On April 25th, 2019, I taught my final lesson to the seventh grade class at McDonough Middle School in Hartford, CT. I was advised beforehand by the classroom teacher to create a lesson on biodiversity. This was the class’s first introduction to the topic so I had to create an introductory lesson that basically overviewed the topic, going over a few key concepts that are important to learn when discussing biodiversity. I wanted to create an interactive lesson that would get the class made up of about 15 students involved and excited about learning this new topic.

This lesson revolved around an essential question based off of information provided to me by the classroom teacher:

Why/how is biodiversity important to an ecosystem’s success? 

As well as a few key concepts I wanted to make sure I covered in class,

Students will understand:

  1. Organisms and populations are dependent on living and nonliving things
  2. Relationships between organisms can be competitive, predatory & mutually beneficial.
  3. Ecosystems’ components can be disrupted
  4. Ecosystems (populations) can change over time

The concepts were developed from Next Generation Science Standards, specifically MS-LS2-1, MS-LS2-2, and MS-LS2-4 which pertain to lessons on ecosystems mainly focusing on population growth which I felt would help students to understand why biodiversity is important to an ecosystem’s success (the essential question mentioned above) . From these standards, students are asked to be able to construct arguments based on evidence. The lesson included six activities to do just this:

  1. Introduction to lesson with slideshow visual aid
  2. Planet Earth Video
  3. Writing Exercise
  4. Global Warming Effects Video
  5. Hands-On String “Web”
  6. Wrap-up Online Quiz

To begin the lesson I started off asking the students why they think it is important to have many different kinds of people in their community. I was glad to hear the response from a student giving the example of  “if everyone in the community is a plumber, what would we do if the electricity went out?” This showed me that the students were in good shape to learn about biodiversity in that they already sort of understood the concept by relating it to their own lives.

Activities: 

After my “launch,” I began to teach the lesson with a slideshow as visual aid for the students to follow along. I felt from previous experiences using slides to project information I was telling them was most effective. This time around, I had students read the information aloud to me in attempt to get everyone to participate and pay attention, as they would need to know this information to partake in the rest of the activities I had planned.

After going over the essential information, I made sure students had an understanding to continue on with the lesson’s activities by reviewing the material before moving on. I asked them questions like “who can give me another example of a mutualistic relationship?” or “what was the example I gave of commensalism?” and also asking them to show me with their thumbs up, down, or in the middle what each relationship meant for each organisms involved, for example, parasitic relationship students showed me one thumb up and one thumb down. This was a way of using formative assessment. From here, we moved on to the next set of activities.

Example of one handout

First, I passed out five different worksheets to each table of students in the classroom. Each table was told to focus on the organism that was pictured on their sheet that would show up during the Planet Earth clip (iguana, crab, snake, algae or lizard). The clip demonstrated different kinds of relationships in a specific ecosystem, a beach in the Galapagos Islands. Before playing the clip, I pulled up an image of the Galapagos Islands on google maps to give students more of an idea about where we were zooming in to. 

Students began to fill out their worksheets as the clip played and they saw the organism they were assigned, which isn’t necessarily what I had planned but I was very glad they were so eager to see their organism come on to the screen and write down the part in played in the ecosystem.

Once the clip ended, I set time to go to each table and see what students had wrote and also to answer any questions. I feel like individually approaching the students helps them to feel comfortable to ask for help as well as more confident to share what they already had written down. During this time, I saw some students who were on the right tract and some who needed a little more help to get there.

Once I felt each student had a good handle on what their organism contributed to the relationships it was a part of in this particular ecosystem, I moved on to connect it all together, to show just why biodiversity is so important (again, going back to the essential question). First, I took the same images that were on their handouts and taped them to the board, starting with algae and asking the table of students who were assigned this one who they had a relationship with. We moved through the rest of the animals and relationships from here.

The thought process behind drawing the web first was 1, to get students to share with me that they saw and understood the relationships of the organism they focused on and 2, to set up the next activity of creating a physical web using yarn, mimicking the one I had drawn on the board.

Once the students organized the web, representing the different relationships shared between groups, I showed them a video on the effects of global warming on algae. The video included a neat feature to be able to scan the bottom of the ocean 360°. With this feature I scanned the ocean showing them what the healthy algae looked like and what the unhealthy algae looked like. The point of doing this was to cover the concept mentioned above that ecosystems’ components can be disrupted by things like global warming. After showing the class this, I asked them what they think will happen if the algae for the iguanas became unhealthy, to which they responded with the correct answer that the iguanas would be adversely affected. To demonstrate visually, I cut the string between the two groups which then in turn made me cut the string between the others, since we had determined beforehand that really all of the relationships depended on the iguana, which depended on the algae. I physically cut the string to really show students how the relationship and ecosystem was affected by a disruption. I was able to see that students had an understanding of the concept by asking questions like “what will happen to the crab group once I cut this string?” to which each student was able to answer correctly. My main form of assessment during this workshop was formative assessment, asking questions the entire way to make sure they were getting it and also to keep them focused.

Lastly, I found a quiz online that covered everything I had taught during this last workshop. The quiz served as summative assessment. I decided to make it into a small competition, since I felt that would get middle schoolers motivated to answer the questions correctly, offering the winning team first pick at the variety of candies and treats I brought with me. This proved to work very well, because I saw the students team up and work together to come up with the right answer as quickly as they could in order to earn the most points to win. I was very happy with the results, as each team answered the majority of the questions correctly! In the end, I handed the winning team a bag of lollipops to choose from first and chocolates and popcorn to the other students as well. The final bell rang and the students were off into the hallway for the next class, their peers envious of the treats they worked hard for.

Equity:

Matters of equity were addressed in this lesson by using video clips I thought would appeal to the middle schoolers. I also made sure they had an understanding of where the Galapagos Islands were before we continued which I feel was necessary since not all students may have known where/what the Galapagos is. I also checked with the classroom teacher prior to the lesson to make sure enough students had phones to participate in the online quiz, which addressed the matter. Another way I tried to make this lesson equitable was by giving each student a chance to participate, both by encouraging them to ask questions when confused as well as share what they wrote down or observed from the videos I showed. I made myself available for each student by taking time to circulate the classroom, talking to each student individually, which I think also contributed to efforts to make this lesson equitable. By creating interactive as well as interesting activities and giving equal opportunity for students to participate, I was able to address matters of equity in this lesson.

Reflection:

Walking in to my last workshop at McDonough Middle School, I was nervous and excited. I knew I had prepared a fun, interactive lesson that the students would enjoy, but nervous it wouldn’t go as planned. Luckily, I felt everything went very smoothly, maybe because I was now more comfortable in the front of the classroom and was confident in the lesson plan. At first it was tough to get the students to participate but as the class progressed more students were willing to read aloud and share ideas and observations. I saw student learning happening when I asked the students questions and requested they make their own examples of relationships. Student learning was also prevalent when I walked around the classroom and was able to talk one-on-one with each student, finding out what they had observed from the Planet Earth clip, helping me to see that they were beginning to understand biodiversity and why it is important for an ecosystem. Something I had not planned for, but was happy to see, was that students filled out their worksheets on their own during the clip without any instruction. This showed to me that they really were paying attention and were also eager to learn about their given organism, which would then help them participate further. Through use of mainly formative assessment, I was able to see learning happening throughout the hour-long class.

I could also see that students learned based on their performance on the team quiz I planned for them to do at the end of class. This was more summative assessment. By seeing them respond to a majority of the questions correctly, I knew they had learned something in class. This made me proud and happy to see since I was the one who taught them! Reflecting on the lesson, I feel that students did meet the objective and were able to answer the essential question I posed at the beginning of class based on both formative and summative assessments.

Another thing that worked well was using a reward/treat at the end. By telling students they would be able to play with their phones at the end to complete the quiz and that the winning team would get candy, they were definitely motivated more to pay attention and participate in order to get the reward. I think I will use this technique again with other teaching experiences I may take part in.

It was also helpful for me to teach this lesson based on the past lessons I had done. It felt like a wrap-up of the workshops because it covered this broad topic, sort of zooming out from previous topics on energy flow and food webs in an ecosystem, and then population ecology. The students were able to take the information I had previously taught them (which I am very pleased they did remember!) and apply it to this final lesson. I am glad the lessons panned out the way they had, one building on top of the other in a way, because it made it feel as though I was teaching continuously as the classroom teacher would have. I have grown a great deal since the first workshop in February and was able to take that first experience and build on it, though I know there is always room for improvement. I can work more on creating a fun and interactive environment for students to learn since I have learned that these sort of lessons work best to appeal to students. Something else I can work on in the future is coming up with different ways to explain concepts if students did not understand the first time, this is something I felt I had a little bit of a hard time with when students expressed confusion.

I am very thankful for this opportunity and I know I will take all that I learned both in class from professors as well as everything I learned from the seventh grade students with me in my next endeavors. I had no experience in a middle school classroom, except of course when I was the student, so this experience opened my mind to entertain the possibility of teaching or engaging in some way with middle schoolers which I had not really thought of doing before. Thanks to Core 4 at McDonough Middle School! A true mutualistic relationship:)

Citations

Gunton, M., Hugh-Jones, T., Anderson, J., Charles, E., Devas, F., Hunter, C., . . . BBC Earth (Firm) (Directors). (2017). Planet earth ii [Video file]. BBC Earth.

How Are Climate Change Affecting Our Oceans? (2018, May 03). Retrieved from https://www.oceans16mtsieeemonterey.org/how-are-climate-change-affecting-our-oceans/

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://create.kahoot.it/details/biodiversity/b33b489e-2437-4f01-b7d0-085f537bd421