Connecting to the World

We continue to work through projects in Biology class to connect students with real problems in the world today. In my last post (much too long ago), I shared the start of a biome project. With a few twists, that unit ended well. Now, my students are working on learning about protein synthesis while trying to find the best option for support to a country facing a famine crisis. I have so much to share 🙂

Our first project this year created a scenario for students to learn about biomes around the world. With the backdrop of a mega-billionaire offering to fund a solution to climate change, students researched areas around the globe suffering from the effects of climate change and then offered viable solutions. After working independently on the first part of the project, I formed groups of students with similar countries. Within these groups, students had to decide which country they wanted to further pursue in order to create the best case for need and realistic solution opportunities. Each group then created a presentation outlining the country’s status, impacts of climate change, and reasonable solutions. Their objective was to invoke care from the audience and convince them this country was worth helping and that the solution offered would be effective in fighting climate change.

From the teacher perspective, this was a great project for assessing the contributions of students to their projects. First, the original task was individual – each student produced their own work for the country they originally researched. Second, the work in the group setting was created on Google Slides. Using the view history tools, I could see the contributions of each group member. There are a few glitches to that, but overall it is a pretty effective tool for assessing individual work on a group project. In reality, I saw more participation in the group work portion of this project than I was anticipating. The students were competitive and wanted to “win” the funding. One change I would make for future years is in determining the winning team. This year, I had the class vote. In only one class did the vote go to the team I thought offered the best presentation and argument. Despite having the students take notes while listening to each presentation, most still voted for their friends or for other reasons, not because the presentation and argument were the most convincing. I know better than to leave these things to a vote, but I did it any way. Next year will be better. 🙂

During the next unit of study in Biology class, I discovered that students from last year were more than happy to share their worksheets, projects, tests, etc. with this year’s class. You are probably thinking, “Duh”, but I was shocked at how obvious the sharing was made and appalled. Students would show up to class with the work from last year and begin copying it right in front of me. So, I decided this year needed to be a rebuilding year. As daunting as the task has been, I am excited about our current, brand new project for protein synthesis.

Our bodies use the code from DNA to build the proteins we need by putting together amino acids. The processes involved are interesting but can seem complicated for students. I decided this year to focus on amino acids. After talking about transcription and translation, students began investigating amino acids. Where do they come from? What are the differences and similarities? What about amino acid supplements? What happens when someone does not consume enough or the right food to get the essential amino acids needed to build proteins? Investigating these questions brought us to our unit project. Students are working to find support options for the impending famine crisis in Somalia. In small groups, they researched many of the factors of this crisis, including the government, current humanitarian efforts, agricultural practices, etc. After research, we talked about these components and the students identified that this crisis is very complex, much more so than they first thought. This was a critical part of the project. I needed the students to see all of the factors that would need to be considered as they looked for possible support options.

Next, the same small groups researched six different possible options for supporting Somalia, including sending protein bars or amino acid supplements, adding biostimulants to the soil, increasing food aid, implementing new agricultural practices, and introducing new crops. After spending time looking at these options, they decided which were the three best solutions. Next, I mixed up the groups and each new group had to draw one of those solutions out of a jar. That became their support option to argue for in the final part of this project.

The culminating event for this project happens next week! We will hold a mock trial of sorts. Each of the three groups will have three lawyers and one or two expert witnesses. The remaining students will be on the jury. (These roles were also drawn out of a jar). The entire group is working together to build the best case for their support option. During the trial, each lawyer has a specific part of the trial to present, and the expert witnesses will testify and provide one piece of physical evidence to the jury. After all arguments, testimonies, and cross-examinations are concluded, the jury will deliberate in front of the class.

I am truly excited for next week’s trial. Watching the students this week has reminded me the value of these projects. One student said to me yesterday as she was leaving class, “This is the best project we’ve done all year.” I needed that!

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