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AQA A-level Biology delivery - top tips?

Discussion in 'Science' started by graeme27uk, Sep 24, 2015.

  1. graeme27uk

    graeme27uk New commenter

    Hello all,

    I have recently taken over Year 12 and Year 13 Biology (AQA exam board). Year 13 are the ones that are most concerning to me as I feel I am not delivering lessons that fit my students and I have a mental block as to how to best proceed.

    I have spoken to the students for their feedback and they say that they would like the lessons to be more engaging, have more pace and that they would like to know exactly what they need to know for the exams.

    Given that Biology is rather content heavy and there are lots of notes to go through I would like some tips on how to better do this. However, this is also on the backdrop that some students were on their phones and generally not having good learning behaviour. So I had to spend some time reminding students of how to behave (something I was not expecting for Year 13 students!) which affected the pace and such.

    Normally I can come up with solutions but I am for some reason stuck with this and would like some advice.

    1) Given the large volume of content to plough through, how do you best deliver this? I have ideas about making it more independent and giving students reading material so that they come prepared for lessons so we can focus on assessment.

    2) What is engaging for Year 13? I am trying to also get them used to the lecture-style as this is what they are going to experience at university and like it or not, it's something that takes getting used to. They seem to be under the impression that the lecturer is going to have lots of handouts and materials to support them and that they can keep asking for clarification or to go back or such... from my experience of uni, this isn't how lectures work (in my day at least!).

    3) Students seem to think that if I deviate from their textbook it's wrong or irrelevant. They treat it like a bible! I have given them other examples from the exam but they are not really getting the idea that just because the book has one example of a carbon cycle (for example) that this is the only one they need to know and not to be able to apply it.

    Help needed?
  2. Owennnn

    Owennnn Occasional commenter

    I realise this is about 2 weeks old, but I felt I should offer my insight anyway.

    My experience of A2 Biology students is they say the want pace, and engaging activities, but are actually just as happy to sit and graft on exam questions.

    I tend to chunk my lessons into about 20 minute or so sections, and then build activities around that, making sure at least one of the sections involves an exam question. It doesn't have to be the students sat working in silence to answer the question then marking it. Pairs or small group answers can be just as valuable, especially for the longer answer style questions. You can have the students produce an answer in groups, then take a single mark/point from each group to produce a classwide answer.

    Flipped learning (have a google search) is a really good method for getting through large amounts of content, it involves the students learning at home and then in the classroom you can consolidate it and hone the edges to make their knowledge exam ready. It really cuts down on teacher talk as the students tend to be telling you what they've learnt. It seems to work well for AS/A2 students as they are generally more intrinsically motivated.

    Unfortunately Biology, as with any science, being so content heavy does require a significant amount of either lecture style delivery, or independent study. Being objective with right/wrong answers tends to mean you have to tell them all the information first, before they can be tested, and discovery learning is a real challenge to apply to some topics. That being said, if you can ensure that the students have a really good grasp of the following topics, you can usually relate the later/more complex topics to these and they do flow and overlap quite nicely, allowing some discovery learning to take place if you can ask the right questions to draw out the knowledge:

    Biological Molecules
    Cell Structure
    Membranes and Transport (Diffusion, Osmosis, Active Transport)
    Enzymes/Enzyme Activity

    I'd love to add more to this, if you'd want me to?
  3. Skeoch

    Skeoch Star commenter

    For (3) I have had a prejudice against course-specific textbooks for many years. They fail to train the pupils in study and research skills, as it's all done for them. That said, I think many of these textbooks also fail to stretch pupils - they seem aimed at BCDE grades. So if I had the money I'd be buying general textbooks instead.
    Still a bit focused on BCDEs, the Biozone workbooks have been really helpful. Again they cost money, £10.99 at discount.
  4. graeme27uk

    graeme27uk New commenter

    Many tha
    Thanks for the response. I thought this topic had died. Totally agree with everything you have said above.

    The students I have seem to want me to use the old standby of the "chalk and board". I don't know if this is because they want to just be lazy and just copy notes or some other method. I know that they have had that sort of style in AS and so maybe it's just what they are used to. Plus most of them have been successful with that style.

    I really like flipping the classroom and often use this not only at KS5 but lower down as well. It can work really well if students have done the prep work and can really accelerate learning by focusing on application and misconceptions rather than just going through content.

    So apart from flipping the classroom, as you say Biology (in particular) is very much content and fact based - and to my mind it boils down to either (a) you tell them or (b) they find out the facts

    Students I have seem to much prefer (a). I dared try (b) and the commotion it caused..... you would think I had asked them to split the atom using a hammer.

    Linking different topic areas is also essential, not only for furthering their thinking but also as consolidation. Plus as I keep telling them just because a textbook may have chapters on certain areas, or be in a certain order, exam papers are not written that way so they cannot compartmentalise their way of thinking.

    In checking for understanding I use mini-white boards, mind-maps, key terms and all sorts of strategies to mix it up a bit. But again these are met with some reluctance.

    Using exam questions is really good as well. Going through model answers and such. However, students have said can I tell them exactly what they need to know... but I reply I have no idea what is going to be in the paper. Digging a bit deeper it appears they want to know the expected answers for questions or exam expectations which is fine, but again this is not necessarily consistent between papers and/or mark schemes. They also (some anyway) complain that I have not taught them about "mackerel" or "toad fish" if the exam asked about specific organisms - but again I tell them that is not important it is the underlying concept they are after. However, this doesn't go down well and I get disgruntled stares or huffs....
  5. Laurawest1987

    Laurawest1987 New commenter

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