Time to Get Started: Exploring Common Themes in the Study of Living Things (Day 2 of 2)

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Students will be able to practice large and small group discussion norms and identify the major themes in biology.

Big Idea

Continue the conversation about biological themes by having students create and share their own perspectives and examples!

Notes for the Teacher

This lesson follows our Day 1 lesson utilizing a large scale installation of a modern art piece with an environmental focus as a way to discuss themes that span across the many topics of study in biology. 

Here, students explore their textbook and other resources and engage in small group conversations to come up with their own examples of each theme.  

My hope is to continue our first look at biology with a broad and integrated approach, one in which their voices are at the center of our discussions.  Listening to student conversations, observing how they seek out support, and seeing their examples gives me an insight into the interests of specific students, highlights writing concerns to address, and allows students more time at the beginning of the year to experience the collaborative culture of our classroom and navigate the higher expectations of high school life.

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Activity

10 minutes

1.  Begin this second day of theme exploration by passing out the guiding document for the day as you remind them of the work you did together as a class with Mark Dion's installation the previous day.

2. Ask for a student volunteer to read the directions and two others to read each sample/example.

3. Allow a minute or two for any clarifying questions.

4.  Ask students to move to their lab tables to begin their work together.  

The Classroom Flow: Small Group Work

35 minutes

1.  Students work with their lab groups (3-4 students) to utilize their textbook and collaborate as they work on their individual examples.  

  • Note: I also allow personal devices so that students may check online for more information; students without devices often choose to share with partners or to use my desktop computer.  I realize that school and classroom policies for this may differ widely between school sites and classrooms.  This is a newer practice for me and so far this year, I am very pleased with the high level of responsibility and accountability students have taken in the appropriate use of their phones and tablets.  


2.  The teacher circulates for support and encouragement and to promote best practices in communication and collaboration of each small group.  

  • Note:  I try to keep in mind that this is early in the year and that my freshman students may need extra help navigating this dynamic.  

Wrapping it Up

10 minutes

1.  Ask each group to choose one example they've come up with so far to share.

2.  Use the spokesperson protocol to facilitate a quick whip around so that students can hear each other's work and get a sense of assignment norms/standards for quality.

  • Note:  Student samples of work can help you and the kids to inspire more potential examples of each theme to share out, with more samples provided on this additional example document.  I am looking for evidence of thought and research and I emphasize using their own words as they write what they discussed and read in their textbook.  I find that this can be challenging for freshman students used to different expectations in junior high school.  I allow for redos for full credit for work that doesn't meet this essential criteria for our classroom work together this year.