Mr. R. teaches regular and AP biology, and AP physics in a small, private 6-12 college prep school in Texas. Enrollment in the school is selective and by application, and the school is committed to high academic achievement.
A new approach to teaching standard biology topics. Prior to taking the SoS The Link Between Dinosaurs and Birds online class, Mr. R. taught taxonomy in the traditional way. After his encounter with dinosaur evolution, his approach to the topic of classification changed from grouping organisms by category to relating organism around common descent, anatomical features and protein studies.
The dinosaur materials are the particular evidence for evolution. We can look at and compare the anatomical features of birds and dinosaurs. Rather than having my students listen to a lecture, they work through the materials and we discuss the adaptation of each feature—for example the hollow bones of birds, the evolution of forelimbs, and fusion of pelvic bones—and how these features were advantageous for swift moving and flight. It is a process of discovery that brings evolution and classification alive for my students. My students were always disinterested when I taught my unit on taxonomy. But teaching about dinosaur evolution—for instance, the adaptations that became a basis for flight—changed their interest and deepened their understanding.
Gaining and applying content knowledge. The course provided Mr. R's first formal introduction to the scientific evidence for the evolution of birds. He used his expanded content knowledge from the SoS course to change the teaching of evolution in his AP biology class into an inquiry experience for the students. This also served as a springboard into the topics of genetics and population biology. In addition, the SoS course also provided the background he needed to develop a new course. He said, "If I had not taken this course, I would not have known enough to teach comparative anatomy, so it enabled me to press on to develop a comparative anatomy course for our school."
Access to expert knowledge, stimulating conversation and engaging content. Although high quality professional development is readily available in his area and supported by his school, Mr. R. was pleased with the unique opportunities that the SoS course offered. The online readings and weekly essays provided access to the thinking of the current experts in the field and the posted discussions allowed him to interact with a diverse group of course takers. He was motivated to pursue the topic on his own:
In a classroom, only a limited number of people can participate in the discussion. In an online course, everyone can post and read—it is better than a class discussion. I enjoyed the diversity of the people taking the course, some with little background and others with a lot. The course is a lot of work, as much as any graduate course. But it was exciting, engaging, and intensely valuable. I even took myself on a personal field study to see dinosaur tracks and to make my own measurements and collect my own evidence.
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