Mr. Fritz teaches Anatomy and Physiology and Integrated Sciences to 10th through 12th grades in a small city on the east coast of Florida. Before he began teaching seven years ago, Mr. Fritz was the director of an aquatic toxicology lab. He decided to enroll in the SoS online course, Sharks and Rays, in Summer 2004 because he needed a few more hours to graduate with his masters from the University of Florida. He had been taking online graduate courses and had "pretty much run out of science courses" and found the SoS courses to be an opportunity to take a "real science class."
Discovering little known facts about sharks to share with students. During the course, Mr. Fritz not only developed a better understanding of some of the genetic and evolutionary relationships between the sharks, rays and skates but he discovered some little known facts about sharks as well.
I was doing some research for a paper [for the online course] and I found [in the journal Nature] that some researchers identified cells in the snouts of sharks that can detect temperature changes, to one thousandth of a degree Celsius. They have known about the electrical sense, but they didn't know about the temperature sense... They don't really know why sharks are able to do this.
I also discovered that Hammerhead sharks snack on stingrays. I didn't know that. I always figured they were big fish eaters. They go sneaking along, head down to eat, over the sand, like a pogo stick. Then they just inhale stingrays right out of the dirt.
Mr. Fritz shares these anecdotal stories with his students and finds that these kinds of stories enliven his teaching and engage the students.
Gaining a new teaching tool: A classroom debate about osteichthyes and chondrichthyes. As his final project for the SoS course, Mr. Fritz designed a curriculum unit for his Integrated Sciences course. In this unit the students work in teams to debate whether sharks, for example, have more economic, environmental or research value than tuna. Each team gets points for style, creativity, organization, and content.
The objective is that students understand some of the form and the function of the different kinds of fish, and the related environmental concepts, commercial fishing strategies, and resource management issue. They have to tie all of those ideas together and provide proof that the species they have chosen is more valuable to humans.
Mr. Fritz finds that the students enjoy the debate format much more than writing a research report and he feels they are covering the same topics just as thoroughly.
Generally, they like any time they have a chance to argue. They are usually learning something they didn't understand before, and it is new and it is unique and they can get loud in the classroom and that is what they are supposed to do. They work together and they can be real animated.
Learning online instead of wasting time. Mr. Fritz has taken a number of other online courses and has often found that the instructors assigned busy work. In contrast, the assignments for the SoS course helped him to learn.
I just thought that the assignments that they gave were more meaningful. I felt like when I was working on something, I was accomplishing something and learning, instead of just being busy.
He also appreciated that the course covered a lot of information about the different organisms, not just about their biological functions, but also about their economic value. Mr. Fritz summarized the SoS course by saying:
You'd have to have your eyes closed not to have something to take back to the classroom.
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