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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.


Alison Cook-Sather, director of the Bi-College Education Program at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, organized an afternoon session of the 1997 Brain and Behavior Institute for Philadelphia precollege teachers. The conversation was about educational paradigms and approaches, using the issue of how to teach information about the brain as an example. It was also a discussion about the philosophical underpinnings of different forms of pedagogy and about how insights from studying the brain relate to ongoing discussions of educational theory. Material prepared by Alison, which provided a framework for the session, is presented here, along with some lesson plan sketches developed by participants in a group project segment of the afternoon.

This material can valuably be compared with thoughts about the implications for education of modern brain research, as they emerged in earlier sessions of the Institute. An historical tension between theories of education which stress effective incorporation by students of pre-existing information and perspectives, and those which encourage individual exploration and creation, has close parallels in contrasting perspectives which treat the brain as a passive receiver or as an active creator of experiences. Modern brain research tends to weigh in on the more individually active and exploratory side of such a dichtomy, supporting as well the notion that each brain (student) is different from every other, and that brain (student) has, to differing degrees, not one but a variety of abilities relevant in an educational context.

Educational Theory in an Historical Context: A Persistant Dichotomy (see Spring, 1994)

Obedience to Authority Betterment of Society
Education used to maintain the authority of government and religion and to help maintain social distinctions Education as a means of improving material prosperity of society
Standardizing American Culture Education for Diversity and Democracy
Education as deculturalization; the attempt to create a uniform American cultureEducation for all; the rise of the Common School
Industrialization Nature and Nurture
Education as an effective machine; bring in measurements experts and scientific methods to test and sort students Education as human and experiential; let students learn through doing and in their own ways
"The Banking Model""The Problem-Posing Model"
Education as teachers delivering prescribed and accepted bodies of knowledge to studentsEducation as a process of asking questions, exploring a range of answers, and developing a critical perspective

A closer look at the banking model versus the problem-posing model of education (following Shor (1992) and Freire, 1970)

Conceptualizes education as a process through which teachers have a fixed boy of knowledge, as it is embodied in commerical texts, which they deposit into the empty mind or "accounts" of students, through didactic lectures, and the students then "draw" on that knowledge later. Conceptualizes education as a proceess through which teachers and students create knowledge together in a variety of contexts, and generate and address critical quesitons about the knowledge they produce.
Has its roots in the standardizing, quantifying, and measuring traditions of Frederick Taylor and E.L. Thorndike who developed standardized test, IQ tests, and the model of school as factories. Has its roots in the work of Dewey and Piaget, who urged active, inquirng education through which students actively construct meaning in the natural world and the simulated natural world within the classroom
Its purpose is to pass on the traditional and accepted knowledge, information, values, and approachces to learning, and to prepare students for their prescribed place in the society. Its purpose is to both learn and quesstion the traditional and accepted knowledge, information, values, and approaches to learning, and to develop more democratic, diverse, critically thinking members of society.
Works best in learning environments which are highly structed and in which content and processes are highly standardized. Works best in learning environments which offer students a range of activities, sources for study, and opportunities for interaction.
Is characterized by
  • teacher-centered curricula
  • decontextualized study of information
  • facts learned in isolation
  • mainstream, canonical texts
  • asking students to accept knowledge and perspectives of the teacher and the textbooks as given and irrefutable
  • an emphasis on memorization and regurgitation
  • pedagogical approches which include lecture, recitation, multiple choice tests
  • concern for getting the "right" answer
  • maintenace of the status quo
Is characterized by
  • student-centered curricula
  • contextualized study of perspectives
  • facts, beliefs, and questions connected
  • diverse, multicultural texts
  • asking students to reflect critically on who has access to what kinds of knowledge, why, and how
  • an emphasis on exploration and application
  • pedagogical approaches which include discussion, group work, alternative assessment
  • multiple answers, multiple ways to get them
  • challenging the status quo

The banking model versus the problem-posing model in practice: an example (following Shor (1992))

A class is studying the muscles of the human hand and the structure of the human eye in an introductory biology course.
The Banking Model The Problem-Posing Model
The teacher uses a standard, possibly somewhat outdated textbook and starts on the first page of the relevant chapter telling the students what they will learn. The teacher begins by asking the students what questions they have about the subject matter and what they are interested in learning from their study of it.
The teacher structures the classses around the lecture and textbook material to be covered, as it is specified in the textbook and accompanying resource materials.Student responses lead the teacher to have the class focus on learning about the hand and the eye in the context of designing office furniture for computer use.
The teacher works his or her way through the chapter, having students read sections and complete worksheets with factual recall questions. The students interview clerical workers at the school and research what kinds of furniture and technology are available to those workers.
All students are expected to work at the same pace, complete the same assignments, and end up with the same knowledge. The teacher gives quizzes regularly to check on student learning.As the unit of study unfolds, students focus on their individual interests, and attend to what their teachers and classmates explore and present about the topic. Students offer each other both written and oral feedback.
The knowledge presented on this topic is, for the most part, contained in the textbook. The study of the eye and the hand is conducted in a purely technical way; the study is of the mechanical workings of these two body parts. The teacher offers some background on clerical work as traditonally low-paying women's employment and suggests that an area of research for students might be the medical effects of long-term exposure to video display terminals or hand ailments arising from reptitious functions, such as typing.
For evaluation, the teacher gives a standardized test which accompanies the textbook.For evaluation, students are required to design and present in a multi-media portfolio their research into a particular dimension of this topic, and include reflections on what they learned from each others' presentations.

Recognizing Multiple Intelligences in Class Design: An Example (following Armstrong (1994))

Students compose a written explanation of a particular function of the brain and share explanations with one or more of their classmates, explaining and clarifying.
Students create a formula or an equation to illustrate or explain some function of the brain.
Students draw a picture or map or make a model of the brain or create some symbolic representation of how some aspect of the brain functions.
Students create with their bodies, in relation to one another, different representations of how the brain works. Or, students act out or mime some function of the brain and have their classmates guess which one it is.
Students listen to, sing, or compose songs which explain some function of the brain.
Students create with their bodies, in relation to one another, different representations of how the brain works. Or, students work together to create a description or a multi-media representation of their understanding of some aspect of the brain, sharing responsibilities for the project, presenting it as a group, and soliciting feedback from their classmates.
Students reflect on how they perceive their brains in relation to themselves. Do they feel their brains? Do they have an image of the brains? Do they think of themselves in terms of their brains ("I'm the brain in the family")?

Trying it Out

Following discussion, Brain and Behavior Institute 1997 participants worked in groups to sketch out lesson plan ideas. Each group was asked to develop a lesson plan related to some aspect of brain and behavior, focusing on one or another of the multiple intelligences of children.

Delores Ayer, Alicia Boyd, Marita Wagner (Intra and interpersonal Intelligences
Focus: Learning
Goal: To teach students how self-esteem affects/relates to learning
Activity: Students will participate in carrying out an experiment involving two groups, one experiencing high expectation, the other low expectation. After discussion of the procedures and purposes of the exercise, ach group will be expected to memorize a list of twenty words. One group will receive encouragement and praise while doing so, and the other ridicule and dicouragement. After a predefined time period, student will be asked to recall the list of words. It is hoped that the group that receives praise and encouragement will have turned in the longer list, while the other group will so less well. Group discussion following the activity will allow students to consider implications and draw conclusions about the significance for learning of high and low expectations.

Leon Bailey, Carol Rosenbaum, Mitchel Schwartz, Geneva Tolliferreo (Spatial and Musical Intelligences)
Focus: The Organization of the Brain
Goal: To get students to be familiar with the organization of the brain through hands on activities
1. Making models, puzzles; show what know about brain and then add to it by looking at real brain; computer research; make, play pin tail on brain
2. Computer research to see what else is known.
3. Listen to music of different kinds, talk about/discuss how it makes one feel, differences between different people, differences between hearing song, thinking of it from title.
4. Think/talk about/discuss what must be going on in brain, how relates to models, what need to add to them.
1. Student participation.
2. Demonstration of material in models

Rita Brown, Yvette Palmer, Lucy Ryan (Linguistic intelligence)
Focus: The Nervous System
Goal: To determine if we perform actions without thinking, to illustrate that thinking is not necessary to see, mime, or create.
1. Introduction. Teacher will throw out an eraser to a student to catch. Other students will observe the behavior of that student. Teacher will pose questions: what behavior did you think about? What behavior did you not think about?
2. Classroom discussion: List, discuss activities you do thinking/not thinking.
3. Observe how many times a person blinks within a one minute period with a partner.
4. Cooperative Group. Students will determine what activity you think about and not think about.
5. Assign written story: "Aliens". Students will write a story describing an alien that is limited to two movements that it does not have think about. Must be fictitious and interesting.
6. Observe activity. Students will observe a family member to see what thinking/non-thinking activities are done at home.
Time period: Two class periods
1. Feedback from observation - comparison on group-cooperative/at home activities.
2. Critical thinking
3. Observations
4. Oral and written expression

Alison Cook-Sather, Paul Grobstein (Logical/mathematical Intelligence)
Focus: Is intelligence related to brain size?
Goal: To help students appreciate intelligence as a poorly defined concept, realize it cannot be evaluated by a single standard, recognize racism/sexism in guise of science, make explicit one's own beliefs/assumptions and evlaute them in light of new observations
1. State and discuss hypothesis: intelligence is related to brain size
2. If true, it should be possible to predict relative intelligence by putting brains in order of size. So collect information on brain size , including frog, rat, cow, chimp, Alison, Paul.
3.In small groups, develop criteria for intelligence, assign values to each brain, test if intelligence/brain size orders are the same
4.General discussion of findings, conclusions, difficulties in evaluating intelligence, as well as of why hypothesis would have developed in first place
Homework assignment: Write a paper which gives your own conclusions, traces your own thinking in reaching this conclusion, and considers social implications

Lillian Green, Lorraine Seabrooks, Tom Witkowski (Interpersonal, Spatial Intelligences
Focus: Reafferent Loops
Goal: To create an output which will have an effect on the world which can influence the brain which will in turn re-affect the world; to show that every time there is a change in the output there is a change in the input
1. Passing ball back and forth.
2. Throwing ball back and forth.
3. Vocabulary words
4. Place cards
5. Role-playing (using cards)
Outcome and an understanding of the goal of self-evaluation.

Nora Kasper, Jenny Kim, Velma Lester (Bodily/kinesthetic Intelligences)
Focus: Neurons and neuron ensembles
Goal: To get students to understand parts of neurons, how they interact, ensembles of neurons interacting, similarities to families/neighborhoods/communities
Student interactions to illustrate/consider properties emerging from interactions and and how these influence the outside world. 1.Group work (cooperative education, research on parts).
2. Act it out.
3. Role playing
4. Individual, group activity in response to music of various kinds
1. How well work together
2. How the group adequately explains the parts of processes of interaction
3. What happens when things go wrong
4. Community relationships: impact on classroom/school, on family/neighborhood

Reference Resources

Armstrong, T. (1994) Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom. Alexandria, Virginia: American Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development

Connolly, P. and Vilardi, T. (1989) Writing to Learn Mathematics and Science. New York: Teachers College Press.

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Gardner, H. (1983) Frames of Mind: The Theory of Mulitple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1991) To Open Minds. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1993) Multiple Intelligences: The Theory into Practice New York: Basic Books.

Lytle, S. and Botel, M. (1988) PCRP II (Pennsylvania Framework for Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Across the Curriculum) Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Marzano et al (1997) Dimensions of Learning. Alexandria, Virginia: American Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development

Moore, R. (1992) Writing to Learn Biology Saunders College Publishing.

Myers/Briggs Learning Styles Inventory

Shor, Ira (1992) Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Slavin, R. (1995) Cooperative Learning Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Spring, J. (1944) The American School. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Alison Cook-Sather
Director, Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program

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