How to make biology lessons “alive”

In my school days, biology lessons always went the same way.

The teacher, sitting at the table, would ask us to retell the paragraph that was assigned for homework, then everyone would write a test. No presentations, handouts, projects, or labs. I think biology lessons at school were disconnected from life, dry and boring. But I did get interested in biology, back in third grade. It happened during preparation for the ecological contest “Pathway”. Participants had to know a lot of plants and animals, including rare species. To prepare well for the contest, I had to spend several months in the library. That’s how I learned to educate myself.

Then I started going to biology museums, hiking, collecting flowers and insects to make herbaria and collections. My parents bought me a microscope and a dissection kit so I could study living objects. I realized that if you combine reading books with hands-on activities, information is remembered much better and lessons become fun.

After boring biology lessons at school, I would go home and do my own “live” lessons.

A non-boring lesson about ants

How do I use the systems-activity approach in my lesson? Let’s do a mental experiment. Let’s say you need to tell students about colonies of ants. The day before you watched a fascinating popular science film on the subject. Suggest that the kids also watch the film, then hand out tables with questions that will allow them to refresh their memory of the content of the video. Pay attention to the structure and systematics of ants and the features of their nervous system and behavior. You can lead a discussion and try to answer a series of questions together. How do ants interact, what is their hierarchy? Why did evolution choose this form of existence? What other animals have a similar form of existence? When explaining theoretical material, prepare a presentation, include their colorful pictures, insert quotes, prepare a crossword puzzle or some kind of test in game form through a test application on your smartphone.

Do not forget about the application aspect. You can do a whole project on this topic: compare the size and shape of anthills, the behavior of ants in different regions of the country, try to answer the questions: how ants live in different climatic zones, do the size of colonies and behavior of ants depend on the environment? If there is not enough time in class, this topic can be covered in electives and extracurricular activities. And field practice can be done during the summer vacations: Give your students the task of observing ants and making their own little film about them.

Biology for Life

If you follow educational standards, you can help your students not only memorize new theoretical material better but also skillfully apply it to life situations and future professions.

Conduct a laboratory practice – you can buy crayfish and mollusks. to study their internal structure, examine under a microscope a cross-section of a leaf of a potted plant that stands in your classroom. Organize a project activity – have students try to compare the bacterial contamination of their hands after gym class, washing their hands near the cafeteria, or using dryers in public places. In general, a school project can be on any topic – the main thing is to get students interested in it. Perhaps it will be your students, having mastered the skills of a researcher, who will engage in the future of personalized and space medicine, solve bioethical issues of genome editing, and invent artificial models of photosynthesis.

Biology is not an easy science, because before one can begin modeling and managing living systems, one must master a great deal of theoretical material and terminology.

It is important to explain to students why they need to study so much and why it is worth it. I always motivate my students by saying that the future belongs to people who can learn. If you know how to independently acquire new knowledge and understand in what situations to apply it, you will never be without an interesting job, you will be successful, not confused, and disoriented.

Polina Shlapakova, member of the Laboratory of General Physiology and Regulatory Peptides, Faculty of Biology, Moscow State University

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