Friday, May 24, 2013

Keeping Your Audience’s Attention in the Classroom

How to Keep Your Students Engaged with You in the Learning Process.

One of the most invaluable lessons I have learned and observed is the importance of keeping your students involved in what you are saying to them. One way to keep your students interested is to teach your lesson in a format that is shorter and more concise. Give your students short “info-commercials” on both important facts that they will be required to know and understand as well as fun commercials that are not necessary, but provide some fun facts that will change the pace of the lesson and keep your students actively listening to what you have to say. These fun fact “commercials” are a good way to keep everyone awake and involved in the lesson.

How to Approach Commercial Teaching

If you see your lesson as a series of fun facts that build off each other or a series of 10-15 minute seminars that build up you give your students the opportunity to climb this staircase of knowledge with you instead of trying to teach a mountain one lecture at a time.

Present your key facts that you are trying to convey, for example on the topic of ecosystems and biomes start with the big picture, the earth is split into several geoclimactic zones based largely off of the way that air rises and falls in the atmosphere starting at the equator and moving up and down the globe. This explains why there are great continental commonalities in rainforest zones, dessert zones, temperate zones, etc. close that commercial lesson with perhaps a worksheet or another kind of independent practice for the students to apply that chunk of information and demonstrate that they are tracking with you and their classmates on this topic. One example of a guided practice for this lesson could be to give the students world map outlines and have them follow along with your lesson circling or highlighting the different biogeoclimactic zones and biomes of the world.

After conferring with the class and ensuring that they are all following with you, and are demonstrating clear mastery of the topic you can progress down your big picture to a smaller picture and go into the different types of world biomes. Continuing down you might get into a new commercial on rainforest biomes, on that sort of level there are a great many opportunities to open the floor to fun random (on-topic) commercials.  This is also a great opportunity to allow some of your gifted learners, or students who need/want extra credit to earn bonus points by doing their own ahead of time research into a fun-commercial that they are willing to present to the class in a 5 minute PowerPoint or poster presentation.

Example of Using Commercials in the Classroom

Hura Creptians or the Money No-Climb tree with its trunk covered in thorns
Hura Creptians, or Money No-Climb Tree covered in spines
Source: Wikipedia
Some examples of great rainforest commercials are talking about some of the plants and animals of the rainforest. For instance, one commercial that I have done during a lesson on the Rainforest was on the Hura Creptians, or Sandbox Tree, also known as the Monkey No-Clime Tree and the Dynamite tree. This tree is found in the Rainforest and it has huge thick spines all up its trunk making it a bad climbing choice for monkeys, it also has explosive fruit. The fruit from this tree builds up pressure and then pops sending its seeds off in all directions at up to 150 mph. That is a pretty incredible tree.

Concluding Comments

Giving students these fun fact commercials gives them the opportunity to become even more curious about what else is out there in the world, what other fun or crazy things can they explore or discover for themselves.

I think it is vital as a teacher to give your students a reason to be excited about learning, excited about your subject matter and excited about  being in your classroom learning about the world around them. Commercialized teaching is one useful technique for presenting the natural world to your students in a bit sized and exciting format. 

Here is another idea for a short commercial on streams and streams sampling: Electroshocking

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Only Way to Fish: Electroschocking Techniques

How to Sample Fish Using an Electroshocker

Using an Electoshocker in a shallow pool with a sampling bucket
Electroshocking in a shallow pool
Source: Wikipedia 
One great way to sample the fish in a given body of water is to use an Electroshocker to send a current through the water to momentarily stun the fish and bring them to the surface. Using an electroshocker requires a license and someone who is proficient in understanding how to operate the machine. However it is usually fairly easy to contact someone in the local parks department or fish and game department who is a proficient researcher with the necessary knowledge and licenses and in position of an electroshocker for fish research and study.  

What You Need

Some other materials you will need are: rubber waders, preferable chest waders, rubber gloves for the person who is using the electroshocker, fiberglass nets to keep the current from traveling up the net pole. It is also useful to have large buckets to collect and hold the fish in until they can be identified and released; also, a seine net to place at the end of a riffle or run to catch any fish that get caught in the current is very useful.

Where and How to Shock

Once you have an electroshocker it is important to scout out a good area for sampling fish or just for exploring what kinds of fish live in that region. Good spots for electroshocking include small streams and creeks with riffles, runs, and pools, small regions of a river where one can use a boat shocker to sample the region. It is good to scout out the area before hand as the elctroshocker equipment is heavy and cumbersome and although fairly easy to use and operate you would want to know what you are getting yourself into before you arrive at your electroshocking destination.

Once you have both your electroshocker and are at your destination you are ready to start sampling the fish via electroshocking. One person should be assigned to carry the electroshocker ( a backpack like device) they will also carry the rod that has a metal loop at the end which sends the current out to a metal cable “rat-tail” that hands off the back of the electroshocker and drags through the water. Both the loop at the end of the pole and the rat-tail must be submerged in the water for the electroshocker to function properly.  

Sampling Tips and Techniques

Some good electroscchocking techniques are to take a break after shocking each given region, riffle run or pool, and identify the sampled fish and release them back into the region they were sampled from. This reduces the negative impact that electroschocking has on the fish as well as allows the students and observers to get a better understanding of the morphological differences between species found in different stream regions.

Other good electroschocking practices are to have your electroschoking person wade from downstream to upstream with seine people and net people around to catch all the fish that are stunned.

What to Keep in Mind as You Electroshock

Electrofishing Guidelines
Learn More on Amazon
When electroshocking it is important for the electroshocking person as well as the net and seine people to be aware of when the water is being shocked, because although the current is not usually enough to do any serious harm to anyone it is not comfortable. It doesn't have long term damaging effects to the fish, however it is not pleasant to feel the shock.

On several occasions when I have been out electroshocking I have stuck my hand in the water to see what the current felt like, and because I was not particularly close to the electroshocker it just felt like having your hand wake up from falling asleep. So the electrical current isn't comfortable but it's also not really harmful. However, I would recommend briefing your researchers before electroshocking so that they can better operate the electroschocker and be aware of how to electroshock safely. 

First Post: What to Expect

Who is this Blog for?

In this Blog you can find useful tips and tools for the everyday biology teacher to be able to use or even for current biology students to aid in their studies. A lot of this information I am pulling from some of my college courses on different techniques of studying the natural world or on applying some of the different lessons to a classroom setting.

Some of this blog will apply well to current teachers, current biology and education students, and some of it will even be useful to high school biology students.