Lessons Learned from NABT

I attended the National Association of Biology Teachers last week (my excuse for not posting last Wednesday) in Cleveland. In addition to my first experience with “lake effect snow,” and a reception at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (with biology rock stars Sean Carroll and Neil Shubin), I profited from some great, focused workshops. One of the most amazing, because of its simplicity, was a short lesson on how to teach students to make the most of graphs.

You might think reading graphs is intuitively obvious to young students, and it probably was to those of us who went into science teaching. I’m guessing that if it had been difficult, we would all have gone into some other professional field.  So it might be difficult to explain something we do without working at it, and having a step-wise method to help students think about what graphing means is really helpful.  Having an approach that starts with what a student finds easy to do is a good way to engage them and retain their interest.  The technique I learned (presented by Cindy Gay, of Steamboat Springs HS in Colorado) was developed for an AP Biology workshop put on by BSCS.  The technique has three parts, which are easily summarized as identify, analyze, and caption.  The first step involves simply identifying (with arrows) parts of a graph that appear to have some significance. This can be something as simple as a line increasing, or the point at which a curve peaks.  The second step is to determine the meaning of the aspects identified in the first step.  This requires conscious examination of the axes, and thinking about what the graph means.  The last step is to write a title/caption that states the point of the graph and explains its significance.    As I said, this may seem simplistic and obvious to us, but I’m sure I have students who could benefit from developing a habit of identifying, analyzing, and captioning important graphs.

Several of the sessions at the meeting were sponsored by HHMI, including a debut of their latest educational video, on the evolutionary transition that led to humans.  (All resources are available by going to www.hhmi.org.)  That facet of human anatomy is another aspect that is intuitive to many but not all of us.  Teaching resources are being developed and will be available at no charge on the website. Resources developed in the last few years are already posted, and I encourage you to take a look if you haven’t ever visited the site.

These teaching resources point up the value of attending conferences; I hope you are all planning to attend the HAPS San Antonio conference next May, and regionals that are in your area. We’ve made a commitment to offer three regional meetings a year, so you should be able to attend at least one every year.  You might even consider presenting a workshop; you never know how the simplest of ideas will resonate with your colleagues!

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