Get the students involved: Biology is a very complex, comprehensive subject to study. Because of its complexity, special care should be taken in making sure students are able to digest what they are learning. This is done best by getting the students involved in their own education.
A classic way to do this is to hold class discussions about the subject matter. The teachers can hold a traditional Question and Answer session, where the teacher opens the floor to the class with a question, and allows the class to discuss the answer. The teacher should closely monitor the class, and assist the class in gaining in-depth insight. The atmosphere should be relaxed and comfortable.
Another method is using a Round-Table discussion. In this, the teacher provides a study-guide of sorts that contains questions pertaining to the important concepts of that unit. In this, the teacher should give the students control, and make them answer the questions aloud, as a group discussion. Like before, the teacher should provide guidance in ensuring the students cover the concepts fully, and to keep them on track. In this, participation should be a grade to motivate students to contribute. This method works better with smaller class sizes, or in groups.
Some topics are best represented visually; such as making proteins from DNA or explaining how photosynthesis makes ATP. For these having the students work with visual-oriented projects might bolster interest and understanding. Visual projects can be done in groups or individually; if the subject is especially complex, it might be best to distribute concepts into smaller groups, and then have those groups teach the class their concept.
Visual projects can include making in-depth posters on smaller concepts, making visual presentations such as power-points or videos, making models (this is especially popular with the cell and DNA units), making a children’s book (this will encourage students to break down the information in an understandable way; but guidelines should be provided to ensure the information provided covers the topic or concept in depth), or turning the topic into a game.
A teacher may also challenge the student to make a song or rap with their topic, with the incentive of a prize to the one voted the best. Alternatively, there are plenty of songs and raps on biology concepts to be found on the web that can be introduced at the beginning of class to start the lesson off on a fun note. Even if the students have to trudge through unappealing book-work, starting the class with a catchy tune might be enough to break the monotony that is the text-book.
In some cases, allowing the students a choice on how they want to work with the topic will increase cooperation. This way, the students don’t feel forced into the lesson. High-school students especially love independence. If the class is especially reluctant towards a topic, making students feel like what they are tasked with doing is ‘not as bad’ as other alternatives might be enough to bolster willingness. Also, if they feel involved in how their learning they will pay more attention to what they learn.
Make reviews and quizzes a game: As interesting as biology is, learning it from a text-book alone can be dry and unappealing. Studying regular notes also may drag down student’s enthusiasm towards the subject. By turning a regular review or a daunting quiz into a fun, interactive game, the student will be able to enjoy studying and reviewing a bit more.
A good game to use in class is jeopardy. In this, students may play in groups or individually. Concepts should be listed on the board in categories, and questions organized by difficulty under each category-as a normal jeopardy game. To increase motivation, prizes may be offered, or the tantalizing “free 100.”
Another way to make review fun is for the teacher to divide the class in groups and assign them specific topics to make game-cards about. Then, have the card-games rotate between the groups, allowing each group a chance with each topic. Games can be as simple as Question-and-Answer flashcards, a memory-matching card game (where the students must match a word or phrase with an explanation in a memory-game format), and go-fish between question and answer cards.
Teachers may also appeal to the high-school student’s urge to gossip by allowing them to make “Did-You-Know” type posters or cards. This is especially useful in learning taxonomy. The students should be challenged to use what they find weird and unusual about each domain, kingdom, phyla, or even class and present it in a humorous, informal way.
For example: You wanna know something gross? Cnidarians literally have potty-mouths! It’s true! They only have ONE opening! Yes, that’s right. One. Their food goes in the same place their wastes come out! …
Encourage personal investigation: When learning in the classroom, it’s easy for students to forget that what they are learning relates to the outside world. The teacher can bolster interest in subjects by having the students find research articles related to the subject at hand, or by providing them “just for fun.” An interesting, short article, or a news snippet about an interesting revolutionary idea, can intrigue student’s interest in what they are learning by validating its relevancy to the real world. Teachers should keep in mind that the purpose of the articles is to pique interest; they should be easy to comprehend and relatively short. One may also use this as a warm-up activity before the lesson.
Show Personal Enthusiasm: One of the most important aspects a teacher can contribute to a lesson is personal enthusiasm. Negative attitudes by teachers are especially detrimental to students. If a teacher displays blatant dislike for genetics, then the students will not be motivated or enthused about the subject. The students will use the teacher’s lack of enthusiasm as an excuse for their own reluctance to study. Why should the students care if the teacher doesn’t care?
Teachers must be careful with their attitudes towards the lesson. In some cases, it might be helpful for the teacher to admit that they find the subject more difficult or dull. The teachers should use this as motivation to make the lessons more interesting, or to motivate the students to devote more time to study. In some cases, if the students feel they can relate to the teacher on the subject matter, they will realize the teacher is not trying to torture them, and they will try to get through it with less reluctance.
Alternatively, it’s important to not be overly cheery on certain subjects. While most high school students enjoy an enthusiastic, playful teacher, it’s important to keep things at a high-school level. If the topics are presented as too juvenile, students will not be motivated to study. If the topics are presented as “fun,” “easy,” and “exciting” despite being complex and in-depth, students might get frustrated towards the topic. They will lose their motivation to study the subject because they feel that they can’t understand it; worse, they will lose respect for the teacher because it will appear that he or she can’t teach the higher-level concepts they need to know.
As a teacher, it’s important to be understanding to the attitudes of the students toward different subjects, and adjust their lessons accordingly. It’s best that the teachers let the students know that they understand the class’s feelings towards the subject, and let the class know that the teacher will do their best in making the subject more bearable.