In My Classroom: Trying to make Cellular Respiration & Photosynthesis suck less.

Hey all! While having coffee with KABT President Rhodes on this lovely Presidents’ Day, she suggested I share this activity that I did with my AP Bio students recently.

If you know me at all, then you probably know I don’t particularly care for teaching photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Yes, they are important topics, but I find them to be incredibly dull. And it shows in my classroom. This year, I started my energy unit in AP Bio by saying “This will suck, and I’m sorry, but we just gotta do it”. Bad teaching, I know.

HOWEVER, there was some exciting research that came out recently from Paul South at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His team found a way to streamline photorespiration in tobacco plants, which increased plant growth by 40%. If I could get excited about this topic, then I figured my students might as well. I also saw the perfect opportunity to introduce scientific articles into my class and to let my students struggle with understanding primary literature.

I started by giving my students the article from Science (You can read it here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6422/eaat9077)

I used this guide from Rice to help my students understand the research and to break it down into manageable chunks. http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~cainproj/courses/HowToReadSciArticle.pdf

After we dissected the article, we had a Socratic Seminar in class to discuss the research. It was cool to hear my students speak about statistics, evolution, GMOs, and, yes, cellular respiration/photosynthesis in a meaningful, authentic way. Socratic Seminars are new to me and they’re a tool I’m hoping to use more often. My students seem to learn a lot from each other and are engaged in the discussion. To help facilitate the discussion, I gave my students a handful of open-ended questions to discuss, such as “Why do you think Rubisco uses O2 in place of CO2 about 20% of the time? What does this suggest about the plant’s evolutionary history”, and “Why does increasing plant biomass matter to humans?”.

Anyway, that’s it! Socratic Seminars! Yay! Reading primary literature! Yay!

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Author: Kelly Kluthe

I teach AP Biology, College Biology, and General Biology at Olathe West HS in Olathe, KS.