Category Archives: Teaching

Talking about the challenges, joys, failures, and lessons learned from teaching…

Plant vs. Animal Cell Division

Open or close class using these teaching manipulatives. I have one set of plant cell mitosis cards and another set of animal cell mitosis. Students get to use their brains and their hands when they practice putting the steps of mitosis in order. You can use both sets together to demonstrate similarities and differences in the mitosis of plant and animal cells.

Once you get a class set of each prepared, you can use them over and over again.

Download animal cell mitosis cards
Download plant cell mitosis cards

Energy and seasons coloring sheet and notes

In a place like Massachusetts, seasonal changes are rather noticeable. However, it seems as if many students go right through high school without spending some time investigating these changes. Why is winter so different from summer? Where do all the bugs go? Why do birds migrate? What happens to the leaves in the fall? These are all fundamental questions, rooted strongly in biology, so…why not teach them?

I fit these investigations into the curriculum by tying seasonal changes in with the study of photosynthesis and respiration. I think it makes things much more interesting and engaging. Plus, if you time it right, you can use it as an excuse to go outside and collect leaves, make observations on a nature walk, or talk about seasonal adaptations.

I have two coloring sheets here. One is a summer scene, the other is the same scene in winter. It is a great springboard for a number of writing prompts, and it gives the kids some time to relax a bit and color. Never underestimate the power of coloring in high school. Give them a break every now and again. You’d be surprised how much they retain from a silly coloring sheet. Make them take notes on it too!

Download the summer/winter coloring sheets

Download the teacher notes

Using the microscope

Teaching students how to use a microscope is an essential component of any high school biology class. I was surprised at how many of my 9th graders had never used one before, so I had to go back to basics to develop introductory activities for them. My goal was to have my students use the equipment safely, get a basic understanding of how the microscope works and get the opportunity to see various things up close. The key here is safety. I think my kids never used microscopes because their teachers didn’t trust them with expensive equipment.

Give them a general background, lay down the rules, teach them the parts, and let them do a lab. This is my approach for using microscopes as a lead-in to a unit on cell structure.

Microsope notes: teacher version

Microscope notes: student version

How to use a microscope: checklist

Microscope lab with teacher notes

Organelle name and function review cards

I like to use hands-on opening activities several times per week. This organelle review activity is a perfect way to start the class after we’ve been studying cell parts.

What you get is a graphic organizer with all the parts of the cell and their related functions, which the students manipulate in the graphic organizer until everything fits.

Download now.

I can see the potential for building games and other review activities from this download.

Osmosis: The Egg Lab

When teaching diffusion and osmosis, there are a variety of labs available that demonstrate these processes. This lab uses a shell-less egg to show how water passively moves across a membrane. It is messy, and requires delicate egg-handling, but it illustrates the point well. The egg shrinks in syrup (hypertonic) and swells in water (hypotonic).

The lab requires a few days for the water to move, so it’s best to begin as soon as you start the topic.

Download the lab!

Enhancing your lectures: Overhead Notes

As a high school teacher, I struggled with how to incorporate lecture into class. Learning science involves a great deal of information that needs to be disseminated in an efficient and effective way. Inquiry is nice, but it has its limits. The old-fashioned lecture has a necessary role in today’s science classes.? But most students learn better by seeing and doing, not by listening.? In order to lecture effectively, you should provide some sort of visual stimulus.
One of the simplest ways to beef up your lectures is by using the Overhead Projector. This simple, low-tech bit of equipment can be used for good or evil. Here are my tips for using an overhead to keep your students engaged, not put them to sleep:

1. Use pictures. Clipart is another thing that can be used for good or evil. Use relevant clipart, not just random goofy images. Make sure it fits well on the page with the text, your main area of focus.

2. Use text that is big enough to read. If the kid in the back can’t see what’s on the screen, you’ve lost her.

3. Place a sheet of paper on the overhead to cover up what you haven’t gotten to yet. If you place the opaque sheet below the transparency, you can still preview what’s ahead without your kids reading it. This helps students remain focused; if there’s too much to read, they’re not listening.

4. Interact with it. Get some colored overhead markers and use them to draw diagrams, underline text, or make additions. Color and motion help keep their attention.

5. Make it interactive for the students by including directions for an activity on it–in the beginning, middle, or end. Don’t let your students be passive for too long. Give them something to do, as a reward to enduring your lecture! 🙂

Use the hints above to help you develop overhead notes that enhance your lectures.

Here are some examples of overhead notes I’d use in my biology class:

Atoms and Molecules


Genetics and Society Project

This creative research project will engage your students in genetics topics that are relevant to today’s society. You will explore stem cells, cloning, genetic disease, DNA fingerprinting, and much more as your students find ways to communicate these important topics to a general audience. After all the hard work, sit back and watch your students teach their peers about genetics!

*Download Microsoft Word File*

Ecology PowerPoint

If a basic unit on ecological relationships is a part of your biology curriculum, then you’re in luck. Here I have a presentation that introduces the study of ecology, relationships and food webs. There is an optional activity on the last few slides that corresponds with this coloring worksheet. The coloring sheet is designed for a coastal New England ecosystem but it can serve as an example of ecological interactions even if your school is not located there.

Download PowerPoint