High school biology is boring. As a student, I found biology to be utterly painful. I remember more times than not being asleep where the lab table behind my desk served as my faithful pillow. Yet I still majored in life sciences in university. How did that happen? And more importantly, how do we convince high school students today that biology is not just about lackluster cells and chloroplasts?
Biology is commonly defined as the study of life. Unfortunately, we cannot choose what lives to study in school. However, we do live as though the ecosystems of the world revolve around humans, and that, my friends, is the foundation on which to interest students in biology, and even better, help them remember biology.
As I help prepare students for their SAT 2 Biology exams, I relate EVERYTHING to their daily lives and activities, even if I have to embellish the truth a little. The easiest lessons involve animal science, obviously, where I can weave magnificent stories about how they were conceived as a unique individual from their parents (mitosis, meiosis, sexual reproduction, sex organs, biological fitness, the gene pool, and brownie points for a PSA on safe sex). I can cover roughly three chapters worth of information just by mapping out a student’s life cycle! And to my students, this makes biology relevant, colorful, and interesting.
What about plants? Photosynthesis? Cellulose? Well this is when creativity flourishes as an educator. Cell respiration, the process that produces vast amounts of energy within the cells, is basically photosynthesis in reverse! Where do we get the oxygen we need in order to carry out aerobic respiration? Plants. Why do plants look green? Chloroplasts! You can also throw in some physics and chemistry for good measure here as well. Students equate plant biology, for the most part, to celery—bland and unappetizing. Dab some peanut butter and raisins on that celery, and though you may run the risk of sounding very corny, the students will have at least remembered why that celery was green.
What’s the lesson here? Motivating anyone, especially adolescent students, is hard. Make the task at hand more enjoyable for the student and the teacher by making the lessons stick with the student. Create stories, offer interesting trivia about the least interesting topics, and be enthusiastic. Students will retain information better and be more interested. As an educator, you will get them talking more about your class, about your study material, and bout how you helped them get that 800 on the SAT.