Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Biology Learning Cycle & Blended Learning Tools Create Student-Centred Learning Experiences

The Biology team continued to apply consistent learning cycles and blended learning throughout the final two units: Physiology, and Evolution.

In Evolution, the learning cycle has provided strong opportunities to reinforce the patterns that lead to natural selection. Our starters, called “Questions of the Day”, are focused on reviewing content from the previous lesson to help reinforce students’ understanding of evolution. This particular strategy was also used to help students prepare for their final exams.

The Learning Cycle: Making Dry Content Engaging


A particularly challenging lesson for many students in previous years was understanding the value of evidence for evolution. It is a lesson that contains a lot of content, and can be quite dry at times. This year, the Biology team utilized the learning cycle model to reinforce the content in an engaging way. 

The learning cycle has put learning into the hands of students. They use inquiry and act like scientists to develop concepts.

The students entered the classroom and their “Question of the Day” prompt was to put a series of unknown fossil images in order, as a team of 2-3. There were no other instructions provided and students needed to get their work checked after each attempt, until discovering that ancestral whales evolved from terrestrial ancestors.

Students then deepened their exploration of whale evolution by determining which type of ungulate a whale was most closely related to. They analyzed more fossil evidence, by comparing the ankle bones of different species, and then compared different sections of DNA to create a phylogenetic tree. Students that were unable to participate in the in-class activity completed an online simulation that echoed the activities done in class. Our students were able to act as detectives and come to the same conclusions as evolutionary biologists, using DNA analysis, fossil records, and physical characteristics.

Then, we debriefed and explained the content so students could check their understanding of material, and watched a short video describing the evolutionary history of a whale. Finally, students completed an exit card to check their learning before next class.

Looking forward, after successfully using this learning cycle template for the Grade 11U Biology course, we are excited to use a similar lens on the Grade 12 Biology course to expand our resources for delivering a very content-heavy curriculum using a student-centred approach.

Vanessa Floras & Nancy Clarke
Science Teachers

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