One of the current best practices in science is to have an anchoring phenomena for your unit. This is the unit opener that grabs attention, elicits questions from students, and encourages exploration to answer those questions. Throughout the unit, students work to understand the phenomena more clearly and answer the original questions. I am sure my explanation here could use a little work, but I hope you get the idea. Feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in learning more about this teaching strategy 🙂
In Biology, we started a unit on protein synthesis this week. Our last unit had a great anchor and I was anxious to have a similar experience for this one. So, I started thinking about the questions I have had about DNA and the questions I have heard from previous students, and came up with a descent anchor. “If almost all of the cells in your body have the same DNA, the same set of instructions, how come cells in your lungs can function so differently from cells in your heart?” On a Slide, I projected an image of a pair of lungs and a heart with an image of DNA from a cell pointing to both. I was kind of excited about this one as I think that question plagues some people, especially at this stage.
Before the first class, I created the Slideshow with the anchoring phenomena to start the unit. I worked out how to get from the question to, eventually, protein synthesis. I had the steps or progression outlined. I was excited.
The first Biology class started and I pulled up the Slide. I asked the anchoring question. 22 blank screens “stared” back at me, and then one hand rose.
“Isn’t it because only some parts of the DNA, or genes, are turned on and others are turned off? So, for the lung cells to function the part of the DNA that’s turned on are the instructions needed for it to function but the heart cells have different parts turned on.”
For a moment, my heart sank. This was a pretty great synopsis of the big “aha” I was hoping students would come to by the END of the unit. Then, I reminded myself this was awesome! This kid came in with an understanding of the process already which would allow me to help him dive deeper. I responded with kudos for that explanation and then said something general like “Great! Let’s see if we can uncover how that all works. How does a cell turn on and off genes and what exactly do those genes tell the cell to do?” and we moved forward.
After that class period, I contemplated changing things. If everyone already knew the “answer”, was this a good anchoring phenomena? But, I decided to give it a shot. In both of the other classes, no one could explain the phenomena. I felt relieved 🙂
For our second class, we returned to the anchoring phenomena and continued gathering information and evidence to help us understand what was happening. I reminded the first class of the original student’s answer and excitedly shared how we would work to uncover more about this idea. The original student seemed appreciative to receive the credit 🙂 We will continue to start our classes with a reminder of the anchor and work our way through to a solid “answer” by the end of the unit.