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Nature’s Cutest Little Symbiosis: Together We Can Be Each Other’s Light
My goal as an educator is to elicit the wonder of science from students through student-centered teaching strategies. The anchoring phenomenon of the Hawaiian bobtail squid and its light organ is ideal for creating an engaging hook for students because it helps them build generative knowledge. Generative knowledge is knowledge acquired when students integrate new information into an existing schema. This constructivist approach helps students learn new knowledge by observing, collaborating, analyzing, and asking questions.
In the learning sequence I discuss in the second half of this article, students learn about symbiotic relationships and cell communication in bacteria (quorum sensing) by connecting their prior knowledge of sea fireflies and experiences regarding ocean ecosystems to their newly developed understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the bobtail squid and the bacterium Vibrio fischeri. The sequence of BioInteractive resources, as well as the pedagogical practice of using phenomena, is key to successfully engaging students.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) support using phenomena to provide a context for understanding science concepts and topics as a teaching practice that places students at the center of the instruction. Phenomena are observable occurrences that students can use to generate science questions for further investigation or to design solutions to problems that drive learning. In this way, phenomena connect learning with what is happening in the world while providing students with the opportunity to apply knowledge while they are building it.
Anchoring phenomena serve as the driving topic for a unit. Students pose questions about the anchoring phenomena that will drive the learning for multiple concepts within the unit. Lesson-level phenomena add supporting information to student-generated questions about the anchoring phenomena. Students are encouraged to explain how something observable happens by connecting their observations to data and unseen scientific principles. I like to take students on a journey where they use the science practices from the NGSS or AP Biology course framework to explain an anchoring phenomenon. I design student science experiences that require collaboration, inquiry, exposure to new science content, problem-solving, and independent exploration.
I have used the phenomenon of the Hawaiian bobtail squid and its symbiotic relationship with the bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri with 9th-grade biology students and AP students. This anchoring phenomenon has proven to generate interest and inquiry among all students, regardless of their age. Students discover new content knowledge as they progress through various activities. This sequence has multiple entry points for all students. Some students’ entry point may be the cuteness of this walnut-size bobtail squid. For others, it may be interspecies communication.
I use this anchoring phenomenon to drive teaching and learning with the following sequence of BioInteractive resources:
- Students write down observations from the Phenomenal Image activity “Living Together” individually and in groups. Students answer two questions as they observe the images: “What do you notice?” and “What do you wonder?”
Students’ observations and classroom discussions lead them to the concept of symbiosis. As a result, they can refine questions for further exploration.
Students first individually formulate questions they would like to explore further. They then share questions they generated in small groups. Lastly, they select a question from their group discussions of the “Living Together” images to explore in more detail. Collaboratively, students begin to refine and narrow down questions of interest and brainstorm what type of information they need to collect to explore more details about the bobtail squid and its relationship with the bacteria.
- As a class, we watch the film Nature’s Cutest Symbiosis: The Bobtail Squid to learn more about the images students viewed. Students continue to individually refine the group question they selected earlier based on the information provided in the video. Students are asked to individually respond to selected questions from the “Student Handout” for the accompanying film activity. Next, I have them return to their working groups and collaborate on topics about symbiosis, predators, prey, quorum sensing, and bioluminescence. I select questions from the film activity that place emphasis on specific vocabulary terms. I also select questions about the light organ. By this time, students have assembled a large amount of information about the two images they observed at the beginning of this process. Students are ready to learn in more depth about symbiosis, bioluminescence, and quorum sensing.
- In groups, students continue to add to their background knowledge using the Symbiotic Bioluminescence Click & Learn (9th grade) or the Bacterial Quorum Sensing Click & Learn (AP Biology). Students continue to collect evidence and identify concepts from the interactive modules that support a question they find interesting. By the end of either Click & Learn, students are ready to take inventory of what they have learned from all of the BioInteractive resources. They are ready to begin organizing the information collected to make a claim that answers their question and provides reasoning for their claim.
- The culminating activity is for groups to use the BSCS Claim, Evidence, Reasoning tool, the CER Explanation Tool (Figure 2), to summarize their findings about one of the most delightful symbiotic relationships many of them have seen. Students engage in a gallery walk of the final product by providing constructive feedback for their peers, which allows them to review and edit their work. Lastly, the class engages in a discussion that often leads to further higher-order thinking skills.
My ultimate goal is to use students’ prior academic knowledge and personal experiences to deepen their understanding of science content. I want my students to take a risk and engage in learning from wherever they are in their academic experience. I want to remove barriers for students that prevent them from taking risks about what they know and don’t know. I want them to ask questions, explore, and truly enjoy the process of learning. I want them to feel comfortable finding the confidence to learn from each other. I want them to love learning biology as much as I love teaching them.
Diana Siliezar-Shields teaches at Barrington High School in Rhode Island. She has been teaching since 1997. She earned a PhD 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. She 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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