Why should we care?

The last lesson I taught at my field featured a video of scientists tagging sharks to estimate population sizes. Once the video ended, I had a student as my why we tagged sharks. I gave him the basic answer of we want to know how many there are and where they go. But I could tell he wanted more. As they were working on their lab I gave them, I looked up shark tracking websites. When I saw many students were finishing up, I announced that I found a shark tracking website if they would like to see. Half the class came up behind my computer just to see where Yinser the shark was. They were amazed that even though we are in Ohio, we could see exactly where a great white shark was in the Atlantic Ocean.

This is what I think is hardest about teaching science. So many students become disinterested in science because they do not see the connection to the real world.

Cells and organelles


That’s what students hear when you say cells and organelles. Text books have static photos of artistic renditions of organelles and what they do. Tyler Dewitt made a virtual reality tour of a cell and shows some of the processes going on in the cell. This concept that is normally so hard for students (myself included) to envision is now right at their fingertips.

Here is a TED talk from Tyler Dewitt about how to make science fun.

One of the major points from this talk was how students have an amazingly hard time understanding their textbooks. Basically he meant that students are not experts who need to know all the technical terms right from the beginning. Teach them using simpler language and then move in to the more complicated jargon.

Make Science Fun and Real

Like I said before, so many of these topics just seem out of reach for so many students.

Let’s just look at Ohio’s guidelines for what to teach:

Literally every one of these categories are boring to students and they could care less unless they already know they want to be a doctor.

So now I’m going to try and come up with at least one fun lab/ activity and a real life connector for each of these broad categories!


Some traits in humans are either there or not and are easily observable. These traits are widow’s peak, dimples, cleft chin, attached or free earlobes, finger hair, and a hitchhiker’s thumb.

  1. Start with one of the traits
  2. Have students stand up and move to one side of the room for one version of the trait and the other side for the other version
  3. Have students record the number of students at each side of the room (the teacher should do this as well since students will be up and moving)
  4. Repeat with each of the traits
  5. Find the frequency of each trait
  6. Have students decide what traits are dominant and which are recessive
    1. Students will assume the more frequent traits are dominant when that will not necessarily be the case

Why do I think this lab is fun?

  • It gets students up and moving from their seats which is always a plus for them
  • It helps them see that everything is influenced by their genes
  • They might talk to their parents about the traits and they might want to figure out what trait they got from which parent (hopefully this won’t come back to bite me in the bum)


Ah, yes. the contested subject of evolution.

I love simulations for natural selection and selection pressure

! They are probably my favorite activities in biology!

Natural Selection



All I had to do to find this wonderful interactive was google “natural selection interactive”

It lets students create 3 original birds and watch how they react to the environment. And then the twist. A hurricane moves through and blows some of the birds into new environments! and then you can see how the birds react to that!


I have also seen teacher do a Butterfly Lab where they have each student design a butterfly to hide around the classroom. The goal of this is to be the last butterfly to be found.

Selection Pressure

This is where you tell the story of the weeble. The weeble is a fuzzy ball of fur who love to live in trees. They come in three colors: red, blue, and purple. The trees they live in also come in those three colors. There is a nasty predator who love to feed on the weeble. Different weather conditions and diseases hit the weebles island that cause different things to go on.

Students get to let their creative juices flow with this by drawing their own weeble! Each generation, something new happens to the island. Sometimes a color of tree dies out which leaves one color of weeble without camouflage, sometimes the bird becomes color blind to red, each time it is something different that changes the probability of a color being killed.

Each of the changes help show a certain form of selection pressure!


So why are each of those activities fun and representative of real life?

  • Evolution can take time, and unless using bacteria, can be hard to demonstrate in a classroom setting
  • Allowing students to create their own birds and weeble will get them using their creativity which can automatically make science more engaging for some students.
  • It shows what scientists do in real life by keeping track of population size and what traits are changing and dominant
  • It also shows how scientists can look at an added pressure and follow what that pressure does genetically

Okay, reminder of what we’re doing. We’re looking at the standards and finding ways to make them more fun and connect to real life! I kind of forgot where I was going so I figured I would remind you all as well.


Diversity and Interdependence of Life

Project Wild has a ton of good activities for this!

Good Buddies is a matching game where students find the other organism that they have a symbiotic relationship with.

Honestly, I recommend buying the book and just looking through all of the different activities they have. I am having trouble just picking one!

But I will go ahead and highlight How many bears can live in this forest?

  • Students become bears to look for essential components of a habitat
  • There are 5 different colored cards of varying numbers scattered all over the room with numbers written on them (each color represents a different food type and the number represents pounds)
  •  One students is a bear with a broken leg, one is a mom bear, and one is blind
  • Have students forage for food and bring their food back to their “den” one square at a time
    • broken leg bear must hop on one foot
    • momma bear must get twice the amount of food to support the cub
    • blind bear is wearing a blindfold
  • When each piece has been picked up, have them add up all the numbers on their cards
  • Ask each of the special bears how their numbers compared

So why is this fun and real?

  • It lets them see these issues regarding population size in practice.
  • It gets them moving around the room and pretending to be animals.
  • It puts real scientific concepts into fun activities!


I already kind of talked about cells above with the virtual reality tour. That video is really what set me on a track to write this post.


Why tell students when we can SHOW them?

This blog makes a great point: why just tell students when we can show them? We have the resources to be able to show them the facts instead of just tell them. Some schools may not have the science budget to buy lab materials or physical interactives, but there are plenty of free resources on the internet like videos or free online interactives.


Okay so this post is supposed to be about struggles in science teaching.

  • Making science fun can be hard, especially with the state test and administrators breathing down your back
  • Making science real for students can be hard because these topics can seem daunting to many students

So here are my ways to make the hard things better!

  • Let the students embrace their creative side
  • Let the students wonder
  • Let the students see real scientists doing real things
  • Let the students do real science things so they can see what it is like






  1. Shay-
    Great blog this week! I appreciate the connections you made to the Ohio Standards, and you included so many examples of great lesson plans! These are super helpful resources! Thank you for taking the time to develop this blog. I can really see the time and effort you put into it!

  2. Shay,

    I loved your blog this week. I thought it was awesome how you talked about specific topics in biology and broke down some of the ways that teaching those topics specifically can be made easier, all the while explaining large over-arching themes in education, placing student ownership and choice above all. If I were a biology teacher, I think I’d use most if not all of these resources in my own classroom. Well done.

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