Modifying BioInteractive Activities for Multilingual Learners
I teach Grades 9–12 at a public school in Rhode Island. During the 2020–2021 school year, I taught ninth-grade biology for the first time in about 14 years. I wanted to find an approach to teaching ninth-grade content that explicitly addressed concepts using phenomena and science practices. Consequently, I decided to expand the use of BioInteractive resources for my ninth-grade biology course, in part through modifying existing activities to meet my students’ needs. These modifications helped to scaffold learning for the learners in my class. I also paid particular attention to specific effective strategies designed for the instruction of intermediate Multilingual Learner (ML) students, advanced fluency ML students, and special education students.
Although I have used BioInteractive films and activities for many years in AP Biology, with slight modifications to meet my students’ learning needs, I had to find interesting, engaging, and ninth-grade-level-appropriate resources for this course. As an additional challenge, I taught both distance learners and in-class students in this course due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, any resources and learning strategies needed to work for both teaching modalities. In implementing this activity, I decided to be explicit in the teaching strategies and content I wanted to highlight. This resulted in being intentional about the questions selected from the original student document for this activity. I was also purposeful in choosing the teaching strategies for this lesson.
My goal was to provide students with opportunities for using language for science, specifically, the language needed to analyze graphs and tables that would carry over throughout the course. In particular, I wanted to build students’ reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills and understanding of the content. To do this, I used multiple strategies and scaffolds, including the Think (Write)-Pair-Share strategy (described in the “Day 1” section below), vocabulary cards, and the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER)/scientific explanation tool.
To introduce thermoregulation during my ninth-grade homeostasis unit, for example, I used the activity “How Did Dinosaurs Regulate Their Body Temperatures?” This activity asks students to make claims and predictions, then analyze and interpret data. These tasks can challenge all students, especially MLs and special education students, who may face barriers to building their content understanding due to the activity’s specialized vocabulary. I introduced this activity to students who had been previously exposed to the CER tool, Think (Write)-Pair-Share strategy, and necessary graphing skills. Students at this point knew about axes, scales, legends, and different types of graphs, and they could identify dependent and independent variables from a graph.
I modified this activity by breaking it into smaller chunks, paired with collaborative and reading strategies to help students overcome the barriers mentioned above. I used the following teaching sequence to scaffold the learning. Each day below corresponds to a 60-minute class period.
- Activating prior knowledge (5 minutes)
I began by asking students the following questions using the Zoom chat platform: What is our body temperature? Does our body temperature vary drastically during the day? Some students responded “no” to the second question. Some students responded that it depends on their activity. I took this opportunity to ask students if all organisms regulate body temperature using the same process. This discussion helped me to introduce the film described below.
- Providing background information (20 minutes)
I used the film Great Transitions: The Origin of Birds as a hook to engage students in learning how different organisms, including birds and dinosaurs, regulate their body temperature. The claim that birds evolved from dinosaurs was intriguing information for my ninth graders. I used the film to highlight that animals regulate body temperature to survive in their environments.
- Using Think (Write)-Pair-Share and vocabulary cards: Part 1 of the activity (30 minutes)
- Think (Write): During the whole-class instruction, I read the title of the activity “How Did Dinosaurs Regulate Their Body Temperatures?” and reminded students of our earlier discussion about the body temperature of humans. I introduced the following three vocabulary words listed in Part 1 of the activity (which students had also heard in the film): “thermoregulation,” “ectotherm,” and “endotherm.” Students were asked to use the activity handout, their textbook, and the vocabulary card template to define the terms in their own words, create a diagram/drawing of each term, and write their own sentences using the term.
- Pair-Share and small groups: Students used their vocabulary cards to compare definitions, diagrams/drawings, and sentences. They worked in pairs and then in small groups of about four students. Through collaborative work and in conversation with their group, students were exposed to various explanations of essential vocabulary for the unit.
- Share-out by small groups: Students returned to whole-class discussion to report on their findings and ask clarifying questions. We formulated the definition of metabolic rate together. Students answered Questions 1, 2, and 4 from Part 1 of the activity in their small groups. These questions ask students to predict how various organisms regulate their body temperature. The terms “ectotherm” and “endotherm” are defined, and students update their cards based on the definitions from the activity in their vocabulary card set.
- Unpacking table and graph data: Part 2 of the activity (30 minutes)
- I gave students Table 1 from Part 2 of the activity during the whole-class discussion. I asked students to make observations of the data table using a modified “Identify and Interpret” protocol. Most of my students could tell me what they observed, but we had to arrive at the meaning of those observations together. For example, I asked probing questions to get students to focus on the different types of animals and make observations about the metabolic rates. One observation that students made from Table 1 was that the data points have a large range. This served as an excellent transition to the logarithmic graph described below.
- I provided students with Figure 2 from the activity: a logarithmic graph of the data from Table 1. I asked them to make observations using the prompts “What do I see?” and “What do I wonder?” Most students had not seen a logarithmic graph before. They quickly saw that it was different from other graphs we had constructed in the past. Together, we defined the term “logarithmic graph.” Students added the term to their vocabulary cards, including a definition in their own words, a graphic, and a sentence using the term.
- Students then went back to their small groups and followed the Think (Write)-Pair-Share strategy for Questions 1 and 2 from Part 2 of the activity. I asked them to compare the metabolic rates of ectotherms and endotherms with similar masses, make a claim about an organism that is not part of Figure 2, and support their claim with evidence from the graph. These questions asked students to apply what they had learned to make meaning of data.
- Students submitted Part 2 of the activity along with their vocabulary cards. Their responses served as formative assessments: these helped me identify students’ abilities to use data from a graph to support a scientific claim. The responses also allowed me to determine students’ grasp of the vocabulary and their ability to make decisions about what other evidence may help determine the thermoregulation of dinosaurs.
- Unpacking graph data: Part 3 of the activity (10 minutes)
- The modifications that I made for this part of the activity emphasized interpreting and analyzing data and graphs. I introduced students to how a dinosaur’s metabolism can be estimated based on bone rings and provided them with the graph from the Part 3 answer key of the “Educator Materials.” I gave students this graph instead of having them generate it as written in the original activity because I wanted them to spend more time analyzing data. The next time I use this resource for ninth-grade biology, I want to experiment with providing some students with the graph and having other students generate their graph. One question I have is whether plotting the graph helps students dig deeper into the data. A related question is whether generating the graph slows students down enough to help them better analyze data.
- Students were asked to complete Questions 3–4 of Part 3, which required them to make a scientific claim and interpret the graph described above. Most of my students wanted to put dinosaurs in either the ectotherm or endotherm category. However, when they had to support their claim with the data, they reached a different conclusion. This was an opportunity for me to build their confidence in reporting their findings. During this part of the activity, I visited every small group to ask questions if they needed more individualized instruction. By this time, students were very comfortable in their groups, since they had been exploring together for three days.
- Unpacking graph data: Part 4 of the activity (20 minutes)
- We unpacked Figure 3, the graph in Part 4 of the activity, in a whole-class discussion because it is a logarithmic graph with a large amount of information. Using this graph, students were asked to identify the organisms that have the highest mass-independent metabolic rates and growth rates.
- Students were asked to make a claim about dinosaurs and support their answers with data from Figure 3.
- Students then went back to their small groups and followed the Think (Write)-Pair-Share strategy to discuss evidence from Figure 3 supporting the claim that dinosaurs were mesotherms.
- Applying what students learned: Part 5 of the activity (homework)
Students completed the questions from Part 5 of the activity for homework.
- Discussing Part 5 of the activity (20 minutes)
In class, students went back to their small groups and followed the Think (Write)-Pair-Share strategy to confirm their understanding of Part 5. Then, as a whole class, we went over questions they still had to complete the assignment.
- CER tool template (20 minutes)
Students were asked to write down the activity title “How Did Dinosaurs Regulate Their Body Temperatures?” in the “Question” section of this template for the CER tool. Using all of their resources generated over the previous class periods, they completed the rest of the template by making a claim, writing down three pieces of evidence, and formulating their reasoning.
This activity highlights the importance of using data to support a scientific claim and connects evolution to homeostatic regulatory mechanisms. Through this activity, students experience the importance of defining terms and displaying data in tables and graphs that provide visuals of their findings. Students see firsthand how data visualization skills and application of vocabulary in the context of the topic improve their ability to make sense of data and communicate their understanding of the topic at hand to others. The explicit use of students listening, reading, writing, and speaking allows for multiple entry points to rigorous and engaging content for all students. A parent emailed me to let me know that her son was talking to her about dinosaurs and how they relate to birds of today! I had other students in the class who wanted to know more about the topic. Students came into class asking clarifying questions and expressing pride in tackling “hard things.” I often use the statement “We Can Do Hard Things,” and this activity helped my students to see that they can indeed participate in challenging work.
In addition, I used to feel like I needed to include every question provided in a resource. I now realize that sometimes being selective with the questions I use from the resource helps me to be more intentional about what I want to emphasize in my lesson.
Dr. Diana Siliezar-Shields teaches at Barrington High School in Rhode Island. She has been teaching since 1997. She earned a Ph.D. in education from the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College. She has been a RI Outstanding Biology Teacher award recipient, the Teacher of the Year Recipient for Barrington High School, and a Rhode Island College Alumni Honor Roll Inductee. She is involved in various leadership roles that focus on deep learning, Universal Design for Learning, and research-based science practices. She is a member of the Diversity and Inclusivity Committee in her district and is committed to improving education for all students. She enjoys reading, going to RI and MA beaches, and supporting the arts with her two daughters and husband.
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