Astronomy Week #5

This week, we delved into the nature of life on the Earth. The lecture was shorter than normal because I planned to use some time at the end talk about their upcoming midterm (#1 of 2) and do a review.

The Learning Outcomes for week 5 were:

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Define “life”
  • Describe the physical and chemical make-up of cells
  • Explain how DNA determines the nature of an organism and allows reproduction
  • Summarize what kinds of conditions can life survive

One tool I incorporated throughout this lecture was virtual clickers (by Turning Technologies – because the university has a deal with them). The idea was to use them to gauge understanding as we went along.

We started again with a Kahoot of the 5 worst questions on the last quiz. What I like about these is that students generally do much better on these than on the quiz. Is it because they’ve reviewed their quizzes, or because they’re able to talk with their neighbours? Hard to say, but probably both.

After a quick review of week 4 material, I did a clicker question about the four layers of the Earth (that we learned that week). They were able to discuss with their neighbours, and they came to a consensus very quickly.

We then went into defining life. I started this section by doing a think-pair-share: how would the students define life? Some were on the money right off the bat, but some were unsure how to be as specific as possible. That’s a good thing, and we talked about how it has been difficult for scientists to come up with a concise definition.

Then, we went into the 6 major factors (looking back, this would have been a great opportunity to try another jigsaw activity): order, reproduction, growth & development, energy utilization, response to the environment, and evolutionary adaptation. I gave examples and counter examples of each as we went along, doing a couple clicker questions to gauge understanding (necessary vs. sufficient was a tougher concept to grasp, and we did the clicker question a second time after I had given an explanation of the difference. Even then, it wasn’t a landslide, so I’ll have to rethink my explanation).

We then went into what life is like on Earth today: basically a crash course on cells and DNA, and how life has been classified (kingdoms, domains, tree of life). We also discussed the needs of life for metabolism: raw materials & a source of energy, and the role of water for life on Earth. Man, I wish I knew more about this stuff. The last time I took biology was in grade 10 — more than 20 years ago, and all I remember is that there are 2 different types of cells.

We finished up with a section about extremophiles which, surprisingly enough, I know quite a bit about because I led a inquiry lab activity about them several times in my previous job.

Then, I was supposed to do this great review for the exam using Learning Catalytics, but was unable to do so because of technical difficulties associated with students not having the proper codes (even though we all thought they did). Frustrating indeed.

I do see why some educators give up on using technology in the classroom. I find there to be issues more often than not, but it can be SO worth it when it works! It’s a “you win some, you lose some” thing for me this term. Hopefully some of the bugs can be worked out so it can become more reliable.

Next week is the first midterm and more biology!

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