

3. Use BIG models: Get dramatic, use flair. Move away from the confines of your projection screen. Use your entire whiteboard or chalkboard. If it's magnetic, make magnetic items to build BIG layouts, diagrams, flow charts, etc., across the entire board, even around the room! Move your body around the room, get heads to turn.

4. Use kids as models: Role-Play: Make neck signs to hang on kids. For example: many signs with "GLUCOSE" on them, one "AMYLASE" on it, link the "GLUCOSE" kids together into one big "STARCH" molecule, then have "AMYLASE" move quickly along the polymer, dabbing each handhold link with a water filled sponge to release each bond with the addition of water (hydrolysis), and voila', you've digested starch. "Aren't they all sweet!" Reverse the process (simulate removal of water at each link) and you digest the starch into its glucose monomers by dehydration synthesis. I've done this sort of thing with fermentation, photosynthesis, cellular respiration (including Krebs Cycle; now that was a real production!), natural selection, speciation, and just about any abstract concept you can imagine. I even have smocks that make me (or a student) into an ATP molecule (to demo the ADP/ATP cycle), or a chlorophyll molecule, ready to do our duties! Much more fun than slides, books or lecture... and it's kinesthetic, maybe even traumatic at times, so they remember it and understand it! They were engaged! Even seniors enjoy this, and learn from this. I also have interactive overhead diagrams for most of the above demos. The Fermentation-Photosynthesis-Respiration sequence reflects their evolutionary emergence. The general pathways of glycoolysis and the Krebs Cycle can help kids see how cellular respiration operates as a reversible pathway involved in gaining weight, dieting, exercising (or not), cramps, warming up, massage, and heavy breathing!

5. Flash-Check cards for formative assessment (see details)

6. Concept Maps: Always helpful to pull concepts and terminology together into a meaningful pattern or network. Good for building understanding (working in teams), and good for formative and/or summative assessments. Puts related terms and concepts into an easy-to-remember series of threads that they can pull out of their memories, like the words of a song.

7. Assessment questions that measure depth and accuracy of understanding rather than (or more than) simple recall of terms and definitions. Use questions that require the application of those understandings. Use questions that require "best choice" answers, where some choices are "ok", but one is the most accurate. This is rough for ELL kids, but if you practice a lot, and do frequent formative assessments using these kinds of questions, they should learn those subtleties. Here is a sample Exam on evolution.

8. Ask questions that require recognition of misconceptions as such (see Pre-Tests) .

9. Meaningful Metrics with Dramatic Demonstrations: Practical suggestions for teaching metric measurement when and where it will be used. Useful scaffolding diagrams that students can use.