The Evolution of Fish Detectives: From Teacher-led to Student-led in a Zoology Practical Activity

Ashley Edwards

Abstract


An inquiry-oriented learning philosophy has been incrementally applied in a second year zoology practical session to transform a teacher-led dissection into a student-led experience. Traditionally, students were given a specimen and followed a detailed set of instructions on how to proceed. From 2011 to 2013, students were given a specimen and an overarching question, which gave a reason for undertaking the activity, and emphasised the development of the ability to use evidence to support claims. Students were provided with reduced written notes, but were still told which morphological characteristics to examine. In 2014, students were given a specimen and the same, overarching question, but no instructional notes. In small groups, students discussed which internal and external features might provide evidence to allow them to reach a supported conclusion, and how best to collect and record data. Following this discussion they reported back to the class, giving all the opportunity to modify their planned approach before beginning. End-of-activity whole class reflections on both content and process completed the circle. Voluntary paper surveys administered at the conclusion of the session explored engagement and motivation in students, and sought open comments and observations from practical demonstrating staff. Responses from students in 2014 were extremely positive. Students still benefited from substantial discussions with teaching staff, but they were now equal partners in these conversations, because many students developed approaches not previously considered by staff. Responses from practical class demonstrators described increased levels of student engagement, peer learning and interactions with teaching staff.

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